Twisted Scripture - Ruth 1:16 "Where you go, I will go"
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.” Ruth 1:16b
Quick survey, how many of you out there have some version of this verse in your home someplace? (A hint for the husbands out there, look in your bedroom or near where wedding/family photos are displayed.) Or take a look back to your wedding program, I’m guessing a few of you referenced this scripture in some way. I was just in Hobby Lobby the other day, wandering around and wondering what home décor items I “needed” when I spotted this verse exactly where I guessed it would be: with the décor focusing on declarations of love and commitment for married couples among us.
This section of this verse is often used in the context of marriage. On its own, I will admit that it is a beautiful declaration of love and commitment. The rest of verse 16 and venturing into verse 17 make the commitment even deeper as Ruth declares “Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” These are the types of promises which are part of a solid foundation of life long marriage. They speak to embracing all there is to be known about another person, their family, their culture, and even their faith and sticking with regardless of the circumstances or misfortunes life may throw at them.
If you are married, or soon to be married, I sincerely hope this is level of love and commitment both of you are actively choosing to give to your spouse. It is this level of love and commitment I’ve seen modeled for me in the 50+ years my grandparents were married before passing away. It is what my parents show me as they near 45 years of marriage. I know I’m fortunate in that, when I look at the examples of my friends and family who are married, the vast majority of them model what this passage from Ruth speaks to when it comes to loving and honoring each other.
For this reason, it really is a bit of a shame this verse is not talking about marriage at all. Let’s back up and start reading with verse six:
6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 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. 17 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.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
Often when we realize we are reading a passage from the book of Ruth, we have some level of assumption that the story is focused on the relationship which develops between Ruth and Boaz. However, in chapter 1, we are not even introduced to Boaz. He doesn’t enter the picture until chapter 2. Verses 16 and 17 are not Ruth declaring her love and commitment to Boaz, it is her promise to stay with and take care of her mother-in-law, Naomi.
So let’s look a little closer at the relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, and what there is to learn from this interaction between them as they begin their journey to Bethlehem as childless widows. To do that well, we first need to fully understand how dire of a situation they both found themselves in being without husbands or sons.
Unlike our modern American culture, women had very few rights or protections in the ancient world. They were very much dependent on their fathers and then their husbands and eventually their sons to take care of them. They very rarely had a chance to earn any income on their own and even more rarely had chances to earn it through honorable work. They were rarely educated and so couldn’t read or engage well in commerce and business. Their worth was primarily found in their role as wife and mother and their status was gained through a good marriage and giving birth to sons.
As childless widows, Naomi and her daughters-in-law were left hopeless situation. On their own, they would likely starve. Naomi knows her only hope of survival is to return to her homeland and find a surviving relative who is kind and generous enough to take her in and care for her in her old age. Knowing this reality, she essentially commands Orpah and Ruth to return to their families in the hopes that they their families will care for them and help them find someone to re-marry and provide for them. Neither of the girls is happy about this, they are both in tears. They both have come to genuinely love and care about Naomi. All three women know tragedy and loss as all three have buried their husbands. They are family in the truest sense of the word. But despite the pain it will cause her to leave Orpah and Ruth behind, Naomi recognizes that what is best for them is stay with their people and families, to re-marry locally, and to bid them farewell.
I honestly can’t fault Orpah for turning back and returning home to her parents. It’s the logical choice. Naomi has given her blessing to do so. It is Ruth who defies logic and begs Naomi to allow her to stay and continue on the journey into an unknown and uncertain future. She is willing to leave what little security she has left in the world to stay with Naomi. She forsakes her family, her culture, her traditions, and even the religion she has grown up with and known her entire life to fully belong to whatever is left of Naomi’s family and convert to Naomi’s Jewish faith. It is not a small promise.
What we see in verses 16 and 17 are Ruth’s first words of faith in God. In so many ways, they are the first steps she takes into the religion of Israel. They are a new beginning for her, the start of a journey down an unexpected path for her life. It is more than her love of Naomi which inspires her to make this choice, it is the pull of Naomi’s faith in God.
Ruth 1:16 should, yes, inspire us to consider what it means to commit to living our lives with another person. But it should also inspire us to consider the example of faith Naomi was to Ruth. When they meet, Naomi and her family are striving to hold onto their faith in a foreign land where no one else worships the same God they worship. And when all hope seems to be lost, Naomi still trusts God enough to undertake a long, dangerous journey to return to the land of her ancestors and of her faith to seek family who would take her in. It is this example of faith which is part of Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi. How does the way we live our faith impact the lives of those around us? Do they notice there is something different about us because of our faith in God?
At the same time, we should also be inspired to consider what Ruth was willing to give up and walk away from to be with Naomi and convert to Naomi’s faith. Imagine for a moment knowing that your decision likely means you will never see your parents, siblings, or childhood friends again. You will have to learn new traditions, eat different foods, and speak a different language. There might be a small handful of letters which make it to you over the years but no photographs, videos, or phone calls. Additionally, there is no guarantee you will be welcome in the place you have chosen as your new home. These are the consequences of Ruth’s choice to continue the journey with Naomi. In a very similar way, these are the same choices those who, in our modern times, convert to Christianity face in those parts of the world governed by Muslim extremists. Would you be willing to give up the same to go someplace God has called you to go?
In the end, we know the story of Naomi and Ruth has a happy ending. Naomi does find a living relative, Boaz, who is willing to redeem what was lost when her husband and sons dies. He and Ruth marry and have at least one son and Ruth’s descendants eventually include King David. Ultimately, the declaration made by Ruth in chapter one does speak to the magnitude of what it should mean to speak wedding vows to another and so, in that regard, they are appropriate words for weddings and couples to cling to as they navigate life as husband and wife.
At the same time, it is important to remind ourselves that these words were not originally spoken between a married couple. This reality breaks the limits romantic love puts on these powerful words of love and commitment, of a willingness to give up everything to seek something greater in following God’s plan for our lives. Ruth steps into a family, into a purpose so much bigger than she ever imagined or could fully grasp in her lifetime. It would be several generations before King David rose to throne to rule the people Israel and yet, she is part of the chain of events which eventually result in his reign. What would the story of God’s people look like had she turned back to Moab with Orpah?
- What in your life have you had to walk away from to continue to follow God’s plan for your life?
- Who in your life has been the example of faith Naomi was to Ruth? How are you being a “Naomi” to the “Ruth’s” in your life right now?
- Naomi held onto her faith despite great loss. What loss have you experienced in your life and how has it impacted your faith?
- Check out this great overview of the book of Ruth from the Bible Project.
- Commentaries on Ruth 1 as found at Biblehub.com
- "What is the Significance of Ruth Telling Naomi 'Wherever You Will Go, I Will Go?'' as found on GotQuestions.org
- "Double Edge Sword: The Power of the Word - Ruth 1:16-17" by Acton Staff on acton.org