If I can just learn what I know. I know that God is in control.
“O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” (Deuteronomy 32:29)
I know that he has promised to keep me safe.
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)
I know he has promised to never forsake me.
“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5)
I know he has promised to supply all my need.
“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
So why do I make the choices I do? Why do I have so much trouble navigating through this life and all of its decisions. The key is we need to allow God and His Word to be the basis for all of our decisions. Th problem is too many times we make decisions without ever seeking His will.
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” (James 1:2)
One preacher said, “when troubling times come, be a student, not a victim.” He
continued, “A victim says, why did this happen to me? A student says, what can I learn
from this? A victim complains he is being treated unfairly. A student thanks God he is
not being treated as he deserves. A victim tries to get even with those who have hurt
him. A student seeks to serve others in the midst of his difficulty. A victim believes this
life and the world is against him. A student believes God is at work even in the worst
Bad things are going to happen. It does not mean that you are not in God’s will. God
uses the bad times of life to grow us for His purpose. We need to learn to see these
times in our life as opportunities to draw closer to Him. The key is in how we react to
each dilemma of life as they occur.
(Note: Like the Apostles did so often, I draw you to remembrance. While we are
truly in troubling times, God is not troubled.)
The point is clear, while we are rarely in control of what happens to us, we can
always choose how we will respond. Sometimes we will make the wrong choice and
pay a heavy price for our mistake. Often, we will not learn the correct lessons until we
can look back and see how God was at work in our trials.
Something like that happened to a woman named Naomi. You find her story in the Old
Testament book of Ruth. It is a story that starts with misery and ends with joy. This
small book contains only 85 verses and yet it covers a vast range of human emotions,
beginning with heartache and then ending in happiness. Along the way we watch as
God, works behind the scenes. He is the God who works in, through and sometimes in
spite of the decisions we make.
(What is God doing through this time of Coronavirus? What is He teaching us?)
The opening verses set the scene for us: Ruth 1:1-5
“Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there. And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years. And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.” (Ruth 1:1-5)
From our text we can learn three lessons that will help us navigate the troubling times of
life. Romans 15:4 Ready begin…quote it.
“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
1. Troubling Times Can Happen at Any Time
The book of Ruth opens tying this story to a particular time and place: “Now it came to
pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land.” Verse 1.
This means the story took place after Joshua’s death and before Saul became king.
When we read the book of Judges, we may be tempted to think it was a godless time,
but that would not be entirely correct. We should think of it as a time when “every man
did that which was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25.
As long as the judges ruled, the people served the Lord. But when a judge died, the Jews turned to idolatry. It was a recurring cycle of obedience, disobedience, judgment, suffering, desperation(troubling times) and returning to the Lord.
In Deuteronomy 28:14 Moses warned the people that if they refused to obey the Lord,
God would curse the land: “The Lord shall make the rain of the land powder and dust:
from heaven shall it come down upon thee. Until thou be destroyed.” That means the
famine in the Promised Land did not just happen. It was not just a natural disaster. God
used the famine to send a message to His people.
Some people wonder if God speaks to us today. The answer is absolutely He does.
God can speak to us in many ways and many times He uses circumstances of our life to
get our attention. God knows how to get through to any of us at any time.
2. Troubling Times Compel Us to Make Hard Choices
If you are Elimelech, what do you do when a famine impacts your family? I am told that
the land around Bethlehem was some of the most fertile ground in the Promised Land.
A man who worked hard could harvest enough each year to take care of his family.
What do you do when a famine troubles your land? For Elimelech the answer was
simple. He took his family and moved to Moab because it was a land of good soil and
plenty of rainfall. Perhaps he could stay for a few months or even a year or two until the
famine was ended. It appears from the text that things worked out for a while. They
settled in the “country of Moab” and found plenty to eat. Surely, they thought that the
trouble of the famine they had left was over.
