Why Ruth Was Such An Important Female Figure In The Bible

The female character Ruth is important enough in the Bible that she has her own chapter, the Book of Ruth, as part of the Ketuvim segment in the Old Testament. Her story is featured during Shavuot, a Jewish holiday that commemorates the Torah being revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai. And Ruth's story is interwoven with that of Naomi, her mother-in-law.

The tale begins with a famine in Judah that forces Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, to resettle in Moah, far away from their fellow Israelites. When Naomi's spouse dies, she remains in the area with her sons, who eventually marry two local girls, Orpah and Ruth. When her sons also die, Naomi decides to travel back to her homeland. She urges her daughters-in-law to return to their parents' homes and remarry. But while Orpah agrees, Ruth decides to stay with Naomi, journey to a strange land, and embrace the Jewish faith (via Tori Avey). The above photo depicts Ruth and Naomi hugging as Orpah looks on.

The Book of Ruth is read at Shavuot because her story parallels the development of the Jewish faith. According to My Jewish Learning, Ruth's commitment to Judaism was similar to the group's acceptance of the Torah, which was given to Moses by God. 

But there's more to Ruth's story than that. For many, she symbolizes the best of faith, loyalty, devotion, and bravery — characteristics people have sought to emulate for centuries.

Ruth is rewarded for her kindness

When Ruth decides not to leave her mother-in-law's side, she utters the famous Bible passage from Ruth 1:16: "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die — there will I be buried."

Ruth follows Naomi back to Bethlehem out of love for her mother-in-law and ends up in the barley fields collecting any grain that was left behind. The field's owner, Boaz, a relative of her deceased father-in-law, treats her kindly and tells her she can drink from his water jars when parched. Boaz told Ruth that he had noticed her kindness toward Naomi and said God would reward her for it (via Bible Study Tools). Eventually, Ruth marries Boaz and has a son, Obed. The son eventually fathers Jesse, who sires David — the great king of the Israelites. 

Ultimately, Ruth's story showcases the importance of kindness. The Moab people disliked the Israelites, and the Jews returned that hostility. But when Ruth accepts the Jewish faith in spite of her Moab background, she bridges that disregard, and eventually — after a few generations — Jesus Christ becomes her descendent. As noted by Learning Religions, Ruth is singled out in Matthew 1:1-16 as one of five women related to Christ (the others are Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Mary). Her story has inspired many films, books, and other interpretations, including 2019's Ruth: The Musical.