From Emptiness to Fullness
From Emptiness to Fullness
1. Life When The Judges Ruled
2. How Great Our Emptiness
3. How Great Our Hope
(Ruth 1:1-5) 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. 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. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
In The Time of The Judges
As soon as the Lord led me to dive into the book of Ruth with you all, I was excited. This is such a great story of God at work. And the best part of the story is that it is true. Today we are gong to spend most of our time looking at an overview of the setting of the book of Ruth. The first verse gives us some clues that we are going to dig into, and the rest of the passage paints a picture of bleakness. Almost this idea that everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. It is not an image of hopefulness, but rather it is a picture of helplessness. It makes me think of the second book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers. One of the scenes of this book is set in a bleak situation. The land of the horse lords, Rohan, has been run down. The people of the land have been pushed out of their homes by mercenaries and armies and have retreated to a base of last resort, Helm’s Deep. Basically, everyone who is left in the land has locked themselves in a back closet hoping that something will happen to bring about change, but it is dark, the armies are at the door, and it has begun to rain. It’s this picture of absolute despair, and hope is nearly gone entirely.
This story is about a Moabite widow names Ruth, and her Jewish mother in law who was also a widow, Naomi. But what are a Moabite and a Jew doing together in the first place? Moabites and Jews are supposed to be like oil and water. The Moabites were cursed by God. God said (Deuteronomy 23:3) “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD” because of the way they treated the nation of Israel, their cousins. Ten generations is a long time. We’re going to see a story of restoration that only God could bring about. Many of you have testimonies that prove the reality that only God could bring change and hope to a life like what you used to live, and its true. That’s the kind of change that will happen in this book. Change, restoration so significant that it even impacts the lineage of the great king of Israel David, and the greatest King of Israel, Jesus.
But first we have to see the emptiness before we can see the fullness. Let’s start digging into this passage by looking at the first phrase, “In the days when the judges ruled...” If you know your Biblical history, then this is already a bleak picture without considering the women involved in our story so far. The time of the judges is this part of history between when Joshua died after Israel took possession of the promised land, and before Saul was anointed king of Israel. So there is no provisional government, there is no order, in fact, if you look at the page before Ruth 1, you’ll see a great descriptor at the end of judges to really understand what this time was like. Look at Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Now maybe you’re saying to yourself, well, that’s the end of the book, maybe things were better before that. If you think this you’d be right, but only in the way that a little poison in your water is better than a lot of poison in your water. The nation of Israel was in tatters. Listen to Judges 2, describing the culture that Naomi and Ruth and Orpah lived in.
(Judges 2:11–19 ESV) “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. (That is the Canaanite fertility god and goddess.) So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.”
Why is all this happening? (Judges 2:2–3 ESV) “and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.””
And it isn’t like they weren’t warned about this eventuality. God warned them through Moses. Listen to (Deuteronomy 28:15–19 ESV) “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.”
It is no wonder then, with these things in consideration that we find a famine in the land. God lays the irony on thick too. Back in Ruth 1:1-5 now. A famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab. The word Bethlehem, is made up of two Hebrew words, bet, and lechem, Literally translated, house of bread. A famine in the house of bread drives a member of the tribe of Judah to sojourn in Moab. This is how dire the situation was. And the fact that this man and his family are of the line of Judah is important too. There was a blessing from Jacob about Judah all the way back in (Genesis 49:9–12 ESV) “Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.”
This is both a blessing from Jacob to his son, but is also a prophesy about his line. It points us to the coming Messiah. Jesus the Messiah is from the Line of Judah, he is the Lion of Judah, he is the king holding the scepter of Israel forever. His garments are the ones washed in wine and the blood of grapes. Do you see the imagery here, the parallel imagery of this future descendant of the line of Judah and the Messiah? This is why it is so important for a man from the line of Judah to have a lineage that continues to bear fruit, because from Judah the king will come, and who knows, maybe it would be from this man’s lineage. This is why we care about the welfare of this man from Judah. More on that in a few minutes.
