“He Has Not Forsaken”               Ruth 2:17-23                   September 7, 2008

                                    

SI:  We’re studying the book of Ruth.

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

 

The book of Ruth starts with deaths and barrenness and lots of weeping—

   it ends with a wedding, and with the birth of a child.

 

The Christian life, in biggest sense is a pilgrimage from weeping to wedding.

   We go from this sad world, all it’s sin and brokenness—

   to Christ’s eternal kingdom, resurrection life and wedding supper of Lamb.

 

And, on a smaller scale, we experience this weeping to wedding pilgrimage

   many times throughout our lives as we go through troubles and hardship,

   and Jesus is faithful to restore our joy in time.

 


 

INTRO:  A number of years ago, we were talking to college friend,

   and she was telling us that her parents were finally empty nesters. 

   Their youngest child had gone to college.

Our friend had gone home to visit her parents.

   When she got home she found that her parents—

   who had been married about 30 years at the time—had revived their romance.

 

They were constantly holding hands, kissing, whispering, going on dates.

   What was so funny was our friend’s embarrassment—

   Oh, she said, it was unbearable. 

   I have never witnessed such behavior.  Ugh!  Stop it!

But she was old enough to know that this was a good thing—

   that after 30 years, with all that history between them,

   for romantic love to be revived.

 

There are times in the Christian life when you need your love revived—

   and your hope revived, and your faith revived. 

You’ve known the Lord for a long time, but for different reasons

   you’ve gotten cold, you’ve gotten apathetic and busy—

   maybe you’ve even become bitter or cynical.

 

In the book of Revelation, the risen Lord Jesus speaks to seven churches.

   And do you remember what he says to the Ephesian church?

He praises them for their sound doctrine and for enduring hard things—

   but then he says:  “I have this against you, you have forsaken your first love.”

 

Jesus sounded this note in his earthly ministry as well.

   He warned his disciples against love growing cold.

   Paul speaks of this as do the Old Testament prophets. 

So this is a recognized spiritual problem and condition.

 

But it’s not the end of the story.  Love can be revived.

   Faith and hope can be revived.

And that’s exactly what we see in our reading today.

 

You remember Naomi.  She was a believer.  She really was.

   She wasn’t a pagan, she was an Israelite whose belief in the sovereignty,

   and fundamental goodness of God could not be shaken.

 

But she also believed that God was against her, and no longer good to her.

You remember what he said about him?

   “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”

   “The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”

   “The Lord has brought me back empty.”

   “The Lord has testified against me.” 

   “The Almighty has brought calamity upon me.”

 

And you remember the effect this view of God had on her.

   Don’t call me Naomi, don’t call me Sweet.  Call me Mara.  Call me Bitter. 

But even though Naomi thought God was against her—he wasn’t.

   And he began to revive her faith and love..

   In reading today, we the first signs of that revival.

 

And as I look at them I can’t help saying—I want that.

   I want my love for Christ restored. 

   I’m not bitter like Naomi—but I’m often cold towards things of God.

   I’m often too busy for him.  It seems at times that I’ve forsaken my first love.

Maybe you’re there, too, maybe you aren’t. 

   Maybe your love is very warm, your faith is very strong.  I hope so.

 

But in either case, the Holy Spirit has given us this story of Naomi,

   so that we can see how God works to revive our love for him.

And it is his work.  He’s the one working behind the scenes in our lives.

   Bible helps us see his work, so that we can respond to it,

   get in step with his Spirit, and not quench his work.

 

How does spiritual revival happen? 

If Naomi is typical, it happens when you see the Lord again.

   Like our friend’s parents—the kids left and they saw each other again—

   and their romantic love was revived.

A Christian experiences spiritual revival when he catches a fresh glimpse of

   1.  The Lord’s kindness

   2.  The Lord’s wisdom

   3.  The Lord’s love

 

These are brought home to your soul again, and catch on fire,

   and you experience revival.  Let’s look at each.


 

MP#1  The Lord’s kindness

You experience revival when you catch a fresh glimpse of the Lord’s kindness.

Ruth went out to glean.  Remember what gleaning was—

   it was a way for the poorest of the poor to feed themselves. 

The law of Moses required Israelite farmers not to go over fields a second time,

   not to cut the edges of their fields, not to pick over vines a second time—

   but to leave that so that the poor could gather food to eat.

It was hard and humiliating work, picking up the crumbs.

 

Naomi expected Ruth to bring home enough for them to eat for one day.

   Instead, she came home with an ephah of barley—which historians tell us

   was about 3/5 of a bushel or 30 to 40 pounds.  Enough for a month.

Naomi was amazed.  Where did you glean today! 

   And when Ruth told her—the field of Boaz—

   Naomi makes a remarkable statement that is much deeper than it first appears.

And in saying this, we have the first clue that something good

   is happening inside Naomi—she’s starting to experience revival.  She says:

“May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living and the dead.

   Let’s examine this carefully.  It’s important.

 

“May he (may Boaz) be blessed by the Lord.”

   She uses the personal name for God, Yahweh.

   This is the name God uses in his personal relationship with people.

