LESSONS FROM RUTH
CHAPTER 1: COUNTING THE COST
INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES
Ruth is an amazing book! It’s an incredible story of commitment and dedication, trials and testing, deliverance and freedom. It’s a wonderful love story and it is a message for us all today. God has placed within the characters and story line, key elements and pictures that teach us today about our relationship with the true redeemer, Jesus Christ. Each of the four chapters gives us a glimpse of the progressive stages in our walk with the Lord – and in this first chapter we learn that there is a cost of following Jesus that has to be counted…
LIFE LESSONS FROM RUTH CHAPTER 1
- Don’t slip back into the “world”.
- Be honest in “preaching the Gospel”.
- Be open to returning to the Lord.
- Count the cost of following the Lord.
WHEN LIFE IS TOUGH, WHAT DO YOU DO?
Ruth 1:1-2 (NASB) – Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there.
The world of Elimelech was in a mess. This story took place during the approximately 300 year period of the Judges – a bit of a “dark age” for Israel, a time when –
there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25 NASB)
A time of apostacy – of turning away from the One true God and doing whatever “felt good”.
A time of judgement by God who had warned His people that if they turned from following Him a consequence would be physical and spiritual famine (eg Deuteronomy 28:38-40). It is interesting, isn’t it, that they lived in Bethlehem, which literally means “the house of bread”, but now there was no bread.
Maybe it was a time just like ours today.
What did Elimelech and his family do? They saw that things were better in Moab and they decided to go there. But everything about this was wrong! God’s people had been told to stay in God’s land and turn to Him and He would provide – but they were enticed away by the world that looked like it had the answers to their immediate needs. They lived in the land of the Father and left to go to the land of Moab which literally means “what father?” – a land to which the Israelites had been told to have nothing to do with (Deuteronomy 23:3-6).
This was wilful disobedience to the Word of God – seeking to sort out problems in his own strength. We wouldn’t do that…would we?
Not that Elimelech had decided to take his family away from the land of Israel permanently. No way! This was only going to be a ‘sojourn’ – which means a brief stay. Not a great rebellion against God, but just a little dabble for a season in another land. Nothing wrong with that is there?
So, we get a picture of the Christian who, when times get hard, looks not to God but to what the world can provide. Have you ever been in this kind of famine? One where God doesn’t seem to care about or notice the difficulties you are in and your thoughts turn to the provision and pleasure offered by the world?
BEWARE OF GETTING TRAPPED BACK IN THE WORLD
Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. And they took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband. (Ruth 1:3-5 NASB)
Take care that when we “dip your toe into the water” that you don’t get sucked under by the current and drown. That little “sojourn” to enjoy the pleasures of Moab turned into ten years and Elimelech and both his sons died there. And those sweet worldly pleasures turned into sour discomfort for them as is reflected in the names of the sons – Mahlon, meaning “sickly”, and Chilion, meaning “destruction”.
The Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable had to learn himself the hard way that the world’s promises quickly turn to curses. Those who leave the Lord today find the same thing. Though the world promises fame, fortune and happiness, nothing can come near the peace and hope that comes from knowing that you are right with the Lord.
BE OPEN TO RETURNING TO GOD
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 the way to return to the land of Judah. 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. ‘May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, ‘No, but we will surely return with you to your people.’ (Ruth 1:6-10 NASB)
News had come that the Lord had given food to His people in Israel. It had taken time, and Naomi and her children had not been patient. But, at just the right time God had brought relief and provision. And what was this right time? The Book of Judges makes it clear that God brings relief when His people turn back to Him – in love and obedience. There’s a message here for us!
Well, just like in the story of the Prodigal Son, Naomi came to her senses and knew it was time to go home to the Lord. Thank God she did this! Otherwise, she too would have died in Moab, in the world as it were, far away from God’s Promised Land. What about you? Is it time to come to your senses and return back to God? How many have stayed in the world…and died physically and spiritually there.
Naomi was going back to God – but not alone – both of her daughters in law respond to her by saying ‘we will surely return with you to your people.’ Wow! – two new gentile converts right? Um, half right.
LET’S BE HONEST WITH OURSELVES AND OTHERS ABOUT THE COST OF FOLLOWING JESUS
But Naomi said, ‘Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? ‘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 were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me.’ (Ruth 1:11-13 NASB)
Arrrggghh Naomi! Why didn’t she just tell them that if you come back to Israel and the God of Israel then all their problems would be gone, and everything would be coming up roses? Isn’t that what you say to people who are interested in coming to the Lord? Doesn’t it go something like ‘Gods loves you and wants to bless you. Ask him into your life and he will sort out your problems!’ Isn’t that what it means to share the gospel? Not likely! What Naomi did was tell them the truth and gave them the opportunity to count the cost of having the Lord God of Israel as their God. Jesus expects nothing less.
Jesus, Himself, was totally honest to those who would be His disciples. He told them:
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not [n]hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends [o]a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14: 26-33 NASB)
COUNTING THE COST OF FOLLOWING JESUS – THE DECISION THAT YOU MAKE
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.’ But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be 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 she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. (Ruth 1:14-18 NASB)
Here we have the tale of two decisions: Orpah (a name that means “stiff-necked”) wanted to follow Naomi to the Promised Land but counted the cost and decided she wanted the security and enticements of Moab – the world. Faced with the reality of what following God would mean she chose the seeming, and short-term, comfort of the world.
But Ruth (a name that means “friendship”) saw the big picture and promised to follow Naomi wherever she went – giving one of the most beautiful speeches in the Old Testament.
Why not read it again – and apply it to YOUR life from this moment on. Knowing the cost that following Jesus means, why not reaffirm your decision to follow Him for eternity.
BE HONEST ABOUT CONSEQUENCES OF LIFE CHOICES – BUT REMEMBER “SUNDAY’S COMING!”
So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came about when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ And 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?’ 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. (Ruth 1:19-22)
They have returned to Bethlehem – to God’s land. But Naomi feels broken. Her name means “pleasant” but she wants to be called Mara, which means “bitter” because she has lost everything – husband, sons, all her wealth. There is always a consequence for back-sliding. We always come back from the world empty-handed. It is not God’s fault. It is our fault – the consequence of our choice. But she is back – and she will receive more than she could ever have believed – for she was back in the place of the Lord.
Remember, as we have heard so often in recent days, it may seem that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We may feel that God has deserted us (but He hasn’t), that we have been punished by Him (but He disciplines those He loves), that there is no future for us (but He has plans to give us hope and a future). “It’s Friday but Sunday’s coming”). And this chapter finishes with hope – it was the beginning of the barley harvest – better days are coming!
FOR FURTHER DISCUSSION – ON YOUR OWN OR WITH OTHERS
- What struck you most about this session?
- Look at the 3 main characters in this chapter – what do you learn from each of them and how do you relate to each of them?
- Compare the story in chapter 1 with Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32) – how do the two stories support each other?
- Do you think there is a “cost to be counted” in following Jesus?
- Should we be more honest and open with “seekers” about any cost?
- Are you ever tempted to go to “Moab” when times are hard?