The Unexpected Kindness of God
Ruth 1 – The Unexpected Kindness of God (Ruth) – July 31, 2022
Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” (1).
- In Pride and Prejudice the main storyline is about “a single man” named Mr. Darcy who is “in possession of a good fortune.”
- He’s “in want of a wife,” and Elizabeth Bennett catches his eye.
- But the story is built on perceptions and misperceptions. Darcy and Elizabeth are drawn to each other in one way, but in another are blind to the good qualities in the other.
- They don’t see in the other a worthy match for themselves. And that’s what defines the story.
- In the end, circumstances help them get over their “pride and prejudice” to see the excellence in the other. Darcy is revealed to Elizabeth as a worthy and excellent man.
- In this story like all Jane Austen works, the boy gets the girl, but it’s how the boy gets the girl and the insights into human nature along the way, that make it the timeless novel that it is.
Our subject is the Old Testament Book of Ruth:
- It’s also a story where the boy gets the girl. But it’s how the boy gets the girl and the spiritual insights along the way, that make it the powerful narrative that it is.
- In the Old Testament, Ruth appears 8th. Very near the front. First 5 books are the book of Moses. They get us from the 6 days of Creation to Israel the nation being just across the Jordan River from Canaan the Promised land.
- Then Joshua (land conquered). Then Judges (land occupied but not well). Then Ruth.
- How to read it? Read it with the first sentence (1:1) and the last sentence (4:18-22) in mind.
- First sentence helps us see: Model of kindness, Hebrew hesed—God to us and us toward others. In the midst of the time of judges when no one seemed to living a life of kindness (hesed), here in Ruth we see some people were.
- Last sentence helps us see: Defense of David—Where does David come from? Perhaps it was an apology (defense) of his ancestry. Yes, he had “Ruth the Moabitess” in his ancestry, but she is a heroine and no villain. She vastly outshines her Jewish contemporaries in her faith and covenant faithfulness. She lives during the time of the judges, one of the most immoral and disastrous eras of Israel’s past. She proves to be a great exception to the norm in that era.
Sermon series: The Unexpected Kindness of God.
- Four sermons that will highlight unexpected kindnesses.
- Unexpected kindnesses between people.
- But especially the overarching unexpected kindness of God toward his people.
- One chapter per sermon. In Ruth the chapter breaks serve us. Not always true.
Sermon: (1) Disciplined by God’s Kindness (1:1–5); (2) Converted to God’s Kindness (1:6–18); (3) Trusting in God’s (Future) Kindness (1:19–22)
Prayer—Acts29 and Francisco, Misi and Agua Viva, pastors training.
I. Disciplined by God’s Kindness (1:1–5)
Verse 1 is not a good look for the people of God.
- “In the days when the judges ruled” – sets the dating of events as being between the time of Moses and Joshua and then the monarchy. Sinclair Ferguson says approx. 1250–1050 BC (Faithful God, 26).
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)
- “famine in the land” – One of the curses from Leviticus 26:
“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments….I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit…. When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied". (Lev 26:14, 19–20, 26)
- “A man of Bethlehem” goes to Moab. Say what?
- About a 75-mile journey from Bethlehem (just about the church building to the John Paul Taylors). A few miles north to Jerusalem. Cut east across the northern shore of the Dead Sea. And then south to Moab.
- One of the daughters of Lot gave birth to Moab who became the father of the Moabites (Gen 19:37).
- Non-Israelite nation, worshippers of the god Chemosh.
- Forbidden from entering the assembly of the LORD (Deut 23:3), because they didn’t help Israel during the Exodus and even hired Balaam to curse Israel (which backfired).
By the time these events happen, Bethlehem a small but worthy village.
- Place where Rachel was buried (Gen 35:19).
- Name Bethlehem means “house of bread.”
- Name Elimelech is something like, “My God is king.”
- So, the guy whose name means “My God is king” from the village called “house of bread” is going to Moab because of a famine in the land.
- A sign that things morally and spiritually are falling apart.
Then the spiritual tragedy is joined to personal tragedy.
- In Moab, Naomi the wife of Elimelech has her husband and two sons.
- Then her husband dies, and she’s left a widow.
- But she has two sons.
- But they both marry Moabite women and then die.
- Naomi’s financial and social situation suddenly changed—possibly forever.
- She would likely have to depend on the generosity of others.
