Who was she?
Ruth was a young Moabite woman, and most likely between the age of 16-20 when she becomes a widow. That’s a very young age for anybody to lose their husband but in addition to this her husband and his family were all Israelites, from Judah.
They had left their homeland when a famine hit, and had gone to start over in a Gentile land. Now before we go on let’s just get some context…. the Israelites would have believed in God, and the Gentiles do not believe in God – this would have been a big deal at the time, and would have appeared as though they were betraying their people, particularly as it was forbidden in the law for a Jew to marry a Moabite or Ammonite. The Moabite people had their own false gods that they worshipped and Ruth would have been brought up understanding these beliefs and traditions of her people.
Ruth lived with her sister-in law, Orpah, and her mother-in-law Naomi, who both had also been made widows after the deaths of their husbands. It was because of these circumstances that Naomi decided it was time to return home, and out of duty Ruth and Orpah would of course go with her. But on their way Naomi decided it was best for them to return home to their own land and marry young men who they could have a family with. Naomi realised that she had nothing to offer them and wanted to give them a way out. Whilst Orpah decided to go, Ruth refused to and swore her commitment to both her, and the God of Israel. This shows us that Ruth must have heard lots about who God was from Naomi and had strong reason to believe in Him herself for her to leave her own family and their false gods behind. I love this part of the story as it really demonstrates how God wants to be known to everybody, no matter your heritage or upbringing, it’s an echo of the love that was to come through Jesus Christ, who came for all mankind.
How did God use her?
Without a man in the house Ruth and Mara (Naomi changed her name to Mara because she was bitter from the death of her sons and husband) wouldn’t have had any income when they arrived back in Bethlehem, so Ruth decided to go out and work in the fields of a distant relative. This was not a glamorous job, it was called gleaning, and allowed poor people to pick up corn that the workers in the field had dropped during the harvest. They could then use this corn to eat but they would not be paid by the owner of the land.
Boaz, the man who owned the particular field which Ruth was working in had heard about Ruth gleaning in his field and knew that she had left behind all her family and friends to stay with her mother-in-law. He thought that it was very kind of her and so he told her to continue to glean in his field and that she could drink and eat the same food he provided for his workers.
“But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the Lord the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” – Ruth 2:11-12
He also told the men who worked there to not bother her while she was gleaning, and even to drop more of the good corn for her to pick up. So Ruth was able to continue to glean safely in a field where she wasn’t in any danger and was being fed, enough that she was even able to take food back to Mara. God was using Ruth’s good nature and character to provide a way for her, as a woman, to provide for her mother-in-law.
After a while Mara was concerned that Ruth needed to find a home and re-marry, and as Boaz was a distant relative and a good man she decided to do some match-making. So one evening when Boaz would be at the threshing floor – the place where they manually separated the grain from the straw – Mara told Ruth that when Boaz was finished and gone to bed, she was to go and lie down at his feet and uncover them from his blanket.
This sounds totally absurd and not something that we would ever do to let a guy know we are interested, but that was the custom at the time. It would have been seen as immodest to lie down next to him, but to lie at his feet was for her to appear humble before him.
Boaz didn’t reject Ruth’s ‘proposal’, and as a decent man, he went to the elders of the of the town and began the process of being able to marry Ruth. Not long after, Ruth then gave birth to a son, Obed, who later was the great-grandfather of David. So not only did God provide food and water for Ruth and Naomi (or Mara), but he also gave them the stability of a family and an heir to continue their family, an heir who was actually in the lineage of Jesus.
What can we learn from her?
What I love most about this story is how it shows us the importance of good character. Ruth was faithful to God and didn’t want to return to a land where they were worshipping false idols. She left behind everything she knew and decided to stay committed to her mother-in-law and trust in the God of Israel. She was grateful for the little that she had while gleaning, and because of her good nature Boaz took a liking to her. If she didn’t have such a lovely reputation in Bethlehem, then perhaps Boaz would not have given her a second look.
He was a man greatly respected in his community and would have been financially secure. I’m sure Ruth would not have been the first offer of marriage he had ever had. But Ruth teaches us that it is not just status and education that opens doors of opportunity – our reputation and attitude are key. Whatever our circumstances look like, if we work with what we have with a grateful heart, then God will give us more than we ever anticipated.
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” – Ephesians 3:20
You can read Ruth’s story in the book of Ruth (obvs!)