This month I want to talk on the theme of the ebb and flow of life – the fullness at times and the emptiness at times.  

The pattern of the sea tides is a predictable 6 ½ hours in and out due to the power and pull of the moon, but life’s ebbing and flowing is less predictable. 

However we have a hope built on the rock of Jesus that our tide will not stay out and that times of blessing will come.

For this 4 part series we will be looking at the book of Ruth from the Old Testament

As we read this together, take a note of the number of times the words “going” and “return” appear.  That is one of the themes: coming and going – tide-like.

Ruth 1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 2 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; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 
Here we have a scene set. Here we have a godly man. 
Elimelech’s name means God is his King. And he is a man from a place of plenty – Bethlehem which means Place of bread.  A man with a wife and 2 sons. According to Scripture, he is blessed.
Psalm 127:4-5 says: Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; 
Elimelech had 2 sons, who could want for more? He lived in the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey in a place called the place of bread.  How blessed he was, he was full.  
Interestingly at this point in the story it has the usual male orientation of biblical stories, focusing on this guy called Elimelech but that is soon to change and the whole story from now on will have a female focus – one of the few stories to do so.
Ok, so back to the story. But then came the famine to the Promised Land and Elimelech and his family became refugees and chose to move into the land of their enemies, the Moabites. If that was not bad enough the calamities had just started, it was going to get worse…

3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there for about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons or her husband.
Not only were they living as refugees, the bread winner of the home died, and contrary to Jewish law, the boys took foreign wives.  But that was not the end of the ruin: there were no grandchildren and even the sons died. 
Mahlon’s name means sickly and Chilion means pining one.  And now these men, despite their prophetic names, would have had the responsibility of looking after their mother in her senior years because that was the duty of sons, and there was no WINZ or Super then. They should have provided grandchildren, to bless Naomi and the name of their father. But both these men died leaving Naomi destitute and without a lineage.
Naomi is in the pit of despair.  She is empty. The tide is out.

From the position of emptiness, she returns to her home country with the foreign daughters in law in tow. Foreign daughters were frowned on by Jewish society, a liability rather than an asset.
Nehemiah 13:27 how could you even think of committing this sinful deed and acting unfaithfully toward God by marrying foreign women?"(NLT ) and you will recall that the prophet Ezra made those who had married foreign women to unmarry them and send them packing back to their foreign countries.
The prospects for Naomi bringing her foreign born daughters into the Promised Land did not bode well.
6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had had consideration for his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah.8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’
She tells them to go back to Moab and find Moabite husbands. They are still young enough to start again but Naomi writes herself up as being as old (apparently about 45!!!) and without prospects of a new husband.
Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10 They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ 11 But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me.’ 14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’ 
Orpah did as she was asked and returned to Moab but Ruth had other plans. Orpah did what we probably would have done – gone back to what we know but not Ruth, she forged ahead into the unknown.
16 But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!’
A most famous speech of faithfulness. Faith and hope in spite of a very unsure future.
18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. 19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ 20 She said to them, ‘Call me no longer Naomi, [meaning pleasant] call me Mara, [meaning bitter] for the Almighty [El Shaddai] has dealt bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty; why call me Naomi  when the LORD has dealt harshly with me,  and the Almighty [El Shaddai] has brought calamity upon me?’
Naomi in her speech sums up the first chapter of this book of blessing and calamity. The tidal flow of fullness and emptiness. We are left with a sense that the bottom fallen out of Naomi’s world; that she returns home with her tail between her legs, a broken woman, without hope.
22 So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Notice that the narrator cannot let it go that she is a foreigner. Ruth is always up to this point reminded of her foreign-ness. Always the Moabite.
The chapter finishes however with the glimmer of a hope of a changing tide – they had returned at the time of the barley harvest.
What do we take out of this chapter (regardless of what we know will happen in the future chapters)?  
Forrest Gump has gone down in the annals of saying with his “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get.” It is most applicable here. A blessed life to a life of destitution in the space of 10 years.
The story reminds us that there will be times of fullness, of blessing and we can rejoice in that. But there will be times of emptiness, sometimes not of our own making and we need to think about how we deal with that.
Naomi became bitter and even wanted to change her name to that. And she blamed God for her trials – “he brought me back empty, he has dealt harshly with me”.
What would our response have been to that?
Perhaps we find ourselves asking: Where is God when we are facing the tidal ebb of fortune?  Do we blame him?
What will be the future of Naomi? Will Ruth find a husband?  More next week…