Bethesda-Khankho Foundation

THE GREAT REVERSAL

THE GREAT REVERSAL Text: Ruth 4.14-15

Vs. 14 “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin;” “and may his name be renowned in Israel! Vs. 15 "He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age;” “for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 

In book of Ruth we come across a beautiful chapter in Israel’s history. It’s a story that we must have heard or meditated upon at some point of time. This morning I would like to focus on the event of Obed’s birth, particularly the statements of praise that women of the town of Bethlehem spoke concerning it, which are found in chapter4 verse 14 and 15. At the same time I’ll also be referring to another instance in chapter 1 verses 19 to 22, where we see a conversation between the women of the town and Naomi, when Naomi returns to Bethlehem.

There are three parts in the statement made by the women to Naomi in verse 14 and 15 of Chapter 4. Each of these three parts correspond to a specific person that we will notice in the course of our meditation. More importantly these words of praise represent the great work, a change that has come in life of Naomi and Ruth in comparison to their state of brokenness that we find in chapter 1. In line with this thought, I have entitled my sermon as THE GREAT REVERSAL. Based on the three parts I would like to bring about three important reversals that we see in this story. Based on these reversals I will leave with us three questions to reflect upon.

The first reversal is JOY OVER BITTERNESS

Verse 14a reads – “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin;”

In the first chapter, the village women come out to greet Naomi on her arrival to Bethlehem. But Naomi cannot even bear to hear her name as we read in chapter 1 verse 20. Her name means pleasant and lovely but here she asks the women to call her bitter. She openly complains against God as we see in the next few verses. In Old Testament complaining against God, as here in Naomi’s case, does not represent lack of faith, rather as E.F. Cambell comments, that in OT “a complaint is not only tolerated by God, but it can even be the proper stance of a person who takes God seriously”. In her complaint against God she says God has made her life bitter. However in chapter 4 that bitterness is reversed to joy with the birth of Obed. The women, here in verse 14, start with the phrase “Blessed be the Lord”. It is a common way of expressing thankfulness in Jewish tradition which we also see in the oldest form of Jewish prayer called “the Eighteen Benedictions” in which each prayer begins with “Blessed art Thou o Lord”. What is important is that in all the developments leading to the birth of Obed, women here are acknowledging the sovereignty of God. God has turned Naomi’s situation of bitterness to that of joy and happiness. These words remind that God is our Provider.

The joy that has taken over Naomi’s bitterness raises the question for us to reflect upon – How faithful are we to God even when we think God is silent to our situation of bitterness?

Friends what may seem as God’s silence is probably the time when God is teaching us and examining us. Let me illustrate this to you. In our life as students, there are times in our course of studies when teachers are completely silent. And that is the time when we write exams or tests. That is the time when our learning is tested. Let us reconsider our faithfulness our commitment towards God in bitter moments of our life. Moving to the next reversal that we see in the verses 14b and 15a.

The Second reversal is FULLNESS OVER EMPTINESS

Verses 14b and 15a read, “and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age;”

Going back to the first chapter where Naomi is expressing her grief and pain, She says in verse 21 of first chapter, “Full was I when I went away, but empty has Yahweh brought me back.” The loss of her husband and sons has caused emptiness in her life. There’s no one to take the family and its name forward. But God in his purpose and plan provides for her a “kinsman redeemer”, or “next-of-kin” which we see in 14b in form of Obed, who is Ruth’s and Boaz’s son. The significance of a kinsman redeemer in life of Naomi is realized in the verse 15a, where he is described to be a restorer of her life and a nourisher of her old age. This is the very responsibility that God outlines for a kinsman redeemer in Leviticus 25. The village women had witnessed the complaint of emptiness that Naomi had raised. And so a complete reversal is seen in chapter 4.14a which accounts for the birth of Obed. The emptiness in Naomi’s life, and in her family is reversed into fullness with the birth of Obed.

