At the time, of course, this is not immediately apparent, because we have a natural tendency to excuse our behaviour and ignore the more difficult questions about what we are doing. Those around us may think that we are confused; perhaps they believe we honestly don’t know how our awkward situation has arisen. When they talk to us about it, we appear repentant, and our answers to their questions seem to indicate that we are trying hard to recover from a temporary lapse.
But frequently this external display is only a sham, because in most cases we knew exactly what we were getting into, long before it became problematic. Whether the temptation was emotional, financial, moral or physical, our indulgence was always a matter of choice. It was never forced upon us. In a moment of weakness, we saw a window of opportunity – and somehow we managed to invent whatever excuse was necessary to tranquilise our nagging conscience. From this point, we were committed to a course of action.
And how hard it is to take that action back. To admit that things simply cannot go on as they are. To take the vital step and break off our relationship with the world.
In the book of Ruth, we find an unusual story about a family who left the ecclesia because they lacked faith – and yet paradoxically, brought salvation to a woman who had never believed in Yahweh before.
Turn with me to Ruth 1:1-5.
Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem-judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.
And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem-judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
And Elimelech Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.
And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.
And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.
Elimelech’s family was unfortunate enough to be living in the time of the judges; a chaotic period during which Israel suffered from internal division and an absence of leadership. The Biblical phrase used to describe this era is “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes”, and when we reflect upon the implications of such a comment, we realise the enormity of the pressures that were responsible for the general decline in Godly standards.
In previous years, the Jews had been known as a deeply religious people with a stable, self-regulating code of social behaviour and an insular social community, which steadfastly opposed the twin forces of assimilation and compromise. Their nation, based firmly upon the received word of their God, was utterly inflexible on matters of doctrine and practice. Their history was one of separation and distinction. As long as they were united, no Gentile tribe could possibly withstand them, and their resistance to change had developed a close-knit community with a single mind and a single vision for the future.
But as each uneventful year flowed into another, the Jews grew complacent and apathetic. Many decades of peace in the land flowing with milk and honey, had eroded their emphasis on preparation and watchfulness. With no clear enemy outside the nation, Israel began to leave her borders unguarded, and as her leaders fell one by one into a spiritual sleep, new ideas crept into the camp and took root in the fertile soil of human imagination.
So insidious was this change that it went unnoticed until the silent desires of men finally found the power to manifest themselves in a bold and confident rejection of law, order, truth, humility, and decency. In vain the judges tried to save the people from themselves, calling them back to the Law of Moses and the unfailing mercy of God. Countless efforts were made to separate the righteous Jews from the unrighteous, and sweep the nation clean.
But by this time it was far too late. Idolatry had grown much faster than truth, and in many cases the one had overtaken the latter to such an extent that it was impossible to tell the faithful from the apostate, for they all looked exactly the same.
Do we recognise this process? Have we seen it somewhere before?
Surely we have.
Because the Israel of Elimelech’s day was essentially no different from the modern world in which we find ourselves – and so it comes as no surprise to find that Jesus uses this period in history as the basis for a parable which speaks of his return in our own time.
Come with me to Matthew 13:24-30.
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
Jesus told this parable because he knew that his disciples would be the founders of the 1st century ecclesias – and he also knew that if they were to succeed in this task, they would have to be on guard against the many subtle influences that can change a religious community. But his warning to the disciples is a warning to us as well.
As we look around at the state of Christadelphia today, we see a general decline in standards, a lack of emphasis on first principles, a casual approach to Bible study, and a wanton liberality which encourages self-service instead of self-sacrifice. It is limited to no particular place; it is limited to no particular group of people. It's everywhere.
That's human nature.
But if these modern developments are allowed to go unchallenged, we can say goodbye to the Truth as we know it. And we can say goodbye to the many brethren, sisters and young people who, like Elimelech and his family, will find themselves increasingly drawn outside the ecclesia because they simply don’t have the faith and conviction to remain.
As we examine the events of Ruth chapter 1, we begin to understand the motivation behind Elimelech’s move. At first glance it is tempting to see him as another Lot – a man who just could not resist the luxuries of Sodom and Gomorrah, and was willing to risk his family for the short term gain which they offered.
We know, too, that Moab was a land of many temptations. It encouraged immorality. Its religion was based upon gratuitous excess. Its women were beautiful and seductive. But were these the factors which influenced Elimelech, or were they things he hoped to resist?
