The final verses in Proverbs describe “a virtuous woman” whose worth is “far above rubies” (Prov. 31:10 KJV). Although the writer was aware that many daughters had displayed virtue, he was convinced that the one he had portrayed surpassed them all (31:29).
Weighing all he had written he concluded, “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised” (Prov. 31:30). This statement should make us think. There are more important things than a woman’s face or figure. Attractiveness can be lost, but there is something that can outlast time: “The fear of the LORD” endures forever (Ps. 19:9). Therefore it is better when a woman is more concerned with being godly than looking pretty.
Don’t misunderstand these remarks. The Bible does not encourage anyone to be shabby, dirty or deliberately repulsive. Rather, it is a matter of priority. A Christian woman who understands the teaching of the Bible will “seek first” the kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33) and spiritual things rather than wanting to impress others with her “image” (how she appears) in the world. She will understand that beauty from within far outshines any external physical attractiveness. When the latter fades away the former need not disappear. In fact the inner being can be renewed by God’s Spirit daily (2 Cor. 4:16).
In the Bible we meet real human beings whose lives instruct us even though we are living in a very different age. “Ruth the Moabitess” (Ruth 2:2) is one such character. She lived in the time of the judges (Ruth 1:1) when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 21:25). Many of us today live under almost identical conditions. Moral absolutes have all but vanished, and “tolerance” is the fashionable word. Ruth also was not immune from the normal trials of life. She had experienced famine, poverty and bereavement. She was widowed early on and knew what hardship was all about. Yet she experienced God’s grace, and her record in Scripture is a shining example of a woman who feared the Lord. Let’s consider seven features from her life.
Her title “Ruth the Moabitess” tells us that she was not one of God’s people. Her mother-in-law was an Israelite from Bethlehem, but Ruth originated from another country east of the Dead Sea. The Moabites’ ancestry (recorded in Genesis 19) is unsavory to say the least, their forefather’s having been born out of an incestuous relationship. According to God’s law, Moabites were not readily permitted among the Lord’s people (Dt. 23:3). Humanly speaking her life had little quality, but behind the scenes the Spirit of God had been at work and Ruth had “come to trust” in the Lord God of Israel (Ruth 2:12). She had left the land of her birth to take her place among a people she had not known before and to shelter beneath the protecting wings of Israel’s God.
This is the starting point for each individual. Salvation is not found in our earthly family or nation. Like Ruth, we must seek refuge in the Lord who cares for every need of those who trust Him. God’s grace brings an eternal quality to those whose future is hopeless.
Humility is a characteristic that shines brilliantly in Ruth’s life. When Boaz visited the field where she was gleaning Ruth showed him the utmost respect as she bowed before him and asked, “Why have I found grace in thine eyes?” (2:10). As “a stranger” she found it incredible that Boaz should “take knowledge” of her. His compassion and welcome touched her greatly and made her confess that she was not “one of [his] handmaidens” (2:10,13). She never lost sight of the fact that she had no claim upon this man. In her own eyes she was unworthy.
Humility is a vanishing virtue. Psychologists teach the need for self-assertion in order to succeed. A spirit that tries to achieve at the expense of others is wrong. Ruth showed none of that nor demanded the “equality” of today’s women’s liberation movement. We must remember that men and women have equal worth in God’s sight, but their roles are different. Her words to Boaz are a model in humility.
Just mention “the mother-in-law” in many cultures and you will receive a knowing nod or smile! All too often problems arise in families because of the interference or caustic comment of an annoying mother-in-law, and it is therefore hardly surprising that this has given rise to jokes and humorous stories. Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi seem to have enjoyed a very harmonious relationship. Initially when Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem Ruth insisted on going with the older woman (1:16-17). It is evident that she valued her company. Later when Naomi kindly suggested how Ruth could find security through marriage, the younger woman complied fully with the plan. “All that thou sayest unto me I will do” (3:5) are words that prove the harmony existing between them both.
In an age when dysfunctional families abound, how good it is to find harmony between different generations! Peter tells us that “a meek and quiet spirit” is “of great price” in the sight of God (1 Pet. 3:4). Interference of course is out of place, and an older woman may find it difficult not to express an opinion. However, it cannot be denied that the harmony and willing compliance displayed by Ruth are beautiful.
The scheme proposed by Naomi in Ruth 3 may seem very unusual to us but it must be understood according to the custom and culture of the day. There was nothing immoral in the plan. Ruth was to place herself by Boaz’s feet rather than at his side (3:7-8). She left the threshing floor before dawn, and Boaz was concerned that her visit should be treated with discretion (3:14). There is every evidence that both of them acted with propriety [right behavior].
Christian believers in many countries today are disturbed by the increasing decadence in society. Marriages are disintegrating and cases of immorality are becoming more common in the Church. Fashion has played its part as women’s clothing has become less discreet and more revealing. It takes courage today for a Christian woman to dress differently and refuse the immodest fashions of the world, but a woman who fears the Lord will want to be pure and display propriety for the glory of God.
Ruth did not seek an easy life in Bethlehem. As soon as possible she suggested to Naomi that she should “go to the field” to glean barley for them both (2:2). When Boaz enquired about her he was told that she had “continued even from the morning until now” – apart from a short break (2:7). Her work under the hot sun occupied her until the evening (2:17). While a married Christian woman today with a family must be very careful not to neglect her maternal responsibilities when taking up work outside the house, Ruth’s diligence is commendable. Without giving undue emphasis to a career, a Christian should seek to be diligent and hardworking in everything (Rom. 12:11).
Ruth’s first recorded words (spoken to Naomi) are challenging: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go: and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17). Some of those words could well be used to express our own commitment to the Lord. We have already noted the harmonious relationship she enjoyed with her mother-in-law, but think again of her words “all that thou sayest unto me I will do” (3:5). We might connect those words with the instruction given by another woman. Mary, the mother of our Lord, told the servants at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it” (Jn. 2:5). To know the blessing of the Lord upon our lives we need to submit implicitly to Him and obey His commands.
One last feature should not be missed. After explaining her situation to Boaz and receiving a practical blessing of some barley from him, Naomi advised Ruth to “sit still” until it became clear how things would turn out (Ruth 3:18). It is not always easy to be patient, but “waiting upon the Lord” is vital if we would know His blessing in our lives (Ps. 27:14). Certainly the context of Naomi’s statement should make us aware of the need for patience in decisions relating to marriage rather than rushing thoughtlessly ahead.
We do not know anything about Ruth’s physical appearance, but when Boaz married her he knew Ruth was a woman who truly feared the Lord. The godly features that marked her life are worthy goals for any Christian woman – or man – today.
By Martin Girard
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