The Bible Monthly vol. 3
The events narrated in the book of Ruth occurred, we are told, in the times of the Judges. Those days were, in their spiritual condition, very similar to the days in which we are living.
Israel, instead of maintaining the place of separation to which God had called her, was dwelling at her ease in the midst of the idolatrous nations. She mingled with them, participating in much of their moral evil and idolatry.
How grievously true is this of the church of God to-day! God’s children, whom He has called to a life of separation from the world, i.e., that which is morally evil, are, in the main, dwelling at their ease among the unbelieving and ungodly who surround them. Spiritual carelessness and slackness in practical righteousness are seen on every side. The children of God everywhere are found mingling with the world, entering into the pleasures and social life of unbelievers, linking themselves up with organisations and associations which are opposed to the mind of God. The call to separation to the Lord from the world is, in the case of the great mass of Christians, almost entirely ignored; indeed, it seems hardly to be heeded at all.
It was in times of general conditions in Israel such as these, in days of spiritual weakness and moral degeneracy, that the events narrated in the book of Ruth took place.
There arose a famine in the land of God’s people. God, whom they had so neglected, was visiting them with His discipline, in order that they might realise the sin of which they were guilty, and so be restored to walk in faithfulness before Him. He would deprive them of earthly blessings, that they might become conscious of this sin against Him, and that He might pour out to them, when repentant, the mercies and blessings that, in His love, He now withholds from them.
Just here we may learn a very important general truth. Departure from God must inevitably mean famine in the soul. The child of God who deliberately turns aside from Him, to do as the world does, will ever experience the bitter truth, that in this pathway God will withhold all the blessed sense of His approval, and the joy and delight of His love and fellowship. Gradually, delight in the things of God, the joy of that glorious salvation which is ours, and the blessed sense of the companionship and fellowship of the Lord will cease in the soul; the soul will become barren, and the life spiritually unfruitful. There will be a famine in the land.
In the days of famine, Elimelech took his wife and family and went into Moab. No step could have been more dishonouring to God, nor more disastrous to himself.
He dwelt in Bethlehem-Judah (the “House of Bread”). It was there God had placed him; it was there God would have him be. It was the ‘ House of Bread,’’ the place where God would ever provide for all His children who walked faithfully before Him.
The famine was not more severe than could be endured. True, it would mean much hardship, much that was humanly uncongenial and hard to bear, but God was there to sustain and maintain all who turned to Him.
Elimelech reasoned and acted in unfaithfulness. He was not willing to submit to the chastening of God, nor was he ready to endure hardship with the people of God. He did not humbly acknowledge that this affliction was richly deserved by him on account of his sin, nor did he consider that it would be far better, far more profitable to his soul, to endure affliction with the people of God, than to share the prosperity of the ungodly, a course that could only lead him farther away from God.
Sad indeed it is when the child of God rises in rebellion of heart against the chastening hand of God, and refuses to submit to His dealings with him, who despises the Divine Love, which seeks so tenderly the restoration of his soul from the evil into which it has gone.
Elimelech, in his determination not to endure at the hand of God, takes a most disastrous step. He goes of his own choice into Moab. Now Moab is typical of what is for ever alienated from God (see Deut. xxiii. 3-6).
There could be no fellowship between God and Moab. Moab stood for everything that was morally opposed to God and was contrary to His mind. Yet it was to this land that Elimelech turns, and Moab and all that it represented is the deliberate object of his choice. He is seeking in the fellowship of the world to escape from the conditions into which he has been brought by the chastening hand of God.
Alas! that this should be so often true of the child of God who is under discipline, or who is called upon to share with the children of God that measure of affliction and adversity which follows departure from God. There is a rebellious refusal to submit to God’s dealing with us, and a deliberate choice of the world with its pleasures and prosperity, in the impious determination to find in the fellowship of the world what, in His love, God withholds from His children in His desire for the restoration of their souls.
Then, too, we find that not only did Elimelech go down to Moab, but he ‘‘ continued there.’’ Thus we see that he not only sinned, but he persisted in the sin. There can be no doubt that his conscience was much exercised as God by His Spirit strove with him, but he was deliberately deaf to all His pleadings, and would not turn aside from the evil of his way.
Thus we find him in a place where God would not have him to be, in fellowship with a people morally contrary to the mind of God, enjoying the pleasures and prosperity that he could find among them, and persistently turning away from what he knew to be in accordance with the mind of God. He has become altogether unprofitable to God, and God must deal with him. He removes Elimelech from this world, where he altogether fails to represent Him.
