Ruth 1:2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion (an Isrealite family). They went into the country of Moab and remained there (due to famine). 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband…7 So she set out …back to the land of Judah. 8 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 …14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 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. 17 Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried.
With her husband and sons dead, there was nothing left for Naomi (a Jew) in Moab. Better to return to her homeland of Israel and grieve among her own people. She suggested her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth should stay in their native Moab, find new husbands, and make new lives for themselves. Hard to argue the logic. Orpah doesn’t like the idea, but eventually relents and stays in Moab. Ruth is different. In v.16-17 she offers a statement of fidelity to Naomi and vows, “Where you go, I will go…”.
It’s a moving scene really. But why? Why did Ruth insist on going with Naomi when it made no sense to do so? Part of the answer may lie in the cultural reality of being a widow in ancient times. Naomi had no husband or sons to look after her and was too old to start over. Thus, she had no obvious means of support. She might be taken in by relatives, or she might not. Things could get very rough.
Ruth, however, was a young woman. Though a native of Moab, she was willing to follow the God of Israel (v.16) and thus could marry an Israelite as a religious convert. And, as such, she could compel an Israelite husband to take Naomi into their household. I’m sure there’s more to this as we will read later in this book. But you have to admire Ruth’s sense of duty and willingness to endure hardship for the sake of someone else. That is what “agape” love looks like, I think.
Lord, teach me to love like Ruth. Amen.