Ruth is the leading character in the book of Ruth, which is named after her. Her story illustrates that God’s grace and mercy expand beyond Israel to include all peoples. Ruth is in fact remembered for her pledge of total commitment and faithfulness to Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17). Ruth clung to Naomi even at the cost of relinquishing her people and her gods in favor of Naomi’s people, the Israelites, and Naomi’s God, Yahweh: “Your people will be my people and your God my God” (verse 16). The totality of this promise is emphasized by its seriousness. Yet Ruth extended her promise still further, beyond death itself: “Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried” (verse 17).
These words may sound anticlimactic in comparison to accepting Naomi’s people and her God. But to recognize their meaning, one must value the cultural mind-set of the ancient Near Eastern peoples. All the death accounts of the patriarchs mention the burial, often at length (Genesis 23:1-20). When a patriarch died, he was “gathered to his people.” Jacob and Joseph died in Egypt, but their bones were laid to rest in the Promised Land. The location of burial was significant to them. Ruth accomplished her pledge by calling down God’s punishment on herself if “even death” (Ruth 1:17) parted her from Naomi. Even after the death of Naomi, Ruth would exist, die and be buried in Bethlehem. In this manner, Ruth recognized herself with Naomi’s community in the most supreme manner possible.