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Bitterness; Culture and Religion; Ruth 1:8-18
Now there is a crisis to solve, and we are going to learn how they solve that crisis. For a while Naomi seeks to solve that crisis, the heartache in her life, through human viewpoint. She seeks to solve it in reaction to God, blaming God, she brings a charge against God, attacking God's faithfulness and His love. She wonders if a loving God can really be there if these horrible things have happened to her in her life. So one of the major issues addressed in this short book is why a good God allows bad things to happen to allegedly good people.
Ruth 1:6, "she had heard." This is the irony that is present in this passage and this book that the writer wants us to pay attention to. Naomi at some level realizes that God has blessed the nation, and despite her own misery and her suffering she hopes that she is going to get a few blessings. But nevertheless her faith is shaky, her faith is weary, her faith lacks any sense of certainty and confidence, and her hope is not the confident expectation that is normally expressed by the word "hope" in Scripture but is more the idea that we have in the English word, and that is some sort of optimism no matter how shallow that optimism is. It is some optimistic expectation that somehow something will happen.
Ruth 1:7, "Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah." The backdrop for understanding the conversation that is coming up is the concept of levirate marriage. That is the background to the entire book and everything that happens with Ruth and Boaz is based on the concept of levirate marriage.
The word "levirate" comes from the Latin word which means a brother-in-law. This was God's gracious provision in the Mosaic law in order to preserve the family inheritance. The emphasis in the Mosaic law often is on the family as divine institution #3. So this relates to the defense of the family and the levirate law is laid out in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, "If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without to a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she bears shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband's brother refuses to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother. Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her; then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done to that man that will not build up his brother's house. And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that has his shoe loosed."
Some things to note. First of all, the widow is not to marry outside the family. We see that Naomoi really doesn't understand this principle yet. She doesn't know a whole lot about the Word of God and she doesn't understand much about the Mosaic law, because she is going to try to get Ruth and Orpah to go home. But then she is treating them as Gentiles and not as Jews because they are Moabites. Second, the brother-in-law was to take her as his wife, and his duty was to impregnate her so that she could have a son to raise up as the son of his dead brother. The purpose of that was to remind the nation that the promised land was given to Israel as their perpetual inheritance. The word "inheritance" has as its primary connotation, possession. This was to be their possession and it was broken down tribe by tribe, and each tribal allotment was further broken down into families and clans so that each individual clan had a piece of land that was theirs. And it was theirs in perpetuity, so much so that there was a provision in the law so that even if they came into financial straits and had to sell off the land then during the year of jubilee which occurred every 50th year all land would revert to its original owner. That way the family land was never lost. Everything was built around support for the family. This would allow the family name to continue and the family inheritance to continue in the family, even in the case of an early death among one of the brothers.
Some think there is a contradiction here between Leviticus 18:16 and Leviticus 20:21 which forbad the brother-in-law from going into his sister-in-law. In other words, having sexual intercourse with his sister-in-law. The difference in those passages is that the brother-in-law is still alive. That is just prohibiting adultery among family members, and it would also prevent a brother who was impotent or infertile and unable to produce a male heir from trying to get his brother to solve the problem by having his brother come in and performing some sort of levirate action without his being dead. So it could only go into effect if the brother died and died childless.
Refusal of the obligation by the brother-in-law was considered a slight on the family and a slight on the nation, because it showed that he had very little regard for the family and very little regard for the inheritance that God had given them, and that is why there was this interesting ceremony at the end where they would go before the elders at the town gate. If they came to the elders there and the man said he would not assume his responsibilities, recognizing that it was his responsibility, then the woman was to come and spit in his face, indicating that this was something that was irresponsible—this was something that was looked down upon by society—and she would pull his sandal off his foot. So this sandal removal ceremony would then end the situation and she would then be free to remarry whomever she wanted. The first option was to go to the brother-in-law.
So we read that Naomi departs and her daughters-in-law go with her. They begin to return and Naomi begins to think about what is about to happen. She now has these two daughters-in-law who are Moabite, and a Moabite was looked down upon by the Jews because they weren't Jewish, they weren't in covenant relationship with God, and, furthermore, the Moabites were those perverted people, the descendants from the incest of Lot with his two daughters and they had been antagonistic to the Jews when the Jew had come up on the way to the promised land. There was not a positive attitude toward the Moabites in Israel, so Naomi doesn't really want this baggage with her and is afraid that there will be some problems when she gets back into Israel, having these two Moabite women with her, so she tries to discourage their presence.
