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There is no good apart from the LORD

Date: 7 May 2023

Speaker: Mr Nicolas Wong

Sermon Text: Ruth 1:1-22


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TRANSCRIPT

Introduction

I used to read game books.


These are books where you read a paragraph, then you get 2 choices and you turn to the section based on your choice..


Like

To fight the monster, turn to section 15.

To put the monster to sleep with a lullaby, turn to section 33.

Then whatever you choose will have different consequences.

Sometimes a good, sometimes bad.


We make choices everyday.

What to eat, what to wear.


We also make important choices.

Where to work, who to marry, what to study.


Like my game books, these choices have consequences.

Some are small.

Some trap us and continue to hurt us.

Is there any way out from our bad choices?


That’s what we’ll see from Ruth 1.

In Ruth 1:1, the people have chosen life apart from the good LORD.

And they were suffering the consequences.

The book then zooms in on 1 family.

They also made poor choices, leaving them destitude with 3 deaths after 10 years.

The survivors, broken and almost hopeless.


And our question through this book is this:

Can they be saved after their bad choice?


If they can, then there’s hope for the rest of Israel.

If there’s hope for Israel, then there’s hope for you and I.


You and I have made wrong choices in life about God.

Maybe we are in open rebellion against God.

Or maybe we indulge in secret desires that none can see.


That question is also for us.

Can we be saved after our bad choices?


Yes you can!

Our answer begins in Ruth 1.

It must begin with knowing that there is no better choice outside God.

Or, there is no good apart from the LORD.


Is there good for Israel in Moab?

This is the time when judges led God’s people.

The book of judges describes this time as a dark time in Israel’s history with a few highlights.


It’s a time where the people kept sinning against God

And God sent these judges to save his people.


Judges 2:16–17 ESV
16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so.

They didn’t obey the judges the LORD sent.

Instead they worshipped other gods.

The consequence?

The LORD let Israel suffer.


Like with the famine.

The famine in the book of Ruth one of the consequences for Israel’s rebellion against God.

Famine was life-threatening.

If your crops failed for 1 or 2 seasons, you have no food.

Your family would starve.


Now Israel’s solution would have been to U-turn back to the LORD.

But this man Elimelek from Bethlehem chose to turn away from Israel and where the LORD was, and went to Moab.

Bethlehem means, house of bread.

The people there ate bread as their staple.


Rice is our staple.

When I ask, ni chi fan le mei you?

I’m not really asking whether you ate rice.

I’m asking whether you ate anything.


So at the house of bread, there should be lots of food.

But there’s none.

So the man turns away from the house of no bread.


There’s no good for Israel in the land,

But maybe there’s good for Israel in Moab.


Moab had a good land and good rainfall for growing crops.

So there could be enough space for this family there.


But Moab was a bad choice.

What’s the consequence of Elimelek’s choice in v3?

He died.

And his wife was left with her two sons.


Now her 2 sons Mahlon and Kilion survived longer.

They married the Moabitesses Orpah and Ruth.

But the consequences of that bad choice lingered.

After 10 years, in v5 they also died.

Moab wasn’t good for the 2 sons.


So Naomi was left with her 2 daughters-in-law.

In today’s world, these 3 women could easily find work to support themselves.

But in those days it was dangerous for women to work.

They could be sexually harrassed or attacked in the fields.


So Naomi, Orpah and Ruth couldn’t find work in Moab.

No work means, no food.

They would starve.

Then they would die.


It’s like the famine chased them from the house of bread to Moab.

So now Moab is like the house of death.

It already claimed Elimelek, Mahlon and Kilion.

And it’s snapping its jaws of death at Naomi, Orpah and Ruth.


So there’s no good for Israel in Moab.


There’s a lesson for us.

We are faced with this choice of following Jesus

or to walk away from him.


Last year, a grab driver told me he doesn’t have time for religion.

Because he needs to keep driving to earn money now.


He chose life apart from Jesus

He thought the outcome of having money is better than Jesus.

For him, being apart from Jesus is better.


