The story of Ruth is one of the most beautiful and inspiring narratives of Scripture. Ruth is an example of character, courage, and faith. She takes big risks and embodies what it means to be faithful. This little story packs a punch, showing us all manner of mercy, kindness, and adventure. As a descendant of Jesus, this woman and this story are part of the greater narrative of God working in the world. In this episode, we explore the life, lessons, and central message of The Book of Ruth.
Joey: Well, for my money, and I think this is true for you too, Ruth is one of the best characters in the Bible. She’s just one of the most inspirational and fullest examples we have of what it looks like to do life well. Do you agree with that?
Tim: Oh, absolutely, I think she’s one of the greatest examples in the scripture. Actually, there are not many characters in the Bible that have nothing negative said about them. There’s just a handful and she’s one of them.
Joey: That is pretty incredible. Yeah, what do you think is one of some of the main characteristics of Ruth and her story?
Tim: Well, for me, courage is the one that sticks out to me the most, but she’s also loyal. She has tremendous discernment, she is industrious and takes initiative, and yet she’s also, at the same time, very trusting. It’s not much not to like. She also has tremendous integrity.
Joey: Yeah, it’s an incredible balance of characteristics. Talk a little bit about courage. How does Ruth exhibit courage?
Character Over Uncertainty
Tim: Well, you’ve got to know a little about the story, and we’ll weave that in, but she’s a Moabite. Moab was a country just bordering Israel on the east. And the way the story goes is that there’s an Israelite family that falls on hard times and there’s a famine. For whatever reason, their plot was too small or something where they couldn’t make it while others could, so they go to Moab to try to make a living. It’s a family with two brothers and a mom, and the men all die. But before they died, they both married Moabite women, and one of them’s Ruth. In this era, the main horsepower, the main work is human muscles, and so if you don’t have a male to protect and to work, it’s hard to eat. So, marriage was the main way that women were protected. And so Naomi says, “Look, I’m an old woman, I can’t provide for you guys. You guys go back and find some Moabite boy to marry because I can’t provide for you.” The two both apparently like her a lot, because they both want to follow her, but one says, “Yeah, you’re right” and the other one, Ruth, says, “I’m going with you because of your character and because of your God. I see something in you that I don’t see around here, so I’m following that.” So the first thing you get is the courage to follow what you see is right and true. “I see something that’s right and true, and I’m gonna follow that,” that takes a lot of courage to do that in the face of circumstances. It may mean destitution, it may mean difficulty. You’re gonna have to walk however far. Two women walking back to Israel for, I don’t know, what would that be? Like 60 or 80 miles or something like that? Several days’ journey. Women walking on that journey, you’ve got a lot at risk with uncertainty at the other end. She chose truth and character over all that uncertainty, that’s awe-inspiring.
Joey: It’s pretty courageous, yeah. One of the things I’m thinking is we’re just kinda talking about the full package of Ruth’s characteristics, but Naomi must have been pretty incredible too. Talk about an example of referent power!
Tim: She was, but she’s a whiner.
Joey: She does get pretty whiny, that’s true.
Tim: She’s a whiner and she’s kinda woe is me. And when they get back to Israel, she’s like, “call me Mara because I’ve been destitute” and stuff. She kind of seems embarrassed to come back that way. And Ruth says, “please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain.” They had a practice in Israel for the poor. One of the provisions for the poor was, “don’t harvest the corners of your field, and don’t go back through after you harvest and pick up the crumbs, leave those for the poor people.” And so gleaning was for the poor people to go out and get what’s left over. And so Ruth says, “Can I go out and glean?” And Naomi doesn’t say, “yeah sure, I’ll come with you.” Instead, she says, “Fine.” So that doesn’t seem great. But maybe she’s not capable or something. But she walked 60-80 miles to get back there.
Kylie: In her defense, she has just lost her husband, both her sons, and is no longer of a marriageable age and can’t have children of her own. And so to her, she’s got nothing left, right? And so she’s grieving and she feels like there is nothing to look forward to.
Tim: Exactly, which is precisely the same circumstances Ruth had.
