We join the story of Ruth this week at a crucial crossroads. In Ruth 1:8 Naomi urges her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, to return to their respective families as they have been widowed by the death of Naomi’s sons. She reviews their unfortunate situation, expressing her disappointment that she has nothing of value to offer her two sweet daughters. Ruth and Orpah clearly love their mother-in-law, as the text tells us they weep loudly and try to convince Naomi to let them accompany her. Emotions are high, and I can imagine the tense scene that day.
Naomi packs her few belongings and heads back home to the land of Judah. I envision her doing a power-walk of sorts, trying to get out of town as quickly as possible. Ruth and Orpah follow closely behind, listening to Naomi present the reasons they should not depart from their families and sacrifice everything familiar. She convinces Orpah to return home, yet Ruth makes a decision that changes the course of history:
At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. (Ruth 1:14, NIV)
Your God will be my God
Ruth is a Moabite who married into Naomi’s family. Moab was a pagan land that descended from a son of Lot through the incestuous relationship with his daughters. Moabites did not worship the God of Israel, yet after ten years of marriage Ruth must have become acquainted with the God Naomi worshiped.
When Naomi loses her husband and two sons, she hears that the Lord has visited her homeland of Judah and provided food for them. She decides to return to the place she can find provision. Ruth has to decide if she will leave her people, her comforts, her homeland, and her god, and instead place her trust in the God of Israel. Elizabeth Baxter says it well:
It must be a moment of decision for Ruth. Now she must declare whose god she worshiped. Something new had entered into the life of Ruth. She had heard, and her whole soul was penetrated with what she had heard, of the God of Israel. It was the tidings of His faithfulness to His people which had influenced Naomi to return to her land. (Baxter Commentary on Ruth , emphasis added)
Ruth is loyal. She loves Naomi and Naomi’s God. She places her trust in the God of Israel, and as she clings to Naomi, she begins to surrender to the faithful love of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Ruth is determined, and while clinging to Naomi, she commemorates this decision stamped in history with one of the most famous lines in the entire Bible:
But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.’ (Ruth 1:16, NIV)
If her words were not clear enough, she further promises:
Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me. (Ruth 1:17, NIV)
When Naomi sees that Ruth is determined, they return together to Judah.
A Love that Pursues
I was fascinated to learn that the Hebrew word for cling, “dabaq” means “to hold fast or cleave to.” It is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 when God instructs that a man should leave his family and cleave to his wife and become one flesh.
Difficult circumstances of life will either draw us away, like Orpah, or draw us toward God. It is the very nature of God to pursue us unfailingly with His love in all our circumstances of life.
Many years ago, I was in a very broken point in my life. One afternoon as I traveled back to my hometown, I felt in my heart that I needed to move from my home city back to the city where I had gone to college a couple years earlier. Although, I did not recognize the voice of God at the time, He clearly had spoken to my heart. At that moment, I had a choice to make, much like Ruth. I could stay with all the comforts of home and family, or I could follow the voice of God.
In the darkest moment of my life, God had neither forgotten nor forsaken me: “For God has said, I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV) He had spoken to me, and His faithfulness to pursue me with His love would ultimately change the course of my life forever.
Have you ever been at a crossroad of life with barely enough faith to believe? I wish to encourage you that God sees you, and He is wooing you with His love to come home to Him.
His Unfailing Love
I imagine the heart of God much like a faithful companion. God is willing to wait for us to return to Him, to surrender our hearts to His. God passionately loves you. He is love, yet He will never force His love upon you. He waits patiently for you to invite Him in, to cling to Him and surrender to Him.
But what if love has let you down? What if receiving God’s love is frightening?
When He asks us to surrender, all He is asking is for a willing heart. He does the rest. God’s love meets us right where we are at in our faith walk. Yet, when we do surrender, even just a little part of our hearts, His love cleaves itself to us, and through the transforming power of His unfailing love, we begin to change from the inside out.
God’s Love is unfailing. It can be trusted, and it pursues us passionately, with such determination, that it compels us turn away from all that is safe and instead to surrender our way and our will and cling to God. The Psalmist says it beautifully:
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. (Psalm 143:8, NIV)
Surrender is never easy, yet the rewards are great. As we continue to explore the story of Ruth, we see that the difficult, yet profound decision Ruth makes to surrender her very life over to the God of Israel, positions her to become part of the one of the greatest love stories ever told.