Glimmers of Hope
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
November 28, 2021 | Redeemed | Glimmers of Hope| Ruth 1:1-22
The Book of Ruth is an amazing book for encouragement, especially in seasons of disappointment, confusion, or loss. There are no miracles, there are no prophets, no direct communication from God recorded. Rather, what you find is God providentially working in the mundane details of life. You see men and women doing the right thing and God blessing and moving in their lives in special ways.
In some ways it is a surprising choice for the season of Advent, a season of expectation and waiting associated with the coming of Christ, but in other ways it brilliantly and sometimes surprisingly captures the heart of the season, made especially more meaningful that it takes place in Bethlehem, where Jesus would be born some 1000 years later, and includes some of Jesus ancestors in the lineage of David.
We will take a chapter a week, looking at the major themes of advent (Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love,) this week in chapter 1 we are looking at the story under the title ‘Glimmers of Hope’. We are going to look at the seemingly hopelessness of the situation and then examine the three reasons for hope despite all that is happening in this story.
The Hopelessness of the situation
Ruth 1:1-5 (ESV) 1 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. 2 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. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Things seem to have been good for this family in Bethlehem. This family had been blessed with two sons. Even Naomi’s name itself means ‘pleasant’ or ‘my delight’. But, as they often do, hard times came. There was a famine, so presumably Elimelech decided it would be best for his family to go spend a season in Moab. Unfortunately, this was not a great idea for Elimelech. Shortly after they arrive, Elimelech dies. Even with her husband gone, all is not lost for Naomi, she still has two sons of marrying age to care for her, so they continue in Moab and take wives for themselves. For a time, things seem to be okay. Naomi gains two seemingly wonderful daughters in Ruth and Orpah. Then, both of her sons die as well.
Now, as the situation stands, we have three widows together with very little hope. To be a widow in this day and age was, at the best times, a difficult life, and at the worst of times, almost unbearable. They would have been completely dependent on the generosity of others. It is in the midst of this hopeless situation that Naomi hears some potentially good news. The first whisper that things may not stay bad forever.
The Hope of Good News
Ruth 1:6-7 (ESV) 6 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. 7 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.
In this foreign land, widowed and grieving, in the fields, most likely gleaning what she and her daughters-in-laws can, scraping by as widows. It is here, she hears the message, God had not forgotten his people, he had ended the famine, and blessed them once again with food.
This was good news, this was a reason for hope. She could go home, back to her village, back to her people, back to her homeland. Broken, yes; embittered, absolutely; in pain, for sure; but there is the first glimmer of hope at this good news. So, she sets out with her daughters-in-law to go home.
The Hope of a Companion
Ruth 1:8-18 (ESV) 8 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. 9 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. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 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? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
They don’t get far before reality sets in for Naomi. Perhaps as they near the edge of Moab, she tells her daughter-in-laws to go back. She blesses them, prays for them, kisses them and says goodbye. She will be travelling the long road home alone. Widowed and bereaved. They initially refuse and she again pleads that they turn back. Her reasoning? The good of her daughter-in-laws, who she affectionately calls, my daughters.
Their conversation may sound a little weird to our modern western ears, but essentially, she is saying that she has no hope and if they stay with her neither will they.
What she mentions was a practice where a younger brother would marry the spouse of his deceased brother in order to carry on that part of the family line. This was incredibly important in a patriarchal society where things passed from father to son. Essentially, any children born from the union, for all intents and purposes would carry the name, legacy, and inheritance rights from their late father. Naomi says, I am beyond marrying age and even if I had two children now, would these two resign to be widows for 18 years while they grew up? They were better off going back to Moab and trying to remarry among their people so they could have a chance at a family of their own.
This convinces Orpah but the Bible says Ruth clung to her. Naomi tries again to convince Ruth to go back to her people and her gods.
In this day land was closely tied to the god of that land. To leave a land was to leave that god. Essentially, Naomi is reminding Ruth that to follow her is to abandon everything she has ever known. Her people, her culture, her religion, her whole identity. This is a reality check on what it meant to go with Naomi. Naomi wanted to make sure that it was not grief or pity that caused them to travel with her, but that they would count the cost. Ruth’s response is one of the most beautiful declarations of loyalty and love in all of scripture.
For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge- I will not leave your side.
Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.- I will be like a natural born child to you.
