It’s late Spring and the sun is high in the Israeli sky. Ruth bends down to collect pieces of barley dropped by the harvesters. She is a foreigner in this land and a childless widow. Fortunately, Israel has provisions in its law made for people like her, a woman with little lot in life, so she can glean in this field, and at least she won’t starve. When she returns home, the only one to greet her will be her mother-in-law, Naomi. A woman who too has seen loss: a husband and two sons. Naomi now desires to be referred to as Marah, which means bitter.
I can only imagine the countenance of a woman who desires to be called bitter and the joy she’d be to live with! I’d say Ruth indeed has very little going for her, except for one thing. Ruth has a good reputation. She appears to be the talk of the town. Her dedication to her embittered mother-in-law seems to have impressed the locals, so they esteem her.
The goodness of a good name
The Bible tells us that, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1), we shall see if that proves true for Ruth, a woman with little to her name except the reputation it carries. Will her good reputation make a difference for her?
What the townsfolk have to say about Ruth catches the ear of a wealthy landowner named Boaz, the man who’s field she happens to be gleaning in. When Boaz and Ruth first meet the following exchange occurs:
“So, Boaz said to Ruth, ‘My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.’ At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, ‘Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?’ Boaz replied, ‘I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’” (Ruth 2:8-12)
Ruth’s good reputation precedes her and paves the way for the rest of the story’s events to unfold.
You see Boaz isn’t just any wealthy landowner, he happens to be of the same clan that Naomi’s husband, Elimelek, was. This makes Boaz a relative of Naomi, and according to Israeli law, it puts him in the unique position of kinsmen redeemer. If he were to marry Ruth, Boaz could redeem Naomi’s family land and legacy.
It might seem like this is too good to be true, like Naomi had to be in the background somehow pulling strings and Ruth didn’t just “happen” upon Boaz’s field. However, there is nothing in the story that hints this “coincidence” is human schemed. Everything points to God’s providence.
Coincidence? More like providence
Boaz and Ruth do get married, redeeming Naomi’s family land, and they have a son, redeeming her family legacy. It truly is a real-life rags to riches, happily ever after tale, but it doesn’t end there. Boaz and Ruth become the great grandparents to King David, and therefore are in the direct lineage of Jesus. They become players in the greatest redemption story of all time!
Many times in Scripture we see God use obviously flawed people (Samson, Paul, Jacob, etc) to bring about His plan of redemption. In Ruth, it is noteworthy to see God use two people of upstanding character. Not that Ruth and Boaz are perfect, but the book has nothing outright negative to say about either of them. I’m keen to believe it’s because this book highlights the significance of a good reputation. God uses the flawed and the faithful, as well as the flaws of the faithful, to do His work. It’s so important to remember He doesn’t use just one type of person.
When thinking about the type of people we want to be, both Boaz and Ruth appear to be excellent role models:
For men, Boaz exemplifies a generous, honest, God-fearing man.
And, for women, Ruth embodies the particularly high calling of the Proverbs 31 women. Industrious, well esteemed, faithful, and courageous Ruth helps take the mystery out of the lofty creature described as the wife of noble character.
As we read the pages of Ruth we see the attributes of the Proverbs 31 women play out, and ultimately as Proverbs 31:30-31 extols, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate,” we see how Ruth is indeed honored. When Boaz exclaims, “All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character,” (Ruth 3:11) the reaction uses the same phrasing as the opening question of the Wife of Noble Character Epilogue in Proverbs 31, “A wife of noble character who can find?” (Proverbs 31:10). Wife, mother, wealthy landowner, Ruth’s circumstances radically change in the series of a few short chapters.
It would appear Proverbs 22:1 is indeed a valuable piece of wisdom. Ruth’s good reputation was the hinge pin upon which her life was able to transform. Of course, God was moving in the details, but her reputation paved the way for His work, and she became a vessel through which God blessed those directly around her and countless future generations. Through the story of Ruth, we learn to never underestimate the value of a good reputation or the ability of God to redeem.
FOR FURTHER READING: Ruth 1-4, Matthew 1:5
THE MEANING BEHIND HER NAME: Ruth is a female name of Hebrew origin, meaning “friend,” “friendship,” or “compassionate friend.” In the Bible, she was indeed a compassionate, loyal friend to her mother-in-law Naomi after the death of both of their husbands.
THEMES IN HER STORY:
Redemption. The story of Ruth barely mentions God by name, and yet His presence is evident everywhere. Using unlikely, but faithful people, He masterfully works out His plan of redemption. We witness the personal redemption of Naomi’s family line, rescued by Boaz through his marriage to Ruth. We also see the working of God’s ultimate redemptive work as Ruth becomes the great grandmother to King David, and in due course a direct ancestor of Jesus. The story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz shows us how God can use personal restoration for His greater restorative work in the world. The good He is working in our lives does not just end with us nor should it!
Reputation. Reading through Ruth this time the thing that stuck out to me most was the value of a good reputation. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” And Ruth discovers just how true this verse is. Having no silver or gold but having a good name, Ruth earns immediate favor in the eyes of Boaz (a man who does happen to have silver and gold).
MENTIONED IN JESUS’ GENEALOGY: As a grandmother of King David, she is even mentioned by name in Jesus’ Matthew genealogy, an incredibly high honor for a women (not to mention a foreigner!).