The sun glared without mercy on the line of men moving across the field. Their sickles cut large swaths through the golden stalks. Behind them, a line of women gathered the fallen stems of grain. After years of famine, the heavy heads of barley were a welcome sight.
Far behind the harvesters, a lone young woman straightened up and pushed her damp hair back from her face. Her throat was parched and it was difficult to swallow, but she dared not ask for a drink. After all, she was a foreigner and a beggar. She pushed on, hoping that she could fill her basket before nightfall with the stalks that the harvesters had left behind.
As the day passed, the basket became heavier and heavier and Ruth’s muscles ached. But the ache in her heart was even greater. Her life was marked by tragedy. After ten years of marriage, her husband, whom she cherished, had died. One day he was teasing her as she cooked dinner for the household. The next day he was gone. She missed him so much that it sometimes hurt to breathe, especially now that she was among strange people with even stranger customs.
When her mother-in-law decided to return here, to the country in which she’d been born, Ruth had begged to go along. After all, Ruth had only lost a husband. Naomi, on the other hand, had lost her husband and both her sons. She had no one left. It was not fair that she should have to live alone for the rest of her life.
But there was more to it than just that. Ruth wanted to be close to Naomi because Naomi knew God. Not the lifeless wooden idols that Ruth’s people worshiped, but the one true living God—the God who had the power to turn a tragedy into a thing of beauty.
As Ruth bent down to pick up another stem of barley, she prayed with all her heart that this God would somehow take her life and turn it around as well.
I’ve always loved the story of Ruth. I’m drawn to her compassion for her mother-in-law and her love of God. I’m drawn to her willingness to leave everything she knew and travel to another land simply because it was the right thing to do. I love the romance of the story—Boaz sees her gathering grain. They fall in love. She pretty much flat out proposes to him. He is second in line for her hand and has to ask her rightful husband-to-be to relinquish her to him. He marries her. They have children. They live happily ever after.
In studying Proverbs 31, I’ve discovered another element to the story of Ruth. Proverbs 31:10-13 says,
Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
She is more precious than rubies.
Her husband can trust her,
and she will greatly enrich his life.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
Believe it or not, the word “virtuous” is only used four times in the Bible (according to my concordance). And the only time that it is ever applied to a specific individual is in Ruth 3:11. Ruth was virtuous. It means she had strength, capability, skill, and valour. No other woman in the entire Bible was described this way.
What do we learn from Ruth? We learn that true virtue lies in a heart that is willing to obey God and follow Him regardless of the cost. Ruth’s love for others, her desire to work hard, her ability to take initiative—all of these were by-products of her love for her Heavenly Father.
It’s easy to try to be a good wife and mother in your own strength, to look at other women who you admire and expect yourself to be a carbon copy of them. It’s easy to get frustrated when they’re thinner or more beautiful than you or when their recipes turn out perfectly and yours result in a visit from the local fire department. You look at their neatly organized homes and perfectly dressed children and lower your head in shame. (I’m not the only one guilty of this, right?)
Ruth shows us, however, that the key to becoming a woman of virtue is, quite simply, complete abandonment of oneself to God. This is the foundation of the Proverbs 31 woman. A woman who is abandoned to God is worth far more than precious jewels. She enriches the life of her husband. She has strength, capability, skill, and valour. This is because the source of her strength and skill does not come from herself.
You don’t become a woman of virtue because of the wonderful things you can do. You become a woman of virtue by having an encounter with the one true living God. This changes who you are. Without God, you are just spinning your wheels. You have to surrender to Him if you want to reach your destiny as a wife, a mother, a woman. Everything else will flow naturally when your heart has been transformed.