For this series on Ruth, I’ve asked one of our board members, Viji Roberts, to join me on the program. Viji grew up in India. When he came to Canada a few years ago, he worked as a corporate trainer, but a year or so ago, the Lord led him to devote all of his time to sharing the gospel and encouraging believers in their faith. That makes him a perfect fit with FBH International because our purpose is to preach the gospel and make disciples.
I would like to begin by asking a question. It is about a popular song “I want it that way.” This song played at # 1 in 25 countries, and is still the most successful single from a boy band to date. The question I want to ask is, “Why was it so popular?” It resonates with human nature — we all want things to be going our way. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me this was actually a remix from a song written over 3,000 years ago. A time that will take us to when Judges ruled in Israel.
Let’s begin by reading the last verse in the book of Judge. Judges 21:25 “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
That is the exact sentiment expressed in the song. Human nature hasn’t changed and that’s one of the reasons why we are studying the Book of Ruth. We will find many practical applications relevant to us living in this century. Today, we will look at the setting and the context in which the Book of Ruth was written. I hope this study will be beneficial to you, our listeners, as it has been to me. To begin, we’ll look at the first six verses of the book of Ruth. Watch for the keyword for our time together today – that word is “relationship.”
“Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion — Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there. Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons. Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had visited His people by giving them bread.” (Ruth 1:1-6 NKJV).
From verse 1 we understand that this event occurred when the Judges ruled. The story of Ruth probably occurs towards the later part of their rule, since David the King is mentioned as the great grandson of Boaz and Ruth.
The book before Ruth is Judges; and in this book the narratives on the 12 Judges that ruled over Israel end in chapter 16. Chapters 18 to 21, lists stories that happened during the time of the Judges and each of these stories is progressively worse than the previous one. And all of these three stories conclude with the phrase “there was no King in Israel”.
It is as if the Spirit of God grabs our attention, then goes on to give us three additional stories. These revolve around the same point that there was no King in Israel and the resulting behaviour of the people. So we read the phrase — “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes”.
And the three stories that are told are about Elimelech, Hannah and David. Interestingly, all these were Ephrathites and the stories, at least that of Elimelech and David, revolve around Bethlehem-Judah.
The book after the Book of Ruth is that of Samuel. Now the Book of Ruth begins with a famine and the same is true with the Book of Samuel — Ruth begins with famine in the land and Samuel begins with barrenness, a form of famine.
In the Book of Ruth, we read that Elimelech’s response to famine is to leave Bethlehem. Now the meaning of Bethlehem is “house of bread.” What Elimelech does, is leave the “House of Bread,” and go to Moab. He returns 50 miles back on that wilderness road that God had told the nation of Israel in Deut 17:16 “you will not return this way again”.
Of course in doing this, Elimelech is hoping to run from the famine, but in doing so, he moves from the land God had provided and away from the Lord’s dealing with His people. In this, he chooses what is comfortable over what is right. But, I dare say, many of the choices we make are because we want a little more comfort; and we often do it at the expense of what is right.
I imagine that his reasoning went something like this: “God is upset with the nation of Israel just like Moses said He would, if they were to sin. And so there is nothing I can do about that; And so I am out of here.”
It’s interesting to note that the name Elimelech means “God is king”. Unfortunately, both the circumstance and the conduct of its people– and Elimelech is our prime example here, are contrary to their identity as Children of God. God is to be their king but we read, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” When God is not the King of our lives, we become our own kings. Lord willing, over the next few times that we hope to meet here, we will walk through this story to see how it unfolds.
In the Book of First Samuel, we get our second story. Here we see Hannah pouring out her soul before the Lord. We read about it in 1 Sam 1:15. In her barrenness, which was her famine, she turns to the Lord and the Lord grants her a son, who she calls ‘Samuel’, which means ‘God has given’. And Samuel becomes one of the greatest prophet-priest of Israel.
The third story comes to us from the Books of First and Second Samuel. We read in 1 Sam 22:3 that young David while running from Saul the King and in trying to keep his parents “safe”, takes solace in Moab. Now, David is related to Moab through Ruth who is his Great-Grand Mother. We see that David has a famine of trust – a lack of trust in His Lord God. And in that time of crisis he turns to Moab, his family in the flesh. Thankfully, David was a good learner. We read of another incident in David’s life in 2 Sam 24:13-14.
“So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me. And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.”
David is being confronted because of a sin; and God through His prophet gives King David three options:
• Three years of famine
• Chased for three months by his enemies, or
• Three days of plague from God.
In response to these choices David replies, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”
The sweet Psalmist of Israel, the man after God’s own heart, realizes: “Doing what is wise in our own eyes is unwise.” Learning from Hannah who had previously demonstrated that the best place to be in times of trouble is to draw close to God. Be it famine, barrenness, trials or even discipline, draw close and stay close to God. That is what David chooses.
I once heard a preacher say that as a boy he learned that when his father disciplined him for something wrong, he would get as close as possible to his dad, even hug his Dad’s knees real hard. He had learned even when he was young that the further he pulled away the harder the discipline felt. Now that’s one spiritual truth right there: “When we stray, we pay”.
The second lesson we learn when we stray from God is that we will always end up in ‘Moab’. In the Bible Moab is represented as our sinful flesh. When we walk away from God we will always find ourselves acting in our own wisdom and flesh.
Fortunately, David learns he must keep his flesh in check. Flesh must never be the master but the servant. In 2 Sam 8:2, we read that David makes Moab serve him; and in 1 Chron 18, vs.2 and vs.11 we read that David makes Moab pay tribute to him.
These three stories from Bethlehem-Judah remind me of another one in Micah 5:2, we read: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”
Out of the same place, Bethlehem- Judah, we have our final story. This story is about the man of whom all the prophets in the Scriptures spoke. It is the story of our Lord Jesus Christ. The final story out of Bethlehem-Judah, after which we don’t need any more –For His is the story that completes all things.
So what is our take away? Spiritually speaking, we live in the “days of the Judges” don’t we? In one sense there is no king in Israel and will not be, till Jesus returns. When he returns, all Israel will “look on whom they pierced and mourn for Him as one who mourns for an only child”. We read this prophecy in Zechariah 12:10. In another sense, the King is rejected by the world and people live and do “what is right in their own eyes”. And if so, these are the times to turn to the Lord like Hannah and like David.
I want to suggest another reason we why study of the Book of Ruth. After the rule of Judges, Kings began to rule over the nation of Israel – Saul, David and Solomon. At the end of Solomon’s reign, the nation of Israel splits into two – the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. There is a lesson to be learned from the history of these two Kingdoms.
The Northern Kingdom, had 20 kings under 11 dynasties and it lasted about 200 years. At the end of which they went into exile, never to return as a nation. Judah however, lasts 350 years.They had about 20 kings, and note this; there was only 1 dynasty that ruled Judah and that is the lineage of King David. After the Babylonian exile, it is only the Southern Kingdom that returns because of the covenant.
2 Samuel 7:8-16 records the covenant that God makes with David. God says that David’s house, kingdom, and throne will be established forever. We understand from the Bible how that will come true in Jesus Christ, the King of kings. Historically, there is no denying the continuous lineage from David right up to the ‘greater son of David’, the Lord Jesus Christ. The temple records were kept accurately and existed for all to see and attest the faithfulness of God.
When God makes a promise He keeps it and that is the truth about the Book of Ruth. This book weaves for us a beautiful imagery of how we, the Gentiles were included into this Messianic narrative. That is another reason for us to study the Book of Ruth — it is about us.
The incidents that occur in this story are strange, but stranger still are God’s dealings with humankind. Who is not amazed at the work of God in the lives of men and women even today?
As we read the story of Ruth we are assured that God’s plan is never derailed by man’s poor choices. God is seen as one in control and one who works His plan masterfully. God doesn’t always prevent man from making their choices, but never does man’s choice stop God from working out His plan.
Let me give you an everyday example. We may have used a “GPS” — you know the instrument that some drivers have in their car that gives them the road directions. These GPS need to recalculate its route every time a wrong turn is taken by the driver. However, God’s plan always runs on the track that He has laid. He alone is the one who works “all things according to His purpose,” as the Bible puts it.
It’s always good to remember that God is not a cold calculating planner. He does His work with His people. Earlier we said the word for today is “relationship”. When we read the story of Ruth, the one thing that stands out is that our God, is a God of relationship. In this story of Ruth, we see Him building relationship with a foreigner, a Gentile. Even today He brings strangers like you and me, to a relationship with Himself.