Elimelech’s Sin unto Death
Elimelech in Bethlehem-Judah, humbly submitting to the chastening hand of Jehovah, might have been a faithful representative of his God, but Elimelech in Moab, living in social fellowship with the enemies of God, not only failed to represent Him, but discredited God in the eyes of unbelievers. God therefore removed him from the place where, as a believer in God, he had failed. In Ruth i. 8, we are told that Elimetech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons.
Believers in this day may well exercise themselves as to the manner in which they are representing the Lord in this world. Are we enjoying the fellowship and participating in the pleasures of unbelievers? Have we turned aside from the pleading of the Holy Spirit, when He has sought to draw us away from our worldiness and back again to the Lord from whom we have departed? And have we persisted in the evil of our ways, and refused to be led by God’s Holy Spirit into the path of faithfulness? Then may we not fear lest He remove us from a world, where we have failed to represent the Lord who bought us and who claims the whole consecration of our life on earth? God grant to all His wandering children that they may yield to the sweet influence of restoring grace.
How solemn and terrible a thing it is that the results of the evil we do are never wholly confined to ourselves, but affect with their malign influence those around us.
Terrible indeed is the result in ourselves, the wasted life, the worldly associations, the dishonour done to the Lord's name, the opportunity given to the ungodly to speak with scorn and contempt of the Christian life, but how infinitely more sad to drag down with us weak and unstable souls; to be a stumbling-block to the young and untried among the children of God, to be the cause of sin in others.
In verse 4 we find that Mahlon and Chilion took to themselves wives of the daughters of Moab. It was sin enough that they should dwell there, but now they consummated the evil; they linked themselves, in a union which cannot be severed, with what was in opposition to God. Knowing the requirements of God, and that He had called them to a life of separation, they yet deliberately united themselves by the closest and most intimate of ties with Moab. And the two brothers continued in this union about ten years. This is very significant, and sets forth in a wonderful way the longsuffering of God, and the patience with which He seeks to reclaim His own from the evil of their ways.
The number, ten, sets forth fulness of responsibility. God would not cut the young men off without giving them a full opportunity to abandon their sin, to rise to their responsibility as belonging to Him, and to come apart from their evil. But there is no response in the lives of Mahlon and Chilion; they dwell in ease and comfort in Moab; they join the social life and pleasures of the Moabites; separation to God is forgotten, or, if remembered, thrust aside. Thus the moment comes when God must deal with them, as He did with their father. Death comes in. God removes them from the place where they had completely failed to represent Him faithfully, and where they had only brought His name into contempt among the ungodly.
The Three Widows
How sad a spectacle it is! Three women, all widows! All are suffering under the chastening hand of God. How will they act? In the mind of Naomi a resolution is made. She will return to Bethlehem-Judah. She has heard, we know not by what means, that the Lord has visited His people in giving them bread. Alas! that this should be the motive for her return. There is no evidence that her heart returned to God, and that she repented of the sin done during the years that are past, but, if there were bread in Bethlehem-Judah, she might as well dwell there as in Moab.
Again, her relations and friends of her youth were all there; she will go back; she is willing to live among God’s people, if there is bread for her bodily needs; but if the famine had continued there, she would have remained in Moab.
This is very low ground spiritually, and shows that the soul of Naomi was not restored. She is seeking what is satisfying and pleasant from the standpoint of the flesh, but is indifferent as to the state of her soul before God. It was a step in the right direction to return to Bethlehem-Judah, but the motive was altogether a worldly and fleshly one, and brought no honour to the God against whom she had sinned.
Believer, how does it stand with you? Are you willing to remain in association with the children of God, just so long as there is an abundance of temporal mercies vouchsafed to you? And has the withdrawal of these mercies in that place so affected you that you resent the action of God in depriving you of them, and question His love in thus dealing with you? Have you, for purely temporal ease and advantage, forsaken the path of separation from evil, turned aside from God, gone out from the place where God put you, and gone down to live in the world, and share in its prosperity? If this be so, loss of joy, leanness of soul, and bitterness of spirit, will be your inevitable portion, That the heart and mind of Naomi were estranged from God is only too well shown by a study of Ruth i. 8-15.
Naomi is a believer in Jehovah; she knows that her life among the children of Moab has been altogether contrary to God; she is fully aware that she ought never to have left Bethlehem-Judah; she knows, too, that Ruth, her daughter-in-law, has become a believer in the God of Israel, and this belief, she knows, requires that Ruth should dissociate herself from Moab (i.e., from all that is morally evil), and take her place in the path of separation with the people of God.
