Ruth 1:1-5

Now it came
about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the
land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land
of Moab with his wife and his two sons. And the name of the man was Elimelech,
and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon
and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land
of Moab and remained there. Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she
was left with her two sons. And they took for themselves Moabite women as
wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they
lived there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; and the
woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.

determine destiny. Your life tomorrow will be the direct result of the decisions
you make today. In the first five verses of Ruth we encounter a man named Elimelech,
a man whose destiny was indeed determined by his decisions. The Bible tells
us that he was a Hebrew of the tribe of Judah. As such, he was privileged to
have extended to him the promises of God. Sadly, Elimelech failed to realize
the fulness of those promises. Being a Hebrew, he had been taught the absolute
truths of God’s revelation of man. Though the Old Testament had not been completed
at the time of Elimelech’s life, he did have the divine truth of the Pentateuch
(Genesis through Deuteronomy). Elimelech, however, chose to make critical life
decisions based on human rationale instead of God’s divine revelation. We can
learn three principles from Elimelech’s decision-making.

When you make decisions based on human rationale instead of divine revelation,
you distance yourself from the blessings and promises of God.

Now it came
about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the
land And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of
A1oab with his wife and his two sons. – Ruth 1:1

in the Bible are very significant. We miss a great deal in our Bible study if
we fail to note the meanings of names. The name Elimelech means, “My God
is king.”‘ It could also mean “God is my king.”‘ What a great
name for a man to have! Imagine what it must have been like for Elimelech to
go to the marketplace in Bethlehem. As he made his way through the crowds people
would say to him in essence, “Hello, Mr. God Is My King.”His name
made a personal theological statement. Regretfully, Elimelech did not live up
to his name. He chose to rule his own life by leaving Bethlehem of Judah to
go to the land of Moab. The children of Israel were to live exclusively in the
promised land. God had made that clear through Moses (Deuteronomy 6:1). Therefore,
Elimelech’s sojourning was an act of disobedience.

word Bethlehem means “house of bread.” The word Judah means “praise.”
In Psalms 108:9, we read of the Lord’s evaluation of Moab. God said, “Moab
is my washpot” (KJV). In other words, in God’s sight, Moab was like a pot
that one would use to wash his feet-a pot that was common and filthy. Elimelech
left the house of bread and the land of praise to journey about thirty miles
away to a filthy washpot. Though there was a famine in Bethlehem, he would have
been far better off to have stayed there, for Bethlehem was the place God had
designed for Elimelech and his family. Instead, he sojourned to what he thought
was a better place. He disregarded and dismissed the directives of God and set
out based on what he himself thought was best. The result was not the best it
was the worst. Such is always the case. His journey to Moab was one of disobedience.
Subsequently, he put distance between himself and the place of God’s blessings
and promises. Christians do the same thing when they make decisions based on
human rationale instead of divine revelation. They leave the house of bread
and the place of praise and journey to the washpot. They put distance between
themselves and the blessings and promises of God.

will never forget the words of an old preacher. He told me once, “Christians
are bad about walking past the honey comb to eat out of the slop bucket.”
Perhaps he was well acquainted with the meaning of the word Moab and had adopted
it to his own southern vocabulary. Marriages, families, careers, and reputations
become washpots (slop buckets if you will) when God’s people make their own
decisions instead of following God’s directions. Have you considered the fact
that the Bible is a record of God’s directions? As a pastor I am called upon
for counseling on a regular basis. I often hear people say they need to pray
about decisions which God has already made clear in His Word. All they really
mean is they have not yet decided to obey. You do not have to pray for wisdom
about matters stated in God’s Word. Pray all you wish, but God will never give
new revelation in addition to the Bible. You need only to obey what He has already
said. When you submit to Scripture, you take sides with God and position yourself
in the arena of His blessing. When you do as Elimelech did and make decisions
which seem right from the human perspective, you distance yourself from God’s

When you make decisions based on human rationale instead of divine revelation,
you incur tragic consequences

Then Elimelech,
Naomi ‘s husband, died; – Ruth 1:3

made his decision. Then came the consequence. In Elimelech’s case, the consequence
was death. If Elimelech could have known the tragic consequence of his detrimental
decision, he would never have left Bethlehem. I had the great privilege of being
discipled by a man who walked with God. I learned insights from him that I share
whenever I have the opportunity. I will never forget something he told me. He
said, “Leland, the will of God is always what you would choose if you knew
all the consequences ahead of time.” How true this is. God knows all the
consequences ahead of time. To save us from the tragedies, He has given us His
Word to instruct us. Someone has accurately said, “First you make your
decisions and then your decisions make you.” The story of Elimelech illustrates
this. You can make your decisions, but you cannot choose the consequences. For
the child of God who makes decisions based on human rationale, the results always
will be tragic, if not immediately, then eventually. To fail to abide by the
Word of God is to transgress the Word of God. And, God tells us in Proverbs 13:15, “The way of the transgressor is hard.”