- Being a widow wasn’t shameful at this time, but it did mean your financial life was greatly impacted.
- And the practicals of life suddenly got much, much harder.
By the time you get to the end of verse 5, Naomi is in a bleak situation—spiritually and personally.
What is the lesson of these early verses?
- The “famine” (1:1) has a couple lessons for us.
- The first is that God’s Word is true (Lev 26; Deut 28).
- But we need to remember it’s a blessing, it’s an act of God’s kindness.
- God’s kindness is why he motivates us, not his hatred of us:
“Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Heb 12:5b–6)
The famine was God’s discipline but it was being disciplined by God’s kindness.
II. Converted to God’s Kindness (1:6–18)
Read Ruth 1:6–14.
Verse 6 – A sign that things were about to change. She heard good news. God was providing for his people and giving them food.
She decided to “return” (v. 6).
- Repetition of this Hebrew verb,
- Common verb for repentance, for “turning back” to the LORD.
- It’s used so often in 1:6–22—12 times in 17 verses!!—the author must be telling us something.
- The repetition of “returning” is a device to show this family was “returning” to their spiritual home (the LORD) and not just “returning” to their physical home (Bethlehem).
- The narrative will prove this to be true.
Then Naomi prays a blessing over her two daughters-in-law. It’s often in the dialogue, the speech, of the Book of Ruth that the spiritual message is communicated.
Naomi says (Ruth 1:8–9): “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.
Verse 8 more literally: “May the LORD do with you hesed, as you did with the dead and with me.”
- Naomi is aware of the ways these women expressed hesed to her sons.
- She prays a blessing that YHWH, the LORD, would do hesed with them.
- Hesed is a powerful term in the OT.
- ESV most often = “steadfast love.” Also, “kindness.” Some older translations = “lovingkindness.”
- Here you can see it’s both between people (daughters-in-law to their husbands) and from God to us.
Daniel Block’s definition of hesed:
[Here] we are introduced to the key theological term in the book and one of Yahweh’s most treasured characteristics: hesed. Hesed is one of those Hebrew words whose meaning cannot be captured in one English word. This is a strong relational term that wraps up in itself an entire cluster of concepts, all the positive attributes of God—love, mercy, grace, kindness, goodness, benevolence, loyalty, covenant faithfulness; in short, that quality that moves a person to act for the benefit of another without respect to the advantage it might bring to the one who expresses it.
Because hesed is always a gracious and undeserving act, there’s something unexpected about it. It’s not just duty. It’s more. It’s sacrificially blessing someone else.
Daniel Block, Judges, Ruth, NAC
The fact Naomi would pray such a blessing over them is itself an unexpected kindness. But she’s praying they would receive unexpected kindnesses from God himself.
Naomi prevails over Orpah. But not Ruth. Ruth won’t let Naomi go: “Ruth clung to her” (Ruth 1:14).
Naomi tries one more time (Ruth 1:15).
But then Ruth speaks one of the great professions of conversion in the Bible.
- This pagan woman from Moab expresses here what it means to convert.
- To become a member of the covenant people of God.
- It’s a word of total commitment—even till death.
Read Ruth 1:16–17.
- Right in the middle there is the most critical statement: “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (v. 16).
- She even uses God’s covenant name in v. 17, “May YHWH do so to me and more also if anything but death separates me from you.”
- If we didn’t have the rest of the book, we might assume this was more symbolic than honest.
- But the rest of the book is proof she meant it.
- She would identify in every way possible with God’s people back in Bethlehem.
Taken together, this section is a powerful picture of CONVERSION:
- It involves Hesed: The life of faith is a commitment to walk the walk of hesed. It’s receiving God’s kindness and cultivating a lifestyle of expressing that kindness to others.
- It involves repentance: “Turning” back to the Lord—like Naomi back to Bethlehem. Stop searching for bread and blessings in places where the Lord doesn’t want you to be. Related to that…
- It involves a new allegiance: A full embrace of God as your God and his people as your people – Leaving behind all other false gods. It’s a new and total allegiance to God and his people.
III. Trusting in God’s (Future) Kindness (1:19–22)
Read Ruth 1:19. In this last section the pilgrims have a homecoming.
Here Naomi gives her interpretation of what’s happened to her.
- She has clearly suffered profound loss.
- And she sees the LORD’s hand behind all of it.
- Her words are profoundly dark.
