March 31, 2007

Woman of Excellence

Here we are in our third week of looking closely at the book of Ruth…and we have yet to say very much about the girl for whom the book is named! But there is much to say about Ruth—and there is a reason why history knows this little short story by her name. She absolutely shines in these four brief chapters. And she is rightly called (3.11) “a woman of excellence.” But what was so excellent about Ruth?

First, notice her commitment (ch.1). Her husband had died. Her mother-in-law was moving to a foreign land. She had every reason to cut ties with Naomi and her married family. In fact, her sister-in-law had not needed much persuasion to cut the cord (v.14). But Ruth would not be swayed. By marrying Mahlon, Ruth had made a commitment to care for his mother, too. As Naomi grew older, it would be Ruth’s job to be the mother of the household—and the support of her aging in-laws. But now she had a good excuse to lay all that responsibility aside. Instead, she kept her vow. And her speech to Naomi, in 1.16-17, is such a beautiful poem of commitment that we often use it today in ceremonies that mark the greatest human commitment—weddings!

Second, notice Ruth’s ingenuity (ch.2). Now both she and Naomi were hungry upon arriving back in Bethlehem. One of them was going to have to start pounding the pavement in search of some income. Now you would think, given that Bethlehem was her hometown, that Naomi would have taken the initiative. Even if she herself was too old to work, it seems she would have been the one directing Ruth as they sought daily bread. But notice verse 2. It was Ruth who approached Naomi with a work-proposal. And, as you read on in the chapter, you find that Ruth was quite the industrious worker, too (v.17). She worked the same long hours as the robust farmhands! Ruth was a hard-worker!

Thirdly, notice Ruth’s submissiveness (ch.3). Naomi gave her some strange instructions at the beginning of chapter 3. ‘You want me to sneak down to the threshing floor at night, uncover Boaz’s feet, lie down on the floor, and suggest a marriage arrangement?’ ‘That’s right.’ ‘OK. “All that you say I will do”’ (v.5). Isn’t that great? Don’t you wish your kids would obey like that? Don’t you wish you obeyed God so quickly and unquestioningly? I do…but, somehow, I don’t obey as I should. And Ruth’s submissiveness—under much stranger requests than most of God’s requests of me—rebukes me.

So, Ruth was indeed “a woman of excellence.” And, as such, she is an example, not only to women, but to us all. Women can learn from Ruth’s excellence as they seek to relate to in-laws, husbands, and so on. But all of us could stand to have a little more Ruth in our relationship to the LORD! Are we as committed to Him as she was to her mother-in-law? Are we working for His glory as hard as Ruth worked? Are we as submissive to our Head as she was to hers? Probably not. So we have some growing to do as we think about Ruth!

But let us also think about Jesus! No, we are not fully committed, passionately working, or totally submissive to our God. But Jesus is! And He Himself is our righteousness! So…let us learn from the good example of Ruth. But let us look beyond her to the One who not only sets for us an example, but who is also able to save those of us who do not follow it as we should!

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