Strong women in the Bible: How Ruth leads us to Jesus

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You can’t talk about strong women in the Bible without mentioning the famous story of Ruth.

Ruth’s story was so amazing that she has a separate book in the Bible named after her. The Book of Ruth is often seen as a romantic story about the love between two people, or as a lesson in loyalty, but there is so much more to it than that.

I think the romance part is often overstated because, in the Book of Ruth, romantic love isn’t mentioned anywhere. Instead, it accentuates loyalty, kindness, working hard, obedience, and humbleness. Which have little to do with romance.

But if you dig a little deeper, you will find that the Book of Ruth tells a story of even greater importance than all of those valuable traits I just mentioned.

There are at least 7 ways in which the Book of Ruth leads us to Jesus Christ. And that is what I would like to focus on in this article.


How the Book of Ruth points to Jesus Christ


1 The future foretold

When we start digging, the names of the people mentioned in the Book of Ruth give us a first glimpse of a treasure that can be found beneath the soil. Because there is something interestingly prophetic going on with their names.

Elimelech

Ruth’s father-in-law, who went to Moab to flee from the famine, was called Elimelech. And Elimelech means “God is King”.

Naomi

The name of Elimelech’s wife, Naomi, means “pleasant” or “sweet”.

After the death of her sons, Naomi returned to her hometown, and she did not want to be called sweet or pleasant anymore. Instead, she called herself “bitter” (Mara).

Mahlon and Chilion

The names of the sons of Naomi and Elimelech are Mahlon and Chilion, which respectively mean “man of sickness” and “coming to an end”. We don’t learn why they were named like that, maybe they were sickly from birth, but we know for sure that both of them die (likely relatively young) while they were living in Moab.

Orpah

Chilion’s wife is named Orpah, which is a Moabite name that probably means “neck”.

Ruth

Mahlon was married to Ruth. Interestingly, Ruth does not have a Moabite name, even though she was from Moab, just like Orpah. She has a Hebrew name. And her name means “friend” or “companion”.

Boaz

After being widowed, Ruth would marry Boaz, whose name means “in strength” or “by strength”. And Boaz was a man with power indeed. He was part of the family of Elimelech (God is King), and he seems to have been a true man of God. Boaz was from Bethlehem, Jesus’ town of birth. And interestingly, one of the pillars of the temple of the Lord that Solomon built, was also called Boaz (2 Chronicles 3:17).

When these names were given to these people, nobody knew how their stories would unfold. Yet, the meaning of their names doesn’t only teach us something about them, but their names and their lives also point to a truth that would unfold about a thousand years later.

God clearly had a plan for them worked out even before they were born, which would bring Him glory then and now.

Let’s dig on to see how the story of Ruth points to Jesus.


2 Leaving your old life behind

Ruth lives up to her name by being a true friend to Naomi when she sticks with her to go to an unknown country, leaving all that is familiar to her behind: her parents, other family members, and probably friends, her language, her culture, her gods, everything!

Even though she loved Naomi (Ruth 4:15), that had to be a sacrifice.

Yet, this is precisely the type of loyalty Jesus expects of us. Listen to what He says in Matthew 10:37 (ESV): “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Or what Jesus said to the rich man who said he wanted to inherit eternal life: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:21-22, ESV)

We should be willing to leave every worldly thing behind to follow Jesus. Jesus always tells us to stop focusing on the things in this world, whether that is people or stuff. He teaches us to focus on doing the will of God instead, in order to gain an eternal reward and find true and eternal friendship and family through Him. (John 15:14, Mark 3:35)

So, don’t put your neck on the line like Orpah and throw away your future when confronted with resistance, but be faithful and persevering in following Jesus.

Continuing to trust God’s promises

Ruth’s loyalty was predestined by God. She was always meant to be a true friend and to be adopted into the family of God’s people. God already gave her a Hebrew name telling her so, as a seal.

That seal is not the same as a guarantee that Ruth would always follow through though, for Ruth could have chosen to leave with Orpah, or she could have let bitterness and sadness over the loss of her husband rule in her heart.

Because think about it: Did God change Naomi’s name to Mara, or did she do this herself, in response to what she felt?

Naomi said that people should call her bitter, but God’s Word and the people around her continued to call her Naomi.

And let me ask: How often do you doubt God’s promise over your life?

So then, will you trust God’s Word, or will you trust what you feel?

Struggling with her bitterness, Naomi overlooked a huge blessing. She said that she went away full and returned empty, but actually, with Ruth on her side, she came back fuller! Because in Ruth 4:15 other women tell Naomi that Ruth, who loved her, has been more to her than 7 sons! Through Ruth, God has provided Naomi with more sweetness and pleasantness than she could have dreamt of.

