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Three Widows...Three Ways

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
May 23, 2022 12:00 am

Three Widows...Three Ways

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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May 23, 2022 12:00 am

Three different widows in Ruth chapter 1 are about to walk three different paths, and contrary to popular belief all paths will not lead to God. Find out which one does in this message.

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Ladies and gentlemen, if you ever reach the point where you're convinced that God doesn't love you, you're going to find it impossible to be loved by anybody else. And you're going to find it difficult, if not impossible, to give love back. True, self-sacrificing, genuine love is impossible apart from the love of Christ, receiving it from him whether we feel worthy of it or not, and then through us we serve as conduits of his love to others. True love is always a three-party transaction. The Old Testament contains a beautiful love story. We find it in the book of Ruth. We all want and long for true love, but true love only comes one way.

True love is only possible when it's rooted in Jesus Christ. The story of Ruth is a picture of the redemption God brings all of us, but not everybody responds to the love of God as they should. There are three different widows in Ruth chapter 1, and they'll all walk three different paths. And contrary to popular belief, all paths will not lead to God. Today on Wisdom for the Heart, Stephen Davey is calling this lesson, Three Widows, Three Ways. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson was writing a letter to a woman named Maria Cosway, and in it, part of it says this, the art of life is the avoiding of pain.

I would have to disagree with him on biblical grounds. Frankly, the art of life is not avoiding pain. The art of life is accepting and responding to pain.

That's the art of the Christian life, isn't it? In getting to the point where we recognize, embrace, and we struggle, we go backwards and then forwards, the pain manufactures maturity, it does, crisis, conditions, character, and it does, difficulty, develops, depth. The truth is, difficulty and the crises of life and pain and suffering create these crossroads, and the path we choose to take will make all of the difference in the world as to whether or not we will grow and deepen and sweeten, or whether or not we will stagnate and weaken in our faith. Now if you've ever wondered where a crossroad experience is described in scripture, where there is a decision to be made that will determine literally the destiny of a person's life, Ruth chapter one is that place. It's a crisis at the crossroad of life for three women, and what a crisis it is. Now when we last left this family in Ruth chapter one, they had become familiar sights at the local funeral home. They all knew Naomi by name. First Naomi's husband had died, and then one of her sons, and then, we don't know how much later, her last living grown son passed away.

No details, no description. All of a sudden, in just a matter of a few brief verses, we have three widows grieving their incredible loss. And in this world, at this time, in this culture, this was beyond grief.

In fact, it not only threatened their future happiness on earth, but it really literally threatened their ability to survive. Naomi and her husband, you remember, and her two sons had left Bethlehem believing they are leaving trouble behind. It's all green pastures from here on out.

But now, ten years later, we find them again. There's nothing in Moab for Naomi except three graves, great sorrow, unbelievable grief, and a gnawing sense of fear. Now she can stay here and mourn and potentially starve to death or leave and go back. Besides, word has reached her that Bethlehem has food again. Bethlehem, the house of bread, has bread once again.

And so, without any apparent hesitation, let's pick it up at verse six where we left off and find out what happens. 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 departed from the place where she was and her two daughters-in-law with her, and they went on their way to return to the land of Judah.

Now, in typical oriental fashion, it was typical in this day for hosts to accompany their departing guests some distance down the road, then bid them farewell. It's possible that Naomi had moved in with one, perhaps there was a family compound. She was living with her daughters-in-law, and they are now accompanying her. More than likely, in her mind, they will part ways.

That seems to be the picture here. These three widows eventually end up at either the border separating Moab and another region that was separated by the Dead Sea, or perhaps it was the edge of the Jordan River just north, just above the Dead Sea. We're not told. Bethlehem, we do know, was about a three days journey from Moab, and Naomi would not have wanted them to walk very far until she said farewell, which is exactly what I believe she had in mind to do. Now, notice verse 8. Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, go, may the Lord deal kindly with you as you dealt with the dead and with me. Now, you might think it's strange for Naomi to encourage these women to return, not to their father's house. You notice, she says, go back to your mother's house. Now, this doesn't mean that Orpah and Ruth have deceased fathers. This is actually referring to the mother's place.

