For a long time we been looking at the lives of women in the Bible through the wrong end of the telescope. Their lives are noticeably small next to the larger lives of men in their stories. This has influenced how we see ourselves. It is a major distortion, and it comes at an exorbitant cost.
Against the cultural backdrop of ancient patriarchy, whenever a woman steps out on the pages of scripture and uses her mind, heart, and voice for the purposes of God, we are often told her story is “an exception to the rules for women.” But that is to imagine God doesn’t mean for us to take the whole Bible seriously and not just a few choice verses. That woman may be breaking the rules of her culture, but she is embracing God’s creation call on his daughters as his image bearer and as an ezer-warrior.
Biblical narratives are intended for our instruction too and must be taken just as seriously as any other biblical text. I learned that lesson when I threw out the Cinderella version of the Old Testament book of Ruth and probed deeper into the a narrative of two women and God.
The opening sentences of the book of Ruth can easily lead readers to assume this story will be about men by introducing Elimelech (Naomi’s husband) and their two sons. But that assumption is short-lived. In a terrible sequence of tragic events—from famine, displacement, widowhood, two pagan daughters-in-law, a decade of double infertility, and more death—the narrator clears the stage of male characters. Remarkably, the story isn’t over. Instead, the biblical camera zooms in on two childless widows, Naomi, a famine refugee, and Ruth, an undocumented immigrant, and the real story begins.
If we line up Ruth with other women in the Bible, no one would imagine her amounting to anything significant. The tally of strikes against her is overwhelming. Without sons, her patriarchal scorecard ranks her a zero. Her other demographics drop her below zero. She’s an immigrant, widowed, certifiably barren, new convert, and forced to scavenge for left-over barley to keep her mother-in-law and herself alive. Ruth lands at the bottom of the female value scale—far below prominent women like Deborah, Huldah, Esther, or Priscilla who rose to significant leadership roles in the nation and the church.
The thought of Ruth playing any role, much less the world-changing kingdom role she ultimately plays in God’s purposes is laughable. All too often, that’s how Christian women see themselves. God works through men, right?
I never will forget the day someone turned the telescope around for me. It happened with the book of Ruth—a book I thought I knew as well as my own name. It went off like a bomb in my life. I never knew God expected so much of me. It changed everything and, as the email below attests, is doing the same things for others.
What I love about the book of Ruth is that the odds against Ruth amounting to anything in God’s purposes is so overwhelming, it leaves the rest of us without excuse. If God worked through the life, choices, initiatives, and sacrifices of Ruth to advance his purposes for the world, we should all be asking ourselves, “If Ruth, why not me?!”
God’s hand is on all of his daughters. Our lives matter. And he can and will multiply our most insignificant and unrecognized acts of kindness and sacrifice to bless the lives of others. We will never fully know the full effect of what he can and will do through us. But don’t imagine your actions of care and compassion don’t multiply.
So it always a huge encouragement when I receive an email like the one below that just arrived from Jennifer, I which I reprint here with her permission. May women and girls awaken to God’s call!
My name is Jennifer. I am from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I came across The Gospel of Ruth through a blog I follow out of Yuba City, California. I pulled it up on Amazon and the description was enough to make me buy it immediately. It transformed my life and strengthened my love for God’s Word. It was a breathe of fresh air to finally read something with meat and meaning.
I followed all those mommy blogs on how to behave like a good wife at 20 years old with littles at home. I soaked it all up. I read the books as well. A time came when I grew tired of “what must I do?” and the step by step guides. My marriage didn’t work like that. I also realized the guilt of this behavior was keeping me trapped in a sea of anxiety.
I tried to reread some of those books again, and they just fell flat. I started to wonder where the books for women were that spoke of the work of Christ in our lives and His working in us to do the things He has entrusted us to do for His glory. I was tired of the fluff, and 20 years later, at 40 years old I picked up your books. I have also listened to all the podcasts I could find that you interviewed in. It has been the best Bible Study I have had in such a long time. I haven’t read Scripture this way, ever, I don’t believe.
Thank you for this challenge.
Just as many churches are right now, our church is also suffering. I am excited to share the Word of Hope with them through fresh eyes. Challenge my sisters in Christ to see what scripture says outside of the culture we have established. And of course recommend your books!
May God continue to bless you in strength, health, and a wisdom to keep searching the Word and sharing it with the world.
I’m trying to read your book, “When Life and Beliefs Collide” but am having a hard time. you keep referring to our Creator God as “he” “father” etc and it makes your efforts with women sound hollow. Though I know that isn’t the case, you still should read John Pavlovitz’s new book “If God is Love, stop Being a Jerk.” It makes you see a much bigger God and to co-opt our Creator as a “him” is to prevent women from truly understanding just how magnificent this God is. Please let me know if you read this book and what you think. Thank you very much.
Linda, please don’t hold John Pavlovitz up as an example of all that is holy.