Saturday, July 28, 2012


Ruth 1:8-18

Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.—Ruth 1:16


1:8  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. 9 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. 10 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? 12 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, 13 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." 14 Then they wept aloud again.  Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." 16 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. 17 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!" 18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

This scripture and 1 Cor. 13 are often used at weddings. Both passages express selfless love. Beyond marriage, this is the bond that all Christians are called to share in community. We are called to support each other, encourage each other, and bear with one another in love.

When communities are bound together by mutual love and devotion to God, members have much to gain. Think of the benefits you derive from maintaining close bonds with family, with friends, and within church groups or civic groups. This story brings together two unlikely partners, and through this relationship both are blessed and redeemed. We are called to be in community with those who are different from us, who seem to have little to offer in return. We might be surprised by the blessings that come from unlikely connections when community is gathered by God and held together in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Naomi arrived in Moab with her husband and two sons to escape famine. The first irony is that Naomi and her family leave Bethlehem, which means "House of Bread/ Food"—because there is no food in Bethlehem! Their destination of choice is even more puzzling. Moab wasn't simply a neighboring territory; there had always been bad blood between the Israelites and the Moabites. The son conceived out of incest and deceit and born to the older daughter of Lot (Gen. 19:30-38) was named Moab, and the Moabites were presented as descendants of this shameful union. According to Deut. 23, the Moabites were never to be admitted to the assembly of the Lord, and the Israelites were prohibited from promoting their welfare or prosperity.

After the Babylonian exile, intermarriage between Israelites and Moabites (among others) was outlawed and blamed for causing the people to turn away from God. Under Ezra's leadership, a covenant was made to send away the foreign wives and their children, to promote total exclusion and ethnic cleansing. For those who subscribed to Ezra's edict, it would have been no surprise to read that Naomi's husband and sons died after going to Moab, and taking Moabite wives simply sealed the sons' fate.

After the deaths of Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion, three childless widows remain. Without husbands or sons to protect and provide for them, their survival is in danger. Add to that Naomi's age and the fact that she is an alien in a hostile country, and we can understand the dangers. Naomi decides to go back to Bethlehem, where she will be with her own people. Ruth and Orpah start on the journey with her, but Naomi implores them to stay in their home country, where they have family and a chance for remarriage.

Naomi and her two daughters-in-law share a deep love. They start back to Bethlehem together, but then Naomi decides it will be better for their welfare for them to return to their own people and remarry. She sends them away with words of gratitude, love, and blessing. Orpah bids farewell, but Ruth refuses to go. Why doesn't Ruth remain with her Moabite family? What is it about her relationship with Naomi that compels her to continue this journey as her companion?

In Naomi's life and through her love, Ruth has seen the love and welcome of God for all people, including a Moabite woman such as herself. It has changed her forever. Though Naomi says that the Lord has turned against her and made her life bitter, Ruth sees beyond the circumstances. She sees a God who loves and cares for all, including the widows, the orphans, the aliens, and the poor; this is the God to whom she cleaves.

God has given us the blessing of our faith communities. We better understand who we are through fellowship. At times, it may seem safer to go at faith alone rather than to bear with each other. Sharing ourselves with our faults and shortcomings is a scary thing. However, when we encounter the nurture of faith community, we meet grace, and we want to be part of it. This is how Ruth felt about Naomi. We live in community so that we can care for each other and be cared for. Our identities are formed by making the choice, saying to Jesus as Ruth said to Naomi, "Where you go, I will go."


What do you think was the extent of Ruth's "conversion" or "repentance"? Do you see conversion in the lives of any of the other characters?

Ruth tells Naomi, "Your God will be my God." Are there people in your own life who have been important influences for you, and led you to a closer relationship with God as a result?


El Shaddai, we pray that in our relationships with others we would be drawn closer to you. Help us to look beyond the divisions of human creation—race, origin, gender, class, and others—and enable us to enter into covenant community with your beloved children, wherever that call takes us. May our lives tell others about your love, so that they, too, would be drawn to call you Lord. Give us the strength to go where you follow, and unify us through the power of your Holy Spirit. We ask this all in Jesus' name. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.