Women of Faith Wednesday: Ruth

The story of Ruth is one of my favorites. Ruth’s faithfulness to her mother-in-law and to God is really inspiring. There are many things we can learn from this short book.

Ruth’s story begins during a very dark time for Israel, the time of the judges. At some point during this time there was a famine in Israel. A man named Elimelech took his wife Naomi and his two sons to live in the gentile land of Moab. They stayed there many years. Elimelech dies and his sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Then his sons also die. Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah are left alone in the world in a time when having a husband and sons was crucial to survival.

Naomi makes the decision to leave the evil land of Moab and return home to Judah. Her daughters-in-law start the journey with her, but she urges them to return to their homeland and families. Orpah is easily persuaded to turn back, but Ruth is determined to stay with Naomi. So they continue on to the town of Bethlehem together. The statement Ruth makes to Naomi is beautiful and often quoted:

“But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back 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. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse if anything but death parts you and me.” Ruth 1:16-17

Now, the only way Ruth could provide for herself and Naomi was by going into the wheat fields around Bethlehem and work behind the harvesters picking up what they leave behind. Luckily, Ruth finds herself in the fields of a man named Boaz. Boaz was a great man in Bethlehem. He was kind to his workers and people in general; he was a man of God. Boaz also happened to be a close relative of Elimelech’s family.

At that time it was the law that if a man died and left a widow and property behind the closest relative (kinsman-redeemer) was to marry the widow so she could bear and heir for her deceased husband; as well as redeem (buy back) any property that may have changed hands. Usually this duty would fall to a brother, but since Ruth’s husband had no surviving brothers it would become the duty of the next closest relative. Naomi remembered this law, and when she realized that Ruth had been working in the fields of Boaz she came up with a plan to have Boaz fulfill his duty as the kinsman-redeemer to redeem the property of Elimelech and his sons.

Naomi tells Ruth to visit the threshing floor, where they were processing the barley, at night to speak to Boaz. She instructs Ruth to wait until Boaz is asleep, then uncover his feet and wait for him to wake up and notice her. She does all that she is told. With one sentence she lets Boaz know the purpose of her nighttime visit.

“He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.” Ruth 3:9

By saying this Ruth made known what she wants Boaz to do for herself and Naomi. He realized that he could be their kinsman redeemer. He was willing to redeem their property and marry Ruth. There was a problem though; Naomi and Ruth had a relative closer than Boaz. But Boaz promised to go to this relative as soon as he could in the morning to ask if he would like to do his duty as their kinsman-redeemer, or if he would let it fall to Boaz. Boaz then gave Ruth a gift of grain for Naomi, and told her to leave when it is still dark out that no one will see her, because we all know how people talk!

The next morning Boaz confronted the other relative about redeeming the property of Elimelech, the man was willing until he learns that if he wants the property he would also have to marry Ruth. He decides to allow Boaz to fulfill the duty of the kinsman-redeemer.

Boaz married Ruth and she bore him a son named Obed. Obed was considered a great blessing to his family, especially Naomi who nursed him and treated him like she would her own son. Interestingly enough, Obed becomes the grandfather of King David. Therefore Ruth has the honor of being in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

There are many elements that make this an awesome story.  But the imagery of the kinsman-redeemer in Boaz is the most powerful. He decides to do the right thing and redeem (or buy back) the inheritance Elimelech had given up when he went to live in Moab. There was nothing Ruth could do to redeem the property herself, she needed to have faith that Boaz would act as their kinsman-redeemer. This is a beautiful picture of what Christ has done on the cross for us. The human race had given up their inheritance and had been living in sin apart from God, until Christ died to redeem us, buy us back, from the evil we were stuck in and bring us back to Himself through His power and none of our own.

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Woman of Faith Wednesday: Queen Esther

(Today I am starting a new series of posts. I am going to try to post a mini biography of a Godly woman every Wednesday.)

Esther was a beautiful, and timid, yet brave, young Jewish girl who was able to save her people from a terrible fate. The Book of Esther is one of only two books in the Bible which are named for women (the other being Ruth).

Esther’s story begins during a festival held by King Ahasuerus (Xerxes). The partying had been going on for a few days when the king decided to call for his queen, Vashti, to show off her beauty to the people. She refuses to come to the festival. Her refusal angers the king so much that he divorces and banishes her from his sight.

And so the king of Persia finds himself in need of a wife. Ahasuerus’ advisors suggest that he have all the most beautiful young women brought to the palace that he might choose one from among them his new queen. Esther is among the women brought to the palace. She is forced to keep her identity as a Jew a secret for fear of what would happen to her if anyone knew. People were not very fond of Jews at this point in history.

Each woman was given one chance to go before the king to try to win his affection. They were allowed to choose anything they wanted to wear to see the king. Esther was smart and asked the servants which things the king might like best for her to wear. She was able to win the favor of King Ahasuerus and they were married.

“The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” Esther 2:17

Esther had been raised by her cousin Mordecai. A short time after Esther’s marriage to King Ahasuerus Mordecai was sitting at the gate in front of the king’s palace. While there he overheard two of the king’s officials discussing a plot to assassinate the king. Luckily Mordecai was able to tell Queen Esther before the plan was carried out. The two officials were hung for their crime and Mordecai’s deed was written down.

A while later the king appointed a man named Haman as second in command in Persia. Haman was very arrogant and wanted people to bow down and worship him. There was one man who would not bow to Haman, Mordecai. Mordecai did not want to give to Haman the worship he felt belonged to God. This made Haman hate Mordecai as well as all of the Jewish people.

 Haman loathed the Jews so much he convinced the king to send out a command to all of Persia that on a specific day all the Jews should be killed. Mordecai learned of this command and quickly told Queen Esther. He tried to convince her to go before the king to plead for her people. At first she refused. She was afraid because there was a law that anyone who went before the king without being summoned by him would be killed. But Mordecai reminded her that if she did not do it the Jews would be saved some other way. He also pointed out that God probably made her queen for this purpose, to save her people. She was born to do this.

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

“And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish I perish.” Esther 4:16

Esther appears before King Ahasuerus expecting death, but he favors her and does not kill her. She realizes that it is not the best time to confront the issue of Haman and the Jews, so she invited the king and Haman to a banquet she had prepared for them. But again she decided it wasn’t the best time to bring up the matter so she invited them to another banquet the next night.

 At the next banquet the king asks for Esther’s request. She finally has the courage to ask the king to stop the command against her people. Haman realizes that the king and queen are both against him so he tries to beg for mercy but ends up insulting Esther and making a fool of himself. The next day Haman is hanged on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai.

The laws at this time stated that once the king sent out a command it could not be taken away, not even by the king. So Ahasuerus sends out a new edict declaring that on the appointed day the Jews would be allowed to defend themselves against anyone who tries to harm them. And so the Jews were able to destroy their enemies due to Queen Esther’s courage in standing up for what is right.

“For the Jews there was light and gladness and joy and honor. In each and every province and in each and every city, wherever the king’s commandment and his decree arrived, there was gladness and joy for the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many among the peoples of the land became Jews, for the dread of the Jews had fallen on them.” Esther 8:16-17