Ruth Part 1: Providence In Pain - Ruth 1

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When I was going through my Greek class in seminary, my professor gave us an illustration about what to expect as we began studying the grammar.
He told us that would could expect to be living in a constant state of heavy fog around the concepts were would be studying at a given time. We would study, the concepts wouldn’t be clear, or we would have trouble grasping just what we were supposed to get. He encouragement to use was to just keep moving forward. As we move forward, the fog moves with us. Which really didn’t sound encouraging. But what he did say was that though the fog would move with us, as we looked back over the things we had been studying the week or two before, the fog wouldn’t be around those things any more. We would be able to see those things clearly. The process of simply moving forward moved the fog with us and concepts that were unclear became clear as we took the steps.
So it would feel like we would be in a perpetual fog, and yet when we looked backward we would see that Hey, I have made progress here, hey that other thing that I struggled with it makes sense now, hey the answers are so clear now.
Sometimes it can feel that way in our lives as well. There are seasons of life we walk though and it just feels like we are drifting in a dense fog and don’t know up from down. But so often when we look back, we can see other things that we struggled with at the time and can see more clearly how those things shaped us into the people we are today.
This phenomenon is why we have the saying “hindsight is 20-20” there are things we learn in the process of living that makes us understand things better as we look back, but we didn’t the benefit of understanding it in the moment.
In many ways, that’s what we have for us in the book of Ruth. We have a story of Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth. In many ways it seems as though these are just individuals living their lives. But as we look back on it we can clearly see the hand of God’s divine providence overshadowing the whole thing.
Ruth is unique book on the Old Testament Canon. One of only two books named after a gentile, and one of only two books named after a woman, Ruth is in rare company.
As best as we can tell from history, the book of Judges and the book of Ruth were originally one book. We notice from the opening paragraph that this story takes place within the period of the judges, and that’s all the specificity that we get on the timing of the events.
We don’t know when exactly it was, and there aren’t any clues in the narrative that would indicate it was during this judge or that, other than trying to estimate the life spans of the people in the Genealogy found in the end of the book, and trying to estimate the chronology of the judges themselves, but this is an impossible task, and it doesn’t really matter in the end.
According to tradition, Samuel is the one who wrote both Judges and Ruth. Judges stresses the need for a godly king. It seems that the book served a political purpose as there was push for King David, the man after God’s own heart, to be established as king over Israel. In similar vein, the book of Ruth would serve to be the story of how God providentially preserved the line from which David would come, and demonstrate the piousness of his family in a time when there was no piety, further establishing David as rightful king.
What we find therefore, is a book about God’s divine providence. The people in the story in many ways are just living their lives. They are trying to survive and make it in a time when there was trouble, but it is clear that God is guiding and directing, even through the hardships. The characters all express profound faith in the Lord along the way, and there is much to be learned from their experience.

Interpretive Method

As we did with Judges, it is helpful to review our interpretive method.
Whenever we encounter an old testament book, especially narrative, there is a tendency to attempt to make everything a type of Christ. We saw this with the book of judges, and we talked about a few examples as we walked through that text. When we examined things, we saw the insanity of trying to make any of those characters actual types of Christ.
But I will give one more example someone sent me just this week.
do you remember the story of Noah right after he got off the ark, built a vineyard, and got drunk? This is from a commentary on Genesis:
“Noah bears and image or type of Christ, let us now see how it can be illustrated from his drunkeness. An inebriated Noah fell asleep, and Christ died, just as death is so often called “sleep” in the sacred writings…Moreover it is easy to understand by what potion Christ would have been inebriated, for it was undoubtedly of that cup that he spoke in the very moment of his passion “let this cup pass from me.”
Was Noah, in his drunkenness a type of Christ? No. That ridiculous.
But why is it ridiculous? What makes it so out of the question?
The reality that we face is that there are other types that don’t sound all that far fetched. Think of Joseph. Both Jesus and Joseph went to Egypt, both were sold for silver, both of them through their abuse provided salvation for the world. Is Joseph a type?
Others see Boaz, the man in this book we will study as a type. He is the kinsman redeemer, after all. Redemption! He cares for outsiders like the gentile Ruth, just as Christ will atone not only for Jewish sins, but gentile as well. So is he a type?
This isn’t intended to be a sermon on typology. In short, the word type comes from the word typos, which refers to something that is a representation of the other thing. The type pre-figures the anti-type, the thing that the type is attempting to pre-figure. The type is intended to a prophetic picture of what the anti-type will be. Scripture refers to a number of people, feasts, or things as types in Scripture. If we had time we would walk through those and it would be an interesting study. But now,
The question is this: are there more types in the Bible than what the Bible itself identifies?
If part of what makes something a type is the prophetic element, then there would have to be something in the intent of the thing itself that would point forward.
I think there are many things and people in Scripture that contain parallels to, can be an example of, or can even illustrate to us something about Jesus Christ. But I don’t believe that necessarily makes them a type, because that would have to be the prophetic intent of the thing, and so there would need to be clues to that end.
So then the question becomes, where do we draw the line? How do we know if something is prophetic? Should we read the OT looking for types and be willing to stretch to make stories like Noah into types?
I’d like to suggest for us that the only safeguard against labeling anything and everything a type of Christ is to let Scripture itself identify what is a type of Christ and leave it at that. Are there ways we can draw parallels between other characters and Christ? Certainly. We may even call them illustrations or examples....but I’m going to stop short of calling them types unless Scripture identifies the as such.
And this is because I am seeking to employ a consistent grammatical-historical-contextual hermeneutic, sometimes called the normal or literal hermeneutic.
Grammatical Historical Contextual
Now, I’ve spent too much time on this. But I felt the need to do so because of how so many talk about Boaz. It is very common that Boaz is called a type of Christ on the basis that he is a redeemer. However, Scripture never refers to Boaz as a type and makes no effort to connect the two either formally or thematically. In fact, the only other reference to any characters from the book of Ruth are mentioned are in the Genealogies of Christ in Matt and Luke.
So I’m uncomfortable slapping Boaz with the type of Christ label, because we have no biblical justification to do so.
Does this strip Ruth of its significance and meaning? If we can’t see Christ here, do we have a useless book that isn’t of any use to us as New Testament believers in Christ?
Emphatically, No!
All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for doctrine for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.
The original author had a purpose in writing Ruth, and as we seek to understand that through the consistent hermeneutic, we will learn from this book that we not only get to glean the principles at play here, but also get to see that while I don’t believe that Boaz is necessarily a type of Christ, the book of Ruth anticipates Christ, and points us to Christ by showing us God’s providential care over his people and over the line through which the Christ would come.
So with that. Let’s Read Ruth chapter 1.
Ruth 1 ESV
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?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” 22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

