“Going Back To Her Gods”             Ruth 1:6-15             August 10, 2008


SI:  We’re studying the book of Ruth.

It’s a story of how God takes his people from tears to rejoicing.


One of the ways to read Ruth is to see it as a story of the different ways

   people respond to the hardships and troubles of life.

That’s why we are spending a number of Sundays in chapter 1.


Because the people in chap. 1, the chapter someone has called the weeping chapter,

   all respond differently to hardships and troubles. 

And examining their responses not only gives us insight into ourselves,

   and the Christian life, but it helps us get even more out of the last

   three chapters. 


Today going to focus on someone who plays a minor role in this story—

   and who completely disappears after this chapter—

   Elimelech and Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Orpah.

The daughter-in-law who left Naomi at the crossroads and returned to Moab.


Now, just so you know, Oprah Winfrey’s mother named her Orpah.

   But the person who filled out her birth certificate flipped the p and the r—

   and the rest, as they say, is history.

If I slip and say Oprah instead of Orpah

   just smile to yourself and don’t get distracted.



INTRO:  The most popular god in India is a cute, fat, pink elephant named Ganesh.

He’s usually sitting cross-legged, with his big belly poking out—

   and he’s holding some symbolic objects.


You see him everywhere in India. 

  Posters of him sold by street vendors.

   Framed pictures of him in restaurants and stores.

Statues of him outside temples and homes.

   And little plastic figurines of him on the dashboards of taxis.

   Hindus revere him, love him, and pray to him.

How strange that is, to pray to a pink elephant.


Who is Ganesh?  He’s the God of Success.

And it is believed that if you serve him, he will remove all of the obstacles

   that stand in the way of you fulfilling your dreams—

   success in your business, in your marriage, in your education—

   whatever it is, in love or money—Ganesh will give success.


When you understand Ganesh that way—that he’s the God of Success—

   he doesn’t seem so strange, because you realize that he’s one of the

   most popular gods in America too.

Americans don’t personify the God of Success as a plastic pink elephant—

   but many worship the god, or we should say, the idol of success just the same.


One of the most important themes in the Bible is the struggle between

   faith in the true God and the worship of idols.

Idolatry is not just worshipping figurines—

   it’s not just something limited to ancient times or distant cultures—

   idolatry is the Bible’s way of describing everything that is wrong with us.


Idolatry started in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve

   chose to worship and serve created things instead of the Creator.

And that’s what idolatry is—

   it is serving, worshipping things besides God.

   It is trusting created things to give you what God alone can give.


So when we read about Orpah going back to the gods of Moab—

   it’s a very contemporary story, it’s very close to us.

   It’s not something ancient and primitive and strange.

Often, at the crossroads of life—

   often, in weeping times like Orpah was experiencing,

   the same choice presents itself.

Will I trust and follow the true God,

   whose ways are not my ways, and who does what he knows is best in his time?



Or will I go back to my idols, my old gods,

   that promise to give me the things I so desperately want?


That’s is the big question of life:  Who will I worship?  Who will I serve?

   Even after that question is answered by a Christian—

   Even after you say, I’m going to follow Jesus Christ, he is my Lord and God—

   you still feel the pull of the old gods.

Sometimes that pull is especially strong in weeping times.


The book of First John ends with an interesting command:

   “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

John wrote his letter to show what the true Christian life looks like.

   Spends most of the letter explaining Jesus’ command, “Love one another”

   And then he concludes:     “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”


John was saying that keeping yourself from idols

   is an essential part of Christian life.

   It’s part of what it means to live a life of love.

If you are going to avoid idols, you have to know what they are.


So let’s look at the story of Orpah, use as a springboard to study this subject.

   We’re going to look at it under two headings.

1.  Identifying your idols

2.  Keeping yourself from idols

   Let’s look at each.


MP#1  Identifying your idols

Great English hymn writer, William Cooper wrote a hymn called:

   “O, For A Closer Walk With God.”

Each stanza, talks about a step Christians need to take

   to walk closer with Jesus.  One stanza says: 

The dearest idol I have known,/What’er that idol be,

Help me to tear it from Thy throne,/And worship only Thee.


You need to know you dearest idols. 

   You can’t even start to tear them from the throne of your life

   if you don’t know what they are.

