For decades, Ruth, one of the female books of the Bible, has been praised for her commitment speech to Naomi, her mother-in-law, found in Ruth 1:16,
Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people, And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.
We have been taught that this statement marked the beginning of Ruth’s consecration to God and Naomi as her ‘now’ mother. However, when we read closely the original Hebrew translation, Ruth’s commitment words are written in the future tense whereas the middle part omits it. The word-for-word Hebrew translation reads:
That to which you are going I shall go
and in which you are lodging
I shall lodge
People of you, people of me
And Elohim of you, Elohim of me
In which you are dying I shall die and there
I shall be entombed
Other translations such as the French Louis Segond (1978) writes the above underlined statement in the present tense: “Your people are my people, Your God is my God”. The absence of the future tense or use of the present tense dramatically changes our understanding. It signifies that Ruth was already engaged in a relationship with God and considered the Hebrew people as her own even before the loss of her husband. This means that for the 10+ years that she lived with Naomi’s family, Ruth became fully committed to God and her mother-in-law unlike Orpah. Additionally, when Naomi addresses Ruth after the departure of Orpah, she says the following: “Look your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods, return after your sister-in-law” (Ruth 1:15). According to Naomi, Ruth was, at that very moment free, to worship her gods upon returning to her maternal home; however, she did not realize that Ruth had become attached to her and God.
This teaches us a very important lesson especially for those of us who have been walking with God for a long time. As believers, it is so easy to distance ourselves from God when the going gets tough and place our own needs above everything else; this is what Orpah did. She wasn’t wrong in leaving Naomi, it was only natural and normal that she should be concerned about her future and care for herself. Yet, we see through Ruth that true love implies giving up our lives for others. The same goes for our relationship with the Lord, true love and dedication are manifested when we remain in Him in the midst of trials and agonies. Let’s take an example, in the workplace, you usually find two types of employees: The majority that works for the paycheck regardless of the length of their service, and the very few that are fully committed to the vision and mission of the company. If the company were to experience challenges and turbulence, the paycheck employees would readily quit while the minority would stick through thin and find possible means to rescue the business. That’s the same thing that occurred to Orpah and Ruth; one loved circumstantially despite the 10+ years of living with Naomi while the other loved wholeheartedly. The Ruth kind of love should spur us to have a genuine relationship with our Lord.
Moreover, by following Naomi to Israel, Ruth accepted to carry the shame and ‘curse’ that would be attributed to Naomi. The Israelite would look down on Naomi because the lady who once left married with children, now returned a miserable and motherless widow. Our Lord Jesus also calls us to take on shame if we desire to be committed to Him, “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!” Matthew 10:24-25. If Jesus was insulted, suffered, and was persecuted during His time on earth, then whoever wishes to seriously follow Him must be ready to endure the same shame and blame.
1 John 3:18 says that love does not consist in words and speech, but rather in deed and truth. That is the Ruth kind of love that we witness in her book. It is not about proclaiming how much we love God through our praise and worship songs, but in gladly remaining in Him through thick and thin, shame and blame, and curse and reproach.