Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. IT IS A CHAPTER FROM THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN HEART. Contrast it with the Book of Judges, to which it is a supplement, and which records feats of arms, deeds of heroism, treachery, violence, and murder. Here we are led aside from the highway of Hebrew history into a secluded by-path, a green lane of private life. Here are simple stories of heart and home. In human life, home, with its affections and relationships, plays an important part. In this Book we have a glimpse into the domestic life of Israel, with its anxieties, sorrows, and sweetness. Women and children, honest work and homely talk; deaths, births, and marriages; loves, memories, and prayers, are all here. The Bible is the book of man as God has made him.
II. IT IS A RECORD OF HUMAN VIRTUE, AND THE PROVIDENTIAL CARE AND REWARD ASSURED TO VIRTUE. Human kindness, filial piety, affectionate constancy, uncomplaining toil, true chastity, sweet patience, strong faith, noble generosity, simple piety - are all here, and they are all observed by God, and are shown to be pleasing to him, who rewards them in due time.
III. IT IS A PROOF OF THE SUPERIORITY OF HUMANITY TO NATIONALITY. The Hebrews are often blamed for intense exclusiveness and bigotry, yet no ancient literature is so liberal and catholic as the inspired books of the Old Testament. This narrative shows no trace of national narrowness; it proves that "God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." A pure and gentle Moabitess is welcomed into a Hebrew home.
IV. IT SUPPLIES A LINK IN THE CHAIN OF THE GENEALOGY OF DAVID, AND OF THAT SON OF DAVID WHO WAS DAVID'S LORD. Ruth was one of three foreign women whose names are preserved in the table of our Lord's descent from Abraham. - T.
I. The TIME and STATE of society. "The days when the judges ruled." The preceding Book enables us to picture what times of unsettlement, and occasionally of anarchy, these were. The customs of the time were primitive, and the habits of the people were simple. The elders sat at the gates of the little city. Business was transacted with primitive simplicity. The tranquil course of agricultural life diversified by a feast at sheep-shearing, or a mirthful harvest-home.
II. The SCENE. "Bethlehem-judah." The fields of Bethlehem, in the territory of Judah, are among the classic, the sacred spots of earth.
1. In Old Testament history. The home of Boaz; the scene of Ruth's gleaning, and of her marriage. In these pastures was trained, in the household of Jesse, and among his stalwart sons, the youthful David, who became the hero and the darling, the minstrel and the king, of Israel.
2. In New Testament history. Between the pastures of Bethlehem and the stars of heaven was sung the angels' song of good-will and peace. Hers was born the Son of David, who was the Son of God. The visit of the shepherds and the wise men. Herod's massacre of the babes, &c.
III. The PURSUITS of rural life. In Bethlehem-Ephratah Elimelech had his inheritance. Here, for a time, he, like his fathers, tilled the fields and fed the flocks he owned in peace. Even in times of trouble and disorder some secluded spots are quiet; the bleating of the sheep is familiar, and the shouts of war are unheard. In most men's breasts the scenes and pursuits of rural life are cherished; perhaps it is hereditary. "God made the country." A simple and natural piety is fed by fellowship with nature, the work of God's own hands.
IV. The PEACEFUL JOYS of home. In the sweet society of his wife Naomi ("the pleasant"), his young sons Mahlon and Chillon, growing by his side in stature and intelligence, the freeholder of Bethlehem passed the jocund days. How can we think and speak quite worthily of the family and the home? Here is the Divine nursery of the soul, the Divine school of life! Let us have no terms with the fanatics who would reconstruct society upon another basis than domestic life. The great lesson - gratitude to Providence for peace, congenial occupation, and a happy home. - T.
I. FAMINE. Probably from some incursion of the hostile forces of Midian into the vale of Bethlehem; or, if not so, from a succession of bad harvests, or a failure of pasture, scarcity and famine invaded the abodes of plenty and of peace.
II. IMPOVERISHMENT. Upon Elimelech the pressure of the times was peculiarly severe, compelling him to break up his home, quit the modest but cherished inheritance of his fathers, and seek subsistence elsewhere. Lessons: -
1. Change of circumstances is a common incident in human life. Every person has either experienced some such change, or has witnessed such reverse in the condition of kindred or acquaintance. A fall from comfort, or even affluence, to poverty frequently happens among occupiers, and even owners, of land, and still more frequently in manufacturing and commercial communities.
2. Religion teaches sympathy with those in reduced circumstances. When a neighbor is deprived not only of the usual conveniences of life, but of the means of educating his children and of providing for his old age, we should net offer reproach, or even cold, hard advice, but, if possible, substantial help, and always considerate sympathy.
3. Religion has consolation for those in adversity. A message from heaven bids them "be of good cheer!" Let diligence and frugality contend with circumstances! Be patient and uncomplaining, and avoid that sign of a petty and broken spirit, the dwelling fondly upon bygone prosperity! The sun of prosperity may yet break through the clouds. Even if it be not so appointed, there may still remain those blessings which are dearer than fortune's gifts - wife, child, a good conscience, health, fortitude, hope I If calamity has come upon you through your own fault, repent, and learn "the sweet uses of adversity." If through the fault of others, refrain your heart from malice and revenge, and your lips from cursing. Think rather of what Heaven has left than of what Heaven has taken. "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." Remember that, if Christians, "all things are yours!" - T.
I. These CHANGES of abode are IN ACCORDANCE WITH PROVIDENTIAL APPOINTMENT. Migrations have at all times been common among pastoral, nomadic people. The tillers of the soil and the dwellers in cities have been more stationary. Emigration a great fact in the social life of Britain in our time. Owing to the increase of population, to geographical discovery, to the application of steam to ocean voyages, emigration common among our artisan and agricultural classes. Some become colonists through the pressure of the times; others from love of adventure, and desire for a freer life. All of us have friends who have emigrated. Thus God replenishes his earth.
II. THESE CHANGES AFFECT DIFFERENTLY DIFFERENT PERSONS. Naomi would feel the severance most keenly, and would look forward with least interest and hope to new surroundings and acquaintances. Her sons would not realize the bitterness of change; the novelty of the circumstances would naturally excite and charm them. Picture the emigrants, the friends they leave behind, the scenes awaiting them, etc.
III. THESE CHANGES SHOULD BE WATCHED BY CHRISTIANS WITH WISE AND PRAYERFUL INTEREST. Remember that the undecided are yonder free from many restraints. By prayer and correspondence seek to retain them under the power of the truth. Guide emigration into hopeful channels; induce colonists to provide for themselves the word of God, the means of education, the ministry of the gospel. - T.
