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.
Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May 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 of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?
Israel had sinned against God's commands and so were under His covenant curse. This may be a difficult concept for us to bear today in our 21st century understanding of what faith is but nevertheless it is absolutely true. God is angry at sin by all people but when the people whom He has set His particular love sin; then He is both hurt and angry. We need to put aside the gospel that has been so prevalent in the last century or so, which focusses almost entirely upon the love of God and also His beneficial favour poured out on all of His people. There is always an element of truth in all of our wanderings from the whole truth. In Deuteronomy God lays down on a number of occasions the way of blessing for the children of Israel; this is then balanced by promised curses for their wrongdoing.
God expects His children to be obedient to Him. His commands are never hard or unfair; in fact they are always to our benefit. Therefore when the children of Israel obeyed they were blessed and when they disobeyed then curses eventually came. God always delayed His punishment which gave His people more than a fair opportunity to repent and return to faithfulness.
We need to understand that the curses were a painful experience and were directed from the hand of God to the people whom He loved. His purpose was always that His people returned and were then under His covenant blessing. The truth is that whether under blessing or curse His children are always under His covenant care! He punishes those who he loves as any good father does with his children when necessary and blesses them when necessary. Punishment is not an acceptable word in Western thinking any longer and so this most important doctrine is constantly being eroded and watered down and sad to say we are all guilty of it.
Some leading evangelicals have shown this very hand and are justifying sentimentality rather than truth. It is becoming common place that rather than preach God's wrath poured out on the Lord Jesus Christ as He died on the cross for the sins of His people that there must be a more caring God than all of this up there and so He cannot be guilty of what to them seems to be cosmic child abuse. There cannot be any more insidious a theology than this and the gospel is under direct devaluing by it, in fact it makes no gospel at all. Sin is odious to God and is damned by Him and we ought to be eternally grateful to Him for it and shout from the highest pinnacles in the land that this is true, but I am afraid to say that the wolf of error has bitten the church and we are wobbling under the weight of the attack. Without the Lord Jesus having experienced the whole wrath of God for our sin which He took as His very own there can be no salvation, it is by the blood of the Lamb of God being shed that sin is dealt with and the guilty One was punished. We must not move from God's universal hate of sin and that His wrath was poured out on our Saviour on that day. We just simply say “Hallelujah, what a Saviour.”
Elimelech's family were guilty of similar thinking to this. God was punishing Israel and they arrogantly thought that they could escape the effect of God's curse upon the land. It is true to say that their stomachs were filled by being in Moab but they still experienced the curse personally.
Consider what became of them:
- Elimelech died in the land of curse and was guilty of misguiding his entire family. His pragmatic decision to go to the place of ease was followed by his sojourning, or his settling down in Moab much as did Lot in Sodom. He was in the place of sin and was enjoying it.
- His family was changed by the situation. Had he stayed in Israel even amongst a rebellious people he would have been castigated for his sons marrying Moabites (we must at this moment put aside all that we know about Ruth in order to consider the enormity of what Elimelech did!) such an act expressly broke God's law and was evidence as to how far from God that Elimelech really was.
We might appreciate the decision that he made but we must learn that we ought not to be like him. He is not a good role model.
There is something else that he was doing in going to Moab; he was in effect saying to God “I can escape you and your authority!” There is nowhere in earth, sky or sea that we can escape the presence of God Almighty. That is most comforting to us when we are in trouble but it is a painful truth to discover when like Elimelech we go against God's directives. Elimelech paid the cost of his rebellion, his children also rebelled, the men of the family (those that ought to provide for Naomi) died and a widow and two daughter's in law were left behind. Naomi believed that she had changed from being pleasant (that is what her name means) to being bitter (Mara) but more about that in a later study. Elimelech's headship of his family caused great difficulty for those that survived the experience.
There are two contrasting lessons in this:
- We cannot hide from God at any time.
- Our rebellion has consequences.
The great thing about the book of Ruth is that is is not really about judgement even though that has rightly been our focus so far but it is all about God's grace in dire circumstances even for a poor family that find themselves in the place of compromise.
We truly are a privileged people in that we have the bible readily available, as I write I am surrounded by 4 different translations, and so we know how this story progresses and finally concludes. We are so often reading the last page first but that can cloud the lessons that the Holy Spirit intends for us as we read on. It is worth our while to go slowly and take in the great warnings that are given by the mistakes made. It was to the extremely rebellious church at Corinth that the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 reminds them that scripture records that God was not pleased with the unfaithful Israelites in the desert who had known blessing beyond compare but had turned against Him. This says Paul is recorded for an example to us in order that we might not do similarly. Scripture is completely open and honest, there is no spin. It exposes the sins of God's people as an example to us in order that we might learn and do better. Therefore this final study in the cause of the problems that Elimelech caused is useful to us as we consider how we act as 21st century Christians. For us the covenant blessing and curses stand but in a different way. The nation of Israel was a prototype of the church and from a natural but chosen nation we can see how the perfect and glorified church will look. Israel is a poor picture and for that point so is the seen church but the church invisible is perfected and ultimately fulfills all that Israel ought to have been. Therefore for the church when we are obedient there is blessing, peace with God in whatever circumstance being the ultimate blessing. This is not about comfort, health and wealth etc. they are never promised as a result of what we do. That is the subject of yet another study but not this one.
There also covenant curses for the New testament church. The seven churches in Revelation display this perfectly. Ephesus even though they looked good had lost their first love and so the Lord Jesus threatened to take away their shining light or candle of blessing if they did not repent. The church at Pergamum had followed wrong practices and teachings and so were under threat of God's word coming and cutting away the wrong, but for repentance there was promised blessing. Read Revelation 2&3 to see how the covenant blessings and curses were promised for them and equally are also for us today.
Our sin and rebellion has consequences and not only affects those around us but more importantly it offends God and he will act against us in order to bring us to repentance. There is nowhere that we can hide or run to; other than to our knees in repentance where we will discover as we do further on in the book of Ruth that there will be blessing beyond compare. You can now read the last part of the book and be thrilled at how God restores a rotten situation.