Could it be that in your suffering, you are also overlooking the tremendous blessing right next to you?

The hard way leads to life

Ruth, friend and companion, could have wallowed in loneliness, for she left everybody behind.

But instead, she continued to follow Naomi to become a part of God’s people and to let God be her God too. It would have been easier to return to her home country, but she chose the difficult path, the hard way, motivated by love (Ruth 4:15).

Ruth essentially did what Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

She was so determined to follow Naomi, that she said that God could kill her or worse (!) if anything but death parted them.

While this is extremely loyal, her words also speak the truth about what happens with people who don’t come to God. People who prefer to continue to live in sin, who are not willing to give up their old life for a new life with Jesus. They will suffer a death in hell that is worse than the death of the body (Matthew 10:28, Mark 9:47-48, Romans 6).


3 Showing kindness to the undeserving

Naomi was truly distraught over the losses she had suffered. Living by what she saw, life was anything but pleasant.

The text doesn’t say, but I can imagine that living with Naomi wasn’t always pleasurable for Ruth either, yet she kept her word and showed great respect and kept helping her. As far as we know, she didn’t owe Naomi anything, and she could have easily gone her own way, and forget all about her mother-in-law. But motivated by love, she continued on the hard path even when she did not receive an instant reward for her kindness.

Boaz later mentioned that he heard about all that she had done for Naomi and said: “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”

Sometimes we struggle with difficult authorities in this life, whether that is a boss, a parent, a husband, a teacher, a pastor, or a politician. When God does not deliver you from them, and you are bound to them in some way, hold on a little longer. Know that He sees your struggles and your faithfulness. Know that each drop of sweat and each tear does not go unnoticed. They might not see, but He knows. They might not thank you for your patience and kindness, but He will reward you for your faithfulness with a reward that no person can match.

So don’t work to please people, but work as if you are doing it for God, because you want to please God. (Ephesians 6:5-8)

If there was a time that Naomi expressed her gratitude towards Ruth, it wasn’t mentioned. But ungratefulness should never stop us from doing good.

As a matter of fact, Jesus teaches us to be especially kind to people who can’t repay us, so that we will be repaid at the resurrection. (Luke 14:12-14)

Jesus Himself shows us great kindness each time when He shows us mercy and grace. For we are undeserving sinners too.


4 Boldly and humbly following God’s Word

Ruth was clearly set on doing something useful to put food on the table. And she must have heard of the commandments of the Lord. Because she was somehow familiar with the following rule:

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:22, ESV)

And since she was a sojourner, a guest in their country, she had the right to pick up the leftovers.

Do you see a connection with a foreign woman in the New Testament?

I’m thinking of a Canaanite woman, a pagan who came looking for Jesus. In Matthew 15 Jesus commended her for having the faith to humbly yet boldly ask for the crumbs at the Master’s table, by which she demonstrated that she had great faith.

That woman was brave and desperate. With Ruth, it was probably not much different. Because working on a field where you don’t know anyone, and where men could possibly assault you, is not something anybody is looking forward to.

Yet Ruth was bold enough to try and asked her mother-in-law for permission to go, and she gave it.

Of course, this was all premeditated by the Lord, Who planned for Ruth and Boaz to marry and, in a way, become ancestors of Jesus (Luke 3). But Ruth didn’t know this, she was just looking for a way to provide for her and her mother-in-law. And to that end, she used what she knew about the Word of God and followed His rules. Humbly yet boldly following the ways of the Lord, changed her life for the best.

In the same way, we ought to know the Word of God, before we can know how to please God, do His will, and reap His blessings. Humbly and boldly following the way of the Lord, will also change our lives for the best.

In Jesus’ Own words: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28, ESV)


How the Book of Ruth predicts the Gospel of Christ



5 Faithfully working in the fields of the Kingdom of God

Ruth’s hard work didn’t go unnoticed. Apart from a little rest and having a meal, she worked from early in the morning until evening. Right until the end of the harvest. That is how she provided for her and her mother-in-law. When Boaz came to the fields, he saw Ruth’s hard work.

Jesus tells us that that is what we should be like when He returns at the final harvest. In one of His parables in Luke 12, Jesus teaches us that we should always be ready for the Master’s return. In verses 37 and 38 He says (ESV): “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!”

Then a few verses later Jesus tells us that a faithful and wise manager is the one who gives the people who have been assigned to him, their portion of food at the proper time. That is the servant who God will set over all His possessions.

