Ruth 1:20-21 (2)

Sermon preached on September 5, 2010 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Over the past 15 years or so Grant Hill has one of the best basketball players in the world. He played much of his career with the Detroit Pistons and is currently playing for the Phoenix Suns. He would have had an even greater career if it hadn't been for injuries, but in spite of them, he's been a great basketball player. There's a story about Grant Hill that I love. When he started playing college basketball, his father bought him a car so he would be able to drive to practices and home games himself and wouldn't have to be dependent on others. But it wasn't long after his father got him the car that his father took it back. Why would a father do that? What happened was that his father decided that he would fly down to attend one of Grant's games. He told Grant what day and time his flight was getting in and expected Grant to meet him at the airport. But when his father arrived at the airport—Grant wasn't there to pick him up. Grant was off doing other things and if my memory is correct, he never even thought of going to the airport to pick up his father. So that was the end of the car. His father took the car away to teach Grant a lesson. I think his father believed it was the best way to teach Grant a lesson. Sometimes we're pretty slow and like Grant Hill, we only learn some things the hard way.

Other times, we have to go through difficult times, not so much because we've done anything particular wrong, but because it's part of the process of making us better.

When my daughter Patricia was three or four years old she got a kidney infection. We took her to the ER and they were very quick in figuring out what was wrong with her. But one of the problems they faced was getting an IV in her. She was very dehydrated and that fact, coupled with the fact that she was so small, made it very difficult for them to get an IV in. I was with her at the time and they tried 3, 4, 5, 6 times to get the IV in a vein. They kept sticking that needle in her arm or hand. All the while they were trying Patricia didn't understand why they were hurting her. All she wanted them to do was stop hurting her. But I knew that getting that IV in was part of the process of getting her better and I kept trying to tell her that. The same can be true in the spiritual realm. Sometimes, we have to go through difficult times in order to get better.

Other times, we have to go through difficult times, not even for our own sake, but for the sake of others. I've told some of you about my 5
th Grade Christmas Concert. Just before we were to go on stage my music teacher looked at me and Billy C. and said,

"Larry, and Billy, I don't want you to sing. Just mouth the words. If you sing you'll ruin the whole thing!".

I think I was taken aback because up to that time I didn't know I couldn't sing. I think that was the first time it hit me. I remember in Grade 3 our music teacher divided the class into different groups named after birds. She went around from student to student as we were sitting in our seats singing. I remember getting put in the group named the "Crows" but at that time I had no idea it was indicative of my singing ability. My 5th Grade music teacher was thinking of the good of her choir and the audience and because of that Billy and I had to bear that insult.

All those stories illustrate just a few of the reasons we sometimes have to go through difficult things. Of course there are lots of other reasons, but you get the point—sometimes there are reasons why we suffer, whether it has to do with us and our faults or the good of others.

In our text we see Naomi suffering. She has lost her husband and her two sons. She comes back to Bethlehem with very little, with just what Ruth and her could carry. She comes back empty. She said,

"the Almighty
has made my life very bitter.
I went away full,
but the Lord has brought me back empty.
Why call me Naomi?
The Lord has afflicted me;
the Almighty has brought
misfortune upon me."

The first thing we see from our text is that

Naomi acknowledged that everything bad that happened to her was directed by God.

She said it was the Almighty that made her life very bitter, that it was the Lord who brought her back empty, that the Lord had afflicted her, that the Almighty brought misfortune on her. Earlier in verse 13 she said the same thing. She said to Ruth and Orpah.

"the Lord's hand has gone out
against me!"

Five times she notes attributes her troubles to God. One of the words that is used for God is the word, "Almighty". Some of you may be familiar with the Hebrew word, Shaddai. Amy Grant popularized the song, "El Shaddai". That's the word that is translated, "Almighty". In the Old Testament this Hebrew name for God is often used in the contexts of blessing and judgment. The idea was that God's power was such that He controlled both blessing and destruction. Nothing can stand in His way. This name denotes God's absolute power.

