“Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” These famous words were spoken by the widow Ruth who was about to forsake her land and her gods.
Ruth’s life story began in Moab, where, as a young Moabite woman, she married a man from Bethlehem. Her husband, along with his family, had moved to Moab because of a famine in the land of Judah. Tragically, both Ruth’s husband and his brother died. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, also a widow, was the only one of the original family still living.
It was a terrible tragedy for Naomi to be stranded in Moab, having lost her husband and her two sons. So Naomi decided to return to Judah, since she heard the famine was over (Ruth 1:6).
Her two daughters-in-law were now faced with a choice. Naomi urged them to return to their families in Moab, for Naomi had no more sons to give them as husbands, and thus no security for the future to offer them.
One of her daughters-in-law, Orpah, reluctantly followed that advice and went back to her family and her Moabite gods. But Ruth made a vow in devoted faithfulness to Naomi, a vow that is famous for its graciousness:
“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. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Ruth forsook her homeland, her people and the gods of Moab. She left it all to lead a new life in a land where she would be a stranger. She loved Naomi and pledged to not forsake her, but to share Naomi’s destiny in Israel. Ruth chose the God of Israel as her God. Ruth exhibited faithfulness, respect, devotion, love, friendship and humility.
This was a vow of total commitment. This was a commitment even to death. She was burning her bridges behind her. So Ruth followed Naomi and came to Bethlehem in the land of Judah during the beginning of the barley harvest—early spring.
Ruth went to work
There was a law in Israel that benefitted the poor and the strangers in the time of harvest: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:22).
Both Naomi and Ruth were poor widows, and Ruth was also a stranger in the land. So if anyone had the right to glean in the fields, it would be Ruth. And so Ruth told Naomi she would glean in the fields, and she did so for the remainder of the harvest.
The field in which she gleaned belonged to Boaz, a wealthy relative of Naomi’s, and Ruth found favor in his sight. Boaz had heard of Ruth’s selfless actions in that she had left her parents and her homeland and had returned with Naomi (Ruth 2:11).
Boaz showed remarkable kindness to a foreigner and spoke to Ruth the most encouraging words she could have heard: “The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge” (Ruth 2:12).
Boaz must have understood Ruth’s background and situation. In Matthew 1:5, we see that Boaz’s parents were Salmon and Rahab. His mother, Rahab, was the harlot who had escaped the destruction of Jericho (Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, Matthew 1:5). Rahab and her family had come into Israel as strangers and foreigners, and in time Rahab married Salmon. So Boaz would have known what his mother experienced—being a foreigner in Israel.
The unique marriage proposal
As the harvest season was coming to a close, Naomi wanted a better life and security for Ruth. So Naomi conceived a plan for Ruth to approach Boaz and propose marriage. Ruth obeyed her; and as Boaz slept on the threshing floor, she came and lay down next to his feet. When Boaz awoke, Ruth said, “Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative” (Ruth 3:9).
It was the custom of the times in Israel that a near relative marry a widow so that the name of the family would not die out (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). Ruth trusted her mother-in-law that this action of proposing marriage needed to be done. It took courage and trust for Ruth to execute this bold plan, as she just thought of herself as a lowly servant.
Boaz pronounced another blessing upon Ruth when he heard her wedding proposal at the threshing floor: “Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman” (Ruth 3:10-11).
But there was a slight legal hitch in the proposed marriage. There was a male relative of Naomi’s who was an even closer relative than Boaz. If the other male relative was willing to perform the duty of a close relative and marry Ruth, that relative would be the first to have that option. But if he would not, then Boaz could marry Ruth.
One can only imagine Ruth’s state of mind when she realized that she might have to marry a total stranger rather than Boaz! Naomi said to Ruth, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day” (Ruth 3:18).
Ruth’s suspense would only have to last for one day. And the story turned out well, for the close relative would not marry Ruth lest it would ruin his own inheritance. So Ruth obtained the desired end she had proposed: She got to marry Boaz.
The people and elders who were at the city gate pronounced a blessing on the bride and bridegroom that was prophetic: “The LORD make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two who built the house of Israel; and may you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring which the LORD will give you from this young woman” (Ruth 4:11-12).
In time, Boaz and Ruth had a son, Obed. Naomi was able to become a nurse to Obed, and the women of Israel blessed the Lord for her happiness: “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him” (Ruth 4:14-15).
A royal lineage came from Boaz and Ruth, as Obed was the grandfather of King David. And from King David’s royal line came the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Ruth was accepted into the commonwealth of Israel, as was Boaz’s mother, Rahab, before her. All who accept God’s way of life are included in the blessings of God. And those who do well will reap the result of their actions. Boaz and Ruth had great respect for one another, as well as kind and uplifting words for each other. It is a good example of nobility and character.
Ruth left her people, her family and her culture. Ruth vowed that she would not be parted from Naomi under an oath to the Lord. Things probably looked bleak for Ruth at times, but the mercy of God worked out all things for her. God will work out our future for us as well.
We must also be willing to forsake all (everything we have). Ruth forsook her pagan homeland and its pagan gods, and chose the true God as her God! All individuals of all nations can come to take refuge under the wings of the true God and to trust in Him.
Ruth’s example of faithfulness should be encouraging to us. We need to follow her steps and allow God to be our God! Read more about faith in this section on “Faith: Believing and Pleasing God.”