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THE CHARACTER OF RUTH
Ruth 1:15-17. She (Naomi) said, Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister-in-law. And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.
THE study of Scripture characters is very instructive: for, in them, we see human nature in all its diversified conditions, not as artificially delineated by a brilliant fancy or a warm imagination, but as really existing, and exhibited to our view. For subjects of public discussion, too, they are peculiarly favourable; because, in presenting real scenes, they bring before us circumstances which are of daily occurrence, or which, at least, are well adapted to shew us how to act, when such circumstances occur. The partings of friends and relatives are common: and, inasmuch as they give birth to a great variety of emotions in the mind, they elicit the inward character with great fidelity. Such is the incident which we are now about to consider, and which will reflect peculiar light on the dispositions of one, who, though a Moabitess by birth, was one of the progenitors of our blessed Lord.
From this farewell scene, and the distinguished excellence of Ruth’s behaviour, I shall be led to mark her character,
Simply as here depicted—
In the circumstances before us, she approves herself a pattern,
Of filial piety—
[Her mother-in-law, Naomi, had long endeared herself to her; and now was about to part with her, and to return to the land of Israel. But Ruth would not suffer her to depart alone, but determined to adhere to her to the latest hour of her life. Nor in this determination was she biased by any selfish hopes of future aggrandizement. Her love was altogether pure and disinterested. She well knew, that, though Naomi was once possessed of opulence, she was now reduced to poverty: nor had Naomi any surviving son, who might be united to her, and raise up seed to his departed brother. All this was faithfully represented by Naomi, both to her and to her sister Orpah, in the most affecting terms: “Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? Are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters; go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have a husband also to-night, and should bear sons, would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? Nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much, for your sakes, that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me. And they lift up their voice, and wept again [Note: ver. 11–14.].” But nothing could shake the resolution of Ruth: she determined to renounce all her old relatives, and the prospects she might have in her native land, and to cleave steadfastly to Naomi, even unto death. And the manner in which she refused to acquiesce in her mother’s proposal was tender and affectionate in the extreme: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee.” This, in other words, was as if she had said, “You know that any request of thine, however difficult or self-denying it were, would be obeyed with the utmost alacrity: but to ask me to forsake thee, this is too much: it would break my heart: I could not do it: I pray you to forbear putting me to so severe a trial: ‘Entreat me not to leave thee;’ for the alternative, of parting with thee or disobeying thy command, is as a sword in my bones, a wound which I cannot possibly endure. Be the sacrifice ever so great, I am ready to make it; I shall delight in making it.”
Thus did this duteous female, from love to her mother, make, in effect, the very reply which St. Paul, many hundred years afterwards, gave, from love to the Saviour, and on an occasion not very dissimilar: “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus [Note: Acts 21:13.].”]
Of vital godliness—
[This was at the root, and was the true spring of her determined resolution: “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” She had been instructed by her mother in the knowledge of the true God; and she determined to consecrate herself to his service, and to take her portion with his people. This was very particularly noticed by Boaz, as no less conspicuous than her filial piety: “It hath fully been shewn me all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband; and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore: the Lord recompense thy work; and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust [Note: Ruth 2:11-12.].” Her desire after God was paramount to every other consideration under heaven. She believed that his people were happy above all other people: and, whatever she might endure in this life, she determined to unite with them, and, as far as possible, to participate their lot. Her views of religion might not be clear: but it is evident that a principle of vital godliness was rooted in her heart, and powerfully operative in her life. In fact, she acted in perfect conformity with that injunction that was afterwards given by our Lord, “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple [Note: Luke 14:33.].”]
