“And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee,
or to return from following after thee:
for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:
thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried:
the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
~ Ruth 1:16-17
Typically, when we want to understand a term, we go to the dictionary to look it up. If we are particularly studious, we may go to an encyclopedia, or some other source, to investigate the etymology of the word. We may also study its usage, trying to determine the various inflections and nuances associated with its meaning.
However, God does not speak to us this way. He did not give us a dictionary or encyclopedia for us to understand what He requires of us. God spoke to us and gave us His Word—His Son, a Person. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God spoke to us in and through a person, meaning His Word is personal and narrative.
Christ was the greatest narrative theologian ever. He taught with authority through parables and illustration and “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). His words were simple, yet profound. He did not speak to His disciples like a Calculus professor lecturing his students on the proofs and corollaries of The Mean Value Theorem. He rather spoke in simple terms, illustrating what “The kingdom of heaven is like” (Matthew 13:31).
A good example of the way God speaks to us is in Hebrews 11. The chapter does begin with a description of faith abstractly, but the substance of the chapter is spent on illustrating what faith is and does. The life of faith is there seen worked out in the real lives of God’s people. It is a moving and compelling picture that climaxes with martyrs of whom the world was not worthy and then proceeds to tell us, in light of all this, to run the race.
What does this have to do with our text? Before us is a passionate, moving illustration of biblical repentance. This occurs in the real world in the real life of Ruth the Moabitess. It is a striking and compelling example of repentance, explaining to us what no dictionary could convey by simply defining the term.
Ruth’s repentance was on this wise. A certain woman named Naomi dwelt in Bethlehem Judah with her husband Elimelech and their two sons. They enjoyed modest riches and reputation in their homeland. A famine arose that affected their lifestyle and they removed to Moab, only for a time of course until things became better in their own land.
Moab wasn’t nearly as bad as they imagined and they got along well until disaster struck. Elimelech died leaving Naomi and their two sons in the land of the pagans. This was a grief to Naomi, but the pagans were friendly and likable and she enjoyed her standard of living there enough to continue.
Her sons were growing into men and as such were wont to be married. They found a couple of lovely pagan girls, Orpah and Ruth, and soon were settled down. It would not do for these girls to remain amongst their pagan families, so they left them for the Israelites and dwelt on the fringe of Moab for some ten years in domestic bliss.
Moreover, both of Naomi’s sons died leaving a Jewish widow with two widowed proselyte daughters-in-law stuck halfway between here and there. Naomi’s grief can hardly be imagined by someone like me, but it must have been very great. These things had taken a toll on her and she purposed to return to Bethlehem, where she had heard God was feeding His people.
Orpah and Ruth went with her on her way for a while. Naomi encouraged them to return but they were resolved to go with her all the way to her home. Naomi insisted they “turn again” (Ruth 1:11) to go back to the life they knew before. She professed to have nothing for them; she would later testify of coming back to Bethlehem “empty.”
The women all wept in an anxious moment. Though Orpah loved Naomi, she kissed her and went on her way back to the pagans. She had “gone back unto her people, and unto her gods” (Ruth 1:15). Orpah had run well for a season, but she was of those who draw back. It happened unto her “according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:22).
The tension grew as Orpah disappeared from sight and the tears began to dry on Naomi and Ruth’s cheeks. There were powerful persuasives for Ruth to return—Naomi had counseled her to that end and Orpah had trodden the very path before her. The doubts and questions swirled in Naomi’s mind as she spoke her last peace, “return thou after thy sister in law” (Ruth 1:15). Her words seemed to hang in the air until the silence at last overtook them. Then, the quiet was broken by a voice that grew from quivering to firm as Ruth spoke the most beautiful words that could fall from Gentile lips. “And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
It was not that Ruth loved Naomi and Orpah did not that Ruth would not leave her. It was rather because Ruth loved Naomi and loved Naomi’s God that she would not leave her. Ruth had repented; she had turned. Ruth left her native people and her native gods. She had made an end of all else except the God of Israel. She clave unto her mother-in-law because God was with her and, with her life, Ruth vowed to worship and serve the true and living God that created the heavens and the earth.
Here we have the marvelous meaning of repentance in the real world. Repentance means a change, and, O what a change! Paul praised God for the Thessalonians and how they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Ruth turned from her life of rebellion to God’s kingdom, took hold of the skirt of a Jew, and went with her because God was with her (cf. Zecheriah 8:23). She had turned and burned all her bridges behind her like Asaph, who confessed, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (Psalm 73:25). She was one with Peter, who answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Ruth repented. She turned to the true and living God to the exclusion of all else. May God grant many Ruth’s in our generation! I pray the Holy Spirit will grant that we understand what it means to repent.