17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.- not even your death will cause me to abandon you.
May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.- Here she uses the covenant name for God, Yahweh, showing she is fully in. She willingly accepts the Hebrew God as her god, she is converted and willing to follow God for the rest of her days.
Now, no matter what happens in Bethlehem, no matter how her reception is, no matter what God has in store for Naomi, she knows she will never be alone. She has the hope of a companion.
The Hope of a Future
Ruth 1:19-22 (ESV) 19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” 22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
The whole town was stirred, that is the whole town was a buzz. “Is this Naomi?” “Didn’t she leave with a strong husband and two strong sons?” “Is she back now with only a foreign girl?” The gossip line got going. At the gate, across the fences, around the women’s circles. Everyone is talking about Naomi coming home.
We get a glimpse into Naomi’s heart in verse 20 when she says she no longer wants to be called Naomi (pleasant) but Mara (bitter). She feels empty, despite coming home and despite having Ruth with her. But even in these few verses of lamenting we find hope.
The word Bethlehem literally means ‘house of bread’ and they arrive right at the beginning of the barley harvest. The people remember her fondly, the crops are coming in, the Lord has blessed the fields again.
There is hope here of a future, even if it is not the one she had imagined for herself or Ruth.
Glimmers of Hope
Displaced, widowed, without hope of the future she envisioned, bitter and broken, and yet, there even now, in this part of the story, there are glimmers of hope.
God had not forsaken his people and had ended the famine, Ruth, her widowed daughter in law had pledged to walk by her side for the rest of her life, and as they came home it was the beginning of the harvest, a time of abundance and blessing. The barley was the first to be harvested so the harvest season was just beginning.
Naomi cannot fully see it yet, but she has hope, which we will see in the coming weeks is rewarded beyond her wildest imagination.
That is how the first chapter of Ruth ends, with these glimmers of hope pointing to a better future for Naomi and Ruth, even if we don’t know all that it holds yet.
In the coming weeks we will look at how the rest of their story plays out, but now I want us to stop and look at how perfectly the themes of this opening chapter point us to the hope of the gospel.
The Hopelessness of our situation
We have to acknowledge first and foremost, that the Bible presents a pretty hopeless view of humanity apart from God. It tells us the sobering truth that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It tells us that the wages of that sin is death. It tells us that our best acts of righteousness, our best attempts at fixing ourselves before a holy God are like filthy rags. From Genesis on we find men and women rebelling against God and his law. There seems to be no hope that man will not be condemned by their sin and that no man is beyond sin.
The Hope of Good News
However, alongside this unfolding of the depravity of humanity after the fall we see glimpses of the good news. God will not abandon his people; he will not leave them to their sin. He provides a way they can approach him through the sacrificial system. We find glimpses of a more permanent solution when he promises to establish the line of David forever, when he tells his people of the one who will come to bear the iniquities of his people.
We hear whispers in the Psalms of God being close to the broken hearted and those with a contrite spirit. The prophets speak of a coming kingdom, a coming king. A child born in Bethlehem that would be the wonderful counselor, might God, everlasting father, prince of peace.
The Hope of a Companion (nothing can separate us from the love of God)
God also promises that on the day of salvation he would put a new spirit in his people. Jesus calls this spirit the Helper in reference to the Holy Spirit that will come and make his home with the believer. This spirit dwells in every believer; convicting of sin, testifying of Jesus, guiding us in all truth. This Spirit that assures us that we will never have to walk this world alone again, that we have the Spirit of God as an eternal companion.
The Hope of a Future
We also have hope of a future. Jesus said he goes to prepare us a place and that he will return to take us to be with him forever. That he will come back bodily to welcome us into the new heaven and the new earth where we will spend eternity with Him. That the Spirit is a seal and a down payment of the inheritance that will be ours. We are told that all the suffering we encounter is but light affliction and cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us when we see him face to face.
On your most hopeless days, in your darkest hours, this is the hope of the gospel!
It is this hope of the Old Testament that we celebrate being fulfilled when Jesus Christ came and was born in the little town of Bethlehem.
It is this hope that is realized when someone calls out to God, asks God to put them in Christ and his Spirit in them.
It is this hope that we anxiously await for in the second coming of Jesus Christ.
That is the hope we celebrate during the advent season, that is the hope that is available to every man, woman, or child that will accept it.