In this part as the women talk about Obed, they remind Naomi that Obed is God’s Provision for her. The fullness that Naomi experiences causes us to reflect on the question – How patient are we in waiting and trusting upon God to fulfill his work in our situations of emptiness? Dr. Erwin Lutzer a senior pastor at Moody Memorial Church in his reflection on the book of Ruth in this regard says, “We don’t have to understand what God is doing in order to trust Him.” Let us learn to trust and submit ourselves to His purposes for he will make a provision for us. A reversal from bitterness to joy and a reversal from emptiness to fullness.

The Third Reversal is HONOUR OVER SHAME

Verse 15b reads, “for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 

Here the women are talking about Ruth as they praise her. Prior to birth of Obed and her marriage with Boaz, Ruth faced very difficult times. Despite her unconditioned faithfulness that we find in her commitment towards Naomi, she’s continually referred as ‘Moabite’, which we see in chapter 1:22 and again in chapter 2 verse 6. There was a sense of inferiority attached with the Moabites as they were considered to be ‘pagans’, ‘foreigners’ by the Israelites. Also the lack of children must have been a matter of shame for Ruth, considering that the society was predominantly patriarchal. In 10 years of marriage with one of Naomi’s son, which we see in chapter 1 verse 4, Ruth did not have children. And in context of the book, in which there is so much significance of a kinsman redeemer, the lack of children must have been a matter of shame for Ruth. However with Obed’s birth women of the town not only acknowledge the relentless love that Ruth has for Naomi, they go even further in telling Naomi that Ruth is better than seven sons. Seven in Jewish understanding depicts a number of completion. It represents perfection. “Seven” in fact is the ideal number of sons in the Biblical conception, which we see in Hannah’s prayer in I Sam. 2.5 and also in Job’s case in Job 1.2. Ruth here is given an unmatched honour. The shame has been reversed to an honour that is of the highest degree. Here the women remind Naomi that Ruth is God’s Medium for His Provision.

This leads us to reflect upon the question – How assured are we of God’s strength in our lives even when the world may look upon us as insignificant or as objects of shame? We have created so many barriers among us because we think ourselves superior to others. Let us not go very far, lets us just see in our community, we judge and shame people, both directly or indirectly on the basis of money, our looks, our regional or cultural belongingness, even on the basis of our marks. Those of us who feel such burden of shame let us seek assurance of God’s strength to turn our situations of shame into that of honour. And for those of us who cause such burden of inferiority among your fellow friends and classmates, let us reexamine and humble ourselves.

Conclusion -

Disappointments, grief, sorrow, pain, suffering, emptiness, bitterness, shame – these are part of all of our lives. These come in our lives in one way or the other.

The story in book of Ruth starts with one of the darkest of situations that one could think of in one’s life. But then there is a great reversal by the time we come to the end of the book. What it holds for us is that adverse times, situations of hopelessness are not the end in themselves. We have to learn to accept the signboard on our developing life that would say, “Work in Progress.” Somebody said of this story in the book of Ruth that “God in one of the darkest time of history provided way for the greatest King in Israel’s history.”

Ruth in giving birth to Obed became the great-grand mother of King David. What a blessing, what a reversal of events for Naomi, for Ruth, for the people of Bethlehem and for Israel. Even as we are in season of Christmas, Jesus’ birth reminds us of the greatest of all reversals that could be brought us. He gave new hope by giving us New Life when we were doomed to death. It is my prayer that in times of despair we see a reversal from bitterness to joy, from emptiness to joy, from shame to honour. May we be patient and faithful in trusting God to turn our situations of hopelessness into glorious celebrations.

As we now listen to a special song, let us reflect on its beautiful words of hope and assurance “See the sun now bursting through the clouds. Black and white turns to colour all around. All is new, in the Savior I am found. This is living now.” May God bless us all.

Note: This message was preached by Vikuono of BD4 at Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, on 14th December 2016.