Kylie: But she’s young enough that she has opportunities to go out and marry someone again at least, and so there is something that she can do and Naomi can’t. You’re right, it is a perspective thing, it is an attitude thing, but Ruth has more opportunities from Naomi’s perspective than she does.
Tim: That is true. And instead of pursuing those– this is fun because you’re showing your competitiveness here– but instead of pursuing that independently, she does it on behalf of Naomi.
Joey: Ruth does.
Tim: Ruth does. Again, tremendous loyalty and courage, it’s incredible. And when she goes out to glean, she doesn’t really know what she’s going into. And apparently from the story, you find out that single women were at risk from the harvesters.
Kylie: Oh, that makes total sense. I feel like you already said that marriage in general was the only way to protect women. And so women are at risk no matter what, unless they have somebody to protect them.
Tim: And apparently, and this is inferred, Ruth was really pretty. So that means she could have gone out and got another alternative fairly readily, but instead, she’s sticking with this grouchy woman. You’re very empathetic.
Joey: Yeah she is.
Kylie: I am, it’s one of my top strengths.
Joey: Well, and I think, to get back to Ruth, the courage to stay with Naomi and to follow her is pretty incredible. But one of the things that sticks out to me about Ruth as well, and you mentioned this with her asking if she can go glean, she’s an initiator. She’s a person of action.
Tim: She’s a person of action who initiates with great courage without demanding independence of any kind, totally trusting, serving Naomi and trusting this God that she didn’t even grow up with. So, she is holding the paradox of tension with faith, and she didn’t even grow up being taught all this stuff. She just saw it and said, “that’s what I want” and had the courage, the initiative and the fortitude to just choose it. It’s unbelievable.
Joey: That’s pretty incredible. Another characteristic you mentioned is integrity. So Ruth is out gleaning in the fields, and how does the story progress and how does integrity play into what happens next?
Tim: Well, so she comes home with, back to Naomi with this huge amount of grain and Naomi says, “Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you because that isn’t a pick-up-the-crumbs amount.” And Ruth said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” And Naomi says, “This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.” It’s a happenstance. And now me, I’m not empathetic. So I say, Well, why didn’t Naomi kinda guide her? Naomi, where are you? Come on, play in this. But God is directing. And so, Boaz took notice of her, probably because she’s really good-looking. Because he’s like, “Who’s that? Oh, okay, Naomi, she’s a relative of mine. Go give her some good stuff.” Boaz invites her in and takes care of her. So then Naomi says, “Okay, so Boaz–” Now, Naomi is shrewd, she’s very shrewd. And Naomi says, “Now Boaz…is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor…then it shall be, when it lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go in, uncover his feet…” That’s the phrase they use, which I think just means go lay down beside him and pull his cloak over you. The ancient celebrations and the wine is flowing and stuff, there was a lot of monkey business that was normal at these places. Okay, so she’s really putting herself at risk and Naomi says he’s a man of integrity, so you’ll be okay. And that’s a marriage proposal, by the way, when she does that. It also could be viewed as something else that could turn into something that’s exploitative. So she really trusts Naomi here. She’s putting herself at tremendous risk. And Naomi is telling her “wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment,” it’s pretty clear what’s happening.
Kylie: Wait till he’s had a couple of glasses of wine…
Tim: That’s right. Naomi is playing the angle here, but she trusts in Boaz’s character. And Ruth does not try to manipulate Boaz and seduce him, even though it’s a very compromising situation, she sticks with her place and all she does is lay down. And so all she’s doing is just laying there, she’s not doing anything that’s provocative, and suddenly Boaz wakes up. He says, “Who are you?” And she says, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.” It’s a marriage proposal. Now, in Israel’s law, if a woman’s husband died, if she becomes a widow, it was the closest relative’s duty to take that widow in and raise offspring for their family. You’re giving your money to this other family, to start again, you don’t get their property, you’re actually giving to them. Okay? That was the law. So Boaz says, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than the beginning, in that you did not go after young men…” He’s apparently older, which–and this doesn’t go with American romance–men typically had multiple wives in this era. But he says “you did not go after young men.” And he’s apparently old and ugly, I guess that would be at least his perspective on it. But he was wealthy and shrewd and had great integrity. And she says “what you’re doing is mainly for your mother-in-law.” That’s really incredible. So actually, Boaz appreciates her character so much that he says, “I’ll do it.” And so she comes back, she leaves early so that there’s no scandal before the light, before the dawn comes up because everybody would have thought, “Oh, I know what.”