Clearly they were not the reasons he moved to Moab. Elimelech left Israel because he feared the famine. If he had genuinely wanted to indulge in the lifestyle of the Moabites, he would not have waited for a national disaster to strike. So although his decision was not a wise one, we may be reassured that his motives – though misguided – were essentially honourable. All he wanted to do was protect his family from hunger and poverty.
Now, Elimelech knew he was taking a risk - but he thought he had the situation under control. It was never his intention to remain in Moab – he thought he would only be there until the famine was over, and he planned to return to Israel when life was more stable. We know this because in Ruth chapter 4 verse 3, Boaz informs the elders of the city that Naomi has a parcel of land which was left to her when her husband died.
So although Elimelech entered Moab during a time of spiritual weakness, his refusal to give up this land shows that he firmly believed his inheritance was in Israel. In Matthew 6:21, we read...
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also
...and this example from the book of Ruth, provides us with an unusually positive expression of the verse. It shows us that Elimelech’s heart was in Israel, even though he and his family were in Moab. That single block of land constituted his declaration of faith. It wasn’t much – but it was all he had. And was it enough? No. In the end, it was not enough.
The sons of Elimelech – Mahlon and Chilion – may have shared their father’s faith, but they were unable to survive the sojourn in Moab. Their names mean “sickness” and “failing” – and this is quite appropriate, because they die without even making it to the end of Ruth chapter 1.
And yet this does not mean that they were bad people. There is no need for us to interpret their deaths as God’s punishment for a life of immoral behaviour. But they were inconsistent. When their father died, they had an opportunity to take their mother back to Israel, and yet they did not. They wanted to find wives before they did anything else. And they were happy to do this in Moab.
Let’s look at Ruth 1:8-10.
And Naomi said unto her two daughters-in-law, Go, return each to her mother's house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.
The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.
And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.
Mahlon and Chilion were living in the land of Moab, far away from the restrictions and commandments of the Law of Moses. No-one but their parents could ever know what they did there. If they wanted wives, they could have them – and there was nothing to stop them choosing anyone they liked the look of. But what sorts of wives did they choose?
Loose, free-spirited women who forsook their marriage vows? Selfish, greedy women who did not care for Elimelech and Naomi?
Scheming women who deliberately led their husbands into idol worship?
No, their wives were not like this at all.
It is to Mahlon and Chilion’s credit (even if this is the only credit we can give them) that, when faced with a wide range of Gentile women, they chose the two whose characters were sound. Orpah and Ruth were not Jewesses, but their response to Naomi in chapter 1 shows that shows that they were softhearted, principled, and upright. They had "dealt kindly with the dead" (their husbands and their father-in-law) and they had dealt kindly with Naomi herself. Mahlon and Chilion had been attracted to them because they were as close to the children of God as they could possibly be.
And yet, they were not Jews. In fact, they were not even proselyte Jews. This is evident from their conversation with Naomi in verses 11-17.
- If Orpah and Ruth had converted to Judaism and become proselytes, Naomi would not have told them to remain in Moab, and neither would she have used the distinction “her people and her gods” in verse 15, because they would no longer have been Orpah’s people and Orpah’s gods.
- If Orpah and Ruth had been proselyte Jews, Ruth would not have said to Naomi “thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” in verse 16, because the Jews would have been her people, and Yahweh her God.
Were they hoping to legitimise Orpah and Ruth on their return to Israel?
It’s possible that this was their attitude.
Sometimes we make the same mistake ourselves. We become involved with an unbeliever because we don’t feel threatened by them, and to a certain extent we seem to share some measure of compatibility. We find someone who understands the way we think. Who empathises with our problems.
Someone whose sense of humour is similar to our own, or who shares our hobbies and interests. Someone whose conversation is decent and intelligent. Someone who takes a genuine interest in us; who respects our beliefs and accepts us for who we are.
How attractive this discovery can be! How tempting to spend more time with this person, enjoying the novelty of our relationship. But in our heart of hearts, we know it is an untenable situation. Because ultimately, if our non-believing friend has no interest in the Truth, we will need to reaffirm our separation and let them go. If we do not, we may find ourselves making a series of compromises that gradually snowball into a major concession. (I speak from personal experience...)
And that single concession can disrupt our lives to such an extent that we will never be the same again. For if our contact with the world becomes so great that our private lives are affected, we will invariably lose something of great value. It may be something physical, like money, possessions, or employment. Or it may be something intangible, like integrity, purity, innocence, or trust. In the case of Mahlon and Chilion, it was their lives.
