Doctrine of Suffering; Moab
Naomi is left with two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, and now she has a problem. She is faced with her own crisis, her own suffering, her own adversity, and she is going to respond without doctrine. She is going to end up being self-focused, self-absorbed in her own suffering. And she is going to start whining and crying about her suffering and by the end of the chapter we will discover that she is an empty, lonely, bitter old woman. So we are going to get into the whole doctrine of bitterness, and how to avoid bitterness, and what bi8tterness does to the soul before we wrap up this chapter.
We have to understand God's plan and purposes for suffering. So often when people encounter suffering like this, because it strikes at the very core of our own lives, that we tend to blame God. There are many people who reach out and blame God for suffering that occurs in their life. The overall question is, Why is there evil in the world? Only in Christianity is evil and suffering contained and controlled by a good God. Only in Christianity does God limit the effect and impact of evil.
The origin of evil is creaturely volition. God is absolute righteousness and in His integrity He cannot create evil. A righteous God can create nothing less than perfection. So when a righteous God created the angels they were all created perfect. When God create man He created man in the image and likeness of God, and He created man with positive perfection. Adam was created with a positive righteousness. It was an untested righteousness but it was a positive righteousness. Man wasn't neutral. There's a difference between a tested and an untested righteousness but it is not the difference between neutrality and positive righteousness. Man also has volition, self-determination. He can make decisions and he has one crucial decision to make in relationship to the test of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: whether or not to eat. When Adam ate he introduced evil into the human race. But that was the second introduction of evil into creation, the first was when Lucifer fell. He chose wrongly and that introduced evil into the universe. So evil is the result not of God creating evil but it is the result of creatures who make bad decisions, who disobey God. Evil originated in time; evil will be judged and restricted and confined to the lake of fire eventually. So only in Christianity is there a temporary restriction on evil. God has a plan and a purpose in which he allows or permits evil to exist but it does not run rampant, God still is in control. This is the picture of Job chapters 1 & 2.
Then we come to the reasons for suffering. First of all, we suffer because we live in a fallen world. After Adam sinned we all live in a fallen world, the devil's world, in the cosmic system that is under the curse and judgment of God. So because we live in a system that has been corrupted by sin there is always going to be suffering. Second, we live with fallen creatures. Because we live with them we are going to sometimes suffer because they make bad decisions from their sin natures. And sometimes others are going to suffer because you make bad decisions from your sin nature! That is why we have to be grace oriented and come to understand the whole doctrine of impersonal love as believers because we are always tied up in close relationship with other sinners. Thirdly, we live with our own fallen nature and that means we are going to make bad decisions from a position of weakness, and a position of weakness is defined as the area of weakness of our sin nature, which is the source of personal sins. Our sin nature produces bad decisions, and bad decisions refer to any decision that is generated from the sin nature, and there are eventual consequences to pay.
God has provided a system of thinking and a system of application of doctrine so that no matter what the circumstances are, no matter how horrible they may be, we can still have peace and contentment and stability in the midst of it.
The purposes for suffering, deserved and undeserved. For deserved suffering the purposes are two. First of all, natural consequences of our own sin. "Whatsoever a man sows, that will he also reap." We suffer the natural consequences of our own bad decisions. The interesting thing in the law of behavior is that what we reap often occurs months, years, decades after we sow. The other reason for deserved suffering is divine discipline. This is where God takes the natural consequences and intensifies them in the life of the believer because he is trying to teach the believer, to get the believer's attention, to get him back in fellowship and to begin applying doctrine.
The purpose of undeserved suffering in relation to the unbeliever is that it is a wake-up call to evangelism. It forces the unbeliever to face his own mortality, to ask the question about the purpose and meaning of life, and it perhaps gets the unbeliever to focus upon his own creatureliness and gets him to focus on his God-consciousness. So undeserved suffering for the unbeliever is designed to get his attention in evangelism, so that perhaps he will respond positively to the gospel and put his faith alone in Christ alone.
For the believer undeserved suffering is related to spiritual growth, because it is when we go through undeserved suffering that we have the opportunity to respond by using the problem-solving devices. These are spiritual skills that enable us to grow and advance as believers. If we do not master those skills we will not grow, we will not advance, and we will not be able to handle the problems. Instead of having joy and contentment and tranquility in life as the final goal of the believer's life, what happens is that we fall apart and fragment and we become miserable, self-absorbed, and fall into self-pity. The second reason is that it is a witness to others. As we see in Job it is a witness to both angels and demons. It is a testimony of God's grace and God's provision to angels, demons, and to Satan. It is also a witness to unbelievers because they are going to look at our lives and see us go through undeserved suffering, and instead of falling apart and pushing the panic button, we are relaxed and calm. In fact, we have a boldness and courage in facing life. It is also a testimony and encouragement to other believers.
In the first five verses of Ruth we are introduced to Elimolech's problem-solving device: Moab. He decides that he is going to go outside the promised land, the place of blessing, into a place that is really the place of human viewpoint and the place of paganism. At this particular time in history Moab was one of the greatest examples of paganism and perversionism in the ancient world.
We need to get a little background on Moab in order to understand some of the problems here because what is going to happen is, starting in verse 6, Naomi is going to demonstrate and obvious reluctance to take her Moabite daughters-in-law back into Israel. Why was Moab a place to be avoided and why were the Moabites looked down upon by the Jews?
