The Romance of Ruth
September 25th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
THE ROMANCE OF RUTH, THE WORLD’S SWEETEST LOVE STORY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-25-83 8:15 a.m.
And no less are we grateful to God for the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio. You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Romance of Ruth, The World’s Sweetest Love Story. In these last two months, I have been preaching on "The Bible’s Amazing Women," and the services have been in the evening at 7:00 o’clock. But I ran out of evenings, so that is why the message on Ruth is delivered at this morning hour. Next evening, as you know, we begin our fortieth anniversary revival; and Dr. Jerry Vines – truly one of the greatest preachers of our time – is to be our first evangelistic emissary. And each night thereafter, each Sunday night thereafter for nine Sunday nights we will be in our fortieth anniversary revival.
Now, if you would like, turn to the Book of Ruth because you can easily follow the message as it is delivered this morning. Everyone is interested in a love story. It has universal, worldwide appeal. The gifted poet Goethe said that the greatest love story in human speech is this one, the little Book of Ruth in the Old Testament. As I look at it and as I read it, I am amazed and I am astonished at it for three reasons.
Reason number one; it is not a love story as the world usually thinks of it. In the Bible and in secular literature, world without end will you read love stories about a man and a maid, or about a mother and a child, or about a brother and a sister, or about a David and a Jonathan, or about the love of God for His people, but this is no love story like that at all. This is a love story of a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law. And that word "mother-in-law," "daughter-in-law" is used fourteen times in this little book. Not only that but the quality, the deep meaning of that affection is expressed in the most marvelous confession to be read in human literature. There is nothing like it elsewhere in the Bible, and there’s nothing like it elsewhere in secular literature. The confession of this daughter-in-law for her mother-in-law is untaught and unteachable eloquence. It arises out of the outpouring of the deepest soul. Do you remember it?
Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
And where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried: God do so, and more also, unto me, if aught but death separate between me and thee.
There is nothing comparable to that in human speech; the love of a daughter-in-law for a mother-in-law. The world is filled with snide stories and lampoons about mother-in-law: she is an object of obloquy from the beginning of history. But this is a story of the love of a daughter-in-law for a mother-in-law. That’s the first amazing thing to me about this story of Ruth.
A second amazing thing to me is [that] it flies into the very face of the Mosaic law and the Mosaic legislation. I can’t believe what I read here when I look at the Book of Ruth. Isn’t this plain as I read it to you? Deuteronomy 23:3, "An Ammonite or a 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." Now may I read an implementation of that Mosaic law? Nehemiah, last chapter, 13, first verse:
On that day they read in the Book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that an Ammonite or a Moabite shall not come into the congregation of God for ever,And in those days I saw that they had married wives of Moab. And I contended with them, and reviled them, and smote them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.
[Nehemiah 13:1, 23, 25]
Isn’t that plain? There’s nobody here that doesn’t understand that. "Forever," God said in the Mosaic legislation, "you are not to receive into the congregation of the Lord a Moabite or an Ammonite." Those two sons, Ammon and Moab, were the incestuous results of the cohabitation of Lot with his two daughters. Now, the amazing thing to me: this is a love story about a Moabite, an alien, a stranger, a foreigner, a Gentile; and not only a Gentile, but one cursed of God throughout their generations. Can you believe that?
A third thing that amazes me about this story of Ruth: it’s tucked in between the violence of war and bloodshed and confrontation. On one side of it is the recorded history of the wars in Joshua and in the Judges, and on the other side of it you find the Chronicles of the wars of Judah and of Israel and the rise and the fall of the nations of the ancient world. And tucked into the middle of it, right in the middle between, you find this quiet, lovely, idyllic story of house and home and heart.
It naturally raises the question: why should such a book as Ruth be in the Bible? Why? Well, the answer to that, as I read it and study it, is twofold. Number one: the Book of Ruth is a revelation to us that the great Lord omnipotent God of heaven is not only the Lord of the impenetrable infinitude above us, but He is also the Lord God of the sweetest, dearest, humblest, little things all around us, the experiences of our daily lives. There are many, many people who can follow the Book of Ruth who cannot follow the prophecies of Ezekiel, just as there are many people who can follow the story of the prodigal son who could never enter into the mysteries of the Apocalypse. He is not only the God way up there, but He is also the God down here, right there.
A second reason why the Book of Ruth: we’ll never understand God; we’ll never know the Lord until we come into an evaluation of human experience and human life such as God evaluates it. It’s like this: the historian records the crowning of a great king; the Lord records the falling of a little sparrow. The historian follows the marching of armies, but the Lord notes the tears of a poor peasant woman like Naomi.
