Old Testament Passages Good for Every Christian to Know, Part 12
Old Testament Passages Good for Everyone to Know, Part 12
by Doug Jacoby
This week's passage comes from the book of Ruth, which is set in the time of the Judges. Through most of this period (1200s-1000s BC) the Israelites struggle to remain faithful to Yahweh, instead frequently adhering to other gods and goddesses, like Ba'al and Asherah. Ruth, a foreigner, puts them to shame. This is a common biblical motif: outsiders get it, while insiders don't.
Please take a moment and go to Ruth 1, especially if it's been a while since you have read Ruth, to properly appreciate the plight of Naomi and her daughters-in-law. Both Ruth and her sister have lost their husbands—and are childless. Keep in mind also that while Naomi's other daughter-in-law, Orpah, has just professed devotion, yet decides to remain in pagan Moab.
At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
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. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May Yahweh deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her (Ruth 1:14-18).
- Note Ruth's heroic determination to stay with Naomi. Whereas Orpah only kisses her mother-in-law goodbye, Ruth clings to her. One plays it safe, the other steps out in faith.
- Yet this is more than just emotional attachment to another human being. Ruth realizes that Naomi's god, Yahweh, is the true god—not the Moabite Chemosh, or any of the other divinities popular in the Ancient Near East. She takes a stand for monotheism, even though in her homeland many gods were worshipped.
- Nor does she yield to fear. Ruth is willing to move to a foreign country, about to immerse herself in a new culture, in a place where she knows no one—apart from her mother-in-law.
- Ruth takes a solemn oath, invoking the name of Yahweh. Throughout the period of the Judges, most Israelites are chasing after the Ba'als. Yet Ruth, citizen of a neighboring nation, is solid in her faith in the one true God.
Ruth will be richly rewarded, finding a husband, giving birth to a son, and becoming the great-grandmother of David.
Though often regarded as such, Ruth 1:16-17 is not a marriage text. Sure, the wording seems appropriate in a nuptial setting, yet this is a conversion passage. Moreover, Ruth is not declaring her love for her (soon-to-be) husband Boaz, but love for her mothjer-in-law and covenant love for Yahweh. Like all who come to God in the pages of scripture, Ruth displays genuine faith—and acts on it. May all Christian men and women follow her example.