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“Ruth: He Will Give You Your Heart’s Desires”
Life Lessons from the Old Testament Sermon Series
Ruth 4:13



Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost—August 9, 2009

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We continue our Summer Sermon Series on Life Lessons from the Old Testament, this morning looking at today’s Old Testament Reading, the story of Ruth.

Ruth is a unique and unusual book in the Bible.  It does not give the history of the ancient world and ancient Israel, like Genesis, Exodus and the other historical books.  It is not a book of prophecy, like Isaiah and the other prophets.  It is not book of poetry, like the Psalms. 

The closest parallel books to Ruth are Esther and Song of Songs.  Ruth and Esther are similar because they are the only two Biblical books with a woman as the main character, after whom these books are named.  Song of Songs and Ruth are similar because Song of Songs is a beautiful love poem, and Ruth is a beautiful love story.

The love story begins with Ruth’s first husband: “In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there. Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth.”

Ruth and her first husband Mahlon must have had a love that overcame great challenges to their marriage.  She was a Moabite, he was an Israelite and a foreigner in her land.  Theirs was a love like Romeo and Juliet.  For, the Israelites and Moabites were bitter enemies, like Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets.  And, like the American Hatfields and McCoys, these two groups had an ongoing feud and were often actually at war with each other.

So, the first life lesson we learn from Ruth is to have a love for your husband or wife that overcomes all obstacles and challenges you will face.  As Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “Love is long-suffering . . . it bears all things . . . endures all things.  Love never fails.”

It seems Ruth and Mahlon must have had that kind of love, overcoming the great obstacles and challenges they faced in their marriage. But, the love story of Ruth and Mahlon had a tragic ending: “After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died.”

Ruth lost her beloved husband Mahlon.  But, that’s not the end of the love story.  For, the beautiful love story of Ruth now continues with the love of family, between Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi.

“So Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.  Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. . . . Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her.  ‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’ But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go . . .”

The second life lesson we learn from Ruth is to show love, kindness, compassion, tenderness, within your family.  As Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “Be kind and compassionate to one another. . .  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” 

For Ruth, it was her mother-in-law that she felt compelled to give herself up for.  In that culture, being a widow without any children to take of care you was the worst possible predicament.  So, we read in today’s Old Testament Reading how Ruth lovingly accompanies Naomi back to Bethlehem and goes out into the fields to glean food for them.

Ruth is an example of what Paul tells us in 1st Timothy: “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family, and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. . .  If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 

The third life lesson we learn from Ruth is to love the true God: “‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’ But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

The Israelites and the Moabites had different languages, different cultures, but, most of all, different religions, different gods.  The Israelites worshipped the true God, Yahweh, while the Moabites worshipped Baal and many other pagan false gods. 

As faithful Israelites, while the brothers Mahlon and Kilion were alive, their households would have been outposts of the true faith among the pagan Moabites.  As Joshua declared in last Sunday’s Old Testament Reading, “Choose this day whom you will serve . . .  but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

For ten years, Ruth had learned about and worshipped the true God, Yahweh.  Now, Naomi is releasing her, to go back to her own family, and their false gods: “Look, your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

Why does Ruth instead want to go with Naomi to Israel, which for Ruth was a foreign nation of unfriendly people?  It wasn’t just Ruth’s love for Naomi that compelled her.  It was also her love for the true God, Yahweh.

There was such a sharp contrast between Baal and the other pagan gods Ruth had grown up with, and Yahweh, the true God she had come to know since marrying Mahlon.  The pagan gods were vicious, angry, not objects of love, but of fear.  But, Yahweh, was completely different.  Yahweh did condemn humanity’s sinfulness.  Ruth learned that she and all of us are guilty in his sight and deserving of damnation.  But, Ruth also learned the Good News that Yahweh himself provided the cure for humanity’s sin.  He promised to send a Messiah, his own Son, who would come from the Hebrew people and offer himself up as a sacrifice for humanity’s sin.  As Peter says in Acts, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The Book of Hebrews says of the people in the Old Testament, “For we also have had the Gospel preached to us, just as they did.”  That’s what was different about Yahweh from Baal and the other pagan false gods Ruth grew up with: the Gospel, the Good News, the promise that God so loved humanity that he would send his Son into the world to save the world through him.  As Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God.”

That is God’s Good News for YOU: Christ loved you and gave himself up for you as an offering and sacrifice to God.  Your sins are all forgiven for his sake, you receive forgiveness of sins through his name.

Paul says in Galatians, “Now that you have come to know God . . . how can you turn back again to those weak and miserable spirits?”  That’s why Ruth does not want to stay in Moab and return to the false gods of her people.  “Now that you have come to know God . . . how can you turn back again to those weak and miserable spirits?”  For ten years, Ruth has grown in her faith in the true God, and she doesn’t want to go back “to those weak and miserable spirits,” because she treasures the Gospel and doesn’t want to lose the joy of salvation.  “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”   

The last episode in this beautiful love story is the romance between Ruth and Boaz in today’s Old Testament Reading.  Ruth’s world had fallen apart.  She lost her father-in-law, brother-in-law, and her own husband.  Her sister-in-law decided to stay in Moab, while she left her native land and her own family to go with Naomi to Israel.  There, they were what the Bible calls “the poor of the land.”  They had nothing, and had to live only on what Ruth could glean in the fields.  But, perhaps Ruth’s greatest disappointment was that she remained childless, and as a foreigner living in Israel she had little prospect for a husband.

The solo by Felix Mendelssohn which began today’s service quotes from Psalm 37: “O rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him, and he shall give thee thy heart’s desire.”  That is the fourth life lesson we learn from Ruth.  She left Moab alone, a widow with no husband or prospect for one, and childless.  But, when she reached Bethlehem, all of Ruth’s deepest desires came true, more wonderfully than she could have ever imagined.  Her husband’s cousin Boaz falls in love with Ruth, and they marry, and have a child.

That is the fourth life lesson we learn from Ruth: “O rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him, and he shall give thee thy heart’s . mit thy way unto him, and trust in him, and fret not thyself.”  Paul puts it this way in Ephesians “[He] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”

“So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. . .  And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.”  Ruth not only believed in the Messiah, the Savior who was to come.  By a wondrous miracle of God’s grace, she actually became an ancestor of the Messiah, through her great-grandson, King David.  Perhaps it was David, remembering the story of his great-grandmother, who wrote in Psalm 113, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.”

Some 12 centuries later, at Bethlehem, Ruth’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great Grandson was born.  “Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,” “Son of God and Son of Man,” “the Savior of the world.” and your Savior. “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God.”  “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The first life lesson we learn from Ruth is to have a love for your husband or wife that overcomes all obstacles and challenges you will face: “Love is long-suffering . . . it bears all things . .  endures all things.  Love never fails.”

The second life lesson we learn from Ruth is to show love, kindness, compassion, tenderness, within your family: “Be kind and compassionate to one another. . .  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”

The third life lesson we learn from Ruth is to love the true God: “Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

The fourth life lesson we learn from the life experiences of Ruth was written by her great-grandson, King David, in Psalm 37: “O rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him, and he shall give thee thy heart’s . mit thy way unto him, and trust in him, and fret not thyself.”

Amen.

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