Our passage this week includes the most famous section of this book:
Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
These words are so striking and powerful that they have become, in the words of scholar Cynthia Ozick, “an incandescent reply that has set thirty centuries trembling.” Apart from the poetic and artistic nature of Ruth’s reply to Naomi, her words are an incredible and costly promise that is one of the most striking examples of hesed love in all of Scripture. First, Ruth commits to Naomi as a person, binding herself to her mother in law for life. This is embodied in the verbs “going” and “staying.” Second, Ruth commits to Naomi’s world, including her culture (your people) and her faith (your God). This is in fact what many point to as Ruth’s “conversion,” which is all the more striking since Naomi has just proclaimed that Yahweh basically is against her. Finally, Ruth commits to remaining in Bethlehem long after Naomi’s death (there I will be buried). This last phrase is perhaps the most striking, because it shows just how deep and all encompassing Ruth’s promise is– it encompasses her entire life for all of her life.
The cost of this promise is staggering. By going back to Moab like Orpah, Ruth could go back to a secure life with a husband, family and security. By choosing instead to bind herself to a migrant widow, she is choosing instead a life of grave uncertainty, with no guarantee of a family or security for the rest of her life. Furthermore, she will be in a foreign land living as a suspicious foreign immigrant with little protection. All this makes her promise truly astonishing! It shows that all promise making bears a cost- that in many ways, personal death is always at the heart of hesed love.
This week we are going to examine Ruth’s promise and see what it tells us about our own promise making. Christian psychologist Lewis Smedes says that our identity basically consists of the promises we make and who make them to. By choosing to bind ourselves to others and live our lives according to our promises rather than our fleeting emotions, we open ourselves up to a life of freedom, freedom that ironically comes through constraint. To prepare for worship this week, reflect on the people in your life you have made promises to, whether formal or informal. In what ways do those promises constrain you, and in what ways do they bring you freedom?
Our weekly worship guide can be found here.
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye,but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almightyhas made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.