 

She asks him to bless Boaz.  “May he be blessed by the Lord . . .

Then she says:  “Whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead.”

   Now, whose kindness is she talking about?  Boaz’ or the Lord’s.

   Grammatically, either one is possible.

Boaz’ kindness obviously moved her, but it the case can be made

   that she is speaking of the Lord’s kindness through Boaz.

 

First, she uses the personal, covenant name for God, Yahweh, the Lord.

   And then she speaks of his kindness.

This word “kindness” is not an ordinary word. 

   It’s a word that translators struggle with because there is no exact equivalent

   in English.  It’s translated kindness, faithfulness, mercy, loving-kindness. 

 

It’s a word that is used particularly when someone great,

   who has committed to someone below him, is faithful to that commitment.

Here’s the important thing:  It’s a word throughout the Old Testament of

   the Lord keeping his promises to his people. 

 

Naomi uses that word—His kindness—

   His great, coming-down-to-my-level faithful promise-keeping kindness

   has not forsaken me.  She’s talking about the Lord.

It seems that Naomi is starting to soften.

   She is no longer saying—He’s against me, he’s ruined me.

   She’s saying, He’s for me—she’s in love with God again.

 

How did it happen?  She saw a 30 lb. bag of barley.

   An a switch was flipped inside her soul.

   And she was suddenly able to see God’s kindness again. 

That’s silly, isn’t it?  That’s embarrassing. 

   God gave Naomi this incredible daughter-in-law Ruth, and she was unable

   to see God’s kindness in that.  Looked right at Ruth and said—I’m empty.

But then she sees a 30 lb. bag of barley and her soul is revived.

 

Isn’t that the way it often is with us? 

   We are blind to all of God’s gifts of kindness, but he keeps giving and giving—

   and then some little thing breaks through, and we notice—and say—he loves me.

Just this week I talked to a friend who told me he had been angry with God.

   Thought God was against him—used those very words.

He couldn’t see the numerous gifts of God’s kindness in his life—

   but then he got a phone call from a friend, and it flipped a switch—

   and he knew—God is for me.  Began to see Lord’s kindness again.

 

Have you ever tried to entertain a fussy baby?

   You play peek-a-boo, and that doesn’t work.

   You play this-is-the-way-the-farmer-rides, and that doesn’t work.

   You play patty-cake, patty-cake—and finally, there’s a grin.

That’s how the Lord deals with us.  He’s our Father with his fussy child.

   He gives and gives and gives and wants us to break through and see his kindness.

 

Lesson in this for us is—If you want to be spiritually revived,

   if you want to live revived, look for Father’s kindness in everything. 

   Talk about it.  Every good gift comes from Father in heaven.

And how does it come?  Who does it come through—through Jesus Christ.

   That’s who Boaz foreshadows—he’s the Christ figure.


 

MP#2  The Lord’s wisdom

You experience revival when you catch a fresh glimpse of the Lord’s wisdom.

After Naomi expresses her revived faith in the kindness of God,

   she has a conversation with Ruth.

It’s a very subtle and fascinating conversation.

   There is a lot going on between the lines.

 

But when you get to the end you realize something has changed in Naomi—

   her faith in the Lord’s wisdom has been revived.  Let’s look at this conversation. 

 

Ruth is telling Naomi about Boaz and she says: 

He said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.”

 

Question from our reading last week—Did Boaz say that?

   Look back at verse 8 for what Boaz really said.

“Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.  Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping and go after them.  Have I not charged the young men not to touch you?”

 

Boaz said—stay close to my young women, I’ve told young men not to touch you.

   When Ruth is relating to Naomi she says:  He said stay close to his young men.

What’s going on?  Can you read between the lines?  Some sexual undercurrents.

 

Ruth was a believer but she had grown up in Moab. 

   The Old Testament tells us that Moab had a sexually promiscuous culture.

Ruth had come out of that but old habits and values die hard.

   She’s a young woman, she’s financially insecure, she’s lonely—

   and there are all these young men and you can see where this could lead.

 

Not that Ruth is planning to be immoral, but she’s facing a temptation.

   She could easily fall into something as a short-term solution

   for her loneliness and insecurity.

The temptation is that she won’t trust God to give her security and love—

   but will look for them the old Moabite way.

 

Naomi sees this.  She doesn’t accuse Ruth but look how Naomi responds in vs. 22:

   “It is good, my daughter that you go out with his young women.”

Naomi didn’t  hear what Boaz has actually said—

   but she knows enough about the man’s character and wisdom to know he didn’t

   tell Ruth to hang out with the young men, wisely says—stick with young women.

Then Naomi adds something else—“Lest in another field you be assaulted.”

   This is more than just good advice.  I think it is a sign of revival in Naomi.

   I think it’s her way of saying:  Lord is wise, it’s best to trust him.

 

Naomi knew what it was like to go to another field and suffer consequences.

   What other field did Naomi go to?  Moab.

In chapter one, Moab even called—the fields of Moab.

God had told his people to stay in the Promised Land.

   He had said that it was in this Land he would bless them.

