peculiar way, largely because of its comprehensiveness
and conciseness, this book sets forth what was brought
before us at the beginning of this conference: faith,
through adversity, unto enlargement, establishment, and
life. That would be so apparent if you could read the
little book right through.
If I were to take any
particular fragment from this book which I consider to be
the key to it, I think I should take from chapter 4,
verse 5, the last clause: "to raise the name of the
dead upon his inheritance." You could add to that
what is in the 15th verse, first clause, "He shall
be unto thee a restorer of life." I think
everything in the book circles around and finds its focal
point in that fragment in verse 5 - "raise up the
name of the dead upon his inheritance."
By universal consent and
accord, this book goes by the name of Ruth. But why not
Boaz? He was a man, to begin with, without the slightest
suggestion of individual comparison, he was not a woman.
He was a wealthy man, a religious and highly respected
man; a man of outstanding personality; an honored and
distinguished citizen. And he seems to have been the
chief and most responsible actor in this drama — and
he was of Israel. Who was Ruth, after all? What
was Ruth? She was a widow. Nothing discreditable about
that. She was a Moabitess, and there was a good deal
discreditable and dishonorable about that. We shall see
that she was a stranger, an alien in the land - why
should the book go down in history under her name? Well,
you see, the answer to that question is, firstly, the
message of the book. But more than that, it is the sum of
the whole Bible.
For the whole plan of
redemption, in all its principles and in all its glories,
is gathered into this little book. You can read it in ten
minutes. There is no more comprehensive book in the Bible
in relation to the principles of God’s way of
redemption. This book needs to be rescued from the
backseat. I trust that today something of that will be
done. I have said that the whole great plan of redemption
is found here in principle. And oh, how very much there
is here of help for the life of the Lord’s people. I
confess to you that though I have read it many times and
have known it for many years, in some early morning
hours, recently, in the far west of America, it brought a
new thrill to my own heart as I meditated in this book. I
felt the Lord was speaking to me in relation to this
Well, let us come to it,
and begin to extract, or take note of, some of the
beautiful and wonderful things that it has to say to us.
The book is so simple,
isn’t it? There’s nothing profound here.
We’re not dealing with mysteries. It’s the
easiest book of all to read. And so these wonderful
things about the Lord, and His people — you and me
— are brought to us, without any strain or effort,
in the very simplest way. We must not stumble, though, at
its simplicity. This book unfolds itself and its message
along certain quite clearly discernible lines that run
right through it.
We note its historic
setting. To what place in the history of the Old
Testament does it belong? That is stated for us in the
very first sentence: "Now it came to pass in the
days when the judges ruled." Although it must
have been written long after those days, its own internal
evidence shows that it was when — not after —
the judges ruled. This is not a sequel to the book of
Judges. This is something that actually took place in the
days of the Judges.
Now you need to be
refreshed as to the content of the book of Judges. All
that we can say at the moment is that the book of Judges
is one of the most terrible books in the whole Bible.
Indeed, the most shocking things in the Bible are found
there. There are those things that you don’t like to
read; you like to pass over them; you just want to shut
your eyes, and take no notice. Yes, a dark, terrible and
at times a very evil situation existed, showing
capabilities of the people of God which are altogether
beyond imagination: the depths of iniquity in the human
heart; the remote position from the thoughts of God to
which His people can come. It is difficult to speak in
exaggerated terms of some things in that book. Indeed,
more than once, as we read through the book of Judges we
have been amazed at the patience of God; the willingness
of God to come back to His people. Well, right in that
book, while that condition in general existed, you set
this contrast. This beautiful picture is given to us in
the book of Ruth.
And so we are brought to
see God acting, with the long view, in the midst of such
conditions, and at such a time. Look at the last words of
the book of Judges: "In those days, there was no
king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his
own eyes." And the last words of the book of Ruth:
"… and Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot
David." God, acting, with a long view, in such
conditions, and at such a time. Wonderful to contemplate.
Everything seems to be a contradiction of God, and indeed
it is. Everything seems to say: "This situation is
spiritually hopeless. This is spiritual calamity in its
last stages." And right in the midst of that, God
is acting, with a long view. And He’s acting
toward that day, bringing in David and the glorious
kingdom, and through David another greater than David,
and a still more glorious kingdom.
