Ruth 1: 6 – 18
Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had had consideration for his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 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. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.’ Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’ 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.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’
When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
Ruth is revealing herself as what some would call “a **** difficult woman”.
At this parting of the ways, the three widows have limited options. The older woman, embittered by loss and the whole experience of exile, is set on returning to Bethlehem. She doesn’t know what she is going to live on, but at least there should be some there who remember her, and may even welcome her back.
For her daughters-in-law the future is also uncertain, but they clearly belong in Moab. And at least they are young enough to marry again and raise families. Orpah and her mother-in-law know that this is the way the world works: as the scriptures were to put it, “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife”. Surely the right men can be found in Moab?
But Ruth sees the future differently – and it is a future with Naomi. While Orpah kisses her mother-in-law goodbye, Ruth clings to her (it’s the same word). The words that follow almost echo our modern marriage vows, and the promise “till death us do part”. Some have suggested that there is an attachment here that can only be described as love: but if love for Naomi were at the heart of Ruth’s strange decision, would she not respect her clear wishes to continue alone?
Instead, having nothing more to say, Naomi has to make the journey with this difficult woman at her side. Neither of them knows how the whole story will pan out – but as Ruth promises that “your people shall be my people and your God my God” we see the possibility that God may somehow be involved in it all.
And God is still involved with all kinds of families, and sometimes with very difficult people: and we can learn from them all!
keep us ready to learn
from people whose life choices
differ from our own.
And may we all find strength
to keep the promises we have made
to one another, and to you. Amen