You could literally render it the mother's chamber. It was the mother's chamber in this culture where marriages were arranged and planned. In other words, she's saying, girls, look, you're young, you have your life in front of you, go back to your mother's and make plans for another wedding. Let her arrange it for you.

Go back to whatever you can make out of your future. Naomi continues, look on further in verse 8. May the Lord grant that you find rest each in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them and they lifted up their voices and wept. Get a picture in your mind of this. Whether you've read the book of Ruth a hundred times or this is your first time, here they are out in the open without security, without much hope at all. In their minds, they have very little future ahead and here they are weeping. These women have their lives turned upside down with unfulfilled expectations and absolutely unexpected grief and sorrow. Frankly, I think there are a few more tender and heartbreaking scenes in the Bible than this one. This isn't one damsel in distress but three. And here they are now at a crossroad, literally and figuratively, in the midst of their pain. We happen to be given a textbook lesson on three classic responses to pain and disillusionment and sorrow. Perhaps you'll identify with one of these widows, maybe we can identify a little bit with all three. Let's first take a closer look at Naomi. You remember perhaps that her name means gracious one. You ought to write that somewhere in the margin. You could render it pleasant.

You might even translate it sweet. The trouble is she's become embittered over these ten long years and I think the lines in her face would tell the story of three graves and great, great loss. So she concludes, as we've seen already with what we've read in this session, that she is best left alone.

It's best that you leave me alone. And I want to make two observations from her own words. First, Naomi considers herself unworthy of love. If you look at the conversation she has with these girls, four times she will tell them to go back and leave her alone.

Notice her first reason she expects them to leave her. Look at verse 10. They said to her, no, but we will surely return with you to your people. But Naomi, verse 11, said, return my daughters.

Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may be your husbands? In other words, since my sons are now gone, you're no longer bound with marriage to me. There isn't anything in myself worthy of you caring about or following.

I'm just an old woman now. I'm sure you don't want to bother with me, so I'm going to let you go. We're not going to have any awkward moment.

You're not going to have to tell me you think it's best. I'm just going to let you go because surely there's no reason you would want to love me. See, you peel back the layers of self-pity and she's convinced herself that God no longer loves her and neither should Orpah and Ruth.

Notice what she says in verse 12. Return my daughters. Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, would you therefore wait until they're grown?

Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me. In other words, God is against me. He evidently doesn't love me either. Ladies and gentlemen, if you ever reach the point where you're convinced that God doesn't love you, you're going to find it impossible to be loved by anybody else. And you're going to find it difficult, if not impossible, to give love back. True, self-sacrificing, genuine love is impossible apart from the love of Christ. Receiving it from him, whether we feel worthy of it or not, and then through us we serve as conduits of his love to others. David wrote it this way, unless the Lord builds the house, you labor in what? You labor in vain to build it on your own, Psalm 127.1.

True love is always a three-party transaction. In fact, the commitment that Ruth will show Naomi later, we'll see, will only be possible because Ruth has become committed to Naomi's true and living God. Naomi considers herself unworthy of love.

Second observation is this, which is much more serious. Naomi considers God unworthy of worship. Look at verse 14. And they lifted up their voices and wept again.

And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. Then she said, behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods return after your sister-in-law. In other words, go back to your gods.

They'll probably be no worse to you than mine was to me. In verse 13, she says that God's hand is against her. In verse 20, she says that God has dealt bitterly with her. In verse 21, she says that God, again, is against her and has afflicted her. Now, what in the world is Naomi doing demanding that two daughters-in-law go back to their pagan gods? Their chief god was Chemosh, and the worship was child sacrifice. Why would a Jewish woman, a daughter of Abraham, encourage two pagan women to go back and worship their false gods and the horror of their worship?

One author, Warren Wiersbe, asked the same question and he suggested a reason in his commentary that I thought was intriguing. He said that Naomi wanted to go back to Bethlehem and she really didn't want anybody to know that she and her husband had permitted their two sons to marry pagan gentiles. In other words, I'd rather you not go back with me because I'd like to cover up our unfaithfulness to God. But two wrongs do not make a what?

