The Danger of Mere Reason in the Face of Affliction
Text: Ruth 1:1-2
Much as it may be heralded in many quarters as a positive trait, having a very independent spirit is not biblical. Not that there aren’t times when we are like Noah, and there’s a sense of independence necessary in order to do the will of God, regardless of what others are doing. But the Bible speaks loudly to a spirit of interdependence. i.e. we are individuals, but there’s an understanding of needing others and them needing you. That’s the whole purpose of presbyterianism. We don’t see the NT church functioning as independents, but as interdependent upon each other.
Regardless of the inner Cain that wants to rise up and question the will of God, we are our brother’s keeper. What we do and how we live has an impact upon other people. Nowhere is that more profound than in the context of family, whether church or home. Is it not our desire, as we pilgrim towards heaven to influence others to join us? I trust so. How we live is influencing others.
Before really dwell on this on whether it was for good or ill, I want you to see that Elimelech is influencing his family. He is taking them from their home in Bethlehem to Moab. That is his influence. The day he made a decision to move, that decision was going to impact others. Lot made one decision, the decision to pitch his tent toward Sodom, and he lost almost everything. David made one decision, the decision to stay at home instead of leading his army into battle, and he suffered terribly. The decisions you make believer, are impacting others. Yes, even you without Christ, your decisions are influencing others. Your decision to hold off believing in Christ is impacting others.
Unless we are well grounded in the Word of God, reading it daily, and submitting to its authority, we are going to make decisions influenced by the society around us, and I fear that’s what Elimelech did. He made a decision without considering God, and where did he learn that? Judges 21:25
That’s the context of this family. I sought to establish that last week, so I’ll avoid repeating myself. And the sad thing is this text can be written over our day. Professing Christians are so biblically illiterate, they have no clue what the mind of the Lord is, and subsequently, they live according to 21:25.
The Word of God is the ONLY answer to prevent you living this way. Are you reading it believer? If you are not, you are left only with your reason, just like Elimelech.
I. WHO MERE REASON WILL AFFECT
In this case it’s Elimelech and his family. Elimelech i.e. “my God is the King” This shows the godliness of his parents in giving him such a name, for it was not just a testimony of their faith in God, but a testimony to his fellow countrymen, that as there would be an increasing rebellious desire among them to have a king like the other nations, Elimelech’s parents were steadfast in saying, ‘my God is the King’.
In a generation which did not want God’s sovereign authority, His name testified against it. Sadly, Elimelech didn’t believe it. If he believed it, when the famine came he would have said, ‘times may be hard, but my God is on the throne’. He provided for our ancestors in the wilderness, He will provide for us as well. But Elimelech doesn’t think that way.
He thinks he can avoid the judgment of God by relocating instead of repenting. And with hindsight in her favour, his wife could bear testimony to their experience 1:13 “the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.”
Was she mistaken? Look at Judges 2:15. This is the setting, and this is their experience. They are experiencing this because they are part of backsliding Israel.
As a family, they disregarded God’s Word, but the syntax of the language clearly directs us to consider that this is Elimelech’s decision. He is responsible, as we would expect since he is the head of the home. But God didn’t bring them a famine to relocate. He sent a famine to bring them to repentance, and if Elimelech was a man of God, he would have understood that and lived by his name.
Naomi i.e. “pleasant” Mahlon i.e. ‘sickly’ Chilion i.e. ‘frailty’. Thus, their names suggest weakness.
Mahlon and Chilion present the reality of all children. They are weak. And the worst thing you can do with the weak is put them in a position that will exploit their weakness. They will become what they see and hear. And while I don’t lay down any rules, you need to consider their schooling with prayer.
And you need to make decisions about what you give them access to in your home. And as they get older, you need to be constantly monitoring to see if something is exploiting their weaknesses, such as access to TV, Internet, and certain friends and hobbies. If anything is drawing them away from God, you need to step in in a charitable way.
Furthermore, you need to make decisions that will not leave them weak. You need to expose them to the Word of God and prayer daily in family worship, you need to ask them questions and answer their questions, and you need to set a positive example of your faith before them with evidence of humility, repentance, and forgiveness towards each other.
Never make a decision that promises temporal gain if there’s a risk of spiritual loss. Don’t depend on mere reason. It will destroy you and your loved ones.
