Ruth: A Woman Who Knew Who She Was
By Jules Kendal
I might not have married my husband if it wasn’t for Ruth. So, as you can imagine, I’m pretty grateful to her. But my thanks to her goes beyond my relationship. When I return to Ruth’s story – as I sporadically do – I am reminded of the life-long lessons that I am learning: to prize identity and character over origin and circumstance.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Who is this Ruth that I’m talking about?
A potted history: Ruth was born a Moabite – a religion that worshipped multiple gods and, when times got tough, had been known to offer human sacrifices to them (2 Kings 3). She married into God’s people when Elimelech and Naomi moved with their sons from famine-ridden Bethlehem to Moab. All the men in the family died, so Naomi set off back to her now-famine-free homeland, along with her two daughters-in-law. Only able to offer them a life of poverty, Naomi encouraged these two Moabite women to go back to their home. One – Orpah – did. Ruth refused, travelled on with Naomi, started gleaning (collecting leftover crops after fields have been harvest – a practice to help those with nothing to be able to eat), and impressed the owner of that field, Boaz, with her character. She suggested that he might marry her, and after some clever negotiations, he did. They had a son, Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David.
Ruth’s story is shared in a book of just four chapters in the Bible, but she also gets a mention in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew. She is one of just five women to make the list; I think that makes her worth paying attention to. And in those four chapters, there is a richness of lessons to be learned. Here are a few things that Ruth has been teaching me:
She knew who she was. Not her birth identity; her born again identity. Ruth was born one thing, but she chose another. Naomi gave her a get out clause; more than that, she actively encouraged Ruth to return to her Moabite people rather than carry on to Bethlehem. But Ruth wasn’t having any of it:
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1v16)
She embraced her new identity: the God that Naomi worships was now the God of Ruth’s heart too. This brings with it a new belonging; she is part of God’s people now. I recently looked back over some journal entries and notes from the past ten years, and they showed me that the last decade has been one long, welcome lesson into what it means to have a new identity in Jesus. I was not born into faith; I chose it and it changed me. I am defined by being a daughter of God.
She prized the right things. In returning to Moab, Orpah made what might seem to be the worldly wise choice. The life Naomi was offering her was bleak; returning to her own people in Moab made good sense. But Ruth prized the right things. She chose not worldly security but relationship with God and his people. It can be easy to be swayed by the sensible choice, but God has routinely shown me that when I follow His ways, He shows up.
She was savvy and faithful. Naomi was right when she said to Orpah and Ruth that she had nothing to offer them. It was Ruth who came up with the idea to go to the field of Boaz – a relative of Naomi’s – to glean grain for them to eat. Ruth was savvy and faithful with the few options available to them as widowed women. She saw the potential for favour if she went to Boaz’s field to glean (Ruth 2v2) but she didn’t presume upon it; she worked hard (Ruth 2v7). This inspires me to be simultaneously strategic and quietly faithful with what we have.
She was bold. Boaz, as a relative of Naomi’s, could marry Ruth and redeem Elimelech’s lineage. But he hadn’t made this approach, perhaps excluding himself because of his older age (Ruth 3v10). On Naomi’s suggestion, Ruth went to Boaz and invited him to make that approach. In that culture, this was an incredibly bold and brave move. Ruth shows that quiet faithfulness and risky courage can live side by side.
And Boaz responded to her because of her character; her kindness and faithfulness sang through. She may have been born a Moabite – a race not known for these traits – but her heart was after God’s. Ruth didn’t choose the circumstances of her birth, her widowhood, her poverty. But she did choose to find her identity in God and to follow His ways. We can’t determine our situation, but we can invite God to strengthen our character through them.
So one summer’s day I followed Ruth’s example, and got in the way of a man who had not considered this possibility either. And, like Ruth and Boaz, there were a few steps in between that approach and our getting together. But, five years of marriage later, I’m very glad that Ruth taught me to be brave.
And she continues to teach me a great life-long lesson: to find my whole identity in Jesus, and to seek to be faithful, savvy and bold with all that He has for me.