Lessons On The Winding Path Of Glory From Ruth

Ruth 4:18-22 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, 19 Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, 20 Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, 21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, 22 Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.

After a couple of months in this remarkable book, this will be the final sermon on Ruth. Unexpectedly, Ruth has jumped to the top of the books of the bible that God has most used to shape my thinking and change my heart. To help you understand why (in the hope that it will jump to the top of your list too), after  briefly considering the concluding genealogy, I mean to share with you a handful of lessons that Ruth has taught or reinforced in me in life-giving and life-changing ways. Let’s pray that God would use this final sermon in Ruth to continue transform us by the renewing of our minds.

There are just a few interesting things about this genealogy to which I’d like to draw your attention.

  1. It’s almost identical to the one found in 1 Chronicles 2:5-15; confirming its validity and demonstrating that the events of Ruth are truly historical. Ruth is not a fairy tale or a parable. It records God’s work in the real lives of real people in real places.
  2. It has exactly 10 names on it. No one knows why, but everyone agrees that it is somehow significant.
  3. It names Boaz rather than Elimelech or Mahlon even though the story itself makes a big deal about Boaz continuing on the line of his relatives.
  4. It begins with Perez. This is especially strange in that typically the man at the beginning was meant to validate the man at the end (or vice versa). Both Perez’s father, Judah, and his grandfather, Jacob, would have been better for this. The commentators I read offered several possible explanations for this (including the inexplicable need to limit it to ten names), but all admitted they didn’t really understand.
  5. It ends with David. Even though this is the first time David is mentioned in Ruth, it suggests that (at least) part of the point of the story was to explain God’s hand in David’s rule.
  6. As I noted a few sermons ago, the real glory of the genealogy is found in Matthew 1 where it continues on through Obed, Jesse, and David all the way to Jesus Christ. That suggests that the ultimate purpose of Ruth is not to get us to David but to Jesus. He is the true glory and point of this story!

That’s about it. It seems that in simplest terms the author’s main point in including the genealogy was simply to set the story in its proper historical context for the people of God at some point after David was king and God’s main point was to tell one more chapter in the story of the coming of his Son.

With that then, in the way of a wrap up and a reminder, let’s consider a few lessons on the winding path of glory.

One quick note of introduction: I purposely waited until finishing the sermon to look back at my first sermon on Ruth. In that sermon I offered what I believed to be then (and still do now) the three main themes in Ruth. I wanted to compare that list to this one. That was themes (the author’s main points of emphasis) and this is lessons (things I encourage you to take away from the book), but I expected there to be some overlap. Indeed there was. Here, then, are the 9 main lessons I’m encouraging you to take from Ruth:

  1. Sin has consequences. It was likely Israel’s sin that led to the famine in Israel (1:1). It was a sin for Elimelech to lead his family out of Israel to pagan Moab where he and his sons died (1:3, 5). Insodoing Elimelech left his wife and daughters-in-law alone, vulnerable, and empty (1:5, 21). It appears that both Ruth and her sister Orpah were unable to conceive, likely as a result of their husbands’ sin. Naomi sinned by mistrusting God and so she became broken (1:19) and bitter (1:13, 20). Sin was evidently common place among the men of Israel as several references in the story suggest Ruth was likely to be mistreated and abused out in the fields (2:9, 22). And those are just a few examples of the sin and consequences in Ruth.

    And so it is for you and me. Your sin and mine—every single one—has consequences. At the very least, it always hinders our fellowship with God. At times it can cause serious suffering and even death, wreaking havoc on our friends and family. And at worst, apart from Christ, it leads to hell. In many ways Ruth helps us to see this in real life situations. And the lesson for us is to take sin seriously and the gospel thankfully.

  2. Suffering and hardship are a certain part of the Christian life, but they are not final. As we just saw, sin is everywhere around us and in us, and therefore so is suffering and hardship. In Ruth much of the hardship we just saw was in fact transformed into joy. Naomi went from pleasant to bitter (1:21) and then back to pleasant (4:13-17). Naomi went from full to empty and then back to full. Elimelech’s line went from nearly extinct to alive and flourishing (1:11-13, 4:5, 13, 18-22). Naomi and Ruth went from having no provision and little hope for it to people of abundance at the hand of God (1:6) and Boaz (2:14, 15-16, 3:15). Ruth went from one who was dead under the false religion of her people (1:15) to one who was alive through faith in God (1:16-17). Ruth went from vulnerable to protected by Boaz (3:11) and ultimately God (2:12). Ruth went from barren to fruitful (4:13). Ruth went from widowed (1:5) to remarried (4:13). Naomi lost her two sons, but Ruth’s love for her became like seven sons (4:15) and Obed was like a new child (4:16). There are more examples than these, but these are enough to see that sometimes, even in this life difficulty is not final for the people of God.

