“Your God will be my God.”
John R. Lawless
INTRODUCTION: “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” These words have been repeated at many a wedding. Yet, these words were not spoken as part of a wedding or even some ritualistic ceremony. Rather these words were spoken as an oath of commitment from one human being to another. The Book of Ruth is a story from many years ago set in a country and society we may not completely understand in light of our current society. Ruth made this commitment to her mother-in-law Naomi as they were preparing to return to Bethlehem from Moab. This story is not a fluffy accounting of some love story but rather it is a story of famine, starvation, death, and the survival of a family. Our society can learn much from this story.
6 She and her daughters-in-law prepared to leave the land of Moab, because she had heard in Moab that the Lord had paid attention to His people’s ⌊need⌋ by providing them food. 7 She left the place where she had been living, accompanied by her two daughters-in-law, and traveled along the road leading back to the land of Judah.
My first point today is survival. Many of us find ourselves in the context of the society we live in just trying to survive. We are concerned about physical survival. Listen to this list of survival subjects:
a. Global Warming
d. Flesh eating bacteria
The same can be said for the time of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi had seen her husband and both her sons die. Ruth and Orpah had witnessed the death of both of their husbands.
We are also concerned about our mental survival. Listen to the list that follows:
a. Bi-polar personality
c. Anxiety attacks
f. Grief and loss
I can only imagine the mental survival difficulties Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth were going through. The grief must have been almost unbearable. The narrative of Ruth gives us the idea that all this happened within a span of ten years. Understanding that many times the grief process can take upwards of three years it would appear that Naomi had been processing grief for a major part of ten years. Naomi was probably in a deep sense of depression and grief. One might go so far as to say she was in the beginning stage of bitterness. Watchman Nee in his book, The Normal Christian Life, states that bitterness, because of how long it takes, can be one of the most difficult mental ailments to recover from.
We are also concerned about the survival of our financial situation. We concern ourselves with portfolio makeup, 401 (K) balances, real estate appreciation, and even retirement savings. So much is expended in our survival. The same can be said for Naomi, she had expended all she had and now needed to look elsewhere or perish. Yet, if all our efforts are spent on our survival then there will be other needs in our life will suffer. One of those is the need for love.
Ruth is able to show love to Naomi. Verse 1:16-17:
16 But Ruth replied:
Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you.
For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.
17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.
May the Lord do this to me and even more,
if anything but death separates you and me.
My second point today is love. Within this story of the survival and continued journey of Naomi and Ruth we can see the role that love plays in this narrative. But what kind of love are we talking about? There are many types of love:
a. Eros or exotic love…..a physical type of love
b. Philo or brotherly love…..a love between friends or relatives
c. Agape or self less love…..what Jesus has for us
d. Yahab or romantic love…..like a husband for a wife or for a friend or relative
e. Hesed or covenantal love….a love based on a pre-arraigned contract
Those who focus so much on their own survival they begin to loose the ability to show concern for others. In this narrative the word used in the original manuscripts to describe this kind of love is hesed. Hesed love has some attributes that are not found in other types of love. Nelson Glueck’s pioneering study of hesed, first published in 1927; saw the meaning for hesed as being in relation to human conduct to include grace, kindness, love, loyalty, justice, righteousness, and honesty. Sankenfeld believed, the following four points concerning the meaning of hesed:
(1) is always the provision for an essential need, never a special favor,
(2) is an action performed by a superior party for an inferior party,
(3) the superior party is always free not to perform the act, and
(4) the superior party is normally the sole source available to the party in need.
Gordon Clark has done the most recent work on just what this type of love means. By comparing what other words are used with hesed he has determined this type of love is a covenantal love and possesses the trait of reciprocity.
With this information available to us this morning the question must be poised, “Within this scenario of starvation, death, and grief how any love could be demonstrated? It would be a general consensus that Naomi was in a state of grief, depression, and the early stages of bitterness.
