December 1, 2019 / No. 4013
Dear Radio Friends,
In today’s broadcast we study another godly woman, one named Ruth. Ruth, like Jael, one whom we considered a couple of broadcasts ago, lived during the time of the Judges. But unlike Jael, Ruth was born and raised in Moab, a neighboring nation east of the Dead Sea. Eventually Ruth, through her marriage to Boaz, became a daughter-in-law of Rahab. The book of Ruth records for us how God by His grace saved yet another saint from outside of the nation of Israel. Also, how God uses the sin of His people to accomplish His purpose. That stands on the foreground in the account before us. Today we consider the vow Ruth spoke to her mother-in-law Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17: “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.”
There was a man of the tribe of Judah named Elimelech, who had received his inheritance in Canaan near to a town called Bethlehem. He married a woman named Naomi, and together their marriage was blessed with two sons: Mahlon and Chilion. But Elimelech and Naomi, together with the other families of Judah, were sorely tested by God. God sent a famine in Israel, and for some years food was scarce. Well, Elimelech and Naomi failed this test and, leaving behind their inheritance in the promised land, they moved to Moab. In other words, they left the church and God’s people to live among an unbelieving and heathen people. While in Moab their sons grew up and married Moabitish women. Mahlon, the oldest, married Orpah, and Chilion married a woman named Ruth. For some reason these daughters-in-law learned to love Naomi and became completely devoted to her.
God did not bless these families while they were living in Moab however. Not long after his sons married, Elimelech died. Soon after, God took the lives of Mahlon and Chilion as well. Naomi was left with no family in Moab. Her sons had had no children by their wives. She was alone. She then knew what she had to do. She had to move back to her inheritance in Judah. It is in connection with this move that we find the words of Ruth we consider today. In them we learn the wonder of God’s grace in the heart of one of His dear children. Ruth spoke a vow that is still well known today. We consider that vow of Ruth.
I. A Solemn Vow
Ruth was a Moabitess. She was born into the heathen nation of Moab. When the nation of Israel journeyed to Canaan, the Moabites hired the false prophet Balaam to curse Israel. This nation was an enemy of Israel at that time and sought to destroy her. But now that Israel had conquered the land of Canaan, there was peace between the two nations. The chief deity of the Moabites was Chemosh—a nature god whom the Moabites believed was the creator and sustainer of all things. The Moabites were as committed to the worship of this pagan idol as the Israelites were committed to the worship of Jehovah, the true God. So Moab was not a good place to live. Society in Moab was influenced by the service of a heathen god—a worldly place to live. Ruth had spent her entire life in this culture and lifestyle. She was a pagan who was committed to her worship as much as any other woman in Moab. Ruth was not born into the line of God’s covenant therefore. She was born into the generations of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from which Lot barely escaped with his life, Lot had committed incest with his two daughters. The oldest daughter of Lot bore a son named Moab. Out of him the nation of Moab developed. So Ruth was not an Israelite. She was without God and a stranger from the covenants of promise. She was an unbeliever until the time in her life when God led her to Chilion, the youngest son of Naomi and Elimelech.
There is no reason to think that these sons of Naomi were unbelievers, even though they were raised for some years in the land of Moab. Though Elimelech and Naomi left their inheritance behind, it does not mean that they left their faith behind too. They were not strong in faith, or they would not have forsaken their promised inheritance in Canaan, but they would certainly have practiced their Jewish religion while yet in Moab. They were believers, and they raised their sons as such in this heathen land. Yet, their sons too showed a lack of faith when, instead of going back to Israel to find God-fearing wives, they chose to stay in Moab and marry heathen wives. There was a reason God smote Elimelech and both of his sons. They died because of their unfaithfulness to Jehovah and His people. But that does not mean that they were unfaithful to their Hebrew faith. It was through this that God worked in the heart of Chilion’s wife, Ruth. We will consider that in a little while.
Naomi recognized that the hand of the Lord had gone out against her because of her sin. Now she was determined to move back to Judah. Her two devoted daughters-in-law decided to move back to Israel with her. At the border of Israel, however, Naomi told them to return to Moab and to their families there. Orpah wept, kissed Naomi, and returned to Moab. But Ruth clung to Naomi. Naomi once again urged Ruth to return with these words in verse 15, “Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister-in-law.” It was in reaction to these words that Ruth now spoke the words of her vow: “your people will be my people and your God my God.”
