We’ve been working our way through the women the gospel writer Matthew includes in his genealogy of Jesus; so far we’ve considered Tamar and Rahab. Both of these women were immoral, using sex for their own gain (Tamar to shame Perez her father-in-law, and Rahab as a prostitute in Jericho). While it has been surprising to see such women included in the line of the righteous and pure king Jesus, it has been a reminder that God can use anyone – including the weak and sinful for his glory.
This week we come to Ruth whose story appears in the short Old Testament book of the same title. Ruth was a Moabite (gentile) woman who married Mahlon, the son of the widow Naomi. She was the sister-in-law of Orpah who married Mahlon’s brother Kilion. Before either Ruth and Mahlon or Orpah and Kilion could have children, the two brothers died, leaving the Moabite women widowed, like their mother-in-law Naomi. Knowing she was unable to provide adequately for the girls, Naomi told both Ruth and Orpah to return home to their families in Moab to be remarried. While Orpah obeyed returning to “her people and her gods”, Ruth chose to remain with Naomi promising her mother-in-law that “your people will be my people and your God my God”.
Together Naomi and Ruth moved to Judah where Ruth went to work in the fields of Naomi’s relative Boaz. One night, through a bizarre cultural ritual (recorded in Ruth 3) of uncovering the feet of the sleeping Boaz and then lying at his feet, Ruth asked her relative to provide her with the protection of marriage. Boaz agreed to this, praising Ruth’s noble nature for choosing to honour her deceased husband by providing him with an heir through marriage with a near relative, instead of pursuing a younger man from another tribe. Through this union, Obed was born who in turn fathered Jesse, who was the father of the great King David.
Putting cultural norms and traditions aside, Ruth provides yet another example of a gentile woman who understands who God is and responds to him in faith. Ruth made a number of difficult decisions, sacrificing her own rights to return to her family and remarry a young man, in order to honour her deceased husband, his family and his God.
It’s worth noting briefly the interesting comparison between Ruth and Tamar: both women were widowed and left with no obvious options for continuing their deceased husbands legacy, however whereas Tamar took matters into her own hands, prostituting herself to her father-in-law to continue the family line, Ruth waited on the Lord for his guidance in who she should pursue. She is a praise-worthy woman and an example of trusting in God’s timing and sovereignty.