Ruth: a Role-Model of Feminine Spirit
Ruth Gathering Grain
A Mother-in-Law's Sage Advice on Finding the Right Man
The Book of Ruth is one of the shortest books in the Bible. It follows after five books of Moses, one of Joshua, and the Book of Judges, all of which involved many stories of war and killing. But the Book of Ruth is different.
It involves people from the famous town of Bethlehem. A man, his wife, and two sons once left there to live outside Hebrew territory due to a famine in their town.
After they moved however, there were several deaths in the family. First the father died, then both sons married local women, but both sons died too.
One of the women who married a son was Ruth.
After the trauma of these deaths, the mother heard that the famine was over and decided to return to Bethlehem.
One widowed daughter-in-law stayed back home with her family. She wanted to live in her native land where her non-Hebrew people, known as Gentiles, worshiped their “gods.” But the other daughter-in-law, Ruth, vowed to stay with her mother-in-law, adapt to Hebrew society, and worship their God, the Lord God of Israel.
This was a turning point in Ruth’s life. Up to this time, the entire Bible was devoted to drawing vital distinctions between those who worshiped the false gods of the Gentiles (that is, non-Hebrews), and the Hebrew people, the heroes of the Bible, who worshiped the one true God of Israel, the same One known to Adam and Eve, and Noah, and followed by their descendants Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (also known as Israel, and with whom the name “Israel” originated), Moses, Joshua, and the many good Judges who placed faith in God, such as Gideon.
One point was made very clear in the Bible: those who worshiped the true Lord God of Israel would succeed in their endeavors, while others would fail.
Ruth, therefore, made a wise choice.
A certain wealthy man in Bethlehem was named Boaz. He was part of the mother-in-law’s deceased husband’s family.
One day Ruth asked her mother-in-law’s permission to try to meet a young man, perhaps one of the workers on the farms. With permission, Ruth went out across the fields trying to help workers who harvested grain and other crops.
She unwittingly entered the fields of Boaz and followed after his workers, trying to help them. Boaz noticed her as she was helping the workers.
When he learned who she was, Boaz decided to hire her. He had heard of Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law and her faith in the Lord God of Israel.
Ruth returned home happy that day. The mother-in-law informed her of the fact that Boaz was an in-law.
Ruth told her mother-in-law of Boaz’s advising her to stay close to the young men workers, whom Boaz had ordered to take good care of Ruth. But the mother-in-law advised her instead to stay close to the women workers, and not associate with any workers from the other fields near Boaz’s land.
As the harvest season ended, the mother-in-law, one night, advised Ruth to bathe, put on her best dress, and go to the building where Boaz and his helpers were planning to spend the night. She advised Ruth to wait until Boaz ate dinner and laid down to go to sleep; then uncover his feet and lay down nearby.
Ruth did this as Boaz began to sleep. But when he awakened suddenly at midnight and saw someone lying nearby, he said, “Who are you?”
“I am Ruth, your maidservant,” she answered. “Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.”
Boaz told her she’d been very kind in not pursuing any of the younger men, but that he could not agree yet to take her under his wing because there was a closer relative who would have first priority to perform that “duty.”
The idea of relatives having a duty to care for each other was in keeping with advice at other points in the Bible. Families stuck together. Intermarriages between members of the same “tribe” were encouraged.
The Hebrews traced their ancestry back to the twelve “tribes” that began with the twelve sons of Jacob (also known as Israel).
There was a lot of stick-to-your-own-tribe advice in the Bible. The supreme loyalty, however, was to the Hebrew people in general, as characterized by their worshiping of the Lord God of Israel (Jacob), an invisible God who gave advice to assist those who believed in Him to attain worldly rewards.
To this day, the “children” (ancestors) of “Israel” (Jacob) often consider themselves one world-wide family. There is tremendous loyalty and interconnection among Hebrews (now usually called Jews) no matter what country or city they may call home.
The connection is based on common ancestry. But the essential, defining point of Hebrews is their belief in a God who will answer the prayers of the faithful to assist with worldly problems.
In such a broad sense, many people, not only Hebrews might consider themselves members of the same human family, all having faith that this one same invisible God can help with problems we face in our lives.
Boaz was displaying his loyalty to his deceased family members. With great loyalty and consideration for the family, he offered the “inheritance” of his deceased relatives, the husband and sons of the mother-in-law, to the other man who was a closer relative to them than Boaz.
But Boaz made it clear to that man that he would have to buy and accept not only the property but also Ruth, because she was part of the family “inheritance.”
The closer relative declined the offer. He felt that buying the inheritance would jeopardize his own inheritance rights, although he didn't clarify what he meant by that.
Regardless, Boaz immediately decided to buy the “inheritance” including Ruth.
Today a major transaction like this would have to be notarized at least, but back then it was enough that one person take off his shoe and hand it to the other person. The elders witnessed the deal and wished Boaz good luck with Ruth.
They did have good fortune. She bore him a son, who later turned out to be the grandfather of the great King David, a distant ancestor of Jesus also.
While the Bible previously warned Hebrews against intermarrying with Gentiles, the story of the Book of Ruth showed that when Gentiles embraced the concept of the invisible God of Israel instead of false idols and images representing the gods of Gentiles, intermarriage could work just fine.
Boaz and Ruth
Was Boaz Seduced?
Was he ever, might be the answer. But what really is seduction? It's all about gaining someone's intrigue and excitement. It's true that Ruth acted deliberately in following her mother-in-law's advice. But was Boaz led astray, or did he rather prefer the opportunity to pursue what may have been on his mind in the first place?
Boaz was no Casanova. He needed a little coaxing to bring out his natural amorous feelings for Ruth. Seduction is too negative a term to use to describe Ruth's gentle and subtle actions on the night when she first lay at a distance from the sleeping Boaz.
Rather than seducing him, she charmed him, not with glamor but with practical assistance that proved beneficial to accomplishing the task at hand, which proceeded much more efficiently after a nice nap.
Ruth was not forbidden fruit. Both she and Boaz were single and free to marry. They were both of the age of majority, Boaz completely past any semblance of childhood. But the fact that Boaz was a man of honor who married Ruth, and not just a playboy, is the saving grace of the Book of Ruth, and what makes it one of the finest stories in the Bible. It represents a noble beginning of a fine marriage.