Rth_1:15-17. She (Naomi) said, Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister-in-law. And Ruth said, Entreat 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.
THE study of Scripture characters is very instructive: for, in them, we see human nature in all its diversified conditions, not as artificially delineated by a brilliant fancy or a warm imagination, but as really existing, and exhibited to our view. For subjects of public discussion, too, they are peculiarly favourable; because, in presenting real scenes, they bring before us circumstances which are of daily occurrence, or which, at least, are well adapted to shew us how to act, when such circumstances occur. The partings of friends and relatives are common: and, inasmuch as they give birth to a great variety of emotions in the mind, they elicit the inward character with great fidelity. Such is the incident which we are now about to consider, and which will reflect peculiar light on the dispositions of one, who, though a Moabitess by birth, was one of the progenitors of our blessed Lord.
From this farewell scene, and the distinguished excellence of Ruth’s behaviour, I shall be led to mark her character,
Simply as here depicted—
In the circumstances before us, she approves herself a pattern,
Of filial piety—
[Her mother-in-law, Naomi, had long endeared herself to her; and now was about to part with her, and to return to the land of Israel. But Ruth would not suffer her to depart alone, but determined to adhere to her to the latest hour of her life. Nor in this determination was she biased by any selfish hopes of future aggrandizement. Her love was altogether pure and disinterested. She well knew, that, though Naomi was once possessed of opulence, she was now reduced to poverty: nor had Naomi any surviving son, who might be united to her, and raise up seed to his departed brother. All this was faithfully represented by Naomi, both to her and to her sister Orpah, in the most affecting terms: “Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? Are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters; go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have a husband also to-night, and should bear sons, would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? Nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much, for your sakes, that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me. And they lift up their voice, and wept again [Note: ver. 11–14.].” But nothing could shake the resolution of Ruth: she determined to renounce all her old relatives, and the prospects she might have in her native land, and to cleave steadfastly to Naomi, even unto death. And the manner in which she refused to acquiesce in her mother’s proposal was tender and affectionate in the extreme: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee.” This, in other words, was as if she had said, “You know that any request of thine, however difficult or self-denying it were, would be obeyed with the utmost alacrity: but to ask me to forsake thee, this is too much: it would break my heart: I could not do it: I pray you to forbear putting me to so severe a trial: ‘Entreat me not to leave thee;’ for the alternative, of parting with thee or disobeying thy command, is as a sword in my bones, a wound which I cannot possibly endure. Be the sacrifice ever so great, I am ready to make it; I shall delight in making it.”
Thus did this duteous female, from love to her mother, make, in effect, the very reply which St. Paul, many hundred years afterwards, gave, from love to the Saviour, and on an occasion not very dissimilar: “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus [Note: Act_21:13.].”]
Of vital godliness—
[This was at the root, and was the true spring of her determined resolution: “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” She had been instructed by her mother in the knowledge of the true God; and she determined to consecrate herself to his service, and to take her portion with his people. This was very particularly noticed by Boaz, as no less conspicuous than her filial piety: “It hath fully been shewn me all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband; and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore: the Lord recompense thy work; and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust [Note: Rth_2:11-12.].” Her desire after God was paramount to every other consideration under heaven. She believed that his people were happy above all other people: and, whatever she might endure in this life, she determined to unite with them, and, as far as possible, to participate their lot. Her views of religion might not be clear: but it is evident that a principle of vital godliness was rooted in her heart, and powerfully operative in her life. In fact, she acted in perfect conformity with that injunction that was afterwards given by our Lord, “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple [Note: Luk_14:33.].”]
But her character will appear in yet brighter colours, if we consider it,
As compared with that of Orpah and Naomi—
Compare it with that of Orpah—
[Orpah loved her mother-in-law; and, at first, determined not to part from her. In answer to the suggestions of Naomi, she joined with Ruth in saying, “Surely we will return with thee unto thy people [Note: ver. 10.].” But, when a faithful representation was given her respecting the sacrifices she would be called to make, she repented of her good intentions, and, taking an affectionate leave of her mother-in-law, “returned to her own people, and to her idol-gods [Note: ver. 15.].” Like the rich youth in the Gospel, she departed, reluctantly indeed, yet finally and for ever [Note: Mat_19:21-22.]. “Orpah,” it is said, “kissed her mother-in-law: but Ruth clave unto her [Note: ver. 14.].” Happy Ruth! “thou didst choose the better part: and never was it taken from thee [Note: Luk_10:42.],” nor ever hadst thou reason to regret thy choice. It was wise as that of Moses, when he “chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season [Note: Heb_11:25.].” We congratulate thee on the strength of thy principles, or rather, on the grace given thee of the Lord. Unhappy Orpah! we know not what was thy condition in after life: but, whatever it was, dost thou not now bemoan thine instability? Dost thou not now wish that thou hadst been faithful to thy convictions, and hadst cast in thy lot with God’s chosen people? As for thee, Ruth, thou favoured saint, even if thou hadst been as miserable in after life as thou wast happy, we should have pronounced thee blessed: but doubly blessed wast thou in the distinctions conferred upon thee in this world, as earnests of the glory which thou inheritest in the realms of bliss, even in the bosom of thy descendant, thy Saviour, and thy God.]
Compare it, also, with that of Naomi—
[That Naomi was a pious character, we have no doubt; and amiable too: for by her conduct she conciliated the regard of both her daughters-in-law, who, though Moabites by birth, were through her convinced of the superior excellence of the Jewish religion, and the superior happiness of those who were imbued with it. And we cannot but earnestly call the attention of Christian parents to this trait of Naomi’s character. For there are too many, who, whilst they profess godliness, make it odious to all who come in contact with them, and especially to those who are dependent on them. Their tempers are so hasty, so imperious, so ungoverned, that their very daughters are glad of an occasion to get from under their roof. I must tell all such professors, that they are a disgrace to their profession; and that if religion do not make us lovely and amiable in all our family relations, it does nothing for us, but deceives us to our ruin.