Ruth 1:1Ruth 1:1. In the days when the judges ruled. This is the age in which the story happened which constitutes Ruth's history, beautiful as an epic, and touching as a pathetic drama of home life. The judges. Whether the earlier or later we know not. Whether in the days of Deborah or the days of Gideon. Probably, however, the latter, as history tells then of a famine through the invasion of the Midianites. The judges. Religion means law, order, mutual respect, and, with all diversity of circumstance, equality in the eyes of the law. A nation that perverts justice has undermined the foundations of the commonwealth.
I. ALL JUDGES ARE REPRESENTATIVES AND INTERPRETERS OF THE LAW. They are not creators of it; they are not allowed to govern others according to their own will, but they are to be fair and wise interpreters of the national jurisprudence. Law is a beautiful thing if it is founded on the Divine sanctions; it means protection for the weak, safety for the industrious.
II. THE BEST ADMINISTRATION CANNOT MEET THE WANT CAUSED BY WARS. Famine came! The Midianites came up and "destroyed the increase of the earth." "And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites." Here are the old border wars. Nature was as beautiful as ever, and the flowers of Palestine as fragrant, and the corn as golden; but the enameled cup of the flower was soon filled with the blood of slaughter, and the beautiful sheaves were pillaged to supply the overrunning enemies of Israel. Such is the heart of man. In every age out of that come forth wars; and although modern legislation is enabled to fill the empty granary from other shores, yet in the main it still remains true, war means, in the end, not only bloodshed and agony, but want.
III. ALL EARTHLY RULERSHIP IS THE SYMBOL OF A HIGHER GOVERNMENT, As the fatherly relationship is symbolical of the Divine Fatherhood, and the monarchical of the Divine King, so the earthly judge is to be the emblem of a Divine Ruler, whose reign is righteousness, and who hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world. There are schools of thought that question human responsibility, that teach a doctrine of irresistible law, the predicate of which is, that sin is not so much criminal or vicious, as the result of innate tendencies which come under the dominion of resistless inclinations. But it is to be noticed that these teachers would not excuse the thief who has robbed them, or the murderer who has slain their child. To be consistent, however, they ought; for they object to punishment in the plan of the Divine government. Human instinct, however, and Divine revelation are at one in this; alike they ask, "Wherefore should a man complain, a man for the punishment of his sin?" In all ages and amongst all races where society is secure, and progress real, and innocence safe, they are "those where the judges rule." - W.M.S.
Ruth 1:1Ruth 1:1. There was a famine in the land. Providence led Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and his two sons Mahlon and Chillon, into the land of Moab, on the other side of Jordan. Whilst there was scarcity of bread in Israel, there was plenteous supply in Moab. So they left their fatherland and home in Bethlehem. We carry "home" with us when we go with wife and children. It is the exile's solitary lot that is so sad. It is when God setteth the solitary in families, and the child is away from home in a foreign land, amongst strange faces, that the heart grows sick. We ought always to remember in prayer the exile and the stranger. Sometimes, amongst the very poor, a man has to go and seek substance far away from wife and child; but in this case sorrow was mitigated by mutual sympathy and help.
I. THERE ARE WORSE FAMINES THAN THIS. It was famine of another sort that led Moses from Egypt, when he feared not the wrath of the king, that he might enjoy the bread of God; and it was religious hunger that led the Pilgrim Fathers first to Amsterdam, and then to New England, that they might find liberty to worship God. In the day of famine we read Elimelech could not be satisfied. No. And it is a mark of spiritual nobility never to be contented where God is dishonored and worship demoralized. The word "Bethlehem" signifies the house of bread; but there was barrenness in the once wealthy place of harvest. And the name of Church cannot suffice when the place is no longer the house of God, which the word Church means.
II. IS THIS FAMINE ELIMILECH'S NAME WAS A GUARANTEE OF GUIDANCE AND SUPPLY. It means, "My God is King." Beautiful that. He reigns, and will cause all things to work together for good. Mark the words, My God; for as Paul says, "My God shall supply all your need." King! Yes, "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof," and he will not let his children want bread. They go without escort, but the Lord goes before them. There are no camels or caravanserai behind them, but the Lord God of Israel is their reward. So is Divine promise translated into family history.
III. THE TROUBLE THAT SEEMS LEAST LIKELY OFTEN COMES. Bread wanting in Bethlehem, "the house of bread." Yes! But have not we often seen this? The sorrows of life are often such surprises. They do not take the expected form of the imagination, but they assume shapes which we never dreamed of. The king not only loses his crown, but becomes an exile and a stranger in a strange land. The rich man in health loses all in a night. A sudden flicker, and the lamp of health which' always burned so brightly goes out in an hour.
IV. BETHLEHEM WAS A QUIET, RESTFUL ABODE. Nestling in its quiet beauty, ten miles or so from time-beloved Jerusalem, who would have thought that the golden ring of corn-fields which surrounded it would ever have been taken off its hand? Very early in history it was productive. Here Jacob fed his sheep in the olden times. Famine in a city impoverished and beleaguered we can understand; but famine in Bethlehem! So it is. The rural quietness does not always give us repose. There too the angel with the veiled face comes - the angel of grief and want and death. Happy those who have a Father in heaven who is also their Father and their King. - W.M.S.
Ruth 1:22; 2:1-3Ruth 1:22; Ruth 2:1-3. Naomi's history may now be carried on in the light of these texts.
I. NAOMI IS AN ANCESTRAL PILGRIM. Ancestor of whom? Turn to Matthew 1:5, and you will find in the genealogy of our Lord the name of Ruth. The earlier part of that Divine life, how fresh and beautiful it is - the advent, the angels, the shepherds' songs! The mother, the first visit to the temple, the doctors! And beautiful ministry too. Power wedded to mercy, miracles of healing, mighty deeds of love, sermons amid the mountains and the cities. True! But stand here a moment. It is an early evening of life, I admit; but it's evening. Do you see in the blue distance One coming from the judgment hall? Do you hear the wild cry of the mob, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him! Crucify him!"? Do you mark the crush of the crowd round one fallen form, who fainted beneath the burden of that cross which he bore for us all? Follow him on to the slopes, while Simon, the Cyrenian, helps to bear his cross. The soldiers mock him. The crowd insult him. They spat upon him, they smote him with their hands, they buffeted him. And now his hands and feet are nailed; his pale face is bowed. Come nearer and gaze. Behold the man I As the reapers asked, "Is this Naomi?" so we ask, "Is this Jesus?" Is this he whose sweet face lay in the manger? Is this he whose bright inquisitive face was in the temple? Is this he who passed the angels at heaven's high gate, and came to earth, saying, "Lo! I come to do thy will, O God." Yes! Bowed, bruised, broken for us. The same Savior, who now endures the cross, despising the shame. Well may we wonder and adore! He saved others, himself he cannot - will not - save! More beautiful now than in the stainless infancy of the Holy Child. More beautiful now than when by the shores of Galilee's lake, he spake words which mirrored heaven more purely and clearly than those waters the gold and crimson of the sky. It is the bowed, broken, forsaken, suffering, dying Lord that moves the world's heart. He knew it all. In that hour, when his soul was made an offering for sin, he, being lifted up, had power to draw all hearts unto him. Is this Naomi? Well might angels ask, Is this the eternal Son of the Father? Is this he of whom the Almighty said, "He is my fellow." Is this he to whom command was given, Let all the angels of God worship him? Yes! It is he. It is finished. "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in."
