Naomi and Her Moabite Daughters-in-Law
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. 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. 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. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.' Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, 'No, we will return with you to your people.' 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? 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, 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.' Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
So she said, 'See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.' 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. 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!'
When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
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?'
This is a Biblical story about "girl power!" On the surface, it's a story about a daughter-in-law's incredible devotion to her mother-in-law. But to truly appreciate Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, you have to dig deeper into the historical context.
First, let's tackle the relationship between the Israelites and Moabites. According to my study Bible, the Moabites were considered distant relatives because they were descendants of Lot, Abraham's nephew. "The Moabites and Israelites were longstanding enemies; no Moabite or any of their descendants to the tenth generation was allowed to enter the Lord's sanctuary (Dt 23:3)."
Continuing, "Naomi knew that Ruth and Orpah, as Moabites would be at a disadvantage in Israel. She urged them to go back because she cared about them. In ancient times it was believed that a deity had power only in the geographic region occupied by their worshipers. People were seen as inseparable from their land and their gods. Naomi wouldn't have expected Ruth and Orpah to believe in Israel's God."
In our lives today, we often cross boundary lines without thinking about them-perhaps county and state lines on a daily, weekly or regular basis. Travel across state and international lines can be fairly routine for us as well. Some international travel can entail a lot of preparation, knowledge of the procedures and customs, and stress-but we would never expect to lose our religion or leave God behind as a result. But Ruth was bold in her commitment and devotion to Naomi!
Again turning to my study Bible because it summarizes the backstory so well: "This is one of the most powerful conversion accounts in the Bible. In contrast to Orpah, who sensibly submitted to her mother-in-law and headed back to her parents' home, Ruth rejected Naomi's commands. Light had penetrated Ruth's heart. She could not return to the darkness of her own gods, no matter what it cost her. Calling down God's wrath silenced Naomi and put teeth to Ruth's vow. This vow was the impetus for Ruth's actions in the rest of the story. Thereafter she lived as a follower of the Lord."
So now we understand the fuller meaning and we see a more complete picture of Ruth's compassion for Naomi. The book of Ruth focuses on love as a theme, and in this first chapter the love story is described by my Bible as hesed, the undying love that God has for his people and that they, in turn, are to demonstrate in their relationships with others. Girl power, indeed.
Prayer: God, thank you for loving us. Help us to be more aware of others in our lives who need love, so that we may be living examples of your love. And help us to be more selfless in our demonstrations of love, like Ruth. AMEN