Some of the blame for this tragedy must fall upon their father and his weak leadership. Elimelech’s vital mistake was in thinking that he could use the world as a convenient and temporary escape from the responsibilities of his life in Israel. He loved his family, and under normal circumstances he would do anything he could to provide for them. But this time it just looked too hard. The famine was too intimidating; the prosperity of Moab too great to resist. He thought he could belong to the ecclesia on a “fly-in, fly-out” basis.
And his family suffered from this because the lives of Mahlon and Chilion became increasingly aimless once their father had died. We see that their behaviour is sporadic, with no clear direction. They have no commitment. They have no clear goals for the future. They die because they have departed from the way, the truth and the life.
Through the death of their husbands, Orpah and Ruth both have an opportunity to leave Moab behind. They can enter Israel, take on the Jewish identity, renounce their former way of life and start again. And it is only because Mahlon and Chilion are dead, that they even consider this option. So the death of the men, gives life to the women. What principle is being typified here? Are Mahlon and Chilion symbolic of Christ?
It would be nice if they were. But unfortunately they are not.
Because the crucial distinction between Christ and these men, is that Christ’s example was regular, Godly and unchanging. Moreover, while he died to give life to his bride, he also rose again. Mahlon and Chilion did not rise again, even in a spiritual sense. They died in Moab. They died in their sins. They could not offer the change that their wives so desperately needed.
So if Mahlon and Chilion are typical of anything at all, surely they can only be typical of the Law of Moses.
- These two men were able to teach their wives the basic principles of salvation, but they could not carry these principles to a righteous conclusion.
- In a similar way, the Law of Moses could provide the knowledge necessary for salvation, but it could not ultimately save. It was a finite law, written for finite beings, in order to confirm their mortality and their inability to save themselves.
- And yet, Mahlon and Chilion’s association with their wives was not without some benefit. For we cannot appreciate or take part in the saving work of Christ unless we first understand the Law, which contains the principles upon which the New Covenant is based. Galatians 3:24-29 makes this clear.
- Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
- Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
- The same was true of Ruth. Her first husband was imperfect, offering only the knowledge of salvation without the final reward. How different was Boaz, her second husband. How appropriate that she was released from the sickness and death which consumed Elimelech’s sons, and was granted not just a new lease of life, but also a son to call her own.
- This essential change reminds us of our own situation. We ourselves are spiritual widows, having been loosed from an old husband that we might embrace the new. The apostle Paul speaks of our liberation in Romans 7:1. [Read :1-6.]
- Later, in Ruth chapter 3, we find that Boaz provides a covering for Ruth. Her past is obliterated, and she is forgiven.
- In chapter 4, Boaz completes his redemptive work by paying a price for Ruth and granting her an eternal inheritance. She is now an heir according to the promise, just as we are today.
And let’s hope for our sake that we receive them with joy, so that they might be encouraged by the love they find here, and never feel the need to leave us again.
In Ruth chapter 2 we read of Naomi’s kinsman, Boaz. His name means “In it is strength”, and we find it used in II Chronicles 3:17.
And he reared up the pillars before the temple, one on the right hand, and the other on the left; and called the name of that on the right hand Jachin, and the name of that on the left Boaz.
Knowing the character of Boaz as we do, it is only natural that we should find his name here in II Chronicles. Because the position of this pillar was identical to the position of Boaz in the story of Ruth.
- Boaz was a man who stood at the door of the temple – not literally, but figuratively.
- He was a man in whom was strength; he was a man who stood before God – and he was a man who stood for God. A man who manifested God in every area of his life. (How fitting that he should be a type of Christ!)
- In Ruth chapters 2 and 3, we see the consistency of Boaz and his example to those around him.
- He commands his young men to treat Ruth with dignity and respect, even though she is a Moabitess.
- He obeys the Law of Moses and does not round the corners of his field, but leaves them for the poor to glean.
- He tells his reapers to leave extra corn upon the ground.
- He acknowledges that Ruth has made a commitment to God, and he commends her for her decision to become a proselyte Jew.
- He ensures that Ruth takes home an ephah of barley to Naomi.
Boaz gives her this amount because he’s making a promise. He’s saying “I will support you – not just for one day, not for two or three days, but for as long as you need my support.” He’s telling Ruth that he will sustain her and her mother in law for the rest of their lives. And of course, there's a romantic overture here... It's a tentative offer of marriage.