Naomi acknowledged that when destruction came, it from God, from the Almighty. It was the Almighty who made her life bitter. It was the Almighty who brought misfortune on her. She knew that her troubles were His doing. Many of the Old Testament people testified that if destruction came, it came from the Almighty. They knew the Almighty's power was such that He controlled blessing and destruction. When the day of the Almighty came—He would bring destruction. (Isaiah 13:6, Joel 1:15)

The other word that Naomi uses is the word, 'Lord', or Yahweh. The Biblical writers acknowledged that it was the "Lord" who punished and brought disaster upon His people because of their unfaithfulness. Amos 3 begins with God saying that he had only chosen the Israelites out of all the families of the earth, yet because of their sin He was going to punish them. Then in Amos 3:6 the prophet says,

"If a disaster occurs in a city,
hasn't the LORD done it?"

Repeatedly in the Old Testament we have a refrain that is similar to the one that Nathan the prophet delivered to David. Nathan said, (2 Samuel 12:11, HCSB)

"This is what the LORD says,
'I am going to bring disaster on you…'"

It's Yahweh who brings disaster to His people. Naomi recognized that trouble came to the people of God, it came from the great God of the covenant, Yahweh.

Christians, be aware of this truth. God directs your life. I've heard some Christians say that nothing bad comes to them from God, that if something bad happens, it's from Satan. It's certainly true that Satan can be involved in bad things coming our way. In 2 Corinthians 12:7 the apostle Paul talked about a physical affliction he had and he referred to this thorn in the flesh as,

"a messenger of Satan, to torment me."

But it was ultimately God who allowed it. Paul prayed to God to be released from it. But God continued to allow it. It was to prevent Paul from becoming conceited.

In Job 1 we also see that Job's losses and suffering were due, in part, to Satan's hatred of him. Yet it's noteworthy that Job ultimately tracked his sufferings back to God. When he learned of all the disasters he said, (Job 1:21)

"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave
and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised."

God in sovereign. He gives and He takes away. All of Joseph's troubles—where did they come from? You could say that they came from his brothers and their jealously and hatred of him. You could say that some of Joseph's troubles came from Potiphar's wife. But when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers he said, (Genesis 45:5–8)

"And now, do not be distressed
and do not be angry with yourselves
for selling me here,
because it was to save lives
that God sent me ahead of you.
For two years now
there has been famine in the land,
and for the next five years
there will not be plowing and reaping.
But God sent me ahead of you
to preserve for you a remnant on earth
and to save your lives
by a great deliverance.
'So then, it was not you
who sent me here, but God.
He made me father to Pharaoh,
lord of his entire household
and ruler of all Egypt."

God is sovereign. He controls what happens to us, either blessing or destruction. We live our lives in His hand. He controls and directs the things that happen to us. When either good or bad come our way—we can trace the ultimate cause to Him. When Hannah was barren and couldn't have children—why was it? In 1 Samuel 1:5–6 we read,

"But to Hannah he gave a double portion
because he loved her,
and the LORD had closed her womb.
And because the LORD
had closed her womb,
her rival kept provoking her
in order to irritate her."

God controlled Hannah's life. As God would later say through the prophet in Isaiah 45:7,

"I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things."

The first lesson from this is that

you should be like Naomi in understanding and acknowledging that God directs and orders your life.

We live our lives in God's hand. As the apostle Paul said to the men of Athens in Acts 17:28,

"For in him we live and move
and have our being."

As David wrote in Psalm 139:16,

"All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be."

Proverbs 20:24 says,

"A man's steps are directed by the Lord.
How then can anyone
understand his own way?"

If you're a Christian you have Jesus as your Shepherd. He is leading you. The things that happen to you don't happen by accident. They are part of God's plan for your life. As Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 10:29–31,

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground
apart from the will of your Father.
And even the very hairs of your head
are all numbered.
So don't be afraid;
you are worth more than many sparrows."

If a sparrow can't fall to the ground apart from the Father's will, nothing can happen to you apart from the Father's will.

So often our faith is weak. We're like the disciples in the boat in the storm. Jesus was in the back asleep. They woke Him up and said to Him, (Mark 4:38)

"Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"

Jesus was amazed and said to them, (Mark 4:40)

"Why are you so afraid?
Do you still have no faith?"