Yet Naomi gives to her daughters-in-law advice and counsel which are the very opposite to what she ought to have given, and she even uses the name of the Lord and invokes His blessing upon them, and His active intervention on their behalf, in their continuance in Moab and their life there. Nothing could well be more sad. She has sunk so low herself spiritually, that she is found urging her two daughters-in-law to continue in an association which, in whatever way it is viewed, is apart from and dishonouring to God. She urges them to return to their mothers’ house, to go back again to all the old life of Moab.
She knows Ruth is a believer in God, and yet she, a believer, urges her to go back to her old life, which she lived before her marriage, to take up again all the old associations, and embrace again the old idolatrous religion which she has given up as a believer in Jehovah, She even desires that the Lord may give to one who believes in Him, a Moabitish husband. She prays that God will link one who belongs to Himself, in the closest and most intimate union, with an idolater.
How terribly estranged is the heart of Naomi from the God in whom she believes. How low the child of God has sunk, who can counsel a young believer on such lines as these.
Ruth, who typically sets forth the believer, should have received from Naomi help and counsel and exhortation to come aside from all her old associations, and come out definitely on the side of Jehovah.
The two daughters-in-law will not, however, leave Naomi, and all three set out on the journey to Bethlehem-Judah. Again, Naomi urges them to return; she points out that she has no more sons for them to wed, and she presses them to return to Moab. Orpah is persuaded to do so and goes back to her people, but Ruth still continues, and again Naomi begs her to return (verse 15), as her sister has already done, to her people and her gods. What counsel for a believer in God to give to a young convert !
My beloved brethren, may I here ask how you are counselling the young in the flock of God? Are they by you being pointed to that pathway in which they may honour God, or are you counselling them to a course of action which, while it may satisfy the flesh, must starve the soul, and bring dishonour to the name of the Lord?
But it is blessed to see how God sustains and nourishes the soul of even the weakest and feeblest of His children in the face of all those influences which come in and seek to turn aside the soul of the believer, and to remove him in his faith and affection from the Lord in whom he trusts. Though the adversary is ever seeking to drag us away from the Lord, yet He is ever coming in very blessedly, in all His grace and sufficiency, to maintain in faith and holiness of life, all those who truly trust in Him. No power of evil is so great that it can drag us away from the road, if only we yield ourselves to Him in the whole faith of our heart, and walk in separation before Him.
Naomi has given al] her counsel; most evil that counsel has been; and what is its effect upon Ruth? How beautiful to see how the faith of this young believer in God rises to the occasion,
In a passionate outburst, her heart wrung with agony that such suggestions should be made to her to forsake the God she has learned to love, and to give up all the blessedness she has already experienced as His child, she bursts forth in her impassioned request, ‘‘ Entreat me not to leave thee.’? The mere thought is an agony to her; was it only love to Naomi? Nay, this cannot be the cause.
If she went back to Moab, she would have a mother and father, brethren, relatives and friends; would not these count for more than one mother-in-law? No, we must look for further cause than this for Ruth’s distress of soul. Let us listen to her own words, ‘‘ Whither thou goest, I will go; where thou lodgest, I will lodge.”
What does this mean? Just this, she would remain in fellowship with this one believer in God, rather than enjoy the fellowship of all her relatives and old friends in Moab.
This is not all. She goes on to say, ‘‘ Thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God.’’ This is supremely beautiful. It is not mere human love for Naomi, though doubtless that existed, She would come into the fellowship of God’s people now, instead of her own according to the flesh, and still more, the Lord in whom they believed, and to whom their affection was given, should be her God also.
The heart of Ruth has gone out to God; she is trusting in Him; He has won her affections, and now nothing will satisfy her but to have fellowship with that God among His own people, and in that place where He has put them, that is, in Bethlehem-Judah, the ‘‘ House of Bread.’’
Oh, how glorious is the work of God in the soul. Who would have conceived that the heart of Ruth would, in Moab, have been won for God, and when won, who would have thought it could possibly have grown and prospered and so triumphed over the evil conditions and old associations by which, on every hand, she was surrounded?
But so it is, God is ever sufficient for every need of His children. Under the most unfavourable conditions, [He can so feed and nourish the soul, that they shall blossom and bring forth fruit, beautiful in His eyes and delightful to His affections.
My brethren, are you feeling the burden of the moral evil of these days, are you finding the old associations weighing heavily upon you? Do not despair. He, who fed the soul of Ruth, will feed yours also, and cause it to grow and prosper. Trust Him, He never fails; nothing is too difficult for Him, and He ever loves His own, and that perfectly.
