'The book of Ruth might have been written by a man, but what shines through in this book is the commitment and determination of the women. It's not a story where women take a backseat; Naomi risks everything leaving her home to go to Moab, whilst Ruth risks leaving her family to go with Naomi. The strength of Naomi and Ruth’s relationship is at the heart of this story.'
For the fourth day of '16 Days of Activism', we're celebrating women in the Bible by reflecting on the story of Ruth and Naomi in the Old Testament.
The Bible is full of stories of women doing brave and bold things. Often things that were counter-cultural. The Bible is also full of stories of people travelling from one place to another. In fact, the whole narrative of the Bible is about place. God’s people, the Israelites, travel from one place to another time and time again. God promises a land for the people, a place to call their own. And place is crucial to the identity of those people. The story of Ruth and Naomi is remarkable precisely because it beautifully weaves together what it means to belong with the authentic voices of two courageous women.
The book of Ruth might have been written by a man, but what shines through in this book is the commitment and determination of the women. Ruth and Naomi is not a story where women take a backseat; Naomi risks everything, leaving her home to go to Moab, whilst Ruth risks leaving her family to go with Naomi. The strength of Naomi and Ruth’s relationship is at the heart of this story. It’s not a story by men that happens to include women, but a story that will have been passed on from these women themselves.
Elaine Storkey confronts the argument that the Bible is really all by and about men in her book ‘Women in a Patriarchal World’: ‘I believe many stories are authentically those of women. I believe, too, that the original sources for the stories will have been women themselves.’ Ruth and Naomi’s story is not unique: there are other stories of women that are very much worth taking the time to discover.
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God."
— Ruth 1:16 —
The other remarkable thing about this story is that it’s a story of two refugees. Naomi’s family fled to Moab as refugees. Naomi and Ruth later leave what has become their home because they had no family to provide for them. It’s a story that demonstrates God’s heart for welcome, and shows us something of what it might look like for us to be people of welcome.
When Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem, Ruth goes into the fields during the barley harvest to pick up leftover grains. Ruth works behind the harvesters in a field that belonged to a man named Boaz, a relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. When Boaz hears that Naomi has returned with Ruth and that Ruth is gleaning the leftover grain, he goes to Ruth and tells her she can work safely in his fields and get a drink from his water jars when she is thirsty. Ruth questions his kindness and Boaz responds that God is looking kindly on them. Boaz makes sacrifices for both these women; he recognises that they have not fled through any fault of their own, and is kind.
Just as Naomi and Ruth had to make some difficult decisions as a result of facing famine, violence and suffering, many people today face difficult choices. Others have no choice at all, but simply leave their homes to save themselves. In danger, they do not have time to think about what they might need to claim asylum in the UK (passport, education or medical records etc.) For those facing domestic abuse, there is simply not the support they need in the courts.
For Ruth and Naomi, all of the trauma and stress, loss, and struggle they face leads to the birth of the father of David; Ruth gets a mention in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. Women's struggles, strength and resilience in the midst of deep trauma is celebrated as that which brings about the birth of a King. These challenges birth hope.
Write to your MP
We know that this is not the end of the story for migrant women experiencing domestic abuse. You can help by writing to your MP about improving the Domestic Abuse Bill.