“An Excellent Woman” Displays Loyal Love
“Everyone in the gate of my people is aware that you are an excellent woman.”—Ruth 3:11
1, 2. What midnight meeting gets our attention, and what questions does it raise?
THE darkness of night has fallen and a hushed tranquillity has descended upon Bethlehem, Judah, and its surrounding countryside. At a threshing floor in one of the fields an elderly man is slumbering. But, look! A young woman approaches stealthily, uncovers him slightly and lies down. He awakens, finds her at his feet, and asks, “Who are you?” Her reply? “I am Ruth your slave girl.” She has come to him for a special and highly noble purpose. In fact, acknowledging her virtue as the conversation continues, he remarks: “Everyone in the gate of my people is aware that you are an excellent woman.”—Ruth 3:9-11.
2 What has led to this unusual midnight meeting? Really, who is this woman? And what is the identity of the elderly man? Why does he say that she is known as “an excellent woman”? What qualities does she display? These and other questions fill our minds as we reflect on that extraordinary nighttime scene.
3. (a) We are about to consider what Bible book? (b) When and by whom was this Bible account written, and what does it highlight?
3 The divinely inspired account that we are about to consider, likely written in David’s day (about 1090 B.C.E.) by the Hebrew prophet Samuel, is unique as one of only two Bible books bearing a woman’s name. (The other is Esther.) Although some view the book of Ruth as a touching love story, it is much more than that. The account highlights the purpose of Jehovah God to produce a Kingdom heir, the long-promised Messiah. Moreover, it exalts God’s loving-kindness.—Gen. 3:15; Ruth 2:20; 4:17-22.*
4. In what time period did the events related in the book of Ruth occur?
4 The events related in this account occurred in “the days when the judges administered justice” in Israel. The time must be early during that period, for the man we observed with Ruth at the threshing floor was Boaz, the son of Rahab of Joshua’s day. (Ruth 1:1; Josh. 2:1, 2; Matt. 1:5) As this intriguing story unfolds, it will span some 11 years, perhaps around 1300 B.C.E.
5. What circumstances and realization prompt Elimelech to move his family to Moab, and does this bear any relation to Christian responsibilities?
5 Famine has arisen in the land of Judah and holds Bethlehem (or Ephrathah) in its grip. Especially has adversity struck the family of a certain man, Elimelech. Realizing the need to provide life’s necessities for those who are his own, he takes decisive action. Soon Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion can be seen crossing the river Jordan. These Ephrathites become alien residents in Moab, a country on a plateau east of the Dead Sea and south of the Arnon River.—Ruth 1:1, 2; compare 1 Timothy 5:8.
6. Describe the circumstances that lead to bereavement for Naomi, Ruth and Orpah.
6 In time, Elimelech dies, leaving Naomi an aging widow. Later, their two sons enter wedlock with Moabite women. Mahlon marries Ruth, whereas Chilion takes Orpah as his wife. (Ruth 1:4, 5; 4:10) About 10 years pass, and then calamity strikes again. Both of Naomi’s sons die, and childless at that. Now the three women are all alone, and surely bereavement and widowhood are hard to bear.
7. What possibility appears especially remote for widowed Naomi?
7 Especially is Naomi sorrowful. She is a Judean and knows about the special deathbed blessing that the patriarch Jacob pronounced on his son Judah in the words: “The scepter will not turn aside from Judah, neither the commander’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to him the obedience of the peoples will belong.” This Shiloh will have the royal scepter—will, in fact, be the Messiah, Abraham’s Seed through whom all families of the earth will bless themselves. Why, it is possible for women of Judah to bear sons who would be forefathers of that Anointed One! But Naomi’s sons have died childless, and she is past the childbearing age. The possibility that Naomi and her family might contribute to the Messianic lineage is remote indeed.—Ruth 1:3-5; Gen. 22:17, 18; 49:10, 33.
