Ruth 1:6-18 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
Well, after a year’s worth of treachery in Hosea, we were able to get all of the hard stuff in Ruth out in one sermon. This is an emotional passage, but nothing tragic happens. In fact, while we don’t know for sure what happened to Orpah, we do know for sure that this scene sets up everything good that will happen in the book. Welcome to the green pastures of obedience.
At times it can be difficult to know what genuine godliness looks like in real life. How do we honor God when a loved one dies? How do we honor God at work? How do we honor God when we are in danger? How do we honor God when our family thinks differently than we do? These are the types of questions that we have all faced, along with the frustration of not knowing the specific answers.
We have a perfect example in Jesus, of course; but as a man, his example is an even greater help to men. What a gift it is for women to have the snapshot Ruth provides of feminine godliness (answering through her life the questions I just asked). This morning I mean to move the story along by highlighting the events that take place in 1:6-18. And then I mean to take a close look at ten aspects of the heart of a godly woman that we see in Ruth (in this passage and throughout the rest of the story as well).
Would you pray with me that God would help us all (and especially the women of Grace) understand and appreciate Ruth’s example of genuine godliness? And in seeing it in such real-life situations, let’s pray that God would help us follow her example.
THE STORY CONTINUES
Last week we looked at the first six verses of the book of Ruth. In them we saw that during the time of the judges’ rule the nation of Israel was enveloped by a famine (likely as a result of God’s judgment upon them for their sin). Consequently, an Israelite man named Elimelech (disobediently) took matters into his own hands by leading his family away from Israel and into the pagan land of Moab in search of food. While there his sons (sinfully) took Moabite wives. All the men died, leaving Elimelech’s wife, Naomi, and his sons’ wives, Ruth and Orpah, as widows.
That was last week. In this morning’s text we find out that a rumor of God having lifted the famine from Israel reached Naomi’s ears in Moab. Consequently, we get to look in on Naomi’s decision to return to her hometown and the decision of her widowed daughters-in-law of whether or not to join her.
V.7 informs us that the three women actually began the journey together. They “set out” toward Judah.
But recognizing her own perilous predicament and not wanting to draw them further into it, at some point Naomi halted the journey and strongly urged Ruth and Orpah to return home where their own mothers could better care for them and where they were more likely to find new husbands. Knowing that she could no longer provide help to them, Naomi offered them all she had: a kiss and hope that God might give to them what she could not (ḥeseḏ). It was a heart-breakingly sad scene. Every decision came with steep, undesirable costs.
I want to pause here for one moment and draw your attention to something critical. Naomi’s attempt to send Ruth and Orpah back to their hometown in order that they might find security is no small irony, and no small act of faithlessness, even if it came from a genuinely tender heart. The blessing of God at that time was in Israel. Naomi was looking (as her husband had earlier) faithlessly at what appeared to be the difficult, winding road ahead of her, instead of believing God’s promises. Her doctrine was off and, therefore, in spite of her good intentions, she was actually pleading with her daughters-in-law to go away from the only place that true blessing could be found. At best all Naomi’s wishes would come true—Ruth and Orpah would find protection and provision in new husbands in their hometown. But those things could not truly rescue the women—as nothing on earth can do. Mere sentimentality is deadly. We can truly want things to go well for others in this life while ultimately leaving them vulnerable to the judgment of God. A perfectly comfortable life without God is nothing, while a treacherous life on earth with God is everything.
It is true that their prospects in Israel looked bleak, but it is also true as the rest of the story bears witness to, that God is not bound by probabilities or common sense or anything else outside of himself. Remember those things, Grace. Remember that things are rarely as they seem to be and remember that there is no blessing apart from hope in God. Being cured from every disease, having as many prosperous children as you like, having a happy marriage, having $1,000,000, being able to travel the world, and knowing no earthly want (having everything Naomi wished for her daughters-in-law) without God is still eternal death.
Back to the story…back to Naomi’s plea for Ruth and Orpah to abandon her in her misery for a better chance at being taken care of. From their perspective, understandably, Ruth and Orpah were hesitant to leave Naomi. She was dear to them and they understood what doing so would likely mean for her. They raised their voices and wept. They promised to remain with her, “No, we will return with you to your people” (1:10).
