Women in the Bible: Ruth, a Story of Loss and Redemption
Written by Jenn Arman | December 23, 2012
The book of Ruth doesn’t exactly begin as a happy story. Within the first three verses, we learn that during the time of the Judges of Israel, the nation experienced a famine; Elimelech moved his wife Naomi and their two sons, Chilion and Mahlon, to Moab; and then Elimelech passes away, leaving Naomi to raise their sons alone.
Eventually, Mahlon and Chilion marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. 10 years later, Mahlon and Chilion pass away, leaving the three women completely alone.
How would you be feeling right now if you were Naomi? I think I’d feel like God was punishing me for something and, in fact, Naomi experiences a similar feeling in chapter 1 verses 19-21; she tells the Israelite women not to call her Naomi (pleasant) anymore, but to call her Mara (bitter). She’s now lost her husband, her two sons, she’s too old to remarry (Ruth 1:12) and there are two young women with her that she doesn’t quite know what to do with–can we really blame her for feeling bitter?
Naomi tries to send her daughter-in-laws back to their parents, but neither girl wants to leave. Finally, after some argument, Orpah kisses Naomi and returns to her family. Ruth however, refuses to go. She is Naomi’s daughter now, and she renounces her Moabite heritage (Ruth 1:16-17) and claims Naomi’s Jewish heritage as her own.
Could you renounce everything and everyone you’ve known for a single person? Would you give up everything for a land, people, culture and God that you barely knew? That’s what Ruth did.
Ruth and Naomi make it to Bethlehem just in time for the barley harvest. They have nothing and no real idea how they will provide for themselves. Ruth is an enterprising and hardworking young woman, though, so she asks Naomi if it’s okay for her to find a field and follow the harvesters so she can gather the barley the harvesters miss. Through God’s planning, the field Ruth chooses happens to belong to Naomi’s relative, Boaz.
Boaz didn’t notice Ruth or show her favor because she was a beautiful or elegant woman–he noticed her simply because she wasn’t someone he was used to seeing in his field. Boaz showed favor to Ruth after he found out she was Naomi’s daughter-in-law because she cared for Naomi after the deaths of Elimelech and Naomi’s sons, and because she followed Naomi to a land she didn’t know and left her land and family behind (Ruth 2:11). Boaz was drawn to Ruth’s compassion, courage and hardworking nature.
Since he is a near relative to Naomi, Naomi knows Boaz may act as kinsman-redeemer for her and Ruth. In simplest terms, a kinsman-redeemer was someone who cared for members of their extended family (women and children) after the death of the male head of the family. The redeemer would take care of paying any debts the family owed, see that the family had their physical needs like food and shelter met, and work to keep any family land or possessions within the family.
When Ruth lies down at Boaz’s feet in Ruth chapter 3, she is showing her vulnerability. By lying at his feet, Ruth indicates that her survival and security lay there. He has the power to provide for her or turn her away. Boaz agrees to provide for Ruth and Naomi by purchasing their debt and marrying Ruth, provided their other relatives are unwilling or unable to do so. In the end, Boaz does as he said and they become the parents of Obed, King David’s grandfather.
I have to admit, girls, my favorite part of this story is that the Bible shows it wasn’t Ruth’s looks that Boaz was interested in–it was her character and her heart. Ruth was hardworking, but she also wasn’t afraid to show Boaz her vulnerable side. She didn’t try to act tough for him. Ruth didn’t have to become someone she wasn’t to win Boaz’s heart–she only had to be herself.
Girls, based on Ruth’s story, do you think a guy is worth chasing if you can’t be yourself around him?
Then he said, ‘May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence’ (Ruth 3:10-11).