by Sam E. Stone
The story of Ruth is one of the most touching accounts in Scripture. The events took place in the days “when the judges ruled,” perhaps during Gideon’s lifetime, about 1150 BC. The book provides a brief biography of one of the ancestors of King David, his great-grandmother Ruth. Later, of course, Jesus himself came from this human lineage.
The book of Ruth describes how a couple from Bethlehem, Naomi and Elimelech, attempted to find food in a time of famine. They migrated east from Israel to another country, Moab, with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. Then Elimelech died. Living in a foreign land with her two sons, Naomi faced her first great loss.
Moving to this pagan country with sons of marriageable age, it is not surprising that both of them married Moabite women. After they had lived there about 10 years, both Mahlon and Kilion died as well. No wonder Naomi told people, “Don’t call me Naomi” (gracious). “Call me Mara (bitter), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20). When Naomi learned that the famine was over in Israel, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return to Naomi’s home near Bethlehem. Perhaps the two young widows felt responsible to care for her.
First Plea/Ruth 1:8-10
“Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home.” When both daughters-in-law started out with her, Naomi graciously told them, “Thanks, but you don’t have to do this.” The mention of their mother’s home (rather than the usual reference to the father) could mean that both of their dads were already dead. Or, as Mark Ziese suggests, one can “view Naomi’s encouragement as an appeal to the mother-daughter bond.” “May the Lord show kindness to you.” Both Orpah and Ruth had been kind to their husbands and to Naomi, and she encouraged them now to return and stay in their homeland.
May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband. She prayed that God would provide for them through letting them remarry, so they would not have to fend for themselves. Naomi’s unselfish spirit is seen as she sought what would be best for her daughters-in-law. They wept when she kissed them and replied, “We will go back with you to your people.”
Second Plea/Ruth 1:11-14
Again Naomi urged them, “Return home, my daughters.” She pointed out that even if she remarried now (quite unlikely for an aged widow), it would be many years before she could offer them another son to marry. “No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!” To Naomi, the losses she experienced were punishment from God. Much like Job’s friends and the apostles when they saw a blind man (John 9:1), she felt that God must be punishing some sin because of these tragedies. At this they wept again. Both Ruth and Orpah were reluctant to let their mother-in-law go back alone. Finally, Orpah kissed her good-by, but Ruth still clung to her.
Third Plea/Ruth 1:15-18
Once more Naomi tried to discourage Ruth from leaving her homeland to accompany her to Israel. Ruth’s response is one of the most famous quotations in all of Scripture: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Her mind was made up. She would not be dissuaded from accompanying Naomi back home. A strong bond of affection combined with Ruth’s sense of duty. Undoubtedly she had learned much about the true and living God from both her husband and his mother. The God of Israel would be her God forevermore.
She concluded, “May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” Ruth said these words, calling on Naomi’s God, the God of Israel, as a witness. This final vow convinced Naomi of Ruth’s steadfast love and sincere desire to remain with her. When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. Naomi had been trying to look out for Ruth’s well being in this life. Now Ruth would be able not only to remain with Naomi in the “now,” but also to share faith in the one, true Lord of the “hereafter.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.