I’ve gotten a lot of help in identifying my idols from the sermons

   and writings of Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Pres. in New York City.


One of the most helpful things I learned from Tim Keller is the distinction

   between what he calls “far idols” and “near idols.”

Far idols are deeply rooted idols. 

   They are far in the sense that you can’t see them on the surface of your life.

   They are the idols that have the most power over you.

   They motivate you and move you at the deepest levels.


Tim Keller says that there are basically four far idols:

   Control, Comfort, Power, and Approval

Depending on your personality, your experiences, maybe even biology,

   going to be drawn to one or two of these more than others.

Let’s look at each far idol briefly and as we do, look at yourself.


1.  Control

The first idol is control.  Control promises certainty, security, standards, order

   This may have been Orpah’s idol. 

Going to Bethlehem with Naomi meant uncertainty. 

   It was the right thing to do, it was the way of salvation.

   But Orpah did not know what she would face if she went to Israel.


The greatest nightmare for a person who worships control is uncertainty.

   When you read about Orpah weeping, it’s quite possible that one reason

   she was weeping was because she was so worried about leaving Moab

   and all that was familiar to her. 


Worry is the problem emotion for people who worship control.

   Worried that things aren’t right, things are out of usual order,

   that discipline is breaking down. 


All idols demand sacrifices

   and the sacrifice that control demands is loneliness and lack of spontaneity.

Because when you worship control, other people often feel condemned by you,

   and you are fearful of doing anything unplanned or unknown.


2.  Another idol is comfort.  What does it promise?

   Ease, pleasure, for some people that means privacy, freedom, entertainment.

The person who worships comfort wants to avoid stress and demands at all cost.

   Boredom and discontent are often problem emotions.

And the comfort idol opens people up to temptations—

   especially temptations of the flesh.


3.  The power idol promises success (Ganesh is a power idol).

Power idol promises winning, influence, moving up the ladder, being top dog.

   The greatest fear for a person who worships power is failure and humiliation

   and anger is often their problem emotion.

This idol drives you to take on burdens and responsibilities.


4.  The approval idol promises affirmation, praise, love, and a sense of worth.

Approval worshippers dread rejection.

   They pay the price of lack of freedom around people,

   because always concerned about what people think of them.

They sometimes are overwhelmed by a sense of rejection or worthlessness.


There are many variations and combinations of these far idols.

   But do you see how these things operate beneath the surface of our lives?

   These are the deep idolatries that sometimes don’t even see in ourselves.

So what are near idols? 

   Near idols are the created things we use to get the far idols to bless us.


Let me give you an example.  Money. 

   Money is a near idol.  It’s a created thing.

People worship money for very different reasons,

   depending on their far idols.


Some people want money in order to have control. 

   If I have enough money, my future can be planned and secure.

   If I have enough money, I can control my life and destiny.

People who worship money for that reason tend to be hoarders.


Other people want money because their idol is approval.

Money can buy the things that make them acceptable

   in the eyes of the people who matter.

Money can be spent to make them more beautiful and attractive.

   People who worship money for this reason tend to be spenders.


Other people want money for comfort and pleasure.

   Other people worship money because it gives them power over people.


Do you see how idolatry works?  Money is just one example.

   You can use any created thing as a near idol—

   marriage, children, career, sex, religion, food, drink—

Anything can be a near idol to get what we really want deep down—

   control, comfort, power, or approval.


But idols never fully deliver on their promises—they always fail.

   That’s why we get all tied up in knots.

When you see your heart in the grip of some

    anxiety or temptation or anger or despondency it’s

   because there is something that you are trusting besides Jesus,

   to give you what he alone can give, and it’s not delivering.


What is that thing you are trusting?  What are your old idols?

Ask yourself questions like these:

   1.  What is my greatest nightmare?  What do I worry about the most?

   2.  What could I not bear to live without if I lost it?

   3.  What do I rely on or comfort myself with when things go bad or get difficult?

   4.  What makes me feel the most self-worth?  What am I proudest of?

   5.  What do I really want and expect out of life?

   6.  What would really make me happy?


Look for common themes.

   You have to know yourself. 

   That brings us to the next point


MP#2  Keeping yourself from idols.

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” 

   That’s an important command for all times, but the story of Orpah reminds us

   that we have to be especially careful in weeping times.


