Preached by Malcolm on 19 November
Psalm 62:5 My soul wait thou only upon God for my expectation is from him. Ruth 1:16 Ruth said, ‘Thy people shall be my people and thy God my God’
Ruth is not such a common name these days; Ruth Rendell is one of the better known people with that name, a prolific crime writer. Crime fiction is incredibly popular. People like a mystery. I have one or two Ruths in my family, one aunt who was my godmother, a very godly woman and she had ran a prayer group in her church before she became too frail to get out. I had too a great grandmother whom I never knew who also was a Ruth.
The Church of Scotland Council of Assembly is telling us to return to our spiritual roots and commit to prayer particularly for our land and to pray for the church in it. We should be doing prayer anyway but there are times when we need to unite in it and by making November 25th a National Day of Prayer that will spur us on.
The importance of prayer came up last week with a first skype session with a facilitator Michael Harvey. He has spearheaded an initiative called Unlocking the Growth and Back to Church Sunday and this year the Church of Scotland has engaged him to help churches learn how everyone can be part of a culture of inviting others to church. He explained to me that his focus is on bringing prayer and God right into the heart of all our attempts to contact others and invite them into church. There’s a big difference between welcoming people who arrive of their own volition and inviting. I certainly felt excited by it all. I sensed that there is something of God in what this is about and even in my interaction with Mike.
Ruth doesn’t exactly fit the pattern of invitation. In the biblical story overiding the protestations of her mother-in-law she did not return to her own people, but rather pledged a full commitment to the people of Israel and to Israel’s God. This was not some temporary arrangement to get Naomi over a crisis; she would spend all her days with them.
Ruth was a Moabitess. The Moabites were a kindred people, with the same language and similar approaches to culture and religion. At first the Moabites were suspicious of the Israelites – last week’s reading was about that.
That said Ruth married an Israelite, so maybe attitudes had changed a bit. She married into a family of Israelites who had left their homeland in Bethlehem in a time of famine. The two sons both married girls from the land of Moab. When both brothers and their father died there was a dilemma. Three widows were left with no-one to support them. There were no close family of the brothers to do the customary thing and take the widow as a wife. Orpah returned to her own folk. Ruth chose to stick with Naomi.
What a beautiful passage that is, in the AV! ‘whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge, thy people shall be my people and thy God my God’.
We can learn from Ruth, that loyalty to God, to God’s people and to family brings great rewards and blessings, not just to one person, but to all concerned.
This is a book about family life, including the big concerns of life, sadness, food, famine, marriage, and children.
Ruth is one of the great women of the Bible. She deserves our interest for various reasons. She stands out in various ways.
Firstly as the young widow. She was widowed young. She knew sorrow in her life early on, and the whole family knew great sorrow too. We can learn from her in that she dealt with that sorrow in a positive way. It was not just about being sorry for herself and mourning, which no doubt she did, but things were different because she could make tough decisions that in the long run would help her and others.
Two, as the loyal daughter-in-law.
Naomi was bitter as she thought of her sad loss. She thought that God had abandoned her. In her sorrow she could only foresee misery for herself and for Ruth and Orpah back home or there in the land of Moab, and so urged them to go back to their own roots. Ruth would have none of this.
It could not have been easy to befriend a woman as bitter as Naomi but Ruth stuck by her. This was a friendship of great loyalty, and a cord of love bound them. Because of it Naomi changed. Her sour temperament turned into sweetness.
Ruth was adamant that she was not going to walk away and leave her mother-in-law to fend for herself in a strange land. Ruth and Naomi formed a partnership which led to Ruth finding work and finding a suitable kinsman to marry. At the end of the book Ruth is blessed with Boaz and the son she bears, and he is Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David.
This brought joy to the ageing mother-in-law. The women around Naomi remind her that Ruth her daughter-in-law had been a greater blessing to her than seven sons and her grandson would be a restorer of her life.
Thirdly Ruth stands out as the determined convert. Her commitment of faith was real and personal, she meant those words and that commitment directed how she lived.
The outsider who embraced the faith of Israel became an example to us all.
The reader of the book of Ruth will be in no doubt that God was at work through what unfolded.
The Bible teaches us so much about dealing with adversity in a positive way.