II. NAOMI IS A PROVIDED-FOR PILGRIM. Back to Bethlehem; but how to live? how to find the roof-tree that should shelter again? She knew the Eternal's name, "Jehovah-Jireh," the Lord will provide. A kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man Of wealth, lived there: of the family of Elimelech; his name was Boaz. We must not mind criticism when we talk of chance, or happening. The Bible does. It is simply one way of stating what seems to us accidental; although in reality we know that the least secrets are in the good hand of him "to whom is nothing trivial." Ruth wants to glean! And Naomi says, Go, my daughter; "and her hap - her chance - was to light on the part of a field belonging unto Boaz?' We know that the same old love story, which is new in every generation begins again; so Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife. So that a new home begins, and a smile plays through the tears of the lonely widow. Naomi has some human light again in her landscape; she will see the children's children, and take them by the hand into the coming barley-harvests; she will have some appropriate hopes and joys and interests still. Life to her will not be desolate, because she has still a God above her and a world around her to call forth interest and hope. Her sorrow was not greater than she could bear, and the summer over, even autumn had its tender beauties before life's winter came. So it ever is. Trust in the Lord, and you shall never want any good thing. Believe still in your Savior, and provided for you will be with all weapons of fence, all means of consolation, all prosperity that shall not harm your soul. So true, then, is the Bible to the real facts of human life. It is not a book of gaiety, for life is real and earnest, and its associations are mortal and mutable. It consecrates home joy, and yet reminds us that every garden has its grave, every dear union its separation. But, on the other hand, there are no utterances of unbearable grief, or unmitigated woe. It says ever to us, Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide. And the facts of experience in every age endorse its truth. As the snows bide flowers even in the Alps, so beneath all our separations and sorrows there are still plants of the Lord, peace, and hope, and joy, and rest in him. Blessed, indeed, shall we be if we can rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him. We, too, shall all change. Time and sorrow will write their experiences on our brow. There will be hours in which we feel like Naomi, empty, oh I so empty. The cup of affection poured out on the ground, the forest without its songsters, the garden without its flowers, the home without its familiar faces. We shall see these pictures every day, and wonder, more and more, how any hearts can do without a Brother and a Savior in Jesus Christ. But if character be enriched and trained, all is well; for this very end have we bad Divine discipline, and the Lord will perfect that which concerneth us for the highest ends of eternal life in him. The baptism with which our Lord was baptized changed his face, altered his mien, enlarged even his Divine experience. He was made "perfect through suffering," and became the Author of eternal salvation to all who trust in him. Coming back even to Bethlehem is only for a season. As Naomi returns, nature alone remains the same; the blue roller-bird would flash for a moment across her path, the music of the turtle-dove remind her of the melody of nature in her childhood; - the peasant garb would tell her of the old unchanged ways; and the line of hills against the sky would remind her that the earth abideth forever. But for her there was a still more abiding country, where Elimelech, like Abraham, lived, and where Mahlon and Chillon waited for the familiar face that had made their boyhood blessed. And so we wait. The redemption we celebrate here is a passover, a memorial of deliverance and a prophecy of home. Home where sorrow and sighing, night and death, will flee away; where, no longer pilgrims, we shall no more go out, and where the worn face and the weary heart shall be transfigured into the immortal life. - W.M.S.
I. The widow's SORROW. The observation of all, the experience of some hearers, may fill up the outline. In every social circle, in every religious assembly, are women who have been called upon to part with those upon whom they had leaned for support and guidance, to whom they gave their hearts in youth, to whom they had borne sons and daughters.
II. The widow's LOT. It is often one of hardship and trouble. As in the case before us, it may be aggravated by -
2. Distance from home and friends.
3. The charge and care of children, who, though a blessing, are a burden and responsibility.
III. The widow's CONSOLATION.
1. The promise of God: "Thy Maker is thy husband."
2. Opportunity of Christian service.
How different the widow's condition in Christian communities from that of such among the heathen! The honor and the work of "widows indeed." Lessons: -
1. Submission and patience under bereavement.
2. Sympathy with the afflicted and desolate. - T.
I. MARRIAGE IS LAWFUL BETWEEN PERSONS OF DIFFERENT NATIONS. There was nothing in the law of Moses to prevent these young men from acting as they did, although the children of Israel were not allowed to intermarry with the Canaanites. Later in Jewish history Nehemiah interpreted the law as forbidding marriage with the children of Moab, But he seems to have acted with unjust severity. These Moabitish women were virtuous, kind, devoted; conformed to the religion of their husbands, and one of them found a solid satisfaction in the worship of Jehovah. The conduct of the young men seems to have been natural and blameless.
II. MARRIAGE SHOULD ONLY BE-ENTERED UPON AFTER SERIOUS AND PRAYERFUL DELIBERATION, AND WITH A CONVICTION OF ITS ACCEPTABLENESS TO GOD. Sensible and Christian people should discountenance the practice of treating marriage with levity. Consideration should be given to time, to circumstances, and, above all, to character. Confidence and esteem must be, with affection, the basis of wedded happiness; and these cannot exist in their completeness where there is dissimilarity of conviction and aim - where one party is living to the world, and the other would live unto the Lord. Error here involves misery, and perhaps disaster and ruin. Lessons: -
1. Let elders inculcate just views of the marriage relationship upon the young.
2. Let the young avoid committing themselves to a contract of marriage until a fair experience of life has been acquired.
3. Let Christians marry "only in the Lord." - T.
I. WE CAN FLY FROM FAMINE, BUT NOT FROM DEATH. We need not enter upon the argument of some expositors, as to whether Elimelech did right to leave Bethlehem; whether by famine is not meant insufficiency of plenty rather than actual want. We must be content with the fact that he thought it prudent and wise to go. And now with fullness of bread came the saddest experience of all. How often it happens that when circumstances improve, those we hoped to enjoy them with are taken away. We climb the hill together, and then with new and fair prospect comes the desolation of death amid the beauties and blessings of earth and sky. These are darker clouds than covered them in Bethlehem. We never know how dear are the living till they are gone; then we see it was their presence that gave life and peace to so many scenes, that gave inspiration to labor and sweetness to success.
II. TROUBLES OFTEN COME WAVE UPON WAVE. Ten years! and lo, three out of the four pilgrims are at rest. No more fatigue, no more distress for them. True; but those that are left! What of them? It is often easier to go than to remain. It is all summed up in the consciousness, I have but to live, and to live without them. Nor is this a morbid feeling. It is a most sacred emotion. True, time will alleviate; but there will always be graves in the heart, and men and women who have lost their beloved ones can never be the same again. Character will be softened, purified, elevated. Heaven will be nearer and dearer to the heart. Ten years! How fleetly they fly, and yet what a long volume of experience may be bound up in them.
