You know Ruth’s story. Now meet her in person. And prepare to be changed.
with Ruth as she travels from Moab to Bethlehem, certain of her
calling, yet uncertain of her future. Hold Naomi’s hand and watch love
put the pieces of her broken life back together. And hang out with Boaz,
their kinsman-redeemer, who blesses both women and honors God, big
With best-selling author Liz Curtis Higgs by your side,
you’ll tarry in the corners of their ancient houses, listen to their
conversations, and consider every word of every verse until you can say,
“I totally get the book of Ruth. And I see what God is trying to
teach me through this rags-to-riches redemption story—he has a plan for
Girl, does he ever!
Think of it as time
travel without gimmicks, gizmos, or a DeLorean: a novel approach to
Bible study that leaps from past to present, gleaning timeless truths
that speak to the heart.
Liz Curtis Higgs is a popular conference speaker and the author of nearly 30 books, with more than 3 million copies in print, including her bestselling nonfiction titles, The Girl's Still Got It, Bad Girls of the Bible, Really Bad Girls of the Bible, Unveiling Mary Magdalene, and Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible; and her award-winning Scottish historical novels, including two inspired by the biblical book of Ruth: Here Burns My Candle and Mine Is the Night, a New York Times bestseller. Liz and her family live in Louisville, Kentucky.
Before We Dive In
Which Girl’s Still Got It?
Ruth’s definitely got it. Yes, that Ruth. The one in the Bible. And her mother-in-law, Naomi? She’s still got it too. So do
What do I mean by “it”? Value. Significance. Vibrancy. Worth. Something vital and meaningful to offer, no matter how many times you’ve been around the block.
Look at Ruth. Even thirty-two centuries later, her shining example of boldness and faithfulness still blows us away. Why don’t we take a walk in her sandals and see where the Lord might lead us and how he might use us?
Resist the urge to say you’re too old, too young, too busy, too scared, too worn out, too washed up, too anything to be useful to God. Truth is, you’ve always been part of his love-the-world plan. Need proof? From the day he formed
you in your mother’s womb, God has watched over your every step, making sure you got where you needed to go.
When you stumbled, it was God who steadied you.
When you fell, it was God who rescued you.
When you lost your way, it was God who carried you home.
Why? Because he knows you fully, loves you completely, and holds you close to his heart. God will never give up on you, my sister. You claim a special place in his Big Picture.
As the book of Proverbs says, “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.”1 Count on it. As surely as we know how the book of Ruth ends—happily—God knows how your story is going to unfold.
We don’t use the phrase divine providence much anymore, but here’s what it means: “God is there, God cares, God rules, and God provides.”2 How comforting to know that we’re never alone and never unloved, that Someone powerful
is in charge and looking out for us. The book of Ruth is a crash course in Sovereignty 101, with God whispering all through it, “Trust me!”
Okay, but trust is an easy word to say and a hard thing to do. It took a decade of Bad Girl foolishness before I understood how good and trustworthy God is. The refrain of one classic hymn never fails to bring a lump to my throat
(not good when you’re trying to sing):
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!3
Yeah, that last bit. Gets me every time.
From childhood Naomi learned to trust the Sovereign God of Israel. Ruth discovered his faithfulness a bit further down the road. Some of us are only now realizing what it means to live in the circle of God’s embrace and at the absolute
center of his will.
I’m still getting my head around it. Maybe you are too.
Suppose we hang out with these ancient sisters for a season and see what they can teach us about God’s steadfast love. First, we need to figure out how to transport Naomi and Ruth into the present. Or project ourselves into the distant past.
Time Travel Without the DeLorean
If only we could jump into a time machine! Instead of simply reading about biblical history, we could live it. Rather than merely studying maps and books, we could see, touch, and experience that long-lost world firsthand. Wouldn’t
that be something?
H. G. Wells created a device for his Time Traveller out of nickel, ivory, and quartz. Doc Brown sent Marty McFly back to 1955 in a plutonium-powered DeLorean. I’m thinking we’ll employ something God designed—our imaginations—
and toss in a healthy measure of old-fashioned research. (No worries. That’s my gig.)
Page by page I want us to go there—to Moab, to Bethlehem, to the days of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. We’ll tarry in the corners of their homes and listen to their conversations and consider every word of every verse until we can say, “I
totally get the book of Ruth. And I see what God is trying to teach me through this rags-to-riches redemption story—he has a plan for my life.”