I began with a verse from Psalm 62. My soul, wait thou only upon God, my expectation is from him.
MY SOUL WAIT THOU means at its root to be SILENT or DUMB. We can come with our troubles to God and present him with a situation. We can wait prayerfully and be still before him. It is as in the hymn, be still my soul, The Lord is at thy side; or be still for the presence of the Lord.
My EXPECTATION is from him. Behind this word is the idea of hope. Our hope in God is strong because of who he is, the God who makes promises, he promises that if we call upon him he will answer us. He promises I will always be your God and you my people. The hope that we have is because we are bound to God by a cord of love, loyalty and belonging.
Ruth had pledged that thy God will be my God. God rewarded that with his faithfulness. Similarly, God will reward OUR pledge of loyalty with HIS FAITHFULNESS.
Ruth didn’t say, I will wait for things to get easier and then trust in God. Things only got better because she trusted the Lord.
I know from my own experience that when things don’t work out as you would have wished it is easy to lose heart, but the answer of faith is always to persevere with God and to commit the situations unto him. I wish I had learned that lesson sooner.
We can learn from Ruth who was committed to God and to her family and learn to pray daily that God will keep our families united in his peace and love.
Fourthly, Ruth was the hard worker.
She was in a sad predicament, yes. But she made the most of her opportunities and went off to work. In his Ode to the Nightingale, Keats recalled the ‘sad heart of Ruth, who when, sick for home, stood in tears amid the alien corn’.
So Ruth was not ashamed to admit her poverty, taking on a lowly task. Under Jewish law as a protected alien Ruth had the right to glean in any harvest field. But that did not guarantee ready acceptance amongst the regular workers, who might have resented her. Ruth soon impressed by her hard work and willingness to work with the others. She was determined to go and do work in these fields and did so but did not presume her rights but politely asked permission.
Finding herself in a strange place amongst people who did not know her she mucked in with the other workers, spending the lunchbreak with them. She worked exceptionally hard, gathering an ephah of barley which was about 6 gallons, by all standards an amazing quantity for one day’s work.
And so she came into contact with Boaz, who was a good man and a kinsman. As Boaz came to know her story and saw her qualities he was moved to take her as his wife.
And he did so with the approval of the elders of Israel who pronounced words of blessing, that this Moabitess woman might build up the house of Israel and become famous in Bethlehem.
And so (fifthly) Ruth becomes the honoured mother. And here the story gets really interesting. Through the birth of Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who, in turn was the father of King David, Ruth found herself at the centre of God’s purposes. God wove the thread of her life most intricately into the web of the history of His people, both before and after Christ. A Gentile by birth, Ruth yet became the chosen line through which the Saviour of the world appeared.
As Jesus came to redeem both Jew and Gentile alike, it was fitting that the blood of both should mingle in His veins. So Ruth has an important place in the royal genealogy of Jesus.
The Scottish hymn writer George Matheson was to put it so beautifully, “In the soul of Jesus the wedding bells of Ruth and Boaz are rung once more. Here again Moab and Israel meet together. In the heart of the Son of Man the Gentile stands side by side with the Jew as recipient of a common divine fatherhood’.
All this happened because of Ruth’s pledge to remain with God’s people and that he would be her God.
Jesus encourages us to remain with him, and to abide by his commandments.
Jesus said ‘As the Father loved me, so I have loved you: remain in my love’.
I take this as a reminder to not stray far from his side, to remain in him, to stay with Jesus.
I am reminded that this is Prisoners’ Week starting today. In Prisoners’ Week we are invited to pray for prisoners, their families, chaplains and victims of crime. When I was involved in prison ministry there was a very committed couple in the volunteer group in Prison Fellowship Scotland that at one stage I headed up and they were a very godly couple. They made it their practice to pray at noon every day for that work. Why noon, I asked, and they said that it was because the hands of the clock came together. Simple but easy to commit to memory. The simplicity of that appeals to my simple approach.
Wherever we are and whatever we do, we can develop the habits of regular prayer and at different times in the day.
The book of Ruth has a great message, that if we commit to being part of God’s people and commit to God, we will find support and companionship in our struggles. God will do wonderful things in and through us. God’s plans for us are good and he wishes to be involved in the details of our family lives. If we trust him unreservedly all things will work out for our good.
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