Ruth 1:8, "And Naomi said to 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." This is a crucial statement for understanding what is going on in this book. One thing you don't see in this book is much of a mention of God. This is a story of what is happening at the human level and God is clearly active and involved but is working behind the scenes. This is introduced here by the terminology that is used by Naomi at this point and it is beginning to give an insight into Naomi's own mental attitude. The key word we need to look at is the word that is translated "deal kindly." She uses the Hebrew word chesed. This is one of the most pregnant theological terms in the Old Testament in relationship to God. It describes His faithful loyal love and is a key word that is used again and again and again in the Psalms. It emphasizes God's steadfast loyalty to His people because He is in covenant relationship to Him.
Naomi doesn't think that God has dealt with her in chesed, that God has not been faithful to her, that God has taken her husband and her sons from her, that God has left her destitute. And she going to indicate that that as she has given deep thought to this situation as a widow with two daughters-in-law who are widows that she is in a hopeless condition because she doesn't see someone on the horizon who can fulfill the levirate responsibility. One of the reasons God made provision for the levirate marriage is because in that agrarian society there was no real welfare system to take care of widows and orphans. God made some provision for them in the third tithe that was taken every third year, and He also made some provision for them in what we will see as the backdrop of chapter two, the gleaning of the fields. There was clearly a provision for those who could not take care of themselves in then Mosaic law and part of that was the levirate marriage. But Naomi does not see this on the horizon at all, and so she thinks that God has dealt unkindly with her, that he has not been chesed as He has promised, and she is going to bring a charge against God. She says, "May the Lord have chesed with you as you have had chesed with the dead and with me." Notice the comparison there. She is saying, "May God be faithful like you have been faithful." She is not saying, You be faithful because God is faithful. The standard in this statement is not God, it is the two women. She wants God to be at least as faithful to her as they have been to their two dead sons. So right away we see that there is a hidden indictment here of the way God has treated her and the two sons.
Another thing that we need to point out from chesed is that this tells us something about what sanctification, i.e. the spiritual life and spiritual growth, is all about. We learn from this and from everything that we learn about Moabites and the women in Moab that these are unique young ladies. There is something profound about them because as opposed to the normal picture in Scripture of the Moabite women as being seductresses who are trying to destroy Israel through fornication and adultery with the Jews, these young women have been honorable, had a measure of integrity, and they have been chesed. This is a high compliment, high praise, and it stands in contrast with what one would expect of the standard Moabite behavior. So we must ask why these girls are chesed girls. What has made the difference in their life? We can only suggest from what Naomi says and from Ruth's later response is that from whatever level of doctrine they have understood, whatever level of understanding they have about God and His plan of salvation it would suggest that they have at least become saved in an Old Testament sense—anticipation of the provision of the Messiah and to believe that God would provide salvation, would take care of man's sin problem. We can't be dogmatic at this point but the fact that these girls are called chesed girls—and this is a word that usually is applied to believers and not unbelievers and is a word that emphasizes that they have some level of a capacity for real love—would suggest that they are believers.
Love in the Bible is not something that is based on emotion or sentiment, it is something that is based on decision and integrity. Chesed emphasizes that God's love is based on His integrity, so that when the object of His love (Israel) goes out under apostasy and disobeys God constantly, God continues to deal with them in faithfulness. He continues to be faithful to His covenant even though Israel is unfaithful. But in their disobedience God has to judge them, discipline them, even to the point of taking them out of the land. Eventually He will restore them to the land and fulfill all of His promises to them. God is a God who in His love also disciplines. So this word chesed is foundational for understanding God and understanding the Old Testament.
Every person is born with some natural capacity or potential for love, but it is only when he becomes a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and is regenerated that he has the capacity to truly understand what love is. That is why the Scriptures make the point in the New Testament that believers are not to marry unbelievers. They have nothing in common. The believer will have a capacity for love but the unbeliever will not have a capacity for love. Capacity for love doesn't come simply because you are believer. That brings you the potential to increase your capacity but it increases because of the doctrine in your soul. Every person is born with a capacity for love but only believers can fully develop that capacity because only believers have understanding and implementation of true integrity which comes from learning doctrine and applying it in their lives.