III. EVERY HOME IS BUT AS A TENT LIFE. They dwelled there. Got used to the new people, the new skies, the new ways. After a time, to a family removed to another shore, there are always some tendrils gathering round the place, and in time they feel in leaving that a sense of loss. Strange as it all seemed at first, in time touches of experience make it homelike to them. Still the old first home, the dear village of childhood and youth, nestles in the heart. How many in life's evening like to go back and live near the abode of the morning. We dwell! So it seems; and we look at the picture of the world's life-pilgrimage as though, like some panorama, it was all outside us. But we pass onward too, and ere long grey hairs are here and there upon us, though we know it not. At times we look back. Ten years! And their experience is within us, as well as behind us. - W.M.S.
I. SOME ARE CALLED UPON TO ENDURE REPEATED BEREAVEMENTS. Households there are which have been visited again and again by the angel of death. Youthful lives are snapped asunder; youthful hearts are left desolate. Some are called upon to endure prolonged age, whilst children and friends, the joy of their hearts, are taken from them. Here and there is one who can exclaim, "All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me."
II. FOR SUCH GOD HAS PROMISES OF GRACE AND PURPOSES OF MERCY.
1. The assurances of the Divine remembrance and kindness. "The mountains shall depart," etc.
2. The sympathy of the Divine High Priest. The miracle of the raising of the widow's son at Nain is an illustration.
3. Grace of submission shall be imparted. "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
4. Intentions of Divine wisdom shall be accomplished. Thus shall the heart be weaned from earth; thus shall Christian character be matured; thus shall saints be prepared for glory. How can the vicissitudes of life be borne by those who are strangers to Christian principles, to Christian consolations, to Christian hopes? May ours be the happy lot of the Christian, from whom (as from all the children of men) the future is hidden; but who knows himself to be the object of a Father's love and a Savior's care, and to whose heart comes day by day a voice from heaven, saying, "I will never leave thee! I will never forsake thee!" - T.
did that. Not simply when he said, "I will arise;" but when be arose and went to his father. Directly the eye and the heart and the step agree, then the whole is settled. We read nothing of the preliminaries of departure. Who does not know the power of the loadstone when it first begins to act? When the breeze swells the sail from the foreign port, the sailor sees not the intervening waters, but the home cottage under the familiar cliffs. There are many beautiful home-returnings in the Bible, but the best of all is the son seeking the father's house.
I. HEARTS ARE UNITED BY COMMON EXPERIENCES. These daughters-in-law were not of her land, nor of her religion; they were not Hebrews; but they were widows! A common sorrow is a welding power, uniting hearts more closely than before. It is said that a babe in a house is a new clasp of affection between husband and wife. True; but an empty cradle has done more than a living child. During the time of these ten years these two wives remained still heathen. We do not know what family they sprang from, or if they were sisters. We do know that Naomi exercised no control or domination over their religious principles. She respects their personal liberty and responsibility; she even urges Ruth not to let natural affection for her override her religious convictions, but to go back to "her gods," as Orpah did. "Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister-in-law." What a sorrow it must have been to her that her sons had married heathen women. We can respect that sorrow. And we can see that Naomi did not slight her own religion when she said these words, but used them as a test of the sincerity of Ruth. A common sorrow had brought them all very close together. "For," as Bailey says in Festus, "the world is one, and hath one great heart."
II. RETURN JOURNEYS HAVE A TOUCHING ELOQUENCE IN THEIR SCENES. There were the places Naomi had traversed with her husband and her boys; places of rest under the shadow of the rocks, and of refreshment at the wells. Much must there have been, to recall conversations touched with anxiety concerning their future in the land of Moab. So would many places speak to us today. There, care gazed at us wistfully, and we remember all the thoughts it suggested. There she heard the tinkling of the bells of the camels, as the little trading cavalcade passed by her. What reminiscences! And they would all remind her of the good hand which had led her on, and never forgotten or forsaken her.
III. RETURN JOURNEYS REMIND US OF LITTLE EPISODES OF LIFE THAT ARE OVER FOR EVER. We cannot in the ordinary course of an unbroken and unshifting home realize the flight of time so well as when we have marked changes, which by their very abruptness divide life into chapters, which, like volumes, have their commencement and close. A new nest has to be built, and new trees have to be sought to build it in. Thus with ordinary observation we may notice how those who have had to seek new homes find the pilgrim-nature of life more marked in their thought than those who are born and brought up and settled through the long years in one home. There is a dreamy sense of continuance unbroken in some lives! "That she might return!" But she would not, could not take all of herself with her. She would leave, as we all do, a memory of character, an influence of good or evil over those who had been associated with her in the foreign land. - W.M.S.
I. THE FOUNDATION OF KINDNESS. We must seek this below what is called "good nature;" and, taught by Christianity, must find it in the brotherhood of man, the fatherhood of God. The sacrifice of Christ is the power and the model of true Christian kindness.
II. THE SPHERE OF KINDNESS. The family, as in the passage before, s, comes first. "Kind" is related, as a word, to "kin." "Charity begins at home." But, as has been remarked, it does not end there. Kindness should be shown to our fellow-creatures, as Christians, as neighbors, as fellow-countrymen, as members of the human race.
III. THE DIFFICULTIES in the way of kindness. It is not always easy for persons of one nation to agree with those of another; foreigners are often foes. It is not always easy for mothers-in-law to agree with daughters-in-law. Yet these difficulties may be overcome, as in this narrative.
IV. THE RECOMPENSE of kindness. Naomi's prayer was answered, and the Lord dealt kindly with those who had shown kindness. True kindness will breathe many a prayer. And the Lord's loving-kindness, condescending, unmerited, and free, is his people's most precious possession; it is "better than life!" - T.
