“They still tower as a majestic monument of faithfulness above the biblical landscape” (Hubbard, 1988, p. 117). This assessment of the words of Ruth 1:16-17 is almost universal. However, Ruth 1:16-17 is “not so much a statement of undying love for a mother-in-law (amazing though that may be!) as a profession of faith” (Ferguson, 2013, p. 19). This exposition explains its origin.
Verse 16a But Ruth said, Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you. “First, Ruth issued a command of her own: Do not pressure me to desert you” (Hubbard, 1988, p. 117). “Then she affirms her determination to go where Naomi goes, and to stay where Naomi stays” (Morris, 1973, p. 260). Verse 16b, For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Verse 16c forms the center of a chiastic structure. In a symmetric or chiastic structure having an odd number of units, the natural position of prominence is the center (Dorsey, 1999, p. 40). Ruth’s response revolves around these words, Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. In part, this answer responds to the observation that Orpah returned to her people and her gods (Ruth 1:15).
More importantly, as Breisch (1972) observes, “This [statement] is an expression of deep religious faith” (p. 75). And Ruth expresses this faith in covenantal language. God’s three-point covenant promise is, “I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people” (Leviticus 26:12). “Those are the words with which God committed himself to saving them. What Ruth is saying in response to Naomi, then, is ‘This God who made his covenant with Abraham, who brought his people out of Egypt in the Exodus, who has promised to provide us with grace and salvation—Naomi, this is my God’” (Ferguson, 2013, p. 33). “These expressions, according to the common explanation of the prophets, comprehend life, and salvation, and consummate felicity” (Murray, 1953, p. 4). They indicate true conversion.
Verse 17a, Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. “As Ruth was much younger than Naomi and would presumably live longer this [statement] implies that she will so identify herself with Naomi’s community that she will stay on there after Naomi’s death” (Morris, 1973, p. 261). Hubbard (1988) puts it this way, “Not content with half measures, however, Ruth extended her devotion even beyond Naomi’s death” (p. 118).
Verse 17b, Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me. “To confirm the deadly seriousness of her intentions, Ruth swore an oath in Yahweh’s name” (Hubbard, 1988, p. 119). That is, “She concludes by calling down divine punishment upon herself should she fail to keep her word … Ruth is determined that nothing, not even death, shall separate them” (Morris, 1973, p. 261).
Ruth does not make this confession of faith out of the blue or in a vacuum. “Ruth’s confession of God and his people originated in the home of her married life. It sprang from love with which she was permitted to embrace Israelites. It was because of these persons she loved the confessors of Jehovah … ” (Cassel, 1960, p. 22). Scott (1976) cautions us not to overlook the fact that Ruth’s confession “commends the spiritual stature of Naomi whose own devotion to the Lord and love for her daughter-in-law so moved Ruth to leave her own people and go with this old woman to a strange home” (p. 77). “In truth, the choice of Ruth is wholly unaccountable except on the ground that she felt herself in heart and by conviction one of a Hebrew household—an Israelitish woman in soul and life” (Edersheim, 1987, p. 182). Her faith likely sprang from the fertile soil of loving family relationships, which taught her to love the Lord and keep His commandments. There is a lesson here for all of us.
Copyright © 2021
Breisch, F. (1972). The Kingdom of God. Grand Rapids: National Union of Christian Schools.
Cassel, P. (1960). The Book of Ruth. In J. Lange (Ed.), Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Dorsey, D. A. (1999). The Literary Structure of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Edersheim, A. (1987). The Bible History in One Volume (Vol. 3). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Ferguson, S. B. (2013). Faithful God. Bridgend, Wales: Bryntition Press.
Hubbard, R. L. (1988). The Book of Ruth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Morris, L. (1973). Ruth, An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity.
Murray, J. (1954). The Covenant of Grace. London: Tyndale.
Scott, J. B. (1976). God’s Plan Unfolded. Clinton, MS: Jack Scott.