The Challenge of Hope

Steve Viars August 23, 2009 Ruth 1:1-15

 

- Have you ever been in a situation that seemed hopeless, where the only way out was doing something that you knew was wrong, but there didn’t seem to be any other way?

1. Maybe you were struggling financially…and there was no way you were going to be able to pay your bills…unless you padded your expenses account, or fudged on your taxes, or took something from the cash drawer…

- OK, it was wrong, but sometimes that’s the challenge of hope…

2. Or perhaps you were feeling really empty inside…and the only thing you had was the bottle…and you knew getting drunk wasn’t going to solve anything, and you knew you’d feel sick the next day…but you got plastered anyway…

- there just wasn’t another option…

3. Or you’re facing a deadline on a project…you’re never going to get it done on time…unless you cheat…unless you cut and paste someone else’s work from the internet…and you know you shouldn’t…but you can’t fail the class…you have to get this degree…

- so there you are—cheating again---and all the lame excuses like “everybody does it” aren’t really helping right now – but you keep right on going anyway…

4. Or your spouse is giving you a hard time…and you’re starting to feel frustrated and angry…and you know you shouldn’t yell…you know you shouldn’t threaten…you know you shouldn’t push…but what else are you going to do?...

- are you just going to let her won?...are you going to let her push you around?...are you going to let her talk that way in front of the kids?...

- isn’t doing something, even if it might be wrong, better than doing nothing at all...and being swept away by the other person’s abuses?...

- if there’s no other option…if there’s no other possible source of provision…then what’s a person supposed to do?...

- that is The Challenge of Hope…and it’s situations like that we’re going to consider this morning…

- with that in mind, please open your Bible to the book of Ruth…page 199 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you…

- this morning we’re beginning a brand new series entitled Finding Hope in a God Who Provides…

- this book contains everything you could want in a great story…

- tragedy, intrigue, suspense…and a surprising and very happy ending…

- but most importantly, this book contains answers and direction and is therefore loaded with hope…Finding Hope in a God Who Provides…

 

- let’s read the first 15 verses together this morning…

- Read Ruth 1:1-15

 

- this introductory passage illustratesThe Challenge of Hope…and in the time we have remaining, let’s look for 3 principles to avoid making difficult situations worse.

- the first is to recognize that…

I. It is Hard to Have Hope When Life Feels Empty.

- this book is named Ruth, but it is at least equally about a woman named Naomi…

- and it is amazing how the writer compresses her story into an economy of words that just scream the example of emptiness…

- you would have to have a heart of stone to not feel hard her situation was….

A. Examples in Naomi’s life.

- we don’t even get out of verse one without learning that…

- v. 1 – there was a famine in the land.

- there’s a sad irony to that because we learn next that these people are from Bethlehem, which literally means “house of bread…”

- but Naomi and her family member’s stomachs were empty…

- I’m not sure if in our culture we can even relate to what that must have been like…and if you say, oh I do, because I’m dieting…I hope we all understand that dieting and famine are not exactly in the same class…

- but of course, that was only the beginning…

- Naomi, whose name meant “beautiful, pleasant, and good” along with her husband, Elimelech, whose name meant “my God is king” …decided to leave the land God had their nation Israel and instead sojourn in the land of Moab…along with their two sons Mahlon and Chilion…

- but then we read the shocking news in…

- v. 3 – Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died…

- we’re not just talking about the emptiness of one’s stomach—we’re talking about the emptiness of one’s marriage…and in that culture, this loss would have been especially profound because the husband was generally the sole provider outside the home…

- so there’s the emptiness of the famine, and the emptiness of living in a foreign land so far away from family and friends…and now the emptiness of the loss of one’s spouse…

- well, at least she has her sons…perhaps they’ll marry…perhaps they will have children…at least then the family line can be continued and Naomi’s needs can be met…

- And the sons do marry, Moabite women…one named Orpah and the other named Ruth…and they lived together for ten years…without children…

- just as there was famine in the land…there was famine in the womb…

- then the paragraph ends with this announcement…

- v. 5 - Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.

-think of the profound emptiness…

- now, the normal human response is to ask…why is this happening?...

