I continue with our series on women of purpose in the Bible this week, looking at two women whose purpose was woven together into one. The book of Ruth is beautifully-written, even though God is only indirectly referred to throughout the narrative. Even so, His "fingerprints" are everywhere in the story. The book is named after Ruth, but could just as easily have been named after her mother-in-law Naomi. Let's look at their purpose story now.
Naomi, her husband, and her two sons left Israel due to a famine and went to the land of Moab where the two sons married two local girls, Orpah and Ruth. Soon, their father died and then the two sons died, leaving Naomi a widow with no sons or grandchildren (some have called her the female Job of the Old Testament). Eventually, Naomi decided to return to Israel where she would face a hard life as a widow with no men to support her. She urged her daughters-in-law to stay behind to fend for themselves. Orpah reluctantly did so, but Ruth uttered words that we have often used in wedding ceremony vows:
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her (Ruth 1:16-18).
Ruth proclaimed her loyalty to Naomi, and the women made their way back to Israel but before they did, Naomi changed her name:
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me" (Ruth 1:20-21).
When the women returned to Israel, they had no source of income, so Ruth went to work harvesting barley, and that is when the Lord began to work out everything according to a grand master plan that is breathtaking to behold. Ruth just happened to work in a field owned by a man named Boaz who was Naomi's husband's relative. According to Old Testament law, that relative, called a kinsman redeemer, had to marry Ruth and provide for her. It turns out Boaz was already attracted to Ruth because of her reputation:
“I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge" (Ruth 2:11-12).
Naomi coached Ruth through what she should do once she had Boaz's attention. Ruth was obedient, which impressed Boaz once again:
“The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning" (Ruth 3:10-13).
It was not only Boaz who was impressed with Ruth; her exceptional qualities captured God's attention as well. Boaz married her as he promised and they had a son, who also turned out to be a blessing to Naomi, his grandmother: "Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, 'Naomi has a son!' And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David (Ruth 4:16-17). God not only provided for Ruth but bestowed on her a great honor, for she became the great-grandmother to King David. Ruth from Moab, an enemy of Israel, became part of Jesus' family tree! As a bonus, Naomi, who had changed her name to "bitter," had her joy, hope, and legacy restored. God is good.
Women don''t have to preach, lead a business, or write songs sung by many for God to use them - Ruth is proof of that. Are you serving faithfully, perhaps the members of your family or another person close to you, but it doesn't seem like anyone is watching or paying attention? Then Ruth's example should encourage you to stay the course. Ruth was loyal to one woman, but because she was, she had many admirers, and God was one of them. He not only took care of her, but He also blessed her with offspring who are still blessing God's people today. God knows how to open doors for both men and women, and He has a door with a blessing behind it for you. Armed with that knowledge, I trust that you will have a blessed week!