1. "DO NOT REMEMBER THE FORMER THINGS, NOR
CONSIDER THE THINGS OF OLD"
THE ROAD OUT OF DESOLATION.
Our two part study uses the thoughts found in
Isaiah 43:18 & 19, and will be based in the book of RUTH, around the
character of Naomi. The first study looks at Ruth 1 & 2.
The children of Israel
have been established in the Promised Land, and are ruled by Judges. It was a
time of ease perhaps, when people had settled down and began doing their own
thing, thus starting a cycle of complacency, disobedience, and leaving God out
of their lives. However God had clearly warned them what the results of doing
this would lead to.
Lev 26:18-20 'And after all this, if you do not obey
Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. I will break the
pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like
bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield
its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.' (NKJ)
God according to his word
had brought famine to Israel (Ruth 1:1) as judgement for their sins. After a
time of judgement then the people would cry out to God, and He would deliver
them, until the cycle began again.
Naomi before the book commences is living in
Bethlehem, which means - The house of bread, at a time of plenty, with her
husband Elimelech and two sons Mahlon and Chilion. They have obviously acquired
land and are probably living comfortably until the famine strikes.
1. WHAT IS THE PLACE OF DESOLATION OR WILDERNESS?
When God says "Do not remember the former
things," He very obviously isn't saying, 'Don't remember all I have taught
you and what I have done for you.' Indeed in the preceding verses in Isaiah He
has been reminding them of what He has done for them. He isn't saying 'My
people don't have problems.' No I believe He is saying to us, that He wants us
to move forward in our Christian walk, so that we are not constantly living in
and remembering the pain and regret of the past. He is removing the worldly
things that bind us, and giving us a new awareness of, and desire for, the
things of His Kingdom. He wants us to be able to resist temptation and stand
against the things that the enemy has done in our lives, the hold that He has
and the desolations we are going through. Because of what Jesus has done for
us, and the power of His Holy Spirit at work in us, we are enabled to walk
free! He is bringing us out of yesterday, and is bringing us into a new day,
into a place, centred in His provision. He is bringing a restoration of the
things He intended for us to possess.
The wilderness is a dry and barren place,
where little grows or lives, a place of unfruitfulness rather than life, and a
place of desolation. A spiritual wilderness is where there is a dryness in our
relationship with Him, we seem to see few answers to prayer, God does not seem
to be moving in our situation, or maybe a particular area of our life. Maybe we
are well aware of what needs dealing with, but don't know how to go about being
set free. Our past seems to be spelt with a capital P and our future a
very small f. Wilderness can be a time of tears, a time of frustration, loss or
complacency, a time of struggling, fears, hopelessness, emptiness and
isolation, and we can become discouraged or depressed, things can seem to go
from bad to worse, and all we want is 'out.' Yet just as the earth moves
through physical seasons, spiritually we have to go through wilderness times.
Although the reason we found ourselves there may be wrong, it is NOT wrong, to
be going through such a time and as Christians it can be a time of great
spiritual growth, if we are prepared to look to God, learn the lessons, and
follow His leading. There is a Chinese bamboo tree that grows only a few inches
during the first four years of its life, then in the fifth year grows about
ninety feet in five weeks! So any one of us can, starting from NOW, say
'OK, I'm in this situation, but I know God has something better for me, there
are promises I have not seen fulfilled; as I read the Bible I realise that my
Christian walk is not all that it should be; there are areas in my life that
are in wilderness, I want to be able to forget them, not to dwell on them; I
know God has a way out of the desert for me and I want to begin to move into
the new thing that He wants to do in me.'