I think that very first
thought is a tremendously inspiring one, a tremendously
reassuring, comforting and encouraging one. We are
sometimes inclined to think that the situation is
spiritually very desperate, and very difficult, and the
thoughts of God are far from being expressed and
represented amongst His people. Things have gone far from
that, and I say, it’s reassuring to recollect that
in worse days than these God was acting, secretly and
sovereignly, with a long view, to have it as He ever
intended it to be. It’s then that He did it.
Well, if we said no
more, that’s help, isn’t it? And that’s
the message here, right at the very beginning.
But let us break this up
and let us take up these leading lines, above which the
message is unfolded.
The first line, of
course, is a dark line. It’s the line of tragedy.
"In the days when the judges ruled there was a
famine in the land." And we know, do we not, that
again and again in the history of Israel, the word of the
Lord was fulfilled in that very way. In faithfulness to
Him, He would bless His people, in their field, in
their basket, and in their stores. That was fulfilled
again and again. Outstandingly, you remember in the days
of Elijah: "Thus saith the Lord, ‘there shall
not be rain upon the earth these seven years", and
the drought and the famine followed, with devastating
result. And when you look at the book of Judges,
you’re not surprised, are you, at this famine? The
famine was not just something that happened. It was a
part of the divine judgement, because of the spiritual
state, because of their lost distinctiveness.
Read in the book of
Judges again. Sometimes it seems that even the best
people were implicated in this. Gideon! Even in
Gideon’s own home, the home of his father, there
were idols. And later, after the Lord had used Gideon so
mightily, he set up an image. The lost distinctiveness of
the Lord’s people! He was called to stand apart from
all other gods. And resultantly, their lost ascendancy
over their enemies. A case of constantly reiterated
defeat and subjugation to one nation or another. Lost
ascendancy, lost unity — they were a disintegrated people morally
and spiritually. They had no authoritative testimony in
the world; it was gone. God was not all in the land where
He had so signally and wonderfully moved in order that He
should be the only God of Israel. We have spoken about
this earlier. Dividedness, God was against. And the
singleness of God’s place, toward which He moved
— firstly in calling Abram out of Ur, from the 5,000
gods that were worshipped there, to be His only God; and
then, keeping him waiting till the day when Canaan was
assailed; through Joshua, for the destruction of the
seven nations because of their gods. Clear that land of
idolatry, to bring His people into a land where He alone
— utterly — was the object of their occupation
and worship. Here, there are other idols in the land, and
their testimony is gone. He is not all. No wonder
there’s a famine in the land.
If you like to translate
that into spiritual terms, you see, it works that way
spiritually now, as it were, literally and historically
in the old dispensation. The measure of our food
— our spiritual resources, our plenty, our increase,
our enlargement — is the measure in which we are
conformed to the thoughts of God. It’s governed in
that way. And there’s a great deal of spiritual
famine about today. Yes, the Lord’s people today are
very hungry; indeed, they’re starving. And
everywhere you go you have this complaint: "We
can’t find bread. It’s difficult to find any
spiritual food. There’s a famine in hearing the Word
in any fullness." And you know, Bible teaching is
not always feeding. There may be plenty of Bible
teaching. Indeed, there may be Bible Institutes galore
and the people may still be starving. A large percentage
of the Lord’s people may attend them and go through
their sessions and still be poor, thin, scraggly things
in their spiritual life. Don’t let us confuse these
things for food is food; and there is a dearth of
real spiritual food and largely because the full thoughts
of God for His people do not obtain, do not govern.
It’s otherwise where they do. So then, there is
famine in the land.
Note: "And a
certain man of Bethlehem-judah went to sojourn in the
country of Moab; he and his wife and his two sons."
Now Elimelech, his wife
and two sons were very decent people, very nice people,
were very good people. We haven’t anything at all
that’s said against them, in their moral life, in
their respectability. Perhaps in their God-fearingness,
in heart. But here’s a thing to note: How often
good, and honest, and sincere people of God become
involved in tragedy because of the general state of the
Church. Look at this line of tragedy. Here it is in verse
1. "They went to sojourn in the country of
Moab." Vs.2 "The name of the man is Elimelech
and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two
sons Mahlon and Chilion. And they came unto the country
of Moab, and continued there, and they took their wives
of the women of Moab. The name of the one was Orpah, the
name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten
years. Mahlon and Chilion died, both of them. And the
woman was left of her two sons, and her husband."
Vs.20 and Naomi said — "Call me not Naomi; call
me Mara — ‘bitterness’. I went out full.
