THREE TOMBSTONES IN A WASH-POT
Ruth: Pursued By Grace – Sermon #1
Ruth 1:1-7 (NKJV)
Elimelech’s Family Goes to Moab
1 Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.
2 The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there.
3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons.
4 Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years.
5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband.
Naomi Returns with Ruth
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 that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread.
7 Therefore she went out from 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 little book of Ruth has been called “the greatest piece of literature ever written.” Another writer called the story of Ruth “the Cinderella of the Bible.” It is the story of how a pagan girl named Ruth came to be part of the covenant people of Israel.
In the 100 verses that make up the book of Ruth, we see this young woman as she is pursued by grace, and brought out of her wretched condition. This is a story of redemption, of love, of grace and of hope. It is a story we need to become familiar with on a very intimate level.
Over the next several weeks, as the Lord leads, I will be preaching verse by verse through this book. I am titling this series of sermons: Pursued By Grace.
In these first seven verses of Ruth we are introduced to the family of a man named Elimelech who lived during the days of the judges, v. 1.
It is the sad tale of a man who chooses to walk out on the Lord and on God’s plan for his life. As a result of his decision, he and his family pay a terribly high price.
We are told that Elimelech takes his family to a place called Moab. Moab was located just across the Jordan River, east of the Promised Land. It was inhabited by people who worshiped pagan gods. The Moabites were the descendants of a man named Moab who was the son of an incestuous relationship between Lot and on of his daughters, Gen. 19:30-38. They were a proud people noted for their lawlessness, immorality and brutal violence, Lev. 18:24-25; Deut. 9:4-5; Isa. 16:6; Psa. 60:8. They attacked and opposed Israel, seeking to destroy the people of God, during Israel’s wilderness wanderings, Num. 23-25; Deut. 23:3-6. This was a people opposed to God and His ways.
In Psalm 60:8, God says this, “Moab is my washpot…” This phrase means that they were a despised thing, compared to a vessel containing water to be used by slaves to wash the feet of a conquering hero. God says that they were nothing and that they will be reduced to the lowest form of slavery! Yet, they were a people who could have been saved had they repented of their sins as Ruth did.
It is to this despised and wicked nation (MOAB) that Elimelech moves his family to. Here we see a picture of that person who willingly turns his back on the things of God and pays an awful price.
If this section of Scripture teaches us anything, it teaches us that living in a back-slidden condition carries with it devastating consequences, but repentance and restoration are always a possibility in the Lord. With this information in mind today, let’s look into this passage of scripture today as I preach on the thought Three Tombstones In A Washpot.
I. V. 1a A TIME OF DESPERATE CIRCUMSTANCES
(Ill. There was a three-fold famine in the land.)
A. A Material Famine In The Land – Verse 1 describes the situation that Elimelech and his family faced by telling us that there was “a famine in the land.” A famine is an extended dearth. A time when food is in serious shortage. While there was a shortage of foods in the land at that time, it wasn’t the only famine the people of Israel faced.
B. A Moral Famine In The Land – Verse 1 tells us that this story takes place during the time of the Judges. The attitude of the people during those days is summed up in the last verse of the book of Judges, Judges 21:25. It can best be described as a time of turbulence and social upheaval. They were days marked by lawlessness, idolatry, false religion, theft, drunkenness, homosexuality, sexual perversion, violence, national division, civil war and extreme unbelief. Days, it would see, that are not too different from the days in which we find ourselves today. Of course, when man “does that which is right in his own eyes”, what else should we expect?
C. A Missionary Famine In The Land – Often, in the Old Testament period, God used famine as a tool of discipline. When His people strayed away from Him, He would reach out to them to call them back to Himself by orchestrating a famine, Deut. 11:16-17; ; 2 Chron. 7:13-14.
Note: Often, as we pass through this earthly life, God will orchestrate these famine experiences for us as well.
It may take the form of a financial famine, when there is more months than money.
It may take the place of a physical famine where health and well being become elusive.
There may be a spiritual famine when the heavens become brass and the Lord seems very far away.
Whatever form it takes, it is a famine in your life. God’s intention during those times of life is not to drive you away from Him, but it is to draw you nearer to Him. He may be trying to correct you, Rev. 3:19; or He may be trying to perfect you, 2 Cor. 12:9. How you react to your famine experience determines whether it becomes a time of blessing in your life or a time of devastation. It’s a choice to make!
II. V. 1b-2 A TIME OF DANGEROUS CHOICES
(Ill. As we will see in these verses Elimelech did not respond correctly to what the Lord was doing in his life. Notice three mistakes he and his family made during this famine experience.)