Genesis 19:30 for Moab's perverse beginnings. A nation that starts off being perverse can't help but continue to be perverse. "And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters. And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth: Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father." So the daughters were going to solve their problems with alcohol and are going to get their father drunk. Then their next option is: "Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay last night with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. And the firstborn bore a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day. And the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Benammi: the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day."
This gives us the origin of the Moabites, and the name "Moab" is from the preposition men, meaning from, plus the word which means father. It is also etymologically related to another Hebrew word meaning desire, and so there is a hint of real perversion in the name of Moab. The second son is name Benammi and he is the father of the Ammonites, and Benammi means the son of my people. So Moab is a child of perversion and his descendants are no less perverse. One of the first places we really meet the Moabits is in Numbers chapter 21 and following, and there the Moabites under their king Balak are trying to pervert the Israelites. So Moab is always a picture in the Old Testament of those who are trying to destroy Israel. They are trying to seduce Israel and trying to wipe them out militarily.
The chief god of the Moab pantheon is Kemosh, a particularly perverted god because in order to satisfy him you had to put your child on the altar. Between Kemosh's arms was a fire plate. They would stoke the furnace up and then they would put their infant in his arms and there would be a child sacrifice to Kemosh. They not only worshipped Kemosh but among the pantheon of gods that they worshipped was also Baal. The first mention of the word "Baal" is found in Number 25:1-4. The Israelites at this time had come out from Egypt and were coming up from the south at the southern end of the Dead Sea and are coming up on the eastern side through Moab. Moab doesn't want them to come through their land and so Balak is trying to stop them, and that is what the whole episode with Balaam and his prophecy is all about. Balak wants Balaam to curse the Jews. He has this mystical view of cursing and thinks that somehow if Balaam curses the Jews then they won't be able to have any success. God prevents that from happening in order to teach Balak a lesson, but Ballam in his perversion tells Balak how he can destroy the effectiveness of Israel even though he is prevented by God from cursing them. The plan of operation was for Balak to take his young marriageable women and they were to go out and seduce the Jews. This is what happens in Numbers 25:1. So Israel get involved in spiritual adultery and reversionism with the Moabites, and they get involved in physical adultery and fornication with the daughters of Moab. The result of that was that it would destroy the purity of Abraham's descendants. So God has to judge the nation and he judges not only Israel but also the Moabites at that point.
Numbers 25:1-5, "And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel. And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor." Once again we see the importance and impact that God demands the destruction and the taking of life for those who commit certain sins.
The next place that we meet the Moabites is in Deuteronomy chapter 23. There we find a number of fascinating prohibitions in relationship to those who can come into the presence of the Lord. First of all, no one who was emasculated. That would refer to the eunuchs. Then no one of illegitimate birth or his descendants, even to the tenth generation. In verse 3, no Ammonite and no Moabite could enter the assembly of the Lord, or their descendants even to the tenth generation. Verses 4-6, "Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when you came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. Nevertheless the LORD your God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days for ever."
So there is a specific prohibition to Israel that they are not to seek the prosperity or fertility in Moab all their days. Yet what is Elimelech doing? He is going over to Moab in order to solve the problem of the famine in the land.
The next major event where we find Israel pitted against Moab and the Moabites is in Judges chapter three where Eglon king of Moab was assassinated by the judge Ehud. Israel was put under oppression of Moab for eighteen years. So Moab is not a positive place for the people of Israel, and yet this is where Elimelech looks in order to find a solution to the problem of famine. He goes to the Moabites, and that is exactly what most Christians end up doing whenever they face problems in life; they end up looking somewhere else for the solutions to life's problems which are human viewpoint problems. But that is not the goal of the spiritual life. The goal of the spiritual life is to solve our problems exclusively by depending upon the Holy Spirit and by applying the promises and procedures that God has outlined in the Scriptures.
We find Namoi at the end of verse 5 destitute, a widow with no hope, no one to provide for her or take care of her, and yet see also thinks she has some level of responsibility for her two daughters-in-law.
Ruth 1:6, "Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them food." The Hebrew text is precise here. The emphasis is always on Naomi at this point, not on the daughters-in-law who are viewed by the writer as secondary. The focus is on Naomi and Naomi's response to the crisis. The Hebrew word for "visited" is really an anthropomorphic term that is rooted in an understanding of the covenant. The term is a picture of a great king coming to his vassal in order to see how things are going and to find out of they are really being obedient. God is omniscient and doesn't need to come down and temporarily visit mankind, but that is the anthropomorphic picture that is presented here. Then we have a clause in the Hebrew that seems to suggest how He visited them. He visited them by giving them food. Food is really the result of the action, the effect. The cause was rain. The result of no rain was no food, so when it says God visited His people by giving them food we know that God has sent rain now and is blessing Israel.
Naomi seems to have enough understanding of God and of the Old Testament Scriptures, and enough understanding of what is going on here that she realizes that God was no longer cursing the nation but was now blessing the nation; and if she gets back across the Jordan river then she might get a few crumbs. She is a picture, though, of a believer who has a very tired faith, a faith that has no confidence, a faith that has little hope. She is just going to drag herself home full of self-pity, bitter against God, and just hope that somehow or some way a few little crumbs will come off the table for her. Little does she know that less than three feet from her in the person of her daughter-in-law, Ruth, is the most fantastic blessing she can ever experience, who is in turn going to be the grandmother of one of the greatest blessings that Israel in the Old testament ever had, and who will be in the line of the Messiah. She is focusing on her terrible circumstances and rather than trusting God, because she is limited in her knowledge. In the midst of her misery God is already filling her. He has already moved to answer her prayer and she doesn't even know it.