I. THE LORD KNOWS BEST WHAT KINDNESS IS. The Lord deal kindly with you. Has he been kind? That is the question for us all. At times we should have been tempted to answer, No! The vine is blighted, the fig tree withered, the locusts have spoiled the green of spring, the little lambs have died. Kindly? Yes, we shall answer one time when we stand in our lot at the end of days. For kindness is not indulgence. I am thankful that this once common word has dropped out of our prayers - Indulgent Father. No word in the English language describes a feebler state of being than the word indulgence; it refers always to the weaker side of our nature; that which is pleasant to us, that which eases us of pain and of discipline and effort. Prayer like this goes to the heart; more especially from the Naomis of the universe who have had so hard a time of it, to whom life has been so full of bereavement and battle. But if you study life, you will see it is the indulged who complain; it is those nursed in the lap of luxury who whine and whimper if the sun does not shine, if the pomegranate, and the fig, and the grape do not supplement the bread. Indulgence breeds supercilious mannerism and contempt for common things in them; and all seems so very strange if men, and women, and things are not ready for their comfort. God's kindness to us may take forms which surprise us. At the heart of his severest judgments there is mercy, in the bitter spring there is healing water, in the desolated altar there is the downfall of idolatry. Abba, Father, we cry, and he seems not to hear us. The wild winds seem to waft away into empty space our cries for help and pity, but he who sitteth in the heavens hears and answers according to the wisdom of his own will. The kindest things God has ever done for us have been, perhaps, the strangest and severest. So it was with Daniel, and Jacob, and Joseph, and Abraham our father. All God's ways are clone in truth, and truth is always kindness, for the music of the universe is set in that key. The throne of the Almighty himself has its firm pillars planted on that. Away we go to business and duty. Farewell to son and daughter. Go thy way, pilgrim of life, with knapsack and staff; henceforth our paths are separate, and for you there will come battles when we cannot fight beside you, burdens we cannot help you to bear. To another hearth you will come at evening, when the day's work is done, and the anodynes of sympathy are needed for the worker's heart. "Go thy way. The Lord deal kindly with thee."
II. THE LORD ALONE WILL BE WITH US ALL THROUGH OUR FUTURE PILGRIMAGE. Apart from Divine power, which we have not to bless with, there is Divine presence which we all need. Christ will be with us to the end. Never will come a battle, a temptation, a solitude, a sorrow, a needful sacrifice, but the Lord will be at hand. The scepter will never be laid in front of an empty throne. The Lord reigns. It is touching to see the struggles of modern thought in the minds of men who have drifted away from the incarnation and resurrection of our Lord. "The ocean encroaches more and more each year" - to use a figure of one who has marked the "ebb" of thought - "and he watches his fields eaten up from year to year." Yes, says the same writer, who is depicting the drift: - "The meadow-land, whereon he played in the innocent delights of childhood, has now become a marshy waste of sand. The garden where he gathered flowers, an offering of love and devotion to his parents, is now sown with sea-salt. The church where he offered up his childish prayers, and wondered at the high mysteries of which his teachers spoke, stands tottering upon the edge of a crumbling cliff that the next storm may bring down in ruin." And this is rightly called "an experience of spiritual misery." Pathetic, indeed, is this. The picture is most touching and saddening! Who can feel it more than those who suffer the eclipse of faith? We, who worship here, trust in the living God, who as we believe revealed himself to our fathers by the prophets, and who in these last days has spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath made heir of all things, and hath given us this testimony, in that he hath raised him from the dead. - W.M.S.
Ruth 1:8Ruth 1:8. As you have dealt with the dead and me. This beautiful analogy, which has its root idea in love and home, is very suggestive.
I. THE LORD KNOWS BEST WHAT OTHERS HAVE BEEN TO US. "As you have dealt with the dead and me." You have been good and true to them, Naomi says, with a voice that trembles with remembrances of the old days gone forever. It is a touching little sentence. The dead. So silent now. Never to come back for us to touch imperfectness into riper good; never to charm away with pleasant thoughts the dull hours; never to fill with deeper meanings of love the half-empty words; never to make more Divine the common service of life; never to put the best interpretation upon conduct; never to lift the leaden crown of care from the anxious brow; never to help to transfigure the mean and lowly with heavenly hopes and aspirations. Gone! What a world of vacancy, and silence, and subtle mystery! Is it strange we should wish well to those who were kind to the dead? And Naomi links her own being with them still. "The dead and me." And with true hearts they never can be disassociated. Anniversaries of remembrance make our separations no more distant. They soften them. They give place for comforting remembrances; but the dead are near as ever! "The dead and me!" Who shall separate? None. Christ died, yea, rather is risen again, and he will raise us up together to the heavenly places. What a blessing so to live, so to fill our place as sons and daughters, so to sweeten, sublime, and sanctify life that others may make our conduct a plea with that God who has known our heart and life, and say, "The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and me."
II. THE LORD HAS GIVEN US GUARANTEES OF HIS KINDNESS. We are not left to meditate on rain and fruitful seasons only. Not the green of spring, nor the south wind of summer, nor the gold of autumn alone proclaim his goodness. So long as the story of the cross has Divine meaning for us, so long as we believe it, not alone as the spirit of a good man's life, but as the revelation of God manifest in the flesh, so long can we exclaim, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us." Nor can we exclude conscience from our argument; that, too, is a guarantee that the Almighty cares for us, that he will not let us sin and suffer without the very voice Divine awakening, alarming, and arresting us. None but a good Being would have put conscience there, and made it universal, and filled it with such sweet benedictions for the soul. We are surrounded by evidences of the Eternal pity. God who spared not his own Son, will with him also freely give us all things - for man is still his child, and he has a desire to the work of his hands. When we pray, therefore, "The Lord deal kindly with thee," we only ask him to be like himself, we only put him in remembrance of his promise to hear when we call upon him. Some would think God kind, indeed, if he were less severe on sin; to them all law is baneful, and the sorest evils are only evidences of an imperfect brain, or an untrained mind, or an ungovernable power of impulse. How, then, should the law of God be other than dislikable - nay, detestable to them; but he who prepared the light, prepared also the throne of his judgment, and he will by no means clear the guilty - for the love of God would be but a weak sentiment if it were not harmonized with a law which means order, truth, righteousness, and justice in all domains of his eternal empire. We only predicate that love is the root of law, as it is also the essence of mercy, and how God's kindness even on the cross shows that justice and mercy blend with each other.
