The Patient Obedience of Ruth
Please do turn in your bibles to the book of Ruth 1
There are perhaps two reasons why we study about people in the Bible – to learn how not to do some things like being deceitful, and how to do the right things like this mornings example Ruth. So this morning we are going to look together at the book of Ruth and discover who Ruth was, what is her story and how we can learn from her as we seek to live a godly and righteous life in Britain in 2009. Tonight we will be looking at the character of Rachel and how she fits into salvation history and how we can learn lessons from her. But on with this morning and Ruth!
Perhaps the key verses for the book of Ruth, which would help us summarise this short story are as we read in Ruth 1v15-18:
The book of Ruth is a cameo story of love, devotion and redemption set in the black days of the Judges. It tells the story of a pagan woman giving up everything to cling to the people of Israel and to God Himself. Shows her faithfulness when the nation was faithless.
Doesn’t that sound a nice lovely story and wouldn’t it be good just to leave it at that, and not learn more about the character of Ruth. The greatest thing about Ruth, that we are going to learn about is, her obedience. Indeed elsewhere in Scripture it says that obedience is better than sacrifice. The story of Ruth as we have seen celebrates the gentle beauty of love and loyalty between individuals, and it shows the positive power of obedience to God for both personal fulfilment and wider blessing. By committing herself to Naomi, as well as to Naomi’s God, Ruth found satisfaction in service. Instead of losing her identity by her voluntary and complete submission, Ruth’s place in Israel and history is confirmed. There are four things about her obedience, that we living in 2009 would be wise to copy as we seek to follow this God with obedient lives that are worthy of Him.
1. WOW! obedience.
Firstly, her obedience is surprising – it has a wow factor to it! The harmony between Ruth and her mother-in-law is even more appealing when we consider the two unusual facets that could have driven them apart.
- Firstly, Mahlon, the natural connecting link between Ruth and Naomi was dead (Ruth 1 :3-5). Nothing specific is mentioned about the way the two women got along with each other while he was alive during those years in Moab. Instead, the story begins with the development of their relationship after Mahlon’s death and at the time of the women’s departure for Judah.
- The second part of this wow, is that could have driven them apart was that Ruth was from Moab. A brief review of the history of this neighbouring nation proves that its land and people were clearly off limits for the Jews. The founding father Moab was the result of Lot’s incestuous union with his older daughter (Genesis 19:37). Though Moab was not on the list of nations to be entirely destroyed by the Israelites under Joshua, its worship of false gods were offensive and troublesome (Numbers 25). Judges 3 relates that Eglon the king of Moab, received power from the Lord to punish Israel for eighteen years. When the people of Israel again cried out to God, the Lord raised up the judge Ehud, to kill Eglon and defeat Moab, to bring peace for eighty years.
The story of Ruth as we have heard already, is placed at the time of the Judges. Elimelech’s decision to take his family into Moab to escape the famine in Israel probably occurred at a time when Moab was subdued, or at least not hostile towards Israel. However, God, had told the Israelites not to marry into the surrounding nations or join in their worship of false gods. The fact that Naomi’s sons chose Moabite women shows that they ignored this instruction. It also indicates the attraction of foreign influences to the Israelites, which God wanted them to stay away from. But we also see mercy in grafting into his line of blessing one Moabite because of her faith and obedience to Him.
Naomi had two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. In view of their position as Moabite widows, it may seem that Orpah’s decision to return to her own mother’s house was more natural than Ruth’s when Naomi announced her determination to go back to Bethlehem in Judah. We could even argue that Orpah, after politely offering to accompany Naomi, was acting in accord with her mother-in-law’s wishes by remaining in Moab with her own people. Ruth, however, clung to Naomi and refused to leave her. But Orpah’s obedience was shallow, as her offer to go with Naomi was done out of duty not of love, and Naomi probably saw this and declined Orpah’s offer. Ruth however, remained to finish her story and claim a place in the genealogy of David and also of Jesus (Mt 1 :5).
2. Witness in obedience.
Secondly there is a witness in obedience. Ruth did more than merely remain with Naomi; she was in fact her main support, both during their journey and after arriving in Israel, even though she was a stranger in Bethlehem. News of her faithfulness obviously spread quickly as it went before her into the fields of Boaz. When she asked why as a woman not from Israel was being treated so kindly, Boaz replied because of her support and friendship of Naomi You can see that in Ruth 2:11. Though directly attracted by her outward beauty and manner, Boaz was already -aware of her reputation for loyal love and service. We see this when Boaz tells her, “All my fellow townsman know that you are a woman of noble character” (Ruth 3:11).
