I think Naomi’s influence and faith are often overlooked. While reading the book of Ruth we focus on Ruth’s commitment, but rarely talk about the circumstances that preceded and made Ruth’s declaration possible. Ruth states, “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!” (Ruth 1: 16-17 NRSV).
Ruth fully commits herself to Naomi. She is leaving behind her family, her home, her religious upbringing, and the most likely possibility of her remarrying and having children by refusing to return to her mother’s house. She does all this because of her bond with her mother-in-law, Naomi. For Ruth to commit herself for life to Naomi, and Naomi’s people, and Naomi’s God, Ruth had to have been deeply influenced by the faithful life that Naomi had led. We do not have any details of Naomi and Ruth’s life while in Moab, but I believe we can ascertain that Naomi witnessed a great faith in God and taught this to her daughters-in-law as well. Ruth chooses not to return to the gods of her people and her parents; she clings to Naomi and the God Naomi has worshiped and praised. Ruth would have had years of seeing Naomi live out her faith and devotion to God while she was married to Naomi’s son.
Ruth 1 shows Naomi in a period of great grief. She believes God has witnessed against her, and she does not believe that her life has amounted to anything or made a difference. She returns to Bethlehem and claims that she went out full but has returned empty (Ruth 1:21). Additionally, she is so consumed with grief that she asks to be called Mara, which means bitterness, and not Naomi, which means pleasantness (Ruth 1:20). Naomi is so grief stricken that she is unable to see God’s blessing in her life; she sees and feels only the bitterness of her circumstances. Yet, this is not her whole story. Despite her perception of life and God in Ruth 1, we can know that the faithfulness of her past is reaping rewards in the present through Ruth’s commitment to Naomi. This foundation of faith established by Naomi while in Moab also leads to blessings in the future as we see as the story in Ruth unfolds and Naomi is restored and finds joy in the birth of Obed, Ruth and Boaz’ son.
Naomi may have felt that God was against her and that her faithfulness had not made a difference, but it did! God was with Naomi even though she did not see it. Ruth’s commitment is the result of Naomi’s faithful influence. This commitment by Ruth also then leads to Naomi once again seeing the blessings of God in her life. Naomi obviously witnessed a great faith in God which made Ruth’s proclamation possible.
Similarly, we may believe that our current bitter circumstances are proof that our faith has not made a difference, but this is not true. God is with us, and God is for us. Our bitter circumstances are not the result of God witnessing against us. We must persevere and trust in God. The faithfulness of our past will reap rewards even if we do not see it now. Our faithfulness does make a difference in the lives of others.