God orders your life. Understand that. Acknowledge that. Learn from that. Trust Him.

The second thing we see from Naomi here is that

she an attitude of acceptance.

Naomi told the women of Jerusalem to call her, "Mara", which means, "Bitter". That might suggest that she was in fact bitter and angry with God. Some versions of the Bible even translate it that way, and have her saying, (HSCB)

"the Almighty has made me very bitter."

But the NIV and others translate it differently, and have her saying,

"the Almighty has made my life very bitter."

I think both are legitimate translations but the overall impression I get from Naomi's words and her actions is that she's not bitter or angry with God. She's disappointed. Yes. She's sad. Yes. But she's not quarreling with God. She's not arguing with Him. She's not even saying that God has treated her unfairly. There was a sense resignation to God's will in her. She doesn't like her lot in life, but her faith in God is unshaken. She still believes in Him. She trusts in Him even though His hand seems to be against her. She was walking with God even though it was very difficult. God was her God even though His hand was against her. The impression I get from Naomi is the one we see in Job in Job 13:15

"Though he slay me,
yet will I hope in him;"

It's almost like I can hear an echo of Psalm 22:1 on her lips.

"My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?"

She's suffering, but the Almighty, is still her God. Yahweh is her Lord.

The lesson for you here is that

if God's hand seems to go against you, still walk with Him and go where He leads.

Don't get angry with Him. Don't be rash in your thinking or words. As we read in Job 40:1–5

"The Lord said to Job:
'Will the one who contends
with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!'
Then Job answered the Lord:
'I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once,
but I have no answer— twice,
but I will say no more.'"

Then in Job 42:3 Job said to God,

" [You asked,] 'Who is this that obscures
my counsel without knowledge?'
Surely I spoke of things
I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know."

Our attitude in difficult times ought to be that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said, (Luke 22:42)

"Father, if you are willing,
take this cup from me;
yet not my will, but yours be done."

The third thing we should see from our passage is that

Naomi should have had more hope.

She was coming back to Israel discouraged. She was coming back like the only thing left for her to do was to die. She didn't want Ruth or Orpah coming back with her because she felt that their association with her would cause them to suffer as well.

Naomi's attitude, if someone told her to have hope, that there was light at the end of the tunnel, I think Naomi would have said something like,

"That light that you say is the light at the end of the tunnel, that's not the light at the end of the tunnel, that's the train coming."

No. No. God was going to greatly bless Naomi. She was exceedingly blessed at the end of her life. God brought such good to her. As the women said to her in Ruth 4:14–17,

"'Praise be to the Lord,
who this day has not left you
without a kinsman-redeemer.
May he become famous throughout Israel!
He will renew your life
and sustain you in your old age.
For your daughter-in-law,
who loves you and who is better
to you than seven sons,
has given him birth.'
Then Naomi took the child,
laid him in her lap and cared for him.
The women living there said,
'Naomi has a son.'
And they named him Obed.
He was the father of Jesse,
the father of David."

Christians, what a wonderful Savior you have in Jesus. He has saved you and He will lead you through your difficult times and bring you to glory. He is the Good Shepherd who is absolutely committed to you and who will not let you go. (John 10) In times of suffering we need to remember certain promises that our Good Shepherd has given us and have great hope We need to recall Romans 8:28 which says,

"And we know that in all things
God works for the good
of those who love him,
who have been called
according to his purpose."

We need to remember Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17 which say,

"I consider that our present sufferings
are not worth comparing
with the glory that will be revealed in us."

"For our light and momentary troubles
are achieving for us an eternal glory
that far outweighs them all."

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,

what are you to learn when things don't go well for you?

You should see two things in those sufferings. First, you should understand that they are merely a foretaste of much worse sufferings. The Bible speaks of sufferings which are great and unending. Your sins will put you in hell unless they are forgiven. Secondly, your sufferings are a warning to you, a warning from God to go to Jesus and find hope, relief, and healing. Naomi's suffering was turned into joy. Jesus offers to do that for you. Go to Him today.