Ruth 1:15-16 - A Faithful Widow lives for God
1:1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. 6Then 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 considered his people and given them food. 7So 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. 8But 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. 9The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11But 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? 12Turn 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, 13would 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.” 14Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16But 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. 17Where 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!” 18When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
The Context of Ruth: The story of Ruth takes place during the violent and turbulent time when the judges ruled in Israel. It is a tender story of ordinary life made extraordinary by the understated faithfulness and leading of God. It is a family chronicle that follows one family through tragedy to a new beginning. From Bethlehem, the family of Elimelech and Naomi move to Moab to escape the severe economic hardships brought on by drought in Israel. This was no easy move, to leave the land of promise for a foreign and unclean land. It was a matter of survival. Slowly the new family settled in Moab and the sons took Moabite wives, Ruth and Orpah. Prematurely, the three men die. Shortly after, Naomi, in her bitterness and grief, decides to go home to Bethlehem. Ruth and Orpah go with her. On the journey, Naomi urges the younger women to return to their fathers so that they may be cared
for and perhaps remarry. This was the expected course of events. Orpah agrees, but Ruth refuses.
Issues in Ruth: 1) The universality of God. Throughout, Ruth is referred to as the Moabite, thus emphasizing her foreign status. Foreigners were considered unclean and incapable of worshipping YHWH (The Hebrew name for God. It is pronounced Yah-Way.) Yet we learn from this story that not only can foreigners worship YHWH, they can be instruments of YHWH. It was Ruth’s faithfulness that mattered, not her status. Ruth receives God’s favor and is chosen to become the ancestress of the great King David and ultimately of Jesus himself. 2) Ruth’s steadfast loyalty and faithfulness as exhibited to Naomi, is one of the few human examples in the Bible of a very important theological concept, hesed. Hesed is usually a characteristic of God. It describes the steadfast, loyal, merciful, constant, faithful, enduring way that God relates to God’s people. In the same way that God is steadfast with Israel, Ruth is steadfast with Naomi. The characteristic of hesed that Ruth exhibits as a part of her nature is a characteristic that God requires for holiness. (See Micah 6)
What was the situation for widows? The plight of widows in the ancient world was dire. They were often treated harshly and there were fewer laws in place in Hebrew culture for their protection than in most of the surrounding cultures. This may, in part, have been due to the belief that premature death was a judgment for the sin of disobedience, whether on the part of the one who died, or of the family. This made being a widow a disgrace. Still, there are instances in Scripture that give evidence of God’s great concern for widow’s and others who are oppressed. Jesus consistently called for compassionate dealing with widows. In Mark’s Gospel he even elevates a poor widow with two copper coins as an example of what true faithfulness looks like. The point in that story is that she, like Ruth, is a woman who entrusts her life completely to God’s mercy and provision. Like Ruth, the widow with the coins will not let hardship on want define her. Only their love and trust in God sets the course for Ruth and the unnamed widow that Jesus notices and elevates as a model for us.
Questions for Personal Reflection
1. How have you seen God’s hesed in your life or the life of our congregation? To what or to whom might God be calling you to show hesed today?
2. The story of Ruth and Naomi is a story of continuing when times are tough. Have you ever had a time when you felt that you had no choice but to start over? Who helped you? Were there people who stood by your side as you charted a new course?
3. What does it mean to you to entrust your life to God’s mercy and protection?
4. The question that Naomi, Ruth and Orpah faced after their tragic losses was ‘Where do we go from here?’ Given all the changes in our lives in the last years, how do you think God might be calling you and us, on a new journey?