Here we see the powerful testimony and witness of Ruth’s relationship with Naomi. Her unselfish devotion to one person, characterized by her obedience, made her appealing to another person and to a whole community. However, Ruth did not abuse -or flaunt her obedience as long-suffering, but held it in her heart as love. She was not looking for praise or pity, and she seemed genuinely surprised that her service of Naomi had been seen and recognized. Not once did she complain about the leadership of Naomi or her own circumstances. Instead of bitterness there was beauty, in her attitude as well as on her face. Ruth found her obedience fulfilling. Her immediate and ultimate rewards far outweighed anything she could have anticipated. Her obedience was a wow surprise but it was also a testimonial witness that had gone out before her.
3. Wholeness of obedience.
But just how did Ruth’s obedience come to have such a tremendous impact on those around her? It all started with a personal commitment, a permanent decision that brought her peace and provided her with direction for all that followed. On the border of Moab, Ruth had told Naomi of her commitment (Ruth 1:16-17) as we read earlier. Ruth’s commitment was absolute. Rather than constraining her, this new commitment gave her new purpose and opportunity to develop her character. When they arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth volunteered to pick up the leftover grain (Ruth 2:2). When she returned to Naomi, Ruth shared her grain with Naomi and told her about her day. Then it was Naomi who sensed God’s direction and gave Ruth detailed instructions as to how to approach Boaz, which Ruth obeyed perfectly (Ruth 3:1-6). Ruth 4:17 indicates that after Ruth’s future and family were secure, Naomi was included in the household redeemed by Boaz, for when the neighbours noticed how much she cared for Obed they said “Naomi has a son.” Truly the deepest love, trust and respect were at the centre of Ruth’s & Naomi’s relationship, bringing both of them mutual fulfillment.
As Ruth obeyed Naomi, so she obeyed Boaz, both at their first meeting and later at the threshing floor. She won both the admiration of Naomi and Boaz as much by the quickness of her unquestioning responses as by her completeness in carrying out commands. Ruth won respect because she offered her respect in the form of obedience. Her obedience was total and complete. Not through coercion, but by love and adoration.
4. Worship by Obedience.
Then finally, Ruth’s obedience was also worship. How is this? The result of Ruth’s obedience was Obed, the child fathered by Boaz as kinsman-redeemer, the one would inherit the family land and name in place of Naomi’s dead husband and sons. Obed in Hebrew means “worship”. Is not obedience really the outward action that derives from the inner response of faith love, and trust practised in regard to individuals and God? Jesus said “If you love me, you will obey what I command!” (John 14:15). Ruth’s acts of obedience throughout this her story, are also practical acts of worship of the God she had made her own by faith.
So Ruth’s obedience has four factors to it: the wow factor, the witness factor, the wholeness factor and finally the worship factor!
Let us ask God to work in us, changing our weak attempts at obedience into acts of divine worship. We find delight in serving the Lord, instead of indulging in resentment over sinful leaders. The result will be inner freedom and release from bitterness, and also a powerful story to those in authority and to onlookers as well. Just as too Ruth’s obedience of Naomi, moved Boaz and all Bethlehem, the Holy Spirit will enable us move others (Colossians 3:23-24). While we obey others we can joyfully remember that it is God alone who is worthy of complete obedience. When our confidence in Him is reflected in our submission to others we become living stories to our trust in God’s perfect plan. If we follow the example of Ruth, perhaps someone will notice our stories and find the witness, the wholeness, and the worship in our lives of obedience and praise God because of us. And, remember this from 1 Samuel 15v22 “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
So go from here and be obedient to our awesome and holy God! Through obedience to Him as revealed in Scripture, you will be growing and changing into the very likeness of Jesus Christ whom you follow. Through obedience, you will be able to enduring and be persistent in your Christian lifestyle and evangelism. So much so, that people will ask you for the reason for the hope you have and portray.
Finally, you may well be here tonight but are not yet a follower of Jesus Christ. If that is indeed you, please do not leave here tonight without making yourself known to one of the leaders, or to me, and we will gladly talk more about this Jesus to you.
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