Naomi was in a wilderness situation. As a
result of the famine Elimelech had taken his family to Moab, there he died
(1.3.) His two sons were probably not strong young men, their names mean
'weak and sickly', and 'failing and pining,' and that could well have
influenced Elimelech to temporarily take his family away from Bethlehem. Her
two boys then married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Friendship with Moab was
discouraged as the nation had conspired to curse Israel when they passed
through with Moses, and during the period of the judges they were frequently at
odds with them. Shortly after this her two sons died (1:5) thereby
leaving no hope of redeeming her inheritance. She lost God's favour
(1:13) her beauty (1:19) her joy (1:20) God's fullness
(1:21) her possessions (1:21) and she suffered God's affliction
(1:21b.) On top of all this she was in a foreign country where she did
not belong. So we see that things looked pretty bleak for her in fact it would
be hard to imagine a worse desolation!
2. HOW DID WE GET THERE?
- It can be as a result of God's leading
His baptism we read in Matt. 4:1 that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the
wilderness to go through a time of testing, or temptation by the devil. In
obedience He willingly went there, to defeat Satan in that particular area, so
He was ready for the next stage of His ministry. Likewise we can experience
wilderness when we willingly follow the Lord into suffering in order to defeat
the enemy and gain what we need in order to move into God's destiny for us.
Psalm 66:10-12 "For You, O God, have tested us; you have refined us as silver
is refined. You brought us into the net; you laid affliction on our backs. You
have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water;
but You brought us out to rich fulfilment." We follow His leading, then are
surprised at the result, and do not always want to learn the lessons!
- It can be as a result of sin
Sin always has a
consequence, and until that sin is dealt with, we shall not be able to
experience God's best for our lives. The children of Israel frequently sinned,
and followed other gods, one of the judgements God brought on the people as a
result was famine, another was captivity. The things we do, that do not line up
with God's righteousness will effect our lives. We do not need to excuse
ourselves, but face up to sin. When we wander into the wilderness through our
own foolishness or ignorance that is also sin. Naomi was in a wilderness
situation because she and her husband had gone to escape the famine. Perhaps if
Elimelech had remained in Bethlehem, the place that God had put them, then
Naomi would not have had to go through so great a wilderness experience as she
went through. God would have led them through, and brought them out, with much
less loss. But before we start to condemn Elimelech let's stop and think, I
believe that often we can be like that. How often do we want to run away when
things start to get a bit tough? We run from churches, marriages,
relationships, jobs and situations. It is so important that we only leave a
situation when we know God has spoken directly to us to do so, running away is
rarely the answer. Repeated, wilful sin can cause us to be in wilderness
situations. God loves us and just as we discipline a naughty child, so God,
although He does not cause the situations, allows them to happen, because He
wants us to be free from the power of sin, and the hold it has on us. Often God
has to cleanse us from the effects of sin before we can enter into that new
thing that He longs to bring into our life.
- The third way we can be in a wilderness situation is
through circumstances beyond our control
We live in a fallen world that
is still under the effects of the curse. Sickness, suffering and death, are a
very real part of life, whether we are Christians or not. Other people can do
things which will forever change our circumstances, but as Christians that does
not mean that we have to be stuck with the effects of negativism, or that we
are stuck in desolation forever.
General Sittser, an associate
Professor of Religion, from Washington, was in 1991 driving home with his
family, when his minivan was hit head on by a drunk driver. His mother, wife
and young daughter were all killed in the accident, but in the book A grace
disguised, how the soul grows through loss he writes:
"Above all I have
become aware of the power of God's grace and my need for it. My soul has grown
because it has awakened to the goodness and love of God
.. God is growing
my soul, making it bigger and filling it with Himself. My life is being
transformed. Though I have endured pain, I believe the outcome is going to be
wonderful. The supreme challenge to any one facing catastrophic loss involves
facing the darkness of the loss on the one hand, and learning to live with
renewed vitality and gratitude on the other. The challenge is met when we learn
to take the loss into ourselves and to be enlarged by it, so our capacity to
live life well and to know God intimately increases
.. Loss can diminish
us, but it can also expand us."
