RUTH: week 1
Once Upon a Time: Ruth 1:1-5
Like a riveting drama, the book of Ruth opens upon a scene of conflict and confusion. A family journeys away from their home and identity in search of an illusion of security. Troubled times in the land of their birth, prompt them to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Away from their extended family and far from their God, they sojourn, then they enter, and they remain with a people who worship the violent, irrational god called Chemosh.
First, the father dies, leaving Naomi with her two sons to fend for herself. The sons marry and sink their roots deeper into the culture of Moab, a country whose practices are anathema to everything they were raised to believe. After a decade of adapting to their adopted land, both sons suddenly die, leaving three widows in their wake.
The scene is set in just a few short sentences. No grand display of emotion, no weeping and wailing, not even a haunting dirge playing in the background. Just the facts. But those facts are staggering, their implications posing impossible odds for Naomi. She scrambles to undo the irreversible harm done ten years previously, when, against all wisdom, her husband led their family away from their land, Israel, and away from their God, Yahweh.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll be delving deeper into the drama of our own lives. How do you handle adversity? What do you do when your heart aches for satisfaction? When emotional or relational famine leaves you high and dry?
The answer, of course, is to plant your heart firmly beside what Psalm 1 describes as “streams of water” the Word of God. There, we thrive and flourish no matter what the circumstances of our story dictate.
“… CRAVE PURE SPIRITUAL MILK SO THAT BY IT YOU MAY GROW UP IN YOUR SALVATION.”
I PETER 2:2B NIV
1 Peter 1:25-2:3
Are You Hungry?
Have you ever been on a diet? How about those liquid-only ones? The instructions sound so convincing: “Just drink these lovely drinks which will fill you up, imparting loads of energy without the dreaded calories of real food. You’ll be svelte and slim in no time.”
Give me a break!
Not that I haven’t tried it, mind you. It’s just that I haven’t succeeded. I do okay for a day. In fact, I feel rather proud of myself, energized and motivated to finally “do it this time.” But by day two I start fixating on food. The slightest whiff of toast in the morning makes me crave a luscious, crispy, jam-laden hunk of life-giving bread. You get the picture.
No, starvation diets don’t work because the hungrier you are, the more you start to earnestly long for food to fill your empty belly.
Hunger is real. And if left unattended, it can weaken you. Elimelech looked on in anguish as his family suffered the agonizing effects of genuine hunger. Naomi lost weight, not because she wanted to fit into tight jeans, but because she hadn’t enough to eat. His boys failed to thrive, whining for more when their bowls were empty. As he watched their cupboards empty and faced the prospect of weeks and months of subsistence living, Elimelech came to the conclusion that he must act now to satisfy his desperate need for food. He must solve the hunger problem.
Elimelech is not the only one. You and I try to solve our own hunger problem whether we know it or not. In fact, some of us get to the very end of our lives before we realize that the messes we have caused along the way were actually the consequences of an undernourished life.
Let me explain.
Way back in Deuteronomy, when God is laying out His instructions for His people in order that “it might be well with them and their sons forever” (Deuteronomy 5:29), He makes a curious claim about hunger:
“…He humbled you and let you be hungry,
and fed you with manna
which you did not know,
that He might make you understand that
man does not live by bread alone,
but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.”
Or, as the New Living Translation so poetically puts it:
“…He did it to teach you that people need more than bread for their life;
real life comes by feeding on every word of the LORD.”
God caused their hunger. He didn’t just allow it. It didn’t slip by Him without notice. He let them feel the full force of the pain of their own hunger for a purpose: in order to teach His chosen, beloved people that “real life comes by feeding on every word of the LORD”.
So I ask you - “Are you hungry?” Have you experienced real, starvation-induced heart hunger? And, have you yet discovered the satisfaction that comes from truly feasting on His every word?
Just as your body can become gaunt from not enough good food, so your soul will show symptoms when you are languishing. And just as I’ve experienced all sorts of self-induced hunger on an ever-elusive quest for leanness, I know all too well those signs of soul hunger. Do you have any of these symptoms?
In the area of relationships…
- Are you a control freak? Do you wonder why others are getting in the way of what you want, why they don’t do what you want, or why they don’t understand what you want?
- Are you growing contentious? Aggravated when “nobody can’t do nothin’ right!”
- Is conflict making you feel that “everybody-is-against-me-nobody-loves-me-woe-is-me!”
- Is competitiveness driving you to need to be better than everyone else?
In your hidden heart…
Are you disappointed that life and dreams and relationships haven’t brought the happiness you were so sure they would when you started out?
Are you depressed that there is no hope for improvement, no new dreams to inspire, nothing to get you up in the morning?
Are you sensing despair? (And don’t think for a minute that Christians never experience this!) King David asked himself this very question, “Why are you in despair, O my soul?”
And have you, like Elimelech tried to find solutions for your starvation symptoms? Have you tried to alleviate those hunger pangs by bingeing on what the Bible metaphorically calls the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life?”
Have you found yourself buying a new outfit to make you feel better about yourself, clawing your way up the corporate ladder to prove yourself, striving to create the perfect home in order to paint a perfect picture of yourself? Maybe even flirting with men to bring attention to yourself?
And how far has it led?
How much debt has it caused you? How much alienation and exhaustion? What about shame?
All of these, and more, are simply signs that you are hungry. You are not getting enough food. Or you’re pigging out on the wrong kinds of food. You’ve been dieting too long, buying into the notion that “Devotions in One Minute a Day” will satisfy your soul. And it doesn’t. Just as food-less dieting doesn’t work, Word-less living leaves you and me weak and vulnerable.
So, this week, I prescribe real food. Go and gather that Manna, that Bread of Life which can be “ground and beat and boiled and made into cakes” (look it up in Numbers 11). Get up a little earlier, get your “cooking utensils” out the night before, and be ready for a feast…and an end to hunger.
From my heart,
The story of Ruth happened during a time of severe and significant famine. We’re not talking an economic downturn here. It was a national meltdown. Think widespread poverty and complete panic. The Great Depression of BC 1200.
It is widely believed that this story transpired sometime before Gideon became judge over Israel, (though no one knows for certain). In Gideon’s time, a famine occurred which was more a political than an agricultural disaster. Crop conditions were excellent, the fields filled with the rich produce of the region. Everyone anticipated a good year. But just as harvest day dawned, a swarming army of nomadic raiders (the Bedouins from the desert region of Midian) invaded Israel, stealing the crops, the sheep, the oxen, and even their donkeys. A full years’ work devastated in one fell swoop.
These Bedouin nomads did not want to destroy the Israelites, nor did they attempt to take over their land. The camel-riding Midianites simply swooped in like locusts and emptied their cupboards, leaving the land and the people poor and destitute, with just enough supplies to survive to plant next year’s crop. And all of this went on for seven years!
No wonder Gideon, Elimelech, and quite possibly every man, woman, and child in Israel were desperately looking for relief.