II. WHAT MERE REASON WILL SAY
So what does reason say when you get away from God’s Word? I think you can get the picture. Since their sons were sickly and a famine had struck their homeland, Elimelech’s decision is purely a rational one without thought for the Word. His purpose in moving is for the benefit of his family. At least, that’s what he’s telling himself.
I mentioned last week of the Levitical law which warned what God would do if the people turned away from Him, and I said off the top of my head Lev 16. Well, I had some reservations when I said it thinking, ‘no, that’s not right’. It’s actually Lev 26. You read that and see what God expected of His people, and what He threatened them with if they rebelled.
Turn: v19-20 – the warning of famine. v22 – take your children. v23-24 – the purpose is to reform.
That’s what’s happening in the opening setting of Ruth. “There was a famine in the land,” which was no accident. God had sent it with the intention of reforming the people. They were not to run, they were to reform.
I can see Elimelech looking at his options.
His name tells him God is sovereign, but he says, ‘but I need to be responsible, my children will die’.
He thinks of the reason for the famine, but he says, ‘what difference would my repentance make’.
He thinks of Abraham and his experience, but he says ‘I have no choice’.
He thinks of the need of wives for his sons, but he says, ‘I’ll come back home before that’.
He rationalizes the entire thing, but God is not in his decisions.
He acts like Abraham, which also had a catastrophic influence upon his family, specifically Lot. This is man devising his own solution to a problem his sin has created. Man is always doing this. Man creates the problem of sin, and man thinks he can fix it with religion and person righteousness. No, the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ is the only answer for sin. Man’s sin brings famine and God’s judgment and God says repent and I’ll remove the judgment, but man says I can relocate instead of repenting.
III. WHERE MERE REASON WILL LEAD
In this case, mere reason leads to Moab. In the providence of God, Bethlehem, which means ‘the house of bread’ had no bread, and Elimelech takes his family away from a place that had spiritual bread but no physical bread, in order to get to a place that had physical bread but no spiritual bread. And as I said, he should have learned from Abraham.
“went to sojourn in the country of Moab…” i.e. he never intended to stay. He intended to return, but he never did.
There’s no prayer, he just did that which was right in his own eyes. And perhaps this is a message for someone in the middle of a decision, or approaching a decision – oh learn from this beloved. Seek the Lord, and get counsel from godly people who know the Word and love you enough to tell you what’s right, and not just what you want to hear.
What kind of a place was Moab? What do we know about it that Elimelech would have known?
1. Their origins: they originated from the incestuous relationship of Lot and his daughter (Gen 19:30-38).
2. Their resistance: they resisted the Israelite passage through their territory when they came from Egypt (Numbers 22-24)
3. God’s judgment: the Israelites commit whoredom the women of Moab and 24,000 die (Num 25:1-9).
4. Their oppression: by Eglon the king of Moab (Judg 3:15-30).
5. Israel’s law: God excluded Moabites from the assembly of the Lord (Deut 23:3-6).
No doubt Elimelech knew of its reputation and knew all of this. It was a place of unfettered wickedness and idolatry, and Elimelech had no right to think he could up sticks and move there. “country” i.e. field. So knowing the dangers he maybe says ‘I’ll live in the countryside’.
Don’t interpret this story merely on the basis of hindsight. Someone said to me that it looks like God led them there to fulfill His plan. But God is not the author of sin, even if He often turns it for His own glory. God didn’t lead Joseph’s brothers to sell him to Egypt. Nor did God lead Tamar to disguise herself as a harlot, nor did God lead Pilate to put Christ on the cross. But God in His sovereignty purposed that through the sins of men, He would magnify His own name.
The amazing thing about grace is not that God is in the sin that requires it, but that He works good out of our sin. That’s the glory of the story, not that God made them leave home, but that out of their disobedience worked it for His glory.
If you are in a position today requiring a decision. Maybe you’ve already made a decision, and you did it without asking and resigning to the Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? Don’t depend on mere reason. If the decision even raises a question in your mind, proceed with caution! Don’t justify your disobedience.
Prov 3:5-7, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.”
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
Imagine Christ had justified not going to the Cross. I’m God, why should I become a servant? I’m God, why should I be betrayed? I’m God, why should I have to die?
May Christ ever deliver us from depending on mere reason, and if we are like Adam and Elimelech, and have led our families into destruction, may Christ bring you deliverance for His own glory.