June 12th, 1960 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-12-60 8:15 a.m.
Now, let us turn to the Book of Ruth. You who listen on the radio are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the early morning message. The last two times, we have looked at the Book of Ruth as a whole. The pastor has prepared, and is preparing, three sermons on different parts of the story. The first one this morning concerns the returning home of God’s real born-again children. The story next Sunday morning will concern the grace and the providence of God, and the sermon the next Sunday morning will be on our Kinsman Redeemer.
Now, the message this morning is on Facing Homeward, turning home. It is a sermon concerning God’s children, who, though they may turn aside – they may go into a far country – but if they are really born again, if they really belong to God, they will always come back.
You could almost follow the story and the truth God reveals in the Book of Ruth by the very names of these people concerning whom the story is told. The story begins:
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 Bethlehem-judah 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 Bethlehem-judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
Now, Bethlehem means the "house of bread." Ephratah means the "field of fruitfulness." Elimelech means "God is King." Naomi means "sweetness" or "pleasantness." There you have God’s people in God’s country, and even their names portray the favor and blessing of God upon them.
Now, their two sons: Mahlon – Mahlon means "invalid." Mahlah is the name of two women in the Scriptures, and mahlah means "sickness." There are two men in the Bible named Mahli, and Mahli or Mahli means a "sick and weak one," so Mahlon: "invalid, sick one." Now, Chilion – Chilion means "pining or wasting away." So, in the names of those two sons, you have a portrayal of the disaster that had overwhelmed the family.
While we’re talking about names, let us speak of the other of these names. Ruth means "satisfied." And Boaz – if there is a mason here, he immediately listens to that name. The two columns, the two pillars of the testimony and witness that were erected in front of Solomon’s temple – they held up no supports, they supported no beam. They were there for beauty and for witness. They were named Jachin, and the other one was named Boaz. The first one, the one on the left as you looked at the temple: Jachin. That means "God has established it," made on the foundation of the Almighty of heaven. And then the one on the right as you face the temple: Boaz. That name means that "in it is strength"; portrays the strength and might of the Lord. And that’s the name of this man here. There are two or three men in the Scriptures named Jachin and there are men in the Scriptures named Boaz. They have great significance.
So returning to the names in this family: God’s people, in God’s country, in God’s place, where God ought to be served and loved and worshiped; these beautiful names – Bethlehem, Ephratah, Elimelech, Naomi – all of them reflect the favor and the blessing of God upon His people in their place, when they are where they ought to be.
Now, it begins with saying that there was a famine in the land. That famine occurred at the first of the Book of Judges. I know that because at the end of the Book of Ruth – at the end of the Book of Ruth, in giving the genealogy of the family, it says: "Nahshon begat Salmon, and Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed [begat] Obed, Jesse, and Jesse [begat] David" [Ruth 4:22]. Now, Nahshon is named as the prince of Judah in Numbers 1:7, in the wilderness, and Nahshon is the grandfather of Boaz, so this story happened right toward the first of the time of the Book of Judges.
It might be interesting following that genealogy here. Nahshon begat Salmon, and Salmon married Rahab, the innkeeper who hid the spies. And the mother of Boaz was that Rahab, who hid the spies when the people came into the land of Canaan [Joshua 2:1-4].
Now, in the living of the family in Bethlehem, in the favor of God and in the place of the Lord, while they were there, there was a famine that came upon the land. A famine in the Bible is always a judgment of God upon His people. In the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, for example, it is there described what God would do if the people depart from the faith. God says: "I will make the heavens above you brass, and I will make the earth beneath your feet iron, and the dust of the ground will I turn into fine powder" [Deuteronomy 28:23-24].
Do you remember what Elisha said in warning to the widow to prepare? Elisha said "for God hath called for a famine" [2 Kings 8:1].
Now, when the judgment of God falls upon His people, it is in order that they return to the Lord: "Let’s call an all-night prayer meeting, and let’s stay and pray all day the next day. Let’s fall on our faces. Let’s come nigh. Let’s draw back. Let’s come to God." All of these things are used of God to discipline His people. However, this family, like the other families, apparently, in Judah, did not turn to the Lord, did not repent, did not come back, did not draw nigh.
And the famine waxed sore in the land. So Elimelech did what God’s people should never do: Elimelech turned aside from God’s place and God’s purpose and God’s house for him, and Elimelech sought to solve his problem in his own way. He’ll go out there in the world and do it; he’ll leave God’s place and God’s house and God’s home. And he chose to sojourn in another land, in a place where God’s man ought never to be, associating with people that God said they were not to associate with, living in a place that God’s people ought not to live in. So Elimelech takes his family out of the chosen place of God, and he lives in another country, in another land, "in a far country" as it says in the parable you read concerning the prodigal son; "And he went into a far country" [Luke 15:13]. He went away.
