When Enrico and Amy first asked me to say a few words at what turned out to be a very basic and beautiful ceremony yesterday, they highlighted the special significance, for them, of the Ruth story and especially the words that Ruth spoke to Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17: “Do not urge me to leave you, or to go back from following after you. For wherever you go, I go; and wherever you stop over, I stop over. Your people is my people, and your Elohim is my Elohim. Where you die, I die, and there I shall be buried … for only death will part you from me.” There is no doubt that when Ruth later became the wife of Boaz, she took exactly the same approach and declared her complete loyalty to Boaz, his people, his Elohim, his beliefs and his destiny.
As I was thinking about Ruth and her declaration of complete loyalty, and what it meant in the context of a marriage covenant between a man and a woman, it struck me that, before all of this could happen, Ruth had to re-think and re-align her former loyalties, traditions and ideas. Let us just take the very simple “Wherever you go, I go” as an example. Saying this is quite easy. Doing it is another ball game. Wherever you go, I go. But wait a minute. There were places that I loved to go to before, that you don’t even know about! And there are places that you enjoy going to now, that do not interest me at all! And sometimes you stop, or don’t go anywhere, when I would have loved to go and to explore and enjoy myself! Doesn’t it sound familiar? It applies to friendships, in general. It applies to married couples. But the beauty of this story is that it also applies to our walk with Yahweh.
The aspect of complete loyalty is non-negotiable in our walk with Yahweh. There is absolutely no place for disloyalty or divided loyalties. That is why the Creator often used the metaphor of a marriage covenant and, through his prophets, accused his people of continuously running after other so-called mighty ones, like a married woman running after other partners. This tendency of looking for other mighty ones and craving for the practices associated with other mighty ones, was evident, even as early as the wilderness period in the book of Exodus. In this week’s parashah we read about the golden calf episode and the assembly of people pointing to this graven image, saying, these are the mighty ones (or: this is the mighty one) who brought us out of the land of Egypt! At this stage, one can clearly see that the people of Israel have not yet re-aligned their loyalties towards the One who introduced them into his wonderful covenant. In essence, this covenant was simple and straightforward: I shall be your Elohim, and you will be my people. That’s it. I shall lead you; I shall protect you; I shall love you; I shall teach you. What I expect of you is to love me back and accept and obey my teachings. But not in the wilderness period, nor in the subsequent periods of the history of the people of Israel, did they succeed in fully re-aligning themselves and becoming loyal followers of Yahweh.
There is another passage, that appears much earlier in Scriptures, that also illustrates that what applies to the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, also applies to our covenant with Yahweh and our walk with Him. This passage is Gen 2:24 where Yahweh declared: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh”. We all know about the importance of both leaving and cleaving in a marriage relationship. We have all seen examples of where not only the married partners, but also their parents, seem to have no clue about the importance of this important shift in loyalty that absolutely NEEDS to take place in order for marriage to work. And exactly the same principle applies to our walk with Yahweh. This verse is not saying that we should forsake all our previous relationships and acquaintances. But it DOES imply that a re-alignment with regards to loyalty has to take place. To such a degree that Y’shua declared, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Mark 10:37). This principle is not only about people, and our relationships with people. It stretches much wider. Truly, it should be the desire of our hearts to leave every single practice, or hobby, or obsession, or conviction, or doctrine or whatever form of exclusive loyalty there may be that is occupying our minds, in order to CLEAVE to Yahweh and to become one with Him and his way of thinking, his pattern of doing, and one with those that He had chosen for Himself.
The theme of absolute loyalty to Yahweh, and re-aligning one’s own thought patterns and lifestyle, when this is not the case, runs through Scriptures like a golden thread. In Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:9 it is stated, “And you shall know that Yahweh … is Elohim, the trustworthy El guarding covenant and kindness for a thousand generations with those who love Him, and those who guard His commands.” Covenant and kindness. What a combination! Not covenant and confusion, or covenant and criticism, but covenant and kindness. What about Yahweh’s loyalty? He is trustworthy to the extreme! And He looks after his own, for a thousand generations! “Thousand” in the sense of: It cannot even be counted! Isn’t it time that we take another look at this kind of loyalty and re-align our own loyalty and commitment to this One who took the step of becoming intensely involved in our lives?
In Mishleh (Proverbs) 18:24 it is written, “A man of many friends might come to ruin, but there is a Loving One Who sticks closer than a brother!” If one substitutes the word “friends” in this verse with “loyalties”, it actually tells us that Yahweh’s loyalty to us is absolutely beyond doubt, but still we prefer to hang onto our own loyalties and when it comes to the most important things in life, we often choose to exclude the “Loving One who sticks closer than a brother”! Let us choose today, not to be like many of our fathers, those of “a stubborn and rebellious generation, who did not prepare their hearts, whose spirit was not steadfast to Elohiem” (Ps 78:8).
The prophets, too, knew about the importance of re-aligning one’s loyalty towards the Almighty. In chapter 6 of Hoshea, the prophet reminds the people that Yahweh’s going forth is as certain as the morning and as the latter rain. But the commitment of his people, both Yehudah and Ephraim, is like a morning cloud and like early dew that vanish before the end of day. Sometimes, I do sense the same kind of instability in my own commitment to Yahweh and I find myself asking forgiveness for the poor way in which my life reflects the absolute faithfulness of the One that has brought such a huge difference and significance to my life. In chapter 6 of the book of MichaYah (Mica), the prophet looks at the faithfulness of Yahweh and asks questions like: How low should I bow before this Elohim and how many offerings should I bring to Him? At last he answers: He has declared to you, O man, what is good. And what does Yahweh require of you but to do right, and to long for commitment, and to walk humbly with your Elohim?
Part of this week’s parashah is Shemot (Exodus) 31, in which the day of the Shabbat is put before the people of Israel as “a sign between you and Me throughout your generations.” A sign of what? A number of things, according to this passage. (1) A sign that their Elohim is Yahweh, and not just any other mighty one. (2) A sign that this Elohim, Yahweh, has set them apart. (3) A sign that Yahweh created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. And (4) a sign that Yahweh, the Creator of heaven and earth has entered into an everlasting covenant with his people. What we need to take notice of here, above all, is that it is a sign between Yahweh and his people. It is a sign of a special relationship between Yahweh and his people. It is a sign of loyalty and commitment. It is a sign telling a world in which the Shabbat is of very little value, that those honouring this day have re-aligned their lifestyle, in order to bring honour to the One they recognize as their Creator and their Master.