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. 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.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
Whenever we think of friendship in the Bible, it’s often Ruth and Naomi who come to mind.
They are probably the best example of friendship between women in the Old Testament, and these verses make up one of the most moving speeches in all literature.
Ruth, a Moabite widow, has the option to leave Naomi, her Israelite mother-in-law, and go back to find a new husband among her own people (1:8-9). Her sister-in-law, Orpah, does just that, without condemnation from Naomi. But Ruth chooses to stay with this older woman, who feels that God has dealt bitterly with her (1:20). Ruth pledges her life to someone who, all things considered, had very little of worth to offer her.
On top of that, Ruth binds her oath to Naomi with the name of Naomi’s God, ‘the Lord’ – a bold declaration for a Moabite woman whose people worshipped a different god. Ultimately, this declaration of friendship to Naomi and faith in the Lord led to Ruth being great-grandmother of King David, and included in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:5).
This passage offers us both a comfort and a challenge: comfort that true, rich, unconditional friendship is possible, but a challenge that it comes only with sacrifice.
To offer true friendship is to be selfless, to surrender any expectation of reward or benefit, and simply to love the person for who they are. Friendship motivates someone to do freely what no-one has the right to ask or expect of them, and it is shown here to transcend age, religion and race. It is the heart of our common humanity, and it is one of the most beautiful gifts one person can give another.
Ruth’s generosity, her deep capacity to love, and her commitment to her mother-in-law with no apparent opportunity for repayment is clearly to be admired. But what about now? What does friendship look like for us?
Well, I think it probably looks like it does here: unconditional. It is a declaration of personal, faithful love and support through good times and bad, with no expectation of repayment. To whom can you offer such friendship? It is a powerful witness to those around us when we model this in our lives and in our relationships – a clear and lived example of Christ’s own giving of himself for humanity, and the God who comes to us and calls us friends (John 15:15).