{You can’t handle the Ruth} Marginalized People

ruthcoverThe book of Ruth is one of the most interesting books of Holy Writ. The following articles stem from the notes taken from Pastor Rob Stewart’s Sermon series at the Ballard Church. The first of the series focuses on Ruth 1:1-19. Ruth is a story about liminal people who make courageous decisions in the face of great oppositions. Liminal refers to those who are in a period of transition, or at the stage of transitioning/transformation. It also refers to individuals that are at a place where they occupy boundaries/positions on both sides of a boundary or threshold. Individuals, who otherwise do not fit within one set of group or another. The historical context of Ruth fits within the time when ancient Israel was ruled by judges. A time where there seems to be no social structure remaining and corruption abounds. A time period when the Jewish people started doubting and were abandoning their faith in him. A time where there is disorder economically and socially. Ruth is essentially a story that shows how we are being called out of our particular stations in life to where God moves us into our own story where we find greater meaning, greater blessings, and greater peace.

The story of Ruth opens up with Elimelech moving his wife and family from Bethlehem to Moab. A famine cursed the land of Israel. Within about ten years, Elimelech (Naomi’s Husband) dies, then her son’s who had married Moabite women (Orpah and Ruth). Naomi’s son’s also passed on and left the three women as widows. Due to the famine, Naomi hears about how the Lord is blessing Israel by giving them provisions during this time of famine. She decides to leave Moab and go back toward Bethlehem. On the way, her two daughter-in-laws journey with her. Along the way, Naomi petitions the two of them to return to Moab and find another husband so that they may fair better than she. At first, both of her daughter-in-laws want to continue with her. However, as Naomi presses even more, Oprah concedes and departs from the two women. Ruth, however, proclaims her allegiance with Naomi:

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.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. (Ruth 1:16-18, ESV)

Through this proclamation to her mother-in-law, Ruth bounds herself to not only Naomi, she bounds herself to the people of Israel and to the allegiance of Israel’s God. Ruth is essentially placing her faith in Naomi and the God of Israel by this proclamation. What we also take away from this story is how Ruth steps out of her current situation and makes her journey with Naomi back to Bethlehem. This, despite what opposition may occur.

Ruth steps out of her current circumstances with faith and assurance that provisions will be provided. She does not make any excuses for where she is at now, and looks forward to what lays in store for her. Ruth steps out of her old life and moves toward a new life that awaits her.

As we liken the scriptures unto ourselves and our lives, how many of us find ourselves in a land where there is famine? Famine is essentially the lacking of food. In scripture, Famine represents God’s scourge that has come upon people who have walked in disobedience, or to advance God’s divine purpose in the hearts and lives of those whom he has called out. What is even more interesting is that Elimelech leaves his home and abandon’s his people. He takes his family with him and because of this decision – his family faces adversity through the famine that has fallen upon the people.

First, we must see ourselves in light of Ruth 1:1-19. Charles H. Spurgeon provides the following verse by verse commentary, beginning with verse 1:

That was a bad move on their part; Better poverty with the people of God, than plenty outside of the covenanted land.

Spurgeon continues in relating the move from Bethlehem to Moab involves the Christian moving from the blessings and promises of God to another land where idols and idol worship is presented:

That is generally what happens; those who go into the country of Moab continue there. If Christians go away from their separated life, they are very apt to continue in that condition. It may be easy to say, “I will step aside from the Christian path for just a little while;” but it is not so easy to return to it. Usually something or other hampers; the birdlime catches the birds of Paradise, and holds them fast.

In other words, we become marginalized by the decision (as Christians) to separate ourselves from the people of God and the inherit blessings therein. We experience hardships and losses because of the spiritual famine that has come into our lives.

Second, we must see others in light of Ruth 1:1-19 where individuals have made decisions that have brought them into a land of idol worshiping. Individuals who are not part of the community of believers, however also suffer under their own spiritual famine. These individuals are just as marginalized as those who have stepped away from the will and desire of God.

Third, the journey back to the place where we know there is great blessings is a difficult one:

It is often the case that, when our idols are broken, we turn back to our God. It is frequently the case that the loss of earthly good leads us to return to our first Husband, for we feel that then it was better with us than it is now. Naomi had also another inducement to return:—

For the Christian returning back to faith – it is the most difficult Journey. The parable of the Prodigal comes to mind here in relation to how marginalized an individual has become and the transitional process they are going through in returning back to the place where God continues to bless his people. For the unbeliever, some will journey with us toward the promised land and the blessings bestowed on those who reside in the promised land. Yet, despite this, some will eventually turn away from us and from the blessings of God. They return back to the comforts of their own idols and their own people. However, for those who desire to continue to move forward into the new life that awaits, they continue with us as our companion and guide.

Ruth is a complex story with complex characters. Unlike all the other books, Ruth presents people in their human nature and shares with us the decisions they are faced with and how they come into their own story. It illuminates the representation of Christ and how we are sojourners and foreigners – making our way toward the promised land where we are continually blessed by God. We either deviate from that path or turn away completely. Our lives are complex and it is when we step into our story that God has for us, we are able to partake of the fruit of peace and purpose God blesses us with.

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