These words reveal where the heart of Ruth truly was. Thy God is my God and thy people are my people. I know our translations have the words “shall be,” as if Ruth at this point still believed in her heathen gods but in the future would believe in Naomi’s God. But that is not the literal translation here. It is: “thy people my people, and thy God my God.” The idea is “Jehovah God is my God, and Israel is my people.” It is for this reason the rest of the words were spoken: “whither thou goest, I will go, and were thou lodgest, I will lodge.” Or again in verse 17: “Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.” These words reveal a commitment to Naomi personally, but much more than that too. These words were a vow, or perhaps we might say an oath. They are not just some sentimental, wishy-washy feelings that were spoken in the moment. After all, it was an emotional moment.
She expresses this at the end of what she says, the end of verse 17: “Jehovah do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.” Ruth calls on the name of God—not Chemosh, but Jehovah—as her witness. “Jehovah kill me if aught but death part you and me!” As Jehovah God is my witness, I will not leave you, Naomi. I will not return from following after you! Your God is my God and your people my people. I do not want Moab! I want to live in Israel!
Now, we ought to understand the meaning of a vow. A vow is binding! We read in Numbers 30:2, “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” Or again, the instruction of Moses in Deuteronomy 23:2: “When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.” A broken vow in God’s eyes is subject to punishment. Such is the importance of a vow. Ruth was not simply stating the desire of her heart therefore—although this was true too—but she was declaring before God that the words she now spoke she would keep. She was therefore stating her complete commitment to Jehovah and His people. But then, we need to understand to what Ruth was pledging herself.
II. A Commitment of Faith
As we just noticed, Ruth pledged her commitment to Jehovah. Your God is my God. And that Ruth was committing herself to Jehovah rather than Chemosh or some other pagan deity is evident throughout this vow Ruth takes. First of all, Ruth was committing herself to Naomi’s God. Naomi’s God was Jehovah—the one true God of heaven and earth. Not only had Ruth developed a close bond with her mother-in-law but she had learned a deep love for Jehovah, the God of Naomi. The phrase “your God, my God” is the heart of this vow Ruth now takes. Everything Ruth says in the remainder of this vow hinges on her love for and commitment to Jehovah. But this commitment was more than to God alone. This was the basis for her commitment to Naomi. But it also became the basis for her commitment to Israel, the church of that day.
Notice: ‘thy people are my people!” Not “shall be” but are my people. I am not one with the people in Moab anymore. I do not want their life or their religion. I am willing even to forsake my own father and mother for the sake of Jehovah God. I believe Jehovah’s people are my people! I am ready and willing to cast in my lot with the church in this world. I will leave all the rest behind. Where you go I will go, Naomi. Where you lodge I will lodge. I will live in the same place and house as you do. Your inheritance in Canaan will be my inheritance, so much do I desire to be a part of the family of God in this world! Where you die, Naomi, I will die. I will not forsake you or your inheritance till death parts me from this world. There shall I be buried. I do not want my body shipped back to Moab when I die. I want it buried in your inheritance in the land God promised you and His people.
Why? Because my desire is this: your people are my people! And I vow that Israel will be my life and love. In other words, people of God, Ruth committed herself to the church of Christ in this world. She committed herself to that people whose God is Jehovah—a God who had promised that He would send a Messiah to accomplish salvation for His people. That is what Ruth desired. She wanted to be numbered with God’s people in this world. She did not want anything to do with the wicked, unbelieving world anymore. So committed was Ruth to Jehovah and His people that she pleaded with Naomi, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee.” Do not ask me, do not urge me, to return and to leave this. I vow, Naomi, that your people are my people and your God my God. Do not ask me to leave all that I so desire and go back to live in the wicked world.