Years ago I attended the funeral of a teenager.

   And it was packed, as the funerals of young people usually are.

I didn’t know the minister personally but I knew he was in a denomination

   that is very troubled theologically.

So I was bracing myself for an empty, feel-good message.


I think because of that his opening line surprised me and I’ve never forgotten it.

He said:  A tragedy like this will drive you away from God or into his arms.

   And then he proceeded to call everyone to trust the Lord,

   throw themselves on his mercy, and to find comfort in Christ.


He was right, tragedy does drive people to God or away from him.

I would like to use his words and tweak them just a little

   to fit our study this morning. 

The weeping times of life

   will drive you to the true God or back to your idols.


It’s not just a matter of turning away from God,

   your old idols, far and near are saying, come back to us.

You want security, we’ll give you security. 

   You want comfort, we’ll give you comfort.

   You want power or approval.  We’ll give you those things.


That’s what we see in the story of Orpah.

She was weeping, it was a time of crisis for her—

   and she was on her way to Bethlehem and all that Bethlehem represented—

   faith in the true God, coming under his care in the house of bread, life, salvation.

And think about the end of the story of Ruth—great blessings God poured out.

   If Orpah had stayed with Naomi, would have enjoyed all of that.


But at the dusty crossroads, Orpah looked at her life,

   and she looked at all she was suffering,

   and she considered what would be best for her future—

And she chose to go back to her gods, back to the gods of Moab.

She chose security and control over trusting God

   because trusting him would have meant a step of faith into uncertainty. 

This is the last we hear of Orpah. 

   What happened to her?  Did she get married again?

   Did she get the life she wanted?  Maybe she did.


But what did she lose?  She lost life.  She lost eternal blessing.

She lost a relationship with the true God.

   And she disappears from the pages of the Bible.

   and is not numbered with the people of God.


Orpah gives us no help, she’s just an example of failure.

   We have to look at Ruth. 

She suffered the same things as Orpah

   but instead of going back to her idols, she ran to the true God.


Now, we’re going to look at Ruth’s decision in detail next week—

But today we want to ask, how did Ruth resist the call of her old gods.

   Naomi even said to her—Go back to your gods.

   This is the key:  Ruth was rejoicing.


No, it doesn’t say that Ruth was rejoicing—

   but that is what she was doing. 

Rejoicing does not mean you are grinning and cheering.

   Rejoicing is treasuring something, seeing its value,

   reflecting on its beauty and importance until your heart rests in it

   and tastes the sweetness in it. 


That’s what Ruth did—We see that when she said to Naomi—

   More than anything in life I want to go to Bethlehem with you

   and be identified with your people and your God.

And then she names him.  The Lord.  Uses his covenant name.  Jehovah.


In our reading earlier in the service, in Philippians—Paul says Rejoice in the Lord.

   And then he goes right into dealing with what? 

   Anxiety, worry. 

What is anxiety always caused by? 

   The control idol.


Trusting that that something I do or something I have

   will give me control over my life and environment. 

   The control idol doesn’t deliver and leads to anxiety.


Paul says:  The answer is to rejoice in the Lord.

This takes thought.  You have to make yourself see that Jesus gives you

   fully and graciously and perfectly the very things you are looking for elsewhere.

And then is it consciously rejoicing in Him, in what he has done and has given you.

   When you do that, idols lose their hold over you.


Let’s take the example of anxiety.

How does Jesus give you more fully and graciously the security you crave?

   Think about it.


Even though you don’t deserve to have anything go right in your life—

   because of God’s grace, his love for you in Christ—

   he is working all things for good. 


And because all of your punishment fell on Jesus when he was crucified,

   the bad things God allows are not his judgment,

   they are only for your growth, for loving and wise purposes.


And because the Lord says that he has counted every hair on your head,

   and has recorded every tear on your cheek—

   he loves you and cares for you better than you could ever care for yourself.


And he has said over and over that he is preparing a place for you.

So you can rejoice and relax—because your security in life

   is not based on your planning and hard work,

   or that one thing you think you must have to make it all hold together—

   but on the Lord’s gracious love for you.


You have to take these truths, meditate them, pray them, wrestle with them—

   until they sink in and you can truly rejoice.

   When you do, glory of Jesus outshines your idols.