The world we live in is not a friendly place. Even for Christians, perhaps especially for Christians, the world offers promises that it can never keep. This is an essential component of reality for your children to grasp. The truth is that the world’s promises are made to broken. Ephesians 2 speaks of a world that follows its leader, Satan. The master deceiver has constructed a world that offers hope and delivers bitterness. This reality is vividly described in the first three verses of chapter two. To adapt a common phrase, the pattern of the world is to “hope and switch.” That is, to offer hope and then, once the offer has been embraced, replace hope with bitterness. Your children will have fewer of life’s scars if they learn this reality by faith rather than by experience. Sometimes it seems that experience is the only way one learns, but experience is often a cruel teacher. How much better to learn by faith! Biblical narratives provide powerful instruction for learning life’s hard lessons by faith rather than experience. That is one reason you should be thoroughly familiar with these narratives. God placed stories in Scripture in part to give practical examples so that we will not be taken in by the world’s hope and switch tactics.
The book of Ruth has several “hope and switch” episodes. The beginning of book tells the story of a man who believed the promise of the world, turned from God, and reaped bitter fruit. Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, fell for the hope and switch technique. He looked for hope from someplace other than God. Here is the brief but telling account of Elimelech’s downfall.
“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.” –Ruth 1:1-5
The book of Judges ends with these words, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” The book of Ruth begins with “In the days when the judges ruled.” Elimelech was a child of his day, when everyone did as he saw fit. He chose to leave the land given to the Israelites by God. Yes, there was a famine. But instead of crying out to God in repentance for the sins of his people, he chose to believe that he would be better off going to a land where there was food. But Moab was also a land of pagan worship and child sacrifice. He may have reasoned that even though everyone else in Moab worshiped Chemosh, he would not. He had to be responsible and provide food for his family. So he did what was right in his own eyes, and he left the land given to his forefathers. He chose to ignore the covenant given to Israel by the LORD. According to the terms of the covenant–the blessings and cursings–it was clear why there was famine in Israel. They had turned from God. But Elimelech had a better way than repentance and obedience to the covenant God. He went instead to the land of the Chemosh so he could eat.
Hope and switch. In Moab, Elimelech died along with his two sons. Only Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left. Bitter fruit indeed. We all know how the story of Ruth ends, how God blesses Naomi and Ruth and Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of King David.
But the beginning of Ruth is important as well. When we doubt God and hope instead in the world’s ability to provide, the results can be tragic. Elimelech did not trust the stories of God’s faithfulness. He did not follow the covenant stipulations recorded in Deuteronomy. And he did not learn from the sins of Israel during the time of the judges, that it is best to trust God even in times of famine. Instead, he learned by experience that God’s ways are best. Pray that your children would learn these truths by faith. Become intimately familiar with the biblical narratives. They will be a great blessing to you and your children.