Looking At Ruth And Seeing God

This week we continue our sermon series called Great Is Thy Faithfulness by looking at the character of God revealed to us in the life and actions of widowed pagan foreigner by the name of Ruth. We looked at Ruth in our sermon and our auditorium Bible class back on July 14th. But I think it’s a point that is important enough for us to look at again. But before we look at Ruth, let’s begin by looking at God.

The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:6-7 NRSV

The phrase steadfast love is the Hebrew word hesed. It’s how God introduces himself to Moses. It’s the very character of God and can be described as a “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” kind of love. When Moses is reminding the people of God’s covenant with them in Deuteronomy 7, he once again reminds the people that they serve “the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments…” (Deut. 7:9 NRSV) Again…hesed.

Now to the story of Ruth. Naomi has lost her husband, and her sons. She is going to return back from the land of Moab to Bethlehem in Judah to live out her days. She bids farewell to her two daughters-in-law (somewhat successfully) by saying “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me.”  (Ruth 1:8 NIV)

Hopefully the bold words have tipped you off. The Hebrew word there is hesed. Notice that Ruth and Orpah are commended for showing hesed to Naomi and their husbands. Naomi is blessing them by asking Yahweh to do hesed to them as they have already done hesed to her and her sons.

This would be shocking to the original Israelite readers of this short story. The characters that most embody the character traits of Yahweh are not Israelites, nor faithful worshipers of Yahweh, nor wealthy, nor are they males. They are Moabite widowed women. Orpah quickly exits the narrative and we hear from her no more, but Ruth continues to be an example of Yahweh’s hesed through her relationship with Naomi.

Many different applications can be made here. But for now I want us to consider this one point. As we were reminded by the Deuteronomy 7 passage above, a clear example of God’s faithfulness is his hesed. To quote Bobby Valentine, “[Hesed] is the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the ’Jesus Creed.’” We discussed that last week. Sometimes God’s hesed is brought to us through our neighbor’s actions and faithfulness toward us and others. And we too are called to bring that hesed to others through our actions and relationships. 

When we look at the faithfulness Ruth shows Naomi, we begin to see a glimpse of the faithfulness of our God. To quote Jesus, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk. 10:37)

Divorce is Not the Unforgivable Sin – Mark 10:1-12

Our reading for this week comes from Mark 9:30 – 10. This article will focus on what Jesus taught concerning divorce in Mark 10. It’s a topic that we often avoid teaching, and perhaps this avoidance contributes to the pain and embarrassment we all feel surrounding this painful reality of life. Divorce isn’t a new problem, as you’ll find out by reading Mark 10. If you haven’t done so, please stop reading this article and read Mark 10:1-12, then read the rest of this article. Also, feel free to reread the parallel passage in Matthew 19, and also 1 Cor. 7.

The Pharisees during this time argued and debated among themselves about legitimate reasons for divorce. This can be seen in Matthew 19:3 by the question posed to Jesus:

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”  Matthew 19:3

Here in Mark, the setting and point of the teaching is different. The question is simply about the lawfulness of divorce. Jesus refers them to Moses, who permitted divorce.

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” – Mark 10:5-9

We shouldn’t desire to unjoin what God has joined. In marriage, two become one in the eyes of God, and it should be viewed this way by us humans as well. Sadly, we often view marriage as a “joint venture” rather than a covenant. We don’t get this. We still think of them as two individuals, not as a binding covenant in the eyes of God. Jesus says we shouldn’t separate this relationship. We should be so committed that nothing would break our marriage apart.

At this point we usually come up with a list of things that would make a marriage untenable, and there certainly are legitimate issues that lead to divorce.  That’s why I would encourage anyone thinking about getting married to take plenty of time to thoroughly know the other person.  If there’s anything there that you think might lead to divorce down the line…walk away.  Don’t enter the marriage unless divorce is absolutely no option. Yes I know that issues develop later in marriage. Jesus does to.  But marriage is a covenant before God, and we should do everything we can before the covenant, and during the covenant to maintain that covenant.

Jesus elaborates for his disciples…

“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:11-12

Notice that Jesus clearly indicates divorce is against God’s will. Matt. 19 and 1 Cor. 7 have more to teach on valid reasons for divorce, but the fact remains that God expects us to honor our commitment, our covenant, to our spouse.

God expects marriage not to be broken, and Jesus’ teaching here on adultery reinforces it. Our society may want to throw away marriage for any reason, but God doesn’t view it that way. Those marriages are indissoluble.

The point of Jesus’ teaching here?  The marriage covenant is serious and shouldn’t happen unless both parties are fully committed.  Then, as far as it depends on you, maintain the covenant. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin. Remember that.  Jesus is teaching us to honor our marriage covenant, not condemning those whose marriages have failed.