“From Weeping to Wedding” Ruth 1:1-9 July 13, 2008
SI: Two books in the Bible are named after women—Esther and Ruth.
We studied Esther last summer, this summer we are going to study Ruth.
These books are very different.
Esther was a queen, Ruth was a peasant.
Esther was a Jew who married a Gentile.
Ruth was a Gentile who married a Jew.
The book of Esther opens with a feast, the book of Ruth opens with a famine.
The book of Esther closes with the hanging of an enemy—
the book of Ruth closes with the birth of a child.
But both of these books, for all their differences, tell the same story.
They tell the story of God’s grace and providence in the lives of his people.
They tell the story of the Lord working everything, even bad things,
even foolish, sinful things, for the good of those who love him.
And we see, even in this Old Testament story, how that good which God works,
is nothing less than Jesus Christ himself.
Going to read from a different version than normally use.
Will be reading from the English Standard Version.
INTRO: We had a wonderful vacation. The mountains were green and cool.
We slept with our bedroom window wide open and one night it got down to 49.
It felt great to pull a blanket up and breathe in that mountain air.
We enjoyed a happy time together and we were refreshed.
But in the middle of all that mountain beauty we were reminded several times
that this world is full of weeping.
We spent time with some of my cousins—and while our children played,
we talked, and there were some heavy things—marriage problems,
financial problems and depression.
In the middle of the trip we learned that a family we know had lost a child.
Their four year old daughter went to sleep and did not wake up.
They buried her this week.
On Sunday we worshipped at my aunt and uncle’s church. It’s a very close
congregation and they were grieving the death of a young man who had
grown up in the church—he left behind four children under 7.
On our way home, we were stopped for a long time by a wreck on I-20.
I talked to a man who pulled over and tried to help, a young doctor from UAB. There was blood on his pants and hands. He said:
I did all I could but I couldn’t help the man. His abdominal injury too severe.
Then this young doctor started to shake and he walked away.
His wife turned to me and said, What’s really bothering him is that there was a baby
in the car. He tried to get the baby out, but the fire was too hot.
We were detoured off the interstate, driving down a quiet county road and Allison
said: There’s lots of sadness in the world, isn’t there. And she began to list all of
the losses and tragedies and problems and pains that I have just told you about.
That’s how the book of Ruth starts. It starts with a famine and childlessness,
and the deaths of husbands and sons—ruined plans, broken dreams.
The last phrase of verse 9 says it all:
“And they lifted up their voices and wept.”
Picture it: Three women, widowed, childless, destitute, standing at a dusty
crossroads between Moab and Judah, clinging to each other,
but being torn apart by bitter circumstances beyond their control.
Someone has called Ruth chapter 1 the weeping chapter. That’s a good description.
But that’s not the whole story.
Because the Lord was at work.
God was there, even in that weeping time, working things for the good
of the women who trusted him—Ruth and Naomi.
They couldn’t see God’s hand.
They had no idea what the future held.
Everything looked bad.
And yet how does the story of Ruth end? I’m sure most of you already know.
It ends in the happiest possible way—with a wedding—and the birth of a son.
And the good of that wedding and the birth of that son was even deeper
and more amazing than either Ruth or Naomi could see—
because it was from Ruth’s marriage to Boaz, that King David was to come—
and from David’s line would come the Redeemer of the world, Jesus Christ.
And what will Jesus one day do? He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Through the power unleashed by his death and resurrection—
he will put right everything that has been messed up by sin.
And through faith in Him, you can enjoy a taste of that right now.
Someone has said that the book of Ruth shows that—
It is possible for a human life to travel from sorrow to satisfaction, from tears to rejoicing,
from bitterness to blessedness, from emptiness to fullness, from darkness to light, from chains
and bondage and sin to liberty and freedom and covenant.
How does that happen?
How do you go from tears to rejoicing? From weeping to wedding?
That’s not such a pressing question when things are going well in your life—
but when you are suffering like these women were, you want to know.
The book of Ruth shows us how it happens. There are two parts. It happens . . .
1. Through your working and waiting.
2. Through God’s providence and person.
There are things that you must do, and there are things that God does.
These aren’t equal. God’s work comes before and underneath and above and
around all that you do. But you also have a part.
Let’s look at these and lay a foundation for our study of Ruth.
MP#1 Your working and waiting
One way to read Ruth is to see it as a story of the different ways people
respond to hardships.
We have this man Elimelech. He was an Israelite from Bethlehem.
His name means: “My God is King.” It’s like having the name Christian.
But when famine came, how did he handle it?
He acted like his God was not king.
He made a decision that we will see was completely materialistic and faithless.
He ignored everything God had said and might have been trying to teach him
through this famine and did what he thought was best.
