The “Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah”

And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. Ruth 1:16,17

These words by Ruth are not only some of the most popular in the Bible, they are also amongst the most powerful. Nearly every reader of the Bible knows them, and they have impacted many Christians’ lives in a most powerful way.

What many of us do not know is the origin of these words. Where did Ruth get these words? They came from her heart, of course; but what caused her to say them?

God uses the most unlikely people to work out His purpose. I am not talking about Ruth here now; rather, I am referring to Elimelech and his family. The grace of God is revealed throughout the Bible in many different aspects, but one of the most prominent ways we come to notice God’s grace was in the way He used many improbable characters to fulfill His purpose.

Elimelech was such a man. He had run away from his land to escape famine. There was nothing wrong with that, of course, except that he left his fellow countrymen praying, trusting and waiting patiently on God to reveal His faithfulness. That was what we would have expected Elimelech to do also. He should not have left his people in a time of trouble. But it appears that Elimelech was not a very persevering man, and in a moment of weakness, he lost his nerve and bolted for safety.

Years later, long after Elimelech and his two sons had died in a foreign land, God would remember His nation Israel and visit His people “in giving them bread”, and his wife Naomi alone would go back to the home they had left behind.

God knows men’s hearts, however, and He is the best judge of our motives. God knew Elimelech. And through this nerveless man God would re-write history.

The Moabites were a nation that did not know or serve the true God. Their chief god was an idol they called Chemosh. As a result of worshipping this pagan god, they were a very ungodly nation and they lived very wicked lives in the sight of God. There is no way any nation (or person) can live a Godly lifestyle if they do not know the true God. Not, especially, when they are worshipping a demonic entity.

When Elimelech and his family settled in the land of Moab, no doubt they began telling the people there about the true God that they worshipped. But more importantly, they lived such a Godly lifestyle that when Ruth married into that family, through careful observation of their lifestyle, her tender heart was deeply touched.

She saw a kind of godly lifestyle that was not there in her own nation. She saw that the God that these people talked about was different from the gods she knew of in her land. He was a God who had many desirable attributes. He was a God of compassion, and a God of holiness. She heard many moving stories of the Israelite God, Jehovah, and she was profoundly touched.

More importantly, she observed how these people did not simply talk about their God, but she saw how their lives reflected the nature of the God they talked about. Her tender heart craved what she saw and heard.

That was why when Naomi besought her to go back to her gods and her people on the eve of Naomi’s return to Israel, Ruth was adamant: “Your people”, she told Naomi, “shall be my people, and your God my God”. She had found something she wanted, and she would pay for it with her life if it so required. What a powerful testimony to the kind of lifestyle that Naomi and the Elimelech family had lived in the midst of these people!

Neither Elimelech, nor any of his sons’ lifestyles is specified in the Bible, and some would argue that it was probably Naomi herself who lived the kind of lifestyle that attracted Ruth to her God. But I am sure that Elimelech himself and his sons also lived that kind of life. There is nothing to suggest that any of these men lived anything other than a perfect, Godly life in the land of Moab. Also, the Bible is a very keen Book, and it would never mention these men’s names without a particular reason.

Elimelech’s failing (if failing it was) in running away from his nation in a time of trouble fades into nothingness when compared to what he accomplished through his Godly lifestyle in the land of Moab.

Many Christians spend years, and possibly a lifetime, wringing their hands and wishing they were not the losers they are in life. But the Bible here shows us a bunch of losers who became one of the greatest winners in the Bible – The “Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah”. God, in fact, uses losers. If you consider yourself a loser, I encourage you to put on your dancing shoes right now, get out on the dance-floor of life and see what God can do with your life!

Now, we know that Elimelech and his sons died before they would even have an idea of the great wonder (Jesus) that would proceed from the seed they had planted through the Godly lifestyle they had lived in Moab. But the important thing is not that they lived or died. The important thing is what came out of their lives; the fruit that their lives bore.

Some folks are so taken up with living this life! How sad. We should be taken up with living the future life. I know that does not sound very appealing, particularly considering what the world has to offer. But the glory that comes out of living a hard, unpaid, but Godly life in this world could scarcely be compared with the flitting pleasures of this world.

Living this kind of life requires us, in fact, to die to this wordly life. How so contradictory! And yet… how so fascinatingly beautiful!

The Apostle Paul, observing how God works in ways so different from man’s thoughts and expectations, exclaimed, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).

How amazing, indeed.

Naomi pt.3

The Church today appears to be turning against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to explain the fact that whereas the scriptures admonish us to Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8), the majority of the Church is busy declaring themselves the “King’s Kids” and “possessing” whatever it is they can. We have been taught to “confess”, and to “possess”.