Why should there be so many obscure people in the world? Why should there be so many poor and unknown? Why should children be accounted of? Why should people have a place in history beside the great soldiers and the patriots and the conquerors of the world? Why should there be in the Bible any such thing as a Book of Ruth? Because God accounts the humble things, the little things, the quiet things in this earth, as we account the great and stupendous things in this earth. And we’ll never understand God as long as we define the meaning of history in the terms of the spectacular and the dazzling and the earth-shattering. There is also room in life for the quiet, and the dear, and the sweet, and the precious, and the humble.
Look: it could be, it just might be that in the sight of God, the birth of a little babe in a stable means more than the birth of Prince Archelaus in the palace of Herod. It just might be that the fortunes of that sweet Jewish couple Aquila and Priscilla meant more to God in their tent making than all of the historical events around the emperor Caesar Claudius who drove them out of Rome. It just might be that in God’s sight the despised and hated and outcast Christian Paul in the Mamertine dungeon means more to God than Nero who beheaded him. It just might be that in God’s sight that final letter that Paul wrote called 2 Timothy means more to God than all of the philosophical platitudes of his contemporary Seneca. It just might be that a Mary or a Dorcas means more to God than a Herodias or Salome. It just might be. And I’m saying that we’ll never understand God as long as we evaluate the worth of human life in terms of these great stupendous catastrophic events, for He is also the God of the humble and the quiet and the idyllic. That’s our great God, and that’s why I’m saying that the Book of Ruth is in the Bible.
Now let’s look at it closely. It opens – the opening of the book is immeasurably, indescribably sad – It opens in Judea, in Bethlehem, and it opens with a man, Elimelech – El is God, melech is king, God is King, that’s a beautiful name, Elimelech – and his wife is Naomi, which means "sweetness, pleasantness," and they have two boys, Mahlon and Chilion. And in the land of Bethlehem, in Judea, Ephratah, there is famine and drought. The pastures are scorched, and the fields are parched. The sheep are dying for lack of water, and the cattle are dying at the waterhole. The sky is brass, and the earth is iron. That’s the beginning of the story. And as it continues, it becomes more sad, like a cloudy day that dissolves in a rain of tears. Elimelech, in taking his family to Moab to escape the terrible famine and drought, finds not a home, but a grave. And by the side of Elimelech, Naomi buries her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion [Ruth 1:2-5]. That is the beginning of the story.
And as it continues, it is filled with tears, sadness, sorrow, separation. In the first [chapter], in verse 8, "Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, Go back home, return; and may God deal kindly with you, as He has dealt with the dead." I can just see her heart and her throat filled with uncontrollable sorrow as she mentions the dead. "The Lord deal kindly with you, as [ye have] dealt with the dead, and with me. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept." That is death, separation, the sundering, the final goodbye.
Now, the two daughters-in-law, "Orpah," verse 14, "kissed her mother, and returned back to Moab." We don’t censor her; she cried, she wept at the separation. After all, it seemed the reasonable thing to do; even Naomi, the sweet mother-in-law, said so: "You go back to your home in Moab," and Orpah turned and went back to her god Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, and to her home in Moab. It is very difficult to enter the land of Canaan with a heart in Moab. Her heart was there, not yonder. So she kissed her mother-in-law and returned back to Moab. But the fourteenth verse says, "But Ruth clave unto her" and avowed that beautiful, incomparably precious confession of love.
There is something about love that never turns away, never. Intellect turns away. Worldliness turns away: "Demas, Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world" [2 Timothy 4:10]: worldliness turns away. Respectability turns away. But love never turns away. The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is one of the dearest, sweetest chapters in the Bible. "Love never faileth, never; whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away, But there abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love" [1 Corinthians 13:8, 13]. Love never turns away from our Jehovah Christ, never.
So she comes down to the Jordan River with her mother-in-law Naomi. The Jordan River divides Moab on the east and Judah and Bethlehem on the west. That River Jordan divides between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. And this sweet daughter-in-law Ruth went through the waters of the Jordan, and left behind her god Chemosh, and the gods of this world, and the old life, and the old ways, and the old days; she left them behind, and through the waters of the Jordan she faced a new day, and a new life, and a new confession of faith in Jehovah God, just as the waters of baptism mean to us today: we are dead to the old world, buried with our Lord, and raised to a new life in Christ. She went through the waters of the Jordan into the Promised Land.
Then we continue, verse 3 of chapter 2: "And Ruth went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech." Now let me read that again: "Her hap was," the Hebrew has one of the strangest constructions there I ever read in my life, "Her hap happened," that’s the Hebrew of it, "Her hap happened," it just, it says here that it looked as if by accident, by hap, by happenstance, happen so, that when she came to Bethlehem she went out to glean, and it just happened to be in the field of Boaz, just happened to be. Well, isn’t that what we said to begin with? That the Lord God is not only the Lord God of the infinitude above us, but He is also the Lord God of the humblest things that surround us. It says here, "She just happened to be, her hap happened that she was in a field in Bethlehem belonging to Boaz."
