Once when I was in college I looked up every reference to women in scripture. As a new believer with strong feelings about how most religions view and treat women, I was disheartened and confused about the role of women in the modern church and about certain scriptures. It took me most of a summer and I didn’t exactly have the answers to my difficult questions/struggles, but I had a calmness; a peace that only comes from working through the Bible as a complete narrative and not focusing on verses in isolation.
Ruth is an example of the complexity of this narrative, not specifically about women, but about anyone on the margins. Ruth, a Moabite woman, married into a Jewish family, though the law forbade Jewish intermarriages. Yet, through this lawless marriage, this “marginal” woman Ruth became a part of the direct genealogical line that led to Jesus. Can we put God into a box of the law and understand His thoughts and ways based on small selections of scripture? I don’t think so. In fact, I find great comfort in reading “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8).
In the first verse of Ruth we are given the historical setting of this book. “Now it came about in the days when the judges governed…” The last verse in the book of Judges describes the people of Israel’s sinful lifestyle. Their choices led to mistreatment of women and this detail provides depth to our understanding of the cultural environment.
“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” ~Judges 21:25
I’m so relieved to see that despite the bleakness of the book of Judges, God clearly shows that there is more to the story than appears in pieces of the text. We must be missing something if we believe God has stark, defining, excluding lines for Gentiles or for women or anyone else who seeks Him. Listen to what Ruth – this pagan Moabite woman – tells Naomi.
“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.’” ~Ruth 1:16
God saw Ruth’s heart. In her longing He gave her a great purpose and place in His family. Ruth’s story points to a God who offers Himself to a woman with a seeking heart. Within His narrative, God held an unexpected blessing for Ruth and her union with Boaz, her kinsman redeemer.
“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons has given birth to him… So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.” ~Ruth 4:14-15, 17