Believing that it would be selfish to allow her daughters-in-law to join her, Naomi again pleaded with them to return to their homes. She did her best to make it clear that she had nothing to offer them; no more sons to offer in marriage and no husband of her own with which to have some; not even a guarantee of food and shelter. Naomi lamented the LORD’s bitter providence, urged the young women to leave her lest they continue to share in it, and then they all wept again.
This was too much for Orpah so she did in fact return to the city of her birth. Ruth, however, “clung” (1:14) to Naomi before making one of the most remarkable speeches in the bible. It seems that this is the moment of Ruth’s conversion. It is in 1:16-18 that we are able to witness Ruth declare, in God’s own covenantal terms (Leviticus 26:12), her allegiance to Naomi and her God.
For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
Having seen the authenticity of Ruth’s conversion, “when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more” (1:18).
It is in this conversion that Naomi’s suffering finds its meaning. We might be tempted to believe that there was a better way for God to bring Ruth to Boaz, but we do so only to demonstrate our own folly. Once again, while the path of glory often appears winding to us, God’s word repeatedly promises that it is in reality perfectly straight. Remember that, Grace, whenever you are tempted to despise the providence of God in your life. Remember how limited your vision is and how great are God’s promises to bless his people even in suffering.
And so their party of six was now down to two and our passage for this morning ends with the two women committed to returning together to Bethlehem. We’re left wondering what will become of them.
Again, Ruth is a remarkable and engaging story. It is the story of God’s constant (even if often hidden) work in the world to bring about the greatest glory and good for his name and his people. That is, Ruth shows us God’s goodness in hardship and the certain but winding path of glory.
What’s more, as I mentioned in the introduction, the book of Ruth shows God’s people how to live in a manner pleasing to him; not in some hypothetical, theoretical way, but in real-life situations that we all find ourselves in. And it is an especially helpful example for the woman of God to understand the heart of a godly woman. That’s where we’ll turn our attention for the rest of the sermon: ten things found in the heart of all women of God.
THE HEART OF A WOMAN OF GOD
Just like Proverbs 31 isn’t meant to be an exhaustive definition of godly womanhood, neither is Ruth. To suggest otherwise is to impose something on the text that the author never intended. In that sense, then, neither the book nor the person of Ruth provides for us a definition of a godly woman.
On the other hand, just like Proverbs 31, to miss the clear implications of the text for godly womanhood in Ruth is to miss something the author clearly did intend. And in that sense, then, the book and person of Ruth provide for us a description of a godly woman. Again, Ruth does not express every quality God intended women to possess, but in her we do see a number of them in action.
What’s more, several of the characteristics we see in Ruth are not unique to women. That is, they are at the heart of every person of God—men and women, young and old, across every tribe, tongue, and nation.
With those things in mind, I’d like to share with you ten aspects of the heart of a woman of God in Ruth.
Compassionate (1:9). Naomi knew that she was in trouble. But she also knew that, as much as their companionship would have been a comfort to her, Naomi didn’t want to drag her daughters-in-law into her peril. Consequently, as we just saw, she tried to send them back to their families where (she believed) they’d be more likely to have happy lives. However, we see at the end of 1:9 that Ruth (along with her sister) was genuinely saddened by Naomi’s dire circumstances. They felt bad to the point of tears because of Naomi’s loss and vulnerable state. God has wired women to love the hurting in a unique way and in Ruth we see it genuinely. Godly women are not calloused. At the heart of a godly woman is a deep pool of compassion.
Willing to help those in need (1:10). It is critical to note that Ruth didn’t merely feel bad for Naomi; her compassion compelled her to act. In 1:10, still in tears, Ruth (and Orpah) offer to stay with Naomi for comfort and help. Orpah eventually recanted, but Ruth remained steadfast. 1:14 says that Ruth “clung” to Naomi. There wasn’t anything wrong with Orphah’s decision to return to her family, but there was certainly something right (godly) in Ruth’s decision to remain.
