These words from Ruth are perhaps among the most well-known passages in the Old Testament. The book of Ruth is a story about the redemption of God's people. It wonderfully contrasts the wisdom and ways of God with the wisdom of man. The book of Ruth takes place at the same time as the book of Judges. In Judges, "everybody did what is right in their own eyes." Ruth and the other central characters in that book do what is right in the eyes of God.
Ruth's mother-in-law, Naomi, is in despair, broken-hearted, and she feels cursed. Her husband and sons have died. Presumably, as an older widow, she has no future. She decides to return to the Land of Judah to be among her people and persuades her daughters-in-laws that they must leave her or they too will be consigned to the same hopeless fate. They were Moabites and not Jews and faced better opportunity among their own people.
Ruth steps out in faith and defies human logic with her words to follow Naomi and God. Naomi decides to let her tag along because she realized there was no convincing Ruth despite her best efforts. As Naomi arrives back in Bethlehem, she continues her lament and demands to be called "Mara" or bitter. She is not even aware that she has returned with a blessing in Ruth.
A careful reading of the text of Chapter 1 shows a contrast in verse one and verse 22. A famine had enveloped the land but when Naomi and Ruth reached Bethlehem, it was the beginning of the harvest season. Bethlehem of course means "house of bread." All the while through seemingly endless despair, God was working behind the scenes to bring the redemption of His people and all of humanity.
The beginning of Ruth starts out with seeming anguish and despair. It ends up as one of the greatest blessings in Scripture. Ruth's marriage to Boaz sets up the genealogical line that will lead to the greatest redemption of all. The coming of Christ into the world. While things seemed hopeless and fruitless from a human standpoint, God was working behind the scenes to protect and redeem those who stay faithful to Him. Not only that, the Lord did it in a way that was more glorious and unimaginable than any human could comprehend.