[ 4 minutes to read ]Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book. For the third sermon, I chose to preach the rest of Scene 1, which is Ruth 1:6-18. You will notice on my scene sheets that I actually broke the scene in the middle of verse 19. I ended up putting verse 19 with Scene 2. It’s not a big issue, but the rest of verse 19 is part of the inciting incident for Scene 2. Verses 6-18 give us the turning point, crisis choice, climax decision, and resolution for the scene and moves the story into the middle. We learn more about Naomi and Ruth as characters in this story. I entitled the sermon, “A New Identity,” because the conversion of Ruth and Ruth’s identity which is a recurring motif throughout the story.
Verses 6-13 Naomi’s Choice
The opening of the story has left Naomi a childless widow in a foreign land. She lost rest, even the hope of rest, and she had to make a choice. She chose to return to Israel after she had learned the famine was ended and Judah had food. We are not told how she received this story revelation, but it creates the turning point in the scene.
She began the journey back and Ruth and Orpah accompanied her. Verses 8-9 give Naomi’s words to her daughters-in-law, which sets up their choice in the scene. She bids them to return to their homes and family. Naomi blesses and prays for them to experience Yahweh’s kindness. This is the first mention of hesed, which refers to covenant kindness or faithfulness, introducing an important theme.
This is also the first of four instances where Ruth is praised for virtuous acts, introducing her as a wisdom character. The book of Ruth obviously parallels Ruth with the virtuous/wise woman of Proverbs 31. The word for virtuous that describes the wise woman, used in Proverbs 30:10, and 29, is also used to describe Ruth in Ruth 2:1; 3:11; and 4:11. I needed to explore this, so I printed out the text of Proverbs 31:10-31 and read through it several times. I wanted to identify characteristics of the wise woman and noted those down the left hand margin. I identified ten different characteristics that were praised in that passage. I also wanted to note where Ruth was either praised for, or displayed those characteristics in the book of Ruth. I put this information on a spreadsheet and included there a contrast with the strange, or foreign, woman in Proverbs. The same word is used of Ruth to describe her as a foreigner, but she is obviously the antithesis of the Proverbs strange woman. You will find links for these sheets at the bottom of the post.
Verse 9 states the controlling theme for the story of finding rest. Finding rest is symbolized by family, the house of a husband. Ruth and Orpah both initially respond with their intentions to stay with her. In verses 11-13, Naomi responds to them in terms of finding rest and that she cannot provide it for them. Naomi is hopeless and is introduced here as a wisdom character, a Job-like suffering figure. She had endured extreme hardship. She acknowledged God’s hand of providence in her life and made a statement similar to Job’s statements about his sufferings in Job 6:4 and 19:21. She will have further statements establishing her as an archetypal sufferer.
Verses 14-18 Ruth’s Choice
The scene moves toward resolution as Ruth and Orpah must make a choice. Orpah returns to her people and provides a foil for illustrating Ruth’s conversion and character as she assumes a new identity. Ruth had already been praised for showing covenant kindness and the narrator describes that she clave to Naomi. Some translations have clung. The word for clave/clung is associated in the Old Testament with covenant faithfulness and describes what Israel was supposed to do (Deuteronomy 10:20; 13:4; Joshua 23:8). It sets up Ruth’s confession in verses 16-17 and her unwavering loyalty throughout the book.
Verses 16-17 are the familiar confession of Ruth, and are some of the most beautiful words in the Bible. The words demonstrate the conversion of Ruth and declare her loyalty to Yahweh, the God of Israel. Her loyalty, love, and faithfulness to Naomi are clearly seen as the fruit of her loyalty, love, and faithfulness to Yahweh. Ruth has a new identity, though her ethnic identity doesn’t change. Ruth’s identity is a recurring motif. The scene resolves with Naomi and Ruth returning to Bethlehem.
The conclusion needed to point out realities about faith. The book presents the characters, especially Naomi and Ruth, in such a way that their choices and actions are seen as actions of faith. Both Naomi and Ruth are in hard circumstances, with limited options. Ruth’s choice is enhanced by Orpah’s choice to return. For the two young widows, returning to their family homes seem the most promising. That is not what Ruth did.
We learn a certain lesson about faith, which is that faith is not merely knowledge or ideas. The Christian faith is not theoretical, abstract ideas we merely entertain, discuss, and play with. Faith in forms how we make decisions and how we live in this world.
To introduce this sermon, I wanted to give a brief summary of the previous sermon. We covered the opening part of the scene. I wanted to point out important lessons there and connect it to the rest of the scene before us.
I wanted to introduce the last part of Scene 1 in terms of the important themes introduced at this point of the story. The controlling/unifying theme of the whole story is introduced here. The themes of wisdom and covenant faithfulness are also introduced. These themes are important for the shape of the story and informing how we read it.
You can listen to the third sermon of the series here. You can download the markup sheet of Proverbs 31:10-31 here. You can download the spreadsheet of the parallels and contrasts of Ruth and Proverbs here.
In the next post, I will look at the fourth sermon in the series.
This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.