But soon Elimelech dies. We are not told how or why, only that he died in Moab, leaving
Naomi without a husband and the two boys without a father. Eventually they married
Moabite women; one named Orpha and the other named Ruth. Then the two sons die
and are buried in Moab and before you know it many years have passed. How true that
is. I read a story of a person that wrote their own obituary, it read, “I was born, I blinked
and it was over.”
Verse 1 notes that Elimelech intended to emigrate to Moab for a “sojourn” (a temporary
stay) meaning he never intended to leave Judah forever. This was a temporary more
into foreign territory. A decision made under great duress. But God was very clear that the Israelites were to have nothing to do with the Moabites. “An Ammonite or Moabite
shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord: even to their tenth generation shall
they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever: (6) Thou shalt not seek their
peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever.” Deuteronomy 23:3, 6. Our circumstance
does not allow us the right to go against the statues of the Lord.
I believe Elimelech did not intend to leave the Lord by migrating to Moab, but it
was a reckless move at best. Moab was a foe of Israel. It originated with Lot’s
incestuous relationship with his daughters as seen in Genesis 19:30-38. He was leaving
the land of blessing to live among the pagans on the east side of the Dead Sea. He and
his family would be exposed to the Moabite religion with its idol worship and its sexual
perversion. I think Elimelech understood the risk but considered this move a temporary
expedient move for the sake of his family. (Human reasoning).
Geoff Thomas, a Baptist preacher said this, “The problem in Israel was not the lack of
bread. The problem was the lack of obedience to Jehovah.” This was not the first time
of famine in the land flowing with milk and honey, and it would not be the last.
Remember, good motives will not cancel the impact of bad decisions. Everyone
has rules that we must abide by. We all have rules that we do not like. It is not a
question of whether you like the rules or agree with them. The only question is, will you
obey them? You are free to have your own opinion, but you are not free to disobey
Motives matter, but in real life obedience matters more.
You cannot run from your problems because your problems will follow you
wherever you go. Human nature wants us to run from our problems. We do not like
what is going on in our life and our answer is to move. Remember, a change of
scenery does not produce a change of heart. Whatever you were before is what
you will be wherever you go next.
We all feel the urge to change things when we
encounter problems. Whether it is a new job or a new career. Moving into a new house
or into a new neighborhood. Or if our church does not go the way we like and we want a
new pastor. We think if only we could make a fresh start, things would improve.
Sometimes that is true. It is not that change is always bad. But change can be an
excuse not to face the problems of life head on. Running away from our trouble rarely
makes things better.
Elimelech thought he would go to Moab, stay until the famine passed and then come
back home (sojourn.) But it did not go as he had planned. By verse five of chapter one
Naomi had buried her husband and then her two sons. His wrong decision meant he
never made it back home. Samuel Cox, a Baptist preacher in the 18 th century in the
London area said this, “Elimelech lost his life while seeking a livelihood, and found a
grave where he had sought a home.”
At the end of our text (verse five) we find Naomi still in Moab. She is far from her
homeland and is coping with the loss of her husband and her sons. She is in a land that
she should not be. She is separated from God’s people and is now facing the consequences of her husband’s unwise decision. It is an understatement to say that she
was not in an ideal situation. Surely, she must have thought, “I am in trouble now.”
3. Troubling Times Prepare Us for a Great Work of Grace
Oswald Chambers wrote about the “dance of circumstance,” (author of “my Utmost for
his Highest) by which he meant the hand of God working through seemingly random
events. Who raised up the judges? God did. Who sent the famine? God did. Who gave
safe passage to Moab? God did. Who decided the three men of the family should die
there? God did. As far as we know, God never spoke directly to Elimelech, yet you
recognize it is the Unseen Hand of God moving behind the events.
Whatever you may say about your life, do not ever forget that God oversees the tiniest of details. Nothing escapes his notice and even the most unlikely events are part of his plan for you.
