On its surface, the relationship between Ruth the Moabitess and Naomi the Judahitess was that of family or rather family-in-law. However, everything that forged or would have perpetuated those legal family bonds was either lost or never came into being in the first place. Naomi’s husband Elimelech and her two sons Mahlon and Chilion were all dead. Ruth and her sister Orpah were widows without children from Naomi’s sons. Even the socio-religious tensions between Judah and Moab, which had been overcome by desperation in response to a famine in the land of Israel, were now renewed reality as the famine had ended during the widowhood of the three women.
Family ties and economic factors would have compelled all three widows to return to their blood kindred, and this was exactly what Naomi urged her two daughters-in-laws to do — to return to their own mother’s household and to find new husbands and have families. Orpah eventually chose to return to her own mother when pressed, but Ruth clung to Naomi.
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 stay I will stay.
Your people shall be my people,
And your God will be my God.
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.”
Some form of love gripped Ruth and overcame all other loves expressed in obligations to familial bonds, religious devotion, and national allegiances. Given what this form of love was not, on account of everything it was resisting, and that this love was therefore rooted in the individuality of the person who was loved, it must have been friendship. That it could actually successfully overpower the draws of loves toward natural family, pagan gods, and cultural affiliations goes to show how strong friendship can be.