But first, how difficult would a hardship have to be for you to take your family and uproot from the Cedar Valley and move to another part of the country? Worse yet, how difficult would your hardship have to be for you to do that and move to carve out a life for yourself in the land of your enemy? Moab is an enemy of Israel. In one of the stories from the book of Judges, we are helped to understand the animosity between these countries, Ehud, the left handed judge, sneaks a dagger or a short sword into the Moabite king’s chamber as an ambassador, and pretends like he’s going to tell him a secret and plunges the knife so far in his fat belly, that his rolls cover the hilt of the knife. Moab is an enemy neighbor of Israel and that where this family has fled to. Their country began from the incestuious relationship Between Lot and his rebellious daughters. The two sons that came from that encounter in Genesis were Edom and Moab, the Edomites and the Moabites. But the image continues to get worse.
Names are very important especially in this culture. They say things about the people and what they believe. (Ruth 1:2 ESV) “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.”
The name Elimelech means My God is King. His wife’s Naomi’s name means Pleasant. A man named My God is King, a name that speaks to the faithfulness of God, is forced to sojourn away from God’s promised land, away from house of bread, in the fields of the enemy Moab, which name means who is your father? This doesn’t sound like the exercise of great faith. But rather a fulfillment of what God said would take place when the clans of Israel ignored and disobeyed their God. Then, Pleasant the wife, and My God is King, the husband, have two children. They name the first one Sick, and the second one they name Frail. The outlook on life is so bad that they named their children sick and frail. This just keeps going from bad to worse. They are clearly not optimists are they? Now the distance between Bethlehem and Moab was not great, less than 50 miles, but there is a famine in Bethlehem, and not in Moab, so a very localized famine situation. Like saying there was a famine in Waverly, so we went to Independence to get food. This reality is another pointer to God’s judgement that they were warned about by Moses. If you turn from me then you will be liable for these curses. Well, they turned from God, they went after the gods of their neighbors and now are receiving the curses that they agreed to back in Deuteronomy.
Now the idea of sojourning is a temporary one. Sojourning would be traveling and varying your dwelling place, but the text says that they remained there, and we see from verse 4 at least 10 years. This is also not part of the plan. The children of God settling in the land of their enemy is not right, but then we see in the next verse, (Ruth 1:3 ESV) “But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.” So now they have no patriarch with them, Naomi is left with her sons Sick and Frail, settled in the enemy’s back yard. Then the sons do something unspeakable, or at least it was supposed to be. They take for themselves wives from the Moabites. (Ruth 1:4 ESV) “These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth.” Now the world is ugly right now and we’ve talked about that a bit, but let’s talk about what it is like for women. If we did a dig into Judges to inquire what life for women was like you’d see a pretty bleak picture. It begins with a daughter being used for a human sacrifice, another woman burned to death, another woman given over for gang rape by her master, who dies from the abuse, then her body is cut up and then the pieces are sent to the other tribes to rally them for war, then the greatest disgrace against women, a whole tribe’s worth of women were murdered in a civil war, and to make up for their murders, a cruel game of kidnapping agains the will of the women took place to make up for those lost in the slaughter. Every single one of these someone’s daughter, or sister. What a deplorable commentary on life in this time, and sadly, the abuse of women and children still remains with us as sexual assault, abuse, and murder is still rampant. God have mercy on us.
Now, finally our last verse, (Ruth 1:5 ESV) “and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.” We’ve gone from bad to worse, and now worse yet. Naomi is a widow with no husband, both her sons have died, and now she has responsibility for these two daughters in law, who by the way, since they are moabites, are also sworn enemies of Israel. This is tragic, this family from the tribe of Judah, who is supposed to be the source of the future forever king, is at risk of ceasing to exist altogether. The author paints a grim picture, and our natural desire is to see hope and restoration, but it couldn’t really look more bleak than it is right now. In this culture, under these circumstances, all that is left to happen is for Naomi to die. Orpah and Ruth, the moabite wives of Naomi’s dead sons would have just gone back to their homes and moved on with life ostensibly. Naomi would suffer the ultimate disgrace, dying apart from her people and her God who were in the promised land, in Israel.
How Great Our Emptiness
The theme of this book is from emptiness to fullness and the author wants us to understand what that emptiness looked like, so I wanted to take the time to look at the emptiness before we start looking at the filling. These three widows are literally left with nothing, and even hope seems to have evaded them, that’s the picture the author wants us to see, emptiness, hopelessness, desperation. This is the opposite of fullness, and the reality of our lives outside the gospel. These descriptions of the time of the judges are not that far off from our headlines. We hear about the staggering statistics of abortion in the United States alone. Almost 900,000 abortions in the US in 2017. Over 10 million sexual abuse cases in the United States each year. Wars, famine, protests, theft, aborting and murder, human trafficking, sex slavery, the list goes on and on.