Illustration: I am reminded of the story I have told you before. It was a time while I was attending Bible college. I was working part-time jobs to make ends meet. One of the
jobs I had was delivering pizza. The afternoon after school Alice and I went shopping
and had spent all of our money for groceries. It was not until we returned home that
Alice realized that we had forgotten to get cereal for our children. I told Alice not to
worry. “I will pick some up tonight after delivering pizzas with the tip money I get.” About
11:00 PM I had a delivery to a large warehouse. I had just dropped off the pizzas and
was going out the door when one of the men said to take any two boxes of my
choosing. I was a bit confused until I turned and saw a shelf with all sorts of cereal
boxes on it. I was in a cereal warehouse. I immediately recognized what God had done
but it was on my way home that I understood that God sees all my problems. Nothing
catches him by surprise.
When the family left Bethlehem, there were four of them, three men and one woman:
Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon and Chilion. But now Naomi is faced with the fact that she
has buried all the men of her family in the mountains of Moab. When she discusses her
situation with Orpah and Ruth, Naomi declares that God has turned his hand against
her when she said, “…the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.” Ruth 1:13.
So, you ask, in what sense is Naomi preparing for a great work of grace? As our text
ends, Naomi is still in Moab, far from home (figuratively and spiritually), coping with the
loss of her husband and her sons. She is where she should not be (in a pagan land),
separated from God’s people, facing the consequences of her husband’s unwise
decision. She is an older widow, in the company of two younger widows. It was not an
ideal place for her to be in.
Her story spells HOPELESS. Naomi is stuck in Moab. She is now a widow with no hope
of ever having another child. She has two younger widows, her daughters-in-law by her
side. To cap it off, her daughters-in-law are not Jews but Moabites. As far as Naomi is
concerned, not only does she have no future, but neither do they if they stay with her.
Whenever you read the book of Ruth you need to do it without knowing how the story
ends. We face the same challenge when we read about Joseph in the book of Genesis.
How much did Joseph know about the end of the story when his brothers cast him into
the pit in Genesis 37? The answer is nothing. Ask the same question when he is carted
off by the Midianites and then sold as a slave to Potiphar. How much did he know about
the future when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of rape? Or when Potiphar had him
thrown into jail? Or when the cupbearer promised to remember him but instead forgot
about him while he wasted in an Egyptian prison? The answer is the same. And yet God
had a plan. “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to
bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Genesis 50:20. Joseph had
no advance knowledge that he (a Hebrew slave) would eventually be second in
command in Egypt.
One preacher asked, “Does God have a blueprint for my life? Yes, but there is only one
copy, and it is locked up on the second floor of the administration building in heaven
and I do not know any way you can get a copy.” We are not given advance notice of
what tomorrow will bring. That is true for all of us, rich and poor, young and old, new
child of God and mature child of God. We all must take life as it comes to us, one day at
Naomi still believes in God, even in a foreign land, cut off from her own people. If she is
bitter at the Lord, at least she had not turned from Him. At best, she is a bruised
believer, brokenhearted at what she has lost. Perhaps like some today. If we
heartlessly say, she got what was coming to her,” we only reveal how little we
understand about God’s heart. He is rich in grace, and if he had pockets, they would be
deep and full of mercy.
God has not given up on Naomi, no matter what she may think about him. He has big
plans that are about to unfold. Little does she know that one day she will hold a baby in
her lap who will be the grandfather of King David. Even less would it be possible for her
to imagine that her daughter-in-law Ruth (a Moabite maiden) will end up in the lineage
of the Messiah.
Her sadness will be turned to joy and she will discover that where sin abounds, grace
did much more abound. But that day has not come for her yet.
Our encouragement today is this. Do not despair and say, “I am in trouble now.” Know
this, we serve a God who can take the worst and turn it into the best because that is the
kind of God He is. Give God time to work. He knows what He is doing when we do not
have a clue. Trust Him. Trust Him during this time of Coronavirus.