No Exit Love
Scripture: Ruth 1
I decided that I could not preach through the book of Judges without also preaching the book of Ruth. Judges is a book full of tragedies, but Ruth is like an appendix of hopefulness. Ruth takes place during the period of the judges. It shows us that God was up to something very special behind the scenes and I can’t wait for you to see it.
1:1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 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.
Remember, names are very important in the Bible. I want read this again, but this time I’m going to replace the names with what they mean. [slide]
“In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man from “HOUSE OF BREAD” in Judah went to sojourn in the country of “WHO’S YOUR DADDY”, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was “MY GOD IS KING” and the name of his wife was “PLEASANT”, and the names of his two sons were “WEAK” and “FRAIL.”
Do you see how this is being set up?
3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
“My God is King” dies, leaving “Pleasant” a widow. Then “Weak” and “Frail” also die.
This is a powerful opening scene; with a lot of important information I don’t want you to miss.
First is the irony that they are having a famine in a town known as the house of bread. This town is located inside the “Promised Land”, which was promised to be a land flowing with milk and honey.
They leave the house of bread in the promised land to go to the land of Moab. If you remember from Judges, Moabites were the redneck cousins of the Israelites. They descended from Lot’s incestuous relationship with his oldest daughter.
They were also military enemies of Israel for most of the Judges period, so this family must have been pretty desperate to go there looking for food. I doubt they received a warm welcome.
Naomi’s sons had to marry Moabite women, which was not ideal. And because they were foreigners, the women they married were probably from a lower social class.
Neither of the women were able to have a child in ten years and then both husbands die.
Before we move on, we need to stop and consider Naomi.
Naomi is like a female version of Job. She loses her husband and both of her sons. Nothing seems to be working out for her. And God doesn’t explain it to her. Job, at least, had a conversation with God and in the end, God restored what was lost.
Naomi was a widow with no children. That made her one of the fragile people in society. She was powerless and would be quickly forgotten.
We need to stop and consider her pain… her loss. Where was God? Let’s see if we can find Him as we keep reading.
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But 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. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
This was an act of compassion by Naomi to try and send them back. She sees no hope for them in Bethlehem. The culture expected the young women to go with Naomi. Let’s find out what they decide to do.
10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
Orpah does the sensible thing. She takes advantage of Naomi’s blessing and we shouldn’t fault her for it. But Ruth’s choice was radical and completely selfless. You might even call it reckless.
15 And Naomi said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
This is incredible. Naomi basically tells Ruth to go back to her own gods. The implication is this: my God will probably fail you like he has failed me. Try your luck back home.
But Ruth completely rejects that argument. She even appeals to Naomi’s God! “Your God is My God.” This is absolutely incredible, considering the circumstances! This is an Abraham kind of faith during a period when Israel had mostly abandoned God.
And in some ways, it is more radical than Abraham – because he at least had God speaking to him and making promises along the way! Ruth has no evidence that God will fix their situation at all. But she stays anyway.
19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
And that is how the story begins. We have two women – both widows. They have no children. They have no support. And one of them seems to have no hope.
Naomi tells the other women to stop calling her “Pleasant”. She says, “Call me Mara instead.” Mara means “bitter”.
And we can understand why she feels this way, can’t we? She’s grieving. She’s suffering. And she has no idea why God is letting any of this happen.
If you have every felt pain or loss or loneliness, then you understand. Her faith is not gone, but she’s hurting. And she doesn’t see a way out of the pain. She’s too old to have children. She has no hope of finding a husband. She feels unlovable.
And that’s really what this story is about. This is a love story for the unlovable. Unless we read the story like that, we will miss the point.
Judges ended with a sense of hopelessness. We walk away thinking, “Who would love a nation that wicked? Why would God stay faithful to those people?”
But that’s what the Bible is about. It is a love story for the unlovable.
Where does the story of Ruth begin and end? Bethlehem. Spoiler alert: that’s the place where the Savior will one day be born. And Ruth will be listed in His family tree.
The story begins with two women who are both “damaged goods” in the eyes of the world. They are unlovable. They are pitied, but essentially worthless to everyone except God.
But God’s purposes have no expiration date. There are no “damaged goods” in the kingdom of heaven. If you bear the image of God, then you bear the image of God. If you’re breathing, then He is not done with you. And if you belong to Him, your last breath won’t even be your last breath.
Ruth 1 teaches us a difficult lesson. Very often, on this side of heaven, despair and hope will run parallel to each other. We will suffer, but we will never suffer without hope.
In fact, God teaches us the meaning of love through suffering.
In verse 8, when Naomi blesses Ruth and Orpah, she uses an important word. She says “may the Lord deal kindly with you.” In Hebrew, she uses the word “hesed”.
Hesed is one of the most important words in the Bible. It describes the steadfast love of God.
Paul Miller calls it “love without an exit strategy”. It means to act on your commitments even when it doesn’t make sense… even when it feels wrong… even when it hurts you personally.
Naomi trying to send Ruth back to Moab was hesed. It meant losing her last bit of personal support for the sake of her daughter-in-law.
Ruth choosing to stay with Naomi was hesed. It meant abandoning a possible better future for herself. It was death to self. It was love at a great cost.
I wonder if we can pause for a moment and think about applying that kind of love to our relationships. Is this how we think about our marriages? Love without an exit strategy…
Is this how we think about our commitment to God’s church? Love without an exit strategy…
Ours is not a culture of steadfast love. Ours is a culture of self-love. We are taught to evaluate our relationships only in terms of what we get out of the arrangement. Am I happy? Are my needs being met? What do I deserve? What do I want? I do it too!
But commitments that are built on self-love or personal happiness are shallow commitments. They never last. And it makes us less human. God created us for love that lasts. He created us for relationships that weather any storm.
And that is what the love of God is like. Truthfully, you won’t find it anywhere else. God’s love is a self-sacrificial kind of love. It is love without an exit strategy.
Even though God’s people were really no better than the pagans, He stayed committed. He met their unfaithfulness with faithfulness. He met them at the cross. Jesus suffered great personal loss to stay faithful to us. That’s what this table is all about.