Orpah having proved unfaithful, Naomi said to Ruth, "Return thou after thy sister-in-law." As if she had said, "If thy heart is as her heart, and thy soul and spirit as her soul and spirit, thou wilt be no companion for me, a poor, sorrowful, bereaved, broken-hearted widow, against whom the hand of the Lord is gone out. If thou art nothing but a Moabitess inwardly, and still loveth to worship the gods of Moab, if thy heart is still with the people of thy nativity, if thou hast no mind for my God and his worship, if thou art not one with me in divine things,—in the faith and fear, and life and love of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, return thou after thy sister-in-law. If thy love is only natural, if thou merely seest that I have the true God in my soul and thou hast no heart for him, but art still an idolater, and not estranged and in spirit separated from thy people, their ways, customs, and worship of false gods, thou wilt, sooner or later, repent and turn back in heart, as did Lot's wife, who came out of Sodom with her husband: 'But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.'" (Gen. 19:26)
"'Return thou after thy sister-in-law.' Thou art a Moabitish woman and I am a Jewess, both by a natural and a spiritual birth. I am one of those who are circumcised in heart and belong to the city of Bethlehem, where my God and Redeemer is to be born a Child and a Saviour. I belong to a people who worship God in the Spirit; not a visible God, but a God who is invisible, a God who requires to be served and loved with all the heart and soul, mind and strength. Though by marrying my son thou art become my daughter-in-law, natural relationship cannot produce spiritual union, nor is this an evidence that thou art a new creature, nor will it give thee acceptance with my people and my God. Nay, thy presence at Bethlehem, if thou hast not the grace and Spirit of Christ in thy soul, will rather entail upon me reproach and contempt; for through my coming into the land of Moab and giving my son to thee in marriage, I have violated the commandment of my God which says, 'Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.'" (Deut. 7:3)
But the exhortation of Naomi had no effect upon the mind of Ruth to cause her to return after her sister-in-law. Indeed, it had the very opposite effect, as may be seen by her words, spoken out of an honest heart: "And Ruth said, 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; where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me." This was indeed a noble resolution, made and kept in the strength of the Spirit of life and power, of which she was evidently a blessed partaker. Hitherto Ruth had said but little, but now she speaks out of the abundance of her heart.
There is a cluster of things in these verses: First: "Intreat me not to leave thee," which shows that she felt spiritual love and union to Naomi and saw her to be a woman blessed with the fear of God and adorned with the graces of the Spirit of life. Sinners cleave to sinners, and saints to saints. Ruth could no longer conceal the work of God's Spirit in her soul, and that work manifested itself in cleaving to one who had the life and grace of God in her heart. Out of Ruth's soul now burst forth proofs of the love, union, and affection that she felt to Naomi, from whose company she could not bear the thought of separation; for she thought more of this good and gracious woman than she did of all her natural relations, her city, and her people. This sets forth the love and union of sanctified sinners to the church of God in Jesus Christ; for such see the blessed state of the spouse of Christ, even in this life, and also the glorious state into which she will be exalted in the kingdom of glory hereafter. There is that in the souls of all the redeemed that earnestly covets to share with God's people grace here and glory hereafter. Where this love and union exists, although a child of God may, for a time, have but little to say, and meets with many rebuffs from the saints, and, for the want of clear evidences, may not be received; yet, under all discouragements, they cleave to the most gracious and best taught saints of Christ; and if they will not, for the want of satisfactory evidence, receive them into church membership, they will still attend with them, and can say from the depth of soul-feeling, "Intreat me not to leave thee."
Again: Where there is a special love and union to a servant of God and minister of Christ, through whose labors the soul has been graciously favored with some sweet and clear testimony of the lovingkindness of God, and an unction from the Holy One has attended the preached Word to the heart, under the influence of which the child of God has felt as if he could depart and be with Christ, the words aptly apply, "Intreat me not to leave thee." When a child of God is thus favored under one of God's own sent servants, a union of soul springs up which will last to all eternity; for this union is in Christ, to whom all the saints are joined: "He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." (1 Cor. 6:17) This is a secret never known by hypocrites nor dead professors. Paul had no real union of soul except to those who had received the word and Spirit of Christ. Like cleaves to like. Water and oil will not mix. Twixt a saint and a sinner dead in sin there can be no spiritual union. Christ fed none by his Word and Spirit except those who clave to him; and none clave to Christ but those who are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. Sinners shall be destroyed out of the earth; but "the children of thy servants shall continue." (Ps. 102:28) Saints greatly prize the approbation of God; and though his church here be, like Naomi, in sorrow, affliction, and trial, they can say, "Intreat me not to leave thee."
