Episode 1. Alone in a Foreign Land
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Sometimes in life, it feels as though we’re lost in a foreign land. In a place we’re not meant to be, going though things that just don’t make sense. But what if … what if those times and …
Sometimes in life, it feels as though we’re lost in a foreign land. In a place we’re not meant to be, going though things that just don’t make sense. But what if … what if those times and those places were not a surprise to God? What if .. actually … God is up to something good, and we just haven’t realised yet?
I’m really excited today because we’re about to kick off a brand new series of messages, a series that after some prayer I’ve called, “A Journey Into The Blessings Of God”. Now some people get a bit twitchy I have to tell you when they hear some bloke talking about blessings from God. Why? Well over the years and this is nothing new, over the years some have twisted this whole thing of God’s blessings into an idea that if we push this button or pull that lever with God then money is just going to roll out.
I can have a big house, I can have a big car, I can have financial prosperity, that’s what being a Christian is all about. Now that’s called the prosperity doctrine and the reason I don’t subscribe to it is because you won’t find it in God’s Word, the Bible. It ignores the fact that Jesus, the very Son of God, died a gruesome death on a cross without even a shirt or at least the tunic on His back.
So, when I talk about the blessings of God, abundant financial blessing is not what I’m talking about. When I talk about the blessings of God I’m talking about something much bigger, something much more than mere financial prosperity. God is a God who wants to bless us; He wants us to be secure and at peace and full of joy smack bang in the middle of His blessing.
And as we take this journey into God’s blessing, the blessing He promises each one of us who put their faith in Jesus His Son, we’re going to travel along the road with a woman by the name of Ruth. Now Ruth has a whole book under her name in the Old Testament. Granted it’s a short book, just four chapters, but nevertheless a whole book. Now that’s quite something when you think about it. And so each day over these coming few weeks we’re going to take this journey into God’s blessing by walking along the road with Ruth.
And today we’re going to kick off with just the 1st part of her story; a story which I suspect is all too familiar to many of us. Let’s have a listen starting at Ruth chapter 1, verse 1:
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of this man was Elimelech and the name of his wife was Naomi and the names of their 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 was Ruth. When they had lived there for about ten years both Mahlon and Chilion also died so that the woman was left without her two sons or her husband.
Now, let’s just position this time historically in the journey of Israel. You may recall that for centuries Israel was stuck in slavery in the land of Egypt. Then when God heard the cry of His chosen people He led them out of Egypt, through Moses, through the Red Sea into the wilderness on a 40 year journey finally arriving at the Promised Land – the land of Israel which they had to take bit by bit by force battle after battle.
Once they were settled there their system of government was not a democracy but a theocracy. In other words God was the head of state and God administered His rule through a number of judges who judged Israel. Not just in the way we might understand judges to judge today but in terms also of leadership and government.
So here a famine strikes the land of Israel and Elimelech does something that sure, saves his skin in the short term but ultimately ends in disaster. He leaves the Promised Land, he leaves the land flowing with milk and honey because in the short term there’s not enough food to go around, there’s a famine in the land. And to be sure for people who were living in those days, a hand to mouth subsistence farming existence, when there’s a famine in your own land, well sometimes you had to get up and go to another land to where there was enough food to eat and water to drink.
Problem here is that Elimelech who’s name literally means, “my God is king”, Elimelech forsakes his king. He forsakes the promises of God, the blessings of God in the Promised Land because on the surface of things there’s a famine. See the easiest thing in the world for any of us to do is this, we put our trust in God through Jesus His Son.
Yeah sure, I believe in God; I believe God’s good; of course I believe God wants to bless me; yeah I believe God has the power to fix anything; I believe God is powerful enough to deal with this problem and that problem. We even sing songs about it in our Churches, we listen to sermons about these things.But then at the first sign of trouble we put our tail between our legs and we run away.
Well, that’s what Elimelech did. He took his wife with him, Naomi, and his two sons Mahlon and Chilion and they went to Moab. And after he dies his sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth respectively. Never mind the Moabites were sworn enemies of Israel; never mind God said to His people don’t ever take foreign wives. So surprise, surprise Elimelech and his two sons die leaving Naomi, Elimelech’s widow and her two daughters in law Orpah and Ruth, also widows now, stranded and for Naomi she was a woman alone in a foreign land, in a land where she didn’t belong.
Now, over the coming days and weeks in this series, we’re going to see what happens to these women. We’re going to see what decisions they make and how God deals with them, in particular how two of them journey back right into the middle of God’s blessing. Remember God is a God who forgives and who blesses, just does.
But right now let’s focus on this mess they’re in. And the reason they’re in this mess is that the head of this house called Elimelech turned his back on God. Can I tell you that’s something that many, many of us are familiar with? So many people start off believing in God and His promises and following Him and then in the middle of some adversity or dilemma they turn aside; they run away. They forsake the promises of God because on the surface of things it looks like a better bet to do it your own way.
It’s precisely where God found me, again almost two decades ago. I’d once believed, I once worshipped Him but through the pressures of life and my own stupidity and arrogance I decided somewhere along the line, like Elimelech, to take matters into my own hands and what a mess that turned out to be. What a mess!
Now, none of this is Naomi’s fault or Orpah’s fault or Ruth’s fault, they were women and you see in that time women had no legal rights; they had no legal standing on their own; they couldn’t own property; it was very hard for them almost impossible to earn an income. So without a husband to provide for you or to protect you, you were in serious trouble. And in the Old Testament, you’ll see in the Law, it talks a lot about widows because widows were oppressed people, widows were in a dangerous place. And here we have three widows, Naomi the older woman and Orpah and Ruth the two younger women.
Now it wasn’t their fault that they were alone and widowed because back then a woman had to do as the head of the household, her husband, told her. So here they are in this difficult place, they’re in a mess, a big mess. What happens next? What does God do? Well, that’s what we’re going to be looking at over this coming week, because Naomi takes a decision, and Ruth takes that decision with her, and they decide to turn around and travel back into the blessings of God. There is so much that we can learn about God and the way He blesses us through their story and that’s why we’re going to spend a few days each week just looking at their story.