III. THE LORD LOOKS FOR OUR LOVE TO HIM IN OUR LOVE TO EACH OTHER. If we love him we shall feed his lambs, forgive our enemies, and fulfill the whole law of love. How many there have been who, professing even an extreme sanctity, have robbed their partners, deluded their followers, and sometimes darkened forever a brightly opening life. It is saddening to think what religion has suffered from those whose countenances advertise asperity and contempt, selfishness and pride, whilst they carry their Bibles under their arms, and seem shocked at the exuberance of a healthy joy. Deal kindly? Not they. Their silken words are often the soft sheaths of dagger purposes, and their sham friendship is often only the occasion of stealing mental photographs of you to distribute among their friends. Deal kindly? Why they sleep as well when they have wounded as when they have healed, and they do not understand what the plan of salvation has to do with a conscientious rectitude, a tender consideration, and a warm and loving heart. Deal kindly. Let the Church arise and shine, and put on her beautiful garments. Let the venerable Apostle John take his place once more in the midst of the Churches, and say, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, for God is love." "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and truth." "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." How true we feel all this to be, and yet how hard in such a world as this. God is light, God is love, but unless we walk in the light with him we know nothing of it at all. It is still more popular to discuss a mystery than to seek after a Divine ideal. It is still true that many appraise their goodness by their greater enlightenment on some disputable points of religion, and they greatly hope their friend and brother will come to see like themselves. Alas! alas! all the while we may perchance be so untrue to Christ, we may be experiencing no sensitive grief that we are unlike the chief Shepherd of the sheep, so worldly, so captious, so dull in all Divine sensibilities. Naomi's prayer, therefore, may teach us much today about God - our Savior; much, too, about ourselves. This, at all events, is true. If the harvests of love come late, they are very real and very precious. Years alone can reveal character. We know what others are in times of test and trial, as Naomi did in a strange land. She was a mother-in-law, and that is a hard part to fulfill, often the subject of satire, too often, indeed, an experience which awakens slender sympathy; she yet gained the crown of trust, and honor, and love. And now, how can she speak better for others than by speaking to God for them? The God who has never left her, the God who has been the husband of the widow, the God who sent her human solace in the trying hours of her bereavement in the far away land. "The Lord deal kindly with you." When once in the hush of death a girl stood at the threshold of the door, trembling, as childhood does, in the presence of death, the mother, bending over the quiet sleeper, beckoned her in. She regained confidence then, and taking up the cold hand kissed it, and said of her dead brother, "Mother, that hand never struck me." How beautiful I Can we say the same, that we never wounded the dead? Can we say it of the Christ himself, that we never crucified the Son of God afresh? And now we look up to the great Father of our spirits, and the God of our salvation, and pray him to bless all we love, to make them his own now and evermore. His kindness is truer, deeper, wiser than our own. "The Lord bless them and keep them." "The Lord deal kindly with them." - W.M.S.
I. SEPARATIONS BETWEEN LOVING FRIENDS ARE OFTEN EXPEDIENT AND NECESSARY.
II. SEPARATIONS ARE SOMETIMES THE OCCASION OF ALMOST THE BITTEREST SORROWS OF HUMAN LIFE.
III. SEPARATIONS MAY, BY GOD'S GRACE, BE MADE A DISCIPLINE OF THE SOUL'S HEALTH AND WELFARE.
IV. SEPARATIONS MAY BE OVERRULED, BY GOD'S PROVIDENCE, FOR THE REAL GOOD, PROSPERITY, AND HAPPINESS OF THOSE WHO ARE PUT APART.
V. SEPARATIONS REMIND US OF HIM WHO HAS SAID, "I WILL NEVER LEAVE THEE; I WILL NEVER FORSAKE THEE" - T.
I. THERE WERE INFLUENCES OPPOSED TO RUTH'S CONSTANCY.
1. Early associations and friendships would have tied her to Moab.
2. The entreaty of Naomi that she would return set her perfectly free to do so, if she had been disposed.
3. The example of her sister-in-law, Orpah, could not but have some weight. Orpah had been, like Ruth, kind alike to the living and the dead, yet she wept, kissed her mother-in-law, and returned.
4. The religion of her childhood could scarcely have been without attractions for her. Could she leave the temples, the deities, the observances of her earliest days behind?
II. THERE WERE MANIFESTATIONS OF PIOUS CONSTANCY IN RUTH'S RESOLVES.
1. She would go with Naomi, though by an unknown route.
2. She would dwell with Naomi, though in an unknown home.
3. She would die with Naomi, though to be buried in an unknown grave.
III. THERE WAS A RELIGIOUS FOUNDATION FOR RUTH'S CONSTANCY.
1. Apparent from the resolution - "Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."
2. Apparent from the adjuration she employed - "The Lord do so," etc.
IV. THE TRIUMPH AND RECOMPENSE OF RUTH'S CONSTANCY.
1. Her fidelity and devotion were reciprocated by Naomi.
2. In the providence of God Ruth was rewarded by an honorable position and a happy life. - T.
Ruth 1:16, 17Ruth 1:16, 17. Entreat me not to leave thee. A mother and a daughter-in-law are to go together. The daughter wishes it, and petitions with most eloquent ardor that it shall be so. A mother-in-law is sometimes - alas, too often - the subject of criticism and satire. It is a difficult position to fill, and many bitterly unkind and untrue caricatures have been made upon the relationship. In this case Naomi had made herself beloved by both Orpah and Ruth, and it was only through Naomi's words, "Turn again," that Orpah went back; for they had both said, "Surely we will return with thee unto thy people." Ruth, however, remained firm, and her fidelity has made these words quickening to many undecided souls.
I. ENTREATY MAY PROVE TOO EARNEST. "Entreat me not." It is the language of a heart that feels what limits there are to the power of resistance within us. Test may turn in unwise hands into overpowering temptation. Naomi knew where to stop, and Ruth remains to us a picture of heroic devotion. Orpah failed in courage, but was not destitute of affection, for her farewell is accompanied with a kiss of love. In her character we see impulse without strength. But "Ruth clave unto her." And it was no light sacrifice to leave fatherland and home. We can hardly call the test at first a religious one, for it is evident that Ruth's love for her mother-in-law was the immediate occasion of her cleaving to her, and leaving the Moabitish gods. In time, doubtless, her nominal faith turned into a living heritage.
II. LOVE CREATES THE FINEST ELOQUENCE. There is no utterance in the Old Testament more pathetic and melodious than these words. They are idyllic in their eloquence. There is nothing stilted or artificial in them, and they have in them a rhythm of melody which is more beautiful than a mere rhyme of words. Courage and sacrifice, love and devotion, breathe all through them. They condense too all that is prophetic of coming experience - the lodging and the loneliness, the weary pilgrimage and the grave in a foreign land. The mind cannot frame sentences like these without the glow of a sincere and sacrificial heart. We feel as we read them what grandeur there is in human nature when love evokes all its depth of power. It is not a skilful touch that can do this, but a soul alive to the calls of love and duty.
III. NO TRUE LIFE WAS EVER LIVED IN VAIN. It was what Naomi had been to her, what she was in herself, that made this sacrifice possible. Love creates love. The charm of friendship may be merely intellectual, and then, after the feast of reason, all is' over. But Naomi's character was rooted in religion. She did not carry the mere roll of the prophets in her hand; she carried the spirit of the Holy Book in her heart. Ruth had never been in synagogue or temple; she had listened to no Rabbi, and never sat at the feet of the doctors; but as "the earliest piety is mother's love," so the character of a true mother is a stem around which the tendrils of the young heart climb to the mother's God. None of us liveth to himself. And so from the flower of piety, the seed drops into other hearts, and brings forth fruit after many days. - W.M.S.
I. THE STEADFAST MIND GIVES THE STEADFAST STEP. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. Veering here and there like the wind, there is no dependence on the direction he may take. The man or the woman is made by something within them invisible to the world. When Christ was led as a lamb to the slaughter, the great conflict had been fought out in Gethsemane, and then the steps were calm and steadfast. What an hour is that in which, in common parlance, "the mind is made up," the resolution taken. This is firmness, as opposed to obstinacy, which acts with out reasons, and often in the teeth of them. The misery caused in this world by obstinate people is to be seen sometimes in the home, where sulkiness of temper makes the lives of others miserable Firmness is the result of the thoughtful decision of an enlightened mind and a consecrated heart.
