“For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Ruth 1:16 JPS
Your people – No declaration in the Tanakh carries more impact than Ruth’s declaration of personal commitment. It has been used over and over as a statement of true faith, especially the faith of a Gentile. But there are a few important elements that we must take into account before we decide this is the epitome of belief.
First, we should notice that Ruth’s dedication and devotion is to a person – Naomi. Ruth is not making a declaration of faith in God. She is asserting her hesed obligation to her mother-in-law. Yes, Ruth’s dedication exemplifies God’s hesed, but by itself it is not the usual “confession of faith” that we so often expect. Perhaps noticing that this is intensely personal is enough for us to acknowledge that hesed with God is also intensely personal. A statement of faith or the confession of a creed doesn’t quite match up to the kind of intimate vow Ruth makes.
Secondly, we must acknowledge that even if Ruth declares her obligation, this is not the same as the community accepting her declaration. In fact, one of the themes of Ruth is the resistance of the community toward this obvious outsider. Naomi herself hints at this opposition. It is certainly evident in the speeches of the Israelite women of Bethlehem. They do not refer to Ruth as anything except the “Moabite” woman until Boaz marries her. Only then does she become a fully-accepted member of the Bethlehem community.
This raises an important question for those of us prone to evangelical thinking. The question is this: “Does someone become a citizen of the Kingdom simply by declaring so, or does citizenship require acceptance by the community?” Eskenazi remarks: “Would the text’s original audience have understood that Ruth could unilaterally declare herself to be part of Naomi’s people? One investigator has concluded, with justification, that such a change in self-identification would not have been recognized without a communal confirmation and other actions.” Evangelicals tend to place the emphasis on a personal declaration of faith. Joining a community comes after believing in Jesus. But Ruth suggests that the community looks for transformed behaviors before it acknowledges the declaration of faith. One does not become a part of the community of God by just saying so. There must be proof in actions.
Prior to antebellum tent revivals, the role of the community was clearly demonstrated in church membership. Joining a congregation often took several years. There were examinations of a potential member’s actions and rigorous investigation of the applicant’s theological understanding. Then came the itinerant circuit preachers, offering quick declarations and immediate inclusion. The rest is history. Today our churches are filled with people whose declaration of faith is little more than acknowledging that Jesus did something a long time ago and that gets me into heaven. Perhaps we need to take stock of the women of Bethlehem and ask, “How do we know that you mean what you say?” When saving a soul from hell is the urgency of the mission, transformed behavior gets put on the shelf. But to make “your people my people” takes more than words, doesn’t it?
Topical Index: Ruth 1:16, your people, amek ami, community, confession
 Tamara Eskenazi and Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Ruth: The JPS Bible Commentary, p. 22.