Ruth is a short Old-testament book, made up of only 4 chapters and I thought it was a good place to start the new ‘Women of the Bible’ series. If you haven’t already read it I really recommend you do, I promise it won’t take more than 10 minutes and there is so much you can get out of it.
Ruth is what my Irish father would call ‘an all round good egg’. Now we may look at her endless good deeds and numberless virtuous qualities and find ourselves identifying her as a boring goodie-goodie but as I find myself re-reading the book of Ruth this week I can’t help but feel there must be a little more to her than just a Naomi suck-up. Ruth, I’m fighting your corner here.
A bit of background: The widowed Naomi has also recently lost her sons, leaving her with two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Upon leaving their home in Moab to travel to Bethlehem Naomi tells the girls that they should return to their families and seek the provision and comfort of new husbands. Reluctantly, Orpah takes the offer but, and here’s where her character is established, Ruth stays put.
1:16 ‘Where you will go I will go, and where you will stay, I will stay’
Ruth is unwaveringly loyal to Naomi. She sacrifices a chance for a fresh start, a comfortable life and chooses to faithfully follow her mother-in-law through destitution and misery. With no husbands the women are particularly vulnerable but Ruth is patient in her pain.
Now at this stage Naomi is struggling a little, in fact I imagine she was becoming a bit of a pain in the you-know-what. She tells everyone that she can no longer be called Naomi, which is Hebrew for Pleasant and I reckon she’s pretty spot on there because that’s the last thing I reckon Ruth would describe her as.
1:20 ‘Call me Mara (bitter) because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full but the Lord has brought me back empty’…and so she continues.
Now of course Naomi’s heartache is understandable, she has lost so much. However, she becomes consumed with anger towards the Lord, she feels personally afflicted. What I find interesting here is the contrast between Ruth’s response to her mother-in-law’s. Whereas Naomi allows their desperate situation to overwhelm her, Ruth seeks a way to find work. Naomi is sorrow-minded whereas Ruth is solution-minded. I really admire the fact that she heads out alone into an unfamiliar environment, using her own initiative to search for a little money to provide an income to support herself and Naomi. Whereas Naomi is bitter, Ruth is brave. Her self-assertiveness pays off and she soon has regular work in a field belonging to a guy called Boaz. (I’m not suggesting that anyone just rocks up to a work place and starts doing the job…I reckon you’re likely to simply be escorted off).
When Ruth first meets her new employer she asks,
2:10 ‘Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me- a foreigner?’
Ruth is not only a strong, pro-active, adaptable, get-the-job-done kinda girl but she is also extremely humble.
I’d really encourage you to read the Book of Ruth before I continue…
SPOILER ALERT- Ruth and Boaz end up getting married. From their marriage they have a son called Obed, who becomes the grandfather of David.
As an English student I just love a bit of circularity in a narrative and Ruth doesn’t disappoint (shout out to all my follow English nerds). The story opens with famine. Naomi and her husband have travelled from their home land in Bethlehem, desperate to find safety and provision for their family. However, death and suffering only follow that family. It takes Naomi’s husband and then her sons. Years later Naomi is back in Bethlehem and instead of death and suffering she now receives a grandchild, a symbol of new-life and hope.
I like to think of Ruth as a carrier of hope. She has a whole load of it stored up inside her, waiting until times become their most desperate and that hope is needed the most. She provided hope to Naomi when she made the decision to stay with her, when she took it upon herself to find work, when she obediently married Boaz and finally when she placed in her mother-in-laws arms a wriggling, screaming, pooping bundle of hope called Obed. In each circumstance Ruth is the provider of hope and Naomi is the recipient, despite her anguish and despair, regardless of her ranting and bitterness provision is brought to her. I believe if we are open to God we too can be carriers of hope. We are called to be the light and if we can have half the resolve that Ruth has I believe we too can shine the light of hope in the lives of those who feel most grieved, most defeated by life’s circumstances.
So what I hope I’ve managed to get across here is that there’s more to Ruth than just a do-gooder. She is honest, dignified and obedient, sure, but she’s also strong, resilient and courageous. You go girl.