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Saturday, 24 May 2014

Ruth part 2: Understanding the man.

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 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.

Last time we considered the background to the book of Ruth, our title being; “understanding the times.” We now will try to understand the man. We recognised that decisions were made by Elimelech that were pragmatic but maybe not wholeheartedly godly. Moab was a land that was under God's curse but which was experiencing God's general blessing in that there was no famine and food was readily available. Israel on the other hand was in a time of famine and so Elimelech did the logical thing and took his family to where they could live comfortably. They clearly had made Moab their home and Elimelech's 2 sons were by the time of the story married to Moabite women. The writer goes to great length to introduce us to the main characters of the story. As we are aware names are important in bible times. Very often a character bears a name that completely suits his character. This is by no means co-incidence. In the same way that God inspired the writers of scripture to record His truth then I believe that He inspired parents to name their children for the purpose of teaching His people much. This is true of the characters of this little book.

So let us consider the characters that we are introduced to:


Elimelech simply means; God is King. It is a Hebrew names and within bible truth suggests that the man was a believer in the Sovereignty of God. When we consider what that means we may well be surprised at his actions.
The reading of scripture leaves us with no doubt that Yahweh is King, He is Sovereign over the whole of creation. We see that from the very first verses of our bibles where He is declared to be the sole creator. The creation came into existence by the power of His word. Without His Word nothing that has been made has been made. God from before the foundation of the world is Sovereign. This means that all things are under His rule and control. The New Testament tells us that even His chosen people (the church) were set apart by Him before creation even began.

God's Sovereign authority is for all time: Past, present &future!

Elimelech's name tells us this also. Therefore by naming him Elimelech his parents were preaching that God is King. The Sovereignty of God is not purely the domain of the reformed church it is simply true of God throughout all ages. We praise God that the reformed church in particular are keen to keep this important doctrine to the fore of all that they believe!
All of this having been said let us consider the man and try to understand what is going on in his experience:
God is Sovereign over all of the issues of all the world and all nations. Therefore He was also in control of Moab's plenty as He was for Israel's famine. By His common grace He was providing naturally for Moab and by His specific grace He was withholding food for Israel. As we discovered last time, Israel was suffering the consequences of sin and rebellion against God and so were reaping the promised curse upon the people.
Israel were experiencing God's discipline!
The people were not necessarily independently responsible for the problem but the nation as a body were. They were guilty of each doing what was right in their own eyes therefore all were suffering the consequences of the nations sin. Elimelech's family along with all other Israelite families were caught up in the problem. They lived in Bethlehem, a place of past blessing and also the place where Rachel was buried. It's name means the house of bread or provision; it is a place of which God also makes future promises. King David was born there a few generations after this event and of course the Lord Jesus was also to be born there. The place of bread was to be the birthplace of the Bread of Life! It's very name along with Elimelech's tells us of promised blessing. It was going through temporary difficulties and discipline which was simply too much for Elimelech to bear. Therefore he went to the place where life was so much easier.

Elimelech was guilty of doing what was right in his own eyes!

He knew that there was food in Moab and so he made the pragmatic decision to go there for his family to be provided for. It would be very easy at this point to be over sympathetic to Elimelech's, after all which one of us a parents, husbands or wives would not seek to do a similar thing? But before we make judgements upon 21st century sentimentality we must first question what is going on amongst the people of God.

Israel are under judgement!

Judgement is never pleasant, it is painful but it has a purpose. Any judgement or punishment that has no purpose is simply bullying and violent. God's judgement in this case is that His people had turned each one of them to their own way and had ignored God who had done all that they needed for them. They had even taken to themselves the god's of the nations. For this they were under the promised covenant curses until such a time as they repent of their evil ways and return fully to God. The hunger that they were experiencing was designed by God to bring them to their knees and beg for mercy and then when accomplished blessing would flow from God to them. There was never a time in the history of Israel when they needed “God is King” to be preached and so Elimelech ran away. He ran away to a land of curse from the land of promise.

Not all difficulties are evidence of satanic attack. It is often said in Christian circles when things do not go according to our plan that Satan is having his day! But it is often true that difficulties are evidence of God's discipline over His people. Discipline always has the target of repentance and restoration, what we must not do when under discipline is run from the place of blessing because wherever we go we are entering a Moab. Elimelech ran away from blessing and as we will see never had blessing! His example teaches us that if we do the logical thing then we lose out on blessing. On the other hand we shall see that Naomi returned to the place of blessing and was ultimately blessed beyond all that she could imagine, in fact 7 times more so is what is said of her in chapter 4:15.

