Welcome to the seventh week of our Summer Bible journaling challenge, Women of Valor. Today, we will be studying and journaling the titular character from the Book of Ruth.
This week’s reading: The Book of Ruth; Matthew 1:5
This week’s journaling focus: Ruth 2:12
This post comes with a free printable. To download it, click below to be taken to the resource library. The library is password-protected; to get the password, sign up for the mailing list here.
Most Biblical characters come with a caveat. Sarah was loving, but she was doubtful; Rebecca was brave, but headstrong; Rachel lovely, but jealous; Miriam caring and careless. We each have our favorites, but recognize that their strengths come with weakness. Not so, seemingly, for Ruth. Of all the women in the Bible, she has stood out to generations for her bravery, loyalty, and humility. She is the only Biblical woman who is directly called an the אֵשֶׁת חַֽיִל (eshet chayil): a woman of worth, a woman of valor (Ruth 3:11).
All this, despite the fact that she in many ways defied the typical expectations of women both in her day and today. She was a foreigner, a widow, and a convert. And yet, her character and actions proved that no outside label define your worth. Let’s read more about this brave and extraordinary woman, and the role she plays in God’s story.
Ruth’s Story (in Two Parts)
Part One: A Time of Famine
Ruth’s story takes place in “the days when the judges ruled,” when “there was a famine in the land.” You may be familiar with the Book of Judges as being one of the darkest in the Bible: the stories in those pages are enough to make you ache and weep. This is a time of moral and literal famine. Israel is suffering from a political disaster as hunger sweeps through the land.
To escape the famine in Israel, a man named Elimelech takes his wife Naomi and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to the country of Moab. This is, in itself, not the silver lining. Moab is the sworn enemy of Israel, and had been for generations, ever since the Hebrew people had escaped from slavery in Egypt and the Moabites had cursed them. Some have speculated that it was Elimelech’s lack of faith in God that sent him to Moab, or his inability to deal with hardship. Whatever the reason, their temporary situation becomes a permanent one when both sons marry Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth.
But the time of happiness that we hope surrounds these unions soon turns to sorrow. Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion die, leaving Naomi, a wife and mother, widowed and childless. Few can imagine such trauma, and as we see from her words, Naomi is devastated and grief-stricken. But that is about to change.
Naomi chooses to return to her homeland of Israel. Orpah and Ruth want to go with her, but Naomi tries to convince them otherwise:
“Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”
Her words convince Orpah, who tearfully leaves Naomi to return alone to Israel. But not so for Ruth. Despite Naomi’s urging, despite the challenging road that lies ahead of her, and despite her clearly devastated heart — or maybe because of those things — Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi. When doing so, she utters a poem that is still remembered and recited at weddings to this day:
“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. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
Naomi gives in, and together, they return to Israel. The text tells us that this happens as the barley harvest is beginning, and just as those crops indicate a return to fullness and plenty, they indicate a turning point in our story.
Part Two: A Time of Fullness
In Israel lives a man named Boaz, who is a distant relative of Naomi’s. Naomi instructs Ruth to go to Boaz’s field and glean from the edges of his crop. When Boaz enters his field to interact with his workers, he calls to them, “The Lord be with you!” (Ruth 2:4). He is, then, a man of faith.
Boaz notices Ruth immediately, and is struck when he hears that she has been hard at work all day. He gives her special instructions and provisions for working in his field, to keep her safe and give her enough grain. Humbled and confused, Ruth asks, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10). Boaz responds:
“All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
Boaz doesn’t see her as a foreigner, a widow, or a convert, each of which could caused him to overlook her or cast her out. Instead, he sees her for her character and her actions. When Boaz looks at Ruth, he doesn’t judge her by the color of her skin, her accent, or her newness to his country or belief. He recognizes her strength, courage, loyalty, and her faith in the Lord God, in whom she has found refuge. He commends her for what she has accomplished, rather than condemning her for her societal labels. In this way, Boaz demonstrates the encompassing love and mercy that God, too, shows us.
As a lover of romantic comedies and happy endings, this encounter between Ruth and Boaz makes me tingle with excitement. Naomi’s reaction must have been similar, but with an added lining of hope: Boaz is a distant relative of hers, and if Ruth plays her cards right, the two can get married and secure a future for both Ruth and Naomi. Through Naomi’s instructions and Boaz’s cunning, we see just this happen in Ruth 4, as Boaz “redeems” the widowed Ruth, and marries her. The two have a son, who according to the law of the time belonged to Naomi. You can almost hear the words “and they lived happily ever after” echo in your ears, but there’s just one bit more.
He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
Ruth’s son becomes the father of Jesse, the father of David, who becomes the ancestor of Jesus. This is how a young Moabite woman — foreign, widowed, and only recently converted to the Israelite faith — becomes the ancestress of our own redeemer. Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi led her to find comfort and refuge under the wings of God, and for that, she is honored her as a great woman of our faith.
Like Hagar, Ruth was a foreign woman who had every reason to be judged and excluded by her Israelite neighbors. There are differences between these two women, of course, but also parallels for what they teach us about the overlooked or hurt children of God.
When reading Hagar’s story, our group focused on how God sees and hears us, even when we may feel lost in the desert. But God doesn’t appear directly to Ruth during her trials. Instead, God shows Himself through the love, kindness, and generosity of Boaz. While Ruth may inspire us to live lives of loyalty and bravery, Boaz reminds us of the importance of acting with kindness and generosity towards the unseen and overlooked.
Questions for Contemplation
- Naomi experiences tremendous heartbreak that later turned into a new beginning. Does this story give you any hope for a situation you may be dealing with in your own life?
- Through their trials and travels, Ruth and Naomi most likely found immense comfort in their relationship with each other. Who is someone in your life who brings you comfort during hard times?
- Boaz remarks that Ruth has found refuge under the wings of God. Many are drawn to this verse for its beautiful imagery, which reminds us that even in our times of famine, we can find comfort in the one who redeems us. What practices might help you find comfort in God in tough times?
There is so much to Ruth’s story, as the length of this week’s reading suggests. Of the many inspiring and beautiful verses we encountered today, our group will be focusing on Ruth 2:12: “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” You may wish to illustrated a bird here, either in flight or nestling something under its protective wings. You could also choose to use imagery of feathers sweeping you up or cradling you. Finally, you may choose to letter the words of the verse. Do whatever feels appropriate to you for this verse today.
If you’d like to read more about Ruth and her story, please feel free to check out these resources. All links to Amazon throughout this post are affiliate links.
- “Ruth” in Women of the Bible: 52 Bible Studies for Individuals and Groups by Ann Spangler and Jean E. Syswerda, pages 136-143. This is a great book that I’ll be referencing a lot in this series. It reflects on 52 different women of the Bible and includes context, prayers, and reflection questions. This book is more faith-focused than academic.
- “The Perfect In-Laws” in A Faith of Her Own: Women of the Old Testament by J. Ellsworth Kalas, pages 85-96. This is a great book of reflections on women of the Bible, written by famed pastor and professor J. Ellsworth Kalas. It is an easy read and offers new insights. This book is more faith-focused than academic.