Boaz has a reputation for wealth, but he also has a reputation for generosity. When the famine struck Israel, he chose to remain there instead of escaping the hardship that it brought. We might think that he could do this because he knew the famine would not affect him. But this cannot be the case. Abraham had also been a wealthy man, and a famine had still been intimidating enough to drive him into Egypt.
So Boaz demonstrates his faith by refusing to leave the ecclesia in a time of trouble. As we go through chapters 3 and 4 of Ruth, we learn more about Boaz and his position in the community. He is willing to provide assistance to the poor. He wants to share his wealth for the benefit of those around him.
He does not leave the work to others, but is constantly involved in ecclesial life. He works alongside his servants, and does not ask them to do anything he would not do himself. He knows them personally, and they know their master’s voice.
Instead of returning to a comfortable bed at night, he sleeps in the threshingfloor because he wants to get straight back into the job as soon as he awakes. He reminds others of their collective responsibility towards their brethren and sisters. In chapter 4:3, he tells the story of Naomi’s life to the elders in the gate.
“Remember Elimelech?”, he says. “He’s dead now, but he was our brother, and his widow is still with us. What have we done for her? What have we done for our brother’s family?” And when the nearer kinsman is not willing to redeem Ruth, Boaz performs this duty himself. It's hardly a sacrifice on Boaz' part, for he already loves Ruth! But still... there is not a hint of hypocrisy in this man.
Furthermore, Boaz could sympathise with Ruth's situation. Although he was not a proselyte himself, his own family contained Gentile roots. Boaz was descended from Rahab the harlot, and so it is appropriate that he saves a Gentile woman by adopting her into the house of Israel. In James 1:27 we find the character of Boaz summarised by a single verse.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
- Boaz undoubtedly visited the fatherless and the widows.
- He kept himself unspotted from the world by trusting God and staying in Israel for the duration of the famine.
- He showed no partiality to any man, and worked alongside his servants, just as if he was a servant himself.
- When his brethren and sisters were destitute, he did not placate them with empty words, but acted immediately and from the heart, proving his faith by his works.
- Boaz may not have been Naomi’s closest relative, but he certainly was her only hope.
When Noami returned to Israel she showed that her faith had been greater than her husband’s. She had not forgotten her people, and she had not forgotten that the only place she could find salvation, was within the ecclesia, through a covenant relationship with the Father.
By leaving Moab behind, she was renewing her commitment to Yahweh. And by offering her parcel of land as a dowry for Ruth, she was giving up all she had in order to make her peace with God.
Where else in Scripture do we find such an attitude? Turn with me to Mark 12:38-44.
And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,
And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:
Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.
And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
As we have already noted, the time of the Judges was similar to the time in which Jesus lived. They had no king, and no direction. It is true that they had the religious rulers – the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes – but these men were bloated with pride and excess. They could offer no clear leadership because they could not agree upon the exact interpretation of the Law. They had adopted new and heretical ideas, and had written a variety of pointless observances into God’s inspired Word.
Instead of supporting the people, they lived off them. Instead of restoring, they stole. Instead of giving glory to God, they magnified themselves.
As Christ watches the scribes outside the temple, he lists their faults with painstaking accuracy. He does this because he wants to expose them and destroy their grip on the minds of the common people. Then, while he is yet speaking, a widow comes to place her gift in the temple treasury.
“What did I tell you?” says Jesus, “I said that these men devour widows’ houses – and look! There goes a destitute widow right now!”
The widow makes her donation, and she does it willingly. She does not realise that God never asked her to do this. She does not know that the temple treasury is an invention of the scribes, and is found nowhere in the Law of Moses.
But the scribes know it. And it is almost impossible to comprehend how they can just stand there and watch her give up the very last of her substance, in obedience to a lie which they themselves have written. What has she cast into the treasury? Two mites. One mite was a twentieth part of the Roman penny. The Greek word for “mite” is “lepton”, meaning “a leaf”. And it was so small, so light and so worthless that it may as well have been one.
The simplicity of the widow’s faith is admirable. But she is being exploited.
And yet, God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Because Jesus turns this depressing scene around, and shows us that the widow has triumphed after all.
By giving all she has to the temple treasury, she is giving her life to God. Each mite is a portion of her faith. And whether it be as small as a grain of mustard seed, or as lowly as a tiny parcel of land, in God’s eyes its real value is immeasurable.
And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.