But the consequence that we will find is this:

There is no eternal life outside Jesus

There is only the house of death.


There’s no good for Israel in Moab.


Is there good for Moab in Israel?

But there’s change in the famine situation in Israel.


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.

Good news!

Now the LORD reversed the deadly famine and brought bread!


Now there’s bread in the house of bread!

And with bread, there’s no more starving to dead.

The good LORD has brought life and salvation to the people living in darkness!


So Naomi U-turns from this house of death with Orpah and Ruth to the road towards the house of bread.

Towards the house of life


But on the road it occurred to Naomi,

“Is there good for Moab in Israel?”

Will the Moabiteses Orpah and Ruth have a decent life in Israel?

Or will they be rejected by the Israelites?


Deuteronomy 23:3–6 ESV
3 “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, 4 because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. 5 But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. 6 You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.

Orpah and Ruth would be rejected as foreigners, and even as historical enemies.

In Israel’s history, Israel wanted to pass through the land of Moab to get to the promised land.


But Moab refused, and tried to get Israel cursed.


When Moab failed to curse Israel, Moab successfully seduced Israel with her idols and women.


Then the LORD brought a plague on Israel for this sin, and 24,000 people died.


Moab is the enemy.

And her women are deadly.


Naomi might be able to get some food from her relatives.

But what about the Moabitesses Orpah and Ruth?

Who would marry these women to support them?


Ruth 1:8–10 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.”

Naomi thought there’s no good for Moab in Israel.

Orpah and Ruth could find husbands Moab.

Naomi asked the LORD to bless them in Moab with husbands.

Away from the LORD

Away from the LORD’s people


But Orpah and Ruth said no!


So Naomi shows them there have no husbands in Israel with the LORD.


Do you see how she does it in v11-13?


Ruth 1:11–13 ESV
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.”

She’s thinking about this provision in the Old Testament called a “levirate marriage”.


Where the brother of the deceased man were to marry their widows to bear children for the deceased’s family.


So Naomi was supposed to give birth to another 2 sons for Orpah and Ruth to marry.


But Naomi was past the child-bearing age.

There’s no hope for her to get married or to have children.

And even if she got married straight away and in v12 she conceived, could Orpah and Ruth wait?


Or will the pain of widowhood eat at them day after day for another 20 years

until Naomi’s sons to be ready for marriage.


Orpah found Naomi’s logic logical.


Ruth 1:14 ESV
14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

Now this return isn’t just a physical relocation.

Like migrating from Singapore to elsewhere to find work.

Orpah returned to her people, and to her gods.


It’s as if I said to all of you,

Don’t follow Jesus

Don’t come to church next week

Don’t go to for Bible studies, youth group, children’s ministry.


You need to get the grades

You need to close the deal

You need to relax

Follow the gods of this world that will provide for you.

There’s only suffering with Jesus.


Sadly, some people do believe that.

And think it’s bad to be with the LORD and with his people.


But Ruth was different from Orpah.

Orpah who left Naomi for her people and her gods.

Ruth clung on to Naomi.


Naomi knew that their people and their gods were attractive to Orpah and Ruth.

This was the life they had.

The air they breathed.

The religion that they grew up in.

This was what Orpah said Yes to.


Ruth 1:15 ESV
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.”

Look at v16.

How did Ruth reply?


Ruth 1:16–17 (ESV)
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.”

Ruth really loved Naomi.

But this love is greater than the love between a mother and daughter-in-law.

What makes this love greater is at the heart of what she said:

Your people will be my people

and your God my God.


Naomi was like the reverse evangelist.

She should have told Ruth to follow the true LORD.

Instead Naomi the reverse evangelist asked Ruth to go back to her people and gods in Moab.


But Ruth said, those are not her people and her god.

Naomi’s people is Ruth’s people.

Naomi’s God is Ruth’s people.


Ruth even calls upon the personal name of Naomi’s God.

May the LORD deal with me.

When you see capital LORD in English, it’s referring to this personal name for Israel to use.


It’s like how all of you call me Nic.

But only my children call me daddy.