Ruth was able to show love because she had been shown hesed by Naomi’s God. We do not have before us the details of just how this came about. Yet, it can be seen that the use of the word hesed by Ruth to describe her feelings toward Naomi rather than yahab would point to the idea that Ruth is showing a reciprocal love toward Naomi as God has shown to her.
We live in a world of physical, mental, and financial sources of worry. Yet, we have a great God that has shown us a great love. Patrick Morley has stated in his book, The Man in the Mirror, if we are to find true happiness and fulfillment, it will be when we live our lives not for what we can receive but out of appreciation for what God has done for us. Yes, this world will always have its problems and difficulties but God has secured a place in heaven for us. He wants us to spend eternity with him. Should this not be a great source for us, as stated in the original command of Jesus, agapao allelon, to love one another? I believe this was the source of Ruth’s ability to say, “I will go where you go and your God will be my God.”
What was it that God did that Ruth was enabled to respond to Naomi with hesed? Did God merely love her or was it something else? This brings us to my third point today, grace. This form of love involves grace. Grace is defined as undeserved favor. It wasn’t just that Ruth believed God loved her but he also showed her grace. Ruth I believe saw the sinful state she was in and in spite of that God showed her undeserved favor or love.
Ruth was a Moabite. The Moabites were a descendant from Lot’s older daughter, the younger being the Ammonites. They were at this time also involved in idol worship. The name of their God was, Chemosh. The Moabites ritual rites to Chemosh included child sacrifices by fire. Unger Bible dictionary indicates that many times, it is believed; the children were still alive when they were thrown into the fire. This is the religious system that Ruth came from. You can imagine the guilt and the regret that Ruth probably carried around with her, especially if she had been involved in one of these fiery rituals. It has been said those who are forgiven much possess much thanksgiving. The song by Cece Wymans entitled, The Alabaster Box, speaks about a woman who was forgiven and felt such thanksgiving that she anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive oil and dried his feet with her hair. I believe this was the kind of thanksgiving Ruth felt after God showed grace to her.
Maybe you are sitting out there today and you are a Naomi. Life has been cruel to you and you are bitter toward God and toward those you hold responsible. God loves you and is ready to hear your prayer of repentance. He is ready to show you his grace and in turn offer you hope.
CONCLUSION: A common application for Ruth’s oath to Naomi found in 1:16-17 is used as a vow in weddings. This can be an admirable way to pledge one’s love to a future spouse. Yet, this is much more than a passage to be used in weddings. As has been pointed out this is not a fluffy love story but rather a story of famine, death, and the survival of a family. If that is all it was it would be a grand story of loyalty and unselfish love. Yet, it is much more. This is an example of what it means to receive hesed love from God and then in turn reciprocate by sharing that same hesed with those you have a relationship with.
What does it mean to respond to tragedy that would bring God glory? We can, up to a point, control what happens in our lives. Yet, there is a point where our control of those scenarios we find ourselves in ceases. The Bible is full of stories of different tragedies that happened to people. There is the Great Deluge found in Genesis, slavery in Exodus, the wandering in Numbers, and the destruction of the nation of Israel by Assyria and Babylon. All these incidences speak to one thing, the sovereignty of God. If we do not have control of these things in our lives then how can God be glorified by our actions? Glory comes to God not by the situation we find ourselves in but in how we react or respond to those tragedies that enter our lives. We can be angry, depressed, discouraged, and even suicidal, or we can see it as an opportunity to witness to the glory and love of God. When Katrina happened many people were left homeless, injured, and even killed. A large group of people choose to respond in an expected manner cursing God for letting this awful thing happen to them. Yet, there were others who saw this as an opportunity to reach out to people in pain with patience, reach out to the desperate with deliverance, and provide hope for the hopeless. In so doing glory was brought to God and many names were written in the Book of Life.
Are you out there today searching for some form of healing, deliverance, or hope? Just as Ruth went to God and received those gifts you can today. It doesn’t matter what you have done or what position you find yourselves in. God loves you and wants to restore you. Yet, it will require you to take your eyes off your personal survival and put your eyes on him. Are you ready to turn to God as Ruth did so long ago?