RUTH; Or, The Power of Affection
James Smith, 1856
"But Ruth replied: "Do not 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 anything but death separates you and me!" Ruth 1:16-17
Sin always brings chastisement to the saint — and punishment to the unbeliever. The Jew was required to remain in the promised land. He had no right to leave it, except specially commanded by God. The direction and promise given to him prohibited it. God said, "Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shall you dwell in the land, and truly you shall be fed." Elimelech and Naomi were alarmed at the famine. Without waiting for divine direction, they took their two sons and went into the land of Moab. There the sons married contrary to the law — an act which always brings parties under the divine displeasure. The parents seem to have sanctioned the deed, and now they must smart for their folly.
Elimelech and his two sons die. Naomi is left a sorrowful widow in a strange land, with two widowed daughters. What a sad household. What bitter reflections, what gloomy thoughts, pass through the mother's mind!
But sovereign grace takes occasion to glorify itself, even by men's sins and inconsistencies. The mother talks of her own beloved land, of what God has done for Israel, and what God was to Israel. She speaks of his character, his law, his worship, his promises, his well-ordered covenant. Her daughters-in-law are interested, and desire to hear more. She enters into detail, and speaks of the prophets God had sent, the judges he had raised up, and the wonderful deliverances he had wrought. Her congregation was small — but her testimony was not in vain. Her statements were simple — but the Holy Spirit applied them to the heart of Ruth. She listened, she was interested, she prayed, she was resolved. Every time she heard her mother-in-law speak of Bethlehem, and her people, she loved her more, and wished herself there, and among them.
At length, one day, as they sit conversing together, a traveler arrives — he had come from the borders of the promised land. Questions were asked, and the information is received that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread. Famine had given place to plenty, and now Naomi's withered heart revives. She sighs for her old home. She longs to look once more upon the noble hills, and tread the green valleys of her fatherland. She determines to leave Moab. Even this is painful, for how much she must leave behind her.
She calls her daughters, and informs them of her purpose, and they kindly go forth with her to assist and comfort her. Her kind heart and loving spirit had won their affections. Ten years they had been united, and therefore it was not to be expected that they could easily separate. No, they will go with her. At length she pauses, evidently the subject of deep emotions. The tears are dropping from her eyes, for the fountains of affection are unsealed. With tremulous voice she addresses them. But is she wise? Are her words the words of prudence? Does she speak like one who was living near to the Lord? Alas, no! The advice given is that of a backslider. But it is permitted to test her daughters.
They were now brought to the place where two ways meet. They must decide, and deliberately choose the God of Israel for their God — or go back to the idols of Moab. Let us hear Naomi. "Go, return each to her mother's house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant unto you that you may find rest, each of you in the house of another husband." How touching! How trying! What will be the outcome? The one is taken, the other left. Orpah weeps, kisses, and returns; but Ruth clung tightly unto her. Happy Ruth! Happy choice! Your name shall be realized now in your experience. It signifies filled, and you shall be full with the blessing of the Lord.
The love of Ruth was strong and steady. It was more than mere natural affection. She loved Naomi much as her mother: she loved her more as a saint of the Lord. She saw something more than nature in that venerable woman, something that she had never discovered in any of the idolatrous inhabititants of Moab. God's image was faintly reflected by her. What she saw — she admired, she loved, she desired to possess. She would go to Bethlehem. She would bid farewell to the land of her birth, the land she had loved. She would leave the fields where she had played in childhood, and the home where she had enjoyed as much happiness as generally falls to a heathen's lot. She would go to a people that she knew not heretofore. Her mind is fully made up. She could part with Orpah — but not with Naomi. She could kiss her sister, and bid her a final farewell; but she could not give up her mother-in-law.
Therefore she speaks in the tenderest tones, while her heart throbs with powerful emotions, and her eyes flow with tears, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you." I can leave Moab — but I cannot leave you. I can leave my father's house, and all my old and endeared associations — but I cannot leave you. My heart is won. If you speak of difficulties — I can surmount them. If you speak of dangers — I can brave them. If you speak of new customs — I can accommodate myself to them. If you speak of all being strange — I shall be happy with you. "Entreat me not to leave you." I can leave all else — but I cannot leave you.
"Where you go — I will go." The road may be rough, the journey may be long. Our privations may be great, and our dangers may be many. But, I will go — I cast in my lot with you.
"Where you lodge," however poor the dwelling, or however exposed the situation, if under the green tree, or the canvas tent, or in a house of sticks — "there will I lodge." What is good enough for you, is surely good enough for me. What can be borne by you, may well be borne by me. Anything, rather than a separation.