So only the LORD’s people call him, capital LORD.


And when the LORD declared his name in Exodus 34, this is what he declared:


Exodus 34:6–7 ESV
6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Ruth believed in the LORD who forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin.

Who will even forgive and show compassion to an undeserving Moabite.


When Naomi says there’s no good for Moabite Ruth in Israel,

Ruth insists, there is good for Moab in Israel because the good LORD is there.


Where Naomi saw no future for Ruth

Where Naomi saw rife racism against Ruth

Ruth saw with eyes of faith that the LORD would protect her and care for her there, because He is good.


Ruth the Moabite had more faith in the LORD than Naomi the Israelite.


Is there good for Naomi in Israel?


Transition


What have we seen so far?


Is there good for Israel in Moab?

No.

Moab turns out to be the house of death for God’s people


Is there good for Moab in Israel?

Naomi said no,

But Ruth said yes.


Will the LORD let Ruth down?

Is there good for Ruth in Israel?


The rest of the book will answer this question for us.

Here we have a hint of what is to come.

Because Ruth united herself with Naomi, then Ruth’s and Naomi’s fates were intertwined and inseparable.


If we want to know whether there is good for Ruth in Israel, we should first ask,

Is there good for Naomi in Israel?


If there’s good for Naomi, then there’s good for Ruth too.


Ruth 1:19-22

Verse 19 shows the women entering Bethlehem.

Back in the house of bread.

The women all get excited to see a familiar face from years ago!


Ruth 1:19 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?”

Now Naomi’s name means, “pleasant”.

So imagine the women seeing Naomi and Ruth coming back.

Then they point to Naomi whom they haven’t seen in years.

And they say, “is that Pleasant?”


You can almost sense the double meaning in their happy words.

Isn’t it pleasant that Mdm Pleasant is back?


How does Mdm Pleasant feel?


Ruth 1:20–21 ESV
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?”

Mdm Pleasant brought a bitter taste to the sweet house of bread.

Mara means bitter.

She said,

Don’t call me Pleasant.

Call me Bitter.


She blamed the LORD for suffering and misery

In verse 21 she went away full with her husband and 2 sons, and now the LORD brought her back empty with them all dead.


For Naomi, there’s no good for her in Israel.

Only bitterness.

If the LORD brought her bitterness in Moab, perhaps he’ll bring her more bitterness and misery in Israel where he dwells.


This was her bitter message.

Her bitter and poisonous gospel.

Then each time the women see her and call her “Hi Mdm Bitter”

They would poisoned to think that the LORD is bad.

He brings bitterness.


Naomi’s bitter gospel could poison the whole community against the LORD.

But is she right?


She’s right to acknowledge that the LORD has authority over her suffering.

But her perspective is lacking.

And thank God that her bitter gospel is wrong.


Left empty

Naomi said in v21 that she went away full with her family.

But was that what happened?

No.

Her family left Bethlehem because they were empty.

Because they had no food.


Returned but not completely empty

Next, Naomi didn’t return completely empty without her family.

Remember who was with her?

Ruth!

Naomi didn’t know how valuable Ruth would be to her.

Such that in Ruth 4:15 Ruth is valued greatly.


Ruth 4:15 (ESV)
15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

Returned to be filled

Last, who brought her back from the house of death to the house of bread?

Naomi said, in v21 it’s the LORD

The LORD brought her from the house of death in Moab

to the house of bread, where there’s food.

And where there’s food, there’s life.


And the LORD brought her back to the right place, at the right time

In Ruth 1:22, they returned in the house of bread as the barley harvest was beginning.

So they could make bread.


The good LORD knew they were empty when they left Bethlehem.

The good LORD knew they were empty in Moab.

So the good LORD brought them back to fill them up.


Is there good for Naomi in Israel?

Yes there is.


But the LORD allowed Naomi’s husband and sons to die.

Why?

If Naomi’s husband and sons didn’t die, she would have sunk her roots in Moab.

Away from the LORD

Away from the LORD’s people.


Through the deaths of her husband and her sons, the LORD brought her back to Him, and to His people.