- Already in Ruth 1:13 she had indicated her life was “bitter” and “the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.”
- Now she adds to that idea.
In three statements she reveals her interpretation of her life—Ruth 1:20–21.
- 1st statement: “Naomi” means “pleasant” (see Song of Solomon 7:6)…. “Mara” means “bitter” (see Job 3:20).
- 2nd: She was “full,” but now she thinks “empty.”
- 3rd statement: To her, “the LORD has testified against” her. God is against her as much as a prosecuting attorney would be.
- And even more, he has “brought calamity upon” her.
They are strong statements. Also deeply theological statements.
- She believes in God as YHWH, the God who revealed himself to Abraham and Moses in the past.
- She believes he is “the Almighty” (El Shaddai).
But, she is questioning is his goodness.
- She is questioning his intentions.
- She doesn’t doubt his POWER, but she is doubting his GOODNESS.
Two things to say about Naomi’s words.
- First, we absolutely sympathize with her.
- She’s experienced a hard providence.
- God’s plan for her is not an easy one, one with both grief and hardship.
- We’re sympathetic to her despair when she looks at her future.
But second, she isn’t seeing through eyes of faith.
- She’s not seeing everything—only part of the picture.
- She’s right that God is involved with all that’s happened to her.
- She’s missed the famine was part of God’s discipline for unfaithfulness.
- Missed that going to Moab was itself not a right path to take.
- And she asks for a different name, feels like she expects her future to be like her past—“bitter.”
- In the end, it’s her past that’s defining her—not her faith.
A key part of faith is what John Piper has called “faith in future grace.” He writes:
Faith has a profound and pervasive future orientation. To be sure, faith can look back and believe a truth about the past (like the truth that Christ died for our sins). It can look out and trust a person (like the personal receiving of Jesus Christ). And it can look forward and be assured about a promise (like, “I will be with you to the end of the age”)…. Jesus says in John 6:35, “Whoever comes to me [present] shall not hunger [future], and whoever believes in me [present] shall never thirst [future].” Thus when faith looks out and embraces Christ in the present, it also embraces his neverending all-sufficiency. This is why I say that faith is profoundly and pervasively futureoriented. There is no saving act of faith—whether looking back to history, out to a person, or forward to a promise—that does not include a future orientation.
John Piper, Future Grace
Naomi needs more of that “future orientation.” Ruth had that.
- Naomi’s bitterness and emptiness are a backward-looking perspective. She needs a more complete faith to see ahead.
- Because God is always doing far more than we can see, far more than we know, far more than we might even believe.
- He’s at work in our lives in a hundred invisible ways. Some of his purposes will take hours to develop, but others will take decades. He’s always doing something far bigger, far more lasting, far more important than we can see.
Even in this chapter there’s a hint, a foreshadow: “And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest” (1:22).
Naomi couldn’t see
- Her daughter-in-law would find a husband—who would also provide for Naomi.
- Be a kinsman-redeemer and preserve Naomi’s husband’s family name.
- Couldn’t see her daughter-in-law would give birth to the grandfather of Israel’s greatest king.
- Couldn’t see that her daughter-in-law would become one of the women of renown in the history of the world.
She thought “bitter” and “empty” was what defined her:
- If God was going to rename her, maybe “perfect opportunity for future grace.”
APPLICATION: Don’t let your past define you. Look ahead to God’s future grace.
That’s Ruth 1: Disciplined by God’s Kindness, Converted to God’s Kindness, Trusting in God’s (Future) Kindness
Application: Read the Book of Ruth. A few times. To catch the meaning.
Don’t want to miss: All of this points us ahead to Jesus Christ also.
- He is God’s greater hesed who brings the greater redemption.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4–7)
We are recipients of “rich in mercy” (v4) and “made alive”(v5)! Displays of “grace in kindness” (v7)—All because of Christ, God’s greater hesed.
So trust his future grace. Charles Spurgeon:
The Lord may not give gold, but He will give grace: He may not give gain, but He will give grace. He will certainly send us trial, but He will give grace in proportion thereto. We may be called to labor and to suffer, but with the call there will come all the grace required.
Charles Spurgeon, Chequebook of the Bank of Faith
 See Sinclair Ferguson, Faithful God, 24–26.
 Daniel Block, Judges, Ruth, NAC, 605.
 John Piper, Future Grace (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2012), 5.