Here is what Ruth said to Naomi:
“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”
Here is R.C. Sproul’s note on Ruth:
The Hebrew for clung in Ruth 1:14 is the same word used to describe the marriage relationship. In other words, Ruth clung to her mother-in-law in covenant fidelity, knowing that she was bound by her promise before the face of God to remain with and aid her mother-in-law, no matter how difficult it would be. This is the same devotion we are to have to the Lord’s people today. No matter our flaws, we Christians must love and serve one another.
And Matthew Henry’s Commentary:
Nothing could be said more fine, more brave, than this. She seems to have had another spirit, and another speech, now that her sister had gone, and it is an instance of the grace of God inclining the soul to the resolute choice of the better part. Draw me thus, and we will run after thee. Her mother’s dissuasions made her the more resolute; as when Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord,” they said it with the more vehemence, “Nay, but we will.”
We might say today that no one can commit to such a thing as Ruth did without some move of the Spirit. This is an amazing speech from someone like Ruth, amazing and weighted with intensity. She’s entering into the covenant here. And we can’t think she doesn’t know what she’s saying, either. There is plenty of evidence that God’s covenantal structure was present in ancient non-Jewish traditions as well. This fine lady is dropping everything to align herself with Israel.
These are the membership vows we took upon joining our church. I’ve edited so they are personal and line up. The reference is the PCA Book of Church Order, Chapter 57.
I acknowledge myself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and I receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel? I now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that I will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ. I promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of my ability. I submit myself to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace.
I wonder that Ruth 1:16 isn’t commonly considered in the basic introduction for new believers. I certainly never encountered it. I don’t think it was covered much in the years I was in the church as a kid, either. I think this is something to plumb out in discussion with those who frequently reach out in evangelism. When we follow-up with folks, should we not use such clear examples of covenant-making? I must admit, a die-hard Arminian can see the value in Ruth’s declaration here.
Someone could say that Ruth didn’t know what she was getting into here, and was just being expedient about the whole cleaving to Naomi. Ruth just needed something to hang on to, right? I doubt it was that easy, though certainly some pragmatism should be understood. Ruth wouldn’t have a naive approach to what she committed to, considering it was a Jewish family into which she’d married and a Jewish woman with whom she was returning to Israel. Though Alimelech had taken his family out from Israel, I highly doubt he could have conceived of taking Israel out of his family. The traditions and practices would’ve remained, and from first meeting to final words in that relationship, Ruth and Orpah would have been exposed to the richness of the Israelites’ relationship to God. No doubts she had the best introduction to what she was getting into well before she committed herself to Ruth and the One True God on the roadside.
I wonder that our churches do not query us in the way that Ruth volunteered herself. I wonder if there’s anyone today who has been asked,
“Where we go, will you go? Where we lodge, will you lodge? Will our people be your people, and our God, your God? Where we die, will you die, and there be buried? Shall thus the LORD do to us, and worse, if anything but death parts you and us?”
It sounds a bit harsh for these modern days, doesn’t it?
So there’s another version:
1. Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?
2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?
4. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?
5. Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
Updated for modern parlance and conversant with the realized covenant of Grace, of course, but isn’t it quite similar? The God of Israel instituted the church; and it is Christ’s body, sustained by Him, founded on Him, with all members finding their place in Him. We can all agree on that, it being well-developed throughout the New Testament.
So I find that this pair of vows, in Ruth and in the church are important enough to make me wonder what in the world could possibly be right about a church that refuses to require this of her members? Shouldn’t that be cause for deep concern? That one who hasn’t committed to the people of God, to Israel, to Christ is seen as an accepted, acceptable part of the Body? Good Lord! What standard is there for communion if not this? It would be like the President just walking in after elections and taking over the Oval Office without first standing in front of the nation and taking the Oath of Office! Only worse! God’s people are in office for far more than 4 years in a country far larger than one nation. We’re eternally bound to God and His country! And in our commitment, do we not absolutely have to have a door into that commitment? Dare I say a public one?
I didn’t have a problem taking the vows of membership at New Life. Now, after a year here, having learned much more about what Reformed, Confessional, Creedal and Covenantal really mean, I would retake those vows in a heartbeat, and say them again with far more gravity than the first time. I realize that we have a situation very analogous to Ruth’s covenant promise when we come to Christ’s church. I don’t see how a church could survive otherwise, for without these covenant oaths, there isn’t even a door-keeper. Ruth understood that, and said the password – and I don’t for a minute assume she didn’t intend to make this in front of God as much as Naomi and then expect to have to maintain the same before the Israel she was about to encounter.
Sheesh. The severity of these oaths, the commitment God has delivered to us, in light of the salvation He has made for us, all should take our breath away. If the continuity of God’s covenants and the Biblical consistency of our own promises which we make in return isn’t obvious by now, where can we go? I guess the test really is, at some point, to look carefully and see if we can honestly say, along with Ruth,
“where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”
If that can happen, then we’ve at least the satisfaction of the keepers of the keys to Heaven.