The Godly Mother-In-Law and Daughter-In-Law

What can you learn from a young woman born and raised in a pagan society and an elderly woman who has no money, no husband and very few prospects of a worthwhile future?

Today is Mother’s Day in the US. It is one of the few holidays without pagan strings attached. It was created in 1908 – 1910, depending upon whom you source, to celebrate the mothers in our lives. It was officially recognized as a holiday in 1914. The founder of Mother’s Day was Anna Jarvis. About 9 years after it got started, she actually began to oppose the holiday because of its over-commercialization. Makes you wonder what she would think of some of the other holidays today.

There are many Bible verses that tell us to honor our mother. Obviously, both parents are to be obeyed when we are young and to be honored our entire lives. They mold us and shape us into what we are today for the most part. Some of us no longer have our mothers to thank and to honor. However, you may have a wife or a mother-in-law that also deserves some type of recognition because of her influence in your life.

In the ancient world, becoming a mother was very important to a woman. Being barren was viewed as a curse. Sarah was willing to have an ancient version of a surrogate mother in order to have a child through Hagar. Rachel told Isaac to give her children or she would die. Hannah was grief stricken and tormented whenever Peninnah would tease her because of her lack of children. However, their grief turned into great joy when the unexpected happened.

There are women of character woven throughout the Bible. They were women who made a difference. Yet, perhaps no story shows the character and influence of godly women more than the story of Ruth. It is a short story, but I would like to turn to the Book of Ruth and look at some highlights of a remarkable young woman who proved loyal to the end. This is not intended as a thorough Bible study of the book, as I will be focusing in on their relationship and only touch on other points as pertinent.

Ruth’s loyalty was to her mother-in-law, no less, and to a God of a foreign land. It is also the story of a wise mother-in-law who was able to guide a young woman in the ways of God. As a result, both of them receive numerous blessings. I call this the story of the Godly Mother-in-Law and Daughter-in-Law.

This story is important for men as well. Perhaps you men may think this message is “only for the ladies”, but I want you to consider that there is a male figure in the story of Ruth. I want you to keep in mind that although my emphasis today is upon the relationship of Naomi and Ruth, in the last half of the book, the role of Boaz becomes more prominent. I also don’t want you to lose sight of the influence we men have in the development of our daughters, granddaughters and nieces we come in contact with. Furthermore, as Boaz is the kinsmen redeemer, a type of Christ, it stands to reason that Ruth is a type for the Church, the bride of Christ. The relationship the Church has with Christ, then, should be similar to the relationship between Ruth and Boaz.

We know that Naomi’s husband Elimelech took the family to Moab during a time of famine. Their sons married Moabite women. Elimelech and both of Naomi’s sons died. Grief stricken, Naomi decides to return again to Israel. She tells both of her daughters-in-law to return to their families and live out the rest of their lives normally. However, Ruth refuses to leave Naomi’s side.

Ruth 1:11-18 (New King James Version)

11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, 13 would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me!” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15 And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”

16 But Ruth said:

“ Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
17 Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The LORD do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”

18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.

In chapter 2, we see that her loyalty gains the attention of a well-to-do farmer named Boaz even before he had met her.

Ruth 2:5-12 (New King James Version)

5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”

6 So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, “It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house.”

8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.”

10 So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

11 And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. 12 The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”

God saw Ruth and her loyalty to her mother-in-law, and He began to repay her according to her loyalty and obedience. The Moabites were polytheists who worshipped all sorts of other gods. Ruth not only had to forsake her land but also her entire way of life, including the religion of her land. She placed herself under the protection ("wings") of the God of Israel. Now, that is loyalty.

When Ruth gets home and talks to Naomi about the day’s events, Naomi reveals to her that Boaz is a kinsmen. This is where the story begins to take on greater significance with Boaz as kinsmen redeemer. Boaz is a type for Christ, our ultimate Redeemer.

So, eventually Naomi cooks up a plan to get Ruth and Boaz together. It just goes to show that matchmaking has been around a long time.

At any rate, we see Naomi’s instructions in Ruth 3 for what Ruth is to do, but it appears as though Ruth is the one who came up with what to say.

