Ruth Has a Lord
21st Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 23c] October 9, 2016
1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. 6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. 19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?”
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Ruth was a Moabitess. That tells us much about her. The Moabites worshipped a god called Chemosh. The altar of Chemosh included abominable practices, including human sacrifice. So the comfort Ruth had before Chemosh and the other gods was the comfort she could wrestle from them by buying them off with sacrifices.
From the altar of Chemosh, as she grew up, Ruth and her family heard nothing of the forgiveness of sins, nothing of being justified by the word of grace, nothing of being reconciled to God and your neighbor.
Ruth knew nothing of how to be relieved of her guilt, nothing of how to have your shame covered so you could live in honor, nothing of a promise to live in resurrected life of eternity, all as a free gift from the God of life.
Ruth knew only of gods who would, at best, let you live another day, and who would bless you with good rain for your fields and with victories over your enemies, if you would sacrifice to them; she grew up knowing only the gods created by the imagination of man.
Then Ruth heard of another God. Actually, she didn’t hear about him so much as he presented himself to her. It wasn’t as if she went looking for a God who didn’t demand sacrifice but who gave gifts—she didn’t even know his Name. But he presented himself to her in her own hometown.
Ruth one day looked up, we might say, and saw a new face, Mahlon. He was from Israel, where the worship of Chemosh and any other false god was prohibited; for they worshipped Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God who revealed his Name to Moses at the burning the bush, the God of life who utterly rejected human sacrifice, who found death to be abominable, and who established his sacrifice not as a way for the sinner to buy him off, but as his instrument for bringing grace and forgiveness to the sinner. That’s the God Mahlon knew, the God into whose covenant Mahlon had been circumcised as a baby, and now Mahlon took Ruth as his wife.
Ruth now could leave Chemosh and the false sacrifice, and the guilt, and the fear of death, and the forever chasing after a way to make the gods happy with you—Ruth could now leave all that behind. She was the bride of Mahlon, she belonged to Mahlon’s God, the Living God, and she now knew what it meant to have a God who did not rejoice in death, who did not delight in human guilt and misery, but who showed mercy and gave gifts and reconciled sinners to himself and to each other.
But Mahlon hadn’t shown up in Moab on his own. He had been driven to Moab by the Lord, by his God Yahweh, when the Lord brought famine on Israel, and drove Mahlon and his brother Chilion and his mother Naomi and father Elimelech to go to Moab in order to find food.
It was not by happenstance, then, that Ruth ended up knowing the God of life. This is no roll of the dice. The God of life desired to have this Moabite woman rescued, desired to have her brought into his people, to be made an Israelite, desired to have her brought out of shame and into honor, so that he even later gave her the honor of being the mother of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David, King of Israel. Which means, since Jesus came in the lineage of David, that our Lord Jesus comes from the lineage of Ruth, the Moabitess.
But it was all accomplished in the Lord’s way. Ruth, taken as a bride by the Israelite Mahlon, now belonged to the Lord of life. But in the Lord’s way of things, Mahlon died in Moab, as did Mahlon’s brother Chilion. Ruth was left a widow.
In this tragic string of events in Moab, it ends up, then, that Naomi, the Israelite mother-in-law, Ruth, the Moabitess who is now an Israelite, and Orpah, are all left as widows. And that’s where, then, Naomi is going to move back to Israel to rebuild her life there. But before Naomi goes, she releases Ruth and Orpah to remain in Moab where they could hopefully find new husbands for themselves. Ruth 1:7:
7 So [Naomi] set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!”
Naomi actually says to her daughters-in-law, “Go, return, each of you to your mother’s house.” But for both Ruth and Orpah, the homes of their mothers would be in Moab. The text throws up in front of us the question, Why would Naomi, an Israelite, suggest to her daughters-in-law that they return to Moab instead of inviting them to come with her to Israel? Ruth and Orpah, after all, were married to Israelite men before the men died; they have claim to the God of Israel, the true God, the God who forgives sins, and they gain nothing by going back to the false god Chemosh.
So why would Naomi say, “Go, return, each of you to your mother’s house.”
And here the question is brought to us, Why would the Lord of life give such an invitation to Ruth and Orpah to leave him and return to their former gods? He is the God of life, the God who wants no sinner to be left in any doubt; the God who came to Adam and Eve in the Garden and justified them; giving the promise of a Savior; who came to Moses in the burning bush, promising he would save his people and would never depart them. He is the God who in the face of death, speaks life, in the face of fear, says, “Fear not, I am the Lord your God who makes you holy.” Why would he want Ruth and Orpah to be invited to return to Moab among the sacrifices to the false god Chemosh, who can save no one?
The Lord, the God of life, he is also the one who tests faith, strengthening the faith, always having the Christian look for his rescue. He is the One, after all, who had Abraham climb that mountain with his son Isaac, and with instructions to sacrifice Isaac, strengthened Abraham’s faith through testing, so that Abraham, even in deepest desperation, could look only to the Lord for help and deliverance.
Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, belongs to the linieage of Abraham, the lineage of being justified by the Lord’s voice, of having faith in the Lord and in his word of promise, and of having that faith strengthened through testing. Naomi belongs to that lineage. And so does Ruth. Ruth the Moabitess has been adopted into it. When Naomi suggests to Ruth that she return to Moab, Ruth says,
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”[Ruth 1:16]
From Ruth, we hear the voice of the heart of faith. The heart that will not give up on God and his promises, even when it seems that God has given up on you.
The heart that knows that God is your Lord not just when things are going well, but especially when things are desperate.
The heart beating with the confidence that the Lord keeps his covenant, will not forget his promise, and will never depart those he has named as his own.
The heart that when hit with doubt, with despair, with hopelessness, is strengthened by returning once again to the sureness and certainty of God’s word of mercy and grace.
In Ruth, we see the heart of faith. She, along with Naomi, is of the lineage of Abraham. She has a Lord, not because she made him her Lord, but because he called her his child.
We, along with Ruth, are of the lineage of Abraham. We, like Ruth, have been adopted into it. She, through her marriage to an Israelite and through the preaching of the promise, we through our Baptism into Christ Jesus and through the preaching of his promise to us.
We are of the lineage of Abraham, for we have been baptized into Christ Jesus, Abraham’s greater Son.
We live the life of Ruth. This is the life of faith, sometimes hit with pain or tragedy, sometimes afflicted with doubt, sometimes wondering where God is, but always the life of faith—faith being strengthened by God through testing. By this faith, in the midst of all doubt and suffering, we hear the voice of God forgiving our sin, we hear the living God in his Word of Gospel giving us the same promise he gave Ruth, saying to us, I am the Lord your God who makes you holy, and I will never depart my promise I made to you and I will remember my covenant forever.
Along with Ruth, we have a Lord. It is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, the offspring of David. In Baptism, we have died with him—him making his cross ours by gift, and in Baptism we live with him in his gift of
salvation. We bear his Name. We have his promise on it. He remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.