Let me start by acknowledging the amazing spirit that was in you. You are one of the titans of scripture and positively a saint! A woman who followed her grieving mother-in-law to a land unknown and gave up her chance at a life independent of the darkness that had just overshadowed the family she had been married into. Saint, I say!
Over the centuries, people of faith have hailed you as the epitome of selflessness, kindness and virtue – and rightly so. Not many people would suffer the grief you had endured and still retain the capacity to think of anyone other than themselves. Instead you placed the suffering of another above your loss and pain. Being around your mother-in-law, Naomi, must have been rather difficult for you because she would have been a constant reminder of your loss – the loss of the husband that was, and the future with him you could have had. And yet you went; to an uncertain future, with an unwilling companion to be a helper and a support to another instead of yourself. Yes, Ruth you were all the things attributed to you and more.
You placed the suffering of another above your loss and pain.
Recently, I had to read through the book in the Bible that talks about you. Yes, you’re that famous! But l got stuck, reading two verses over and over again, and asking myself some questions. What two verses you ask? Well let’s read Ruth 1:16-17 together.
“And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
You see, it’s at this point I stopped and found myself thinking. Your words here carried a certain level of intensity and urgency that all who read them could feel. But there was something amiss. People of faith have come to the conclusion that your actions towards your mother-in-law were borne out of a desire to help and support her. However, your words in these verses say a lot more. There was no mention of you doing this for Naomi’s benefit. No allusion to the fact that your being with Naomi would ease her pain. None. Instead the text is littered with ‘I’s, ‘me’s’ and ‘my’s’. You were not going to let go of Naomi, not because of her, but because of you. For there was something in Naomi and her God that you needed to remain alive.
There was something in Naomi and her God that you needed to remain alive.
There is no logical reason behind your hunger for a lifetime of daily interaction with Naomi and even much less logic to your desire to be affiliated with a God to whom Naomi attributed her pain and suffering. He just wasn’t attractive to be honest; even in the words of Naomi herself in verses 20-21 of Chapter 1.
And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
Yep. This God you wished to follow till the end of your days was described by the one you were following as the cause of all her problems, her misery and the loss of your husband. Okay. Let’s not use the words of a grieving woman alone as fodder for my argument. Let’s consider the experience of Israel in the time your story was unfolding. At the time, the land the Jews inhabited had been ravaged by famine, as a result of which Naomi, her husband and her two sons moved to Moab. Ruth 1:1 You met them as refugees in a foreign land because they left their home to seek a better life. Their God did not think it was important to provide his people with their basic needs and was happy for them to find them elsewhere. That was the God you wanted to love, honour and follow. Again, your desire to follow Naomi and her God, who could not save your family and whom Naomi herself had ceased to find any good in, was truly bewildering.
Your desire to follow Naomi and her God was truly bewildering.
So I asked myself why and for a long time I couldn’t find a suitable answer. And then after several months, the idea presented itself to me quite simply. Although the scriptures never recorded it, you had a hidden relationship with this God of Naomi. A relationship you were committed to keeping, maintaining and honouring. This was never about Naomi. It was all about you and Him. The God that would have failed any beauty pageant at the time, was one in whom you found beauty, love and grace. Though everything around you had been destroyed, your relationship with him was still intact. For you, all these calamities had happened not because of him. They had happened in spite of him. Perhaps your desire to follow Naomi was to continue to find someone to share this faith and belief in God with. Perhaps you had a divine instruction or revelation that she would be the key to lead you to your blessing, we will never truly know. What we do know is that though Naomi couldn’t see that God was with her, you could. And where God was, there you wanted to be.
The God that would have failed any beauty pageant was one in whom you found beauty, love and grace.
So your story is a love story of sorts. Not the one we’ve come to know and celebrate in the Christian church, the love between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. No not that one. Instead, it’s the love between a maiden and her divine source. The words you spoke in Ruth 1:16-17 were an intense declaration of your commitment to and evidence of your covenant with YAHWH. By following Naomi to a foreign land you had never known, you were really following God along a path you’d never tread. Like it was said of the children of Israel in Jeremiah 2:2-3, by following Him into the unknown, you demonstrated your espousal to God in ways many would not have the courage to do. And by doing so, you became holy unto Him. Holy enough to have born through your lineage one of the greatest kings Israel ever had, David, and God’s own son, Jesus. YAHWH too did not forget your labour of love and rewarded you with immortality.
Ruth, your story lives on thousands of years after you walked this earth, as a lesson in what it means to love and be committed to God. I’m honoured to have been able to learn from you.
Yours in love,