Kylie: And then she’s a ruined woman, and Boaz is forced to some degree to take her as his wife.
Tim: She really put her character at risk for this, for Naomi’s benefit. And so she goes back and tells Naomi what happens, and Naomi says, “Oh, I know Boaz, he’ll get that done today. You’ve invested in a high follow-through. So, sure enough, Boaz goes to the gate. And the gate of the town is where the business was conducted like the courthouse. And they didn’t have deeds that they record in the courthouse, so they get people together to witness. So he gathers a bunch of elders together. And so he tells Ruth, “there’s another relative that’s closer, so I have to deal with that first. I have to get that squared away.” So he goes to the gate and he basically works with this other relative to sort out that he’s going to be the one that redeems Ruth. And there’s a whole thing there that I think I think is really interesting because there’s this property that needs to be redeemed, and the other guy says, “Take it.” Because in Israel, all the property was taken up, the only way you could get properties is if another family forfeited it. And so this was a chance for him to acquire property into his family. So he says, “Done, I’ll take it.” And Boaz says, “Great, you have to take Ruth with it and raise children for her, for Naomi, so that property goes back to her name’s line.” And he’s like, “Oh no, I can’t do it. I don’t have enough money for that. I don’t wanna dilute my business, I was thinking to acquire.” So he had the money to buy it, he just didn’t want to use it for somebody else. So Boaz says, “Okay, then I’m redeeming and I’ll take Ruth as my wife.” They have a ceremony and the way they signed the deal was to trade a sandal, it’s kind of funny. We think of the signing ceremony or the handshake, but they would trade a sandal. That’s a done deal then. So then he takes Ruth, and Ruth has a child, that’s Obed, and Obed has a child that’s Jesse, and Jesse becomes the father of King David. So Ruth is actually in the lineage of Christ, and she’s noted as that. There are several women noted in the lineages of Christ in the New Testament, and each one of them is a foreign woman that did something heroic, and Ruth is one of those. She is lionized by scripture. I’m sure she had faults. She was human, right? But none of them are noted, I think, in large part to say, “this is what I want you to be like. Then, just to make it clear that this is a heroic figure, I’m gonna put this person in the lineage of Christ.
The Legacy of Ruth
Joey: Yeah, one of the characteristics we’ve talked about with Ruth is legacy. She’s in the line of Christ, which is an incredible genealogical legacy, but she also leads this legacy of an example of good character for us to follow.
Tim: Exactly. And if we wanna try to make some applications, we’re all supposed to be the bride of Christ. In the sense of our relationship with Christ, we’re all female in that sense. So I have to look at how I can, as a male, be a good wife and be on the same team with my husband. Well, and I say this to women often, if you really wanna be the greatest impact on your husband, show him what his relationship with Christ ought to look like. How’s he supposed to learn what it looks like to be a great helper to his husband if he can’t learn that from you? Well, we can learn it from Ruth. Here’s an example, if you don’t have a human in your life that shows you that for whatever reason, here’s one right here. It looks like courageously following what you know is true. It means choosing a mindset, and no matter what the circumstances are, that’s true. It is following that courageously, being willing to put yourself at risk to do so, choosing to trust those things that are trustworthy because of God. Either directly for God or because God is in it. And then serving others, serving others and being loyal to these people that you care for. There it is, that’s what Ruth was, and her name was lifted up. I mean, she got a book in the Bible.
Kylie: Yeah her sister-in-law doesn’t.
Tim: Yeah, we don’t even know her name!
Tim: And Ruth’s got the book in the Bible, and she’s in the lineage of Christ, and she’s grandma to King David, which means she’s grandma to Jesus, the Son of David. That’s pretty good! Well, that’s the mindset that we talked about in Philippians. Having this mindset to be like Christ was what Ruth did. She chose that mindset.