Maybe in our minds we resonate more with someone who has a name like Elimelech, The Lord is King, and though we’re more apt to confess his goodness, we’re still empty on the inside because even when we know the truth we deny it. We look to food to fulfill us but we keep ending up hungry because we’re looking for satisfaction in others, or life state, rather than the bread of life. We look to movies and tv shows or video games to satisfy us, but we keep coming back bored. We pour ourselves into our work thinking that holiness is next to busy-ness, but we always come home dissatisfied that we didn’t get enough done or we haven’t made enough money. We click the buy now button because we can have that thing in two days with free shipping, only to open the package when it arrives and still be empty on the inside. None of these things solve our biggest problem. The reality is apart from Christ, on the inside we’re dead. We’re zombies walking around but instead of looking for brains of healthy people to eat, we are consuming one another in order to satisfy our selfish itches. We will continue to eat and drink our way to the gates of hell if we don’t stop to take a moment and realize what God has stopped heaven and earth to tell us, that our hope isn’t in any of the things we are trying to satisfy it with. We’re looking for an other-worldly experience but we keep trying to find it in our own pockets, closets, and neighborhood stores.
C.S. Lewis said in his book Mere Christianity “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Logic actually answers the question rightly here. We were indeed made for another world. Nothing in this world will ever supply the emptiness that we experience. We’re going to see Naomi denying her own faith while professing to be loving to Ruth and Orpah, and we’re going to get a peek into what steadfast love is all about and through it we are going to see that Jesus Christ, God’s son and part of the line of Judah, including Naomi and Ruth’s own descendants is the embodiment of that steadfast love, that favor, that grace. The promised messiah, Jesus Christ. (John 1:14 ESV) “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
How often are we like Elimelech with our mouths saying our God is king, but with our hearts we are grasping at straws trying to solve our own problems and satisfy our own desires rather than calling out to our king who loves us. We know that outside, there is a war for souls going on. It wages in fierce battle and the casualties are legions of dead image bearers of God. Those who do not know Christ will suffer eternally, and we’re busy trying to decide what series we should binge watch on Netflix next and what flavor of chips and ice cream to pick out, jealous of what our neighbor has materially while they are dying spiritually. I say this because these things are my weakness too. The gravity of the state of the earth has never been overstated by man. We can’t convey how important these realities are for us.
How great our Hope
In ourselves we are as hopeless as Naomi. On earth there is no solution to take care of us forever, our only hope comes from somewhere else.
That’s where God comes in. God has our happiness and our joy in mind when he gave us himself. He knows that no where else will we know true satisfaction than in him. When he gave us his son, he gave the best gift he possibly could for our sake. The book of Ruth is going to help us see God’s goodness, his eternal plan unfolding in the life of one woman in a way that impacts the biggest problem that the world has.
Because of the Moabite’s violation against Israel they weren’t even supposed to be part of the community. God ordered his people not to take wives from their neighbors, but in an act of restoration that only God can do, we are going to see him do both of these things for Ruth, and how that impacts Jewish history, and our future, forever.
The restoration that Ruth and Naomi learn about in this book are not unlike the restoration that happens in outlives when Christ enters in. We are empty, and when we finally realize that only Christ can fulfill our lacking, not only does he fill us, but he fills us to overflowing.
He gives us life and he gives it abundantly.
Our hope is great because we have Christ. Without him we would be hopeless, but he is our hope. Here on earth, we wait and we suffer, but our biggest problem is solved. That’s why it doesn’t really matter whether Bremer Ave is 3 lanes or 4. It doesn’t matter if the Hawkeyes or the Cyclones is better. It doesn’t matter if we get 2 weeks of winter or not (thanks Punxatawney Phil). Our biggest problem is solved already here and now if we know Jesus.
(2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV) “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
At the end of the Helm’s Deep scene from the J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, hope is found, at the end, when things looked most bleak, Gandalf rode his horse Shadowfax up on the ridge overlooking the armies of Orcs attacking the stronghold, and following him, an army of horsemen. They routed out the orcs and saved everyone who was inside the stronghold. Christ does that for us. Don’t wallow in your desperation any more. Cry out to God, and see that (Hebrews 7:25 ESV) “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
And save he has. God sent his son Jesus to be our atonement. To pay the price for our sins. And that is what this table is about. The body and the lord of Christ broken and poured out for us, that we might know eternal life.