II. THE STEADFAST MIND MAKES THE REST COMPANION. Ruth was ready for the companion journey back to Bethlehem. And in all our life journeys nothing is so precious as a steadfast heart. There are times of misinterpretation in all lives - times of disheartenment, times of shadow and darkness. In such hours a steadfast companion is God's richest gift to us. What consolation it is to know that even humanly every support will not give way, that there will always be one eye to brighten, one hand to help, one heart to love, one mind to appreciate. The fickle and irresolute may have a transient beauty and a winning manner, but these are poor endowments without a steadfast mind.
III. THE STEADFAST MIND IS FREED FROM THE INFINITUDE OF LESSER WORRIES. It is made up. It is not open to every solicitation. It is negative to doubt and distrust. This is the right way, and naught can move it. The feeble and irresolute have a restless life. They are constantly balancing expediences and advantages. Christ our Divine Lord set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem. The hardest journey of all to the shame and spitting, the awful darkness and the cruel cross. If we are firm and decided in our purposes we shall not be wasting either time or strength upon the solicitations of the popular or profitable. A voice within will say, "This is the way, walk ye in it." - W.M.S.
1. Surprise. She is living! We see her again! Yet how is she changed!
2. Interest. How varied has been her experience whilst absent! And she loves Bethlehem so that she returns to it in her sorrow!
3. Compassion. "All the city was moved about them." How could those who remembered her fail to be affected by the calamities she had passed through? Consider the sentiments expressed by Naomi upon her return.
I. HER GRIEF WAS NATURAL AND BLAMELESS. "I went out full," i.e. in health, in youth, with some earthly property; above all, with husband and sons. "The Lord hath brought me home again empty," i.e. aged, broken down in health and spirits, poor, without kindred or supporters. "Call me not Naomi," i.e. pleasant; "call me Mara," i.e. bitter. Her lot was sad. Religion does not question the fact of human trouble and sorrow. And she was not wrong in feeling, in the circumstances, the peculiar pressure of grief and distress. We remember that "Jesus wept."
II. HER RECOGNITION OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE WAS RIGHT; WAS A SIGN OF PIETY. She attributes all to the Almighty, to the Lord. Observe that in two verses this acknowledgment is made four times. In a world over which God rules we should acknowledge his presence and reign in all human experience. If trouble comes to us by means of natural laws, those laws are ordered by his wisdom. If by human agency, that agency is the result of the constitution with which he has endowed man. If as the result of our own action, he connects actions with their consequences. Therefore, let us reverently recognize his hand in all that happens to us!
III. HER INTERPRETATION OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE WAS MISTAKEN. "The Lord," said Naomi, "hath testified against me." Men frequently imagine that if God could prevent afflictions, and yet permits them, he cannot regard the afflicted in a favorable and friendly light. But this is not so. "Whom he loveth he chasteneth." The Book of Job warns us against misunderstanding the meaning of calamity. Christ has also warned us against supposing that Divine anger is the explanation of human griefs and sufferings. "All things work together for good unto those who love God." How often is it true, as the poet Cowper knew and sang -
"Behind a frowning providence
Ruth 1:19Ruth 1:19. So they two went till they came to Bethlehem. "They two!" Sometimes it is husband and wife. Sometimes it is two sisters commencing life together in the great city where they have to earn their bread. Sometimes it is two lovers who have large affection and little means, and who have to wait and work and hope on. Sometimes it is widow and child. "They two!" What unrecorded histories of heroism there are written in God's book all unknown to us.
I. HERE IS THE COMMENCEMENT AND CLOSE OF A PILGRIMAGE. They went. They came. So is it of the life history itself. All is enfolded in these brief words. What a multitude of figures in Scripture suggest the brevity of life. A tale that is told. A post. A weaver's shuttle. The morning flower. So indeed it is. What a multitude of incidents would be included even in this brief journey of Naomi's; but these are the two clasps of the volume of life. They went. They came. "Every beginning holds in it the end, as the acorn does the oak."
II. HERE IS THE SIGHT OF A CITY. Bethlehem. Cities with them were not like cities with us. Even Bethlehem was called a city. But the old dwelling-places, after ten years, have a mute eloquence about them. Other feet come to the well. Little children who gathered flowers on the wild hills are now bearing pitchers to the well. But after a weary journey how refreshing to the Easterns was the glimpse of the white houses on the hills. We look for a city. A city which hath foundations. A city where our beloved are; for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. We do not think of it in health and strength and excitement of human interest, but one day we shall look with quiet longing for the city gates. The evening of life will come upon us, and we shall pray, "Let me go, for the day breaketh."
III. HERE IS A PILGRIMAGE ENDED. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning, said the wise man. And so it is. "I have finished my course." How much is included in that. When the battered ship comes into harbor we take more interest in her than the spick and span new vessel with trim decks, and untorn sails, and scarless masts. When the battle is over we think more of the shot-pierced flag than of the new banner borne out by the troops with martial music. We like to see the pilgrim start. But some pilgrims turn back. We like to hear Ruth's resolve. How much better is it to see the resolve written in letters of living history. We can call no man hero, no woman heroine, till the march is over and the victory won. - W.M.S.
Ruth 1:19Ruth 1:19. Never seemed there a sadder contrast. Naomi left Bethlehem in the full bloom of womanhood, with a husband and two sons. Elimelech, her husband, died, we read, "and she was left and her two sons." They took them wives, and, as mothers do, she lived in the hopes and honors of their new homes; but, after dwelling in Moab about ten years, we read Mahlon and Chillon died also, both of them, and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband, A strange land is not so strange when we carry home with us; but it is strange when all that made home, is gone. We need not wonder, therefore, that not alone for the bread of harvest, but for the bread of love, she and her daughters-in-law "went on the way to return to the land of Judah." But, with a fine instinct, Naomi felt that what would be home again for her would be an alien land to them; and the tender narrative tells us how she suggested they should remain, and find rest, each of them, in the place of their people. We well know the sequel to the words of Naomi, "Turn again my daughters;" for Ruth has become with us all a beautiful picture of truehearted womanhood, and a very household name. But it is with the question, "Is this Naomi?" that we now have to deal. She went out full. Not wealthy, perhaps, - though love is always wealthy, for it alone gives that which worlds want wealth to buy. She is coming home "empty," as many have done since Naomi did, in all the generations. Bent, and sad, and gray, her worn dress tells of her poverty, her garb bespeaks the widow. All in a few years; all crowded into these few opening verses. The pathway of the past is an avenue now, along which she looks to the opening days, when the light flooded her steps, and she walked in the warm glow of companionship and love. Is this Naomi? And have not we had this to say again and again concerning those whose early days we knew? There we heard the merry shout of children, and there we saw manhood in its strength and prime. Naomi it cannot be: that the face we knew as a bride and as a mother! Never! Yet so it is. They went out full and came home empty. Yet not empty, if, like Naomi, they keep their fellowship with God.