So we can often find ourselves in a
wilderness because of things others have done, both in our lifetimes, and also
in the past. When we look at, and dwell on, what goes on in the world each day,
a hopelessness can overcome us. We can be born in the 'wrong place at the wrong
time' or a variety of other circumstances that we did not contribute to, that
can cause us to be in desolation. But the Bible says "And we know that all
things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the
called according to His purpose." Rom 8:28. As we study the book of Ruth we see
that principle being worked out in Naomi's life.
3. WHAT DO WE DO THERE?
- Guard your relationship with God
It is the
most important thing you have, you need to allow it to grow. Ruth and Orpah
must have seen something about Naomi that they felt was worth holding on to.
Ruth 1:9-10 "And they wept aloud and said to her, "We will go back with you to
your people." I believe one thing was her relationship with God, even after ten
years of living in Moab we see she is still praying for her daughters in law as
she tells them to go back to their mothers: Ruth 1:8-9 "And Naomi said to her
two daughters-in-law, "Go, return each to her mother's house. The LORD deal
kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant
that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband." We need to pray,
read our Bible, be a part of a local church. All these things are vital to our
existence in the wilderness. It does not matter whether we seem to be breaking
through, or not, God always hears our prayers. If we know that we are walking
in obedience to Him and have dealt with sin in our life then, in His grace, He
is able to bring us out. The lessons that God will teach us at this time,
although not the easiest, will be some of the most precious lessons we learn.
- Guard your relationship with others
a good relationship with her daughters in law. We read in verse 9 that she
kissed them goodbye and they wept, they obviously loved one another. In verse
16 we read one of the loveliest verses about relationships in the Bible. "But
Ruth said: "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after
you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your
people shall be my people, and your God, my God." God is able to work in any
relationship, don't limit Him. People matter to God, He desires that we are
right, in our relationships with each other, both family, friends and
- Identify the situation
Spend time with God and allow Him to show us why we are in the place we
are in, what He is doing in our life as a result, and how we are able to get
out. And remember, God is able to provide for us and meet our needs, while we
are there. We are not alone, He is still with us.
It is important that we recognise that it is
only God who is able to bring us out of desolation. What we do there can
determine how quickly we get out. He is able to work in our lives at that time,
even when nothing apparently seems to be happening, (remember the Chinese
bamboo tree?) One of the most important lessons I have learned as a Christian
is that in the wilderness, you have to learn to stand. Eph 6:10-13 "Finally,
my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the
whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the
devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities,
against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against
spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour
of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all,
It is therefore vital to our existence that
we keep our eyes on Him, and although we have to be real about the
circumstances, we need to continually look to Jesus, and allow Him to shape us
and change us. In the wilderness we will often experience a death to our old
self-life and a realisation that it is not what we want that is important, but
what He wants for us. Jer. 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you,"
declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you
hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I
will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your
4. HOW DO WE GET OUT?
Once we have identified the reason we are
there, and we are doing all the things we should be, then in His time GOD will
lead us out into the more abundant life He promises. John 10:10 "The thief
does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that
they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."
abundant life is what God planned and purposed and provided for us to be able
to live in. We have to remember however that it is God's way out not ours, and
it will not always be an easy route. It means crossing over to a new place, or
passing from one condition to another, take for example when the children of
Israel were leaving the wilderness for the promised land, instead of following
a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, they had to follow the ark of the
covenant, a small wooden box! The way out often involves going through a
'narrow place' that we do not want to go through, it involves change, we can
experience confusion, but that's normal, as we allow God to work the change out
in our lives. So let's push forward, knowing God will be with us every step of
the way. Let's look again at the three reasons how we got there, and see the
way out in each case.