A. V. 1 Chose To Leave The Promised Land – Verse 1 tells us that this man made a conscious decision to leave “Bethlehem-Judah” for the pagan country of Moab. The name “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread” and the name “Judah” means “Praise”. At the present time neither of those places were living up to their names. There was no bread in “The House Of Bread” and there was no reason for rejoicing in “Praise”.
However, while the geographic locations failed to live up to their names, so did Elimelech! His name means “My God Is King.” If that had been true about this man, he would have known that God’s valleys do not last forever and that God would have taken care of His people. After all, Elimelech had a close relative name Boaz. He stayed in Bethlehem and seemed to do quite well in spite of the famine, Ruth 2:1. Yet, Elimelech chose to leave his inheritance in the promised land and head off to a land where God would not bless him!
(Ill. This is a scene repeated countless times in the family of God! Here is a person who proclaims themselves to be a “Christian”. That is a name that means “Christlike One.” Yet, when a famine comes in their life, they run out on God. Maybe things didn’t go their way at church. Maybe a trial arose in their life and they were blind sided by it. Maybe they were placed in a financial crisis and placed God after income. Maybe they just came to love the world more than they loved the Lord. Whatever the reason, they chose to walk out of the promised land of God’s blessing and to head off into the world to live life on their own terms. There is a word for that kind of behavior: Backsliding! I am afraid that more believers are in that shape than are willing to admit it this morning!)
B. V. 1 Chose To Live In A Polluted Land – To leave Israel to go to Moab was to violate the clear commandment of the Lord, Joshua 23:7, 12. Yet, Elimelech chose the forbidden path to Moab over contentment in the things of the Lord. To leave one’s inheritance as Elimelech did was equivalent to denying the faith of Jehovah. It was a total turning from God to the world.
You see, for Elimelech and his family, this move to Moab involved total separation from the things of God. They could not worship at the Temple, they could not bring their offerings, they could not keep the feasts that were commanded by the Law. They were totally isolated from everything that stood for God.
Not only that, by moving his family to Moab, Elimelech exposed his family to evils they would have avoided had they stayed in Israel. For instance, both of those boys married pagan women. It is never right for a child of God to marry an unbeliever, 2 Cor. 6:14. These men violated the will of God by intermingling with this pagan race, Ezra 9:1-2; Neh. 13:23.
(Ill. Again, how many times do we see this same thing repeated in the lives of those who call themselves God’s children? When a believer walks away from the things of the Lord, he or she cannot possibly serve the Lord as they should.
Friends, there is no way to be right with the Lord as long as you are separated from the things of God! When His house, His word, His work, His worship and His will are not priorities in your life, it doesn’t matter what you mouth says, your life says that you are away from the Lord!
The believer who walks away from the things of the Lord is saying, “God wasn’t as good to me as I thought He should be. He isn’t worthy of my love and devotion.” It is a choice that always leads downward. If you walk out on God, you will find yourself doing things you never thought possible! You will see yourself involved in wrong relationship and worldly activities. It is a dangerous thing to choose the world over the Lord!)
C. V. 2 Chose To Linger In A Prodigal Land – This family went to Moab and there they stayed! The word “continued” means “to exist or to become.” This may indicate that not only did Elimelech and his family go into Moab, but that Moab got into them as well. Who knows how far into the sin and society of Moab this family fell. I am sure when they left they told themselves that it would only last a short time. But the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and the months into years. Before they knew it, 10 years had passed, v. 4, and they were farther away from the Lord than could have ever imagined themselves being.
(Ill. What an example of the deceptive nature of sin! There are people in this world who are in Moab this morning in your heart and you can’t even see it! For whatever reason, you have decided that God and His plan for your life doesn’t suit you. Maybe you are struggling against something He had brought to pass in your life. Whatever the reason, you are away from Him today. You probably never thought you would get as far as you have, or that you would stay as long as you have.
Here’s how it works. Someone gets offended in a church. A little spiritual famine. Maybe that person has always been very active and faithful to the things of God. Now, they are offended and they leave that church. Maybe they aren’t offended, maybe they “fell led” to go somewhere else.
(Note: I always get nervous when someone tells me that! It usually means they are headed to Moab!)
Anyway, they wander around trying to find a new church home. But, they only visit other churches on Sunday morning. After a while, they find a church to settle down in. They join that church. But, now they only attend on Sunday morning. They just can’t seem to get back “in the habit” of attending regularly. Why? They went to Moab and have never came back!
Maybe it happened like this: it got to be a burden to get to church Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. So you decided to take a Wednesday here and there. Before you knew it, you were missing a Sunday evening as well. Then, all of a sudden, Sunday morning became too much. Now your attendance at church is just hit and miss. You never intended it to happen, but you went to Moab and you never came back!
That’s not your story? Then try this one on for size. A financial need arose in your life. You know, a famine of sorts. Instead of considering that maybe God sent it to help you grow in Him, you went out and got you a second job. Now, you know it will involve your missing church now and then, but you got to make ends meet. Right? Well, before you know it, you are out of the church, out of the Lord’s will and in trouble spiritually. What happened? You went down to Moab and you never came back!
Of course, it could be like this: you started to allow little things in your life that had always been out of the question. Before you knew it, you were doing things you never thought you would ever do again. You began to let little words slip. You tolerated sinful programs on TV and the internet. You indulged the crude speech and wicked humor of your friends. Then, you found yourself living just like the lost world around you. You never thought it would happen, but you went to Moab and you “continued” there! You need to come back!
Before I leave this thought behind, I want to remind you that going to Moab doesn’t always involve an actual, physical move. There are folk who attend church regularly, who pay their tithes, who live clean, moral lives, but they are in Moab this morning.
You see, we go to Moab spiritually when we allow our attitude to get bad. When we become critical, quick to find fault in others, but remain blind to the fault in our own hearts, we have gone to Moab. When we use our tongues as weapons instead of witnessing tools, we have gone to Moab. When we harbor grudges, unforgiveness and ill will toward others, we have gone to Moab. Not all the prodigals leave the Father’s house physically, though they are miles away spiritually.
Friends, I may have described your situation today. In doing so, it is not my intention to rub salt in your wounds. My goal is to help you get out of Moab and back to the “House of Bread” and the place of “Praise”. Sometimes, the only way that will ever happen is for us to be confronted about our sins and our backsliding!
III. V. 3-5 A TIME OF DEADLY CONSEQUENCES
(Ill. Sin always carries with it harsh consequences. This was the case in the life of Elimelech and his family as well.)
A. V. 2 There Was Discipline In That Home – Before Elimelech loaded up his family to move to Moab, it is likely that he had already moved away from God in his heart. You see, no one just wakes up one morning and decides to leave God behind! It is a slow subtle process that builds until the believer has moved farther away from the Lord than he could have ever anticipated.
The reason I say there was discipline in that home lies in the names of Elimelech’s sons. There names were Mahlon which means “Sick” and Chilion which means “Pining, or Wasting Away.” It may be that these two boys were just the victims of circumstance. But, if you believe that, then you don’t believe in a God of providence! I think God was trying to get Elimelech’s attention long before he ever left for Moab.
(Ill. Friends, He will do the same in your life as well. When a backslidden spirit begins to manifest itself in your life, God will begin the process of speaking to your heart. He may do it in a still small voice like He did with Elijah, 1 Kings 19:12. Or, He may do with the thundering voice of a prophet as He did with David, 2 Sam 12:7. He may use subtle means, or He may use direct means, but if you are His, He will reach out to you to bring you home again, Rev. 3:19; Heb. 12:6-11.)
B. V. 3-5 There Was Death In That Home – In spite of his relationship to the Lord, in spite of the blessings of God, in spite of the intervention of the Lord in his family, Elimelech moved to Moab. What was a reality in his heart became a reality in his life!
After he was there for some time, he died. After a while, his sons were also taken in death. It is my opinion that God used the ultimate form of discipline in the lives of Elimelech and his family in order to bring the remainder of the family back to God.
You see, the famine in Bethlehem was a call to repent. Those sick sons were a call to repent. God gave this family ten years of rope, but time finally ran out and they paid the ultimate price for their disobedience.
It is sad, but it is also true, God will use whatever means that He deems necessary to bring you home again! If you are His, you will not run from Him forever. He will discipline your life and if you do not repent, He will take you home, 1 John 5:16; 1 Cor. 5:5.
C. V. 5 There Was Defeat In That Home – Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left desolate. In that society, the poorest of the poor were widows with no children to care for them. These women were left with nothing but desolation, discouragement and defeat. It didn’t have to be, but because of the sin in their hearts and the choices they made in life, they were forced to pay a horrible price.
All Naomi had to show for her disobedience and backsliding were three tombstones in the land of Moab. All she had left were her daughters-in-law and she couldn’t even provide for them. These women were in a desperate condition.
(Ill. Such is the nature of sin! It (sin) never brings anything good into our lives. While it may give those who wander off into it some pleasure in the flesh in the short term, Heb. 11:25, all it can produce in the long term is death, defeat and discouragement. If you want to destroy your family, devastate you life and doom those you love, just wander off to your Moab and stay there. There is a price to pay! You see, sin brings its own club, Pro. 13:15; Rom. 6:21. So, put the things of God last in your life and see how your children treat them when they grow up.
Go ahead and indulge your flesh and its sinful appetites and see what good comes of it. When sickness, when chastisement, when defeat, disillusionment and discouragement come, just remember, you are reaping the harvest you foolishly sowed, Gal. 6:9. Friends, the time to repent is now!)
IV. V. 6-7 A TIME OF DELIBERATE CHANGES
(Ill. These last two verse of our text this morning will help us to leave this message with a little hope. Out of death and defeat we can catch a glimpse of life and victory in the actions of Naomi.)
A. V. 6 A Time Realization – Somehow or another Naomi heard that the Lord was again blessing His people. In truth, He had never stopped blessing! Did you know His chastisement is also His blessing? If he didn’t love you He would chastise you when you failed.
Anyway, someone came into Moab with the good news that God was blessing back in Israel. This sparked a desire in her heart to go home. Maybe she remembered what it was like to be close to the things of God. Maybe she remembered the sacrifices and the worship. Maybe she missed the sweet fellowship she had enjoyed with the people of God.
Whatever the thoughts were that went through her head, she finally woke up in Moab and wanted to go home. This is what happened to the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:17, “And when he came to himself…”
(Ill. Being in a Backslidden condition is a form of insanity.) When that boy saw where he was and what he was missing out on, he wanted to go home. So it was with Naomi.
(Ill. Sooner or later, that time of realization comes to all those who wander away from the Father’s house. There will come a time when the fog and haze of sin will clear away for a moment and in that moment of clarity, the backslider will just where he is and how far he has fallen. He will hear the tender voice of the Lord saying, “There’s bread in my house. Come home!”
That moment is a defining moment in the life of the person who is away from the Lord! If they, like Naomi, will remember and will arise and head back, they will re-enter the realm of blessing and hope. If they continue on in their sins and their wanderings, they will open themselves up to progressively harsher chastisements. What is the Lord saying to your heart today?)
B. V. 6-7 A Time Of Repentance – The Bible says that she “Arose…that she might return from the country of Moab”, v. 6; and “Wherefore she went out of the place where she was…” Naomi rose up and left Moab behind! She experienced a change of heart that resulted in a change of action. She is a picture of someone repenting of their time in Moab and returning home.
(Ill. Friends, if you are guilty of going away from God into Moab, then you need to do what Naomi did! Can you see that it was better back at the Father’s house? Can you remember the times when the Lord met with your soul in sweet communion. Are you looking back at a time when you were closer to the Lord and served Him more faithfully and fervently than you do today? It is time to come home! It is time to bring that sin, that attitude, that problem, that hurt, whatever it is to the altar and let God have it!
It is time to repent of your sins and come home to the Father! It is time to leave your Moab behind you, to get out of that place and to get back to the Lord! If you will, He will receive you and He will balance the books of your life, 1 John 1:9.)
C. V. 7 A Time Of Returning – Naomi rose up and went on her way to return to the land of Judah. She was headed back to the land of “Praise”. She was going back to where she should have been all along! She was going home!
(Ill. Did you know that God never saved you so that you could wander off into sin? He saved you so that you might worship Him in spirit and in truth. He saved you so that you might be used of Him for His glory. He saved you so that you might live a life filled with joy, peace and the glory of God. But, that will never be true as long as you choose to remain in Moab.
You see, dwelling in Moab will rob you of your peace, of your joy, of your praise, of your usefulness to the Lord. It will kill anything in you that God can use to help you and to bless you. If you are there today, please return to the place of praise. Please come back to the Father today!)
When Naomi went into Moab, by her own testimony, she went in full, Ruth 1:21. When she came out, she came out empty. All of her hopes, all of her dreams and all of her to morrows were reduced to three tombstones in a washpot called Moab. When she left that country she left everything she valued behind.
When you go to Moab, you always leave something! Naomi left three tombstones in her Moab, what will you leave behind?
Will you leave your testimony? Will you leave your innocence? Will you leave your health? Will you leave your wealth? Will you leave your family? What will your journey away from God costs you?
Whatever it is, it will cost less to come home today than it will if you wait to a later date. You will leave less behind if you come now than if you wait until later. God can salvage more from your life now than He can if you linger in that polluted pagan country.
By the way my lost friends, this message is for you too! God is calling you to leave your wretched life of sin behind and to come to Him and repent and be saved for eternity in Christ Jesus. If you linger there away from Him, you will pay the ultimate price. You will lose your soul in Hell and destruction! It doesn’t have to be that way.
If the Lord is calling you to be saved, get to Him today and let Him take care of that for you!
Praise the Lord! Amen!