Yet I cannot think very highly of Naomi’s character, when I see the advice which she gave to her daughters. She loved them, it is true: but her love was of too carnal a nature: for she had more respect to their temporal welfare than to the welfare of their souls. Some would offer an apology for her; that she only intended to try the sincerity of their love. But, supposing she had done this in the first instance, which yet she had no right to do, especially when they had both said, “Surely we will return with thee unto thy people:” (I say again, she had no right to “cast a stumbling-block in their way,” and by repeated entreaties to urge their return to their idolatrous friends and their idol-gods:) but when she saw, unhappily, that she had prevailed with Orpah, had she any right to urge Ruth to follow her sad example? Should she not rather have rent her garments, yea, and torn the very hair from her head with anguish, at the thought of having so fatally prevailed to ruin her daughter’s soul? Should she not rather have striven to undo what she had done to Orpah, than continue to exert the same fatal influence with Ruth? Should not the advice of Moses to Hobab have been hers to both of them, “Come with me, and God will do you good [Note: Num_10:29-32.]?” Naomi, thou hast given us a picture too often realized in the present day: in thee we see a mother more anxious about the providing of husbands for her daughters, than the saving of their souls. Thou didst love thy daughters, it is true; but thy concern for their temporal welfare overpowered all other considerations, and not only kept thee from leading their minds to God, but actually induced thee to exert thine influence in opposition to their good desires: thou wast a tempter to them, when thou shouldest have done all in thy power to keep them from temptation, and have had thy whole soul bent on securing their everlasting salvation. Beloved Ruth, we bless God that thou wast enabled to withstand the solicitations given thee, though from so high a quarter: for we are told by our Lord and Saviour, “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me [Note: Mat_10:37.].” Thou didst well, in that thy refusal was so tender, so affectionate, so respectful: but still thou didst well, also, that thou wast firm. Thy firmness has reflected a lustre on thy character: for whilst it detracted nothing from thy filial piety, seeing that “we must obey God rather than man,” it has shewn how much more pure thy love was than that of thy mother, and how much more rigid and firm thy piety.]
[Learn, I pray you, from Naomi; learn to instruct your children and dependents in the knowledge of the true God, and to conciliate their regards by the most unwearied efforts of tenderness and love. But beware how you discourage in them any good desire. I will grant that there are in Scripture other instances of persons labouring to counteract the movements of personal affection. Ittai, the Gittite, when following David in his flight from Absalom, was urged to leave him [Note: 2Sa_15:19-21.]; as Elisha also was repeatedly by Elijah previous to his assumption to heaven [Note: 2Ki_2:2; 2Ki_2:4; 2Ki_2:6.]. But there was no positive duty lying upon them, or, at all events, none which David and Elijah were not at liberty to dispense with. But Naomi had no right whatever to discourage the pious purposes of her daughters: if she had chosen to dispense with their attendance on her, she had no authority to dissuade them from devoting themselves to God. Remember, then, the true limits of your authority: it may be, and should be, energetically used for God: but it must not, even in advice, be used against him. Your influence is great; and on it may depend the salvation of your offspring. Oh, what a grief must it have been to Naomi, in after life, that she had given such fatal counsel to her apostate daughter! And who can tell what cause you may have to bewail the discouraging of pious emotions in your children, even in one single instance? And think not that even piety renders this caution unnecessary. Rebekah was pious; yet when she feared that her beloved Jacob would lose the birthright, what a device did she suggest, and with what horrid impiety did she urge him to adopt it [Note: Gen_27:12-13.]! Beware, I say, of following Naomi in this respect; and rather use your influence, like Lois and Eunice, for the training of your Timothy to the highest attainments of piety and virtue [Note: 2Ti_1:5.].]
To young people—
[Cultivate, to the utmost, an affectionate and obediential spirit towards your parents. This is a frame of mind peculiarly pleasing to God. When he enjoined it in the Decalogue, he wrote it with his own finger on a tablet of stone: and it is distinguished above all the other commandments by this, that it was “the first commandment with promise [Note: Eph_6:2.].” The exercise of this spirit pre-eminently characterized our blessed Lord in his early days: “He went down with his parents to Nazareth, and was subject unto them [Note: Luk_2:51.].” This is the best return that you can make to your parents for all the care which they take of you, and all their labours for your good. Especially, if, like Naomi, they be brought into affliction and penury, forsake them not then; but rather redouble your attentions to them; and account no sacrifice too great to make, if by any means you may be a comfort to them in their declining years.
At the same time be attentive to the concerns of your souls. Embrace the God of Israel as your God; and worship him, and serve him, and “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart [Note: Act_11:23.].” And let no hopes of improving your temporal condition, either in marriage or in any other way, draw you aside from him. Renounce all for God; and “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord.” If others turn from the Lord, and go back unto the world, do not ye follow them. Even though they be your near relatives, with whom you have been bound in ties of the closest amity, let them not prevail: yea, though their prudence be proposed to you as the fittest pattern to follow, and the proposal come from the highest authority, still be faithful to your convictions; and be faithful to your God. This will issue most to your satisfaction; this will bring you peace at the last: for so it is written; “Hearken, O daughter, and incline thine ear: forget, also, thine own people, and thy father’s house: so will the King greatly desire thy beauty; for He is thy Lord; and worship thou him [Note: Psa_45:10-11.].”]