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 the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” Ruth 1:16-17
These two lines from Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi are very powerful. They don’t just speak of a commitment to family, but they also show how Israel’s God was real to Ruth. Being a Moabitess, Ruth did not grow up knowing the heart of Yahweh. The Moabite people bowed down to Chemosh, a god known for war, human sacrifice, and orgiastic practices.
Yet somehow, when Ruth the Moabitess encountered the family of Naomi, something she saw in them struck her as worth keeping. She married Naomi’s son, Elimelech, and all the more observed what it was like to be in a family that held Jewish perspectives. She most probably participated, too, in some of their Jewish ways.
The Bible says that after around 10 years (Ruth 1:4), the men in Naomi’s family died, leaving Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah (the other daughter-in-law of Naomi) widows. Sad as it was, these circumstances gave the three ladies a chance to reset their lives and do whatever they wanted to do.
Naomi decided to venture back to Bethlehem since she heard that Yahweh was blessing her people. Ruth decided to stick with her. What did this mean for Ruth? Basically a change of identity (“Your people will be my people”). Also, a deepening of commitment to her mother-in-law (“Where you die I will die”).
These we catch from Ruth’s words:
- Ruth was to leave her homeland and everything familiar to her.
- Ruth was to embrace a different people as her own.
- Ruth was to embrace Israel’s God as her own.
- Ruth was willing to die in Israel without coming back to her own biological family.
- Ruth loved Naomi.
And she bound herself with a curse: “May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
There is something about Ruth’s declarations that make her an incredible woman. She didn’t have to say all these things. She didn’t have to leave her homeland. She could have married some handsome hotshot in Moab. But Ruth’s time with Naomi’s family told her that LIFE was in the direction of Israel. Life was in the direction of clinging to a mother-in-law who did not serve Chemosh and whose ways were miles apart from those of her fellow land dwellers. Life and family were in the direction of a people Ruth had come to love—even if her only picture of Israel had so far been the family of Naomi.
The curse Ruth bound herself with also shows us something: she knew that the Lord was real, and that the Lord could hold her to account. That meant that the God whom Ruth recognized as her own— even before stepping on Jewish soil— was already the God of Israel. It was not Chemosh.
Ruth’s commitments should challenge us. She was willing to let go of all that she had and all that was familiar to her so she could go in the direction where she knew God was. Israel now meant more to her than Moab. Home for her was truly where her heart was.
It is good to reflect on our commitments in life. What are they? And where are our hearts when it comes to following the direction God tells us to go? If a choice between leaving the familiar and stepping into the unknown comes to us, do we say YES to where we know God is pointing to? These are heavy questions, but they are good questions where we ourselves can say like Ruth to God, “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay.”
Janina Marie Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of One Voice Magazine, a teacher of world literature, and a student of the Bible. She enjoys reflecting on life’s curve balls and plateaus. She resides in the Philippines, the country known for people who smile a lot.