In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem.
Three women trudged down that dusty path, one elderly and two much younger. I don’t think we get just how vulnerable they must have been in that moment. The older woman turns to the younger and urges them to leave her. Return to your homes, she tells them. They can take care of you better than I can. One of them, Orpah, takes her up on the offer but the other will not leave her mother-in-law. Her words of devotion and commitment have made her famous. The friendship of these two women of different generations has come down to us as one of the greatest friendship stories of all time.
My wife shops on a certain day of the week. It is convenient for her schedule, but it is also the day she can see them. They are a woman and her daughter-in-law who almost always shop the same day. They run into each other in one aisle or another and catch up. The daughter-in-law is effectively blind. She keeps a hand on the cart or the older woman. I have been along to meet them. They are a sweet pair. It is clear they love each other.
The Bible makes a particular point to say that Ruth is the ancestor of both King David and Jesus, the son of David. He has Moabite in his genes. But I think the Spirit of God also wanted to us to see this friendship between these two women. It is good to have a friend. Life is better with someone to confide in and to support in their need. Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger and the alien, even a Moabite girl found a home in Bethlehem, in the family of Jesus. He also calls us to friendships. You probably already have one of those. Call your friend, have a cup of coffee together, and catch up. Friendship is a holy thing.