The Book of Ruth is a small narrative, only four chapters long, tucked away in the Old Testament of the Bible, between the Book of Judges and the two Books of Samuel. And yet the story, messages and parallels of Ruth are astounding.
When the Globe Church announced that it would be giving a series on the Book of Ruth I was excited. I hadn’t yet read Ruth and I was always fascinated and interested to find out more and more about what the Bible contained and more and more about the messages that the narratives held. I didn’t yet realise how applicable the messages of Ruth were to my life or how Jesus really is in every book of the Bible.
In the first chapter of Ruth, we follow the journey of Naomi and her family away from Bethlehem, the place in which God has promised to provide, to Moab. Naomi’s two sons marry Moabite women, one of whom is Ruth. We see the painful consequences that Naomi’s family experience before she truly sees that she must return to the land that God has given her. We see the firm hope of faith that Ruth shows in her devotion Naomi. Chapter One finishes with Naomi once more in Bethlehem, accompanied by her daughter-in-law, Ruth.
Jonty, our pastor, illustrated to us how the passage of Naomi and her family reflects our walking away from God and forgetting the promises of God; ‘Bethlehem’ itself translates to ‘house of bread’. Naomi left the land in which God has promised to provide for His people in the same way that we turn away from God, in fulfilling our own selfish will, or in attempting to find satisfaction in other sources, in sources that will always let us down. When things go wrong in our lives we may find it easy to put our hopes in different people, opportunities and possibilities, just as Naomi sought a living in Moab, away from God’s people. We create for ourselves false hopes whilst we may ignore the true hope that God has given to us. We establish a dependence on self whilst God has freely given Himself to depend upon.
And yet Naomi realises, with the pain she experiences, that she cannot uphold herself, that she needs God to survive. She returns. As Jonty drew this towards personal experience, we realised how Naomi’s actions and Naomi’s experience reflect our own. I saw, in my life, how I have turned away from God, how I have tried to be my own solution for the problems I faced and how, for a long time, I did not accept Christ as my Lord. I know what it feels like to run to God and to realise all that I’ve done wrong. And this isn’t where the picture stops, walking away from God before turning and running back is an experience that many Christians face within every day lives. In moments of stress anxiety we may find it hard to remember all that God has given us. We must remember to turn back and ask forgiveness as Naomi returned from Moab and asked acceptance into Bethlehem once more.
We see at the end how God restores Naomi, how he gives her full and free forgiveness despite the extent to which she rejected Him. The book of Ruth gives us a beautiful picture of the hope and the blessing that we can depend upon God and that God provides for us.
And in the person of Ruth, we see a such a firm hope of faith, such an understanding of who God is that I am brought to look upon my own trust and wonder why it is not ever stronger. Ruth leaves Moab, a land without God, to find hope in Bethlehem, a land of God’s promises. She leaves everything to put all of her hope in Bethlehem
Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me. Ruth 1:16-17
By the end of the sermon I was left comforted, knowing that I was not alone in the need to keep turning and running back to God, and inspired by the certainty with which Ruth places her hope in the refuge of God, a refuge that she did not yet know.
This sermon had a powerful impact upon me and a month later, as I travelled with a group of friends to our Christian Union Weekend Away in the beautiful village of Frinton-on-Sea, I was excited to find out that we would be focussing, once more, on the book of Ruth.
Mark, our preacher, showed to us and reinforced our awareness of the forgiveness that we have received from God. He showed us that just as God forgives Naomi for turning away, He does so throughout the entirety of the bible. He talked of how God sent Jesus to take on our sin, and be punished at the cross, so that we may be forgiven. He showed us points throughout the bible that truly show us of God’s devotion to his people.
I will be with you always, to the very end of the age. Mathew 28:20
Do not be afraid or terrified… for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you, nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6
He told us to look and see, to be thankful of what God has given us, and to be thankful for everything that God provides. And as I looked around I saw the community that God had placed me in, I saw all that He has given to our Christian Union, and I knew that the same thankfulness must reverberate throughout the rest of my life.
Having focussed so deeply on Ruth, I decided that I wished to contribute to the creative response that we were being encouraged to consider at The Globe Church. I decided that I would respond to each chapter of Ruth in turn and chose to challenge myself in creating a poem that reflected how the first chapter made me feel.
And so here goes…
- Amongst the blue of open sky,
- Two wings of a lonely bronze.
- A foreigner in lands unknown,
- A lost call, echoing, gone.
- The feathers fall, the feathers rise,
- With delicate fluttering,
- They hesitate, in trembling breath,
- As isolation floods in.
- A silhouette across the sun,
- Brings light to fate unclear.
- The warmth of His wings surround her,
- As He takes away her fear.
- The picture of purest glory,
- He is king above of all kings.
- He covers her with His feathers,
- She finds refuge in His wings.
The poem is about a young eagle flying away from its mother, before realising it isn’t strong enough on its own and needs the refuge of its mother’s wings. Linking it to the book of Ruth, I’m trying to represent what it feels like for me to run away from God and to rely upon myself, only to realise that I am not enough and that I need the love and strength of God, and then to turn back and find forgiveness and protection in Him. The last two lines are adapted from a psalm, upon which the whole image of the poem is based…
He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge. Psalm 91:4
And I wonder, when I have this wonderful refuge, when I have the protection and the hope that God has given me, why do I find it so easy to run away? And so, maybe some of you will be with me in turning back, in looking at what God has given us. No matter how many times we’ve turned away, no matter how long we’ve been running for, if we return to God, He will always show us forgiveness.