Secondly: "Or to return from following after thee." If she might not walk abreast with her she was desirous of following behind. This sets forth the grace of humility. Poor converted sinners, poor Gentile dogs feel their unworthiness before God, and think themselves unfit to walk with the church of God, upon whom they look as the excellent of the earth, and view them as sons and daughters of the Most High God, and they want their company and desire to dwell with them. Naomi's heart was towards Bethlehem, the house of bread, and there Ruth would go to partake of some crumbs. This is the case with all the children of God, and if the Master of the house should say, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to the dogs," the sinner has a quick reply for Jesus Christ: "Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table." The Lord always puts a blessed encomium on the faith of these humble souls, and adds an exclamation, "O woman, great is thy faith!"
Naomi traveled towards Bethlehem in sorrow of spirit, and Ruth went with her. Those who become true followers of Christ and his church know what it is to have inward sorrow and poverty of soul: "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:3) The three thousand who were converted on the day of Pentecost all felt to be of a sorrowful spirit, and so were prepared to receive the word with gladness, and put on Christ by being baptized in his name. True, they met with many trials afterwards, and when they were ready to faint Paul addressed them, saying, "That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Heb. 6:12) Naomi, in her trials and sorrows, was seeking her Lord and her God, and Ruth was a follower; for she wanted the same God and the same salvation. The Psalmist knew what it was to walk in this path when he said, "My soul followeth hard after thee." (Ps. 63:8) The whole church of the First-born seek one and the same blessed Object, which is Christ, nor can they be content without him; for though he may tear and smite them with various trials, yet faith says, "Come, and let us return unto the Lord; for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us; in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord; his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth." (Hos. 6:1-3)
Christ says, "He that followeth me, him will my Father honour." This following the Lord is in keeping his word and commandments. It is following him in the spirit of the mind; as Paul says: "Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit;" (Rom. 8:1) or, as it is written in another place of those who are seeking to be justified and saved by Christ as was Abraham: "Who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised."(Rom. 4:12) Paul says, "that faith," which seeks nothing but Christ, sees no one that it fixes upon but Christ, believes in no one but Christ; by this faith we walk in the steps of our father Abraham.
Naomi, when returning to her city, though greatly tried, was in the right way and knew the Lord; but was not able at that time to say, "My Lord," but she said, "The hand of the Lord is gone out against me;" yet being one of his daughters, her soul pressed after him. Paul knew what it was to seek and press after Christ; as he says: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Jesus Christ.... I press toward the mark;" and then he encourages those who are seeking and hoping to attain to the full knowledge and likeness of Christ: "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample." (Phil. 3:17)
Many things fall out by the way to try the faith and hope of the followers of Jesus, and yet they hold on "through evil and through good report; as dying, and behold, they live," with sometimes a sweet glimpse of the King in his beauty and of the land that is very far off; then again all is hidden, and the waves and billows of temptation roll over their souls, and they cry out, "We see not our signs." (Ps. 74:9) God's people have much and great inward opposition, even as Christ had outwardly, and yet by faith they pursue after him, with holy desire to be found in him. Thus they are separated and formed for the glory of God, and are by the Blessed Spirit and a new birth made new creatures and called virgins; for they have a new nature and a new name: "These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoevcr he goeth." (Rev. 14:4)
Naomi was going back to Bethlehem to seek the truth and hear the Word of God; for there is not the slightest evidence that she had found truth or heard the Holy Scriptures preached in Moab. In this also Ruth became a follower. The truth in its experience and power is not to be found in the congregations of the world: "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" The church of Christ is the pillar and ground of the truth. God will bless the word of his gospel from the lips of his own sent servants, though, with Isaiah, they have to cry, "I am a man of unclean lips," (Isa. 6:5) yet God says, "I will work, and who shall let (obstruct or hinder), it?" (Isa. 43:13) When the Word in the spirit and power of it is sent into sinners, quickening their dead souls into spiritual and eternal life, there is a turning from darkness to light, and they become one in heart with the servants of God and with God himself; as Paul says: "And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." (1 Thess. 1:6)