Now Elimelech thought that, living out there in the world, he would solve his problems. "I’m going to settle all of these things. I’ve got problems with my children; I’ll settle with them by compromising out there in the world. I’ve got problems with my own tasks and assignment; I will settle them by compromising out there in the world. I will just go away." So Elimelech went away, but instead of solving his problem, he lost everything. He lost his own life. Elimelech died. And he lost his family. It says here: "And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left." Then, when you turn the page: "and Mahlon and Chilion died also, both of them, and the woman was left" [Ruth 1:3-5]. It repeats it again.
Whenever you think you’re going to solve your problem by compromise and by living out there in the world, you are going to find sorrow and misery and death. You are, if you belong to God. So the story – the story follows into Moab with tears and funerals and open graves, and finally the very end and the death of the family. Had it not been for the story that you know that’s going to follow – the redemption of Boaz – the family would have died forever. And the name would have been blotted out from the face of the earth and under heaven, had it not been for the grace of God that we shall follow in these sermons afterward.
So Naomi is over there in a strange country with strange people, and in a foreign land, in a far country, and Naomi bereft of her husband and bereft of her two sons, there with two Moabitess daughters-in-law. Then, word came to Naomi, God’s child, word came to Naomi how God was blessing His people.
They are having a great revival in that First Baptist Church. God’s blessings are upon His people in that church, and Naomi hears a song sung, and it brings back the day when she gave her heart to God, for that was the song of invitation when she was saved. And Naomi passes by the church, and there’s that old familiar spire, and the red brick walls, and the old stained glass windows, and the steps up which she used to go to worship the Lord. And in that far country and in that strange land, God’s child out of God’s place, she hears of the blessing of God upon His people, and her heart said: "I will go back. I will return" [Ruth 1:6].
God’s people will always do that. It’s their nature. Like John says, "The seed of the Spirit remains within them and it cannot die, for it is born, it is quickened, it is made alive of God" 1 John 3:9]. If you are a born-again Christian, you can’t drown that! You cannot slay that! You cannot kill that! Nor is there a country so far away that you can flee from it. That life remains in the soul of the Christian. Thinking about a Christian mother, thinking about a Christian father, thinking about the church, thinking about the days when you were converted, thinking about the times you wept in the presence of the Lord, thinking about days of great spiritual commitment and meaning – in the nighttime, those things come upon you. You dream about them. They come into your heart when you meditate, when you’re quiet, when you walk by the way. You can’t ever escape them, not if you’ve ever been born again and if you’re a child of God. It’s the nature of the Christian.
I want to illustrate that to you. Do you remember, in the eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis, Noah sent forth two birds? One was a black crow and the other was a dove. And the dove came back to Noah because, the Book says, "The dove found no rest for the sole of her foot" [Genesis 8:9]. But the crow didn’t come back. Why didn’t that crow come back? Because the crow found rest, and the crow found food on the putrid carcasses that were floating on the face of the deep. But the dove found no food, and the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she came back to Noah and to the ark. It’s the nature of the dove. The food for the dove is not of the world.
You know, I can’t explain these things like you feel them, but every once in a while, a little old inadvertence will happen that will reveal yourself to yourself. Some time ago, we were driving up the West Coast on a vacation and were following the river road through Oregon. That’s one of the most beautiful mountain rivers in this earth, and those great towering mountains on either side covered with glorious fir and spruce and pine, and that cold, clear river with the salmon jumping out of it and splashing in the glory of the sunlight. We had a cabin by the side of the river. Oh, it was like God. It was like heaven. It was like the workmanship of the Almighty. The next morning, after we had rented our cabin and had spent the night by the side of that beautiful stream, having a little baby, a little girl with us, I sought a place to find a bottle of milk. And the only place I could find on a Sunday morning anywhere was a joint down the road, so I went down there and went inside. To my surprise, the thing was half-filled. I went up to the barkeeper – it was a slop joint, a beer joint, and I asked for a bottle of milk. It took me some little while to make my request known and a little while to wait until I could get it.
I cannot describe how that thing stank. The stink of that – all night long filled with however that stuff smells and filled with smoke and filled with all the rest that goes with it – the stink of it, the stench of it, the smell of it, the atmosphere of it, the whole depraved looks of it, and that Sunday morning it was about half-filled with people – an amazing thing to me, drinking and carrying on and all of those cheap shoddy ways.
Finally, I got my bottle of milk and walked outside, and it was that contrast that made it anew and afresh, a message to my soul. I breathed that pure mountain air. I looked up at God’s clear, beautiful sky. I looked around at those great towering mountains and listened to the rippling of that glorious river, and I thought, can you imagine the depravity of the human soul that had rather be inside, in that joint, in that stench, in that filth, rather than outside looking up into God’s glorious heaven, in those great surrounding mountains with their towering trees?