Consider this: Jesus lost; the Church is amassing. Jesus willingly let go of fame and material comfort; the Church is demanding these things, and using the crudest methods possible to obtain them. Jesus humbled Himself; the Church is proud and judgmental. What a paradox! And yet the scriptures tell us to Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”.

If we are serious in our relationship with God, then we must align ourselves with His Word. We must make sure we are in plain sight so He can take good aim at us, to deal with our pride, and the various degrees of sin in our lives. This leaves little room for us to contemplate the glory of this world.

Hebrews 12:6 says: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth”.

The word “suffering” does not go down well with our pleasure- loving generation. In fact, the Church today is a rationalizing, not a believing one. We wonder aloud: “Why should we suffer?”

But we forget that the ways of God are not our ways. It “pleased” God to “bruise” His Son, and no matter how hard Jesus cried to Him God would not relent. We cannot presume to enter in through an easier door.

The saints of old knew this and they were willing and ready to take up their cross and follow Jesus in the Spirit.

In light of this I wish to end our discussion by pointing out one last aspect of Naomi’s suffering which is so important for us as born-again believers to understand. When Naomi suffered in a strange land, no doubt she actively sought to please God. But it may well be that she did not expect any reward; she just persevered out of obedience and love for her God.

We know that later on God blessed her with Ruth, who bore her Obed. (The Bible declares that Obed was reckoned to be Naomi’s son: And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David” – Ruth 4:17). Much later, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world – Naomi’s ultimate prize – was born of David’s line.

A belated blessing for Naomi? No. It could not possibly be belated since it is an eternal one.

When we surrender our lives to God, when we lose everything for the sake of Christ, there is no telling the magnitude of the blessing He has in store for us. It is a far greater reward than we could possibly imagine. The scriptures say, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). God does not promise us earthly rewards, for the Bible clearly says these are things “which none of the princes of this world knew” (v.8). I am not suggesting that God is not concerned with our earthly needs. However, we know the princes of this world control all that this world has to offer, and it is utterly foolish for us to try and compete with them. We need to have a different mindset. We should rather look to another reward, a heavenly one, which is of far greater glory than any earthly treasure!

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

There is no greater treasure than to have Jesus rooted firmly in our hearts and enabling us to walk that righteous and holy walk that is so invaluable in God’s sight.

I am sure we are all called to gain a reward equal to Naomi’s – the fullness of Jesus Christ in our lives – if only we are faithful enough.

Naomi pt.2

We last saw how Naomi’s perseverance in suffering caused Ruth to see into God’s Kingdom, and how she desired to cleave to Naomi. Many doctrines have come up today that deny Christians the privilege of partaking of the sufferings of Christ – and the blessing that comes with this suffering.

Chief among these is the gospel of prosperity. I have heard preachers claim that it is actually a sin to live in deprivation or even to get sick. These type of “bless me” gospels just serve to promote the flesh in the Church. Christians cheer at these gospels without realizing the seed of carnality being planted in their lives.

But when we suffer for the sake of Christ, we reap a different harvest. Our lives enrich others, and we reap a harvest for the Kingdom.

Today I would like us to look at another aspect of Naomi’s faith as we study her suffering. When Naomi went back to the land of Judah, everyone came out to receive her saying, “Is this Naomi?” to which she replied, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me” (1:19-21).

The saints we read about in the Old and New Testaments saw God at work in their lives. They saw the hand of God, not of Satan. We see Naomi acknowledging God in her suffering.  Yet, today we live in a generation where Satan is probably more alive in Christians’ lives than God Himself.

It is no secret that today Christians are seeing the devil behind every bush. Nearly every problem in the Church is attributed to the devil. Poverty, disease, unemployment, domestic and matrimonial problems, grievance of brother against brother, and even sin are all considered the devil’s doing. So is persecution. Christians cannot imagine God “deserting” them and leaving them in the hands of the enemy.

This belief in the devil has in turn opened the door for “sorcerers” of every sort to invade the Church. I don’t know about other countries, but in our country there are now preachers peddling every kind of sorcery within the Church: “blessed water” (and oil!), books into countless forms of “deliverance” and “lightning” prayers (against the devil) plus countless other ‘indulgences’ – all written and invented by preachers – are sold at Christian bookstores situated right at the entrance into the churches themselves. In church there are ‘apostles’ who specialize in “prospering” God’s people; and – the latest – there are preachers “cleansing” Christians’ “stars” (which is pure black magic)!

The other day, on Christian radio, I heard of a “mobile church” where, once you register (yes, you have to register, and there are 3 main conditions you have to fulfill for your membership to be confirmed) – once you are accepted into this cloud nine fellowship you will never need to tire yourself walking to some old church building; you only need turn the dial and you are on, right there on your couch!