Right. She would only be adding to her guilt. In my opinion, I don't think she's covering up unfaithfulness. I think she's simply counseling these two women based on unbelief. God really isn't worth following.

I've been to the graveyard now, not once, not twice, but three times and it is now clearly obvious to me that God does not care. In fact, if you fast forward to this story where she arrives back in Bethlehem, look at verse 19, so they both went until they came to Bethlehem and when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them and the women said, is this Naomi? In other words, all of Naomi's former friends, acquaintances, maybe distant relatives, come up to her and say, Naomi, is that you?

Is that you? She said in verse 20, don't call me Naomi. Don't call me sweet or pleasant.

Call me Mara. Call me bitter for the almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. In other words, I used to be pleasant and sweet, but now I'm bitter and I want you to know God made me this way. So days earlier, it's why don't you go back to your gods? You've seen how my God treats me. Maybe your God will be better to you.

This is a serious situation at this crossroad in her life. Nowhere do you read of repentance for having abandoned God's covenant people and God's covenant land. In fact, at this point, she's more interested in food than fellowship with God. She is returning to the land, but she is not returning to the Lord. Look again at verse 21, where she says, I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.

Now she's right in a way, isn't she? God has brought her back in his Providence. She's kicking and screaming all the way, but God hasn't deserted her even though she's basically deserting him and that's the way he is with his people. She has no idea that God is at work in her life now more than ever. She has no idea that God has plans for a new son-in-law and a grandson named Obed and she has no idea that he will be the great grandfather of King David, but we're all basically the same way.

We struggle with this as well. When in pain, we tend to magnify what we do not have and minimize what we do have and assume it will never change. But I want you to hear a little ray of hope buried in her words. She says in verse 21, we went out full, but came back empty.

Now wait a second. They left in the middle of a famine. Remember? They had little to eat.

They had seen the loss of their property value, no doubt a plunge. Enemy Midianites are around every corner. That's why they left that and headed for the green fertile plains of Moab, but now she's saying, I was really full in the middle of a famine.

Now I'm empty. We were in reality where we needed to be and we had everything that really mattered in Bethlehem. Now let's quickly go back and take a look at Orpah, the second widow in this crossroad of pain and suffering. Now when Naomi first demanded that the girls return to their mothers, you notice in verse 10 that both Ruth and Orpah lifted up their voices and they began to weep. They basically said, we're going to return with you to your people. That's what Orpah said as well as Ruth.

We're going to return with you to your people. But then Naomi lays out for her and Ruth the reality of what they're going to lose if they do. Orpah gets the message. Let me summarize what Naomi's certainly hinting at.

Some of it's more obvious than other things, but she's simply giving this message to these two young women and Orpah gets it clearly. Her life will be difficult as a widow from Moab. Her prospects of a husband will be less than nothing. She will be unwanted by the Jewish community. Moabites and Jews don't get along. In fact, they really don't like each other.

In fact, they hated each other. She will leave her nation with all of its comfortable customs and cultures and conditions that she's used to. She will be forfeiting her rights as a citizen. She is given no prospects and no promises. And Orpah lifts her voice and weeps, the text says, and she kisses her mother-in-law and basically says farewell. Verse 14.

She got the message and she's going to cry and she's going to kiss her mother-in-law and then say, well, in light of that, maybe we'll write or maybe I'll call. J. Vernon McGee wrote in his little commentary that Ruth and Orpah demonstrate two kinds of members in the average church, the professors and the possessors. Orpah made a profession of faith, but Ruth possessed genuine faith. At this crossroad of life, a decision is made by Orpah which will determine her eternal destiny. You're watching it happen.

Like many I've witnessed too who believe Christ, after you give them the whole story, you know, he's really going to interrupt their lives more than they want. You know, God's going to mess up my social standing and my reputation and my social connections more than I think I want him to. I may have to give up an idol or two. So no thanks.

Orpah calculated the cost. She decides to go back to darkness. She was sad about it. She shed tears.