8. What factors move Naomi to return to Judah despite any perils along the way?
8 Yet, there is at least a glimmer of hope that something good is in the offing. Naomi has heard, perhaps from some traveling Hebrew merchants, that Jehovah has “turned his attention to his people by giving them bread.” Yes, the famine has ended and, with divine blessing, again there is bread in Judah, wholesome food at Bethlehem, the “house of bread.” It is not long before the three bereaved women are seen “walking on the road . . . to the land of Judah.” This is no easy journey, for they must pass through regions usually infested with thieves and desperate men. But Naomi’s devotion to Jehovah God and a yearning to be with his people urge her onward despite any perils along the way.—Ruth 1:6, 7.
A TIME OF DECISION
9. Why are Ruth and Orpah told to return “each one to the house of her mother”?
9 Will the young widows simply act courteously by accompanying their aged mother-in-law only to Moab’s border with Israel? Or will they go farther? We shall see. At some point along the road, Naomi says: “Go, return, each one to the house of her mother.” (Ruth 1:8) Why “her mother,” when at least Ruth’s father still lives? (Ruth 2:11) Well, this is a natural comment for an elderly woman to make to younger women, and their mothers did have well-established homes, unlike their destitute mother-in-law. At any rate, maternal affection would be especially comforting to a sorrowful daughter.
10. Naomi is willing to dismiss both of her daughters-in-law with what hope?
10 Listen as Naomi continues: “May Jehovah exercise loving-kindness toward you, just as you have exercised it toward the men now dead and toward me. May Jehovah make a gift to you, and do you find a resting-place each one in the house of her husband.” (Ruth 1:8, 9) The two Moabite women have displayed loving-kindness, or loyal love, toward Naomi and their late husbands. They have not been like Esau’s Hittite wives who were “a source of bitterness of spirit to Isaac and Rebekah.” (Gen. 26:34, 35) Now bereft of goods herself, Naomi can look only to God to reward her daughters-in-law. And she is willing to dismiss them with the hope that Jehovah will give each young woman the rest and comfort that comes with having a husband and a home, thus being freed of widowhood and its sorrows.
11. (a) Why, apparently, would parting from Naomi be painful for Ruth and Orpah, and does this suggest anything about family relationships among Christians today? (b) Are prospects for remarriage promising for Ruth and Orpah if they stick with Naomi? Why?
11 But Ruth and Orpah do not depart. When Naomi kisses them, they begin to raise their voices and weep. Obviously, she is a kind, loving mother-in-law from whom parting would be painful. (Ruth 1:8-10; compare Acts 20:36-38.) But Naomi persists, reasoning: “Do I still have sons in my inward parts, and will they have to become your husbands? Return, my daughters, go, for I have grown too old to get to belong to a husband. If I had said I had hope also that I should certainly become a husband’s tonight and also should certainly bear sons, would you keep waiting for them until they could grow up? Would you keep yourselves secluded for them so as not to become a husband’s?” Yes, even if Naomi’s dead sons were replaced by new sons and these grew up, would these young women refrain from marrying someone else in the meantime? It would be unreasonable to think so. For that matter, as Moabite women their prospects of marrying any man in Judah and then raising a family would be poor indeed.—Ruth 1:11-13.
12, 13. How are Ruth and Orpah being tested, and what decision does Orpah make?
12 “No, my daughters,” continues Naomi, “for it is very bitter to me because of you, that the hand of Jehovah has gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:13) Naomi is not charging God with wrongdoing; whatever he does or permits must be right. (Prov. 19:3) But she is grieved for the sake of her daughters-in-law. And for them this has become a time of decision. Will they unselfishly go on with Naomi? Their motives and loyalties are being tested.
13 Orpah makes her decision. She tearfully kisses her mother-in-law and departs. “Look!” says Naomi to Ruth. “Your widowed sister-in-law has returned to her people and her gods. Return with your widowed sister-in-law.” (Ruth 1:14, 15) Yes, Orpah was going back to her people and “her gods.” Both she and Ruth had been reared among the “people of Chemosh” and may even have witnessed horrible child sacrifice in the worship of that Moabite false god. Orpah is going back to all of that!—Num. 21:29; 2 Ki. 3:26, 27.
