As one of only two women with books of the Bible to their name and just five women to be mentioned in the lineage of Christ (Matthew 1:1-17), it’s clear that Ruth plays an important role in the Bible. Reading her story, that’s not surprising – there are numerous messages we can take from her life and character.
When we’re first introduced to Ruth, she’s just lost her husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law in quick succession, and is left with her sister-in-law and mother-in-law – Orpah and Naomi. With no further brothers to take over the role of their husband – as was the custom at the time – both young women were free to return to their own family and re-marry, and were encouraged to do so by their mother-in-law.
But, instead, Ruth decided to go with Naomi to her home town, far from everyone she had ever known. They were left with nothing, and as the younger, more able of the two it fell to Ruth to find work to provide for them. She resorted to gathering the grains which the harvesters left behind, yet she never complained. Such was her devotion to her mother-in-law!
Ruth was a widow and a field-worker: the lowest of the low! Yet Boaz – a wealthy land-owner and highly respected member of the community – treated her with respect and recognition. ‘May you be richly rewarded by the Lord… under whose wings you have come to take refuge’ (Ruth 2:12). News of her sacrifice preceded her, and her loyalty, selflessness and humility gained her favour with her boss to the extent that he offered her food and drink and instructed his workers to treat her well.
Ruth wasn’t ashamed of who she was, and this is what drew Boaz to her initially. She had suffered enormous loss, and been reduced to a mere servant, yet she never moaned about or regretted her place in the world.
Upon realising that, as a male relative of Ruth’s husband, Boaz was qualified to marry Ruth in order to continue the family line, Naomi instructed Ruth to lie at his feet while he was sleeping and present herself to him as a deserving wife. Though this was a risky plan, Ruth’s response – ‘I will do whatever you say’ (Ruth 3:5) – reflects her total trust in, and submission to, the authority and wisdom of her mother-in-law.
As Christians trying to live the life God wants for us, it’s vital that we are covered by authority and have spiritual leaders for guidance (Banning Liebscher explains this really well in his book ‘Jesus Culture’). Though she was afraid and uncertain, Ruth followed Naomi’s advice boldly and with complete obedience, and received great blessings as a result. Boaz showed her immense love and kindness, and fulfilled his duty as her family redeemer.
The redemption Ruth received from Boaz is much like the redemption we receive from Christ. Ruth and Boaz had very different social statuses, but Boaz acknowledged her human dignity in the same way as Jesus did when he chose to associate with prostitutes, beggars and lepers. He interacted with her, shared his food with her and treated her as his own family… just as Jesus did!
“Why have I found such favour in your eyes?” (Ruth 2:10). How often do we feel unseen, or worse – unworthy to be seen? Boaz saw her as Jesus saw the women He encountered. And that’s how Jesus sees you, too. He doesn’t care where you’re from, who your family are, what career you have, or even what’s happened in your past. He sees you for the beautifully unique person you are. You are seen.
Through Ruth’s example, we learn that loyalty and obedience to (right) authority should take priority over our own desires. If we submit to our spiritual mothers and fathers, and trust in their wisdom, we will be blessed for our faithfulness. Most importantly, sometimes following God means taking a risk, but He will never abandon us! He sees us, knows us and loves us wherever we are in life. He rewards the deserving and blesses the undeserving.
Look out for a follow-up post on Naomi!