The drama begins with famine, death and crying - and leaves the main character, Naomi, feeling thwarted by the God she trusts.
We’re excited to have this opportunity to gather everyone together as a church family this summer, while our Sunday School is on break.
Both our youth groups have studied The Book of Ruth recently; they learned a lot from it, and we thought it would be a good fit for the whole church. We’ve even provided you with the same study booklet they used.
Ruth 1:1-22 (NLT) - Read the Chapter.
· SLIDE: Here at the beginning of the book, we learn a bit about the people involved in the story. Even their names have meaning in the larger context of what goes on.
Israel is mostly desert, and not very fertile for growing crops. Without rain, or the modern-day drip irrigation that they’ve used to transform the region, it was somewhat common to have years of little growth.
The first thing we learn in verse 1, is that a famine comes upon Israel. This lack of food is the motivating factor that drives Elimelech and his family from their home in Bethlehem to the neighboring nation of Moab.
The distance from Bethlehem to Moab is roughly the distance from Carthage to Canada. And, it’s a different nation. They even had to cross a body of water to get there. But unlike Canada, there were significantly different gods. A very different culture. Making the trip to LIVE there, even for a season, isn’t something they would take lightly.
We don’t know how long they stayed in Moab, but we know it was at least ten years. This wasn’t a vacation. They had to prepare. They had to secure their belongings in Bethlehem. After all, how much can you take on a donkey?
Today, according to the World Food Programme, “Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth.” What do you think it would be like to live during a famine?
Sadly, Elimelech died sometime after the family reached Moab. In time, the sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. But the sons died as well. Ouch...
Try to put yourself in their position... The mourning. Daily life without them. Religious holidays that just bring up their loss.
And, these circumstances leave three women widowed, and without many options to provide for themselves. Until word comes that Israel’s famine is over...
We call this the book of Ruth, because it’s the story of how Ruth was used of God to redeem the family line of Elimelech and Naomi. In a sense, though, it’s Naomi’s story: Naomi’s family is struck by famine. Naomi’s family is displaced. Naomi’s family is struck by tragedy, not once, but three times. And Naomi’s faith impacted the lives her daughters-in-law, especially Ruth, in such a way that God used it for His glory and their blessing.
The famine is over in Israel. Naomi, being a stranger in a strange land, without a husband or sons, needs to return to her home. So she tells her daughters-in-law “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.” Initially both daughters plan to go to Bethlehem. However, ultimately only Ruth returns.
What would it take for you to leave your biological family to go and live with your in-laws? It seems likely that either 1.) Your relationship with your biological family is apparently not that great, or on the other hand, 2.) There’s something really great and attractive about your relationship with your in-laws.
That’s what we have here: Naomi was named “kindness, to be pleasant” and she lived up to the name. Her lifestyle of compassion and faith had greatly impacted her daughters. We see it clearly in vs 16-18:
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
We also see that her faith was strong even in pain and trial, in vs 20-21:
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”