As you read through the early part of the book of Ruth, you get the impression that Naomi wants nothing to do with anything or anyone connected with her life in Moab. She has lost her husband and two sons during her decade there and her thinking seems to be that going to Moab was a tragic mistake. She just wants to get back to Bethlehem and her people and live out the remainder of her days there.
Along with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, she starts back to Bethlehem. Probably not too far into the trip, Naomi blesses them and tells them to return to their mothers’ homes (1:8-9). They tell Naomi they will go with her—but she’s not having any of it. A close look at her reply to them shows the darkness that has enveloped her life. “Even if I thought there was still hope for me . . . It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me,” (v. 12-13).
That’s enough for Orpah and she leaves, but Ruth is a tougher sell. Despite Naomi urging her to go “back to her people and her gods,” (v. 15), she refuses to depart. Her desire to continue with Naomi is greater than Naomi’s desire to jettison her. I suppose it’s possible that Naomi was just testing her commitment since a Moabite living in Bethlehem would involve certain difficulties and she wants to see if Ruth is up to it, but I don’t see Naomi really thinking that much outside herself as this juncture.
And that is what makes Ruth such a compelling person. For some reason, she is extremely committed to Naomi. Did she come from a bad home and have nothing to go back to in Moab? Does she simply have too much compassion to desert Naomi? Is her loyalty to her mother-in-law the result of a new found faith in Naomi’s God? The first is possible (though we have no evidence either way), but the last two seem indisputable. Ruth’s words of v. 16-17 show her love for Naomi—even to the point of being buried where she is so that death won’t separate them. And the fact that she invokes the Lord in v. 17 speaks to her new found faith.
What emerges from the narrative is a portrait of a passionate believer. Naomi’s God has become her God. She is leaving her gods and her family to go on a demanding, dangerous trip to a place she has never been before. While Naomi is spiritually on low battery (v. 20-21), Ruth is ready for anything. And while it’s true that Ruth will be in good hands with Naomi, the bigger truth is that Naomi is in better hands with Ruth. The genealogy at the end of the book showing Ruth’s connection to David is not incidental. The writer wants us to see the faith of Ruth and grasp its consequences in terms of redemptive history. Indeed it is and not just in regard to David for a millennium later two more people (at least one a descendent of Ruth’s), will make their own special trip to Bethlehem where the King of Kings will be born. We are meant to read the story of Ruth, turn it over in our hearts, and say with conviction, This is where kings come from!