Again, by God’s design, most of the women I know are stronger and braver in this way than most of the men I know. Godly women are quick to put their own wellbeing on the line to protect the vulnerable. Women of Grace, we thank God for you and pray that you’d continue to honor God by putting your compassion into action. We also pray that we’d increasingly join you in it.
Genuine ḥeseḏ (kindness, loyalty, and devotion) (1:16-17). We considered this in detail in the first sermon on Ruth (as one of the central themes of the book), but again we see it powerfully in this text. Godly women feel bad when they encounter suffering in others, they act to end it where possible, and they continue on with those who suffer. Caring for the hurting isn’t an event, it’s a process and a way of life for women of God. Ruth could have left as soon as her husband died (1:5), she could have left as soon as Naomi set out to return to her homeland (1:6-7), she could have left when Naomi first encouraged her to return to her people (1:8-9), she could have left when Naomi charged her to return a second time (1:12-13), she could have returned when her sister decided to go back (1:14), she could have returned when Naomi suggested it for a third time (1:15), and she could have returned at any point before or in Bethlehem, but she did not. Ruth remained loyal and devoted even when it might have cost her, her life. And so is the heart of every godly woman, especially when faced with the kinds of hardship Ruth encountered.
(These three aspects of the heart of godly women are found in our text for this morning. The final seven come from the rest of the book, which is filled with examples of Ruth’s godly heart on display.)
Submissive (2:2, 23; 3:1-6, 14). Throughout the entire story Ruth was submissive to those in authority over her (primarily Naomi and then later Boaz). Hers was a heart that eagerly accepted her role as a younger woman and then as a wife. She clearly understood and appreciated the fact that placing herself under those God had placed over her was no sign of inferiority or dishonor. In fact, it appears she understood that it was just the opposite; by God’s design, her submission was her honor and glory. Thus, while the world around us screams otherwise, godly women (godly people) understand that greatness comes from living joyfully in accord with God’s design. And wherever God’s commands are clear, godly women echo Ruth’s simple phrase, “All that you say I will do” (3:5).
Full of initiative (2:2). While it is true that Ruth was genuinely submissive (she asked Naomi for permission before acting; “let me…”), it is also true that she did not sit back and wait for ways to help to fall into her lap. She sought them out. We’re not sure how much she understood (or Naomi told her) about Israel’s gleaning laws, but we are sure that she brought up the idea of working in the fields, brought the idea to Naomi, and sought her blessing to put her plan into action. Godly women are not passive. They are full of initiative.
Hard-working and industrious (2:7, 17). Just as compassion for the hurting isn’t enough (we also need willingness to help), neither is initiative (we also need hard-work and industry). Ruth didn’t merely come up with cleaver solutions to desperate problems, she also “continued [working in the field] from early morning until [evening], except for a short rest…then she beat out what she had gleaned” (2:7, 17). Godly women are not lazy and unproductive; they are hard-working and industrious. Women of Grace, thanks again for being such a good example of this in so many ways. May God grant you increased conviction and strength for it.
Courageous (1:8-14; 2:8-9, 21-23; 3:6-9). More than once in this story, subtly but clearly, we see how vulnerable Ruth was in her service of Naomi. She allowed herself to become vulnerable physically by following a woman with no real means of providing for or protecting her. She also allowed herself to become vulnerable physically by working in dangerous fields. Thus Naomi urged her to stick close to Boaz’s women, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted” (2:22). And she made herself reputationally vulnerable by presenting herself to Boaz (at Naomi’s command) in a way that could easily have been misinterpreted as promiscuous.
Ruth did what was right regardless of the harm it may have caused her. Godly women are not cowardly. They are courageous, knowing the power and promises of God. Women of God, don’t ever let someone tell you that it is OK to be fearful, for your God is greater and stronger than any adversary you may encounter. Find your courage, then, not in your abilities or strength, but in God’s. Godly women have mountains of courage in their hearts.
Full of gratitude (2:10, 13). Even with all the difficult ways in which Ruth was forced to live a godly life, she did not become bitter. Instead, she was full of gratitude. What an amazing picture of this we see in her response to Boaz’s first act of kindness. Ruth “fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner” (2:10)? Women of God know that no matter how hard life is, and no matter how challenging it can be to remain obedient to God’s commands, they always have infinitely more than they deserve. And so they remain in a constant posture of gratitude.