Oh, my brethren, how does it stand with us in this matter? Does the mere thought or suggestion of returning to the old worldly life come with pain and agony to our hearts? Has our God so revealed Himself to us, in all His love, that all our joy is now and always found in Himself, and in that experience of His divine love which ‘He gives us, as we walk in faith, and in separation to Himself? God grant that it may be so with all of us.
Naomi ceases to urge her to return. Grace has triumphed. Ruth the Moabitess has gone, and Ruth the child of God has taken her place, and now these two journey on their way to Bethlehem-Judah.
The sacred record tells us nothing of any conversation that passed between them, as they journeyed together. Did Naomi reveal to Ruth something of the people and the land whither they were going, or was the journey passed in sad and sorrowful meditation by Naomi, and believing expectancy by Ruth?
The Return to Bethlehem
However this may be, they come at last to Bethlehem-Judah. Their arrival created no little stir. The whole city was moved by the appearance of Naomi. Sorrow, bereavement, weariness, and loss of spiritual joy, were all written plainly on her face, so great is the change that they say, ‘Is this Naomi? ’’ ‘‘ Can this be the bright, happy woman who left us?’ ‘‘ What has wrought this change? ”’
It is all the due result of departure from God, the sad, sad consequences, of deliberately going down into the world, to live its life, and enjoy its fellowship. This must ensue, when the child of God turns away from God, and refuses to obey the truth, rebels against God’s dealings with him, and seeks his happiness and prosperity with the ungodly and unbeliever.
Again, too, Naomi here gives proof that she is still rebellious in heart towards God. ‘‘ Call me not ‘ Naomi,’ call me ‘ Mara,’ for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.”
“Naomi” means “pleasant,” and “Mara” means “bitter.” Naomi is bitter in spirit, and she charges the Almighty with being the cause of her bitterness.
How false were her words. God has never dealt bitterly with any of His children. He may, and does, deal in judgment with us when we fail and sin against Him, but He ever does this in love, desiring the restoration of our souls. The bitterness only comes, and is only experienced by us, when we rebel against His dealings with us. When we refuse to submit ourselves humbly to His chastening, then, indeed, there is bitterness in our hearts, but when we acknowledge that we have sinned, and recognise that He is dealing in love and mercy in thus chastening us, then there may be sadness and sorrow, while the chastening is endured, but no bitterness. No, the bitterness is not from God; it is the outcome of our rebellion in heart against His dealings with us.
She goes on: “I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty.” Oh, my beloved brethren, how true this is! She had turned her back on God in Bethlehem, and she has gone to Moab and enjoyed all the fulness of the world apart from God, and ere He could bring her back to Himself, He had to strip her of all that she had secured in Moab. .
How often has this been true of the child of God, who, disliking the narrow pathway, the humble circumstances, and the worldly disabilities attaching to the path of separation, has turned his back on God and plunged into the world, joining himself to it in order to secure all that earthly prosperity and position for which he craved. In that position he has forgotten God and His love, forgotten, too, his responsibility to walk faithfully before God, and for his restoration, God, in His love, has had to come in, and take away from him all that which he had enjoved in the world, and to which he had given his affection, and this, in order to win him back in his affection to Himself.
Yes, He may and will chasten, but always in love, and always for our good. He loves us too dearly to allow us to remain away from Himself in our affections.
So she returned, and Ruth with her, and it was the beginning of barley harvest.
How blessed in its significance is the simple statement of the word of God, that they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest. Ruth is a type of the believer, one who has just come to have faith in God. She has given up the world and come among God’s people, and for her the time is ‘' the beginning of barley harvest.’
The barley harvest was the earliest, and was succeeded by wheat harvest, grape harvest, etc. Thus it was the beginning of a wonderful plenitude, which was to increase as time went on. It was very much in itself, but it was also the promise of much more to follow.
How blessedly true this is in the case of the believer. How wonderful is his portion when he first becomes a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. The first experience of His love, the knowledge of sins forgiven, the assurance of salvation, these are all so wonderful, so rich a harvest of spiritual blessings, but when he has traversed the Christian pathway a few years, what further rich harvests of spiritual blessedness has he experienced? The Spirit of God has opened up to him more and more what the love of Christ really is. More and more has the glory of that Divine affection for himself been experienced by the believer, and ever the Spirit is leading from one revelation to another in the love and sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ for al! the pathway of the Christian. Thus he realises most blessedly that wonderful as was his ‘‘ barley harvest ’’ when he first believed, it has been followed by other rich harvests of spiritual fruits which have nourished and delighted his soul.
J. B. R.