    Again, in Ruth much of the hardship was transformed into joy. And although that is not always the case in this life, the good news for God’s people is that life will not ultimately end in suffering and hardship. What the story of Ruth hints at, Jesus Christ achieved in full on the cross.

    And so, Grace, the lessons are these: we must expect hardship and suffering, there is no guarantee that it will end in this life, but the cross makes certain that no suffering for the people of God is final. Therefore, when hardship comes, we must not suffer and grieve as ones who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We must not endure trials in the same way as those whose suffering is futile and final. We must be people who live according to the truth that our victory is completely secured and every tear will be turned to triumph.

  3. God’s ways are always better than our ways. We have seen this many times throughout the story of Ruth. In particular we’ve seen it in God’s covenant promises. Where Israel remained faithful to God she was blessed, but when she broke the terms of the covenant she stumbled and fell (1:1).

    We also saw it in the gleaning laws (2:2; Leviticus 23:22), the redeeming laws (2:20; Leviticus 25:25), the laws given by God for the protection of the vulnerable (2:9 ; Zechariah 7:10), and the law of levirate marriage (4:5; Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

    Over and over God’s people reasoned that they were too poor themselves to allow others to glean their fields or to redeem their brother’s land. Over and over God’s people took advantage of the weak for personal gain or to avoid further personal loss. And over and over again God’s people reasoned that marrying to perpetuate their family’s line would have too steep a price (4:6). They thought they knew better.

    Grace, if there is one consistent negative mark that we all share, it’s believing that we know better than God. From the beginning our first parents struggled and fell in this area (and all of us with them). But Grace, if there’s one thing that the book of Ruth demonstrates in this area, if there’s one lesson that we mustn’t miss here, it’s that God’s ways are always better than our ways. Let us, therefore, not try to outsmart God. Let us be glad to know and follow the commands of God; understanding then not as hindrances to our higher happiness, but as the sole means to it. Ruth puts all of this on full display.

  4. Kindness, loyalty, and devotion—ḥesed—are among the highest virtues of the people of God. As I mentioned in my first sermon, this is certainly one of the main themes in the entire book. In 1:8 Naomi earnestly desires on behalf of her daughters-in-law that “the LORD [would] deal kindly [ḥesed] with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.” Likewise in 2:20 at Ruth’s report of Boaz’s kindness, Naomi exclaims, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness [ḥesed] has not forsaken the living or the dead!” And in 3:10, after proposing to Boaz at Naomi’s urging, Boaz spoke these words to Ruth, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last kindness [ḥesed] greater than the first.” While the word itself is used only a few times, the concept is everywhere in Ruth.

    We see it from Ruth to Naomi (1:14-18 in clinging to her; 2:1-2 in going out to glean; 2:18 in sharing in her bounty with Naomi; 3:5 in obeying Naomi’s command to end her mourning and propose to Boaz; 4:14-17 in giving her child to Naomi to carry on her line).

    We see it from Boaz to Naomi and Ruth (2:8 in allowing Ruth to glean in his fields; 2:9, 15-17 in offering Ruth protection; 2:9, 14, 3:15 in offering Ruth abundant provision; 3:10-11 in agreeing to marry Ruth as a redeemer; 3:12, 4:1-10 in agreeing to work on her behalf before the nearer redeemer; 3:14 in protecting Ruth’s reputation; 4:13 in giving their offspring to carry on Elimelech’s name).

    Ultimately, however we see ḥesed in God’s dealings with Boaz, Naomi, and Ruth (1:6 in lifting the famine from Israel; 1:16-17 in granting Ruth eternal life; 1:19 in bringing the women safely to Bethlehem; 2:1 in providing Boaz with the obedience, means, and influence to bless the women; 4:6 in hardening the heart of the nearer redeemer; 4:11 in softening the hearts of the town’s elders; 4:13 and in opening Ruth’s womb).

