The Romance of Ruth
January 11th, 1987 @ 7:30 PM
THE ROMANCE OF RUTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-11-87 7:30 p.m.
We welcome you on radio and on television to a high day and a holy, heavenly hour in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. We have dedicated for our youngsters and for the kingdom of our Lord the beautiful youth building, called the Ruth Ray Hunt Youth Building. And next Sunday they will be in it for Sunday school, Training Union, and in the days of the week, glorifying the Lord in a thousand beautiful activities. Long time ago when this day was planned, I was asked if I would preach a message from the Book of Ruth, and that address briefly is presented tonight. The world never tires of a love story. And Goethe, the famous and gifted German poet ,said the most beautiful love story in human language is the Book of Ruth. It is a remarkable little volume in the Bible of our living Lord. It is an astonishing thing when carefully you examine it. We would never have known that it was a part of the life of David had the book not closed with the word, “Boaz begat Obed, and Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David” [Ruth 4:21-22]. The little book closes with that sentence.
It is also the story of the love of a mother-in-law for a daughter-in-law, and a daughter-in-law for a mother-in-law. There is no culture, there is no language, there is no nation, where a mother-in-law is not lampooned and cruelly satired; but here, she is beautifully and preciously presented. Not in human speech is there a word more beautiful in endearing love than the daughter-in-law who speaks to her mother-in-law:
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.
It was a daughter-in-law who said that to her mother-in-law. And in the last chapter of the Book of Ruth, the daughter-in-law, said the Bethlehemites, “loveth thee better than seven sons” [Ruth 4:15]. Not only that—is it the story of a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law, but it is also the story of a Moabite. In Deuteronomy 23:3, “A Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; they shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord forever.” And in Nehemiah, the last chapter:
On that day they read in the Book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that a Moabite should not come into the congregation of God forever…
And in those days saw I Jews that had married wives of Moab.
And I contended with them, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves…Thus, I cleansed them from all strangers.
[Nehemiah 13:1, 23, 25, 30]
Yet she is a Moabite!
For the love of God is greater
Than the measure of man’s mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
[“There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”; Frederick W. Faber]
They drew a circle that shut me out,
But God and grace had the wit to win.
He drew a circle that took me in.
[adapted from “Outwitted”; Edwin Markham]
She is a Moabite, and it is the story of not only a Gentile, but a hated and cursed race.
It is an amazing little book. It is tucked in between pages and pages of bloodshed and violence and war. In the midst of the striving of the judges and the contentions and confrontations of the kings of Judah and Israel, is this beautiful, pastoral, idyllic poem called Ruth. Why such a book in the Bible? Because it teaches us to understand the Lord God who is involved in the humble and daily experiences of our lives. There are many who can read the Book of Ruth who would be baffled by the mysteries of Ezekiel, and there uncounted multitudes who can follow the love story of Boaz who would be baffled by the revelations of the Apocalypse. Why such a little book in the Bible? Because it reveals to us God’s evaluation of the events of human life, which are so different from the evaluations of men.
A historian will recount the rising and crowning of a king, but God, God will note the falling of a sparrow [Matthew 10:29]. A historian will follow the marching victorious armies of a nation, but God will record the tears of a peasant woman [Luke 7:38]. Our newspapers in the city of Dallas will publish abroad the election of a mayor, but God will note the conversion of a teenager in our dear church. The whole city will bow before the opening of one of these great skyscrapers, but God notices the dedication of our beautiful building for teenagers. Isn’t it a wonderful thing how God is? In His sight maybe, a Babe in a manger, in a stable [Luke 2:10-16], is of more meaning and consequence and significance than the princes in the palaces of Herod. What an amazing God! Maybe in His sight, it is meaningful more, Aquila and Priscilla, than Claudius Caesar who expelled them [Acts 18:2]. Maybe in God’s sight it is more meaningful, Paul in the Mamertine dungeon, than Nero who beheaded him on the Ostian Way. We name our children after Paul; we name our dogs after Nero. Maybe in God’s sight it is more meaningful, the simple words that Paul writes to his son Timothy [1 and 2Timothy], than all the aphorisms and plagiarisms and platitudes of Seneca, who was his contemporary. And maybe in God’s sight, a Mary or an Elizabeth or a Dorcas is a more meaningful than a Herodias, or a Salome, or Drusilla, or Bernice.
