RUTH 1: IS THERE FOOD IN "THE HOUSE OF BREAD"?
IS THERE FOOD IN THE "HOUSE OF BREAD"?
With permission, The Journey has asked to publish a transcript of Mike Cope's sermon about Ruth in four blog posts. There are links to the four parts at the bottom of each of four blog posts. The sermon was preached at the 2017 Pepperdine Bible Lectures, now called Harbor. You can also watch the sermon here.
When this, now older woman, named Naomi went home to Bethlehem, the women who saw her coming were puzzled. Because they weren't sure it was her. Which to me feels a little odd, I know some time had past. And we know how sometimes we see each other, when we've missed a few lectureships, and the hair has grayed a little bit. Or follicles have released a little bit. A few wrinkles have come, but I generally think we still know each other.
They're puzzled because the woman coming back has not just the wrinkles of time, but the creases of grief. She's got the kind of haggard look, that doesn't just come by months rolling past. But by being weathered by life's unfortunate turns. And so they ask each other, "Could this be Naomi?" I know there's what we call a love story in Ruth. And I want to get there. Everything in me wants to fast forward to it. But if we go too quickly, we miss that there is a "Female Job" in the Old Testament. And her name is Naomi.
And in five densely compacted verses, you find out that she was slapped with wave, after wave, after wave of grief. So much so, that she wondered, "Is God still around?" She reflects later, "I think God's afflicted me. I think God's turned against me." And if you came in tonight, and you're glad to be with everybody. But you've kind of grown weary of always positive testimonies, and #blessed on Facebook, then you need to let the words, that begin the book of Ruth, soak in. Read chapter one, beginning with verse one.
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 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. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
These tragedies come wave after wave. And it all begins when the rain stops. And you Californians, you get that. Because from about 2011 until recently you had that drought. But with our technology, we've learned to compensate for that. At least in first world countries. But we still know from the internet and from new shows, what that looks like when you're talking about real famine. You have to think about sunken cheeks, and emaciated ribs, and distended bellies. And I kind of imagine that in Bethlehem, which ironically meant "House of Bread," around all of these family tables husbands and wives are sitting there wondering, "Is there enough bread for one more year?"
Elimelech doesn't want to leave. Naomi doesn't want to leave. Judah is home, Bethlehem's home. But you've got to feed your family. So they make the decision to leave. So, Elimelech and Naomi and Chilion, Mahlon, they move. But then of all places to move, they go to the east side of the Dead Sea to Moab. Which is not exactly primo family destination. If you're a careful reader of the Old Testament, you know that that's almost a forbidden story.
For example, back in Genesis, you find out that Moab itself starts with the incestuous relationship of Lot and his older daughter. It's the shady side of Abraham's family tree. And when you come to Numbers 25, you read the story about the Israelites going into the Promise Land. And as they go, they've got to go through Moab. But the women of Moab come out and meet the men of Israel. And the next thing you know, there is mass tragedy, brought on by the judgment of God.
So much so, that when you get to Deuteronomy 23, these words are spoken. "No Ammonite, or Moabite, or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. Do not seek a treaty of friends with them, as long as you live." That's pretty unequivocal. That's the word of the Lord. The whole story takes place in Moab, at least in the beginning. And it stars an immigrant from Moab, but Deuteronomy 23 says, have nothing to do with someone from Moab. Which to me is a reminder, that you need to know the law a really well, so you know when to break it.
A principle I don't care for, but neither did the Pharisees. But despite what Deuteronomy 23 says, they go there. And at this point, we might think this is an Elimelech story. Because let's admit it, most of those stories were about men. But suddenly you realize, the camera turns. This is not his story, this is her story. Because Elimelech dies. Leaving Naomi among the most vulnerable part of society, widows. She's forced to join the sisterhood of suffering, there in a foreign country with her two sons. "Well, at least she's got the two sons though," we say, right? She's got Mahlon and Chilion.
They can marry, have kids. But the question is, who will they marry? You're in Moab. It's not exactly every Jewish mother's dream, to have your boys grow up and marry a Moabite woman. But that's who's there, so Mahlon marries Ruth, and Chilion marries Orpah. And then another wave of grief comes. Because nobody can get pregnant, for ten years. Do the math with me: ten years, times twelve months per year, times two women, that's two hundred forty disappointments. Two hundred forty times you realize there's not going to be a baby, there's no baby coming. The promise is not secure.
And then that last wave is a tsunami. I can almost not speak it. But the text says, that at that point, her sons die. Chilion and Mahlon die. This woman has lost everything. She lost home, she's come to Moab. She lost a husband. No baby is coming. And now, her sons are gone. In verse six, we find out at some point where it comes to her, that things have changed back home. The heavens have opened, the wind has changed, the rain is falling. And so it's time for Naomi to cut her losses.
She grabs her daughters-in-law, and it says they start from Moab back to Judah. But somewhere along the way, and I sort of wish we knew just where that somewhere is. Because even though it's nondescript in the text, it becomes a hinge of the whole story of Israel. Somewhere along the way, she turns to these young women. It's like she comes to herself and says, "Girls, go home. Go home and marry, and carry on a future." And at first they resist, both of them. "No, we're going with you." And then she doubles down. "This just doesn't make good sense. You've got to go back." And it turns out, Orpah is the reasonable one. She's the obedient one. She hugs, and kisses, and goes back.
But interestingly, the text says that Ruth . . . what's the word? Do you remember? Ruth "clung," isn't that beautiful? Ruth clung to her. And she speaks those words, that reverberate through all of these centuries. She says, "Where you go I will go. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. Where they bury you, they'll bury me. Even death cannot separate us." And that part about "your God will be my God," it's a conversion story. What a powerful statement of loyalty.
Some of you remember back in the 70s and 80s, it seemed like every wedding we performed, we sang that song. Right? Somebody did. "Wither thou goest, I will go." How many remember that? The only thing is, it was always sung husband and wife. One time I wanted to see that young bride, turn to her mother-in-law and sing it. That's how that oughta go. But it's such a powerful reflection of deep loyalty, that it fits so many places.
Well now we're back where I started, end of chapter one. Now we're back in the House of Bread, which has got bread again. But the women are puzzled and asking, Could this be Naomi? And she says, "Do not call me that." Naomi means "pleasure." She said, "Don't call me Naomi, call me Mara because that means bitter." She said. "I left full, and I've come back empty." To which I think Ruth said, "None taken." But at least it felt empty.
Each year The Journey sends members to The Pepperdine Bible Lectures that Mike Cope directs. Check out the video below to learn more about it and consider going with us in 2019.
Ruth: Kindness/Ruthless Lacking Kindness
Did you learn anything new about Ruth? What did you find fascinating about her journey as a foreigner?
Psalm 5:12 NIV Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
God is no respecter of persons. He respects your individuality, He honors your faithfulness and your obedience. His favor shines on the faithful leader.
Kindness with longevity, going beyond the usual limit, generosity
Has steadfast love
Eats until satisfied - a leader knows her limits, therefore is able to help you find yours
Cares that you prosper and are in good health even as your soul prospers
Recognizes the need to adapt
Desires to see you achieve beyond the limits you set
Clings to that which is good
Stays - leaders stay in important relationships at a great cost