"Your people," — though all strangers, though of another race, though considered by my countrymen as enemies — yet "your people shall be my people." I adopt them as my fathers and brothers, my mothers and my sisters, and will cheerfully indentify myself with them.
"Your God," — though unknown until I knew you, though greatly unknown to me now — yet "your God — shall be my God." What I have heard of him has filled me with admiration, and fired me with zeal to be numbered with his worshipers. I feel confidence in his promises, reverence for his name, attachment to his people, and desire to know, observe, and enjoy his ordinances. I have compared what I have heard of him — with what I know of the gods of my country, and therefore I discard them, and choose Jehovah to be my God. Yes, "your God shall be my God, for I will worship none but him. I will trust in none but him. I will fear none but him. Daily will I seek to know him better, to love him more, and to serve him as he requires to be served. I will have but one God — and that shall be the God of Israel. To him my sacrifices shall be offered, to him my praises shall be presented, and to him my prayers shall ascend. Bear witness for me — that this day I avouch the Lord to be my God. I renounce the dunghill deities of Moab, the idols which my fathers have worshiped, and put my trust under the shadow of his wings.
This is the strongest proof of affection that can be given. The Lord himself asks the question, "Has a nation changed their gods?" A nation may not — but an individual has. Ruth has changed Chemosh for Jehovah. She will now believe, trust, and obey no other.
She proceeds, "Where you die will I die, and there will I be buried." I will lay my dying head on the same pillow; I will breathe out my departing spirit in the same room; I will have my bones laid in the same sepulcher with yours, that our dust may mingle, as our hearts are now united. And may the Lord punish me, as such betrayal would deserve — if I allow anything that can happen in this changing world to separate you and me. No, we are united for life. Nay, death shall not separate us; and may eternity be spent by us in each other's society!"
So strong was the affection of this Moabitish maiden for her Jewish mother-in-law, and so strikingly was the free and sovereign grace of God displayed in her conduct and experience. Chosen of God — she was brought to know God. Beloved by God — she was taught to renounce everything for God. Providence wrought out the purpose of grace. A holy God took advantage of man's transgression — to bring a poor Gentile sinner to himself! "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever!"
The affection of Ruth for Naomi represents the affections of the young Christian to the church of Jesus; and the language of Ruth is the language of the newly-converted soul. Such see a beauty in the Lord's people which they can see nowhere else. They feel an attachment to the saints which they feel for none on earth besides. They will follow them. If not admitted within — like David's sparrow, they will sit and chirp upon the house-top, and pick up the crumbs thrown from the children's table. You may startle them — but you cannot drive them away. You may discourage them — but you will not cause them to desert you. They look upon your privileges, and long to share them. They envy the poorest and lowest in the family.
Mentally they often exclaim, "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, and your tabernacles, O Israel' — as the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river side, as trees which the Lord has planted, and as cedar trees beside the water. Oh, that I were but qualified to be united to you, or worthy to share the lowest place among you!"
They long, desire, and pray, that they may be one with the church of Jesus; and at length, when their faith becomes stronger, when their love is inflamed, when their hearts are set at liberty — then they come forth and propose themselves for fellowship. True, many right-hearted — but weak believers, are kept back, imagining that the work is not deep enough, and their evidences are not bright enough; or fearing lest they should make shipwreck of faith — and bring dishonor upon that worthy name by which they desire to be called. Such forget that the church is the Lord's garden where his plants grow — his school where his pupils are taught — his house where his children are fed and nourished up into eternal life. They are not aware that no one ever falls while he is afraid of falling; or brings dishonor upon God's name while he is afraid of doing so. The fear of God is our preservative. The Lord has promised, saying, "I will put my fear into their hearts, and they shall not depart from me."
Take courage, fearful Christian. Advance, timid believer. Your knowledge may be small, so was Ruth's. Your former friends may have been heathenish — so was Ruth's. Your discouragements may be many — so were Ruth's. Even friends and relatives may wish to keep you back — so did Ruth's. No new thing nas happened unto you, the same has been experienced by thousands beside.
Are you willing to leave the Moab of this world? Are you prepared to take the Lord God of Israel, for your God? Are you desirous of casting in your lot with the Lord's people, to share their toils and their triumphs, their crosses and their comforts? If so, proceed. Press forwards. Propose yourself at once. Tarry no longer in Moab — but go up at once to Bethlehem. And if any of the cold-hearted or wrong-headed professors of the present day should seek to discourage you or turn you back — still press on — and say to the Lord's people, "Do not 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 anything but death separates you and me!"