Providence In Pain

Our story opens during the time of the Judges. No famine is mentioned in the book of Judges, so we can’t place this story exactly, only that we can note that it was surely during a time between judges when there was judgment in land. God’s usual method of judgment in Judges is that of the sword through military oppression, but It seems in this text that God was faithful to his promise in the Mosaic law that he would bring various forms of judgment upon his people when they walked in rebellion against him.
Because of the famine, a man named Elimelech with his wife Naomi seek better fortunes in Moab. They load up their caravan and make their way to the land of their cousins.
At this point of the story, any Israelite listener would already be on edge. Famine can only mean one thing: God’s judgement upon the land. Fleeing to Moab can only mean one thing: things were desperate.
Moab was one of the children of lot by his daughter, so these two nations are related to one another. But like many families, they did not get along. When Israel was leaving Egypt and wanted to pass through the land of Moab, they were not permitted. Tensions were always high between the two people groups.
For this family to move to Moab could be a sign of just how bad things in Israel.
While they are there, their two children married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. and now we see the first crisis of the story develop

The Crisis

Ten years in, and all three men die. There are no grandchildren. There is just Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah.
This is devastating in these times. Without a husband, the family is vulnerable and will struggle to get by.
Hence Naomi’s decision to return home. Bad enough to be a widow. but to be a widow in a foreign land. Its time to return home.
The narrator notes in verse 6 that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. The famine is over! There is food once again! But notice it was from the Lord. The theme of divine providence is over this whole book.
Because of this, Naomi seeks to return home, but her daughters in law want to come with her. She declines, and instructs them to return to their homes and get remarried to someone else.
Notice the grief of Naomi in this text. verse 13
Ruth 1:13 ESV
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.”
Naomi is grief-stricken. She sees the providence of God, not as that which guide her through the valley of the shadow of death, but as the one who has brought these things against her. That is how she interprets the crisis.
Skip down a little to verse 19 and you see that even more.
When she gets back into town and ten years away, the people are stirred. Is that Naomi?
Look at how she responds:
Don’t call me that. I picture her with tears in her eyes. Naomi means “pleasant”. I picture her with bitterness in her voice. Don’t call me Naomi. My life has been far from pleasent. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.”
Mara means bitter.
She says “I went away full and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why Call me Naomi when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
Naomi is grief stricken. Heart broken.
In an ironic twist of fate, though there was famine, she says I went away full. But even though there is now food in the land, I return empty, because my husband and sons are dead.
She clearly believes in the providence of God, but in her grief concludes that for some reason her heavenly father is out to get her.

The Hope

But she hasn’t come home completely, empty, right? She has ruth!
Ruth! The ray of hope and sunshine in the midst of the darkness.
Naomi intended to return home alone, but Ruth insisted on coming, and not only that, but she pledges her life to Naomi and in a stunning display of faith confessed Yahweh as the one true God and commits to follow Him!
I will go where you go. Your people shall be my people, your God my God. Where you die I will die, where you are buried, I will be buried. And if I don’t, may God curse me.
Ruth’s loyalty, faith, and determination are admirable.
So she leaves Moab and comes to live with Naomi, or Mara, in Bethlehem.
What can we learn from this chapter?
We have the benefit of knowing more of the story. We know where its going. We know how it ends. But Naomi doesn’t. She is living her life and trying to survive as she walks though the valley of the shadow of death. She’s living in the fog. She doesn’t know why God has providentially brought these hardships into her life, all she knows is that it hurts.
Many of us can relate to that. Our circumstances are different. Our pain is different. But it still hurts. The fog is still there.
What I want us to consider today is this:
Even through the pain, God was providentially ordering the life of Naomi in order to bring about his purposes in her life.
In God’s providence there was famine.
In God’s providence Elimelech moved his family to Moab.
In God’s providence Naomi’s sons got married to Moabite women.
In God’s providence, all the men died.
In God’s providence, the famine ended
In God’s providence, Naomi returns home, but not alone! She isn’t as empty as she feels like she is. She has Ruth.
And in God’s providence, God is going to bring about the royal line through this gentile woman that has come back to Israel with Naomi, and eventually the savior of all the world is going to be born, and its going to come because of these events right here.
We don’t always know where our story is going. We don’t always know how we fit into God’s story.
But God is doing amazing things. Sometimes we walk through the valley and the fog. But if we keep on walking there will be a day when we can look back and marvel at all the good things God has done. Even through the pain. His providence is over all.
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