The Lord hath brought me home again empty. Why call ye me
Naomi? Seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the
Almighty hath afflicted me."
isn’t it? Tragedy. And it’s the tragedy
of good people being involved in a situation on the part
of the Lord’s people more generally, which is not
according to the Lord’s mind. Do you know what I
mean? You see, this was evidently lost heart. This man
Elimelech lost heart, lost hope. He lost faith. He said
"It’s no use staying here. There’s nothing
for us here. There’s no prospect here, no way here.
We’d better get out." This man lost heart and
hope and faith, and made a terrible mistake which led to
tragedy — because of the state of the Lord’s
people. Oh, how many things there are in the lives of
so many of the Lord’s people which would never be if
the Lord’s people as a whole were right. You think
of all the things which have come in to Christianity,
which ought never to have come in, and would never have,
if the original position of the day of Pentecost and
afterward had been maintained. All the things that came
in when spiritual decline came in, and all this terrible
heritage of the day when the Church began to lose its
spiritual position. And how many have become involved?
We’ve got to take this attitude, dear friends, about
people who seem to be in a mess. Why are so many in a
mess? It’s not their own fault. It’s because
they haven’t got the help they ought to have, by the
Church, and amongst the people of God. Because things are
not in that condition when they can get their help
amongst the people of God.
You see, the state of
the Lord’s people collectively has a very tragic
repercussion upon the individuals of the Lord’s
people and their lives. When the Lord’s people
collectively are in a right spiritual state,
corresponding to the Lord’s mind and thought and
revealed will, then the individuals find their safety
among the Lord’s people, and are saved from a lot of
mistakes. They find their life there. They find their
guidance there. They find their protection there. They
find their wisdom there. That’s how it ought to be.
But because that state is not so, as the Lord would have
it, lots of people are just making terrible mistakes and
blunders. They’re involved in this whole thing, and
it’s tragedy for many individuals because they
haven’t got the values of the corporate and
collective life of the Lord’s people as He would
have it. We must be very considerate and very
sympathetic, and very understanding. For the blame is not
always upon the individual. They have become involved in
a Christianity which has brought in a lot of things that
God never intended, and which never would have been if
things had continued as at the beginning.
So here are decent,
respectable, nice people, God-fearing in their own heart,
but moving out along a line of terrible tragedy, because
the nation was wrong, because the corporate body was
wrong. It was like that.
But then, they’re
not altogether without blame, because there is individual
responsibility. And tragedy just must overtake those who
surrender their faith and principle to policy or personal
Have you got that? You
see, they knew quite well that the covenant related to
that land, which was their home. They belonged to the
covenant land and the covenant people, and they knew
quite well what God had said about other lands and especially
about Moab. Whether they’d slipped up, in
forgetting their Bibles, I’m not able to say; but,
you know, we get into a lot of trouble by not knowing
our Bibles. Doing a lot of things that are altogether
wrong, whereas the Bible has something to say about that
quite precisely and definitely, if only we would know our
Bibles, read carefully our Bibles.
You know, David got into
a terrible, terrible bit of trouble on one occasion
because he forgot his Bible. Over the cart and the ark.
Putting the ark on the cart. Oh yes, and the Lord said
the Levites should carry the ark, not a cart. It was there,
in the Bible. David was very upset with the Lord for
smiting the drivers of the cart to death. But he went and
had it out with the Lord, and took his Bible and found
where it was written that the Levites should carry the
Ark. And he adjusted things, but it did not mean that
he was saved from the tragedy. Listen to this: The Lord
has given us the Word and made known His mind to us. He
won’t save us from the tragedy. He won’t save
us from the tragedy that follows our ignorance of what we
could know, and should know. That’s a very
deep lesson that comes out of this case.
So, tragedy must
overtake those who surrender faith. Ah, yes! It was a
call to faith, wasn’t it? You see, the whole of this
wonderful story in this little book works out to such a
triumphant issue because faith comes in somewhere.
Faith came back where it had been lost. We mustn’t
anticipate, but you see, it came back, right into the
family circle of Elimelech.
The lost faith led to
the tragedy. The recovered faith led to recovery and
Ah, yes! A very severe
test of faith, it’s true. A severe test of
faith, but you’ve got a principle here. The
Lord Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights and was
hungered. The situation perhaps, physically, was quite
critical, perhaps desperate. And Satan said, "Come
on, let these stones be made bread."
