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Sleeping Beauty. Cinderella. Snow White. All of these fairy tales conjure up images of handsome, capable princes coming to the rescue of some unlucky damsel just waiting to be swept off her feet and escorted into the life she was always meant to have. It’s not only in children’s fairy tales, but our television shows, films, novels, and even advertising are drenched in themes of male dominance and female fragility. Women whose lives are on pause while they await their “knight in shining armor”. Emotional Porn.
If any of these images come to mind when you think of Ruth and Boaz’s love story, then you, too, have fallen victim to the lie that one becomes a wife through strategic planning, by being at the right place at the right time in perfect view of the perfect man. Peeling back the layers of one of the Bible’s most beloved romances, one would find that Ruth, not Boaz, was the true hero.
In case you aren’t familiar, Ruth’s story went a little something like this:
- Naomi and her husband and sons leave their home, Bethlehem, due to famine.
- The family settles in Moab.
- Naomi’s husband passes away.
- She is now a widow.
- The two sons marry two Moabite women.
- (Hopefully, the women will bear sons for their husbands, so the father’s legacy will be preserved.)
- Both of Naomi’s sons die before they have children, leaving her and her two daughters-in-law as childless widows.
Being a widow was a very vulnerable position in Biblical times because, according to law, women had no right to property or inheritance. Money flowed from man to man. The men had an obligation to attend to the needs of women in their care, but without a man around, a woman had no legal provision. This prompted Naomi to return to her homeland. Because she was past childbearing age, it was unlikely that she would remarry. All she could hope for was that one of her male relatives would take her in and care for her.
Before they got too far from Moab, Naomi told her two daughters-in-law to return to their home and their people. Naomi realized that going back provided the best possible chance the girls would remarry and have children. Both of the girls protested for a while, but eventually, Orpah is persuaded by Naomi to turn back. The text says in Ruth 1:14 that Ruth “clung tightly to Naomi” and in verse 16, Ruth adamantly tells Naomi “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (NLT)
“She gave up the opportunity to be in a place of comfort, among family, and the likelihood of living a decent life, because she was willing to love someone or something bigger than herself.”
Ruth had every right to be selfish in this moment, yet she chose selflessness. Marriage and children were the only conditions that guaranteed that a woman would be provided for, yet she willingly relinquished her rights and aligned herself to not only Naomi but to her God and her people. In Mark 10: 29-30, Jesus tells his disciples that “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.” (NIV) What Ruth didn’t realize was that she was cashing in on this promise early. She gave up the opportunity to be in a place of comfort, among family, and the likelihood of living a decent life, because she was willing to love someone or something bigger than herself.
Once they arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth immediately went to work. She asked for Naomi’s permission to glean her relative’s field. “Gleaning” refers to picking up the leftover grain after a field had been harvested. During Ruth’s day, it was illegal to harvest everything. Leaving grain behind was a show of kindness to the poor and the widows, those who were alone and had no one to care for them. Gleaning was a very humiliating practice as it demonstrated that you were in lack, and had to depend on someone else for your very basic needs. This act reveals Ruth’s humility. Not only did she glean the fields, but she worked diligently, working from morning until evening, only resting a few minutes here and there to make sure that she brought Naomi plenty of grain.
“Instead of pursuing town for a husband among the young men (Ruth 3:10), she went to work.”
After Boaz notices her–she very likely did not look like the other gleaners– he told her to glean only in his field and he would make sure she was taken care of and no one would mess with her.
Despite popular belief, Ruth was not swept off her feet by Boaz once he saw her working his field. The text says that she gleaned until harvesting was done, at least a month to two months worth of work. She worked, day in and day out, sun up to sun down, for weeks making sure that she and Naomi were cared for (Ruth 2:23). Instead of pursuing town for a husband among the young men (Ruth 3:10), she went to work.
After Ruth had completed the harvest, Naomi desired to “seek security” for Ruth that it “may be well” with her (Ruth 3:1). That security came in the form of Boaz. It was Naomi’s idea that Ruth marry Boaz as a way of securing a future for herself. Once again, Ruth submitted to Naomi and agreed. Because she was a foreigner and likely unfamiliar with the custom, Ruth had to follow Naomi’s directions step-by-step. This was more than being at the right place at the right time. This was about obedience and ritual and custom. This was about submitting to the process that had been outlined for her prosperity.
Once Ruth did what Naomi had said and presented herself to Boaz, he gladly agreed to do all he could to help her, especially because of her reputation in town. Since Ruth’s arrival to Bethlehem, she had demonstrated character, humility, diligence, compassion. She had proven to be a virtuous woman, the kind of woman any man would be honored to call his wife.
“This was more than being at the right place at the right time. This was about obedience and ritual and custom. This was about submitting to the process that had been outlined for her prosperity.”
Many people make the story of Ruth and Boaz a story about a rich and powerful man who intervened and changed the life of Ruth, an unlucky widow who just happened to be at the right place at the right time. But this story is not about Boaz as much as it is about Ruth. Boaz was a great man, but he didn’t do anything special. All of the grace and favor he showed to Ruth was in line with his wealth and status. He did the right thing because the right thing was the only thing to do. Ruth, on the other hand, showed great faith and reckless abandon. We should all live for this type of reckless abandon for the things of God that will attract His very best to our lives.
“Ruth did not need Boaz to complete her. Before she ever met Boaz, she was complete in herself because she had learned to love beyond what was reasonable and give beyond what felt comfortable. Boaz was simply the icing on the cake.”
Ruth was selfless, humble, and diligent in her service to Naomi. She was gracious, and virtuous, and purposed. She lay down her life, her dreams, her rights for what was best, not for her, but for someone else. She was the hero of her own love story because she was willing to live a life of sacrifice. This is the greatest of all love (John 15:13). Ruth did not need Boaz to complete her. Before she ever met Boaz, she was complete in herself because she had learned to love beyond what was reasonable and give beyond what felt comfortable. Boaz was simply the icing on the cake.
How many of us can say that we have found the Ruth inside of us? That each and every day we get up on purpose, working diligently in service to someone else? Someone who needs us. Someone who is struggling. Someone who has no one to care for them. How many of us have laid down the right to have what we think we deserve and instead chosen to submit ourselves as a living sacrifice?
Instead of looking for Boaz, maybe you should spend some time looking for Ruth. She’s in there somewhere.