- and Naomi will have her own explanation in just a moment…

- and some have suggested that this family is being judged because they left the land of Israel and the provision of their God…

- there is no absolute confirmation of that idea in this text…

- however, part of the answer may be found in the way the book opened…

B. The significance of “the days when the judges governed.”

- you only have to back up a page or two in your Bible to see what that is like…

- Judges 21:25 - In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

- God had clearly told His people that there would be blessings on them as a nation for faithfulness and obedience, and cursing/consequences if they chose not to follow him…one example is the Song of Moses as he instructed the people about how to live in the promised land just before he died…

- Deuteronomy 32:4-5 - The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. They have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, because of their defect; but are a perverse and crooked generation…

- Deuteronomy 32:24 – They will be wasted by famine, and consumed by plague…

- now this is very important to our understanding of both the message today and for this entire series…

- if you ask…are we saying that Naomi’s family suffered in this way because of their individual sin…that their choice to move to Moab was being judged by God?…

- that is exactly what I’m not saying…even though some take that position…nothing in these verses explicitly makes that connection…

- but, they are suffering as a result of living in a sin cursed world, and in their case as part of the Jewish nation…they very well may be caught in the consequences of their nation’s, and especially their leaders’ disobedience to their God…

- and that happens to people like you and me all the time – suffering and emptiness as a result of living in a world that is under the curse of sin…it’s hard to have hope when life feels empty…but here’s what we learn next…

 

II. Relying on Human Solutions and Resources Alone Just Increases the Pain.

- we’re not here just to judge Naomi…but the steps she took in these next verses will just make things worse…

- now the challenge is…often we’re a mixed bag…Naomi did several things right…

A. She recognized God’s hand in providing food for His people.

- Ruth 1:6 - Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food.

- so she didn’t just say – well, things are better back in Israel, let’s go back there…

- there was a sincere recognition that God was behind the provision they were now enjoying…

 

B. She showed sacrificial concern for her daughter-in-laws.

- Ruth 1:8 - And 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….”

- what’s so significant about that is that if her daughter-on-laws took her up on that suggestion, she would truly be all alone…

- she would be going back to Bethlehem by herself…and by now her parents had probably died…she was an elderly widow with very little likelihood of being remarried…

- but she was thinking first of her daughter-in-laws and she even said “May the Lord deal kindly with you…”

- the reason that is so important is because that is the first use of this book of one of the most important words in the OT…the word hesed which is translated here as “deal kindly with”…

- it is a very hard word to translate because we don’t have a single word in our language to capture all the nuances of hesed…

- but it means faithfulness, loyalty, covenant love…

- and that is the theme of this book…will God choose to be faithful to His people?...

- can we find hope in a God who provides?...

- see, the steps you take when life seems empty says a lot about what you really think of your God…what you think…what you do….where you place your hope…

- and that was Naomi’s problem…she was as an individual, what Israel was as a nation…

- and she decided in her heart that God could not provide and therefore it was up to her to figure out a solution to her emptiness any way she could…

- please look very carefully at verse 9…

- Ruth 1:9 - May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.

- did you hear that?...the solution to your emptiness lies in finding a man…

- a man in Moab…regardless of whether he believes in God…regardless of whether there will be any kind of spiritual oneness…regardless of whether that’s what the Lord wants you to do…

- it’s pretty apparent that God has deserted us and now we have to figure this out on our own.

 

- here’s the principle…

B. Beware of shallow substitutes because of incomplete faith.

- find a man…any man…as long as he can make a living and put food on the table, your emptiness will be satisfied…

- that is a direct contradiction of the Scripture…

- God had told his people when they entered the land…

- Deuteronomy 7:3-4 - Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods…

- now, you might say – well, is this some kind of sermon about not marrying people who are not believers in Christ?...

- no, this is much broader than that…

- we’re talking about the tendency when we’re feeling pressurized or feeling backed up in a corner, or feeling under the gun, or feeling empty…

- to come up with all sorts of solutions to the dilemma that do not stand the test of Scripture…

- believing that emptiness can be truly filled apart from living for God…

- there are examples of that all through the Word of God…

- for example…consider Abraham, the first great patriarch of Israel…

- God comes to Him and makes a series of miraculous promises to Him in Genesis 12…and He tells him to take his wife, and leave their country, and that God will make of them a great nation…even though at this point they don’t yet have any children…

- and that promise includes these words…

- Genesis 12:2-3 - And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

- now the next words we read are great…

- Genesis 12:4 – So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to Him…

- but it’s only six verses later that we read this…

- Genesis 12:10-13 - Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman;and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.“Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.”

- that’s exactly what we’re talking about this morning…God promised to make him a great nation, He promised to bless him…and Abraham’s response in the very same chapter is…we’re going to have to help God out by lying (just say you’re my sister)…

- God can’t provide for us…He can’t be faithful to us…apparently he doesn’t have enough hesed (covenant loyalty) to go around…

- so we need to find our hope…not in His faithful provision but in our sinful strategies…

- in Genesis 15, the Abrahamic Covenant is repeated and expanded…

- Genesis 15:1 - After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.”