Exodus 15:13, "You in your mercy [chesed] have led forth the people which you have redeemed: you have guided them in your strength to your holy habitation." There is recognition that it is God's chesed that is the foundation for His gracious action in delivering the Jews from slavery in Egypt. In Exodus 20:6 we are told, "And showing mercy [chesed] to thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." He expresses His love exceptionally to those who love God and are obedient to the Mosaic law. Exodus 34:6, 7, "And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness [chesed] and truth…" So chesed relates to the foundation of the essence and attributes of God. Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation." This shows that His chesed love, which is based on His own character, is the basis for the for forgiveness of sins and the solution to the sin problem. Furthermore it is also the basis for God's judgment upon the guilty and those who reject His grace provision of salvation. That is why when people say, How can a loving God allow something like this to happen, the real question is, Why not? Why shouldn't a loving God allow horrible things to happen to people who are sinners—creatures who are created with free will and who can make any decision they want to, and yet they turn their back on Him. So God in His chesed love not only has the basis for His salvation but it is also the basis for judgment and condemnation.
Deuteronomy 7:9, "Know therefore that the LORD your God, he is God, the faithful God, who keeps covenant and mercy [chesed] with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations." So there His loving kindness goes on for eternity in relationship to the covenant.
So what we can infer from this use of the word in relationship to Ruth and Orpah is that they have an exceptional character and the suggestion is that they are believers and have some level of doctrine in their soul that they have been applying in their marriage relationship.
Ruth 1:9 "The LORD grant you that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept." This is a horrendous time for these women. They have survived the loss of their loved ones and now they are being torn apart, so this is an intense time of emotion. Naomi is giving them permission to go home, to go back and to remarry, and to try to raise up a family with a new husband.
Ruth 1:10-13, "And they said to her, Surely we will return with you to your people. And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will you go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have a husband also to night, and should also bear sons; would you tarry for them till they were grown? would you refrain for them from having husbands? no, my daughters; for it grieves me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me." Naomi by this time is probably 50, she's beyond the child-bearing age and she recognizes that she is not going to be having any more sons, and even if she did, if these girls waited another fifteen or more years they would almost be beyond child-bearing age. So Naomi tells them there was nothing for them with her and to go home. "…it grieves me" What she is actually saying is, It is bitter for me. This reveals what is really going on in her soul. She has become embittered because of what has taken place. One of the most devastating things anyone can do is get involved in bitterness in reaction to any kind of adversity that goes on in life. But that is exactly what has happened to her. She has become an empty, bitter, lonely old woman, and she has nothing to look forward to. That is one reason she wants to get rid of these two girls, she may recognize that at some level and know that there is nothing. There is even a sub-text here of self-pity.
Ruth 1:14, "And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her." At least this id have some impact on Orpah. And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed [kissed her goodbye] her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.
The doctrine of bitterness
1) Bitterness is a reaction sin. It is a reaction to adversity, to loss, to negative circumstances, to not having things go the way we think they should go. Naomi is wrapped up in self-pity here, and she is thinking that there is no hope or meaning. What she doesn't realize is that standing there next to her weeping and crying on her shoulder is the future hope of Israel. It is through Ruth and the line of Ruth that God is eventually going to bring the Messiah. But because she doesn't have a divine perspective, because she has rejected doctrine she is just focusing on herself and in self-absorption she has gone into self-pity, and all she can do is weep and wail about her own sorrow and not recognize that there is a greater good that is being worked out in the plan and purposes of God. And the blessing that is going to come out of that is ultimately a blessing to their family. When Ruth and Boaz eventually marry and raise up a child to her husband, and that grandchild of Naomi's is then going to be the grandfather of David who will bring in the greatest blessing to the nation, ultimately through the seed of David, the son of David, who is Jesus Christ. So because of her rejection of doctrine and because of her focus on herself she is just reacting, and she thinks that she has a better plan and that God should not have allowed any of this to happen in her life.
2) Bitterness assumes that you are right and someone else is wrong. In this case Naomi assumes that she has a better plan and that God is wrong. Bitterness is a rejection of personal responsibility and a rejection of the sovereignty of God in our life. It is a rejection of God's plan and purposes. It is to forget Romans 8:28.
