Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." But Ruth said, "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!" When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.—Ruth 1: 15-18
One of the shortest books in the Old Testament —right up there with the Minor Prophets—Ruth is also the source of some of the most beautiful language in scripture, so beautiful, in fact, that this part of the King James version has for years been used in wedding ceremonies:
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.
How is it, then, that such a beautiful text as Ruth is also referred to as "the book of risks"?
First, some background: Because of a long famine, Naomi, husband Elimelech, and sons Mahlon and Chilion have left Israel and settled in Moab, hoping for a better life there. All goes well at first, but after 10 years, Elimelech dies and the two sons marry Moabite women. Another decade passes and the sons die as well, leaving Naomis daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth widows like herself.
By now the situation in Israel has improved, so Naomi decides to return home, taking her daughters-in-law with her. Along the way, however, she realizes the difficulty they will face if they leave; not only will they be treated in her country as foreigners who worship foreign gods, but they will be giving up an opportunity to remarry and have children of their own. Needing little convincing, Orpah turns back. Ruth, however, vows her allegiance to Naomi and continues with her on their trek.
When the two women reach Bethlehem, Ruth goes to the field of a rich man whose servants are harvesting barley and, as was common among the needy of that time, follows them, collecting whatever grain they miss. The landowner, Boaz, soon notices Ruth and is impressed by her diligence and modesty. He instructs the reapers to leave a little extra in the field for Ruth, and when mealtime comes, he invites her in to eat. After working into the night, Ruth finally returns home and learns from Naomi that Boaz is a relative of Elimelech.
With Naomi's prodding, Ruth encourages the attentions of Boaz, who ultimately agrees to serve as a "redeeming kinsman" —that is, according to the Torah law of "yibum," he consents to marry Ruth and father a child who will inherit the property of her late husband and carry on the family name.
In addition to being a story of faithful friendship and love, the book of Ruth also illustrates the necessity of taking risks in order to change the direction of one's life. A Moabite with her own religion and culture, Ruth leaves everything behind to join Naomi in returning to her homeland.
She adopts a new religion and, with it, a new identity. She takes a risk in marrying the much older Boaz, who in turn risks his wealth by extending kindness and generosity to her. What they find in stepping into the unknown, however, is a life that is richer than they could have dreamed.
O God, give me courage, like Ruth, to enter new territory, to risk the loss of an old identity that I might grow in gratitude and faith.