They were real tears, but at this crossroad of life she chooses to go back to paganism. She chooses to go back to the darkness. She chooses to go back to the gods of her forefathers. She chooses to go back to perhaps this time a good man of Moabite stock and she disappears over the horizon and the Bible never mentions her again. Naomi says, Well, Ruth, what are you waiting for?

Look, behold, verse 15 says, Behold, your sister in law has gone back to her people and her gods. Return after her. Go on.

Get, as they'd say in North Carolina. What happens next, however, is nothing less than one of the most profound confessions of faith you will find anywhere in scripture. Let's just read it. Let me read you follow along. Verse 16. But Ruth said, Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you, for where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will become my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die. And there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me and worse, if anything, but death parts you and me. When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Isn't that amazing? To sum it all up, Ruth is saying to Naomi, No matter what the future holds, no matter where the future takes us, I'm in, and I'm going to stay by your side. This is no blind decision.

I believe this is a rehearsed speech. She's thought it through. Ruth knows that Naomi has nothing to offer her except poverty and hardship. She has absolutely nothing to gain by going with Naomi, and she has everything to lose. Naomi tries to tell her, Go back to your mother, which is an interesting thought. Ruth's mother, Amoabitos, is evidently alive. Can you imagine, as I tried to do that conversation, Ruth are you out of your mind?

What are you thinking? I knew there would be trouble when you married that Israelite. Now, listen, stay here in Moab, stick to your family, worship your gods, and marry a nice Moabite man. Get over them. Here's your chance out.

Here's your way back. No human being has come to her aid. She lives, and she chooses without a support system, and she knows that the fruit of her decision may well be the emptiness of rejection and perhaps even death. She has committed herself to the life of an older widow rather than the search for a new husband.

There is no more radical decision in all the memories of Israel. Twice in her well-rehearsed and thought-out speech to Naomi, she refers to God with personal terminology. The God of Israel is the one whom she is now believing in, relating to, and trusting for her future. While in Toulon, France, a number of years ago, Marcia and I were staying with a French pastor, Jean-Pierre and his wife Jocelyn, delightful couple. Jean-Pierre couldn't speak English, just a few words. He knew about as much English as I knew French, and he could say hello and I could say oui, and that was about it.

So after we said hello and oui several times, she would interject and translate for him. And one evening after dinner, we were talking, and Jean-Pierre was telling us about a young lady who had come to faith in Christ in their church. And it was a wonderful story, but it was a story of great suffering for this young woman. She faced a great deal of persecution because of her decision. She'd lost her friends and was nearly disowned by her family. Then, Jean-Pierre said something that Jocelyn was having a hard time finding an English counterpart to translate it correctly, and finally she sort of gave up and she spoke broken English too, and she said, my husband is saying that in spite of everything, this young lady gripped God.

What a great thought. She gripped by faith her Lord. Ladies and gentlemen, we have three widows with three different ways of handling the pain of life which they could not avoid.

So here they arrive in this strange new land, but one thing is certain, Ruth has a tight grip on her newfound true and living God. I wonder if you've ever seen this lived out in your life. Perhaps you know people who respond to life in ways that ultimately are not helpful.

Often people respond in ways that lead to further destruction. As Stephen just reminded us, the proper response is to live life gripping God. You've been listening to Wisdom for the Heart, the Bible teaching ministry of Stephen Davey. Stephen's working his way through the book of Ruth in this series, and he's calling this lesson, Three Widows, Three Ways. One of the best ways for you to learn more about us and access all of our resources is to visit our website, which is wisdomonline.org. Once you arrive at that site, you'll be able to access the entire library of Stephen's 35-year Bible teaching ministry. We also post each day's broadcast, so if you ever miss one of these lessons on your local radio station, you can go to our website and keep caught up with our current teaching series. The archive of Stephen's teaching is available on that site free of charge, and you can access it anytime at wisdomonline.org. I hope this time in the book of Ruth has been a blessing to you. We'll continue this series next time, here on Wisdom for the Heart.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-15 17:18:27 / 2023-04-15 17:27:42 / 9

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