Devotion to Duty: The Example of Ruth

By Mike Willis

The book of Ruth records the life of a virtuous woman whose name has been recorded in the honor roll of faith. An unlikely hero of the Old Testament because she was from the Moabite nation, Ruth won the respect of God’s people and an honored place in the genealogy of the Christ.

The Historical Narrative

During the judges, a man from Bethlehem named Elimelech was forced by a famine to leave his hometown in search of food. With his wife Naomi and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, he moved to Moab. For ten years the family sojourned in Moab. During this time, Elimelech died, leaving Naomi a widow. Her two sons married non-Israelite women, named Orpah and Ruth, in disobedience to the law of Moses (Deut. 7:1-4; 23:3-6). Sometime later, they also died.

Desolate in a foreign country, Naomi resolved to return to Bethlehem. When her two daughters-in-law desired to return with her, she encouraged them to stay in Moab where their prospects for marriage were better than in Israel. Orpah consented but Ruth did not. In one of the most memorable statements of the Bible, Ruth expressed her resolution to go to Israel with Naomi:

Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me (Ruth 1:16-17).

After arriving in Bethlehem, Ruth assumed the obligation of providing for Naomi and herself. She went into the fields and gleaned with other poor folks. In the providence of God, she gleaned in the field of Boaz, a near kinsmen to Elimelech. In the course of time, she appealed to Boaz to perform the obligation of a levirate husband to raise up seed to his deceased relative. Boaz took Ruth as his wife. She conceived a son named Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of King David.

Lessons From Ruth

There are a number of lessons we can learn from the book of Ruth. Please consider them with me:

1. Ruth forsook all to trust under the wing of Jehovah. Naomi recognized that Ruth’s prospects for future happiness were much better in Moab than in Israel. In Moab she was among her own people; in Israel, Ruth was a foreign woman unlikely to ever remarry. Nevertheless, Ruth turned her back on her own people and their gods to cast her lot with the people of God.

What Ruth did was more than loyalty and devotion to her mother-in-law; it was an act of faith which was recognized as such by the inhabitants of Bethlehem. Unlike Orpah who went “back unto her people, and unto her gods” (1:14), Ruth said to Naomi, “. . .Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (1:16). Boaz recognized this conversion when he said, “The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust” (2:12).

Isaac Errett described her conversion in these eloquent words:

Ruth breaks the last tie that binds her to her own country and people; abandons her kindred, renounces her gods, and by a sublime act of faith weds herself to a new religion, a new people, and a new life – a life which holds out to her no other earthly charms than poverty and toil among strangers. . . . It was no small sacrifice – it was all, and with no prospect of compensation, except in the approval of the living Jehovah in whom she put her trust. She can not be supposed to have been brought to this decision merely through her love of Naomi (Evenings With the Bible, Vol. 1, p. 282).

2. She was committed to Naomi. Ruth loved her motherin-law Naomi. Naomi was one of the Lord’s people who, like Job, has been called to suffer. The plight of Naomi was terrible and is aptly described in these words:

“Of the two sexes,” says Fuller, “the woman is the weaker; of women, old women are most feeble; of old women, widows most woeful; of widows, those that are poor, their plight most pitiful; of poor widows, those who want children, their case most doleful; of widows that want children, those that once had them, and after lost them, their estate most desolate; of widows that have had children, those that are strangers in a foreign country, their condition most comfortless. Yet all these met together in Naomi, as in the centre of sorrow, to make the measure of her misery pressed down, shaken together, running over. I conclude, therefore, many men have had affliction – none like Job; many women have had tribulation – none like Naomi” (James Morison, The Pulpit Commentary: Ruth, p. 4).

Ruth recognized Naomi’s plight and was moved with love and compassion to go with her and stand by her in her hours of need.

We hear many mother-in-law jokes because of the friction between in-laws. There was no such friction between Ruth and Naomi. They loved and cared for each other. Such deep friendships come rarely in life and, where they exist, they are a ray of sunshine in the midst of dark clouds. Ruth became to Naomi better than seven sons (4:15).

3. She was a virtuous woman. Ruth won the respect of the community about her by her devotion to Naomi, her industriousness, and her virtuous conduct. When she labored in the field, the workers noticed how hard she worked saying, she “hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house” (2:7). Boaz said, “It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband” (2:11).