Girl, does he ever!
Before we step back in time, here are three things you’re going to love about the book of Ruth.
First, it’s a guaranteed great read.
A combo of “literary art and theological insight,”4 these four chapters in Scripture have “enchanted every age,”5 including our own. I’ve pored over Ruth’s story in fourteen translations and a hundred books and commentaries, and I still get tears in my eyes when the women of Bethlehem sing out, “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer.”6 Yes, yes, yes! Plus, the book of Ruth has all the stuff English majors swoon over: fascinating parallels, flashbacks, and clever repetition. Watch for all the uses of return (shubh in Hebrew) and favor (hesed ). Very cool. Scottish theologian Sinclair Ferguson said, “Like the stories we loved to hear again and again in childhood, the pleasure of this one lies partly in spotting the clues.”7 We’ll be regular Nancy Drews before we’re done.
It’s also a deliciously chatty story. In the New International Version nearly sixty of the eighty-five verses include dialogue. Lots of “she said, he said.” Love it.
Second, wait until you find out how this true story began.
Though Jewish tradition gives Samuel props for writing the book of Ruth,8 most modern scholars don’t agree. It’s a timing problem, since the book ends with David’s name. Everyone reading it three millenniums ago would have
smiled and nodded, recognizing the famous ruler. Yet Samuel died before David became king around 1010 BC, meaning Samuel’s authorship is improbable.9 Instead, the book of Ruth was likely composed around 1000 BC,10 a century or two after the actual events. Could be it was written even more recently than that, anywhere from 1000 to 500 BC,11 depending on who’s doing the research.
Guess who preserved the account of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz until it was finally recorded? Storytellers.
Accomplished troupes knew all the favorite songs and familiar legends and shared them at public gatherings and festivals.12 Since the book of Ruth began in poetic, oral form and circulated that way for ages,13 these storytellers of old kept Ruth’s history alive by carefully memorizing every word, then recounting the much-loved tale wherever people hung out, especially around the spring or at the town gate.14
Don’t panic! This is still God’s Word, a work of the Holy Spirit. Through the centuries the Lord used ordinary people to bind his truth onto stone, clay, papyrus, leather, parchment, copper, potsherds, and silver.15 Yet many of the ancient texts, those God-breathed words, were spoken long before they were written.
Ruth’s story is so skillfully arranged, so beautifully narrated, we can easily imagine a gifted storyteller standing before an audience, commanding everyone’s undivided attention from the opening words: “And it came to pass in the
days of the judges…”
That third thing you’ll love?
The book of Ruth is all about our biblical sisters. They don’t simply make an appearance or hover in the background; it’s a women’s story through and through. Some commentators go a step further, believing the Naomi-Ruth saga
was “passed on by a guild of women storytellers.”16 Other scholars suggest “the writer was a woman.”17
Oh my. Not only spoken by women but also written by a woman? Well, we know songs written by women are included in Scripture. Miriam exhorted the assembled, “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted.”18 Deborah declared in her own voice and words, “Wake up, wake up, break out in song!”19 And Mary sang with all her heart, “My soul glorifies the Lord.”20
If God placed those lyrics in the hearts and mouths of our sisters and saved them for eternity in his Word, might he also have entrusted a woman writer to faithfully preserve the story of Ruth?
Not trying to convince you, dear one. Just tossing it out there.
After three thousand years we can’t be certain “whether the real author was male or female.”21 But we can be sure of Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith,”22 who has written his name across our hearts and whose eternal Word is true.
This One’s for the Girls
We can also be certain of this: women matter a great deal to God. No book of the Bible demonstrates that more powerfully than Ruth.
Here are seven you-go-girl truths that jumped out at me as I read her story.
Two women command the leading roles.
You won’t find another book like it in Scripture. Brief scenes featuring only women are rare; Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke 1 comes to mind. But a story that has two female leads plus a whole chorus of sopranos and altos? Remarkable
to find a book of the Bible so “unusually woman-centered both in language and in plot.”23 Not only that, they’re strong, intelligent women who, as they say in Hollywood, can carry a film.
Naomi and Ruth are complex and distinctive, not stereotypes.