The right reaction is to return from bitterness to the LORD.

To repent.

The word that comes up 12 times in Ruth 1 is “Repent or Return”.


Naomi must turn from her bitterness against the LORD

And trust the LORD to provide for her

To love the LORD


There’s no good apart from the LORD

There is no good apart from the LORD.

So there’s no good for Israel in Moab away from the LORD.

And there’s good for Moab in Israel with the LORD.

And there’s even good for Naomi in Israel with the LORD.


Because the LORD is good.

Because the LORD is compassionate and gracious

who forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin.


Even the sin of turning away from the LORD.


There’s no good apart from Jesus

For Naomi and Ruth there’s no good apart from the LORD.


What about for us?

For us, there’s no good apart from our Lord Jesus.

In John 6, the Lord Jesus miraculously multiplied bread for the 5,000 men.


So they said


John 6:34 ESV
34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

They wanted to make Jesus their king, so they could have free flow bread forever.

To be more than the house of bread

To be the kingdom of bread

Where all their worldly needs and wants are met.


But in v51 Jesus said


John 6:51 ESV
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Jesus is the bread of eternal life.

Jesus gives eternal life.

So they might live with God forever in closest relationship.


Jesus wanted to give them this bread of eternal life.

Not the physical bread of temporary life.


But in John 6:66


John 6:66 ESV
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

Most of these 5,000 left Jesus because they thought that Jesus was only good if he met their present needs.

If they had security now.

If they had life now.


Because he doesn’t give the bread they want, Jesus is bad.


Then Jesus turns to his disciples.


John 6:67–69 ESV
67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Only Jesus has the words that give eternal life.

If you want eternal life, believe what the Lord Jesus says!

There’s no good apart from him.


Is the grass greener on the other side?

This is hard for us.

The grass of the world can look greener than the grass of eternity.

Maybe you feel that that the Lord has let you down.

Perhaps your relationship ended in tears

Perhaps the pregnancy ended in frustration

Perhaps marriage and parenthood are worse trials that you expected

Perhaps your life is full of pain


We should grieve for our loss and pain.

And we should lament to God about our pain.


When we suffer, beware of Naomi’s bitterness

Bitterness that poisons with us lies that the Lord is bad.


Sometimes the Lord allows pain to bring us to an end of ourselves.

To show us that we cannot save ourselves.

To stop trusting in ourselves like Naomi.

So that we may trust in someone greater.

So that we may trust in Jesus.


Don’t let bad experiences lead you down the bitter road

To think Jesus is bad.

Instead trust that Jesus is good despite our bad experiences.


The eternal life that Jesus offers far outweighs the pain we feel in this life.

Trust that Jesus has an eternal good purpose in your pain that you cannot see now.

But all will be revealed in eternity.


Repent

That’s why we should repent.

There’s wrong repenting, like Naomi asking the women to turn away from the LORD.

But there’s right repenting, like when Naomi and Ruth return to the house of bread where the LORD is.


What does right repenting look like?

There’s a turning away and a turning towards.


Turn away from the house of death apart from Jesus

Turn away from the bitterness that Jesus is bad


And turn towards our good Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And turn towards him to love him and trust him for all our lives now and in future.


The moon is always round

In this children’s book, Jonathan taught his son Ben this catechism.


Q2. What shape is the moon always?

A2. The moon is always round


Q3. What does it mean that the moon is always round?

Q3. God is always good.


Sometimes the moon looks like a banana

Sometimes an orange

Sometimes you can’t see it

But the moon is always round.


But one day, the doctor came with news that Ben’s mother had complications with her pregnancy.

Ben’s unborn sister didn’t make it.


At the funeral, in front of everyone, Jonathan asked his son,

Q2. What shape is the moon always?

A2. The moon is always round


Q3. What does it mean that the moon is always round?

Ben said,

God is always good.


They grieved.

They didn’t know why God allowed this pain.

But they knew that God is always good.


No matter what pain you are going through,

Remember the moon is always round.

What does that mean?

God is always ... good.

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