18th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 23c] October 9, 2022
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 [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!” 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.
Put yourself, for a moment, in Ruth’s shoes.
The reason to put yourself into Ruth’s shoes is to see what the Lord is doing toward Ruth. And the reason to see what the Lord is doing toward Ruth is to see what he is doing toward you. Because he is doing the same thing toward you as he was doing toward Ruth.
Our details are different, of course.
Ruth lived in what’s now called the Mideast; you live in New Mexico, which Ruth didn’t even know about. Ruth wore sandals; you wear Nike or Adidas or something like that. And Ruth knew nothing of the Kardashians.
But Ruth did live in the same world as you and I.
The sin, the dishonesty, the politicians looking to increase power, the sickness, the death—Ruth knew that as well as you and I. And Ruth’s problem was not that she didn’t have Internet access or government healthcare or anything like that. Ruth’s problem was sin—the sin around her, her own sin, and what to do about getting herself cleansed of sin so she could live before God with a good conscience.
So Ruth, she’s like us.
So let’s look at what our Lord did toward Ruth.
She grew up in Moab. As a Moabitess, she would’ve worshipped the Moabite god Chemosh.
At the altar of Chemosh, the worshippers did abominable practices, including vile acts of sex and even human sacrifice.
Why would’ve Ruth and her family have gone to the altar of Chemosh? That’s the god who ruled over the Moabites. At least, that’s what the prophets and priests of Moab taught them—not just Chemosh, but the other gods and goddesses with him. And these gods and goddesses were the ones who supplied the Moabites with rain and water and good crops and who defended them from sickness and from invading armies—at least that’s what the Moabite family was taught at the altar of Chemosh.
So the comfort Ruth and her family had with Chemosh and the other gods and goddesses of Moab was the comfort they could wrestle from the gods by buying them off with sacrifices.
But what did Ruth and her family not get from the altar of Chemosh?
At the altar of Chemosh, as they sacrificed, they heard about bloodshed and power, about conquering and victory, about riches and thrones, but they heard nothing, not one word, to forgive their sins.
Not one word spoken to justify the sinner. Not one word to cleanse the conscience.
Ruth heard nothing to reconcile her to God and to her neighbor.
She heard no word taking away her guilt, no word covering her shame. At that altar of Chemosh, as she grew up, even as a little girl, Ruth heard no word of grace standing her in honor at the face of God, no word giving the promise of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
She heard only of gods and goddesses demanding she sacrifice so she could live another day and hopefully her family would have crops and not starve.
Then the Lord, the true God, the God who created all things and by whom all things exist, the God who speaks a promise to the sinner to redeem the sinner and claim the sinner as his own—then the Lord spoke a different word to Ruth.
You would never have known it by just looking at the events in Ruth’s life. But the Lord spoke a word to her different than any other word heard in this world.
In Moab, Ruth was taken as bride by Mahlon.
Mahlon was not a Moabite, did not worship Chemosh. Mahlon and his brother Chilion and their parents Naomi and Elimelech where Israelites living in Moab.
So Ruth’s husband Mahlon, as an Israelite, had been circumcised into the Lord’s covenant given to Abraham. The covenant of the forgiveness of sins, the justification of the sinner, the covenant promising the Redeemer to be born in Abraham’s lineage to save all sinners. The covenant of grace and of the promise of the resurrection of the body. Mahlon belonged to that Lord.
And now, so did Ruth.
Can we see the Lord’s hand in this?
See how the Lord was there, working in this world of sin to freely hand out his gifts to this young Moabite woman who had been lost in the darkness of the false god Chemosh and of sacrifices and works-righteousness, which could never cleanse an unclean conscience anyway?
Then, Elimelech, Ruth’s father-in-law, dies. And Mahlon, Ruth’s husband, dies. And Chilion, Ruth’s brother-in-law, dies.
Leaving, three widows: Naomi, the mother-in-law; Orpah, Ruth’s sister-in-law; and, Ruth.
Naomi, an old woman now with no husband, packs up to return to Israel. And Naomi tells Ruth and Orpah to return to their family homes. They would be more comfortable there than to follow her to the foreign land of Israel.
Ruth won’t stay in Moab. To stay in Moab is to return to the Chemosh altar. To say in Moab is to deal with your sins yourself; it’s to hear no word of grace, no word of mercy from the God of Israel who justifies the sinner. To stay in Moab, Ruth knows, is death.
So Ruth will not let Naomi leave her behind. She’s an Israelite. She married an Israelite, Mahlon, she heard the promise given to Abraham, and when Mahlon died, Ruth still belongs to the promise.
Back in Israel, Ruth is again taken as wife, this time by an Israelite named Boaz.
Can we yet see the Lord’s hand in all of this?
So let’s jump forward. Not just a little bit, but about 1,000 years.
The Apostle Matthew is writing of the birth of Jesus and of the lineage he came from. Matthew 1:5:
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
In other words, for our Lord to come in the flesh to be the Lamb of God bearing the sin of the world, he comes in the flesh as the Son of David.
For the promise was that the Messiah, the Savior, would come in David’s line. And for our Lord to come in the flesh as the Son of David, he does it by bringing this Moabite woman, Ruth, into Israel so that from Ruth would come a grandson named David, that from David’s lineage we would be given our Lord.
Did Ruth know any of this?
What Ruth knew is that there was a Lord in Israel who called her into his people to hear his Gospel of all sins forgiven, a Lord who called her his own, and in that, she had a Lord who took her up into his service, so that we may all give thanks that Ruth, called out of false worship, called out of works-righteousness—Ruth is our sister, and not only our sister, but a woman most honored to be a grandmother, several generations removed, to our Lord Jesus.
Can we see our Lord working in this?
For he works toward us, too.
He redeems us from sin, death, and the devil, and makes us his own, taking us, along with Ruth, up into his use.
We are brothers and sisters to Ruth, we are of her family, for we are brothers and sisters to all—to the Israelites at the time of Ruth, and to our fellow members in the church, the New Israel—we are brothers and sisters to all who are cleansed by the blood of Ruth’s greater son, Jesus, to all hearing his Gospel of all sins forgiven.
All sins forgiven, for he took them upon himself and bore them to the cross.
All sins forgiven, for that was the promise given to Abraham, later to Ruth, later to David, and also to us.
All sins forgiven, to Ruth, to David, to you, to me, and our families, for Jesus atoned for all in his blood on the cross, and he is our Redeemer from all sin, all guilt, all shame—our Redeemer giving us a clean conscience and taking us up into his use.
In the Name of Jesus.