I've been sharing from Isaiah 55:6-13 that tells us to forsake our ways and thoughts and return to the Lord; last week sharing about my attitude check in a parking lot and Habbakuk's pity party when he got an attitude about the way the Lord was handling Israel/Judah and his own life.
Today I share about a widow named Ruth.
Time of decision; higher ways or lower ways?
Each week in this series we've seen there is a point of decision where we must choose between God's higher ways and thoughts, or stick to our own lower ways and thoughts.
These moments do not announce themselves as Hollywood might portray them - with time freezing and a spotlight on the actor as they contemplate which way to go - NO! The point of decision is merely a moment in time, in the midst of very ordinary days, with ordinary circumstances - but it is a point of decision to go high or go low.
Circumstances beyond your control
You recognize the name Ruth, and you may recall she was a woman in the Old Testament who lived just after Israel settled in the Promised land under Joshua, and that she ended up marrying a man named Boaz, but do you know who Elimelech was? It was his life and death that set in motion the circumstances that led to Ruth being in the lineage of the family of Joseph, Jesus' earth-dad.
There was a famine in Israel because the people weren't following the Lord, so Elimelech took his wife, Naomi, and their 2 sons to next door Moab, the modern nation of Jordan, where there was rain - staying about 10 years. In those 10 years their sons got married to local Moabite women, and at some point all 3 men died: Elimelech and sons, leaving just Naomi and her daughters in law. What a tragic story!
After these things the rains came so Naomi decided to return to her home in Bethlehem, telling her daughters in law they were free to stay in Moab with their own families. One daughter in law, Orpah, returned to her Moabite family, but the other, Ruth, clung to Naomi stating these famous words:
"Ask me not to leave you, nor return from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die and be buried: The Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death separate you and me." (Ruth 1:1-17)
Flash forward to Boulder, Colorado
I had been an unpaid Associate Pastor at a church in which the pastor planned to sell his business interests and retire, as well as retire from being pastor in favor of the two of us establishing a Bible school and missionary training center in the nearby mountains, and promote me to being the paid pastor of the church.
One June day in 1986 the pastor and his wife came to our house and said he decided not to sell his businesses because "...after all the bills are paid, I'll only have about $750,000, and you can't do anything for God with just $750,000." In the Spirit I saw a giant hand slice between he and his wife and me and Barb, and I knew with that decision the pastor had chosen a lower way, and the Lord was separating us.
We were shocked, hurt, disappointed, amazed, confused, and as they left, just stared at each other for a few moments like deer caught in the headlights...what do we do now? After recovering ourselves we determined that we would do what was right no matter what, for we served God not man, and for now, God had us with that church, yet we would privately seek Him.
The next morning while Barb was in the shower crying out to the Lord about the injustice of it all and asking what next, He spoke this to her: "I tried to work through men's hearts but they wouldn't allow Me, therefore I have to work around them. But because it was through no fault of your own, you will remain in my perfect will, though it will mean a detour for you, but again, you will remain in my perfect will."
The following March we moved to become the pastors of a church and wonderful people in southeast Colorado and remained there nearly 6 years. That was a big detour! Sometimes things happen beyond our control, as in Ruth's tragic case or our own normal lives, and we must choose the higher ways.
Knowing that we would remain in the Lord's perfect will in spite of taking an unplanned detour brought us great comfort, and those words have comforted us through the years when 'plan A' has been tossed aside and 'plan B', which didn't exist before plan A was tossed, comes into view.
That decision was in June of 1986, and we became pastors of another church the end of March, 1987 - 9 months later. During that time we continued to serve the people as if nothing had happened, with smiles on our faces and a good attitude - we chose the higher ways and thoughts in this uncomfortable and difficult situation.
Back to Ruth
Naomi was a widow with only Ruth to take care of her. In that day there we no pensions, no retirement accounts put away in a bank for old age, no life insurance - nothing except Ruth to care for her. But Naomi had a young relative of her dead husband's, a 'mighty man of wealth...named Boaz she could contact. (2:1)
Boaz (Hebrew: 'strength') noticed Ruth right away and was attracted to her - telling her she could work alongside his own employees to gather all the grain she wanted. When Ruth reported that Boaz noticed her and gave her favor, Naomi played matchmaker, seeing Boaz as God's provision for Ruth. And she was right!
In 3:9 Ruth did something that is lost on the casual reader, but if you understand the culture you'll see how bold Ruth was. After a hard day of harvesting and threshing grain, all the men fell asleep at their work stations, Boaz included. Naomi told Ruth this would happen, and when it did she was to fall asleep at his feet and put his cloak over herself for covering, which she did. (3:3-9)
I know those who are taking my Old Testament Survey Video Bible School know this point already, but stay with me for the sake of the rest - the putting of his clothing over her as a covering was a marriage proposal. Ruth proposed to Boaz that night, in an act of boldness and faith. She and Naomi were amazing women!
When Boaz woke up he was astonished to find Ruth snuggled with him, who responded: "...spread your garment over me, for you are a near kinsman." That was a marriage proposal, and to this day in Israel
grooms cover their brides with their garment, showing she is now under his covering and protection in marriage.
Of course Boaz accepted her proposal and they were married, this Jewish man and this Moabite woman who adopted the God of Israel as her own. All that was set in motion through circumstances beyond her control and she making decisions according to His high ways and thoughts in the midst of those circumstances:
Famine, the meeting of this family from Israel, the marrying into the family, the death of her father in law, the death of her husband, the decision of her mother in law to return to Israel - and that point of decision for Ruth: Stay home in Moab or follow Naomi in the higher ways and thoughts of the God of Israel.
But wait, there's more!
The point of decision which takes us into God's ways and into His thoughts are wrapped in the disguise of normal life. The end of the book of Ruth details the family line: Ruth and Boaz had a son they named Obed. Obed grew up to have a son named Jesse, King David's dad.
That means Ruth was David's great-grandmother. But let us look the other direction of the family line for a moment, asking how it was that an eligible Israelite bachelor was OK with falling in love with a foreign Moabite woman? The answer is found in the genealogy of Joseph found in Matthew 1:5.
"And Salmon's son was Boaz, which he had of Rahab, and Boaz' son was Obed..."
That's correct; Boaz's mother was Rahab the (former) harlot from the Moabite capital, Jericho.
We are told in Joshua 6:25: "And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father's household, and all that she had; and she lives in Israel to this day; because she hid the messengers which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho."
Boaz's mom and dad were Rahab and Salmon, so now we understand why he found a certain Moabite woman who like his mother had adopted the God and people of Israel as her own, attractive.
Not going to slap you in the face
The point of decision where you must choose higher ways and thoughts or sticking to your own lower ways and thoughts will not announce itself with great fanfare. We must see the wisdom in making a higher decision and the fruit of it down the road of life when you decide to choose higher ways and thoughts.
And of course, the story really begins with a prostitute in Jericho named Rahab who made the high decision to think God's thoughts for herself, and took the risk of protecting a couple of spies in that doomed city. The grace of the Lord is what I see:
He rewarded Rahab with a daughter in law from her own country, He provided a godly woman with strength and character and boldness like his mother for Boaz, He provided a godly husband who she knew would love her even though she was a foreigner in a godly family for Ruth, and Naomi would have then been adopted into that family as well, and all that worked together to bring us a man named David, and later a man named Joseph, who married a young woman named Mary, who brought us the Lord Jesus Christ, Messiah of Israel. Amazing Grace!