I hope that you were able to find time to read the book of Ruth last week; there are only four chapters, so it doesn't take long. That background information will come in handy, as we "camp out" here in Ruth again this week.
We mentioned cockleburs last time, those pesky little things that hang on tightly to boots, socks, and even our pets, after walks outdoors. They make a good metaphor for our relationship with our Father, too.
We'll get back to them in a minute . . .
First, I'd like to go back to what we mentioned about God's faithfulness. In the trying times of life, He is always there. We may not be receptive to His voice; we may not feel His comforting arms; but that doesn't change the fact that He is there. (Grin)
The very first verses of Ruth tell us that they were dealing with trying times in the promised land. It was during the days of the judges. These times were so very different from the days when Joshua was leading the people in their conquest and occupation of the land. They'd been blessed by Jehovah with quick and sweeping victories against their foes. City after city had fallen before them. Those were heady days.
The days of the judges, in contrast, are called by some the "dark ages" of Hebrew history. Why? Here are two clues . . .
In Judges 1:27, the incomplete conquest of the land is noted. They "did not drive out" all of their foes. They only pushed them back -- just far enough where they thought they wouldn't be a threat to the children of Israel any longer. (Cue the dramatic music, this was not good.)
Here is the second clue, which we mentioned last week: in Judges 17, we read:
"In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (Verse 6)This was after the death of Joshua. The people turned to do evil in the sight of God, and they began to serve the gods of the people they'd not pushed out of their land. Their holy God could not ignore their sins in these dark days, but He would prove His faithfulness to them. In judgment of their sin, God allowed a time of famine to point to their faithlessness. It was during this time that Elimelech moved his family to the land of Moab, and our story began. During their stay in Moab, Elimelech died, and Naomi was left a widow -- her two sons had taken Moabite wives, but then they passed away, too.
Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah are left alone, thinking there is no help in sight.
But then word comes that the Lord has come to the aid of His people. There is food in the land again. Scholars say that this may have been the time when God raised up Gideon to deliver the people from the Midianites who were oppressing them. In the midst of their sins, and in the midst of the famine, the people had called out to God. They cried out for deliverance. They had been unfaithful, but He was not; He raised up a deliverer and He brought an end to the famine.
Oy vey. Don't we do the same things today? We often trust in ourselves to handle life. We bump up against obstacles and road-blocks and we think we can handle them alone, instead of relying on God. Just as in the days of Ruth, it's important for us to remember that our God is faithful to deliver, if we will only turn to Him. And here's the awesome part: He is faithful, even when we are not! When we seek after Him, and turn away from our sins, we can experience His faithfulness.
So, how was Ruth like a cocklebur, you may be asking?
Remember when Naomi decided to head back home? She knew that the famine in Judah was over, so she decided to go back. She knew that her Moabite daughter-in-laws would be treated as outsiders, and she couldn't exactly have more sons for them to marry, so she encouraged them to return to their own people. Although Orpah initially says she will stay with Naomi, she later decides to go back to her Moabite family. Surely, she must have been introduced to the God of Abraham, living with a Hebrew husband, and seeing Naomi's example of faith. But she chose to return to her people, and to her old gods.
Orpah was no cocklebur. But then, we see today how easily people can return to their old habits after meeting Jesus, the Savior. It's so easy to go back to the old ways, just as Orpah went back to her old gods. Many times it is tragedy or tough times that start people on that slide away from the Lord. They slip and then slide away from the Christ that loves them. This is a double tragedy, for it is God Who can help them and give them hope to go on.
Ruth? She's a cocklebur. Chapter one says "but Ruth clung to her." Ruth was determined. She was sticking like that mountaineer's invention, Velcro! She had heard of her mother-in-law's God, and she had seen Naomi's faith and perseverance. She was not about to turn back to the old gods -- she had found the One true God!
Even when Naomi tries to insist, and tells her it's best for her to go back, Ruth clings to her, and to her new-found God. It wasn't logical. It wasn't practical. It might not have made sense to Orpah, or to anyone else, but Ruth showed faithfulness.
This is exactly what God desires of us in our relationship to Him, especially in the tough times. When we act like cockleburs -- when we cling to God in times of need -- He will be faithful and work in our lives and in our situations.
An old hymn comes to mind when I think of Ruth's determination, her resolve, her faithfulness:
I am resolved no longer to lingerCharmed by the world’s delight:Things that are higher, things that are noblerThese have allured my sight…I am resolved, and who will go with me?Come, friends, without delayTaught by the Bible, led by the Spirit,We’ll walk the heavenly way.(Palmer Hartsough, 1896)
Today, we are living in the midst of a famine. It's a famine of faithlessness, and people have turned away from our God. Will we be like cockleburs, and cling to Jesus? Will we resolve that no matter what else happens, no matter who else is with us, that we are going to be with God?