14. How does Ruth express herself to Naomi, and so what decision has the Moabitess made?
14 But that is not so with Ruth. “Do not plead with me to abandon you, to turn back from accompanying you,” she says, “for where you go I shall go, and where you spend the night I shall spend the night. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I shall die, and there is where I shall be buried.” To this the Moabitess adds an oath before God, saying: “May Jehovah do so to me and add to it if anything but death should make a separation between me and you.” What a moving expression of loyal love! It is, in fact, much more than that. Ruth has chosen a life of service to Jehovah, and Naomi’s people—those in a covenant relationship with the true God—will be her people. The Moabitess is determined to serve Jehovah faithfully. Hence, Naomi ends all efforts to send the young woman away.—Ruth 1:16-18.
15. (a) So far, how has Ruth displayed loyal love? (b) How can we profit from the decisions of Ruth and Orpah?
15 As the elderly Judean and the younger Moabitess resume their arduous journey side by side, we have opportunity to reflect upon touching scenes that we have witnessed. Orpah has yielded to self-interest. Whatever progress she may have made in learning about Jehovah has not meant enough to her to keep her from returning to her people and “her gods.” Had Ruth selfishly longed for her native land, she, too, could have returned to it. (Compare Hebrews 11:15.) But this young Moabitess has displayed loyal love, not just for aged Naomi, but especially for Jehovah. She has manifested a self-sacrificing spirit and a determination to serve the true God in faith. Observing these contrasting decisions, we also are encouraged not to “shrink back to destruction” but to “have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.”—Heb. 10:38, 39.
16. Why do Bethlehem’s women keep asking, “Is this Naomi?”
16 Finally, the two women reach their destination, Bethlehem. Their presence stirs up the whole town. “Is this Naomi?” the women keep asking. The years have taken a toll. Certainly, the women notice how this once-cheerful woman has been affected by sorrow and affliction. Why, her very response indicates pain of heart!
17. What is the significance of Naomi’s remark, ‘Call me, not Naomi, but Mara’?
17 “Do not call me Naomi [my pleasantness],” she says. “Call me Mara [bitter], for the Almighty has made it very bitter for me. I was full [having a husband and two sons] when I went, and it is empty-handed that Jehovah has made me return. Why should you call me Naomi, when it is Jehovah that has humiliated me and the Almighty that has caused me calamity?” (Ruth 1:19-21) Oh! Naomi is willing to accept what God permits, but she evidently feels that Jehovah is against her. (Ruth 1:13; compare 1 Samuel 3:18.) Unquestionably, in days when a fruitful womb is considered a divine blessing and barrenness a curse, it is a humiliation for a woman to have no living offspring. And what hope can Naomi now have of contributing to the Messiah’s lineage?
A HUMBLE GLEANER FINDS FAVOR
18. In gleaning, what will Ruth be doing, and “by chance” on whose field does she light?
18 Naomi and Ruth have come to Bethlehem ‘at the commencement of the barley harvest,’ in early spring. (Ruth 1:22) Being industrious and willing to serve, Ruth, with Naomi’s permission, goes off and begins gleaning behind harvesters in the grainfields. She knows that gleaning is Jehovah’s loving provision for the poor and afflicted, the alien resident, the fatherless boy and the widow. In Israel these are permitted to gather or glean any portion of a crop that harvesters inadvertently or intentionally leave behind. (Lev. 19:9, 10; Deut. 24:19-21) Although Ruth has the right to glean, she humbly requests and is granted permission to do so in a certain field. But evidently Jehovah’s hand is in the matter as “by chance” she lights “on the tract of the field belonging to Boaz.”—Ruth 2:3.
19, 20. (a) Who is Boaz? (b) Why can it be said that Ruth is no pampered woman?
