In the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, we’re doing a special series on Women of the Bible. To introduce this series, today’s blog will focus on Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi. The relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is often the brunt of jokes, and in many cases, fraught with real-life tension. However, this was not the case for Ruth and Naomi. Not only was Ruth a “woman of noble character (Ruth 3:11),” but she was also a devoted daughter-in-law and a mother herself.
This blog series references and uses Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s book Life Sentences often. If you haven’t noticed, Dr. Wiersbe is my favorite author, but I also consider him a friend. Not only have we shared a meal together, but he has personally given me invaluable advice and prayer support several times in my ministry.
Life Sentences: Discover the Key Themes of 63 Bible Characters highlights a key sentence summing up the life of 63 Bible characters, including Ruth. I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book for your own reading. It is a huge spiritual encouragement. It works well for devotional reading and study.
Now, let’s move on to discussing this “woman of noble character” as we explore her faith in God and her relationship with her mother-in-law.
You are a woman of noble character.
– Ruth 3:11
A Woman of Noble Character
Wiersbe highlights this key sentence to best represent the character of Ruth: “You are a woman of noble character (Ruth 3:11).” This sentence was spoken by Boaz to Ruth after she follows her mother-in-law’s instruction to lay at his feet during the night. Ruth asks him to “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family” (Ruth 3:9).
Before we move forward, let’s backpedal some. If you are unfamiliar with the story of Ruth, we encourage you to read this short 4-chapter book in the Bible. Wiersbe explains, “This book is about ordinary people involved in the ordinary activities of life.”
In this story, we learn that Naomi’s husband and her two sons died, leaving her and her two daughters-in-law alone without means for survival. This is devastating today, but 1,000 years before Jesus, it was catastrophic. Naomi chooses to return to Bethlehem and tells her daughters to go back to their own family and their own gods; however, after much weeping, only Orpah leaves. Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi and follow God.
“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.”
– Ruth 1:15-17
Once they settle in Bethlehem, Naomi is brokenhearted and bitter. It is Ruth who must find a way to survive in this new place. Ruth finds work and provides the two women with provisions. Then, Naomi points out Boaz as Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, which means he “had the privilege or responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need (Got Questions, https://www.gotquestions.org/kinsman-redeemer.html.)” This basically meant Boaz had a duty to marry Ruth to provide for her and Naomi. He certainly did not have to, but in that culture, there was a social obligation.
Now that we have the covered the basics of the story, let’s discuss why Boaz said Ruth was a woman of noble character and why Wiersbe claims this is her key life sentence.
The Way Mothers Handle the Difficulties They Face
Ruth is facing difficult life circumstances. She is away from her family, and her husband is dead. As Wiersbe describes, “[Ruth] was a young widow with no hopes of ever marrying a Jew in Bethlehem. God commanded the Jews to show kindness to ‘the alien, the fatherless, and the widow’ (Deut.24:19-21; 26:12-13), and Ruth was all three.” In short, Ruth was in a hard spot.
However, Ruth did not allow her circumstances to define her. Nor did she allow her circumstances to harden her or turn to bitterness. Naomi, in contrast, is struggling, but who can blame her? Naomi asks her friends and family in Bethlehem to no longer call her Naomi but to call her Mara, which means “bitter” (Ruth 1:20). But this is not the end of Naomi’s story. God used Ruth to uplift and encourage her mother-in-law.
Even considering Ruth’s difficult circumstances and dealing with a challenging mother-in-law, “by the grace of God, Ruth became a believer, so much so that Naomi came to depend on her (Wiersbe, Life Sentences)”. In the first chapter, Ruth chooses to follow Naomi and put God first. In the second chapter, she cares for Naomi and works in the fields. She handles her challenges with fascinating grace.
Mothers Listen and Advise
Another reason Ruth is a woman of noble character is her willingness to listen. She does not act like she knows everything or does not need help. She does just the opposite. She respects Naomi’s knowledge and wisdom. She listens to Naomi’s advice and follows it.
Likewise, Naomi was trusted to advise Ruth. According to Wiersbe, “Because Naomi knew the Word of God, she was able to tell Ruth exactly what to do. Ruth submitted to Naomi, and the Lord did the rest.” It was only through prayer and an understanding of Scripture that Naomi knew how to put Ruth in the place where Boaz could act as her kinsman-redeemer.
Mothers are Humble Servants
In the book of Ruth, Ruth’s humility is abundantly clear. She takes on a humble job gleaning from the fields, which is essentially picking up the leftovers. It’s not a very glamorous position, but she was not too proud to do what she needed to do. She also serves and cares for Naomi – even when Naomi is in a very dark, bitter place.
As Naomi experienced Ruth’s lovingkindness, she was moved to serve her as well. She served Ruth “as she prayed and planned for her daughter-in-law’s future well-being (Wiersbe)”. Both women were putting the needs of someone else above their own.
Mothers Inspire Hope
Ruth’s continued love and loyalty towards her mother-in-law despite their differences and challenging circumstances made an enormous difference in Naomi’s life. When the book of Ruth begins, Naomi is hopeless. When the book ends, Naomi’s hope has been restored.
“The women said to Naomi: ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’ Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.”
– Ruth 4:14-16
Ruth’s noble character led to her name appearing in the genealogy of Jesus. Ruth and Boaz were married, and Ruth became a mother. “From this happy union Obed was born, and Obed became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David the king. This is how Ruth the Moabite alien got her name in the Messiah’s genealogy (Matt. 1:5-6), along with rejects like Tamar and Rahab and Bathsheba (Wiersbe).” Ruth was part of God’s ultimate plan to bring hope to the world.