Tuesday

2 January 2018

Ruth 1:1-18

“Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 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!” (vv. 16b-17)

Psalm: Psalm 146


Background

This story follows the book of Judges and explicitly sets itself within that era in the life of Israel – the days when the judges ruled  before Saul became king. The judges appear to have been comparatively ad hoc leaders, recognised for their prophetic or leadership gifts, chosen by God, but not part of an organised dynasty, nor formally elected or appointed.

The first character we meet is Elimelech. His only actions in the narrative, however, were to leave his hometown and to die. Essentially, his significance was in leaving Naomi as a foreign widow in Moab. Likewise, his sons appear only as the reason why Naomi had two widowed daughters-in-law. At least at this point, then, this is a story about women – their relationship and their decisions about their own futures: it is one of only two books in the Bible to be named after a woman (the other being Esther).

Typically, a married woman became part of her husband’s family. That can be seen in the expectation that when an Israelite man died, his brother and widow would ideally marry and have sons, to continue his name (Genesis 38:8; Deuteronomy 25:5-6; Mark 12:19-23). Perhaps this was what Naomi had in mind when she released her daughters-in-law from her family (verses 11-13)?

Ruth’s decision to remain with her mother-in-law, and not return to her own family, was surely remarkable in its generosity. It was also an exercise of control over her life which would arguably have been immensely courageous. She was opting to become the foreigner now, and sacrificing the security which, we might presume, would have come from returning to her father’s household and marrying again. Clearly, she was driven by love for Naomi; we can only speculate as to whether she was also prompted by a desire for adventure or comparative independence.

Ruth’s pledge to Naomi – to share her journey, her life, her God, her burial place, and to be separated by nothing, even death – has been used and reflected in pledges of loyalty and friendship, and in marriage vows. Here, it is a statement of love, partnership, friendship, family bond, and sisterhood, in the truest and deepest sense.


To Ponder

  • To whom would you say (or have you said) those words of commitment, found in verses 16-17? Do they reflect your commitment to a friend, a parent, a child, a sibling, a partner or spouse, Christ?
  • This new year, what will you do to support immigrants like Naomi and Ruth in your community? How can they best be made truly welcome?

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.