19 Look! Boaz approaches. He is “a man mighty in wealth,” and is the son of Salmon and Rahab. Yes, Boaz is a Judean. Not only is Boaz a considerate master highly esteemed by his workers, but he is a devout worshiper of the true God, for he greets the harvesters with the words “Jehovah be with you,” and they reply, “Jehovah bless you.”—Ruth 2:1-4.
20 From the young man in charge of the harvesters, Boaz learns that Ruth is the Moabitess who recently came to Bethlehem with Naomi. After receiving permission, she had been gleaning steadily during the morning coolness until the sun mounted in the sky, uncomplainingly enduring the heat. Only now was she sitting temporarily in the house, apparently a mere reapers’ booth. Ruth certainly is no pampered woman!—Ruth 2:5-7.
21. What is there about Ruth that impresses Boaz, and may Christian women draw any conclusions from this?
21 Later Boaz urges Ruth not to glean in another field, but to stay close to his young women, who probably followed his reapers and bound the sheaves. Boaz has commanded the young men not to touch her, and she is free to drink from the water vessels that they have filled. Deeply appreciative, Ruth humbly falls upon her face and bows down to the earth, asking: “How is it I have found favor in your eyes so that I am taken notice of, when I am a foreigner?” Well, Boaz is not trying to win her affections to suit an old man’s fancy. Rather, he has heard how the Moabitess left her father, mother and homeland, sticking with her elderly mother-in-law. Obviously impressed by Ruth’s loyal love and humility, he is moved to say: “May Jehovah reward the way you act, and may there come to be a perfect wage for you from Jehovah the God of Israel, under whose [protective] wings you have come to seek refuge.” Surely, as Ruth acknowledges, Boaz has comforted her and has spoken reassuringly to her.—Ruth 2:8-13; Ps. 91:2, 4.
22, 23. (a) How does Boaz deal generously with Ruth? (b) In what way are Ruth’s industriousness and unselfishness manifested?
22 At the harvesters’ mealtime Boaz says to Ruth: “Approach here, and you must eat some of the bread and dip your piece in the vinegar [“sour wine”].” What a refreshing condiment during the heat of the day! To Ruth, Boaz holds out roasted grain, and she partakes to satisfaction, with some left over.—Ruth 2:14; compare The New English Bible.
23 Then it is back to work. In a spirit of generosity, Boaz tells his young men to let Ruth glean “also among the cut-off ears of grain.” He even instructs them to “pull out some from the bundles of ears,” leaving them behind for her to glean. Evening comes, and Ruth still is busy ‘beating out,’ or threshing, what she has gathered. By using a rod or flail to beat the grain by hand right on the ground, one can release the barley from its stalk and chaff. Why, Ruth’s gleanings for the day amount to over a half bushel of barley! This she carries back home to Bethlehem. Unselfishly, Ruth also takes out the food that she had left over at mealtime earlier that day and gives it to her needy mother-in-law.—Ruth 2:14-18.
24. (a) Why is it no wonder that people view Ruth as “an excellent woman”? (b) So, why is Ruth a fine example for any godly woman?
24 Again Ruth is displaying loyal love toward Naomi. Add to this the young woman’s love for Jehovah, her industriousness and humility, and it is no wonder that people view her as “an excellent woman.” (Ruth 3:11) Surely, Ruth does not eat “the bread of laziness,” and because of her hard work she has something to share with someone in need. (Prov. 31:27, 31; Eph. 4:28) And in assuming responsibility toward her elderly widowed mother-in-law, the Moabitess must know the happiness that results from giving. (Acts 20:35; 1 Tim. 5:3-8) Ruth is, indeed, a fine example for any godly woman.
For discussions of the prophetic significance of the book of Ruth, please see The Watchtower, Feb. 1, 1972, pp. 76-90, and the book Preservation, pp. 169-335, published in 1932 by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.
[Picture on page 17]
Ruth implores Naomi: ‘Do not plead with me to abandon you, for where you go I shall go’