One thing that the book of Ruth teaches us is that discipline from God is so often undervalued and misunderstood by the very people that it is intended to help. You have read right in that I say that discipline is given by God to help His people to live a better life. much of what is taught in the 21st century church fits Elimelech's theology. He believed in "when the going get's tough the believer gets going!" The whole point of Israel being in difficulty was that they cry out to God for help and for the ability to repent of their sin. Often a move for repentance comes not from the leadership but from a groundswell of outcry from the ordinary people. There is no evidence to suggest that Elimelech was anything but an ordinary man leading an ordinary family. He  was needed to be telling his own people that God is King and not being "comfortably numb" and living in Moab. He did not really care about his own people's plight, he was ok thank you! He did not even care about those amongst whom he was living. Elimelech simply did not understand what God's discipline was all about.

It is true that there seemed to be blessing in Moab, we need to just consider what is going on there. Moab was already under God's condemnation but yet there is plenty of food. What is that all about? It displays firstly God's common grace. That simply put is that God provides by His common grace for all people of all nations in whatever circumstances that they find themselves in. Moab did not deserve to be in plenty but God chose to bless them. This very fact should have spoken loud and clear to Israel and Elimelech but it did not! Elimelech chose common grace rather than the specific grace that God has for His chosen people. That is a poor exchange if ever there was one. Common grace supplied a full stomach but it did not afford spiritual blessing. Elimelech took His people to a land of eternal judgement and was happy to sojourn there.

God's specific grace however was fully directed at Israel. Their empty stomach's should have been their clarion call to God for forgiveness from which will come eternal benefit more than any could ever imagine. Something of this we shall discover as we consider what happened to Ruth and Naomi in the rest of their lives.

As the church we really need to grapple with these truths and come to an understanding as to what God does in and through His people. We really need to understand that just because a people have it easy then it is no mark of God's satisfaction with them. Equally just because a Christian is not experiencing ease and comfort it does not mean that they are under God's curse. But then again it might be, we must be discerning and seek what it is  that God is saying in our own current circumstance. The nation of Israel needed Elimelech to be at his best but he was at his worst and ran headlong into God's wrath and anger. Let this be a solemn lesson to us.

There is so much that we learn from Elimelech, he is the prototype of a backslider who does the right thing in his own eyes but loses out on personal blessing. But there is also a solemn warning to those who follow in his footsteps. We may sympathize with his plight but to follow him in his flight will bring as it did for him:

Dire Consequences:

Elimelech was responsible for his own actions and reaped the benefit of them but personal rebellion or sin will always have a knock on effect. That was particularly true for the family of Elimelech. They found Moab to be for them a good place. That in itself is a contradiction, they were a family of God and had moved away from the corporate family for personal gain. It is true that food is a vital necessity but when repentance is the only thing that bars a nation from restoration then any that run away will experience problems to an even greater extent. Just as in Moab there can be no blessing for the people of God who run away! The family's stomachs may have been full but their hearts were darkened more and more every day that they lived their. Their move was not temporary, they lived in Moab. The boys married Moabite girls which is directly against God's declared law (more about that in a later study!) Again the names of the boys speaks volumes:
  1. Mahlon means sickly or weak.
  2. Chillion means wasting away or pining!
The names given to the 2 boys also teaches us many lessons; they were by name weak, sickly, wasting moaners. They died young and left young foreign widows behind them. They brought no blessing into the foreign land but left behind them a confused people. If Elimelech thought before leaving Bethlehem that he would be a witness in Moab then there was nothing further from the truth. A believer running away from God as with Elimelech and also Jonah leaves behind them a wake of disaster and confusion. The consequences of a believer backsliding are far reaching, so much more than we can ever imagine.

This puts and amazing responsibility upon the individual who is doing what is right in their own eyes. Sin will not only bring personal judgement but it will also bring difficulties to all that we are involved with. To do the right thing as far as we want will affect our whole family and the church. If we do the right thing then blessing is promised but to do the wrong thing will wreak havoc.

We have tried to understand the times previously, in this little study we have tried to understand the man. We do not hold him in judgement but we learn lessons from the clear mistakes that he made. We remember that it was very difficult times but Elimelech read them very wrongly. We also live in difficult times that we need to read accurately and then to react righteously because as we have learned not to do so will bring about disaster. The church must also take it's responsibility properly. If only some righteous man in Israel had shown Elimelech the error of his ways then things could have been so different! It is the responsibility of the church to help each other to do the right thing and to prevent disaster resulting from pragmatic decisions.

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