Here’s a test of
faith in the Father, isn’t it? You see the
principle? Whether faith in the Father will lead us to do
the right thing or loss of faith will lead us to do the
What a tragedy it would
have been if the Lord Jesus had surrendered faith in His
Father to apparent necessity, to the circumstances which
seemed after all so desperate and so serious.
Here it is: Elimelech
let go his faith under testing. Surrendered it to
circumstances. Surrendered it to policy. And one
of the most disastrous things is policy — what is it politic to do, as over against
what God has said? Allowing policy to govern, or our own
advantage, our own security, our own well-being, when God
has made His mind about it perfectly clear in His Word.
You see, we cannot,
after all, preserve our fullness (1:21). "I went out
full". We cannot preserve our fullness off of
God’s ground. We may have a lot, but get off of
God’s ground and you can’t keep it. They
thought they would keep it all, you see, by going to
Moab. To preserve their fullness, they went out full.
Evidently, they took everything with them. They thought
they would be quite secure. They’d brought
everything with them. Full they went out, she
said, and they came back empty.
We can preserve nothing
at all if we get off of God’s ground, if we get onto
ground that is foreign to God. And Moab was altogether
foreign to God, and foreign to God’s covenant.
Indeed, it was worse than that.
And so Naomi said, in
these terrible words: "I went out full, and the Lord
hath brought me home empty." "The Lord hath
testified against me, the Almighty hath afflicted
You see, God acted
sovereignly, in disapproval. What for? To get them
back. Adversity under God’s hand is always intended
to be firstly, a corrective and then a restorative.
God is sovereign, and He acted sovereignly with them. And
so He brought this adversity upon them. He could do no
other. In His kindness, in His mercy, and according to
His beneficent thought, He chastened them.
David said, "Before
I was afflicted, I went astray." How true that is
here in this case. Ah, yes, it’s all the dark line.
Here is, what? Well, death. Elimelech is dead. His
two sons are dead. Death, deadlock, impasse. No
way then! Everything has come to a deadlock, to a
standstill. All tied up. Barrenness. Naomi tells that of
herself and the two wives of her two sons — No
children! All is barrenness and death when we act
contrary to the revealed mind of God.
It is a terrible
lesson — No fruitful ministry if we’re off of
God’s ground. Oh, take it to heart! God has made
His mind perfectly clear: on all matters concerning my
life and service, He has laid down His principles. He has
told us where and on what ground He will meet us; He has
told us that it is in His House that He’ll meet with
His people. He has told us that He has appointed in His
House certain things and certain people, under the Holy
Spirit’s anointing, for our direction, for our
safety, and for our good. Let us get off of that ground
and see what happens. You can put it to the test. God
forbid that you would, but it’s apparent, it’s
quite clear. There’s limitation and spiritual death,
and barrenness. The lives that are just moving fast on
toward their close, with a story of barrenness that might
have been a story of fullness, of richness of service,
because they would not and will not
recognize God’s principles amongst His people.
Say what you like about
it. Blame the Lord’s people; blame the Lord’s
servants if you will. God’s word is perfectly clear
on that. We shall find our way, and we shall find our
service on the ground that God has laid down. And if we,
knowing that, or, having had it given to us in the Word
of God, (and we should know it) ignore it, or give
ourselves out of it, depart from it, refuse to have it,
violate it - alright - spiritual death, spiritual
barrenness, spiritual deadlock.
These are things that we
should lay to heart, hard as they sound. Let’s lay
them to heart. The inheritance which ought to be ours,
and is ours by right, by covenant, as in this case,
either falls into abeyance - we’re deriving nothing
from it - or it passes to others. There’s a terrible
warning in the book of the Revelation — "Let no
man take thy crown." That crown that could be ours
passing to others.
Well, that’s one of
the lines upon which this whole story unfolds. It’s
a tragic line. It’s the dark line. And I know
you’re oppressed by it. Still, it’s as well
that we recognize the message of this book. Because, dear
friends, it’s not only a message which applies to us
individually in our Christian lives, but you see, this is
one of the major lines of the whole doctrine of
redemption, which probably we shall see later on.
Until you recognize the
ground of death, the reasons for death and deadlock, and
barrenness, you’re not in a position to appreciate
the wonderful, wonderful mercy of God.
So we pass to the next
line along which the book unfolds. We could gather that
under one little phrase and title of the Lord’s
well known to us in the New Testament, the God of hope.
That’s a dark, terrible background, but over that
stands this — The God of Hope.