But her character will appear in yet brighter colours, if we consider it,
As compared with that of Orpah and Naomi—
Compare it with that of Orpah—
[Orpah loved her mother-in-law; and, at first, determined not to part from her. In answer to the suggestions of Naomi, she joined with Ruth in saying, “Surely we will return with thee unto thy people [Note: ver. 10.].” But, when a faithful representation was given her respecting the sacrifices she would be called to make, she repented of her good intentions, and, taking an affectionate leave of her mother-in-law, “returned to her own people, and to her idol-gods [Note: ver. 15.].” Like the rich youth in the Gospel, she departed, reluctantly indeed, yet finally and for ever [Note: Matthew 19:21-22.]. “Orpah,” it is said, “kissed her mother-in-law: but Ruth clave unto her [Note: ver. 14.].” Happy Ruth! “thou didst choose the better part: and never was it taken from thee [Note: Luke 10:42.],” nor ever hadst thou reason to regret thy choice. It was wise as that of Moses, when he “chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season [Note: Hebrews 11:25.].” We congratulate thee on the strength of thy principles, or rather, on the grace given thee of the Lord. Unhappy Orpah! we know not what was thy condition in after life: but, whatever it was, dost thou not now bemoan thine instability? Dost thou not now wish that thou hadst been faithful to thy convictions, and hadst cast in thy lot with God’s chosen people? As for thee, Ruth, thou favoured saint, even if thou hadst been as miserable in after life as thou wast happy, we should have pronounced thee blessed: but doubly blessed wast thou in the distinctions conferred upon thee in this world, as earnests of the glory which thou inheritest in the realms of bliss, even in the bosom of thy descendant, thy Saviour, and thy God.]
Compare it, also, with that of Naomi—
[That Naomi was a pious character, we have no doubt; and amiable too: for by her conduct she conciliated the regard of both her daughters-in-law, who, though Moabites by birth, were through her convinced of the superior excellence of the Jewish religion, and the superior happiness of those who were imbued with it. And we cannot but earnestly call the attention of Christian parents to this trait of Naomi’s character. For there are too many, who, whilst they profess godliness, make it odious to all who come in contact with them, and especially to those who are dependent on them. Their tempers are so hasty, so imperious, so ungoverned, that their very daughters are glad of an occasion to get from under their roof. I must tell all such professors, that they are a disgrace to their profession; and that if religion do not make us lovely and amiable in all our family relations, it does nothing for us, but deceives us to our ruin.
Yet I cannot think very highly of Naomi’s character, when I see the advice which she gave to her daughters. She loved them, it is true: but her love was of too carnal a nature: for she had more respect to their temporal welfare than to the welfare of their souls. Some would offer an apology for her; that she only intended to try the sincerity of their love. But, supposing she had done this in the first instance, which yet she had no right to do, especially when they had both said, “Surely we will return with thee unto thy people:” (I say again, she had no right to “cast a stumbling-block in their way,” and by repeated entreaties to urge their return to their idolatrous friends and their idol-gods:) but when she saw, unhappily, that she had prevailed with Orpah, had she any right to urge Ruth to follow her sad example? Should she not rather have rent her garments, yea, and torn the very hair from her head with anguish, at the thought of having so fatally prevailed to ruin her daughter’s soul? Should she not rather have striven to undo what she had done to Orpah, than continue to exert the same fatal influence with Ruth? Should not the advice of Moses to Hobab have been hers to both of them, “Come with me, and God will do you good [Note: Numbers 10:29-32.]?” Naomi, thou hast given us a picture too often realized in the present day: in thee we see a mother more anxious about the providing of husbands for her daughters, than the saving of their souls. Thou didst love thy daughters, it is true; but thy concern for their temporal welfare overpowered all other considerations, and not only kept thee from leading their minds to God, but actually induced thee to exert thine influence in opposition to their good desires: thou wast a tempter to them, when thou shouldest have done all in thy power to keep them from temptation, and have had thy whole soul bent on securing their everlasting salvation. Beloved Ruth, we bless God that thou wast enabled to withstand the solicitations given thee, though from so high a quarter: for we are told by our Lord and Saviour, “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me [Note: Matthew 10:37.].” Thou didst well, in that thy refusal was so tender, so affectionate, so respectful: but still thou didst well, also, that thou wast firm. Thy firmness has reflected a lustre on thy character: for whilst it detracted nothing from thy filial piety, seeing that “we must obey God rather than man,” it has shewn how much more pure thy love was than that of thy mother, and how much more rigid and firm thy piety.]