Ruth was this servant. She gave Naomi, who was assigned to her to take care of, food at the proper time. She was the one who was faithfully found doing that while the master came to the fields. And so she became the master’s bride and co-owned all of his fields.

Ruth calls herself Boaz’ servant, even though she is officially not part of his staff. But then Boaz takes it even a step further and invites her to join him at his table among his staff. Just like Jesus states in His parable. Boaz also offers her the water his men drink, and he blesses her by making her work lighter for her.

Do you see the parallel with the way Christians work in the Kingdom of God?

By faith, we are laborers in the fields of our Master’s harvest (Matthew 9:36-38). And while we work, to provide spiritual nutrition to the people assigned to us, Jesus provides us with (spiritual) food and drink. He gives us a little rest until we finally enter into His eternal Sabbath rest. (Mark 6:31, Luke 10:7, Hebrews 4:9-10)

In His kindness, He invites sinners at His table to eat with Him to share His bread and wine (Matthew 9:10). And Jesus makes the yoke lighter of all who come to Him (Matthew 11:28-30).


6 Seeking refuge in our Redeemer

All who take refuge in the Lord will be protected. And that is what Ruth did in all her actions. And so she was offered protection by Boaz, who had it in his power to command the people to leave her at peace.

Adopted into the Master’s family

Before she said a word to Boaz, he immediately called her his daughter. God also calls us His children when we seek refuge in Him. He knows His children before they have uttered a word.

Remember that Ruth was not an Israelite, but you don’t have to be, to be adopted into God’s family, and to be protected by Him.

Naomi was wise in the matter of safety. She knew that when we operate outside of the protection of the one in power, we might be assaulted. So she said: “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” (Ruth 2:22, ESV)

Because with God, working in His field, together with His other children, we find safety.

Covered by the blood of His redemption

Naomi devised a plan for Ruth to be safely settled. And as Ruth obeyed Naomi’s instructions and lay at Boaz’s feet, she said something remarkable in verse 9: “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Now the Hebrew word “wings” can also mean “covering” and refer to the blanket he was lying under. It is related to the word that was used earlier by Boaz when he said that Ruth came to take refuge under the wings of the Lord (Ruth 2:12). So, she probably meant it to be ambiguous.

But what she likely didn’t know is that her words are also of a prophetic nature.

For in their distant future, she and Boaz would lead to Jesus, to Whom we now say: “I am Your servant. Spread Your wings over your servant, for you are my Redeemer.”

Because: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” (Ephesians 1:7)

Boaz gave her grain as a gift to take to Naomi, as much as she could carry. In the same way, Christ gives us the gift of His grain (referring to the Bread of Life, God’s Word). He gives us as much as we can carry, or comprehend, to share with the people assigned to us.

And after settling Ruth’s redemption, he took her as his wife, and the two became one, producing the fruit of the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Luke 3). In doing so, Boaz also became a redeemer, a restorer of life, and a provider to Naomi. And Jesus became ours.

For as He settles our redemption, we, the Church, become the bride of Christ (Hebrews 9, Matthew 25). He restores us to life and provides for us. We bear fruit by His Spirit and we use our gifts to become the mature body of Christ (Ephesians 4).


7 The greatest commandments

Boaz commends Ruth for her kindness. First the kindness towards her mother, but even more so for the kindness she showed Him. Because she chose to be with him instead of with other, more attractive men. And that is what God wants us to do too. To discard all things that seem more attractive than Him, but to choose Him above all of it. Loving God precedes all. That is the greatest kindness. And the second greatest kindness is showing other people kindness, motivated by love.

In Jesus’ own words:

“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, ESV)


Conclusion

Ruth’s story teaches us what life will be like when we leave behind our old sinful life, and start a new life with Jesus.

  • It explains how we are restored by Jesus after suffering a great deal.
  • It reminds us how Jesus sees our efforts to follow His ways despite our circumstances, and prepares an eternal reward for us.
  • It teaches us that, with God’s help and motivated by love, we should use our God-given gifts to feed the people assigned to us.
  • It depicts the humble petition for redemption, and how Jesus’ blood covers us.
  • It shows the greatest commandments in action.
  • It tells us how Jesus protects us, and provides for us, and makes our yoke lighter, while we work in His field.
  • It foretells how we will become co-heirs of His Kingdom, when upon Christ’s return, we are found to be good and faithful servants like Ruth.

In other words: the Book of Ruth is a depiction of the Gospel of Christ. And that truly is a love story.

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