of my favorite foods is cornbread, especially Mexican cornbread. Having been
born and reared in the South, I have eaten a lot of it in my life. I do not
have the heart to tell my mother or my grandmother, but I know a lady who makes
the best cornbread on the planet. I once asked her for the recipe and she gladly
gave it to me. My wife and I invited some guests over one Thanksgiving and I
was eager to make a skillet of cornbread using the recipe. While making up the
batter, I observed something that illustrates the “consequence aspect”
of our decisions. Here it is: Once you make the decision to mix the ingredients
together, there is no return to the way things were. You cannot put the cornmeal
back in the bag, the eggs back in the shells, the milk back in the jug, the
corn back in the can, or the oil back in the bottle. Once you put them together,
that’s it. Those individual ingredients become batter. That is the way it is
with our decisions and our consequences. We mix our decisions and the result
is our batter of consequences.

verse that is often used in evangelism is Romans 6:23, which says, “For
the wages of sin is death.” Certainly this is a great verse to help lost
people see their need for Christ. But, we must not neglect to see the broader
aspects of this verse.

says that every sin has a payday. To put it more accurately, for every sin there
is a “payment” day. A Christian who makes sinful decisions will orchestrate
death somewhere in his life. It could be death to his marriage, death to his
reputation, death to a scholarship, death to his freedom, death to a relationship,
death to a career, etc. I have seen people experience Romans 6:23 in all of
these areas, but there is one particular instance that I would like to share
with you. I once worked with a friendly and energetic young man. He had a tremendous
personality, was well thought of by all his co-workers, was highly motivated
hard-worker and all his coworkers thought well of him. He also professed to
be a Christian and was actively involved in a respected local church. As one
of his supervisors, I envisioned the young man becoming very successful with
the company where we were employed. His future was bright. However, his job
responsibilities involved situations where he had opportunities for personal
gain through dishonest practices. One day, he did just that. He made a dishonest
decision. With that one, dishonest decision, his entire career with the company
ended. His promising future was extinguished. Worst of all, his testimony for
Christ suffered tremendous reproach. The result of his decision will follow
him the rest of his life. He now has to live the remainder of his life on this
earth wondering what might have been had he made the right decision. Some decisions
carry consequences that are beyond repair this side of heaven. This young man
made a decision based on human rationale instead of divine revelation, and he
suffered tragic consequences.

When you make decisions based on human rationale instead of divine revelation,
you cause others to endure consequences also.

Then Elimelech,
Naomi ‘s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. And they took
for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the
name of the other was Ruth. And they lived thereabout ten years. Then both
Mahlon and Chilion died; and the woman was bereft of her two children and
her husband. – Ruth 1:3-5

the consequences that were incurred by people other than Elimelech: Mahlon and
Chilion lost their lives; Ruth and Orpah lost their husbands; and Naomi lost
both her husband and her sons. Elimelech’s bad decision had consequences that
affected not only himself, but also those he loved.

person does not sin in a vacuum. No one sins outwardly without affecting, to
some degree, those around him. Scripture is filled with examples of this truth.
David’s sin affected Bathsheba, her husband Uriah and an innocent child.
Abraham’s sin affected Sarah. Jacob’s sin affected Isaac, Esau and Rebecca.
The sin of the ten spies affected the entire nation of Israel and resulted in
forty years of wilderness wandering. Adam underscores this truth as no other,
since his sin affected and continues to affect every human being and all of

of the decisions of the terrorists on September 11, 2001, not only the rest
of America, but the rest of the world has had to deal with the consequences.
The same with sin in the life of a Christian. You make bad decisions, decisions
based on human rationale, and others in your family, workplace, church, and
community will have to deal with the consequences. Children have to endure the
consequences of parents who make bad decisions. Co-workers have to endure consequences
of employees who make bad decisions (i.e., executive fraud in the Enron Corporation,
postal employee shootings, etc.). Church members have to endure the consequences
of ministers who make bad decisions. The list could go on and on.

words of Jesus during His earthly ministry not only emphasize this truth, they
also serve as a sobering reminder to all of us regarding the responsibility
we have for the decisions we make. Notice the seriousness of the following words
of Jesus: “Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable
that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling blocks
come” (Matthew 18:7). Jesus says woe to the one who makes a sinful decision
that proves to be detrimental to the spiritual well-being of another. Imagine
the accountability to God that Elimelech had by leading his family away from
the place of God’s promises.

is one verse of Scripture that I refer to again and again when faced with a
decision. It is Isaiah 50:11, which says, “Behold, all of you who kindle
a fire, Who encircle yourselves with firebrands, Walk in the light of your fire
And among the brands you have set ablaze. This is what you have from My hand;
and you will lie down in torment.” Here is the application. God says that
if we, His people, make decisions apart from Him we are kindling our own fire.
We are encircling ourselves with the firebrands of our choosing. Such fire-starting
will cause us torment. God will see to it. “Why?” you might ask. The
answer is because He loves us so much that He will discipline us for our disobedience
(see Hebrews 12:6). He wants us to walk the path of obedience. If we stray from
it, He will take the necessary disciplinary measures to make us return to it.

Scriptures do not tell us, but I wonder if Elimelech died because he continually
refused to heed the discipline God designed to lead him back to Bethlehem. Decisions
determine destiny. Let us not lean on our own understanding, but let us lean
on the divine revelation of God. His Word will keep us from making wrong decisions.


Johnson is Pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church in Lawrenceburg, TN.


1. Daniel 1. Block, “Judges, Ruth,” New American Commentary
(Nashville: Broadman Holman Publishing, 1999), vo. 6, 625.
2. R.K. Harrison, “Ruth,” Walter Elwell, gen. ed., Baker
Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1989), 182.

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