They represent two nationalities, two religions at first, two generations, and two very different personalities. No need to ask who’s speaking when you read their words. The Bible is filled with Good Girls and Bad Girls, often contrasted
with each other. In Proverbs we find archetypes of the wise woman and the foolish woman,24 the kindhearted woman and the immoral woman.25 But in Naomi and Ruth we see real women, even flawed women, who change and
grow throughout their journey.
The story is told from a female viewpoint.
I wouldn’t dare call Scripture chick lit, but the book of Ruth “seems to reflect a female perspective.”26 A male commentator wrote those words, and he’s absolutely right: we see all the early scenes through the eyes of Naomi and Ruth. Even when Boaz appears, his dialogue is solely about helping these two women. (Like something straight from the Lifetime channel, you know?)
Naomi and Ruth are cooperative instead of competitive.
When Sarai and Hagar take the biblical stage together in Genesis 16, it is not pretty. Same thing with Rachel and Leah in Genesis 30, and Hannah and Peninnah in 1 Samuel 1. Regular catfights, all. Yet in the book of Ruth, we find a young woman and her mother-in-law walking in the same direction (imagine that!) and seeking the same goals: putting food on the table and keeping the family name alive. Ruth looks out for Naomi from the start. Later Naomi looks out for Ruth. Go, team!
These women make things happen rather than wait for things to happen.
Instead of playing the passive-aggressive card, Naomi and Ruth are in the game. They talk and act independently of men and do what needs to be done. Often in biblical narrative things happen to women—sad things, even horrible things. Yet these two take their future into their own hands. You’ll soon find “it is female assertiveness which drives the story’s action.”27 When tragedy strikes their household, Naomi and Ruth don’t sit moping in Moab, hoping someone will rescue them. They go, they do, they seek, they find—with God leading the way.
The women are strong, and the men are mostly…um, weak.
Just sayin’. Even when Naomi and Ruth burst into tears, “neither woman strikes the reader as weak, helpless, or lost.”28 In contrast, the men die, are unnamed, or shirk their responsibilities. Spiritually, emotionally, and physically, the men in this story (other than Boaz, of course) pale in comparison to our stalwart sisters.
Females are continually discussed, acknowledged, and praised—by name.
The number of nameless women in Scripture is legion. The woman at the well,29 the bleeding woman,30 the slave girl who predicts the future31—the list goes on and on. Yet our female leads in Ruth are all named. Additional name-dropping takes place near the end of the narrative when Tamar, Rachel, and Leah are spoken of in glowing terms—and by the men of Bethlehem, no less. These men saw with their own eyes that the Israelite faith was “cherished, defended, and exemplified by women.”32
Suffice it to say, Naomi and Ruth were important to God’s people. And God meant the world to Naomi and Ruth. They turned to him for provision, honored him through their obedience, and blessed him with their words. Our First, Our Last, Our Everything
Why study the girls (and guys) of the Bible? Because they help us understand God’s character. Through the fickleness of his people, he reveals his unchanging nature. Through their neediness, he demonstrates his compassion. Through
their rash behavior, he exhibits his patience. Through their sinful choices, he shows us what mercy looks like. Through their bitter complaints, he proves his capacity to love the unlovable. Through their disloyalty, his faithfulness shines.
However fitting it may be that this book of the Bible has Ruth’s name on it, make no mistake: this is the Lord’s story, and he alone claims center stage. As one commentator wrote, “It is God’s actions we are to learn about, not a series
of admirable human qualities.”33 Exactly so. Our desire as believers isn’t to be more like Ruth; it’s to be more like Jesus. With each admirable thing Ruth does, we’ll see the Lord’s hand at work.
God doesn’t have a speaking role or make a physical appearance in the book of Ruth, but we’ll sense his constant presence, steady as a heartbeat. When we reach the final page, I hope that instead of saying, “Wow, what a woman!” we’ll be saying, “Wow, what a Redeemer!”
One more thing, sis. Take a minute to check out the resources in the back of this book in case you’d like to use them while you read: a short list of Discussion Questions for book clubs; a longer Study Guide for more in-depth, chapter-by-chapter Bible study; and a recommended reading list for those of us who like to dig even deeper.
Now then, I promised you a journey in a time machine. With hearts engaged and Bibles in hand, let’s travel back to 1200 BC, give or take a few decades, and meet King David’s great-grandmother as a young woman in her midtwenties.34
Wait. Is that Ruth wearing an ugly black thingy?
Oh dear. I hadn’t expected to find her like this.