[Learn, I pray you, from Naomi; learn to instruct your children and dependents in the knowledge of the true God, and to conciliate their regards by the most unwearied efforts of tenderness and love. But beware how you discourage in them any good desire. I will grant that there are in Scripture other instances of persons labouring to counteract the movements of personal affection. Ittai, the Gittite, when following David in his flight from Absalom, was urged to leave him [Note: 2 Samuel 15:19-21.]; as Elisha also was repeatedly by Elijah previous to his assumption to heaven [Note: 2 Kings 2:2; 2 Kings 2:4; 2 Kings 2:6.]. But there was no positive duty lying upon them, or, at all events, none which David and Elijah were not at liberty to dispense with. But Naomi had no right whatever to discourage the pious purposes of her daughters: if she had chosen to dispense with their attendance on her, she had no authority to dissuade them from devoting themselves to God. Remember, then, the true limits of your authority: it may be, and should be, energetically used for God: but it must not, even in advice, be used against him. Your influence is great; and on it may depend the salvation of your offspring. Oh, what a grief must it have been to Naomi, in after life, that she had given such fatal counsel to her apostate daughter! And who can tell what cause you may have to bewail the discouraging of pious emotions in your children, even in one single instance? And think not that even piety renders this caution unnecessary. Rebekah was pious; yet when she feared that her beloved Jacob would lose the birthright, what a device did she suggest, and with what horrid impiety did she urge him to adopt it [Note: Genesis 27:12-13.]! Beware, I say, of following Naomi in this respect; and rather use your influence, like Lois and Eunice, for the training of your Timothy to the highest attainments of piety and virtue [Note: 2 Timothy 1:5.].]
To young people—
[Cultivate, to the utmost, an affectionate and obediential spirit towards your parents. This is a frame of mind peculiarly pleasing to God. When he enjoined it in the Decalogue, he wrote it with his own finger on a tablet of stone: and it is distinguished above all the other commandments by this, that it was “the first commandment with promise [Note: Ephesians 6:2.].” The exercise of this spirit pre-eminently characterized our blessed Lord in his early days: “He went down with his parents to Nazareth, and was subject unto them [Note: Luke 2:51.].” This is the best return that you can make to your parents for all the care which they take of you, and all their labours for your good. Especially, if, like Naomi, they be brought into affliction and penury, forsake them not then; but rather redouble your attentions to them; and account no sacrifice too great to make, if by any means you may be a comfort to them in their declining years.
At the same time be attentive to the concerns of your souls. Embrace the God of Israel as your God; and worship him, and serve him, and “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart [Note: Acts 11:23.].” And let no hopes of improving your temporal condition, either in marriage or in any other way, draw you aside from him. Renounce all for God; and “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord.” If others turn from the Lord, and go back unto the world, do not ye follow them. Even though they be your near relatives, with whom you have been bound in ties of the closest amity, let them not prevail: yea, though their prudence be proposed to you as the fittest pattern to follow, and the proposal come from the highest authority, still be faithful to your convictions; and be faithful to your God. This will issue most to your satisfaction; this will bring you peace at the last: for so it is written; “Hearken, O daughter, and incline thine ear: forget, also, thine own people, and thy father’s house: so will the King greatly desire thy beauty; for He is thy Lord; and worship thou him [Note: Psalms 45:10-11.].”]
THE CHANGES MADE BY TIME AND CIRCUMSTANCES
Ruth 1:19. It came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
TO seek the applause of man is wrong: but to merit it, is most desirable. A man of worthless character creates no respect in the minds of others; so that, if ill befall him, he finds but little sympathy in the bosoms of those around him: whereas a good man under misfortune, excites a general commiseration; and every one takes a lively interest in his affairs. This is beautifully exemplified in the history before us. Naomi was certainly a woman of piety, and much esteemed. In a season of dearth she had left her country with her husband and sons; and, after ten years’ absence, she returned in a bereaved and destitute condition, having lost her husband and her two sons, and having no attendant but a daughter-in-law, as poor and destitute as herself. Yet, behold, she no sooner reaches the place of her former abode, than the whole city is moved with her misfortunes, every one feeling for her as for a sister, and with tender concern exclaiming, “Is this Naomi?”