Like the psalmist said: "I will look unto the hills, from whence cometh my strength. My strength cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" [Psalm 121:1-2]. It’s the difference in the nature of the man.
That was the way with the prodigal son: he went away from home, lived riotously. In fact, he was just about as depraved in his life as anyone could ever suspect, and I suppose many a man that saw him said, "Can you believe that man? That boy is a child of that father that I knew." A lot of times when you look at people that are supposed to be saved and supposed to be Christians, you say: "I don’t believe they’ve ever been saved. I don’t believe they’ve ever really been born again." But if they have been, down there in that heart are feelings that you don’t know. There’s no happiness to a Christian out there in the world. He’s miserable – no joy to him, no gladness to his soul.
He’s like Lot, who vexed his soul with the filthy conversation of Sodom [2 Peter 2:7], down there in Sodom for business reasons, down there with his family. But he never, he never was happy; he never was glad. Many a many Christian politician has been elected and gone to Washington and has been miserable there. Many and many a fine Christian man has got in a corporation, and in the business world, and he’s unhappy there. All around him, they like it, and they carry on, and they drink, and they carouse, and they affect the atmosphere, but many a many Christian man has been in an environment like that and in place like that, and he’s miserable. He may be making a thousand dollars a minute, but he’s miserable. He may have his name emblazoned on the headlines of all the newspapers of the country, but he’s not happy in it. You see, when God’s people belong to the Lord really, and are born again, and are honest-to-goodness Christians, the diet of the world doesn’t fit; it doesn’t satisfy. They are to be fed with manna from heaven. They eat like the dove, and the putrid carcasses that float on the face of the scum and jetsam of this world is nauseating to the Christian, however he may force himself to indulge!
So Naomi, in this foreign land, in this far country, hears of the blessings of God upon the Lord’s people, and it moves her heart, and she resolves to go back, to go back, to come back. And there you see her, a representative of the household of faith. There you see her, turning her face homeward. Then you have the story – and I haven’t just a moment to refer to it – then you have the story of two Moabitess girls, one of them named Orpah. Orpah weeps, moves her heart – just like I’ve seen many, many a man and woman and child seated in the services at the church, and they are moved by the Holy Spirit of God, deeply moved, will even weep, but say, "No," and go away; and they are never converted, never saved.
Orpah turns back. Whatever became of Orpah, we do not know. Her heart was in Moab. She never had given up her idols, Chemosh, the Moabites’ god; and the world was still in her heart. Orpah turned back to the world where her heart was. It’s hard to take a Moabitess heart into Canaan. It’s hard to take a worldly, unconverted heart into the household of faith. If you’re out there in your love and in your interest and in your devotions, it’s hard to make yourself love God and serve the Lord and be faithful in the congregation of the Savior. Orpah is like Demas: he left "having loved this present world" [2 Timothy 4:10]. Orpah is like Lot’s wife who looked back [Genesis 19:26]. Her heart was there. Her interest was there. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and went back [Ruth 1:14]. Back to what? You never know; just lost, just lost.
But the Book says the other Moabitess girl clave unto her, and in the eighteenth verse it says "she was steadfastly minded to go with her." Then, you have those great commitments, and if I had a long time I’d preach a little while this morning on the great life decision.
And Ruth said – and look at her "I wills": I will. I will. And Ruth said: "Whither thou goest, I will go; where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God" [Ruth 1:16]. That girl was really converted, forsaking all of Moab and the world and everything it possessed and giving herself to the people of the Lord and to the God of the Lord’s people, to Jehovah. And she did it forever: "And where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried" [Ruth 1:17]. Burn every bridge. Cut every cable. Loosen every tie – a lifetime commitment.
"Pastor, down this aisle do I come, not for just a day to serve Jesus, and not for just a month or a year to give my life to Him, but down that aisle I do come forever and forever and forever; in youth and in manhood or womanhood, in old age and in death, and forever, to love the Lord, to live for Christ, to die in the faith." That was the commitment of Ruth. She had no idea of the compensations that were to follow, just like we have no idea, the Book says, of what God hath in store for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9], but it’s always good and it’s always great and it’s always blessed when somebody you decides for God.
Would somebody you make that decision this morning? In this balcony, down one of these stairways, or on this lower floor into the aisle and down to the front, "Here I come, pastor, and here I am. Today I give my heart and life to follow the Lord, and here I am, and here I come." Or, "Here’s my family. We’re all coming into the fellowship of the church." As the Lord shall say the word and open the door and lead the way, would you come, while we stand while we sing?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Names in Ruth
Ephratah, Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon, Chilion
– in it is strength
Time Ruth written
in the land
in the early part of Judges
famine in the promised land is a judgment of God
to Moab during the famine
to the land after the famine
refuses to leave Naomi and returns with Naomi