    And so, Grace, we see again godliness in action. In these few short verses we have here a remarkable picture of the kind of kindness, loyalty, and devotion God charges his people with. The lesson for us is that we must seek to imitate this in our lives. Just as sin always has consequences, Ruth teaches that godly choices do too. Let us be quick to put into practice what Boaz, Ruth, and God put on display. Let us constantly be on the lookout for ways to show ḥesed to the people in our lives.

  5. Godliness above all things ought to be desired and attractive to the people of God. I spend a good deal of time on this just a few weeks ago, so here I just want to quickly mention it. Two passages in particular put this on display.

    The first is in chapter 2(:10-13) when Ruth is utterly amazed at Boaz’s initial kindness to her in allowing her to glean in his fields and protect her from mistreatment. In asking him why he was so kind to her, Boaz answered that it was because he had heard of her conversion and kindness. He was attracted to her godly reputation well before he ever laid eyes on her.

    The second is in chapter 3(:9-11) just after Ruth proposed to Boaz and he accepted. He was again impressed by and attracted to her kindness to Naomi and her unwillingness to go after younger men.

    Once again, Grace, virtually everything around us is working to tell us otherwise, but Ruth teaches and displays genuine godliness as most desirable and attractive. The lesson, then, is that we do well to examine our own hearts, therefore, to find what’s there. Are you pursuing godliness above physical health, above a particular muscle tone or body shape, above physical beauty, above money, above prestige or fame, above the praise of others, above comfort—above the things of this world? Likewise, are you drawn to genuine godliness above these things in others—especially your friends and spouse? Ruth’s lesson is that we must make it our aim to desire and be attracted to godliness above everything of this world.

  6. Life is (from our perspective) a winding path. As the tagline I chose for the series indicates, I believe that if there’s one thing that the story of Ruth teaches us it’s that life from our perspective often looks windy (at best). So much of what happens appears to us to be random and out of control. So much of what we experience is challenging and difficult and the point of it all often remains hidden from us.

    Famine came to Israel. Presumably to save his family, a man named Elimelech led his wife and sons out of Israel, away from their home, and into a neighboring, strange, pagan land called Moab. That’s pretty windy.

    While there Elielech died… then both his sons died. That’s really windy.

    Left alone Elimelech’s wife, Naomi, and daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, had to decide what to do. Upon hearing word that the famine had lifted in Israel, Naomi decided to go back to her homeland with the mere hope that someone would be merciful to her. That’s windy.

    Uncertain of her future and certain that she had nothing to offer, Naomi urged Ruth and Orpah to abandon her and head back to their parents. Orpah agreed but Ruth decided to remain with Naomi and put her hope in Naomi’s God. Again, that’s really windy.

    With that, the two women headed to Bethlehem with no real idea of how things would go. Windy.

    They did make it to Bethlehem but by that point Naomi was so bitter and dismayed that she had become unrecognizable to the townspeople. More windy.

    Ruth came up with the idea of wandering from field to field until someone allowed her to pick the crops that had been left behind by the workers. Insodoing she opened herself up to being taken advantage of and abused. Still windy.

    Life was hard and the women had no idea what lurked around the next turn. So far they had known little rest and much hardship. They had known little stability and much chaos. They had been given little explanation and much confusion. Windy, windy, windy.

    And so it is for you and me. So much of our lives are around a blind corner. So much of our lives involve situations we don’t understand and can’t control. So much of our lives seem mundane and even pointless. We rarely have any idea as to where the moments and experiences of our lives fit into any cosmic purpose. And so Ruth teaches us this lesson: this is all by God’s design. Life really does look really, really windy to us most of the time. That’s the world and existence we live in and Ruth helps us to see that in crystal clear terms. But the question before us is this: is the world really like that? Are our lives really as they seem to us? That question leads us to the final three lessons of Ruth.

  7. God’s perspective is not limited like ours. The reason there’s much more to the story is that our perspective is not only not exhaustive, it’s astonishingly limited. We are tiny specks and brief mists in an unimaginably large universe which has been around for a long time. The space which we are a part of spans light-years beyond comprehension, and the time that our lives occupy is barely a blip in the course of human history.

    (I checked these facts with our “Fact Guy”) If the earth is as young as the bible seems to present it as, your life makes up just over .5% of the time to this point (and if the earth is really much older the percentage drops exponentially). More humbling still, if current estimates are anywhere close to accurate, some 100 billion people have lived on earth. (That’s probably pretty optimistic and based on some unbiblical commitments.) If that’s even close to true it means that you make up .000000001% (8 zeros) of the earth’s population. Most humbling of all, if you consider your place in the observable universe, you make up 0.(78 zeros)1.

    The point, once again, is this: from our perspective our lives appear to be on winding paths of randomness, but our perspectives are astonishingly limited. But here’s the thing: God has seen, sees, and will see everything seeable. And he has known, knows, and will know everything knowable. He has been, is, and will be everywhere, always. He has perfect knowledge of every square inch and every second that has ever existed. He is in no way limited in his perspective. He knows everything perfectly. And all of this comes together such that God knows the straightest and best path to the highest glory.

    This shows up subtly, but certainly in Ruth. That is, God’s perfect perspective is only hinted at in Ruth, but it’s there. And the lesson for us is that we must be a humble people. We cannot continue to engage life as if we have understanding beyond what the God of all understanding has chosen to share with us. We know little, God knows everything, and that leads to the next lesson.

  8. God’s aim is always and only our good. Knowing the straightest and best path to the highest glory is awesome, but more is necessary if God’s people are to actually experience it. Not only does God need to know the path, he needs to want it.

    Still a bit subtle in Ruth, but clearer than his omniscience and omnipresence (#7), as we saw in (#4) the ḥesed of God, God is, without exception in Ruth, presented as a benevolent and kind being who loves to protect and bless and amaze his people with his goodness.

    The lesson for us, then, is this, we have a God who is entirely and only for the good of his faithful people. For those whose hope is in Christ, God is only after our good.

  9. God reigns continuously and sovereignly over the universe. It’s not enough to know the straightest and best path to the highest glory. It is not enough to know and want it. Those two things are necessary, but still not sufficient. In addition to them God must also be powerful enough to bring about the straightest and best path to the highest glory. Indeed, he is. God also has perfect control of all things.

    While God’s omniscience is subtle and implied in Ruth, and his goodness is only slightly less subtle, his omnipotence is obvious and explicit.

    The author notes that it was God who ended the famine in Israel (implying that it was God who caused the famine in the first place) (1:6).

    It was God’s sovereign choice that would determine Ruth and Orpah’s fate (1:8), whether or not they would experience rest (1:9).

    In Naomi’s mind it was God who had gone “out against” (1:13) her, “dealt very bitterly” with her (1:20), “testified against” her, and “brought calamity upon” her (1:21).

    Repayment for Ruth’s kindness to Naomi, providing a place of refuge for Ruth and Naomi (2:12), and genuine blessing (3:10), Boaz reported, was the job of the LORD alone. Likewise, repaying Boaz for his kindness to Ruth was the sole prerogative and power of the LORD, Naomi realized (2:20).

    The people of Bethlehem recognized that it was the LORD alone who had the ability to grant Boaz and Ruth offspring (4:11, 12). Indeed, it was the LORD, the author informs us, who “gave [Ruth] conception” (4:13). They also realized that it was the LORD who provided Naomi with a redeemer (4:14).

    And that’s also the main point of the genealogy at the end of the book (our text for this morning): to demonstrate God’s sovereign rule over the line of his Son.

    The lesson in all of this is that although the path of life often seems windy and difficult to us, in reality God is working continually, benevolently, and with perfect efficiency in every event of our lives to bring about the greatest good. The path may appear windy, and at times it certainly is, but it is a windy path of highest glory. Therefore, let us not despise the normal and mundane. Moms take heart that your quiet, private prayers and constant discipline are on the winding path of glory. Dads, take heart that your faithful work at an “ordinary” job and your attempts to disciple your kids are on the winding path of glory. Friend, take heart that your prayers and simple evangelism with your seemingly indifferent buddy are on the winding path of glory. Seniors, take heart in the fact that every ache and pain, all the weakness and fatigue, and the inability to work like you used to are on the winding path of glory whenever your eyes are on Jesus. Kids, take heart that your kindness to your siblings and your attempts to be a good example to your friends are all on the winding path of glory when they come from your hope in God. Bosses, employees, co-workers, neighbors, relatives… take heart that your love for Christ means you’re on the winding path of glory.

I want to conclude this sermon and this series, then, by reminding you that all of this is true and certain because of the one who would come from Obed’s line. The best part of the windy path of glory is that it goes straight to the cross and there it finds the end of sin and death and all things find rescue, restoration, and meaning. Look to Jesus, therefore, and know that the winding path of glory—your life—is part of God’s perfect plan. Amen.