The circumstance here recorded will lead me to shew you,
What changes take place in life—
This is altogether a changing scene; every day bringing with it something new, to elevate or depress our minds. Some changes are of a favourable nature, such as the growth of our children in wisdom and stature; the advancement of our friends in wealth and honour; and, above all, the conversion of the gay and dissipated to the knowledge of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. These things sometimes occur so suddenly and beyond our expectation, that we scarcely know how to credit them; and we are ready to ask, with pleasing surprise, Is this Naomi, whom I remember not long since under such different circumstances?
But it is rather of afflictive changes that our text leads us to speak: and we shall notice them,
In relation to temporal matters—
[What effects are wrought by disease or accident in the space of only a few days, we all are well aware. The person who but as yesterday was flourishing in health, vigour, beauty, is become enfeebled, emaciated, yea, a mass of deformity, so that you exclaim, with almost incredulous surprise, Is this Naomi? Nor are changes less quickly made in the outward circumstances of men, one day living in affluence and all the splendour of wealth; the next, reduced to penury and shame. The age in which we live has been fruitful in such examples, princes and nobles having taken refuge, and found subsistence from the hands of charity, in our happy isle [Note: During the French Revolution.]; and, since that period, multitudes of our most opulent merchants having fallen from the highest pinnacle of grandeur to insignificance and want. Nor is it uncommon to behold a man, who by his talents has commanded universal admiration, brought, through disorder or through age, to a state of more than infantine fatuity; so that he can be no longer recognised but as a wreck and ruin of the former man.
The circumstances of Naomi lead me to mention yet another change, namely, that of family bereavements. We have seen persons in the full enjoyment of domestic happiness, with children, numerous, healthy, playful, the joy and delight of their parents, by successive strokes brought to a state of widowhood and desolation. Behold the disconsolate widow, “weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are not;” and because the husband, who was her stay and her support, is either languishing on a bed of sickness, or wrested from her by resistless death! In a word, see Job encircled with his family, and in the fullest possession of all that the world could give him: Ah! how fallen! how destitute! What a complete picture of human misery, and of the vanity of all sublunary good!]
In relation to spiritual concerns—
[The most distressing sight is that of one who once was hopeful as to the concerns of his soul, but has “left off to behave himself wisely,” and launched forth into all manner of dissipation: or, if a more pitiable object can present itself to our view, it is that of one, who, after attaining an eminence in the Christian life, has fallen into a state of wilful and habitual sin, and brought public disgrace upon his holy profession. David will here naturally occur to our minds. Look at him: “Is this David?” the man so abhorrent of evil, that he would not suffer a person who should utter a falsehood to dwell in his sight? Ah! how fallen! how unlike this murderer is to “the sweet singer of Israel,” “the man after God’s own heart!” And Solomon, too; Is this Solomon? that perfection of wisdom, whom all proclaimed as the wisest of the human race, now so infatuated, as to seek his happiness in a number of wives and concubines; and so impious, as both to gratify them, and to unite with them, in the most abominable idolatries [Note: 1Ki 11:1-10]? Is this Solomon? I say: Who can believe it?
But must we go back to those distant ages for instances of human frailty and depravity? Would to God that they were of such rare occurrence, that none had ever arisen in our own remembrance. But wherever the Gospel is preached, instances will be found of persons who “ran well for a season only,” and who, though they “began in the Spirit, have ended in the flesh.” Look at any such persons now, and see how unlike they are to their former selves! “How is the gold become dim, and the most fine gold changed!”]
