“The days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1) were difficult. The people who worshipped God were unfaithful, fought among themselves, and experienced oppression from other peoples. Where could faithfulness be found? The story of Ruth is one of faithfulness in a context where women’s lives and actions were not usually retold. Women were seen and defined primarily in their relationships to men. Whose daughter, sister, wife or mother a woman was defined who she was. Family relationships were the basis of identity and entitlement to property and position.
Having married and left their parents’ homes, Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth were identified in relationship to their husbands. When the men died, the women faced crises of identity as well as economics. Respectable women were not on their own. How could they provide for themselves? In what relationships could they find what they needed? Naomi resolved that each should return to her home. Orpah agreed but Ruth resisted. Ruth remained with Naomi and returned together to Bethlehem, Naomi and Elimelech’s home. In Bethlehem, they were greeted with some astonishment. What will become of them? Perhaps we have a hint of the possibilities in the change from Bethlehem being a place of famine (Ruth 1:1) to being a place where the barley harvest was about to begin (Ruth 1:22).
Faithfulness to God is realized in our faithfulness to other people. Faithfulness in relationships with other people takes us beyond the boundaries of gender roles, language, nationality, ethnicity, and family status and conventions. Ruth, a Moabite and not born of the people of ancient Israel, bound herself in faithfulness relationship. Her descendants include ancient Israel’s King David and Jesus (Matthew 1:5,6,17). The book of Ruth shows that faithfulness takes us beyond the bounds of family conventions. It also shows how intimate, familial relationships can take on historical significance.