I. NAOMI IS A RETURNING PILGRIM. Home has been but a tent life, and the curtains have been rent by sorrow and death. She tells us the old, old story. Here have we no continuing city. Beautiful was the land to which she returned, and in that dear land of promise there never was a fairer time than barley-harvest. Many and many a harvest-time had come and gone since Naomi went forth, and many a reaper's song was silent evermore. As she passed the vines and the oleanders fringing the broad fields, bronzed and bright-eyed faces were directed towards her; and here, in the distance, was Bethlehem, its little white houses dotting the green slopes, its well by the wayside. Bethlehem - home! Oh! that strange longing to live through the closing years in the country places where we were born l It is a common instinct. The Chinese have it, and will be buried nowhere else. It is a beautiful instinct too - to look with the reverent eyes of age on the tombstones we used to spell out in the village, to hear the old rush of the river, the old murmur of the sea. Strange thoughts fill this woman's mind, as the old picture is there with a new peopling of forms and faces. Yet not all new. The workers turn to the passing figure, and a gleam of recognition, doubtful at first, lights up their eyes. And then the word passes from one to the other, Is this Naomi? It is the same world in which we live today. There is also something to remind us that we are pilgrims and strangers, that unresting time will not wait one hour for us. The unseen angels hurry us on through love and grief and death. Happy for us if we say plainly that we seek a country, for the only escape from the ennui of life is the satisfaction of the immortal thirst within us by the gospel revelation of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
II. NAOMI IS A GODLY PILGRIM. Travel-worn and weary, with sandaled feet, she is coming to a city sanctified by the faith of her fathers. She had lived in a heathen country so devoutly, that Ruth could say, "Thy God shall be my God" - a beautiful testimony to Naomi's fidelity, to her victory over idolatrous usages, to her own personal influence over others. Thy God l How serious the eye, how sober the mien, of this woman as she comes into the city. She has had a battle of life to fight, and she has fought it well. How brave and noble and faithful a woman she is! Is this Naomi? If there is not so much of what the world calls beauty in her face, there is character there, experience there. The young Christian starting on his pilgrimage is cheerful enough. His armor is bright and new, his enthusiasm is fresh and keen. He goes forth full of enterprise and hope. Do not be surprised if in the after years you ask, Is this Naomi? How careful, how anxious, how dependent on God alone! What bright visions once filled his soul, how ready he was to criticize Christian character, how determined and unflinching he looked! Well, it was a noble promise, and where would the world be without the enthusiasm of youth? Be not surprised now if he looks worn and weary. He has had battles to fight that the world knows not of. He has made strange discoveries in the continent of his own heart; he has been well-nigh overcome, and casting himself entirely on his Lord, he says, "By the grace of God I am what I am." Look at that weary heart. Is that Luther? Look at that faithless spirit. Is that Peter? Look at that worn soldier. Is that Paul? But the Lord is with them I Empty, indeed, in a human sense was Naomi. Call me not Naomi, she said; it has lost its meaning. Life is no longer pleasant. Call me Mara, for life is bitter. True-hearted soul I She knew that it was bitter, indeed, though it was God's will; "for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me." Very bitterly! And are we to cover over that? Can we sing - "Thy will is sweetest to me when It triumphs at my cost?" We may sing it; but it is hard to live it. It is glorious to believe in God at such times at all, and to bow with the pain all through our hearts, and to say, "My God." - W.M.S.
Ruth 1:21Ruth 1:21. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty. It seemed, indeed, a via dolorosa, this path homeward. How expressive the words.
I. LOVE MAKES LIFE FULL. Why, I thought they went out poor? Yes. Seeking bread? Yes. Yet Naomi's description is true and beautiful. We are "full" when we have that which makes home, home indeed, and we are poor if, having all wealth of means, we have not love. Well, indeed, has it been said that "the golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone." We never know how empty life is till the loved are lost to us.
II. THE LORD IS THE DISPOSER OF ALL EVENTS. "The Lord hath brought me home." We talk of Providence when all goes well with us, when the harvests are ripened, and the fruits hang on the wall. But we must not limit Providence to the pleasant. The Lord "takes away" as well as gives. It is said that, in the order of reading at the family altar, when the late John Angell James was about to conduct worship after a severe bereavement, the Psalm to be read was the hundred and third. The good man stopped, tears rolled down his face; and then, gathering up his strength, he said, "Why not? It is the Father!" and he read on, "Bless the Lord, O my soul!"
III. THE FULLEST HOME MAY SOON BE EMPTIED. Yes! We too should feel it so. A husband and two sons gone! What converse there had been! what interest in each other's pursuits I what affectionate concern for each other's weal and happiness! and what a wealth of love for Naomi, the center of all I We feel at such seasons that death would be blessed relief for us. The thought comes across us, "I have got to live;" to live on from day to day, attending to the minutiae of duty, and coming here and there so often on the little relics of the dead. Home again! That has music inb it for the school-children, who come back to the bright home; but to the widow, oh, how different! Home again, but how empty! Yet we may learn, even from Naomi, that rest and refreshment come to hearts that trust in God their Savior; and we may learn too what mistakes we make. Naomi said, "Why call ye me Naomi, seeing that the Lord hath testified against me?" Natural enough; but life was still to have a pleasant side for her. - W.M.S.
Ruth 1:22; 2:3
I. Ruth's gleaning indicates THE POVERTY OF HER CONDITION'. None but the in-necessitous would undertake such an occupation. Naomi and she must indeed have returned empty. In our land, and in our days, happily for the poor, there is always more remunerative work to be had by the industrious poor than this, which accordingly has, with the growing prosperity of the country, almost dropped out of use.
II. Ruth's ABSENCE OF PRIDE is very apparent. The family into which she had married had owned some of the adjoining land; but in changed circumstances she was not too proud to mingle with the gleaners, and in lowly guise to gather ears of corn.
III. We cannot but admire Ruth's VIRTUOUS INDUSTRY. Boaz afterwards said, in praise of her conduct "Thou followedst not young men." She chose a blameless, though laborious, life. An example to all to avoid dependence, and to cultivate the habit of self-reliance and diligence.
IV. Remark Ruth's FILIAL LOVE. She worked not only for herself, but for her mother-in-law, and found a, pleasure in supporting her.
V. SUCCESS attends Ruth's honest toil. She gathered barley with her hands; special favor was shown to her; a friend was raised up to assist her; prosperity crowned her efforts. "Thy bread shall be given thee, and thy water shall be sure." - T.