That, dear listeners, is commitment. That is something we see so very little of today. Commitment means devotion and dedication to something or someone. It verges on a promise or an obligation that one believes he must fulfill toward someone or some cause. Commitment implies that, through good times or hard times, one’s devotion does not change. Commitment means that a person is willing to work hard at maintaining his dedication to a person. He will not fail. He remains unchanging in his devotion to another or to a particular cause. I say, that is something we see so little of in our selfish, self-seeking society. Devotion and dedication. We see little of it in the workplace. Employers see no obligation toward their employees—especially those who have served them faithfully for years. There is no true commitment in many marriages anymore. Spouses are unwilling to work, and work hard, in their devotion to one another. Divorce is the password today with some 75% of marriages ending because two people are not willing to dedicate themselves to each other. Churches are filled with uncommitted members who are in one church for a time, and then lose interest and seek out another. Either that, or church membership is forsaken altogether. Doctrinal purity is a bygone commitment, with so many forsaking truth to follow after what suits their fancy. Where is commitment today? The account before us reveals true commitment on the part of Ruth—commitment to God and commitment to the church.
But such dedication and commitment to God and His church is not simply a matter of determination. The commitment of Ruth is not a determination that flows naturally out of the heart of just anyone. Ruth’s commitment flowed out of a true and living faith that God had worked in her heart. Through the mouth of Naomi, a mother in Zion, as well as through the instruction of her late husband, Ruth had learned of the God of Israel. She had learned of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and of God’s covenant with Israel. She had learned of the nation of Israel and how God had given this nation the land of Canaan for an inheritance. She had learned of the sacrifices God’s people had offered to Jehovah—not merely as a formal ceremony like the sacrifices offered to Chemosh. She was taught that a sacrifice was but a picture of one who would come to save from sin. God had infused in the heart of Ruth a new life, delivering her from unbelief into a knowledge of salvation from sin. Ruth had come to know her sin and the need for the forgiveness found only in the hand of a merciful God—the God of Israel. With this knowledge she was confident that such salvation was hers. She believed that Jehovah God was her God.
This is what lay behind Ruth’s convictions. She was convicted of all this, and for that reason expressed her commitment in this vow. Her conviction was that of faith! The Spirit worked in her heart to speak the words she did. She had been grafted into that Savior to come. No, He was not yet born. She did not know Him by name. But just as faith binds us to Christ now, so also did her faith bind her to that Messiah who was to come.
Ah yes, another example to you and me today. Some of us who are listening have been born into the sphere of the church. It can be easy to ignore the privilege that is and to forsake the church, as did Elimelech and Naomi. God will not bless us in that sin. Ruth did not have that privilege. She indeed saw what a blessing it is to belong to the church of Jesus Christ in this world. That was her wholehearted desire! That was a commitment! That is devotion to the church.
So, we now ask ourselves the questions that so badly need answering. Are we in faith committed to the God of our salvation? Do we too believe we are sinners saved only by God’s grace and on the basis of the shed blood of our Savior? Do we then view the church of Jesus Christ that teaches these truths as the place of our desires? Do we wish to be numbered among the members of the church in this world? Is Ruth’s God your God, and are Ruth’s people your people? Such a conviction is that of faith and is worked in God’s people by God’s grace alone! We too must declare our devotion to the church. But more, we must declare our dedication to our God, the God who has saved us! This vow of Ruth must be on our lips. We make it our own. Vow and pay to Jehovah!
III. Amazing Grace
We cannot help but confess, when reading of Ruth, how amazing God’s grace is. How gracious and merciful that He worked in the heart of this heathen woman, bringing her to repentance and faith. She didn’t deserve it. She didn’t ask for it. But God graciously grafted her into Christ and therefore into His church and covenant. We stand amazed!
But then, is it any different with us? We stand amazed at what God has done for us poor sinners too. His grace alone has given us a place in His church and covenant. We are not more deserving of His work in our hearts than Ruth was. It is always a matter of grace. God alone brings us to faith and repentance. In fact, it is of grace that every day anew we are brought to repentance and that we seek out the cross of Christ for forgiveness.
But here is one more amazing fact about Ruth. Just as Rahab was incorporated into the line of the covenant, so was Ruth. As we mentioned, Ruth became a daughter-in-law of Rahab when she married Boaz. Boaz was a son of Salmon and Rahab. This means in turn that Ruth, like Rahab, became a mother in the line that brought forth the Christ. Ruth was a great-grandmother of king David. Salvation was limited to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, but God did graft others into the church even then. Ruth was one of those grafted in—a picture of the many that would be grafted in on the day of Pentecost. Amazing! To be a partaker of the fellowship and blessings of God’s covenant! How much we have to be thankful for!