Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, ‘Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!’
Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, ‘We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.’
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth…
Extraordinary. Here’s a group of Israelite elders praying that Ruth, a Moabite widow, should be elevated to the same status as the great matriarchs Rachel and Leah. Seriously? Seriously.
The book of Ruth reveals her to be one of the most remarkable women not only in the Old Testament but in the entire Bible. Only she and the woman of Proverbs 31:10-31 – that exemplar of the fear of the Lord working itself out in daily life – are given the high honour of being called women of chail: valour, renown, noble character.
The extravagance of the elders’ prayer is a heartfelt response to Ruth’s deep devotion to Naomi that impels her, like Abraham, to leave home, family, native land, and relative security to live among a people hostile to her race. The prayer is also a response to Ruth’s deep devotion to the Lord that propels her to seek marriage to Boaz not for her own sake, but Naomi’s; not to preserve the name of her own husband, but that of Naomi’s husband Elimelek. This is why Boaz exclaims (3:10) that her kindness in this act exceeds even what she demonstrated in her lifelong commitment to Naomi’s welfare (1:16-18).
Indeed, in Ruth’s conduct we see a foretaste of the mindset of Christ that Paul describes in Philippians 2:4-8. She embraces the role of someone of even lower status than a servant (Ruth 2:13), she determinedly seeks the interest of another before herself, and she is prepared to lay down her body to see the Lord’s intentions – and Naomi’s yearnings – fulfilled.
When God raises up David and the dynasty that will shape the nation for the following 600 years, we see the community’s prayer answered and Ruth’s faith and conduct honoured. Ruth’s inclusion in Jesus’ genealogy reminds us, yes, that God invites all nations into relationship with him, but also how the ordinary life of an ordinary faithful person can make a huge impact beyond their own lifetime. What does God honour? Faith in him, and the loving kindness that reflects his very nature.
Ruth, of course, is Jesus’ ancestor, and in her humble, self-giving, loving surrender to God’s priorities and ways, you can see the family resemblance. We can all learn from her.
Mark’s Gateway Seven Bible Study on Ruth will be published in March.