There was a famine but God had also promised to feed his people

   when they turned to him in repentance.

 

But you remember what happened, instead of staying in Bethlehem, house of bread,

   Naomi and her husband set out for the greener fields of Moab.

They took their happiness into their own hands—and it worked for a while—

   but then, like all sinful choices, it disappointed and turned bitter—

   and she directed that bitterness toward God.

 

But now Naomi has come to a place where she is able to say—

   God’s fields are good.  Glean in the fields he has prepared for you.

   Don’t go to other fields, no matter how green they look.

The Lord is wise.  His ways are wise.  His plans for us are wise.

   Even though he doesn’t give you all you want right away—trust him.

   That’s a sign of spiritual revival—fall in love again with Lord’s wisdom.

 

I’ve told you before about a deacon in our Florida church.

   His business fell apart, they lost everything and had to start over.

He was an insomniac—and those long nights were even longer.

   He would play solitaire to pass the hours, and he was in a low place spiritually.

   Then he decided to put away the cards, started reading his Bible during hours.

 

That became a spiritual turning point in his life.

   Because among other things, he began to realize—the Lord is wise.

   He knows what’s best.  He knows what he’s doing with my life.

   His timing is right.  His ways are best. 

He caught a fresh glimpse of the Lord’s wisdom, and it revived his soul.

 

You have to do the same.  Be open to the Lord’s laws and ways—guidance of HS.

   To the wisdom of Naomi’s in your life, say—don’t God there, God’s ways better.

MP#3  The Lord’s love

You experience revival when you catch a fresh glimpse of the Lord’s love—

   when you see once again, the great love of Jesus Christ for you.

 

We are told for the first time that Boaz is not just a relative—

   Naomi calls him a redeemer—“one of our redeemers.”

In ancient Israel, if a family got into financial trouble and had to sell their land—

   a close relative had the right to buy it back for them from whoever had purchased. 

   This relative who bought back the land called the redeemer, kinsman redeemer.

 

He wasn’t forced to buy it back, but it was the honorable thing to do.

   It showed his love for his relatives and his love for God.

   Because when God gave the families their inheritance in Promised Land,

   expressed his desire that this would be passed on from generation to generation.

The Lord delights in pouring out his grace along the lines of generations—

   and the kinsman redeemer was one way for that to happen.

When a redeemer would buy back the land, it cost him—

   he was buying something to eventually give it away.

 

There was another role of the kinsman redeemer.

If a man died without children, and if his family line was in danger of dying out—

   the redeemer could marry the man’s widow and the first son they had

   would be considered the dead man’s heir so his name would go on.

   The man’s brother was first in line to do this, if none, other male relatives. 

Once again, this was not required, but it was the honorable and expected thing.

   It was an act of love for his relatives and for God. 

   And for complex reasons of inheritance, this was also costly to the redeemer.

   It could have a negative impact on his own estate.

Being a kinsman redeemer took great love—sacrificial love.

 

And Naomi thought she saw in Boaz, the capacity for this kind of love.

   You know the rest of the story—you know she was right.

But it was just the hope of that kind of redeeming love—

   that revived her soul, softened her bitterness, and helped her see life differently.

 

What Naomi hoped for in Boaz, you have in Jesus Christ.

He’s your kinsman redeemer.  He’s close to you, he became a man.

   He was tempted in every way as you are, yet without sin.

 

He knew life in a fallen world—he was thirsty, he got tired, he wept—

   and then he suffered and died.  He was crucified. 

   He paid the cost of the kinsman redeemer, so that you could have life.

 

You experience revival when you catch a fresh glimpse of Jesus’ love for you.

   There is nothing that revives your soul more than that.

How does it happen?

   You’ve heard the story a thousand times—of Jesus’ death on the cross.

   And that’s part of the struggle, isn’t it?

   You’ve heard it so often, that it doesn’t move you.

 

There’s a hymn by William Cowper that says:

   “Sometimes a light surprises The Christian while he sings;

   It is the Lord who rises With healing in his wings;

   When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again

   A season of clear shining, To cheer it after rain.”

 

I think that’s the answer—It surprises you when it happens.

   You are singing the songs sung many times,

   taking communion once again,

   hearing the story of Jesus and his love one more time,

   you are bowing your head in prayer at dinner table once again—

   you are in some way being reminded of Jesus—and it happens.

 

You see the love of Jesus in a fresh way and your soul experiences

   a season of clear shining to cheer it after rain.

 

It’s not something that you whip up, it’s not something you do—

   as William Cowper says—it’s the Lord’s surprise.

That’s what happened to Naomi—she was at home in her bitterness and despair

   she was surprised by God’s love in her kinsman redeemer.

 

So if it’s the Lord’s work to surprise you, and revive, is there anything you can do? 

   You can keep looking.  You can pray, Lord, here I am at your Table once again,

   I’m low, Lord, comforts are declining, Lord, I feel like Naomi, Lord—

   surprise me with a fresh view of your love.

You can sing, as sing, hope and pray for revival.  And he will give it in his time.

   See in Ruth, Lord in business of moving people from tears to rejoicing