But, that we may duly improve these occurrences, let us consider,
What feelings the contemplation of them should inspire—
We should not be uninterested spectators of such events: they should excite in us,
[In no case should we exult over fallen greatness. We read, indeed, of the triumphant utterance of joy at the fall of the Babylonish monarch, agreeably to the predictions respecting him [Note: Isaiah 14:4-11. Almost this whole passage should be cited.] — — — And similar exultation was felt at the destruction of Jerusalem; as it is said: “All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth [Note: Lamentations 2:15.]?” But though these gloryings were permitted by God for the punishment of his enemies, they are not recorded for our imitation. We, like our blessed Lord, should weep over the desolations even of our bitterest enemies [Note: Luke 19:41-42.]. We should “bear one another’s burthens, and so fulfil the law of Christ [Note: Galatians 6:2.].” The sight of misery, wheresoever it is found, should call forth our tenderest sympathy, and cause us to “weep with them that weep [Note: Romans 12:15.].” This is particularly suggested by the conduct of the people at Bethlehem: “The whole city was moved” at the sight of this poor widow, whom they had not seen for the space of ten years; and one sentiment of compassion filled all ranks of people, saying, “Is this Naomi?” So let it be with us, whether we be able to relieve the sufferer, or not. The very feeling of compassion will be pleasing to our God; and will assimilate us to that blessed Saviour, who pitied us in our low estate, and “who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:9.].”]
[In such a changeable world as this, what is there for us to covet? Shall we desire riches? How soon do “they make themselves wings, and fly away [Note: Proverbs 23:5.]!” Shall we affect honour? How soon may our Hosannahs be turned into, “Crucify him, crucify him!” As for pleasure, of whatever land, so vain is it all, that “even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness [Note: Proverbs 14:13.].” Indeed, the whole world, even if we could possess it all, is but “vanity and vexation of spirit.” If we “have wives, our true wisdom is to be as though we had none; if we weep, to be as though we wept not; or, if we rejoice, as though we rejoiced not: if we buy, to be as though we possessed not; and, if we use this world, as not abusing it: because the fashion of this world passeth away [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.].” If changes of the most calamitous nature occur, we should remember, that “nothing has happened to us but what is common to man,” and nothing but what may issue either in our temporal or eternal good. There are not wanting instances of the deepest reverses being themselves reversed: for Job’s prosperity, after his distresses, far exceeded any thing that he had enjoyed in his earlier life [Note: Job 42:10-16.]. Naomi, too, found, in the issue, that she had no reason to “adopt the name of Mara [Note: ver. 20.]:” for her subsequent connexion with Boaz soon dissipated all her sorrows, so that she could “put off her sackcloth and gird her with gladness.” But, if this should not be the case, we may well be satisfied that “tribulation worketh patience, and experience and hope,” and that our light and momentary afflictions work out “for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.].” In the view, then, of all these things, we should “learn, in whatsoever state we are, therewith to be content: we should be equally ready to be abased or to abound, and to be instructed everywhere, and in all things, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need [Note: Philippians 4:11-12.].”]
[This will never fail us. If we have much, it will sanctify our prosperity, and keep it from injuring our souls. If we have little, it will supply the lack of every thing. View the rich man in all his abundance, and Lazarus in all his destitution. The eye of sense will look with envy on the one that is revelling in plenty: the eye of faith will form a far different estimate, and congratulate the sufferer in the midst of all his distresses. The wealth of this world brings with it many cares and troubles: but “the blessing of God maketh rich, and addeth no sorrow with it [Note: Proverbs 10:22.].” Even whilst the two were here in this world, no doubt the poorer was the happier man. But at the moment of their departure hence, what different feelings would have been expressed, if they had still been subjected to the sight of man! Is this the rich man—now destitute of a drop of water to cool his tongue? Is this Lazarus—now in the bosom of Abraham, at the banquet of the Lord? So, then, shall it ere long be said of you, ye sons and daughters of affliction, if only ye improve your trials for the furtherance of your spiritual welfare. How soon shall all “your tears be wiped away from your eyes!” How soon shall “joy and gladness come forth to meet you; and sorrow and sighing flee away for ever!” “Be patient, then, unto the coming of your Lord:” and you shall soon find, that “the sufferings of this present life were not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us [Note: Romans 8:18.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ruth 1". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany