Sermon on Ruth 1:1-22 – “Return and Repentance in Ruth”

Sermon on Ruth 1:1-22 – “Return and Repentance in Ruth”

Sermon for Sunday, May 28th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Psa 45:1-17 ESV] 1 To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah; a love song. My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. 2 You are the most handsome of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever. 3 Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your splendor and majesty! 4 In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; let your right hand teach you awesome deeds! 5 Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you. 6 Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; 7 you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; 8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; 9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. 10 Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, 11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. 12 The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people. 13 All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. 14 In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her. 15 With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. 16 In place of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. 17 I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.

New Testament reading:

[Heb 12:3-11 ESV] 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Gospel reading:

[Mat 10:34-39 ESV] 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Scripture Reading:

[Rth 1:1-22 ESV] 1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. 6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. 19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” 22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.


We are beginning a new series this morning on the Old Testament book of Ruth.

I plan, Lord Willing, to cover this short book in about 4 sermons. Today we’ll look at

Return and Repentance in Ruth

then we’ll have

Reaping and Refuge in Ruth


Rest and a Redeemer in Ruth

and finally

Redemption and Restoration in Ruth.

I. An Account of a Family

The book of a Ruth is a story — a true story with people who truly existed — about a women Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth. And a great calamity that besets them. And it is a story of God’s control and plan of all things, even for the those who might seem to think they are overlooked. And in the end it is a story of God’s blessing upon his people who had faith in Him and who say indeed “Blessed be the Lord.”

The first words of this book tell us that these events occurred “in the days when the judges ruled.”

It is my great goal in life to preach through the entire Bible, both the Old Testament and the New. And I’ve been alternating Testaments in our morning sermons. We went from John in the New, to Exodus in the Old, to James in the New, and then Joshua in the Old. And most recently 1 Thessalonians, the first of Paul’s epistles … in the New.

Now we return to the Old Testament, and if we were going chronologically in order we might continue after Joshua with Judges.

I did preach 1 sermon here on the book of Judges a couple years ago, where I spoke about the Cycle of Judges. In that book we find that the people would sin against God, and He would allow them to fall into the hands of their enemies. But then the people cried out to the Lord and He would send a judge (or deliverer) to defeat the enemy and regain peace for Israel.

The book of Judges speaks about BIG people. The Judges, the rulers, the heroes of Israel. People like Jephtha, and Gideon, and Samson.

The Book of Ruth is equally a good choice to take up chronologically after the Book of Joshua, for it takes place in that same period of time, the time of the Judges.

And here, rather than a story about the BIG People (Kings, Prophets, Priests, or Judges) we have an account before us of REGULAR people. LITTLE people. Indeed, an account that mostly focuses on two women – Naomi and Ruth. And then, the man – Boaz – who figures prominently in the story is merely a farmer.

Yet, God directs their lives every bit as much as he directs the lives of the Kings and Queens of old. God directs the lives of LITTLE people very bit as much as the lives of BIG people.

So it is a book not about to the triumphs of kings, but of the tragedies of common people, and the ultimate triumph of God.

Now this period of the Judges was a difficult a period in Israelite history. The people did what was fitting in their own eyes. They went away from God, following not his commands but walking in their own ways.

And in the midst of this difficult period we find that there is a famine in the land. This is a doubly difficult time.

And it is in this doubly difficult time that we are introduced to the family in our story. There is a man named Elimelech (his name means God is my king) and he has a wife named Naomi (that means pleasant). And they have two sons Mahlon and Chilion. Their names are not so wonderful. They mean “Sickness and Wasting” as they are born into a time of famine.

And this family, we are told, they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem. This fact should grab your attention. For who else is from Bethlehem? King David. And ultimately it is the birthplace of Jesus Christ himself.

These two names — Ephrath and Bethlehem — are two names for the same place Genesis 35:19 says “Rachel was buried on the way to Ephrath, that is Bethlehem.” It equates the two. And Micah 5:2 says famously “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, who coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

And in the end of the book of Ruth, when all comes together, we’ll find a genealogy. Naomi, through her daughter-in-law Ruth – is seen to be an ancestor of King David. And, as the Gospel of Matthew shows in the first chapter, this is the line of the Savior and Messiah Jesus Christ.

But now with the great famine, Elimelech and Naomi, with Mahlon and Chilion sojourned (or traveled for residency) in the country of Moab. Times were so bad that they would leave their extended family and seek for a better future across the Jordan river in a foreign land. And not just any foreign land, but the land of Moab where the terrible heathen Moabites were worshippers of the Canaanite God Chemosh. This false god is spoken of in 1st and 2nd Kings as “the abomination of Moab” akin to Molech “the abomination of the Ammonites.” Worshiping these Canaanite gods is, according to the Scriptures to “not walk in the ways of the Lord, or to do what is right in God’s sight, not keeping his statues and rules.”

Our family in this story is not said to be worshipping Chemosh, but they are putting themselves in real danger and in real risk because they have moved to the foreign land of Moab.

Application: Avoid Spiritual Dangers

As for an Application. We must think to avoid such spiritual dangers and risks to ourselves. Let us not live amongst the Moabites. For example, if you have any tendency to gamble (or even if you don’t) you shouldn’t move to Las Vegas. And if being around certain friends brings out of you bad language and bad behavior, you ought not to meet up with them and put yourself in that place.

There may be a tendency to think here that Abimelech and Naomi did not trust in the Lord, when they left the land of the Israelites for the land of the Moabites. But the text doesn’t say this. And we know of other occasions in which the people of God sought food in foreign lands in the time of famine.

But if there moving to Moab was not itself troubling, the fact that their children, Mahlon and Chilion married Moabite women is greatly concerning.

Because of the temptation to worship foreign gods, God commanded the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 “You shall not intermarry with the, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.”

But now Mahlon and Chilion have married Orpah and Ruth.

Application: Marry only in the faith.

There is here another Application. It is that same warning Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 6:14 – “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” This means, marry only someone who shares faith in the True God. When one oxen is stronger than the other, they cannot plow in a straight line. They cannot work together but are always at odds with one another. So we are encouraged to marry in the Lord. And, as marriage is a “creation ordinance” most ministers I’ve known have said they’d also marry an unbeliever with another unbeliever. But in good conscience, I cannot marry or recommended marriage for those who are unequally yoked. And the important element here is that of faith. A believing Christian man is to marry a believing Christian women. This has nothing do to with race. The Israelites can well marry the Moabites, so long as the Moabite first comes to faith in God. So “unequally yoked” applies to faith, but we must use discernment on other matters as well. For example, while this pronouncement is not about the difference in age between a prospective couple, that is something that should be considered before marriage, just as any other difference such as culture, language, or even differences in sports teams should be considered. But above all, shared faith is crucial for marriage.

Now, we have Mahlon and Chilion marrying outside of the faith. They take for wives Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth.

Now, for reference, see the family chart I’ve put in the bulletin.

Elimelech —— Naomi


| —— Mahlon —— Orpah

| ——Chilion —— Ruth

At this time we have in essence a prodigal family. They are disobedient to God. Just as there are prodigal sons or prodigal daughters, there may be prodigal nations or prodigal families. And when they are in the “far off country” the Lord must draw them back in through many difficulties, even tragedies.

So it is that the father of the family Elimelech passes away. But Naomi is ok. She has her sons to help take care of her. Then, they die. And all who are left are Naomi and her daughters-in-law, the Moabite women Orpah and Ruth.

There is a similarity here in Ruth to the story of Job. Calamity, at the hand of God, comes upon them in what seems like a full measure. Famine + death + more death. It is no wonder that Naomi changes her name to Mara, meaning bitter. She is in great despair.

And now Naomi and Orpah and Ruth are without support. And this was not a day in age when women could find employment on their own. They were primarily mothers and homemakers, occupied with the difficult (but unpaid) task of cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing.

So a great decision had to be made. Where are they going to go? Where is Naomi going to go? And how about Orpah? And what about Ruth?

II. Return and Repentance

Naomi and Orpah do what is natural in these circumstances. They return to their closest male family, their next of kin. Naomi returns to Israel, and Orpah returns to family in Moab.

But the story of Ruth is more interesting, because she takes a surprising direction. She goes not back to her Moabite family, but decides to follow Naomi back to Israel.

Naomi is surprised by this idea. She almost mocks the idea, saying, in essence, “I have no more sons for you to marry.” “And if you want to wait for another son from me, well I’m too old anyways.”

But then, we have this great response of Ruth, showing that above all she is loyal to Naomi and trusts in the Lord God.

16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

Naomi will return to Israel and Ruth will come with her.

Here is repentance. Turning away from false Gods to worship the One True and Living God.

Orpah, the other daughter-in-law, wept. Indeed, they all wept. But weeping is not repentance. It may come with repentance, but it is not sufficient for repentance. You know this in your own life … if a person commits a crime and then weeps over it, they haven’t necessarily repented … they may go right back to crime. But true repentance is a turning away from that life of crime.

The subject of repentance and its relationship to faith has been one that I’ve had on my mind much in recent years, and have studied at some length. There are many views on the subject, unfortunately showing the divided state of Christianity.

And here, in my research on this passage in Ruth, I heard the greatest point from the old radio Bible commentator J. Vernon McGee. He said, “Turning to Christ is faith. Turning from the idols is repentance. And somebody says which comes first and which is more important. You can argue that all you want to, but I can’t turn the front of my hand without turning the back of my hand.”

So it is that faith and repentance go together. We are to turn away from sin and turn to the Lord. It is not two things, but one. We hold to Sola Fide – faith alone for salvation, recognizing that with faith is repentance, not as an add-on, but as integral to that very faith.

When we find ourselves in great tragedy, we are to turn to the Lord.

And you, all who are here today, find yourselves in a great tragedy, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and must return to the Lord, repent of evil, and have believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.

This is above all else. We see Ruth choosing God above her own Moabite family and Moabite Gods.

It is as Christ says in our Gospel passage: 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Like we saw last week, the meaning of life starts with God. We are to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And then the rest follows. Love the Lord your God above all else, more than family or nation.

And doing so we continue in Christ’s words: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Ruth loses that life she would have in Moab, but finds a far better life – eternal life – with God whom she has turned to in repentance and faith.

There is a command throughout Scripture to “repent and believe.” Turn away from that which is false and come worship the true God. It is not a suggestion, it is a command … of God.

Repent and believe the Gospel of our Lord. Lose your life for the sake of Christ, and find life all the more. Let us pray.