The story begins in the saddest kind of a way. It begins like a cloudy day that closes in a rain of tears. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, are forced by a terrible famine to find shelter and food and life in Moab across the Jordan River. And where Elimelech had sought a home, he finds a grave. He and his two sons die and are buried in Moab. And Naomi is left alone in her tears and sorrow with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth [Ruth 1:1-5].
At the waters of the Jordan, there is a great and final decision. As the waters of the Jordan have come to mean commitment and consecration in all of our lives, Orpah kisses her mother-in-law and goes back to her god, Chemosh, and back to her home in Moab [Ruth 1:12-14]. But Ruth embraces the faith of Jehovah God, and gives her life in trust and love to the people of the Lord [Ruth 1:14-17].
And in the next chapter is one of the most unusual verses in the Bible: Ruth the Moabitess “came and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz, the kindred of Elimelech” [Ruth 2:3]. “Her hap was,” she is standing in the fields of Bethlehem. “Her hap was,” but God was in the “hap.” Let’s read the story backward: she is standing where Jacob, Israel, buried Rachel when she died giving birth to a son [Genesis 35:16-20]. She is standing in the fields where David, God’s sweet singer, was born [Ruth 1:22 1 Samuel 16:1, 13]. She is standing in the place where Micah traversed the centuries, saying:
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the cities of Judah,
yet out of thee shall He come who shall be the Savior of My people;
whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting.
She is standing there [Ruth 2:3]. She is standing in the place where the star shone over the magi and where the angels sang over the Babe in Bethlehem. She is standing where the Savior of the world was incarnate [Matthew 2:9-11; Luke 2:8-16]. Her “hap” was to glean in the field of Bethlehem [Ruth 2:3]. God is in it; little is much if God is in it. And she represents all of us who are Gentiles, outside of the covenant of Israel, but made nigh by the love and grace of our living Lord [Ephesians 2:12-13; Titus 2:11].
There is no finer passage in the Holy Scripture than this inclusive word of the apostle Paul as he speaks in the Book of Ephesians:
We are to remember, that we being in time past Gentiles in the flesh . . . that at that time we were without Christ,
being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise,
without hope and without God in the world—
But now in Christ Jesus we who were sometimes far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ . . .
We are therefore, now, no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.
[Ephesians 2:11-13, 19]
A fellow heir with Jesus our Lord [Romans 8:17].
What a beautiful picture, this Moabitess who is adopted into the family of God [Ruth 1:16-17], and is made a great-grandmother in the lineage of David and finally of the Savior Himself [Ruth 4:21-22; Matthew 1:5-17]. That’s God’s grace and mercy toward us.
Now may we pray? Our Lord, this beautiful, beautiful book but brings to our hearts the loving grace of Jesus our Lord. We who sometimes were afar off are brought nigh in Him [Ephesians 2:13]. And we who were strangers and aliens to the covenant of promise [Ephesians 2:12], we now are members of the household of faith; brothers and sisters with Jesus our Lord, pilgrims on the road to the glorious home in heaven [Ephesians 2:19]. And our Lord, we pray that tonight in this precious moment there will be those who will join us in that pilgrimage, standing at the waters of the Jordan [Ruth 1:16-17], making a commitment of life that shall adorn Thee and magnify and glorify Thee forever and ever.
And in a moment, when we sing our hymn of appeal, to give your heart to the blessed Savior, or to come into the fellowship of our dear church, or to answer a call of God in your heart, make that decision now. And in a moment when we stand to sing, come and stand with us. A thousand times welcome, and angels attend you in the way as you come. And thank You, Lord, for the sweet precious harvest You give us, in Thy saving and wonderful and glorious name, amen. While we stand and while we sing, welcome.