Ruth 1:16-17

“And Ruth said, Intreat 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:
Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried:
the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

~ Ruth 1:16-17

Typically, when we want to understand a term, we go to the dictionary to look it up. If we are particularly studious, we may go to an encyclopedia, or some other source, to investigate the etymology of the word. We may also study its usage, trying to determine the various inflections and nuances associated with its meaning.

However, God does not speak to us this way. He did not give us a dictionary or encyclopedia for us to understand what He requires of us. God spoke to us and gave us His Word—His Son, a Person. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God spoke to us in and through a person, meaning His Word is personal and narrative.

Christ was the greatest narrative theologian ever. He taught with authority through parables and illustration and “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). His words were simple, yet profound. He did not speak to His disciples like a Calculus professor lecturing his students on the proofs and corollaries of The Mean Value Theorem. He rather spoke in simple terms, illustrating what “The kingdom of heaven is like” (Matthew 13:31).

A good example of the way God speaks to us is in Hebrews 11. The chapter does begin with a description of faith abstractly, but the substance of the chapter is spent on illustrating what faith is and does. The life of faith is there seen worked out in the real lives of God’s people. It is a moving and compelling picture that climaxes with martyrs of whom the world was not worthy and then proceeds to tell us, in light of all this, to run the race.

What does this have to do with our text? Before us is a passionate, moving illustration of biblical repentance. This occurs in the real world in the real life of Ruth the Moabitess. It is a striking and compelling example of repentance, explaining to us what no dictionary could convey by simply defining the term.

Ruth’s repentance was on this wise. A certain woman named Naomi dwelt in Bethlehem Judah with her husband Elimelech and their two sons. They enjoyed modest riches and reputation in their homeland. A famine arose that affected their lifestyle and they removed to Moab, only for a time of course until things became better in their own land.

Moab wasn’t nearly as bad as they imagined and they got along well until disaster struck. Elimelech died leaving Naomi and their two sons in the land of the pagans. This was a grief to Naomi, but the pagans were friendly and likable and she enjoyed her standard of living there enough to continue.

Her sons were growing into men and as such were wont to be married. They found a couple of lovely pagan girls, Orpah and Ruth, and soon were settled down. It would not do for these girls to remain amongst their pagan families, so they left them for the Israelites and dwelt on the fringe of Moab for some ten years in domestic bliss.

Moreover, both of Naomi’s sons died leaving a Jewish widow with two widowed proselyte daughters-in-law stuck halfway between here and there. Naomi’s grief can hardly be imagined by someone like me, but it must have been very great. These things had taken a toll on her and she purposed to return to Bethlehem, where she had heard God was feeding His people.

Orpah and Ruth went with her on her way for a while. Naomi encouraged them to return but they were resolved to go with her all the way to her home. Naomi insisted they “turn again” (Ruth 1:11) to go back to the life they knew before. She professed to have nothing for them; she would later testify of coming back to Bethlehem “empty.”

The women all wept in an anxious moment. Though Orpah loved Naomi, she kissed her and went on her way back to the pagans. She had “gone back unto her people, and unto her gods” (Ruth 1:15). Orpah had run well for a season, but she was of those who draw back. It happened unto her “according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:22).

The tension grew as Orpah disappeared from sight and the tears began to dry on Naomi and Ruth’s cheeks. There were powerful persuasives for Ruth to return—Naomi had counseled her to that end and Orpah had trodden the very path before her. The doubts and questions swirled in Naomi’s mind as she spoke her last peace, “return thou after thy sister in law” (Ruth 1:15). Her words seemed to hang in the air until the silence at last overtook them. Then, the quiet was broken by a voice that grew from quivering to firm as Ruth spoke the most beautiful words that could fall from Gentile lips. “And Ruth said, Intreat 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: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

It was not that Ruth loved Naomi and Orpah did not that Ruth would not leave her. It was rather because Ruth loved Naomi and loved Naomi’s God that she would not leave her. Ruth had repented; she had turned. Ruth left her native people and her native gods. She had made an end of all else except the God of Israel. She clave unto her mother-in-law because God was with her and, with her life, Ruth vowed to worship and serve the true and living God that created the heavens and the earth.

Here we have the marvelous meaning of repentance in the real world. Repentance means a change, and, O what a change! Paul praised God for the Thessalonians and how they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Ruth turned from her life of rebellion to God’s kingdom, took hold of the skirt of a Jew, and went with her because God was with her (cf. Zecheriah 8:23). She had turned and burned all her bridges behind her like Asaph, who confessed, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (Psalm 73:25). She was one with Peter, who answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Ruth repented. She turned to the true and living God to the exclusion of all else. May God grant many Ruth’s in our generation! I pray the Holy Spirit will grant that we understand what it means to repent.

Job 42:5-6

I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear:
but now mine eye seeth thee.
Wherefore I abhor myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.

~ Job 42:5-6

Job was a man that had come into great calamity, but things began to happen when he got serious about repentance. The scriptures testify of him, “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1). Job was a man that walked in his integrity. His character was blameless before God and man. Nevertheless, trouble came upon him.

Job was a man that had heard God. He was strong in the faith and had become a teacher of good things. He had strengthened many in their afflictions and helped many of the weak to bear their burdens. “Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands. Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees. But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled” (Job 4:3-5). Now he seeks consolation for his own spirit in the midst of tribulation.

