Hope in the House of Bread

Hope in the House of Bread

Ruth 1:1-13

The Book of Ruth is a beautiful love story. It is not like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ which begins with romance and ends with tragedy. Ruth begins with tragedy and ends with romance. Ruth and Boaz live happily ever after.

This love story serves as an illustration of our divine romance with God. Like Ruth’s, our story begins with tragedy. But in the end, God redeems us, promising us a new life in Him. That’s a true story. And so is the Book of Ruth.

“Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land.” (verse 1a)

These were not the best of times when judges ruled. This was before Israel had kings. Back when judges ruled, everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

You’ll find that quote repeated several times in the Book of Judges, which isn’t the most fun book to read. There are a few bright moments with Gideon and Deborah. There are some valuable lessons to be learned from Samson, but he wasn’t the wisest fellow either. All and all, the Book of Judges chronicles a very dark season for the nation of Israel. There was no law and order. Everyone did right in his own eyes.

The Proverbs tell us:

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 12:15)

“There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)  

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts.” (Proverbs 21:2)  

It’s a dangerous thing when man is allowed to do right in his own eyes. That’s where we are at today. The common thought is that there are no absolutes. Each of us gets to decide what is right. This can only breed chaos and confusion, dysfunction and disharmony. Israel learned the hard way. Before long they were crying out for a king.

“And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.” (verse 1b)

Out of that dark season when judges ruled, God did raise up some decent people. We meet a few here: a man, his wife and two sons. They hail from Bethlehem, Judah. It was foretold that the Christ would come from Judah, which He did. It was also predicted that He would be born in Bethlehem, which He was, in a manger.

Bethlehem means “House of Bread” which is an appropriate place for the Bread of Life to be born. But back when judges ruled, bread was in short supply in all of Judea. So this family headed to Moab.

Moab is a picture of the world. Its origins go back to a shady cave. Now, you remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. God judged those cities because of all the perversity there. Lot and his family were the only ones spared.

While escaping, Lot’s wife looked back and it petrified her. Lot and his two daughters made it out alive, seeking refuge in a cave. The girls got Lot drunk and slept with him. Both ended up pregnant.

The eldest bore a son and called him Moab. He became the father of the Moabites. They were a wicked people, but back when judges ruled, Israel wasn’t all that innocent either. However, Moab did have one thing Israel didn’t – bread!

“The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion-Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there.” (verse 2)

In ancient Hebrew culture, parents didn’t just call their kids something that had a nice ring to it. Names were descriptive.

Elimelech means ‘God is my King.’ Naomi means ‘Pleasant.’ Mahlon means ‘sick.’ How would you like a name like that? Chilion is Hebrew for ‘piney’ which tells us this kid also lacked vitality. So ‘Mr. God is my king’ and ‘Mrs. Pleasant’ had two sorry kids. Not only that, ‘Mr. God is my King’ had his own health issues…

“Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons.” (verse 3)

This is the last we see of Elimelech. Mrs. Pleasant is now a widow.

“Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years.” (verse 4)

Sick and Sicker embrace the world by taking for themselves pagan brides. God will work this out for His good, just as He always does. The Book of Ruth is a wonderful illustration of His redemptive love.

Let’s now look at the names of these Moabite women. Orpah means ‘mane.’ Perhaps she had beautiful hair, but Orpah is not the main attraction in this story. Ruth is. Her name means ‘friend’ which suits her to a tee. She becomes a faithful friend to Naomi.

Naomi, her two sons and their wives dwelt in Moab for ten years. That was ten years too long. In Psalm 108 God calls Moab his washpot. Naomi was smart to leave. This washpot was filled with scum. Sadly, Naomi wasn’t able to take her sons…

“Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband.” (verse 5)

After losing two sick kids to the world, Naomi heads back to the House of Bread. That’s where life is found. The way of the world leads to death. But there is always hope in the House of Bread.

“Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had visited His people by giving them bread. Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.” (verse 6-7)

Notice that the Lord visited His people by giving them bread. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” A reminder that it is God’s hand that feeds us. This is why we pray over our meals. We would have nothing on our tables if it were not for the Lord’s goodness and generosity.

Once Naomi heard that the famine was over in Judah she got packing. She heads home with her daughters-in-law.

“And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.” (verse 8-9)

Here we have a wonderful illustration of how love operates. Love doesn’t force its way; it simply extends an invitation. Naomi realizes that Bethlehem is her home and not the home of her daughters-in-law. They must leave their world behind should they choose to follow.

The same is true for us. Jesus invites us to the House of Bread. This requires that we leave our world behind. The choice is ours. Jesus would rather we follow Him because we love Him.

Naomi’s daughters-in-law had better chances of finding husbands in Moab. Jews and Moabites typically didn’t mix. Plus Moab was familiar territory. Going to Bethlehem would require a step of faith – having hope in the unseen.

That’s how it is for us. The world is familiar. Choosing the House of Bread requires a step of faith. We must believe in a God who visits His people even though we cannot see Him. We must believe He is the giver of the Bread of Life.

“And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.” (verse 10)

Jesus was told the same thing. “Lord, I will follow you…” Ususally conditions were attached. Knowing their hearts, Jesus called these “followers” on it. He’d tell them to count the cost.

Notice also what Naomi does…

“But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go-for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me!” (verse 11-13)

Naomi makes it clear that sacrifices will be required, and that personal agendas may not be fulfilled, should her daughters-in-law choose to follow. Jesus was also upfront with His followers. “Birds have nest, foxes have holes, the Son of Man has no place to rest His head.” It’s imperative that disciples count the cost.

Jesus also told His followers that He must come before husband or wife, mother or father, sister or brother. Some said, “I’ll follow but first let me take care of some other business. I have oxen to sell.” Or, “After my father dies I’ll be available.” Jesus told these folks that they weren’t fit to follow.

When we follow Jesus we must look to His lead and never look back. He must come first. We must kiss our world goodbye.

That’s what Naomi tells her daughter’s-in-law. “The path I’m on isn’t easy. If you want what Moab offers, forget it. You must kiss your world goodbye.” The choice was theirs. It all came down to which they loved more: their world or Naomi. That’s how it is with us. Which do we love more, the world or Jesus? Because God loves us, He allows us to choose.

At this stage, Naomi feels forsaken by the Lord. She has nothing: no one to care after her, no inheritance to settle into, no sons to take her in. She is overcome with despair. “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” she laments.

Do you ever feel that way? We will see later on that such is not the case. This story has a happy ending. God works out all things for good. There is hope in the House of Bread. The same is true for you, my friend. Whatever you are going through, no matter how difficult or how desperate, God will see you through. There is always a happy ending for those who are His. But you must abide in the House of Bread to realize that. That’s where God visits His people.

(To be continued…)

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