May 31, 2009

A Woman of Virtue – Ruth (3)

Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

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Let us consider Ruth, the Moabite, from chapter 2 of the Book of Ruth. I describe her as a woman of virtue because in chapter 3:11, Boaz said of her, “All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.”

The whole town of Bethlehem knew Ruth as a virtuous woman. The Chinese have a criterion for women called “3 Obediences & 4 Virtues.” The three obediences are: Obey one’s father before marriage, obey one’s husband once married, obey one’s sons in old age. The four virtues are: fidelity, propriety in speech, physical charm, efficiency in work.

The first among the four virtues is fidelity, which may also be called inner beauty. We have nothing against a woman being physically attractive, but we value inner beauty more. Proverbs 31:30 “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” External beauty will not last, in fact, it will surely fade with time. On the contrary, a person’s inner character can grow more and more beautiful. The Bible did not stress Ruth’s physical attributes, but it highlighted the beauty of her character. Let us learn from her example.

I. Ruth was very respectful

When these two widows returned to Bethlehem, they had to face an immediate problem, that is, their daily meal. This is one of man’s basic needs. Thus, Ruth told Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour.” Naomi was no longer young, it would be difficult for her to go and pick grains. Ruth told Naomi, “Let me go…” How Ruth respected Naomi!

In the Book of Confucius, a student asked Confucius, what is filial piety? Confucius answered that to maintain a pleasant countenance in the presence of one’s parents is filial piety. It is not easy to do this. Although Naomi needed Ruth to take care of her, Ruth did not talk down to her mother-in-law, she continued to show Naomi great respect, even asking her permission to let her go pick grains. This is one beautiful character of Ruth, she was very respectful.

II. Ruth was very diligent v. 5-7/17

Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, “Whose young woman is that?”

In every generation, the poor outnumbers the rich. Boaz was a famous noble man. Many poor people must have come to his fields to pick grains. In the midst of so many harvesters, how come Boaz took notice and asked about Ruth? Was it because Ruth was very beautiful? Although Ruth must have been a pretty woman, we must not forget that on that day, Ruth was out to pick grains, not to attend a party; she most certainly must not have worn an attractive attire, put on perfume or make-up, nor worn seductive clothes. But why did Boaz notice her?

I believe it must have been because she was very diligent at picking grains. Verse 17 tells us Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. For at least 10 to 12 hours, she picked grains. Anyone who witnessed this would have agreed that Ruth was a diligent woman. In Ruth chapter 1, we can see that Ruth was very pleasant with her speech, she touched Naomi’s heart through her words (1:16-17). In chapter 2, we see Ruth’s hands, working ceaselessly. Ruth not only had a pleasant tongue, she also had a pair of diligent hands.

III. Ruth was very humble

Ruth was a very humble woman. What is humility? Humility is the opposite of arrogance. Arrogance means self-inflation. Humility is forgetting oneself. When a person forgets himself and his achievements, then, he can be truly humble.

In Chapter 2 Ruth said three times that she is one who has found favour. The first time, in chapter 2, verse 2, Ruth said, “Let me go to the fields and pick up leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour.” Ruth realized that she has found favour with whoever allows her to pick grains.

The second time, in chapter 2:10, Ruth told Boaz, “Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me — a foreigner?” When Ruth spoke this, she had bowed down with her face to the ground. This is an act of humility. Not only in action, but through her words, she manifested humility. Ruth did not forget she was a foreigner, that she was not one of God’s chosen people, not one blessed of God; she acknowledged that it was the Lord who had allowed her to find favour in Boaz’ eyes, that she was truly undeserving.

The third time in chapter 2, verse 13, Ruth answered Boaz “May I continue to find favour in your eyes, my lord.” This is the second time Ruth uttered such words to Boaz.

Humility is a lesson we must learn all throughout life. We must acknowledge that everything we are and everything we have is purely because of grace; then, it would be easy for us to be humble. May the Lord help us, may we be like Ruth and realize that we are a people who are but given grace.

IV. Ruth was very loyal

In Ruth 2:22-23, Naomi told Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls, because in someone else’s fields you might be harmed.” Ruth went often with the servant girls of Boaz, from harvest time till its end. And Ruth continued to live with Naomi. In these two verses we learn that Ruth was a loyal person. 1. She was loyal to her work (towards work). 2. She was loyal to her mother-in-law (towards people).

1. Loyalty towards work – Ruth went often with the servant girls of Boaz, until harvest time was done. From barley harvest to wheat harvest was at least a matter of three to four months, about 120 days. Apart from Sabbath days, Ruth went to pick grains daily. This was not an easy thing to do. It was a very tiring thing to do. To pick grains for 120 days is indeed not easy. Truly, time is one most important test of life.

2. Loyalty towards people – Unexpectedly, the Bible added, “And she lived with her mother-in-law.” Ruth 3:10 tells us “Ruth did not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.” There were younger men who tried to pursue Ruth, many had been wealthy. From this, we realize how significant it was that Ruth had remained with her mother-in-law. “When you come into prosperity, do not forget the friends who had gone through difficult times with you.” Ruth did not forget the mother-in-law who suffered with her during difficult times, she continued to live with her. In Ruth 4, we see how Ruth took care of Naomi all her life. She was loyal to her mother-in-law to the end.

Ruth, in the spiritual sense, represents the Church. The Church must have the same attitude towards our Lord. Are you respectful? Are you diligent? Are you humble? Are you loyal? May the Lord bless His Church.