One of two books in the Old Testament named for women (the other is Esther), Ruth is a breath of fresh air. Her story follows one of the grimmest chapters in Israel’s history: the Period of Judges. The Book of Judges ends, “In those days, Israel had no king; a man simply did whatever he thought right.”
But then follows the beautiful love story of Ruth.
The four chapters of Ruth present four phases of a family’s life: Naomi, her husband, and sons flee Israel and famine to live temporarily in Moab, a neighboring country with food. While there, Naomi’s sons marry. Eventually, Naomi is left without husband or sons, but her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, remain with her. When Naomi hears that Israel’s famine has ended, she decides to return to her own country. Ruth and Orpah say they will go with her, but Naomi urges the two younger women to stay in Moab and find new husbands. Orpah remains, while Ruth refuses, “Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
Once in Israel, Ruth supports them by gleaning in the fields. She works hard to take sufficient grain home each day, and her hard work attracts the attention of Boaz, owner of a field of barley. He commends Ruth for becoming a true daughter to Naomi. Naomi sees Boaz as the perfect second husband for Ruth and engineers an encounter between them. Ruth and Boaz marry and Naomi once again has a family—children to teach and love. Ruth becomes mother of Obed, one of whose sons is Jesse, the father of David.
So what can be learned from Ruth? First, she respects and loves her mother-in-law. In this relationship, she cares for Naomi both while in Moab where Naomi is a stranger, and in Israel where Ruth is the stranger. Second, Ruth adapts to change. She was free to return to her own country and found a new husband; instead, she decides to stay where she is to care for Naomi who’s also a grieving widow. Third, as a convert to Judaism, Ruth learns to trust that Naomi’s God is faithful. Fourth, Ruth is no slacker! She takes on every responsibility and she does so with her whole heart, without complaint. Finally, Ruth is an example of a loving daughter who loves in word and deed.
Ruth’s faith in God can strengthen us to be the people God has meant for us to be: to love him and faithfully serve him in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
This article was written by Bible 101 facilitator Phyllis Gilbert. Weekly Bible 101 study sessions are held Friday mornings from 10:15 – 11:45 pm in the Parish Library.
Photo “Noami & Ruth” is taken by Lawrence OP and is of a series of windows in the south aisle of St Mary & St John’s church in Cowley. The windows feature Biblical mothers and their children and is by Sir Ninian Comper.