Now if you don’t mind, let me read this story backward. This is God! This is the hand of the Lord! Ruth is standing in the field of Bethlehem. That’s where our Savior was born, of the house of Ruth. That’s where Rachel was buried, and she lives again in a newborn child. She called his name Benomi, "the son of my sorrow," but Israel called him Benjamin, "the son of my right hand" [Genesis 35:18]. Ruth stands there. Ruth stands where David, the sweet psalmist singer of Israel, was born and played and sang to his sheep. She is standing there. She is standing where Micah spanned the centuries with his great prophecy in Micah 5:2: "Thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall rule My people Israel"; and listen, "whose goings forth were of old, even from everlasting. He is going to be born there who was from the beginning, from the everlasting." She stands there. She stands there where the Magi come, where the star shines down, where the angel choir sang the glory to God; she stands there! Yet it appeared to be a happenstance, a hap, her hap happened to be that she was there; God in the little, quiet, humble things of human life.
I want you to notice the godliness of Boaz’s family and home. Look at the next verse, verse 4: "And Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The Lord be with you. And they answered him, The Lord bless thee" [Ruth 2:4]. Could you imagine a household like that? That’s the way they greeted each other. "The Lord be with you," and the answer, "The Lord bless you." Look at verse 12, this is Boaz: "The Lord recompense thy work, and full reward be given thee of the Lord God, under whose wings thou art come to trust." Because of the mercy seat and the cherubim over it – I wish I had time to deliver what I had prepared about that; we must go on – look at verse 16: Boaz tells his reapers to let some of the handfuls of purpose fall for her. Isn’t that a beautiful phrase? "Handfuls of purpose, handfuls of purpose," you could write a whole book on that.
Now chapter 3: Naomi says to Ruth, verse , what she is to do, and Ruth replies, "All that thou sayest unto me I will do." That reminds me of the message I preached last Sunday on Mary: she yielded herself beautifully, humbly, preciously. "All that thou sayest unto me I will do." So in verse 7 she lays herself down at the feet of Boaz; and verse 14, "And she lay at his feet until the morning." That is one of the humblest, most devoted of all of the things that I could think that anyone might be able to do. Naomi has lost her inheritance; her husband is dead, her two sons are dead; and Boaz is the goel. The Hebrew goel means "to buy back, to redeem," and gaal is the participial form of the verb; a redeemer-kinsman, a kinsman-redeemer. God taught Israel that they were a redeemed people, they were blood-bought.
Do you remember the cry of Job, in Job 19:25, "I know that my goel, my Kinsman-Redeemer liveth, and that at the latter day He shall stand upon the earth: And though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom mine eyes shall behold, and not another." The goel, the kinsman-redeemer; well, that is Boaz. So Naomi instructs Ruth to lay down at his feet and to cast herself upon the mercies of the goel, the kinsman-redeemer.
That’s exactly, exactly, that is precisely what we seek to do as we approach our Savior. We also are strangers and foreigners, we’re Gentiles; but we lay ourselves at the feet of our dear Lord, asking His mercy and redemption, asking Him to perform the office of a goel, a kinsman-redeemer, to give us an inheritance with the people of the Lord. And John 6:37 says, "He that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out." Or as the apostle Paul beautifully and eloquently says it of us: "Wherefore remember, that ye in times past, being Gentiles according to the flesh, that at that time you were without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God" [Ephesians 2:11-13, 19]. Ruth is our kinswoman: we belong on that side. We’re Gentiles according to the flesh, aliens and strangers to the covenant promises of God; but in Christ, in our Boaz, in our Kinsman-Redeemer, in our Goel, we who were sometimes afar off are now adopted into the family of God. No more strangers, but fellow citizens, fellow-heirs, members of the household of the Lord. Just as Ruth, a Moabite, into the family of God, into the line of the Messianic coming of Christ, so we are taken into the heart, and love, and grace, and mercy of our Lord, in His love and grace and redemption and mercy, all the wonderful, precious, marvelous things Christ extends toward us.
That’s Ruth. That’s the meaning of Ruth; and a beautiful, beautiful, holy, heavenly open door does it set before us, all of us, Moabites and all, Ammonites and all, all of us are welcome into the kingdom and patience of our Lord. It’s just for us to come.
And in this moment that we sing our hymn of appeal, a family, a couple, or just you, "Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, and this day I’m coming." On the first note of the first stanza, welcome, while we stand and while we sing.