3) Bitterness, therefore, is the product of arrogance and the sin nature. As such it leads to soul fragmentation and eventually works itself in the fragmentation of relationships around us. Arrogance is self-absorption to the maximum. Hebrews 12:15. What happens to Naomi is she forgets the wonderful grace of God even at that point is making provision for her. How? Rain has returned to the promised land, she has heard about it. God's grace appeared to her in the midst of her sorrows, she hears that there is no longer famine in the land. Then God is going to bring her back to her people and then He is going to fill her and bless her and turn her sorrow into happiness, turn cursing into blessing. But she has forgotten the grace of God.
4) Arrogance functions on the four arrogance skills: self-absorption—as soon as we start reacting, what are we looking at? We are looking at what this action does to me, we become absorbed with our own misery, our own pain; self-absorption leads to self-indulging. We start indulging our emotions, our anger, our jealousy, our reactions, whatever it may be; that leads to self-justification. After we have been in self-indulgence for a while we have to justify our whining and our crying, so we start saying bad is good and good is bad and we start distorting our value system; then that leads to self-deception. The believer in bitterness is a believer in self-deception. James 3:14 warns us: "But if ye have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be arrogant, and so lie against the truth." Bitterness is a lie against the truth. What we are saying in bitterness is basically my plan is better than God's plan and because God is so ignorant and God is so callous toward me that I am just going to reject God and blame everything on Him. It is nothing more than blind arrogance.
5) A bitter person always lies to himself and he doesn't know the truth or tell the truth because bitterness warps the judgment and the sin nature destroys objectivity. When we are operating from the sin nature we are operating from the self-absorbed position, and that is nothing more than subjectivity and we cannot truly understand what is going on around us. We cannot evaluate the problem and therefore we cannot accurately apply the ten problem-solving devices.
6) Bitterness, then, motivates a complex of other sins, including implacability, hatred, revenge motivation, and revenge. This is seen in Ephesians 4:31, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and slander, be put away from you, along with all malice." This should not characterize the life of the believer.
7) Bitterness, then, leads to self-induced misery. A bitter person is on the road to self-destruction. Bitterness will absolutely wipe out capacity for blessing and happiness.
8) If you are bitter there is recovery from bitterness. First of all it involves confession—1 John 1:9; Isaiah 38:17.
Orpah has now left the stage and we won't see her again. The relationship now focuses on the unique and profound relationship between the daughter-in-law, Ruth, and her mother-in-law, Naomi.
Ruth 1:15, "And she [Naomi] said, Behold, your sister in law is gone back to her people, and to her gods: return you after your sister in law."
There is a relationship between a culture and religion. Every culture at its core is religious. In any given culture there is a value system. The is, based on that value system, a system of ethics and a system of law. Law is ultimately based on a value system and that value system in its turn is based in an ultimate view of reality. That ultimate view of reality, whether it is theistic, atheistic, naturalistic, pantheistic or polytheistic, whatever it is, says something about gods, God, or no gods. Ultimate reality, then, is expressed in some sort of religious belief system. That religious belief system then affects the values, the ethics, and the laws of a given culture. So people, then, who are living within a particular culture are living on the basis of the religious beliefs of that culture.
The writer here recognizes a connection between a culture and the gods behind that culture, and when Orpah goes back she is going back, even though she is a believer, she is going to be living in a pagan environment and is really opting for second best. As opposed to that there is Ruth who understands chesed wants more of chesed, and she wants to know more about the God of chesed. She wants to have a deeper relationship with God and she expresses this in a remarkable statement in Ruth 1:16-17 which is really a statement of commitment from a daughter-in-law to a mother-in-law. "And Ruth said, Do not urge me to leave you, or to turn back from following you: for where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge: your people shall be my people, and your God my God: Where you die, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part you and me."
Ruth is going to wrap her arms around the culture of Israel and the God of Israel. This shows that not only is she a believer but she is a believer who is extremely positive to God and wants everything that God has for her, therefore she wants to be in the place where there will be the greatest blessing. Under the Mosaic covenant the place of greatest blessing was in Israel. Today in the church age the place of greatest blessing is first of all to be in Christ. That comes by faith alone in Christ alone. Secondly, by being in fellowship with the Lord, learning doctrine and advancing to spiritual maturity. That is the place of greatest blessing today.
The chapter concludes, v. 18, "When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, she said no more to her." This is the end of act one.