Again, this is not unique to women. Every one of us who know the grace of God in Jesus have no room for bitterness or acrimony or sullenness. A right apprehension of the gospel means continual thanksgiving in the LORD. Godly women are grateful women because of their experience of the grace of God.
Faithful and honest (1:10, 15-17; 2:2, 3:5-6). Whenever Ruth said she would do something, she did it. Never once, in spite of the countless understandable opportunities, did Ruth back out on a commitment. As we already saw, she didn’t go back on her word when Naomi urged her to and her sister did. She didn’t go back on her word when keeping it meant placing herself in danger. She didn’t go back on it when it meant putting her reputation on the line. And she didn’t go back on it when it involved her own child. Of course her faithfulness and honesty were made possible by everything we saw above (especially her devotion, hard-work, and courage), but it is critical that godly women see and imitate Ruth’s faithfulness and honesty. Godly women make the right commitments and they keep them even when it’s hard.
Generous (2:17-18; 3:15-17; 4:13-17). On many occasions Ruth could have kept an extra measure of the fruit of her labor or the generosity of others directed toward her for herself. More subtly, she could have simply eaten her fill and not mentioned it to Naomi. After all she was the one doing all the work and she was the one putting herself on the line. More understandably, she could have kept her child for herself. Every mother must marvel at Ruth’s generosity to Naomi with Obed. And yet the tone of the text makes it plain that these things never entered her mind. Ruth was generous without exception. Her blessings were Naomi’s blessings; again, even her child was given to perpetuate Naomi’s (and Elimelech’s) line. Thus the story concludes, “‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (4:17). Godly women are generous; they see their every blessing not as a thing to be horded, but as means to bless others.
Compassionate, willing to help those in need , kind, loyal, and devoted, submissive, full of initiative, hard-working and industrious, courageous, full of gratitude, faithful and honest, and generous. Ruth is a remarkable example of these things for every one of us, and especially the women of God. These things are at the heart of every godly woman. And God is gracious to put them on display for us in such relatable ways.
Ladies, as you all know and have all felt deeply, none of you (none of us) have perfectly lived out the godly characteristics displayed in Ruth. With that in mind, let me close with four simple notes:
First, don’t miss the irony in all of this. Ruth was a Moabitess, Israel’s enemy. She was from a pagan people. In the time of Israel’s rebellion God raised up a foreigner to draw to himself and then display his character. The point is this: if God can use someone like Ruth to be an example to his people, he can use you too. If you’ve ever felt as if you’ll never be able to be used by God, remember Ruth, the unlikeliest example.
Second, rather than becoming discouraged by the fact that you (along with every other woman since Eve) fall short of this standard, rejoice in the facts that God loved you enough to show you in this woman what godliness looks like, and in the fact that God is certainly working these things out in you (even if much slower than you’d like). If you are trusting in Jesus, you are becoming these things.
Third, remember that Ruth didn’t always live up to the standard of Ruth. What we have here is one small slice of the life of a woman who sinned countless times. Ruth was not perfect. Certainly she acted wickedly more times than we can count. Do not compare yourselves to a snapshot of another woman (whether in person, online, or in the bible). Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Finally, fourth, you are acceptable to God not on the basis of how you measure up Ruth (or anyone else). Your worth and well-being do not come from measuring up to other women. You don’t get to heaven and you don’t get God’s pleasure for being 75 or 85 or even 95% Ruth. Jesus is your only hope. You are acceptable to God only on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. But if you are hoping in Jesus, you are entirely acceptable to God. Ruth is your example and Christ is your hope.
The point of Ruth is to move God’s great story of redemption along, introducing us to King David’s ancestors, and leading us down the winding path of glory. Along the way we are confronted with a remarkably faithful woman, one we would all do well to imitate. A little further down the line we are introduced to David’s offspring who died on a cross in our place. Let’s look ultimately to him as we seek to live our lives in a manner pleasing to God. Amen.