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Ruth 1:16-17 – Ruth’s Speech to Naomi

Summary

In this stirring speech Ruth the Moabite swears loyalty to her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi.

Analysis

Many people have heard this speech read at weddings at which a wife swears to follow her husband. But the original context of this speech is quite different. During a time of famine in Israel, Naomi came to live in the country of Moab, one of Israel's enemies, with her husband and two sons. Her sons married women from Moab, one Orpah and the other Ruth. When Naomi's husband and sons all died and Naomi decided to return home to Bethlehem, Naomi pleaded with her daughters-in-law to take care of themselves and to return to their family homes where they might have a chance of marrying again and having a family. But Ruth refused to leave Naomi, whom she now considered to be her primary family member despite their different countries of origins and different religions and despite the usual tension that existed between mothers and daughters-in-law. Ruth then swears loyalty to Naomi in these words that anticipate the vow of the prophet Elisha to the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 2:2). Ruth swears to follow Naomi, to lodge where she lodges. She swears that she will join the Israelites rather than the Moabites and will even follow the God of Israel. She swears that not even death will part her from Naomi. In taking such an oath, Ruth defies all conventions and takes an enormous risk. She risks ridicule and rejection from her adopted people, who hate all Moabites. She puts her future in the hands of the God of Israel, thus implicitly claiming that Israel's God will watch over and show mercy to a foreigner. Ruth lacks any sort of future security. She does all of this out of love for and loyalty to the Israelite mother of her deceased husband. Ruth's eloquent speech sets the standard for the righteous and faithful foreigner.

Ruth 1:16-17

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.
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!’

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10 February 2011

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