The story of Ruth has been lingering on my heart for a couple years. This semester, I spent two months studying this book for a school project and what I learned has challenged my perspective in a lot of different ways. I want to share a few of those things with you through this blog series because there is so much freedom woven all throughout Ruth’s story. It’s beautiful, compelling, and affirming. I hope your heart will be filled like mine has through taking a closer look at this Old Testament book. You can check out past posts here: Part 1: The Freedom in Submission
Several years ago, I had the idea to give a biographical speech for a high school speech competition on the Proverbs 31 woman. I’ve always had this theory that she was a real person and it’s something I wanted to explore. My initial study didn’t get me anywhere, however, so I dropped the idea since the rules required speaking on a real person.
It seemed like we were forever doomed to looking upon this no-faced woman who was the result of someone’s imagination as the ideal standard we’ll never achieve.
Proverbs 31 is kind of a sore spot for a lot of women. We feel like we just don’t measure up to her and probably never will. We console ourselves by remembering she wasn’t real. We try our best to do what we can and remind ourselves we’re only human.
But what if she was real? What would that mean for us? It’d probably inflict a lot of anxiety. If we were honest, we really like where we are, in this place of feeling relieved in our inadequacies and falling back on her fictitiousness. Because, we all know, no one’s perfect.
Maybe the Proverbs 31 woman wasn’t, either.
Although we can’t say it with certainty, there is a possibility that the Proverbs 31 woman is Ruth! Solomon may have referred to many of Ruth’s characteristics in formulating this passage. If you go back and read them both, you’ll see there are actually a lot of similarities between this no-named woman and Ruth; but there are some differences, too, which are important to take into account. In the Hebrew Bible, Ruth and Proverbs were placed next to each other, indicating there was at least some type of connection between the passages. Further still, according to one of the articles I read for my paper on the book of Ruth, the exact Hebrew term used to describe this “virtuous” woman only appears in the Bible three times: twice in Proverbs and once in Ruth, when Boaz is praising Ruth’s character right after she presented the idea of marriage to him and he accepted the responsibility of becoming her kinsman redeemer.
If nothing else, “virtuous” certainly was a word used selectively, and Ruth was the only woman in the Bible to have been given that description which also defined the Proverbs 31 woman. She’s our “tangible” example of what a Proverbs 31 woman looks like in real life.
We definitely don’t talk about that in Sunday school – the shining example of a submissive, virtuous, noble woman of God is one who shamelessly followed her call into the threshing floor of a very attractive single man in the middle of the night and proposed to him.
Equally shockingly, the shining example of love and leadership in a husband is Boaz’s support in championing Ruth’s call and enabling her to be all that she was intended to be as a follower of Yahweh. God used Ruth’s obedience to call Boaz to be her kinsman redeemer and he accepted that call to redeem, love, and provide for her.
It may seem contradictory to everything we’ve been taught about submission and the Proverbs 31 woman, but that’s exactly my point. We women have spent so much time rebelling against everything Biblical womanhood and submission stands for that we’ve failed to recognize the freedom and hope imbedded in its very core. We’ve defaulted to political and social movements to give us what we thought God had not, then come back to reconstruct our perspective of faith. We use feminism to inform our beliefs on God rather than using God’s Word, unfiltered and unaltered, to inform our beliefs on the role of women.
We don’t need to look elsewhere.
If Ruth is THE Proverbs 31 woman, and also one of the fiercest women of the Bible, I think we need to reconsider our definition and perception of who we think women should be.
Do you realize there is not one woman in the Bible who precisely fits the meek and understated woman we’ve translated as the Proverbs 31 woman? None of them are the 1950’s stereotype we’ve established in our minds. They’re all bold and fearless, faithfully serving the Lord in everything they do and accomplishing really big things for God’s Kingdom. They show us that God has a unique call for each woman and man, and He beautifully weaves them together in marriage to ultimately empower us to serve Him more faithfully.
People try to use Proverbs 31 as a passage exclusively for women, to teach us how we should act. I do think we are supposed to take it to heart as a portrait of what it looks like to be a woman who is a follower of the Lord, even if some of the specific applications don’t apply to us (like marriage and motherhood). But I also learned in my research that there’s one phrase we often brush over:
“…and he praises her…”
In the long list of things we’re told we should be, there’s a very specific reference to the husband in this woman’s life and it perfectly reflects Boaz’s reaction to Ruth’s request that he become her kinsman redeemer.
Solomon is essentially saying: Look at this woman who is God’s servant, who faithfully follows Him, who invests herself and works hard, who loves selflessly, who cares for those around her, who is wise and noble. Tell her that you value her, that you see who she is, and reminder her she is a woman of valor.
Boaz recognized Ruth’s character, knowing she is invaluable and life with her is a gift from the Lord. So he praised her character. When we look at it from this perspective, Proverbs 31 is less about holding women to high standards and more about instructing a husband to be his wife’s biggest cheerleader, supporter, and champion of God’s call on her life – recognizing the beauty overflowing from her heart for the Lord, influencing the way she conducts herself in every area of her life.
It’s not that we’re off the hook from following God’s direction or Christ’s example. We’re free to recognize this passage is not meant to shame women who don’t measure up. It’s about lifting women up and encouraging them to keep pursuing life as a follower of God. And husbands have been entrusted with the precious task of being one of those voices. Boaz was cheering Ruth on in her pursuit of following the Lord.
Do you see it, dear believer? Christ convicts through compelling, not shaming. If you need to address something in your life interfering with pursuing the Lord, and we all do, then Christ will encourage you to come closer so that He can bring you where He wants you to be. He doesn’t say you are not good enough. That’s Satan’s voice. Christ’s voice says, I am enough to overcome your lacking; come, see, and experience for yourself.
But that’s just barely scratching the surface of what this means for us, as women and followers of Christ.
Since the book of Ruth is primarily told from Naomi’s perspective, we don’t really know anything about Ruth prior to her first marriage, except that she was from Moab – a pagan land.
Ruth, the Proverbs 31 woman herself, came from a background contradictory to everything God has said is good.
Her life was radically transformed after her encounter with Naomi and her family. She would never be the same. God took this young woman who probably had a shady past and not only brought her to Himself, He placed her in the genealogy of Christ and uses her as an example for the rest of time to show the entire world what it looks like to be a woman after God’s heart.
Is that not grace and freedom?
This is how we can be the Proverbs 31 woman. Not by relentlessly chasing after seemingly unattainable standards, but starting from nothing; leaving behind our old selves; having a teachable spirit; going to scary places; listening to other believers; pursing God’s heart; stepping out in faith; making BOLD moves; surrendering heart and life to God.
It was never about living up to empty criteria. It has always and only ever been about pursuing God’s call on your life and following His commandments. It’s about loving selflessly and giving all of yourself. It’s about putting forth your best in everything you do, as if working for the Lord. It’s about recognizing the beautiful, valuable creature He created and believing it’s true. It’s about receiving love and responding with unwavering devotion.
Because He loved you first.
He loved Ruth first – before she was the “Proverbs 31 woman”. Before she was Boaz’s wife and part of the lineage of Christ. Before she was an Israelite. Before all of that, when she was just an unknown foreigner from a pagan land. He saw where she was and knew where He could bring her, so she could come to know and love Him.
And that’s what He’s doing in us. That’s what he’s doing in you. It doesn’t matter if you’re still in Moab or if you’ve been in Israel your whole life. He sees you and knows where He’s going to bring you. The only thing between Moab and Israel is a decision to receive the love God has poured out on you.
Are you ready to go?
There is freedom here.
Keep an eye out for part 3 after Christmas!