These false teachers are promising God’s people all kinds of placebos, all of which are geared to convince the Christian that he does not need to suffer. “Promises” have been dug up from every tip of the Bible to prop up the desperate belief that a lack of suffering and a materialistically prosperous and comfortable life was the promise given to Abraham by God. But all this  ‘revelation’ is of the flesh, really, for the flesh does not contemplate suffering of any sort. And these gospels ultimately lead to disillusionment for the believer, to live in fear and defeat.

What the Bible actually says about our father Abraham is that he received the promise when he was “as good as dead”! (Heb. 11:12). In other words, Abraham never received that promise in the flesh! (We would have to remove a whole load of scriptures from the Bible to agree with these new age preachers).

Naomi did not say, “The devil has afflicted me.” She said “God has afflicted me.” Though she was sorrowful, yet she realized God was at work in her life, and she was ready to let Him have His way in her life.

Let me tell you that due to the nature and magnitude of her problems, Naomi could have consulted the Moabite sorcerers of her day. But she did not. She bound herself to her God – for good and for evil! At no one moment did she lose sight of the vision of the one living God who is in control over the affairs of men.

At Ruth’s marriage to Boaz and the subsequent birth of Obed, God would begin rewarding Naomi for her patient suffering and her trust in Him. But many, many years later, Naomi’s true reward was realized at the birth of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Naomi pt.1

Some days ago my fellow pastor Joshua and I went to visit a couple who had recently been blessed with a baby girl. When we inquired what the new baby’s name was, the mother replied, “Naomi!” I looked at Joshua and we exchanged broad smiles. The story of Naomi had been featuring prominently in our conversations lately, and we were both struck by the coincidence of it all.

When we told the couple the source of our rejoicing, they were exceedingly happy. We took time to thank God for His grace, for we felt His hand was upon this child.

We are living in a time when the Book of Ruth, and particularly the life of Naomi, is so very relevant for the Church. I would like to take some time this week to meditate on some of the lessons that we learn from this great book. To begin with, let me point out that the Biblical Book of Ruth is actually the story of Naomi. Without Naomi there would have been no Ruth. It is also a story about perseverance. Through her perseverance Naomi caused Ruth to live another life and come into the line of bringing our Savior Jesus Christ into the world.

Naomi lost her husband and her two only children in the land of Moab. She was left with nothing. There is nothing remarkable about Naomi losing her entire family. Misfortunes of this sort affect people in every generation. But, you see, when we take up our cross in circumstances that God allows into our lives, God is able to move on many different fronts. Nothing is written about Naomi’s lifestyle, but I am convinced the Godly life that she lived in the sight of her two Moabite daughters-in-law is central to the message in the Book of Ruth.

Ruth must have watched closely Naomi’s lifestyle. She must have watched as she lost, first her husband, then her two sons, one after the other. During these times of tragedy, many things must have happened. Maybe words were discreetly spoken behind her back. Questioning glances thrown her way. After each burial, her Moabite neighbors would no doubt go back home wondering about this “cursed” woman.

The pain and sorrow in Naomi’s life must have been plain for Orpah and Ruth to see.

And yet, Ruth must have seen something else in Naomi’s life as she struggled with her misfortunes: faith in a living God. Most likely Naomi did not react in the natural, like other people. She probably sang songs of praise to God like Paul and Silas would do much later in prison. She probably called in her two daughters-in-laws after every tragedy, and consoled them, and told them of hope in God, and of life after death.

Through her resoluteness Naomi proved her faith in a living God. Her beautiful faith was clear to all. Probably Orpah did not look hard enough, and when the opportunity came to separate from Naomi, she quickly exited the scene.

For Ruth, however, when that moment arrived, her decision was firm. She would follow Naomi. “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (1:16-17). 

When we take up our Cross and follow Jesus, God works miracles. Through that living faith we allow others into God’s Kingdom. Evangelizing, preaching and witnessing for Jesus are all vital components in bringing people to Christ, but what will get people firmly rooted and attain to the full realization of God’s purpose in their Christian lives is the divine power that can only come from lives that are totally surrendered to the Lord; lives that are suffering and dying daily with Christ.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way: “So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:12). We all have our share of worldly tribulations, tests, trials and temptations. But these all occur so we may learn to take up our cross and follow Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 4:12-13 Paul says: “…being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat.” Why would the early apostles go into all this trouble? The answer is: to bring life to others. There is no other means to achieve this other than to lose our lives through the revelation of the Cross. Had there been an easier way, Jesus would most definitely have taken it.

Are we living for ourselves, or for others? We cannot have our cake and eat it. If we are to live for others then we must die; and when we die, we reap a glorious, heavenly reward far beyond our wildest dreams.