Telling the Story: Reflections on Ruth 1:1-18

But Ruth clung to Naomi. This word, "clung," has a long history is Israel. Perhaps its most famous use is in Genesis 2 where we are told that a man "clings" to his woman and they become thereby one flesh. It is a most intimate verb, and should be taken as a sign of the deepest devotion, an unwillingness to let go under any circumstances. Naomi and we are astonished at Ruth. "Look! Your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; follow her now! Have you not heard what I have been saying? You are a woman, strike one; you are widow, strike two; you are a foreigner, strike three and you are out! And I have no male relatives; now beat it!"

But Ruth does not. Instead, she utters one of the Bible's greatest speeches, a speech that unfortunately has been hijacked by weddings. How often have these lovely words been stolen as statements of devotion between a marrying couple! Not all bad, I suppose, but as a result their true power is missed. Ruth after all says these words to her mother-in-law, a woman who has done everything she can to convince Ruth to leave her alone, to return to Moab, to allow Naomi to brood and grieve on her own among her own people. Now listen to the speech with that context in mind.

"Do not force me to abandon you, or to turn back from following you! Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die and be buried. May YHWH do anything at all to me, and even more as well, if even death parts me from you!" Ruth to Naomi offers in this profound address her current life, her constant companionship, her Moabite nationality, her Moabite religious training and conviction, her death, her burial, her future, in short, all that she has been, is, and will be.

And in the face of that amazing oration, Naomi shuts right up. Ruth is determined to go with her back to Bethlehem, and as the scene closes, two women trudge their way down the Bethlehem road to a most uncertain future.

Well, there is the story so far. But of course the huge question facing any reader is not just "what will happen?" The larger question is: why is Ruth acting like this? What drives her to stay with her downcast mother-in-law? We will have to hear the story's end to answer that. See you next week!

10/26/2015 4:00:00 AM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.