Ruth 3:9 (New King James Version)

9 And he said, “Who are you?”

So she answered, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.”

There is the language again of placing herself under the "wing" of her kinsmen redeemer. She placed herself under the protection of her kinsman redeemer, even as we should be placing ourselves under the protection of our Kinsman Redeemer. So, we see Ruth submitting to Naomi, submitting to God and submitting to her kinsman redeemer. We see all this blooming from a godly relationship between two women. One was the godly mother, and the other was the godly daughter, each looking out for one another in spite of being “just in-laws”.

That distinction may go unnoticed by some of us, but in some cultures in-laws are considered distinct from blood relatives. Yet, here we see two people who are related by marriage only, yet they are closer than many blood relatives. We see the result of a positive and godly relationship leading to even more blessings.

Of course, there are always bumps in the road, aren’t there? It turns out that Boaz is not the nearest of kin. Would he be able to be the kinsman redeemer after all that has transpired? Would another supplant him and take his place? Naomi reassures Ruth that Boaz will not rest until the matter is settled.

And, as we know, settle it he does. Now, the Bible condenses a lot of things, distilling events down to nuggets, which can make the reader easily gloss over some things. Perhaps Boaz was once a used camel salesman. What we see is him forcing the issue with the nearest relative in such a way as to throw the man off-guard. It goes something like this: "Would you like some land? A house, even? You can make a lot of money, you know, if you plant the right crops. Oh, and by the way, you have to marry a Moabitess and give some of your children’s inheritance to any children you and her are required to have. What? You don’t want to give away part of your wealth to a woman from Moab? Well, then I guess I’ll just have to take it off your hands, then."

It is obvious that Boaz wanted this. He obviously loved Ruth. He knew, though, that it had to be done the right way. Yet, that didn’t stop him from dealing shrewdly. I have little doubt that part of his success was because of his God-given business sense. He was already a successful farmer. I have little doubt that Naomi knew this. I have no doubt that Naomi wanted the best for Ruth and that she knew Boaz’ wisdom. Far too many young people today fall in and out of relationships w/o the insights of older, caring and experienced mentors. Far too many young people today aren’t looking for the characteristics and attributes that truly endure.

Godly motherly instruction is the practical carrying out of the instructions to teach your children in Dt 6. I hope everyone has had a chance to read “Things My Mama Taught Me” posted 4 May on COGWA’s Godly Women Blog. It is full of practical lessons.

On the other hand, Boaz had maturity, experience and wisdom. Ruth had youth, beauty and caring. It took Naomi, a widow with no money or way to fend for herself, to put them together.

We know the end, but let’s read it anyhow:

Ruth 4:13-17 (New King James Version)

13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! 15 And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him. 17 Also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “There is a son born to Naomi.” And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

All of the town’s women were celebrating with Naomi.  One elderly woman touched not only the life of a younger woman from a pagan society, a young successful farmer but also the entire town.

That’s not all.  Think about the expanding blessings that come from this. As we know, David became King of Israel. However, just as important, the line of David was promised to be the genealogical source for the coming Messiah. The blessings did not just touch the lives of the three characters we have focused upon today, but these blessings have touched everyone who has ever become a Christian. And, it goes beyond that. These blessings will touch all who ever do come to Christ in repentance, whether during this age or later.

This is a story of hope, encouragement and the blessings that come from godly qualities like compassion, mercy and loyalty. It is a story of blessings that come from total submission to God.

However, not one of the three characters did it on their own. They needed each other. Each supplied the need of the other.

When you think about it, isn’t that what family should be all about?

What of your spiritual family? Does each of us supply the needs of others? When we cannot, do we petition God to do so for us?

So, What can you learn from a young woman born and raised in a pagan society and an elderly woman who has no money, no husband and very few prospects of a worthwhile future?

Apparently, a great deal. We can learn about relationships, about honoring our elders and about taking the advice of godly parents. A godly person can influence one young person, an entire town or even then entire race.

May all of your relationships with your mothers, mothers-in-law, daughters, daughters-in-law, grandmothers, granddaughters, aunts and nieces be filled with godly compassion, loyalty and commitment to God Almighty.

Happy Mother’s Day, ladies.

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