The results were spiritually devastating. We’ll study Elimelech in a few weeks.
And then we have Naomi. She was also an Israelite and a believer.
And yet the deaths of her husband and sons made her bitter against God.
She didn’t reject God or lose her faith—continued to pray, but was bitter.
Even though Naomi ended up happy and praising God in the end—
you realize her state of mind was very much determined by her circumstances.
When things were bad, was bitter at God, when things were good, praised him.
We’ll also study Naomi. We’re all a little bit like her.
And then we have Ruth. She grew up worshipping the Moabite gods.
She married a man who was probably a nominal believer in the true God.
By God’s grace, she came to true, living faith in the God of Israel.
And when she faced the hardship of being childless and then widowed—
she responded to those hardships by faith in God.
What did Ruth’s faith in the Lord look like?
It was a working and a waiting faith.
This is the same kind of faith you must have to move from tears to joy.
I want to give you a snapshot of this faith, we’ll fill in the detail in coming weeks.
What do we mean by a working faith?
As a Christian, you have many different callings the Lord has placed on your life.
Your highest calling is to serve him.
You do that through all of the lesser callings of life—
Your calling as a husband or parent.
Your calling to your job or profession.
If high school student, calling is to serve God through studies.
What we see is that Ruth did the work that God had called her to do.
In her case that meant remaining loyal to Naomi, sticking with her,
and then working to provide for her physical needs.
That’s what we see throughout chapter 2.
Ruth working. Up early, Going to the fields.
Gleaning behind the harvesters. Threshing the grain
Hot, sweaty work. Getting food for herself and Naomi.
What you have to understand that Ruth was not just coping.
She was not just doing what she had to do or working to keep mind off troubles.
This was faith. This was working by faith.
As Paul would put it—She was working as unto the Lord.
And it was through that working faith, that the Lord then paved the way
for tears to be turned to joy.
This spiritual principle is still true for Christians today.
When you are weeping over the troubles of life you have to look up
and say to yourself—Now, what has God called me to do?
And then, even though you probably don’t feel like it, work by faith.
One of the most moving examples of this is from the life of Elisabeth Elliott.
I’ve told you this story before. Elisabeth was 14 years old when father died.
After the funeral, went to room and threw herself on bed.
She was not only grieving for her dad,
she was old enough know what this meant for them financially.
They would be destitute. So added to her grief was deep fear and worry.
Then, as she tells it, she heard a familiar sound—her mother sweeping the kitchen.
Each stroke of the broom seemed to her to be an affirmation
of her mother’s faith in God—and Elisabeth’s fears were calmed.
What was her mother doing with that broom? She was sweeping by faith.
That’s what you have to do in your own way at all times,
but especially in times of trouble and loss. What are your callings?
What work has God called you to do in your family, workplace, church, school?
Work by faith and God will use that to move you from tears to joy.
But after working, there is also a time for waiting.
As a Christian, you have to have faith to wait on God.
Over and over again the Scripture repeats this theme: Wait on the Lord.
“Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
“Be still before the Lord and with patiently for him, do not fret . . .”
“I waited for the Lord my God, and he heard my cry, and he lifted me out of the pit.”
“Humble yourself under God’s almighty hand that he may lift you up in due time.”
What does this mean to wait on the Lord?
It means that you come to troubling places in our lives in which you have done
all that you can do physically, emotionally, or morally.
You’ve exhausted all the treatment options.
You’ve said all that can be said.
You’ve trusted God all along but now you come to a place in which
you must actually stop pressing ahead and let the Lord work.
To keep pushing would be a lack of faith.
We see this in chapter 3 of Ruth—Chapter 3 is the waiting chapter.
Ruth has offered herself in marriage to Boaz,
given him the opportunity to redeem the land and family line of Elimelech.
And Boaz says to her—Now, you have to be quiet about this and trust me.
Go home, don’t press this matter any more—you have to wait.
And that’s exactly what Ruth does—and Boaz, the kinsman redeemer,
the Christ figure, works it all out.
Waiting faith is hard—sometimes even harder than working faith—
because when you are hurting and things are unsettled, unresolved—
you just want things to be settled one way or the other—good or bad.
But the Lord has his timing, and calls you to wait.
Jack Miller was a Presbyterian minister, wrote a book about his daughter
rejecting her faith and family. It’s called Come Back, Barbara.
And she did come back, but only after Jack learned this very difficult lesson
of waiting on the Lord, when he realized that he had said all that could be said.
To do more, would be a lack of faith in God. It was hard to wait—but he did.
Now, I want to give you an easy outline of Ruth for you to remember as we study.
Chapter 1 is the weeping chapter. 2 working, 3 waiting, 4 wedding.
Weeping, working, waiting, wedding (credit where due) Ruth—our lives.
