One of the more popular songs to come out of the 1992 movie Sister Act was the song “I Will Follow Him”—the movie’s closing chorus item performed by a group of nuns. Originally a 1963 chart-topping song about a teenager’s love for her boyfriend, actress Whoopi Goldberg and the nuns added a twist to it, turning it into a song about religious faith and devotion. The devotion and affection expressed in the song would certainly resonate with Ruth as she tearfully assures her mother-in-law, uttering these now-famous words: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Unlike Orpah, Ruth does not succumb to Naomi’s dismal portrayal of her future prospects in Bethlehem (1:14). In a last-ditch effort to get Ruth off her back, Naomi pleads, “Look, Ruth, your sister-in-law has made the better and wiser choice. You need to follow her example and go back to worshipping your god Chemosh!” (see 1:15). Tragically, Naomi believes the gods of Moab can do more for Ruth than the God of Israel! Ironically, Ruth, a Moabitess, has more faith in Israel’s God than Naomi herself.
We are not told how Ruth came to know about Yahweh, or how much she knows about Him. Perhaps Naomi, despite her present lack of faith, has positively influenced Ruth somewhat. We have seen how devoted her daughters-in-law are to her. Naomi must have told them how the Lord had rescued the Jews from slavery, given them a land, and made them into a nation. Ruth knows enough to want to worship this God of the Jews instead of the gods of Moab. Facing the most important decision of her life, and despite the persuasion and pressure not to believe, Ruth “[turns] to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). This passage is Ruth’s conversion story.
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). This verse has become the classic Christian expression of devotion and loyalty. Despite knowing that she will outlive Naomi by many years and will be alone in a foreign land after Naomi passes on, Ruth makes an irrevocable lifetime commitment to remain in Bethlehem, sealing it with an oath in the name of “the Lord” (YHWH or Yahweh in Hebrew), the covenantal name of God (1:17). She even invokes curses on herself if she ever reneges on her commitment. What determination!
One Bible teacher notes that Lot, the ancestor of Ruth (Genesis 19:36–37), had wilfully chosen to live outside the Promised Land (13:11–12). His descendant Ruth now reverses this decision, wilfully choosing to die inside God’s Land. For the ancients, the land you were buried in indicated where your heart and real home lay (e.g. Joshua 24:30, 32). Naomi is not the only one going back home. For Ruth, Bethlehem will now be her true home (Ruth 1:17).
How can we be sure that Ruth believes in Yahweh (Ruth 1:16–17)?
Consider your own prayer of commitment when you first believed and embraced Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. What did you pray? Since then, have you settled in with a home church?