May 3, 2009

Rescue in Desperate Times – Ruth (1)

by: Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

I entitled Ruth 1: 1-7 as “Rescue in Desperate Times”, because these seven verses tell us about one situation, one decision, and one piece of good news.

I. One Situation: In the days when the judges ruled, the nation experienced a famine.

This statement lets us know about two situations during that time:
1. The judges ruled during that time
2. There was famine in the land.

1. In the days when the judges ruled

After Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, they enjoyed the land of milk and honey, they worshipped the Lord. But after Joshua died, a new generation of Israelites came up. They did not know the Lord, they worshipped the idols of Canaan; thus the Lord gave them into the hands of pagans. But, whenever they called upon the Lord, the Lord would raise up a judge to help them. The Israelites entered into a new era, the period of the judges. Judges 21:25 describes the situation of that period, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” It was not that they did not have a king, but they did not acknowledge the Lord as king, they regarded themselves as king. The rule of the judges was the darkest time in Israel’s history, everyone did as he saw fit.

2. The nation experienced a famine

Israel is an agricultural nation. For an agricultural nation, encountering a famine is equivalent to an economic crisis. Was this famine a coincidence? When a nation belonging to God does not walk according to His laws, not only do the people lose God’s blessings, even the land becomes cursed because of sin, thus, famine happens. In Genesis 3, when man sinned, the Lord told Adam “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you.” When Cain killed Abel, the blood of a righteous man was shed, so the Lord told Cain, “Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you.” The ground no longer yielding its crops is a depiction of famine.

II. One Decision: The Whole Family Moved to Moab

A man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons went to live for a while in the country of Moab. Faced with political and economic problems, one family decided to move to Moab.

First: Who was this man? His name is Elimelech, which means ‘The Lord is king.’ This is truly an irony. His parents named him `Elimelech’ hoping that he will regard the Lord as king, but Elimelech regarded himself as king, `I will do what I want to do’, so he decided to bring his wife and two sons to Moab.

Second: Where did they go? They moved to Moab. Moabites are the descendants of children born from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters. Moab is an idol-worshipping nation. When the Israelites journeyed from the wilderness, they passed through Moab, the king of Moab Balak told Balaam to curse them. The Lord had forbidden Moabites from entering the assembly of the Lord. But here, the Lord’s people decided to migrate to Moabite land. Had Elimelech not been acquainted with God’s Word?

Third: What happened to them? This decision brought on three painful consequences:
1. Elimelech died.
2. Mahlon and Kilion also died.
3. Naomi became Mara.

III. One Piece of Good News

Naomi heard news that “The Lord had come to aid his people by providing food for them.” For Naomi, this was truly a ray of hope in the midst of the darkness. Therefore, she decided to return with her two daughters’-in-law to Bethlehem in Israel.

1. Where did the news come from?

We do not know but someone told her the good news, as a result, this family got saved. We have the Good News with us, have you proclaimed it?

2. How did Naomi respond to this piece of good news?

When Naomi heard the good news, she made a decision. She decided to return to Bethlehem in Israel. We must not belittle this decision, for it had certainly required much courage. When they left ten years ago, the whole city must have known. And now, Naomi is returning home with empty-hands, a widow with two widowed daughters-in-law. This is a disgraceful situation, how can she go back?

Naomi felt unworthy to go back to Bethlehem, but she courageously faced their failure, and as a result, Naomi obtained God’s blessing. Where lies the secret of Naomi’s deliverance from her desperate situation? She chose to bravely face her situation, she knew people will look down on her, and she will be mocked, but she chose to face it, and so, she found the Lord’s care and was rescued from her desperate situation.