“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die - there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”
(The Children are Free by Rev. Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley is heavily quoted in the following.)
Naomi’s husband Elimelech dies shortly after arriving in Moab. Several years pass, and Naomi’s sons marry Ruth and Orpah, two women from the surrounding country. But before they can have children, the sons also die. Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah are left alone with no husbands or sons.
To understand the full impact of what happened, when this story was written, woman had only two acceptable places in society: They could be a daughter in their father’s household or a wife in their husband’s household. A woman without a man had no standing. There are Old Testament accounts of widows who almost starved, and so we see the reminders to “look after the widows and orphans” since they were among the most vulnerable people in society. One of the greatest sins of Sodom and Gomorrah as it is documented repeatedly in the Bible is that they did not care for their poor and needy, which would have encompassed their widows.
So Naomi, recognizing her fate as a widow, decides to return to her father’s family, and counsels her daughters-in-law to do the same. Orpah returns to her home, but Ruth clings to Naomi and makes the moving declaration in the above verses.
When Ruth spoke those haunting words, “Where you die, I will die - there will I be buried,” she wasn’t talking about some theoretical distant future. She was giving voice to the very real possibility that her decision to place her life in the hands of another woman could result in death.
The book of Ruth continues to tell of Ruth and Naomi’s life together. The focus is on the quality of their relationship. The biblical storyteller chronicles how Ruth cared for Naomi by taking the only job available to a husbandless woman, gleaning. When the author tells of Ruth’s eventual marriage to a much older man, the marriage is portrayed as one of convenience, contrived to help Ruth and Naomi survive. No mention is made of Ruth’s love for her husband. When Ruth finally bears a son from her marriage, the text focuses on Naomi and her reaction to the great news, not on the father. In fact, the women of the village (and the author) ignore the father entirely, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” (Ruth 4:17) They remind her that Ruth “who loves you, is more to you than seven sons.” (Ruth 4:15) Everyone seems to understand that, for Ruth and Naomi, their most important relationship is the one they share.
Setting aside popular preconceptions of what is possible in the Bible, the book of Ruth reads like the story of two women in love.
Christians have unwittingly acknowledged the validity of this interpretation, by including the vow Ruth made to Naomi in Christian wedding ceremonies for centuries, because it so perfectly captures the essence of the love that should exist between spouses.