The Contrast of Hope

Steve Viars August 30, 2009 Ruth 1:16-22

 

- Have you ever thought something was empty but it really wasn’t?...

- When I was in Bible college and seminary, I used to build in-ground swimming pools…

- one of the young guys I hired one summer had a high performance pickup truck…

- that came in useful because of everything we had to haul around so I agreed to pay his expenses if he would use it for work that summer…

- part of the problem was that it drank gas like no other vehicle I had ever seen…

- and the first time he gassed it up with my credit card I could not believe how much it cost…

- and he explained to me that because it used so much gas, he and his brother had installed a second gas tank underneath the truck…

- so he filled up both tanks that day to start our summer off right…

- that was fine except that he and his brother had never really perfected how to switch from one tank to the other…usually you install some sort of button or lever inside the truck but they had rigged up something where you had to crawl under the truck and it never really worked reliably…

- plus, in the process of making this great addition, somehow they messed up the gas gauge so it always read zero regardless of how much gas you had…

- so I’m standing here with this astronomical gas bill in my hand, hearing this crazy story thinking, I’m not sure this was the greatest hire in the world, but I said – OK, look…let’s just be sure that we keep it gassed up so we never to worry about how much we have or which tank we’re on…

- that approach served us well for the first several weeks…but then we received a call from an elderly couple who lived in a place called Samava Resorts…have you ever heard of that place?...

- apparently another pool company had started their pool, took their money, and hadn’t finished it…

- so they wanted to know if we would possibly come out and give them an estimate on what it would take to finish their pool…

- we already had way too much work, but we felt sorry for these folks, so they gave us directions, and after work one night three of us loaded into the cab of this fellow’s truck to go check out this job…

- so we kept driving and driving and driving…and this was long before garmins and cell phones and all of that…and pretty soon the truck starts sputtering and then it dies…it’s obviously out of gas…

- and we were in the middle of nowhere…in fact we weren’t really sure where we were…there were no houses or businesses in sight…

- it’s getting late, and let’s just say that two of us aren’t really happy with the driver whose job it was to keep enough gas in his truck so this very thing didn’t happen…

- he decides to go under the truck and try to do something while the other two of us sat in the cab and plotted what we were going to do to him…

- it was one of those hopeless moments because you’re thinking…unless he’s drilling for gas down there, all of that banging around was a complete waste of time…

- all of a sudden he stops banging, and tells one of us to turn the ignition on…which seemed like a ploy to delay the beating we were about to give him…

- but we did, and to our amazement, for the first time that summer the gas gauge moved…in fact it didn’t just move, it went from empty to completely full…

- he jumps back in the truck, started it up and we went barreling down the road…

- apparently the second tank he had filled up at the beginning of the summer had never been touched…and all it took was figuring out how to switch it over and we had all the gas we needed to get to our destination…

 

- here’s the point --- just because you think its empty doesn’t mean it truly is…

- and that’s not just true of your gas tank…it’s true of a lot of important areas of life as well...

- 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 fall we’re doing a series entitled Finding Hope in a God Who Provides…this is a verse by verse study of the book of Ruth…

- we just started this last week, and we learned that this story unfolds “in the days when the judges governed”…which was a very sad and cyclical time in the history of God’s people…and that book ends with the disheartening summary in Judges 21:25 - In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

- that’s the historical setting in which a woman named Naomi, and her husband Elimelech and their two sons leave the city of Bethlehem in the land of Judah and go to sojourn in the land of Moab because of a significant famine…

- so there’s a spiritual famine [everyone doing that which is right in his own eyes]…and now there’s a physical famine…all of which is pointing to this central theme of emptiness…just like our gas tank on the way to Samava Resorts…

 

- but things get very worse very quickly, at least in the sense of the economy of words used to tell the story…because the first paragraph reveals everything I’ve said thus far, plus the fact that Elimelech [Naomi’s husband dies], and then after their sons are married for 10 years, they too pass away…so by the end of verse 5, you have a woman who has lost her husband and her two sons, along with her two widowed daughters in law…

- the questions come screaming out of the text…

- what are they going to do now…and can they find hope in a God who provides?...

- we learned last week that then the ladies heard that God had provided food for His people back in Bethlehem, so they decided to go back their…but somewhere along the way [the text doesn’t say exactly where and when], Naomi sits down with her 2 Moabite daughters in law and tells them to go back to Moab, to be with their people, in their land, with their gods…

- and she makes it clear in verse 9, that’s your best hope—finding a man to marry…

- and it doesn’t matter what he believes, or who he worships…because the God of Israel has obviously abandoned me, and abandoned us…so we’re on our own…

- and the most logical strategy is to find a man, and right now any old man will do…

- one of the daughters in law, named Orpah, eventually follows Naomi’s counsel…

- let’s reread what I’ve just summarized, and then we’ll hear the first recorded words from the lips of the second daughter in law, whose name is Ruth…

- and please listen to Ruth, and then listen again to Naomi…and as we do, we’ll find this morning…The Contrast of Hope…

- read Ruth 1:1-22

 

- so we’re talking this morning about The Contrast of Hope….and with the time we have remaining, let’s look for 2 options when facing life’s challenges and their impact on future joy and ministry.

