We can learn a lot from the relationship of Ruth and Naomi, and loyalty is among the lessons. Ruth was the Moabite daughter-in-law of a Jewess named Naomi. They were living in Moab when both of their husbands died. Naomi planned to return to Israel and encouraged Ruth to stay in Moab and return to her mother’s family. There would be nothing for Ruth in Judah, Naomi told her.
Rather than heed Naomi’s advice, Ruth begged Naomi to allow her to emigrate to Judah. Ruth’s statement of fidelity is touching: “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. 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 1:16–17). These beautiful words of commitment, which are sometimes included in wedding vows, show the deep loyalty that Ruth had for Naomi.
Ruth and Naomi were family. They had lived closely for some time due to Ruth’s marriage to Naomi’s son. Ruth and Naomi had already developed a strong relationship prior to this decision by Ruth to go to Israel with her mother-in-law. Ruth 2:11 says that Ruth “left [her] father and mother and [her] homeland and came to live with a people [she] did not know before.” Ruth cared enough for Naomi to forsake her homeland and help provide for Naomi with no guarantee of security for herself.
Ruth expressed her loyalty to Naomi in a solemn vow, calling judgment upon herself if she ever left her (Ruth 1:17). Ruth made a commitment to follow Naomi’s God as well (Ruth 1:16). She would abandon the gods of Moab, and Ruth and Naomi would both be committed to the one true God of Israel. Significantly, when Ruth said, “May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (verse 17), she uses the covenant name Yahweh. Naomi was convinced Ruth was serious: “When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her” (Ruth 1:18). With Ruth’s decision made, Ruth and Naomi set out for Bethlehem together.
The story of Ruth and Naomi is contrasted with that of Orpah and Naomi. Orpah was Ruth’s sister-in-law, having been married to another of Naomi’s sons. When Naomi bade her daughters-in-law farewell, “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye” (Ruth 1:16) and returned to her family. Naomi tried to use Orpah’s departure as incentive for Ruth to also stay in Moab: “Look . . . your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her” (Ruth 1:15). But Ruth chose the path of loyalty to her mother-in-law, even if it meant giving up everything she was used to in Moab.
The story of Ruth and Naomi shows what true loyalty is like. In addition to loyalty, Ruth exhibited respect, love, friendship, and humility. Just as Ruth chose loyalty to Naomi and to Naomi’s God, so should we chose loyalty to God and to God’s people over any commitment to the world. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” Jesus said, “and all these things [of daily necessity] will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Ruth’s loyalty was followed by the provision of many blessings (see Ruth 4).
The story of Ruth and Naomi is an important one, not just because of the loyalty modeled by Ruth but because of the way it reveals the sovereignty of God. In Bethlehem, the Lord allowed Ruth to remarry and give birth to a son named Obed, who became grandfather to King David. Despite Ruth’s non-Jewish, outsider status, God worked through her life to change the history of the world.