He confesses that he has spoken words that he believes to be true and yet does not fully understand. “Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not” (Job 42:3). He has heard of God and has given forth his knowledge. He confesses now his own ignorance and slow understanding. He comes into closer contact with the Almighty “but now mine eye seeth thee” and under His shadow finds much to repent of, where he had previously found no flaw.

Let us now consider the repentance of Job. May God give grace to understand and faith to believe His testimony. Jesus said that men who love darkness would not come to the light because their deeds would be manifested. Therefore, let us come to the light that we may discover our sin and repent.

As long as Job stood afar off, he could think that he did well. He was not absent from all worship of God, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear.” There is no telling how far his misery would progress as long as he was content to dwell in the outer court being satisfied with the hearing of his ears and not seeking the light with his eyes. But he began to draw nearer to God and as he came “under the shadow of the Almighty,” the light reproved him.

He had once thought himself well and now saw himself vile. “But now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job found disgust in his own members. He cried as Paul, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). God had charged Job with darkening “counsel with words without knowledge” (Job 38:2). In the light of God’s presence, Job agreed and confessed his own guiltiness (Job 42:3).

Job’s repentance was the kind spoken of by Joel the prophet, “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (Joel 2:13). His was not sorrow for consequences or the sorrow of the world in outward show. His was a godly sorrow, a sorrow of the heart, and a real sorrow for sin in his flesh. His thoughts ran with the Psalmists who said, “Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:12-14). Oh for hearts that will sorrow over sin! The Psalmists seeks cleansing from secret faults. Sins so subtle in the flesh that he has not discovered them.

If we draw near to God we will discover our own unworthiness. We will fall on our faces and plead with Him to be delivered from sin. If we desire to be an inner court worshiper we must come into His presence. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

Do you wish to find the joy that exists in His presence? Do you wish to be of those that “sat down under his shadow with great delight” (Song of Solomon 2:3)? Then get serious about repentance. Fall on your face before the High God and pour out your heart in all honesty. Stop rationalizing and justifying your sins. Don’t say, “Well, I haven’t done anything all that bad.” God says in His Word, “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings” (Jeremiah 3:22).

Psalm 73:28

“But it is good for me to draw near to God:
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
that I may declare all thy works.”

~ Psalm 73:28

In Psalm 73, Asaph gives an account of the sore temptation that had taken him–temptation had led him into despondency where he traversed a dark and slippery path. He wrote, “But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped” (Psalm 73:2). Chiefly it was his carnal views of the wicked that led him down the dreaded road. Thankfully, he was not left in this condition. His understanding did return and he was restored to a proper knowledge of the events that had greatly distressed him.

Proper knowledge led to humble repentance, “Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins” (Psalm 73:21). He acknowledged his ignorance in verse 22 declaring, “So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.” His conclusion is consistent with the scriptures, in that it is always foolish to stray from God. However, it is infinitely more foolish to stay from God. “For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee” (Psalm 73:27).

The end of the wicked is destruction. They are far off “having no hope, and without God in the world.” He realizes the blessedness of his standing regardless of troubles in the flesh and the promotion of the sinful in the world. He owns that it is to his own good and blessing to draw near to God. He praised God that he was not consumed in his errors but was led back into the way. His conclusion was that it was good, he was trusting in God, and he would declare all His works. Let us now investigate three things that are suggested in our text, namely, our approach to God, our salvation by God, and our working for God.

In the first place, we consider our approach to God. Asaph writes, “But it is good for me to draw near to God.” We know that approach to Him is necessary because of our inborn separation from Him. “The scripture hath concluded all under sin” (Galatians 3:22). Realizing our condition, we must come to God. Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). We can only come to God through Christ. Christ also testified, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). We cannot come to Christ of our own working “it is the gift of God.” “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:16). It is not of our own power or ability that we come to God. “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts” (Psalm 65:4).

Truly then, Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith.” Therefore, we are chosen by God unto salvation as says the scriptures, “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thessalonians 2:13-14).

In the second place, we consider our salvation by God. Asaph declares, “I have put my trust in the Lord God.” To put our trust in the Lord is to be saved for Paul told the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). Jesus also preached, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.” There is no salvation apart from faith and that faith is the gift of God according to the scriptures, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is not earned by work on our part. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). We find that “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). The Psalmist declared, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power,” (Psalm 110:3). So we conclude with Jonah, “Salvation is of the LORD.”

In the last place, let us think about our working for God. Asaph says, “that I may declare all thy works.” He does not place his works before his salvation but after and makes his salvation the grounds for and causes of his good works. In Psalm 40, it was after that David was brought up “out of an horrible pit” and his feet were set “upon a rock” that he “preached righteousness in the great congregation.”

The saved are to walk in holiness before the Lord. Following the progression rightly, we discern that salvation is unto good works as the scriptures proclaim, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The vital union with Christ is the source of our fruits. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

Therefore, we see how each builds upon the other and the latter is an evidence of the former seeing that the former is source of the latter. In other words, we are chosen by God unto salvation (II Thessalonians 2:13; Ephesians 1:4), we are saved by God through faith (Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5), and we are saved by God unto good works (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:14). Surely, it is good for us to “draw near to God.”