Joey: Kylie, as a woman, what do you glean from the story of Ruth? What do you appreciate about it?
Kylie: I think that Ruth is BA. I just think she’s incredible. I’m pretty apt to take risks in general, but just seeing the fruit of her choices and that it takes making hard decisions and hard choices and not choosing the easy path or the path that would benefit you the most, but just serving others and making difficult choices actually bears so much fruit. It’s not necessarily fruit that she foresees happening. She had no idea, like we talked about in the beginning, what was gonna happen, and yet she chose it anyways. And how her character and the things that she did actually reaped a great benefit not only for herself, but for her mother-in-law and for her entire lineage, her family. And so I just think, as a woman, she is an incredible example to look to and see what it really means to be a woman of character and that it takes risks and it takes courage.
Tim: By the way, I misspoke. We do know the sister-in-law’s name, her name was Orpah. All we know is that she went back. She may have been great, but she wasn’t Ruth. We know to follow Ruth.
Kylie: And we have very little to say about Orpah today.
Women as the Helper
Tim: Now, interestingly enough, if you go to 1 Peter 3, it talks to women. And I’m not gonna read it, I’m gonna paraphrase it. And it tells husbands how to deal with wives and wives have to deal with husbands. And it says, “Okay, wives, I’m gonna tell you how to deal with your husband in a way that serves him and tell men how to deal with wives in a way that serves them.” Why? Because we’re supposed to love each other as we love ourselves, right? And men and women are different. So you need to understand your man in order to serve him. And here’s what you don’t do, use words. Men are not word-oriented. Well, let me start over again. Here’s what you don’t do when your husband is misbehaving. And if they’re male, they will be misbehaving, that’s what we do. We’re very focused, and physiologically, we’re really good at focus. And when we’re self-serving, we focus on self better than you do, more extremely than you do. Don’t interrupt that with words. Okay, it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work. Don’t use words instead, do this, be Ruth. Be a person of phenomenal character, the hidden person of the heart, with incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Be Ruth. And that is really attractive to men. Even if they’re total knuckleheads, most of them will come around because of your example. So that’s a pretty great thing for women. Now, when we as men or women are being the bride of Christ, we can follow that same example.
Joey: I was just thinking about the bride of Christ and how we learned a lot from Ruth about what it means for all of us to be the bride of Christ alongside the groom, which is Jesus. I mean, talk about the things we just all need to be thinking about individually. Community, courage, taking action, but with integrity, the legacy that we receive in terms of being co-heirs with Christ and sharing in His suffering and His glory. It’s all right there in her story, what it looks like to be a good bride, and we’re all called to be the bride of Christ.
Tim: Exactly. Now, in 1 Peter 3, it does tell women to use other kinds of words. It says to make your husband feel like a lord. It says, “as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord…” Make him feel like he’s really somebody important and a great protector. Use those words because men are incredibly fearful of female rejection, and I think most women are oblivious to that. So when you start trying to correct them, you chase them away because that feels terrible. That feels like rejection. And when you say, “Oh, you know, Joey, you’re such an amazing protector and you’re so good,” that’s like honey to bees. They really like that a lot. So be a great person of character and use affirming words. That’s not bad advice, just in general for us as people. Why don’t you be a great example, and then use affirming words whenever you can? That’s not bad. It’s pretty good as a general application.
Joey: That’s not bad at all.
Tim: So Ruth, I think, is just a really incredible example. And the Judeo-Christian tradition is unique in presenting both male heroes and female heroes. It elevates very distinct roles while insisting that there’s equal value in each of those roles. Eve was made as a helper. The word helper in the Old Testament is used almost exclusively of–
Joey: God? That’s cool.
Tim: Almost exclusively. “God is my helper in time of need.” So, therefore, is being a helper a low thing or a high thing?
Joey: Clearly a high thing.
Tim: That’s what God is. God is a helper. If you diminish helping, you’re diminishing God. Having a proper perspective and a proper view of men and women. Male and female, He created us. So the unity of maleness and femaleness is an expression of God because God is a great helper.