- If you are there through God's leading
has led us there, then it was for a particular purpose, and He knows what He
wants to do. It is therefore important that we cooperate with what He wants to
do, and don't resist His leading. Don't fight or run away. When Jesus was in
the wilderness it was specifically so He could overcome Satan in the area of
temptation, it was to prepare Him for moving out in ministry, so was an
important season for Him. One thing that was vital for Jesus at this stage was
that He knew and understood the Word of God. Matt 4:4 But He answered and said,
"It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that
proceeds from the mouth of God.' But then we see the devil comes at Jesus with
the Word, it is important that we understand Satan does know and will misuse
the word of God to lead us astray. (Read Matthew 4:1-11.) Each time Jesus
resisted him with the Word. Knowing the Word and applying it, can help us
resist the devil in the area of temptation, and plants the Truth into our life
to counteract his attacks. If it is a season we are going through and we are
obedient to God throughout, He will know the time of the close of that season,
and will lead us out. By cooperating with what God wants to do, just as winter
gives way to Spring, we will be led out at the right time.
- If you are there as a result of sin
was, we have seen, in the wilderness through running from the punishment God
had given His people to turn their hearts back to Him. So how did she get out?
a) (1:6.) She arose - She was not satisfied with the place she
was in and decided to get up and do something about it. We have to get to the
place where we are dissatisfied with desolation and determine to rise up and
b) (1:6.) She heard what God was doing in Bethlehem,
where she belonged. We need to hear what God says, and what He is doing.
c) (1:8&9) She wanted to leave blessing behind her. Do you
know that you are a blessing, and that where you go, you can leave blessing
behind you, if you are walking in step with God?
She wanted to leave right relationships behind her. She thought both Ruth and
Orpah were remaining in Moab at this stage, and she acknowledges the kindness
they have shown, both to her, and her sons. It is so important that when we
move on we are not leaving a trail of hurt and bitterness behind us.
e) (1:13) She admits her own sinfulness, and that is why God is
contending and decides to turn back. When we sin, the person God intends us to
be is left behind, it will produce an unsatisfied feeling and we often end up
blaming others instead of admitting that God wants to change us. You are
responsible for you, in the area of sin. Sin can bring us into bondage, and
give Satan a legal right or foothold into our life. We will never get totally
out of the wilderness until we face up to the sin in our life. When we do that,
Praise God He has provided the way out, through repentance and the blood of
Jesus. I Jn 1:7-9 "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we
have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son
cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,
and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to
forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
When we walk in the truth of that principle then the Bible says God
not only forgives and cleanses us, but also that He forgets our sin Jer
31:33-34 "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it
on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more
shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know
the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest
of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will
remember no more." God enables us to walk free, If He does not remember it,
we do not have to remember it! "Do not remember the former things, nor
consider the things of old"
- If we are there through circumstances beyond our
When we are there through external circumstances we need to
know that although God did not cause the circumstances He is able to bring good
out of them. We can reach a new level of maturity; our mourning can be turned
into joy, and we can experience resurrection life from death. General Sittser
whose family was killed by the drunk driver goes on to say "The experience
of loss does not have to leave us with the memory of a painful event that
stands alone, like a towering monument that dominates the landscape of our
lives. Loss can also leave us with the memory of a wonderful story. It can
function as a catalyst that pushes us in a new direction, like a closed road
that forces us to turn around and find another way to our destination. Who
knows what we will discover and see along the way."
We need to
throw ourselves on God, allow Him to take us through, 'I don't understand what
is happening God, understand it for me, and take me through.' He will bring us
to that place of peace and rest in Him, He will hide you until the storm is
past, (Psalm 91.) He will bring the healing we need and He will bring us out to
a new place, a better place, on the other side. Naomi and Ruth did not allow
the past to keep them in the wilderness, but went forward with trust in God.
5. WHAT WE DO WHEN WE ARE OUT?
Orpah returns to her
mother (1:14) But Ruth goes on with Naomi, back to Bethlehem and they begin
walking out of their wilderness and into the new thing God is going to do in
- Look for people to stand with you
Ruth means friend and as we have seen, she promised to stay with Naomi, and
made a commitment to her. When we are out of the desert we need friends, people
to stand with us, who are going the same way as we are. Where you go - I will
go, where you live - I will live, I want to be a part of your people, I want to
follow your God.