I. You Can Choose the Path of Faithful Commitment.

- the contrast in these verses could not be any clearer…

- both Naomi and Ruth have suffered unspeakable losses…we’re not here to minimize their suffering or yours…but the ways they chose to respond are polar opposites…and please keep these:

A. Two important background ideas:

 in mind before we go further in the text…

1. A central issue in this book is that of faithfulness

- last week we pointed out the first use in this book of the great OT word

- “hesed” inverse 8 – may the Lord deal kindly with you

- that word means covenant faithfulness, loyalty, the ability of a person to make a commitment and keep it

- and the legitimate questions that this story raises are:

a. Is God able to keep his promises to His people and is it reasonable and appropriate to find your hope in Him?

b. Will God’s people choose to be faithful to Him in response to His covenant love?

2. What Naomi was as an individual, Israel was as a nation.

- it’s no mistake that if you look back a page or two in your Bible, you read the historical summary of God’s chosen people at this particular point in history…everyone was doing that which was right in their own eyes because they had judged God to be unfaithful, unable to keep His promises to them…

- so they were on their own…

- He was not capable of being faithful to them, therefore they were not obligated to be faithful to Him…Find your hope somewhere else, but certainly not in a God who provides…that’s was Naomi’s mantra, and it was the nation of Israel’s as well..

 

- now, let’s think carefully about the first recorded words of Ruth – her name has been mentioned as the story has moved along…but this is the first time we actually hear her speak…[re-read 16-18]…

- what do we see there?...what a great choice…and please notice…

B. The power of making a verbal promise.

- some who are here today are facing areas in your life where you feel empty, or afraid, or threatened, or alone…

- and you have some choices to make…including the nature of the commitment, or strategies you’re going to make in response to what is occurring…

- that’s one of the reasons I like doing this study at this particular time of year…

- we are so tied to the academic calendar, especially because we’re a university town, that this in many ways is like New Years – it’s a great time to think about the nature of the verbal commitments we’re making about the way we intend to live this semester…

- well, are yours like Ruth’s or like Naomi’s?...do you realize that your words…

1. Can either minister “death” or “life.”

- Proverbs 18:21 - Death and life are in the power of the tongue…

- Revelation 12:11 - And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony…

- the conclusions you draw about a particular situation become your working theology --- and as you tell yourself that over and over and over it becomes part of the lens through which you view life…

- that is an obvious implication of what we’re studying this morning…both Naomi and Ruth were experiencing the same circumstances…but they wore “interpretive glasses” that were an entirely different color…

- your words also affect the people living around you…

- faithful, joyful people often produce faithful, joyful people…it’s infectious…

- conversely, bitterness spreads like the plague…

2. Is a reflection of your heart.

- Matthew 12:34 - the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.

- the goal here is not to mimic Ruth’s faithful words, it’s to reproduce Ruth’s faithful heart…by the way, this matter of making verbal commitments is…

3. A key component in becoming a Christian.

- Romans 10:9-10 - that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

- if you’re here this morning and you’d say, well, I’m a Christian I’ve just never told anyone…that’s certainly different than the process the Scripture would describe…”saying it” is a powerful thing…

4. Can either build hope or destroy it.

- Naomi argued in versev. 12 – If I said I had hope…

- she went on to give the example of having sons in her womb that very day even though her husband had died 10 years prior…

- and the motivation for using such an outrageous example was…I don’t have any hope…and neither should you --- at least not in the Lord getting us out of this mess…

- contrast that to Ruth – she’s the one who opens her mouth and everybody in the room is lifted up…

- let’s think about specifically what she said…

C. At times you may have to disagree with the promises some would like you to make.

- Ruth 1:16 - But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you…

- she said to Naomi – I cannot do what you have asked me to do…

- you’re telling me to go back to Moab and place my hope in finding a husband there regardless of what he believes---I cannot do that…

- and as hard as this is to sometimes deal with – not everyone in your life may agree with or appreciate your commitments…

- your convictions may be a burr under their selfish saddle…

- so a person decides he or she wants to be morally pure – but their boyfriend or girlfriend wants otherwise – choosing the path of being faithful to God is not universally appreciated…

- sometimes a person who’s dating needs to say – I already have a God, and you’re not Him…

D. Your commitments reveal your functional source of your hope.

a. Ruth saw the beauty of staying by Naomi’s side and trusting the LORD to provide.

- v. 14 – Ruth clung to her…

- that’s the same word in Genesis 2:24 -- Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife…

- that was the depth of the commitment Ruth chose to have for Naomi…

- and of course Naomi’s position is – get away from me, I’m cursed, and if you hang out with me, you’ll be cursed as well…

- in other words, God cannot provide for you if you stay in this relationship…

- the principle there is – generally speaking, people give up on one another too quickly…as if God cannot and will not provide…

- I’m not speaking about situations where there is physical abuse, etc…

- but the text is the text…and too many people cut off friends if there’s some tension…or they cut off family members…or they quit that job, or they move away, or they leave the church…

- but I’m just “fool-proofing my life”…which is shorthand for shedding anyone who creates any kind of difficulty for me…

- when that occurs, sometimes the fool is not the person on the other side of the ledger…because that action screams the message that we can’t find our hope in a God who will provide answers and strength as we try to solve these problems together…

b. Ruth was not afraid to make a commitment for life.

- v. 16 – where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge…

- Hebrew grammarians refer to that construction as a merismus…the intent of which is to communicate that I am committed to you forever…

- there is no such thing as faithfulness with a shelf life…

c. She understood the relational implications of her choice.

1) To people – v. 16 – “your people shall be my people”

2) To God – v. 16 – “your God shall be my God.”

- see, my greatest need here is not to find some husband back in Moab…regardless of who he is or what he believes…

- she possessed a vibrant, robust faith in a God who was worthy of her trust, and she wanted to find her satisfaction in Him, and if necessary, Him alone…

- and then she does something that would have taken the breath away from the Jewish readers…[I’m sure you saw it and would describe it this way]…she invoked a “self-imprecatory oath formula” [I wonder which one of our pastors I got that from…

d. She recognized that her commitment was being heard and recorded by God Himself.

- v. 17 – May the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.

- you might say – her level of commitment to Naomi makes absolutely no sense…

- you’re right, unless God is who He says He is…

- friend, I would ask you this morning…are there commitments that God would want to make at this point in the semester, and this point in your life…to demonstrate that you truly believe you can find your hope in a God who provides?

- and are you willing to tell God about that, and are you willing to tell others about that?...

- now, what’s the contrast?...

- are there any differences in Ruth’s words and Naomi’s?...practically everywhere…

- who are you most like?...perhaps we should think of hers as…

II. The Path of Bitter Conclusions.

- see, what we read in verses 19-21 are conclusions Naomi has drawn about her situation…

A. Why didn’t we say “bitter complaints?”

- we tried to make this point in several ways this summer when we were studying the subject of the past…

- there is nothing wrong with crying out to God about the injustices you feel…

- there is such a thing as biblical sufferology, or the theology of complaint…

- but you can’t stop there…

- just like in Psalm 73, one of the greatest lament Psalms…the logical turning place is when he goes into the house of his God…

- Psalm 73:17 - Until I went into the sanctuary of God;then understood I their end.

- complaints are fine if they eventually lead to the Word and other spiritual friends who can direct you to ways to find your comfort in the sustaining grace of God…

- Naomi never got there…at least not at this point of the book…instead she let her complaints, and her suffering, and her disappointments ferment into a heart filled with bitterness…let’s call that “settled bitterness”, or resigned bitterness, or calcified bitterness, or confirmed bitterness…

B. “Settled bitterness” affects your appearance.

- now let me be clear on this point – I am making an interpretive decision that is different than some writers…

- so feel free to toss this in the dumpster in the way out…

- I’m talking about why in verse 19, Ruth 1:19 - …and when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”

- the question is – why didn’t they recognize her?...

- have you ever noticed this – how people who are joyful and godly often age better than those who are rebellious and bitter?...

- that’s why Peter encourages women not to rely simply on external adornment, but instead to focus on…1Peter 3:4 - but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.

- lock onto the word “imperishable”…that’s what I mean by “aging well…”

- I think these women were shocked at how badly Naomi looked, and there were probably a few in the crowd who explained their surprise to Naomi’s face…

- that, I believe, explains Naomi’s incredible statement in verse 20…because…

C. “Settled bitterness” can become the grid through which you see yourself.

- Ruth 1:20 - She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi;[remember we learned last week that the name Naomi meant “beautiful, pleasant, and good”] call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.

- Mara is the Hebrew word for bitter…

- in other words, why would you be surprised at my appearance…I look on the outside the way I feel on the inside…

- my very identity is defined by my bitterness…you might as well start calling me that…

- time doesn’t allow us to develop this nearly as fully as I’d like to – but I need to point out that the way a person summarizes their existence, especially as they say it over and over to themselves and others, can become very self-fulfilling…

- that is why in counseling, we do not allow people who say they are Christians continue to say that the most important thing about me is that I’m depressed, or that I’m abused, or that I’m having panic attacks…

- you have an entirely new, and an entirely different identity once you are in Christ…and that is who you are…and that becomes the grid through which you deal with depression, and deal with abuse, and deal with panic, etc…

- Naomi made the critical mistake of defining herself apart from the person and work of her God…and who she could be because of His provision…

 

D. “Settled bitterness” can become the grid through which you view your circumstances, and ultimately your God.

- what was her reason for requesting this name change?...Ruth 1:20-21 - She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.“I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

- now, I am sure that I will be speaking to some people today who especially struggle with bitterness…

- I want to ask you to listen to these next observations from this text very carefully…

1. Bitter people often positively exaggerate their former circumstances.

- v. 21 – I went out full…

- no she didn’t---she and Elimelech went out because there was a famine in the land…

- this sounds like the children of Israel during the wilderness wanderings---we wish we could be back in Egypt when things were going so well…

2. Bitter people fail to see the blessings right between their eyes.

- v. 21 – the Lord has brought me back empty

- what wrong with that?...who is right at her side?...who is literally cleaving to her, refusing to leave…

- Ruth…in fact, if you think about that statement from Ruth’s perspective for a moment…it’s like, “hello, what about me…I may not be much but I’m better than empty…”

3. Bitter people only hear what they want to hear.

- see at some point, you have to start justifying the bitterness, and feeding the monster…

- so any time a person says something that doesn’t fit your grid, the bitter individual mocks it, or discredits it [she’s not sincere, he has an ulterior motive…]…[you never say “I love you”…few days later – “I love you honey”…you don’t mean it, you just want something…]…how does a person win that game?...

- Ruth has just uttered once of the most profound expressions of hesed, covenant loyalty that is found anywhere in Scripture, at least from a human perspective…and there is no indication that Naomi listened at all to what was said…because it would not fit her grid, her working theology

4. Bitter people have to completely discredit the so-called source of their bitterness.

- a bitter husband could not name a positive trait of his wife…because he doesn’t notice them, he doesn’t think about them…because if he did---it would disqualify and threaten his bitterness…and the same is true for a bitter wife…

- now if ask, why did you say “so-called” source of bitterness…

- because bitter people are absolutely convinced the problem is the other person…

- Naomi is the consummate proof of that – she has no trouble blaming all of this on God Himself…but here’s the ultimate principle…

5. It may not be that God has given you an empty life, it may be that you have cultivated an empty heart.

 - and I realize that we have people in our church family who have gone through, or who are going through significant difficulties…

- but if Jesus died on the cross in our place, and rose again so that we could have the free gift of salvation in Him…then we can never say that our lives are entirely empty…and we can never argue that our bitterness is justified…

 

- now, we need to end today by making a few comments in response to the phrase at the very end of the chapter… Ruth 1:22 - So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

- anyone familiar with what transpires in the following chapters understands that that is much more than a summary statement to carry the story along…but see, here’s the rub…

III. Each Option Will Impact Your Ability to See, Receive, Magnify God’s Future Work.

 

A. Naomi, like the Jewish nation she represented, was in no position to recognize or rejoice in what God was preparing to do.

 

- see, there’s at least one thing worse than missing the blessings that are right before your eyes today (like Naomi did when she completely failed to see the power of Ruth’s commitment to her)…and that is, being in a position where you’ll probably fail to see God’s blessings again tomorrow…

- bitterness will rob a person of hope about as quickly as any other characteristic I know…which is why the writer of Hebrews said…

- Hebrews 12:15 - See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;

 

B. Sometimes God uses a “Ruth” to get the attention of others.

- verse 22 is written the way it is on purpose…

- Ruth 1:22 - So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab.

- it’s like – we already know that Ruth is from Moab…do we really need to be told that two more times at the end of the chapter?...

- yes, just like Jesus emphasized after the man who was beaten and robbed was ignored by a priest and a Levite, that the one who was willing to stop and help was a good…Samaritan…

- sometimes Moabites get it more rapidly than the people of God…

- and that is a potential rebuke to those who have known the Lord for many years and are still walking in bitterness…

- and it is a potential source of encouragement to the person who has not known the Lord very long, but who is willing to make commitments that only make sense if we truly can find hope in a God who provides…

 

- Conclusion – if you are a bitter person today, admit that to the Lord, and to the appropriate people and get whatever help is necessary to be less like Naomi, and more like Ruth…

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 have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. 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 the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, 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