- and Abraham said -- Genesis 15:2 - Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless…”

- do you remember what happened next?...God says – let’s go outside…

- Genesis 15:5 - And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

- and if you know the rest of that chapter, you know how powerful it was…

- because God instructed Abraham to take a series of animals and cut them in half, and then God caused a deep sleep to come upon him…and he then saw a flaming torch passing between the pieces…

- and you might say – that’s strange – students of Near eastern history would recognize that immediately as the way important covenants were made…and by God doing it the way He did..He was communicating to Abraham in no uncertain terms that as hard as it might seem to believe given Abraham and Sarah’s age, and as empty as their lives might seem at the moment…God was unconditionally committed to being faithful to his promise, and powerfully able to keep His Word…

- what do we read in the very next chapter---remember Abraham had told his wife to tell people she was his sister…

- she apparently learned that lesson well because now she returns the favor…

- in the very next chapter…

- Genesis 16:2 - So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.

- there it is again…we can’t find our hope in the provision of God…God is not up to the task of keeping his promises…

- therefore you’re on your own…come up with the best strategy you can…

- now, we have enough on the table to begin asking some questions…

- is there any way in which that is true of you?...

- and I realize you might say, but PV, I feel so empty…

- life this side of heaven can be empty, and challenging, and terrifying – there’s no doubt about that…

- but the central question is --- are you going to be like Naomi…Since I see no way that God can provide in this situation, I’m going to start working it out the best way I can…

- I don’t want to be alone this semester, so instead of living for God and trusting Him to bring some friends along my way if that’s His choice…

- I’m going to get involved in all sorts of sinful practices in order to be approved by people…there’s something worse than not having any friends…(or not being in the crowd you’d like to be in)…and that is, selling out your God, and selling out your soul in order to fill the emptiness that comes from being lonely…

 

- I worked with a guy once whose job it was to deliver beer to the strip clubs…

- and he couldn’t understand why his wife thought that wasn’t such a great job for him to have…

- his excuse was, I have to put food on the table…

- listen, there’s a few things worse than not putting food on the table…and one of them is, putting filth in your mind…

-  and the more I encouraged that fellow to at least start looking for another job, and to trust God to help him find a job that was more honoring to Him…the less willing he was to do it…

- and it eventually became apparent that the real issues were, he made a lot of money delivering the beer, and he really enjoyed looking at the girls…

- and that’s what we’re seeing in this story of Naomi…God can’t provide for you…so you’re going to have to take matters in your own hands…

- and I would ask every person here – is there any sense in which that could be true for you?...

 

- now, please be careful…because we can be pretty good at answering questions like that with “yes, but…”…

- in other words, I know what I’m doing is displeasing to God but in my case, my actions are justified..

C. Just because obeying God looks hopeless doesn’t mean it is hopeless.

- when the daughter-in laws say…

- Ruth 1:10 - And they said to her, “No, but we will surely return with you to your people.”

- and when Naomi hears that – she goes into rapid fire “justify your actions” mode…

- why go with me?...

- even I had sons in my womb right now, do you want to wait until they are grown so you could marry them?...

- let’s face it --- there is no solution here that includes the God of heaven…

- the line of our family is about to be extinguished…I will never have a son…

- I will never have a redeemer…God can’t provide…there is no hope for me…

 

- those of you who have studied this book before know that Naomi is anything but right…

- it is amazing how we can talk ourselves into just about any act of disobedience if we’re not staying close to the Lord…

- one of the worst forms of deception---is self-deception…

- Ephesians 4:22 - that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,

III. Your Approach to Emptiness Reveals Much about Your View of God.

A. For Naomi

- What is especially insidious about this part of the story is verse 15…after Orpah takes Naomi’s advice…Ruth 1:15 - Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”

- see, it really doesn’t what you believe or who you believe in, as long as you get what you think will satisfy you today…

- Ruth 1:13 – “…the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me.”

- the good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way…

B. For you and me.

1. A descendant of Ruth has been born.

- do you know who I’m speaking about?...the Lord Jesus Christ…

- you say, how could Ruth have a descendant…we’ll have to study that in subsequent weeks…

- but please don’t ever doubt God’s ability to provide…

- and His desire to provide hope when life seems empty…

- so when it came time for Matthew to give the lineage of Jesus, he wrote…

- Matthew 1:1-6 - The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram.Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon.Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse.Jesse was the father of David the king…

- Matthew 1:15-16 - Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob.Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

a. Jesus exemplified following His Father’s strategies instead of devising His own.

- Philippians 2:7-8 - …but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

b. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection make it possible for you and me to do the same.

- 2 Corinthians 5:15 - and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

- [Gospel]
 

2. Therefore we can wait on God’s timing.

Psalm 62:5 - My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him.
 

3. We can trust in God’s ways

Proverbs 3:5-6 - Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding.In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.
 

4. We can rejoice in God’s provision.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 - Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls,Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places.

- Conclude with the story of the counselees on the east coast who used to incessantly fight who were taught to return good for evil, he bought a car without telling her and then had to fix it in the snow that Saturday, she fixed him a cup of coffee and some hot coffee cake…to demonstrate that God could help her find joy in His strategies not her own.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987.  He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and they have three children. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church.  He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of Vision of Hope and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video