Ruth 1:6 "Then she arose with her
daughter-in-laws, that she might return from the
country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of
Moab how that the Lord had visited His people in
giving them bread."
Vs.22 "Naomi returned, and Ruth
the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law with her, which
returned out of the country of Moab, and they came to
Bethlehem, in the beginning of the barley
Good news from a far
country! Goods news in a far country. She had heard. Out
of the land, in the land of Moab God had visited His
people. It’s difficult to place this in the book of
Judges. But it was evidently one of those periods between
the tragedies that were there. There were those periods,
as you know in the Judges, when the situation was
changed. For a little while, under Gideon, for instance,
and under Deborah, and under others — insight
patches in a long, dark day of 400 years. It was
evidently in one of those brighter periods in that dark
history, that this is set. "The Lord visited His
people, and gave them bread." — and they passed from famine to harvest.
There is a place where
God meets us, but He will only meet us in that place. And
that place is resurrection — on resurrection ground.
Well, "the Lord is
risen indeed!" Says Thomas, "I won’t
believe it." And so he was not with them when the
Lord appeared at first. He was somewhere away, outside,
wandering about, perhaps, in his despair and darkness.
The Lord never went after Thomas. He let him get on with
it, let him stew in his misery. "Here is the place
where I’ll meet you, where you believe that I
am risen." "Be not faithless, but
believing." It was a question of faith, wasn’t
it? To believe in the resurrection.
The good news had gone
out. "We have seen the Lord. The Lord is
risen", but he wound up not believing the good news;
and so he was left outside in the dark — and the
Lord didn’t go out to him. It was not until he came
in. How it was he came in on that day we don’t know.
Something had been going on in him. Perhaps he’d
come to the place where he said — "I’m
certainly getting nowhere along this line. This is
getting me nowhere. If there is any hope at all it seems
to be amongst those people, in that room. The least I can
do is to go and see." Ah, yes, and when he got on to
the ground where the Lord was believed and where they
were enjoying the reality of His resurrection, the Lord
met him and he met the Lord.
There is always a
ground, you know, like that. You know, the story of the
prodigal has that aspect to it. The elder brother would not
go in. Alright, let him stay outside as miserable as he
could be. All the rejoicing is inside. He’s got to
come on to resurrection ground in order to be in
the good of resurrection life and joy. That’s
the place where the Lord meets us, you see, the barley
Now you Bible students
know quite well that barley is always the type of
resurrection. It’s the first of the harvests of the
grain. Barley is referred to quite a lot in this little
book, isn’t it? Let’s look. Six times in the
little book. And from the barley harvest Ruth comes into
her new life, her new fullness, by what Boaz gives her of
this store of barley. Everything is resting on the barley
and the barley harvest.
What about those five
barley loaves with which the Lord fed multitudes? What
did He go on to say immediately afterwards? "My
flesh is life indeed." "How can this Man give
us His flesh to eat?" Well, the mystery of Christ
imparting His life to us is only known by our being on
resurrection ground, isn’t it? The Holy Spirit
ministering Christ after His resurrection. His
resurrection, His risen Life ministered to us. It’s
the barley loaf, you see. You can go through the Bible
with it and see it; it’s always this one thing: resurrection.
1 Peter 1:3,4 "The
living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the
dead unto an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that
fadeth not away reserved for you." You can read that
right in the book of Ruth.
So God always moves
back, as well as forward, along the line of resurrection.
That’s the message here. He’s moving back along
the line of resurrection. In other words, God is
always on the positive line. This situation is no
pleasure to God, no satisfaction to God. This tragedy of
things — either in the land or in the lives of these
few — gives God no glory. He always reacts to a
situation like that on the principle and the line of resurrection.
He’s on a positive
line. Do believe this. Are you somewhere in a
tragic situation? Have you come to arrest? A deadlock, an
impasse, and barrenness? Do you feel you’ve got off
the Lord’s ground? Listen, the Lord
doesn’t accept that, and He doesn’t want you to
accept that. The Lord does not believe that is the
ultimate thing. The Lord acts on positive lines. There is
no despair and tragedy so deep and terrible but that the
Lord will react to it in resurrection.
Oh, lay hold of this by
faith, lay hold of this, that God is the God of
resurrection! God is the God of the barley harvest.
His answer to death and desolation? He is the God who
raiseth the dead.
If you feel like that,
believe Him, as that. Believe Him.
There’s good news
for you. As for Naomi, Good News. The reversing of all
our misfortunes is in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Have you got that? Yes.