But that’s just part of the story, Ruth’s working and waiting faith.
Because before Ruth, and around her, and above her, and ahead of her is the Lord.
That’s the other part of the story.
We see God moving Ruth from tears to rejoicing
through his providence and his person.
MP#2 God’s providence and provision.
What is God’s providence?
God’s providence is his governing over all things—
even the plans and actions of people—to bring about his intended purposes.
We’re going to be talking a lot about God’s providence in the study of Ruth
Providence is not fate. It’s not saying, what will be will be.
It’s not the optimistic American version—everything’s going to work out.
Providence is God’s active, personal directing and governing of all things
for his glory and the ultimate good of his people.
God has a sovereign plan, and then he works it out in history and in our lives.
We can’t see God’s providence when we are in the middle of it—
we can only see it by looking back.
Think of the events in these first nine verses.
A terrible famine in Israel. That famine was instrumental in Elimelech deciding
to move to Moab. His decision to leave Israel for Moab—
as we will see—was an act of disobedience and faithlessness.
And then there was the death of this man and his two sons—all bad things.
And then word that the famine was over in Israel.
All of those events led to that point where we stopped our reading—
where the women were weeping at the crossroads.
At that point it was impossible for them to know what God was doing.
It was impossible for them to know that he was setting them up
for the greatest blessing and most incredible happiness that they had ever known.
And even at the end of the story, when Ruth is married to Boaz,
and when she has her son—even then—in that happy providence—
she has no idea the even greater things God is working out.
That through the line of this son would come the man after God’s on heart—
King David, and through David’s line—the Savior of the world.
You will not know, until you get to heaven, the fullness of God’s providence
in your life. That’s going to be one of the wonderful things about heaven.
All the “why” questions will be answered.
Believing that will give you incredible stability in the ups and downs of life.
Edith Schaeffer compared God’s providence to a tapestry.
If you look at the back of a tapestry, all you see is a jumble of threads.
You might think you see a pattern, but mostly it looks like a mess.
But then you turn the tapestry over, and you see the picture.
And you realize that what you thought was a mess, was not a mess—
it was the very deliberate work of the master weaver.
So God moves his people from tears to joy through his providential
guidance of their lives. And he does so in another way—
through his person.
All of the Lord’s goodness to Ruth came through a person.
When she was hungry—food came to her through a person.
When she was in danger—she was kept safe through a person.
When she had no hope—hope and a future opened up to her through a person.
That person was a man named Boaz.
Boaz was a farmer, a land-owner, a believer in the true God.
And he fulfilled unique a role for Ruth that was known as the kinsman redeemer.
We can’t go into the details of the kinsman redeemer now—
it’s a little complicated and we will get to it in chapter 2.
But let me put it this way:
At a cost to himself and his estate, Boaz married Ruth and gave her a name,
and honor, and a bright future, and a permanent place among the people of Israel
Ruth was a Moabite.
There was a law, in the law of Moses, that said Moabites were cursed.
That because of that curse, they could never be a part of Israel.
They could never partake of the blessings of the people of God.
It was a sin for an Israelite to marry a Moabite.
But there was a deeper law—and that was the law of the kinsman redeemer.
Boaz appealed to that law, fulfilled it in himself for Ruth.
Who does Boaz foreshadow? Jesus Christ.
Boaz was not only one of Jesus’ ancestors—you find his name and Ruth’s name
in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.
Boaz also pointed forward to Jesus Christ through his work
as the kinsman redeemer.
The book of Ruth shows us, through this very satisfying love story,
that God takes his people from tears to joy through a person—
through a man—the Man Christ Jesus.
And that is still true of God’s people today.
A few years ago I was driving up St. Joseph and saw man walking on side of road.
Pulled over and asked if he needed a lift.
When he got in, moved some books, he noticed a Matthew commentary.
Tapped it and said, “Matthew. That’s a good book.”
Then began to tell me his story.
Grew up in a Christian home, parents devout Methodists.
Turned his back on the faith, walked his own way for many years.
Then, he said:
Two years ago I lost everything. Lost job, car, wife left me,
I got so sick I almost died. But I found Jesus.
I’m still struggling but it’s different, Jesus is with me now.
Then he asked me, “How can anyone get along without Jesus?”
As we study Ruth, I hope that we will all see more clearly that the only way
we can move from sorrow to satisfaction,
from tears to rejoicing,
from bitterness to blessedness,
from emptiness to fullness,
from darkness to light,
from chains and bondage and sin to liberty and freedom and covenant—
is through a person—the person—the Man Christ Jesus.
And I hope that this wonderful person, our Lord and Savior,
our kinsman redeemer will become more real and close to us,
as we study this wonderful story of his great-grandmother Ruth.