by Steven Chan
2 August 2010
In Prov 31:10-12, the Bible describes the blessedness and value of a virtuous wife: “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.” But a virtuous wife must necessarily also be a virtuous woman and in the wonderful story of Ruth, we come across the Bible’s description of a virtuous woman.
Due to the famine in the land of Judah (Ruth 1:1), Elimelech brought his wife Naomi and their two sons to the neighbouring country of Moab where their sons subsequently took their wives from the local women of Moab. Tragedies befell the family when first Elimelech died and then their two sons also died, adding sorrow upon sorrow for the mother Naomi. When Naomi decided to return to Judah, she asked “her two daughters-in-law to return each to her mother’s house” and blessed them saying, “the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.” (Ruth 1:8). After some initial insistence of wanting to follow Naomi back to Judah, one of the daughters in law, Orpah finally relented and returned home – at which point Naomi said to Ruth: “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”
But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever 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. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:15-17) The commitment that Ruth made to her mother in law is one that is most touching and endearing – in fact, it contains the sentiment that is often expressed in the marriage vow: “till death do us part”
Ruth is a virtuous woman because of her commitment to her mother in law and the extent of that commitment: an all encompassing one – she promised to be with her, by her side, at all times, live with her accept her people and God as her own as well – all the days of her life! She was not obliged to do so as Naomi had asked her to return to her own people and start a new life. She must have felt deep compassion for the needs of her mother in law who was left all alone. She acted beyond what was expected of her. She stood out as virtuous woman because of her extraordinary sacrifice and commitment for the well-being of her mother in law. One could only describe her quality of behaviour as one of great excellence. This was described by Boaz in Ruth 2:11-12 as follows:
“It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Later on in Ruth 3:10-11, Boaz further observed: “Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich.”
Ruth’s demonstration of kindness (to her mother in law) and her personal sacrifice for the well-being of her mother in law grew even more abundant over time; it was not just for a short period of time. It was not skin deep. It reflected her true character as it became more evident over time.
One could postulate that Ruth was kind to her mother in law only because Naomi was also a kind person as she had of her accord asked the two daughters in law to return to their homes, find new husbands and start new lives. But then the other daughter in law, Orpah, who was shown the same kindness by Naomi, chose to accept Naomi’s offer and departed from her. According to Ruth 1:14, “they both lifted up their voices and wept again” but it is interesting that the Bible specially noted that whilst “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.” Therein lies the key difference.
Whilst Naomi initially felt depressed by God’s dealing with her as stated in Ruth 1:20-21(“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”), in the end she must have felt very blessed to have discovered God’s incredible blessings for her in the person of her daughter in law, Ruth – as “the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.” (Ruth 4:14-15)
Ruth was no great prophetess and preached no great sermon but her almost quiet but virtuous life of love and kindness which entailed great personal sacrifices, resulted in God honouring her by placing her in the lineage from which David would be born and thereafter, Jesus would also be born: “There is a son born to Naomi.” And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David (Ruth 4:17; Matt 1:1-17). May each one of us learn to demonstrate the virtue of kindness, love and self-sacrifice, and thereby let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matt 5:16).