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Believe For Greater Things- Naomi

Ruth 1:1-5, 15-21; 4:13-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on January 3, 2016.

This sermon series is an adaptation of a sermon preached by George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God USA, at its 2013 biennial meeting in Orlando, Florida.

We have looked at how Sarah laughed at what God was promising her.  Today we will look at Naomi and how she simply plodded through a difficult time until God’s faithfulness was revealed.  One foot after another, Naomi kept moving forward until the Lord brought her through.  Part of the difficulty of this story is the sense that God is against you.  It is bad enough when people work to bring you harm.  But who can fight God?  There is no hope when you reach this point.   Yet, we are going to see that things are not always the way they seem.  If we will trust God, He will prove faithful.

The Faith of Naomi

Normally we look at this and highlight Ruth.  But, it is Naomi who gives Ruth a connection to Israel and its God.  Without Naomi we would not have Ruth.  There are no great statements and declarations of faith from Naomi.  Rather, we simply see her moving forward despite difficult circumstances.  Sometimes a person has to just keep moving forward.  In the best case we do so because we know God will prove Himself in the end.  In the worst case, we do so simply because there is no better alternative, which is the most likely to describe Naomi.

Naomi is stripped of all that she had in the Lord.  Naomi had a husband, family, land, and connection to the people of God, but then a famine occurs.  Thus her husband decides to go to a foreign country.  There is some irony in the name of the town they lived in.  Bethlehem means “house of bread,” and yet because of the famine there is no bread.  In Moab her husband dies.  At some point her sons marry Moabite women, but then later die.  By the end of 10 years spent in Moab, Naomi finds herself without anything but her own skin.  At this point all the promises of God to His people would seem quite hollow.  It would be easy for her to be bitter and reject anything that had to do with such a God.  And, yet, when Naomi hears that God is blessing Israel with food again, she plans to go back.  It would have been easy for Naomi to choose to never go back, but she does so anyway.  Thus we have the famous scene of Naomi telling her daughter-in-laws to go back to their families.  Here one of them, Ruth, refuses to go back to her people and instead go with Naomi.  Though she doesn’t recognize it, this is the help of God in her circumstances.

In verses 15-21 we follow the next stage of the story.  However, it would be good to stop and recognize that in this very destitute condition Naomi had far more than she thought.  Why would Ruth leave her people behind and go be a foreigner in Israel?  She saw something in Naomi’s family that was more appealing to her than what she saw in her own people.  In fact, she not only identifies with Naomi, but declares she will become an Israelite and worship the God of Israel.  Naomi saw herself as destitute and yet Ruth would rather choose her than all the “plenty” of Moab.  Naomi was losing sight of the fact that she was still a child of God and she was a recipient of the promises of God.  Even the stories of the heroes of faith in the Old Testament were an amazing heritage compared to any other nation.  It is very easy to lose sight of the fact that we have far more than we know.  In fact, those who are lost and know nothing are often more appreciative of what we have than we are.  Sometimes God has to remove things from our life for us to be able to see that we still have all that matters, God’s love.

When Naomi arrives in Israel we see in her words to those who greet her that she felt afflicted and abandoned by God.  She still doesn’t see that God has turned her fortunes around.  She instructs them to not call her Naomi, which means “my delight.”  Instead, she wants them to call her Mara, “Bitter.”  Two words stand out: Bitter and Empty.  She feels that she has been treated bitterly and has nothing left.  Of course she has allowed herself to become bitter as well.  Hebrews 12:15 warns us, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”  Naomi could have remained a bitter person that caused trouble and grief wherever she went.  However, we are going to see that she chooses differently.  When she hears about the favor that Ruth receives in the fields of Boaz, she begins to hope for Ruth more than for herself.  People who embrace bitterness do not care about the fortunes of others.  They become stuck in their own unfortunate experience and when they see others being blessed they generally try to rain on their parade.  “Don’t get your hopes up Ruth.  The other shoe will drop soon.”  “Don’t get married Ruth, God will probably kill him!”  These kinds of spiteful and venomous statements could have come out of Naomi’s mouth.  But instead Naomi comes alive with hope for Ruth.  It is often in giving to others that the Lord heals us and brings more into our life.  Of course this love story ends with one of Naomi’s relatives named Boaz taking Ruth to be his wife.  Naomi’s fortunes are turned around.

Dr. Wood told a story of a missionary William Wallace Simpson.  He ministered in China and Tibet in the early 1900’s.  His son Willie was born and raised on the field and spoke the native language of Tibet fluently.  At one point his son was ambushed in the mountains and killed.  The story is told of W.W. Simpson coming to the place of his son’s death and saying these words,

“When some distance away we saw the forlorn truck.  We galloped our horses to the dreaded lonely spot.  Dismounting, we started toward the rude grave.  How I longed for one last word with my darling boy.  Seeing a paper lying on the bloody ground, I picked it up.  It was a Sunday School paper folded on which I read, “In remembrance of Me.”  Opening it I saw smeared over the paper the blood and brain of my beloved son!  And I remembered how I had laid my son on the altar years before, knowing it probably meant his death.  And I remembered too that Paul wrote, ‘Be ye followers of God as dear children,’ and I thought, as God gave His Son to make salvation possible, I have given my son to make salvation known.  So the Lord arranged for this paper to convey my son’s last word to me.  His blood is my blood and was shed to help a party of missionaries locate on the Kansu-Tibetan border to preach the gospel to the unevangelized.”  As he stood that day on the barren mountain-side, he remembered riding over those same mountains with his son.  Then he raised his voice and began to sing his son’s favorite hymn, “Over and over, yes, deeper and deeper, my heart is pierced through with life’s sorrowing cry.  But the tears of the sower and the songs of the reaper shall mingle together in joy by and by.” 

As he sang, he testified that his heart filled with peace. Our hearts too can be filled with the peace of God even though our flesh and circumstances shout to us that God has abandoned us and left us empty.  God help us to not give in to bitterness and grief and instead keep stepping towards God and keep hoping, even if it is for the sake of others.

In Ruth chapter 4 we see the end of the story.  However, in life when you are plodding along you cannot see the end.  God had given Naomi a connection to His people, and God had given Naomi a daughter-in-law who had a heart towards His things.  God is a restorer of life to us, if we will stay with Him all the way.  He is a nourisher of our old age if we will walk with him through difficulties of our youth.  The bitterness in Naomi’s mouth is sweetened with the goodness of God that follows.  It doesn’t change the difficult things she experienced, but it helped her to see that life was not over and God had not abandoned her.  Do not let faith be drowned in the despondent sorrows of bitterness.  Rather, keep on walking with the Lord and being faithful to what He gives you because, never fear, He has not abandoned you, even to the end of the age!

Naomi audio