Peninsula Community Church
December 9, 2012
God’s Gift of Family – From Barrenness to Fullness
Text: Matthew 1:1-6 and The Book of Ruth
I have made a decision this morning to skip the story of Rahab and move to the story of Ruth. This is not meant to diminish the value of Rahab’s story but I feel that it is important to go to Ruth’s story as it stands in dark contrast to Judah’s and Tamar’s story (Gen. 38). Last week, we saw a story of deceit, deception and broken promises. This week, our story begins in a similar way but has a different outcome and a different tone to it in many ways.
Our story today takes place in the days of the judges who ruled the land (1:1). If you remember your biblical history this was a time when the people would follow God for a season and then they would turn their backs on God and do their own thing. Each time, God would raise a judge up to bring order and to save the people. While it is not clear when this story took place precisely, most historians believe it occurred about the same time as Samson (Judges 13-16).
In studying this story, we could divide the story into two sections. One section would be the story of barrenness and the second section would be the story of fullness and fulfillment.
We begin with barrenness in the land as there was a famine in Bethlehem (1:1). As we read this story we see instances of great irony. The first bit of irony is in the fact that the term Bethlehem means “city of bread” but the “city of bread” was barren and no crops were being produced. Because of the famine and the barrenness of the land, Elimelech decided to move his family to Moab where it seemed that the land was prosperous. This action, however, showed a disregard for the provision of God. It is interesting to note that Elimelech’s name means “God is Sovereign” or “God is King.” Instead of trusting God which Elimelech’s name intimates, he chose rather to take things into his own hands and relocate his family to a land that would present some great challenges.
By moving to Moab, Elimelech put his family at risk because the Moabites manifested a total disregard for God’s ways. The Moabites were especially known for sacrificing children to appease their gods. By moving to Moab, Elimelech was exposing his family to these ungodly religions and unholy acts. He also diminished the possibility that his sons Mahlon and Chilion would marry godly women.
As the story progresses, we see that there the barrenness in relationships. As life would have it we find that Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, dies. We do not know why he died. Some theologians have tried to intimate that he died as a result of his disobedience in moving away to a land where he and his family would be influenced by ungodly men and women and their ways. But there is no clear indication in the text as to this conjecture.
Prior to his death he and Naomi, his wife, had two sons. They were named Mahlon and Chilion. It is ironic that Mahlon’s name meant “sickly” or “diseased” and Chilion’s name meant “weakness” or “wasting away.” Names were important then but even these names baffle the mind as to why these parents would have named their children such names. Mahlon and Chilion married two Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. But after ten years these men died and Orpah and Ruth found themselves facing the rest of their lives as widows. And if you remember our discussion from last week, you will remember that that this is the last place a woman would want to find herself: husbandless and without much hope for the future. And because Noami did not have any other sons, there was little hope for the future for any of them.
Because of these deaths, Naomi and Elimelech’s family is now facing the barrenness of heritage. Because of the death of her husband, the death of her two sons and the lack of sons to carry on the family name, we see that Naomi fell into a deep depression. It is interesting to note that her name meant “my pleasantness” or “sweetness.” But after the death of her husband and her sons she proclaimed that her name would no longer be Naomi, “sweetness” but would be Mara “one who is bitter.” No one could blame her as she was left without a husband, no son to care for her, and no heritage to depend on. As far as she was concerned life was over. She was all alone. In her despair, she encouraged her daughter-in-laws to return to their respective families but an interesting thing happens.
Orpah whose name means “turning back” decided to return to her home. In the text, we witness the act of Orpah kissing her mother-in-law which was a way of Orpah saying goodbye (1:14). She would take her chances with her family. Ruth on the other hand clung to Naomi. For the record her name means “a friend.” A true friend is one that is with us no matter what happens or what issues arise. Ruth was that kind of friend. Ruth had a spiritual awakening as her cry was “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” It is supposed by some that Naomi had an influence on her life to the degree that she had accepted the ways of Jehovah and had committed her heart to God.
So off to Bethlehem they go and once they arrive back in Bethlehem, things begin to change. There is a glimpse of hope and life. We now turn from barrenness to fullness. Let me share with you where I see fullness manifested.
There is fullness in that Ruth finds favor with Boaz. Naomi remembers that Elimelech had a relative named Boaz that could help them. Noami instructs Ruth to go and glean from his fields. The law of the land was that the homeless and poor could go onto the fields after the harvest and collect whatever grain had fallen to the ground. As the story progresses, we see that a love story begins to blossom. Boaz takes notice of Ruth and he offers her shade and protection. He instructs those harvesting the grain to leave extra behind for her so that both Ruth and Naomi will be cared for. In Ruth he saw a woman committed to caring for Naomi and a woman that was humble and pure.
There is fullness in God’s provision of a kinsman redeemer. Boaz had the potential of being Ruth’s kinsman redeemer according to the Levirate law (4:1-13). But there was an obstacle in the way. There is one other that would precede Boaz, so Boaz goes to him and offers a deal. It is interesting to note that when the next of kin thought he was going to inherit land and money he was excited but when he realized that the deal also included marrying a Moabite he decided that he did not want to do this because it would cause all that he had to go to Elimelich’s family. He was more concerned about his name and his heritage than he was helping out Ruth and his relative Elimelech.
When the kinsman refused Ruth, a common ritual for that day was performed. The custom of the day was that when the kinsman redeemer gave up his right he would remove his sandal and give it to the next heir. The sandal represented the land that was to be possessed as when someone drew up a contract for land it was measured by one stepping off the land that was to be apportioned. In some cases when the next of kin would refuse the widow, they would take the sandal and would spit on the ground as a means to humiliate the one refusing to follow through with their commitment. Some historians believed that sometimes the widow would spit in the face of the offender. Boaz through his actions confirmed to the elders that he had bought Elimelech’s inheritance so that the name of the dead might not be cut off from his brothers and the gates of the native place.
From here we see that Boaz and Ruth are married.
Fullness in God’s provision of a future and a hope. What began as barrenness we now see as fullness because God provides a son for Ruth and a heritage for Naomi and Elimelech’s name would be remembered. Ruth gives birth to Obed. But notice what transpires. The people are not as excited for Ruth as they are for Naomi who now has a grandson and an heir.
Listen to what the Bible says here in Ruth 4:14-17. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
While Naomi has an heir this is no ordinary heir for Obed ties the genealogy of Perez to David and in essence ties Perez, Obed, and David to Christ himself. What a glorious day!
So what do we learn from this?
First, we learn that God is at work in the darkest moments of our lives. When we don’t see Him working, He is often working the hardest for us.
Secondly, we see that out of barrenness comes life. When we think that all is lost, God intervenes and brings life. And, sometimes it is in very interesting ways.
Thirdly, we can miss the blessing of God even when there is blessing all around us. While her husband and sons had died, Naomi missed out on the fact that she had a daughter-in-law that loved her and would do anything for her.
And finally, we must realize that Jesus came as that elder brother who would become our kinsman redeemer. He is the one who would give himself for us so that we would have an inheritance, a hope and future.