4.39 Ruth -- Naomi and Ruth
The famine ended in Judah, so Naomi prepared to leave Moab for home. She blessed her two daughters-in-law, and told them she hoped they would find new husbands in Moab (Ruth 1:9). They offered to go with her back to Israel, but she said she had nothing more to give them. She interpreted her life as being under God's disfavor or curse:
"The Lord's hand has gone out against me!" (Ruth 1:13).
Here was a woman who believed she had no future. She had no descendants, which was a mark of shame, and would exist on the charity of relatives back home, on the margins of the Israelite community.
Orpah left her, to return to "her people and her gods." But Ruth made a surprising decision, to return with Naomi to Israel. Over Naomi's objections, she made a unilateral covenant with Naomi, a surrogate marriage vow:
"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 anything but death separates you and me" (Ruth 1:16-17).
This joining of two lives was made possible only by the earlier sin of the marriage covenant between her son Mahlon and Ruth. This is the other side of the coin of conversion, not foreseen in Exodus and Deuteronomy: the possibility that intermarriage would not only lead some Israelites to worship false gods, but might prompt some foreigners to serve the God of Israel. Thus Ruth introduces a startling innovation in morality, which must have given pause to the hardliners, the "Old Covenanters" -- How should we handle the righteous foreigner?
We are not told what Ruth's motivation for her commitment to Naomi was, but it obviously involved her total welfare and future. And it was not likely to work in Ruth's favor, as Naomi made clear. She would be a foreigner among a hostile people, widowed, dependent, marginal. She could expect to receive only the scraps tossed out by the larger community. Ruth may not have been motivated by belief in Israel's God so much as personal love for Naomi, yet it is clear that religious faith was a central part of her commitment. As the NIV points out,
"Ruth, a Gentile, swears her commitment to Naomi in the name of Israel's God, thus acknowledging him as her God" (p. 366 footnote).
So Ruth set out for an unknown land. She was another Abraham, leaving behind the gods of her fathers, and entrusting her whole future to One whose call she had in some sense heard. Thus, although the two women walked together and had the same destination, Naomi went back in despair (Ruth 1:21), while Ruth went forth in courage.