- Don't expect everyone to be with you
1:19 "So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived
in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women
exclaimed, "Can this be Naomi?"(NIV) Naomi presumably looked a sorry state
compared to how she left, she was a humbled and broken woman and the women were
probably laughing at them, certainly none of them seem to offer help. People
won't necessarily be pleased and supportive as we start to move into what God
has for us, and may come against us, even people who have known us may reject
us but we need to keep our eyes on Jesus and listen to him.
- Don't let Satan steal your inheritance
1:20 "But she said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara," The name
Naomi means 'pleasant' or 'my joy' that was the character that God intended for
her, but she says call me Mara which means 'bitterness.' The enemy will try to
rob us of our rightful inheritance in God, but we need to rebuke him, and agree
with the Truth that God says about us.
- Look for God appointments
As we start to move into what God has, He will lead us. Prov 3:5-6 "Trust
in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all
your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Ruth goes out to
glean, and finds she is in a field belonging to Boaz, (2:3) a rich farmer, who
is a relative of Naomi's, this is very definitely a God appointment, Boaz is a
godly man, who offers protection for Ruth while she is working (2:9 & 15,)
and provides for both Ruth and Naomi (2:8, 9a, 14 - 18,) Ruth listens to him
and is obedient. We need to listen to those Godly people who God has put over
us. God will cause us to meet those who will be significant in our new life.
- Look for God's blessing in your
life (1: 22.)
They arrive in Bethlehem as the Barley harvest is
beginning. God's hand of blessing is upon His people, they have passed from a
time of famine, and are now experiencing a time of plenty. So Naomi and Ruth by
returning to Bethlehem, the house of bread, are also able to receive from God's
blessing. Boaz even arranges for the men to leave some corn behind for her to
pick up, what blessing! Gleaning made easy! We can begin to experience God's
blessings in our lives again, when we confess our sin, and follow Him. Acts
3:19 "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that
times of refreshing may come from the Lord."
- Acknowledge what God has done (2:19 &20)
Naomi instinctively thanks God, and acknowledges that He is responsible for
this leading and provision. She prays for Boaz, even before she hears who he
was (2:19a) We should always be ready to give thanks to God for His goodness to
us. It helps us to get things into perspective and enlarges our vision of what
God is able to do in our lives.
- Keep on gleaning
Naomi and Ruth were fed
because Ruth was faithful and continued gleaning until the harvest was
complete. We need to continue in God's Word, allowing Him to feed us through
it, and continue growing in our relationship with Him.
- Don't settle half way Eph 3:20
"Now to Him who
is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according
to the power that works in us," It is very easy when God starts to bless, to
say this is good, but not push onto the fullness that He has for us. He does
not want us to miss His best. Naomi and Ruth could have been happy with the
life of gleaning. They had left the past behind, and moved into the new thing
God wanted to do in their lives, they had a roof over their head, and food on
their plate, but God had more for them. In the next study we shall see how they
moved into the full restoration that not only affected their lives, but also
had a powerful effect on our lives here today!!!
We need to identify the area of the
wilderness we are going through, we need to say how did we get there? What are
we doing while we are there, are we cooperating with God? Or are we resisting
the situation, or running away? Perhaps we are blaming other people when God is
saying He wants us to forget about the others involved, He wants to deal with
our lives at the moment, and leave the others to Him. He wants to deal with the
pain and regret of the past. Are worldly things controlling us?
"Do not remember the former things."
He wants to deal with our past and set us free. We need to seek Him for the way
out, and remember He perhaps won't give us the whole picture, just the next
step forward. He wants to bring us to the place where we know the past has been
totally dealt with, so we do not have to remember it, or dwell on it, because
it has no power over us.
If we have started to get out are we perhaps
settling down again, getting complacent, when we know God has not finished what
He is doing. Do we know the abundant life He promises to all His sheep?
Are we ready, like Naomi, to arise, and pray
that God will begin to move, and bring a release to our situation? Let us begin
to take that first step in the journey on the road out of desolation!