Why We Believe in God - Ruth 1.1-19
God tells us about many important people in the Bible. Many of them are women such as Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Mary the Mother of our Lord Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Damaris, Dorcas and many others. You would do well to be acquainted with these great women of faith. The way God worked in their lives will forever be an example and an inspiration for us in our own walk of faith.
One of the favorite women of faith in the Bible is Ruth. I want to introduce you to her this morning so that in her experience you might better appreciate God’s grace. Before we leave this worship service today, I hope we will all be refreshed by our realization of God’s goodness and faithfulness. This is Why We Believe in God.
1. Ruth Shows Remarkable Faith in the Face of Tragedy.
We don’t know anything about Ruth’s childhood. She enters into the recorded history of God’s plan of salvation as a bride. Israelites, foreigners from Israel, had come to her country because of a famine in their land. Ruth became acquainted with them. Their names were Elimelech and Naomi along with their two sons Mahlon and Chilion. To Ruth there was something special about this family. Knowing what pious Jewish life was like, we can imagine that she was attracted to their decency, their love and respect for one another, and above all their unwavering faith in Yahweh, the God of Israel. She probably expected them to think lightly of their God since there was a famine in Israel. Others might have joked with Elimelech telling him that "his God wasn’t doing his job." Ruth was probably used to this nonchalant view of divinity that was common in the pagan world. Since these were gods that they had imagined in their own hearts, they could do whatever they wanted with them. But the God of Israel was different. He was respected no matter what. There was no other God.
However it worked out, we don’t know the details, Ruth was joined to this family in marriage. While the spiritual life of this family may have been strong, outwardly this was a family facing many tragedies. First there was the famine, the move to Moab, and finally the death of Elimelech and Mahlon and Chilion. The writer of the Book of Ruth stresses the idea that these women were "left" -- Left to go on with life without the help and support of husbands. Without the benefit of a support system like we have today these women were in big trouble. Desperate for survival Naomi decides to return to Israel. As painful as it may have been she also realized that Orpa and Ruth stood a better chance of finding new husbands in their own land. Not many men, she thought, would be interested in these women from Moab. Confused and dazed in her own grief - her own faith wais shattering. She even recognized that as Orpa was turning back to Moab that she was returning to her people and to her gods. It is a bitter, bitter situation dramatically described as these women kiss one another and raise up their voices in sad crying.
Tragedy. It is the experience we all dread. We’re very used to having the things and the people we need. What happens to us when they are taken away? Even for Christians there is the threat that tragedy can shake our faith. The new parent worries for the safety of their child. They want to ride their bikes, but will they watch out for cars? Will the cars watch out for them? The child worries for mom and dad. Everyday they kiss and say goodbye. What would happen if one of them were not coming back to pick me up after school? The young couple worries that the early joys of married life could be destroyed by the dreaded sentence: Mr. so and so, I have some bad news to tell you…"
Tragedy tests us. It challenges us by asking, "Is your God faithful? Can He be trusted?" Daniel tells us about the three men who were thrown into the fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meshach and Abenigo were challenged to believe in the goodness and faithfulness of God. They would not bow down to another god. In fact they said, "O Nebuchadnezzar, … our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up" (Daniel 3.16-18). "He will… but if not…" These are the words of one who knows that God is faithful. Even if He does not deliver me from this present tragedy, I know that He will deliver me from the hand of the wicked and from the evils of this world.
Over and over again, the Bible tells us that despite apparent and present circumstances God is faithful. One of our favorite passages comes from St. Paul: "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry" (1 Corinthians 10.13-14).
2. Leaving Behind the Gods of Moab
That last sentence also reminds us of a very important choice that Ruth had to make: She had to leave behind the gods of Moab. "Flee idolatry" is the opposite way of saying, "trust in God." One of the gods of Moab was the god Chemosh. His name means "to subdue." He was a god of war, and he required human sacrifices in order to benefit from his powers. This god is an example of what human depravity can imagine. Chemosh was not about faith but about covetousness – when you want something so bad, you’re willing to do anything to get it – even destroy another human being. Chemosh, like another famous god, Molech, was especially appeased by the sacrifice of children, or so his worshipers thought.
Ruth could see the difference between Chemosh and Yahweh. The God of Israel did not exist simply to give us power over others so that we could get whatever we want. Ruth could see that Yahweh was the God of salvation who in His loving kindness does not give us whatever we want but what we really need. He gives us His faithfulness to deliver us from evil.
You and I are also called to abandon our gods. These are the things that we imagine in our hearts – things upon which we rely to get the things we want. Our Chemosh could be our education, our job, our wealth, our family, our government. Someone might say, "but pastor these are all good things, how can they be false gods?" The answer is that when we rely on any or all of these instead of looking to God, they become Chemosh – they become those things we turn to in order to subdue our enemies and provide us with our pleasures.
The illusion of selfish idolatry is growing stronger and stronger in our American culture. People are more and more willing to commit sin in order to get satisfaction for their pleasures. Greed and jealousy drive corporation executives to lie and deceive and to leave their investors and employees empty-handed. Greed and jealousy drive people to get-rich-quick lawsuits, to gambling casinos, and to state-run lotteries. Immoral sex is promoted everywhere. And then the legalized abortion industry is there to take care of the unwanted pregnancies. Homosexual marriage is designed not just to give people the same rights as heterosexuals, but to give homosexuality legitimacy and acceptance. Good Christian people are being naively led back to Moab with foolish sayings such as "But you can’t legislate morality." Or, "personally I oppose these things but I wouldn’t want to impose my morality on someone else." Is stealing immoral? Yes, and therefore we punish thieves. Is it immoral to physically harm others? Yes, and therefore we punish bullies and murderers. It is true that we cannot impose faith. We can’t force a person to believe it is wrong to steal or murder. That is a matter of the heart. But we must impose morality because immoral choices hurt and destroy the lives of others. Don’t fall into this delusion.
God placed Ruth on a good path. He has placed us there too. We know His faithfulness. We know that if we "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6.31) that God, who "supplies seed for the sower and bread to the eater" (Isaiah 55.10) will provide us with all that we need. Every day we encounter alternate routes that tempt us:.\: Forget about God, do what everyone else is doing. Take the path of selfish and easy pleasure. It is a strong temptation to return to that kind of Chemosh-like idolatry.
3. Looking Forward to God’s Salvation.
"Orpa kissed her mother-in-law but Ruth clung to her" (1.14). Ruth had no idea what hardships and difficulties were still coming to her. She had a bitter, unhappy, and in some ways unfaithful mother-in-law that needed her help. She also had to go on somehow – but she would not go on by herself. Ruth tells Naomi in verse 16 "Your people will be my people and your God will be my God." This is not unusual. While God used Naomi to convert Ruth, now God would use Ruth to preserve Naomi in her faith. Many times in history it has been the recent convert who has turned around and shown more faith than the person converted long ago. God uses all of us to support one another.
Ruth trusted in God’s faithfulness. She knew that somehow He would provide the best way for her. They arrived in Israel at the time of the barley harvest. Ruth was permitted to glean in the fields. That is, she walked behind the harvesters and picked up the grain that they missed. God provided – perhaps not as much as she had wished, but He still provided. Then God led a man named Boaz to marry Ruth and to take care of her and Naomi. He became a redeemer to them:. Taking up the burden necessary to care for them. Again God provided.
As the account goes on we see just how much God was providing not only for Ruth and for Naomi but for the world. Ruth had a son named Obed, who in turn had a son named Jesse. Jesse had a son named David, who became the king of Israel. When we turn to the opening chapter of the New Testament, we discover the rest of Ruth’s story. Ruth was one of the ancestors of Jesus.
Ruth did not understand what was happening to her and what the future would unfold. But Ruth knew Who was with her. She knew that the one true God, the God life and salvation, was with her all the way. That is one of the most consist promises of the Bible: "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Joshua 1.5); "The LORD of hosts is with us" (Psalm 46.7); "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed" (Isaiah 41.10).
When God finally sent His Son into the world, He was named "Immanuel" which means "God with us" (Matthew 1.23). Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s goodness and faithfulness. He took up our burden of sin on the cross so that we could be freed from the slavery of selfish idolatry. Why do we believe in God? We believe because God is good. He is faithful. And He is with us to save us and deliver us from evil through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
The Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost, October 24, 2004
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2004
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