Again he said, “For all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman” (3:11). Not only did she work hard, she maintained her purity, winning the respect due a virtuous woman.

4. She trusted in the Lord’s provisions. She was content to accept the provisions which God had made for widows such as Naomi and herself. She joined other poor people to glean in the fields to provide for themselves, even as the law of Moses demanded (Lev. 19:9; 23:22; Deut. 24:19). Without complaining, Ruth worked hard to provide for her mother-in-law and herself.

She trusted in the Lord’s provision for a levirate marriage. She appealed to Boaz to perform the duties of a near kinsman to raise up seed to one who died childless (Deut. 25:5-10). She walked within the law in both of these respects.

5. She walked in the pathway of duty. Ruth turned her back on the pleasures of life in order to do what duty demanded. Orpah turned her back on duty to find a pleasurable life on earth. Orpah was more nearly like those widows Paul described who “liveth in pleasure” and are “dead while she liveth” (1 Tim. 5:6). On the other hand, Ruth turned her back on pleasure to discharge her duty her duty to God and Naomi.

Ruth sacrificed everything that could fascinate a young woman to fulfill the demands of duty. She gave up association with her family, kinsmen, and friends to move to Israel. She committed herself to caring for her aged mother-in-law who could not provide for herself (Naomi did not go to the fields with Ruth). While others were enjoying life’s temporal pleasures, Ruth was fulfilling her duty. In the Expositor’s Bible, Robert A. Watson wrote, “To deny the higher light which shows the way of personal duty and nobleness, to prefer instead the miserable rushlight of desire is the fatal choice against which all wisdom of sage and seer testifies.” Ruth was a wise woman who was committed to duty.

I Have Met Ruth and Orpah

Yes, I have met both Orpah and Ruth – not the ones of the text of the Bible – but women who walked in the footsteps of both women. I have met Orpah in the presence of those women who turned their backs on duty to pursue personal pleasure. These are the women who find their obligations to care for their children to be unexciting and unfulfilling. They are dissatisfied with their lot in life. They start looking for happier circumstances and situations. Soon they find their “dream boat” who will take them away from their miserable existence. Forsaking the husband of her youth and her precious children, this modern day Orpah commits herself to happier times on earth without regard to the pain she inflicts on those committed to her care.

I have met more than one Ruth. These are the women who commit themselves in loving obedience to God, regardless of how harsh are the circumstances in which they live. Like Ruth of old, they devote themselves to fulfilling their obligations to God and those others entrusted to their care. I would like to introduce you to several of these Ruth’s:

Ruth 1 is a younger woman whose husband was a, gospel preacher. He become sexually involved with a member of the church where he was preaching. When he would not cease his sin., this woman divorced her husband and undertook the task of rearing her children alone. Recognizing her deficiencies in the job market, she returned to college, completed her degree, and is now working to support herself while rearing her children to serve the Lord.

Ruth 2 and 3 are two widows, one the daughter of the other, who attend where I worship. The daughter lost her husband first and sometime afterwards her father suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed from his waist down. For over eleven years, the mother and her daughter committed themselves to caring for their disabled husband and father. The way of duty prevented them from enjoying many of life’s pleasures; they have existed on meager incomes. Like Ruth of old, they were devoted to fulfilling their duties toward God and those committed to their trust.


The years have passed. The lives of both Orpah and Ruth have long been concluded. Orpah’s name has passed into oblivion, having been forgotten except by a rare few who remember the names of obscure Bible characters.

Ruth passed down to her children an honorable name a name still given to young ladies. She received her reward of righteousness, a son named Obed, She was the great grandmother to King David and an ancestor to Jesus the Christ. Her name is included alongside the 42 men who are given in Jesus’ genealogy (Matt. 1:5).

Our modern day Ruth’s will also pass down a legacy to their families – a legacy which teaches their children to be devoted to God and to those committed to their care, a legacy to fulfill one’s obligations to duty, a legacy to have one’s name written in the book of life. May Ruth’s Godfearing conduct be an example to each of us!

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 16, pp. 482, 502-503
August 18, 1989