Courage: 1) Is having strength in the face of pain or grief. 2) Is the ability to act on one’s belief despite danger or disapproval.
In part-two of this three-part series The Courage of One Woman we will be reviewing the lives of what is perhaps two of the most beloved women in the Bible: Ruth and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Each in their own unique way exemplifies courage – wisdom, strength and humility – while encountering potential danger and disapproval during difficult situations, yet standing bold and firm in their convictions.
Ruth, the Moabite (Ruth 1-4).
The book of Ruth is such a beautiful story because it is a story of courage, hardship, endurance and redemption. This historical narrative takes place during the time of the judges and during a famine in the land of Judah. Elimelech, of Bethlehem, Judah, and his wife, Naomi take their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to the neighboring south-eastern country of Moab for at least ten years (Ruth 1:4) to escape the famine in Judah and seek potential future prospects, which comes in an unusual fashion. From the genealogical list at the end of the book of Ruth we are told the child born to Boaz was Obed, and born to Obed was Jesse, and born to Jesse was David (between 1200 BC, Ruth 4:17, 21-22,). More precise we cannot be. Two-hundred years later David becomes the second monarch of Israel, following King Saul.
Moab was a pagan, Gentile land, which worshipped other gods (Chemosh, the national deity, likely meaning “destroyer” “subduer” or “fish”), and yet in this poignant love story you see the sovereign hand of God working through the circumstances of both a Jewish family (God-fearing) and two Gentile women (pagan worshippers), by which Ruth comes to know the True and Living God – for God is not a respecter of person. The marriage union of Boaz and Ruth produces the birth of the child in which the Messiah, Jesus Christ our Redeemer, would come into the world (Matthew 1:1, 5-6).
As an observation from silence, it seems apparent that Naomi had a godly impact on both Orpah and Ruth. Although Naomi’s life was filled with much suffering, especially due to the loss of her husband and two sons, even bitter at times, she never really turned her heart from God. Naomi must have seen something in both of these Moabite women that she allowed her sons to marry them. She must have introduced both girls to Jehovah, the True and Living God. Orpah and Ruth may have observed them, Naomi and her sons, in regular talks about God, pray to God and even worship God – in the foreign land, Moab – likely answering the women’s questions and comparing their religious beliefs with that of the true God, demonstrating that no matter where you are in life, if you are determined you can serve God faithfully.
Now that Naomi’s husband and two sons are dead, she is determined to return back to her home Bethlehem, Judah. Naomi, with her mind made up, attempts to persuade her daughter-in-law’s, Orpah and Ruth, to return to their own families and gods so that she could go back to Bethlehem, Judah. Orpah convinced by Naomi, decides to return to her people, but Ruth was determined to follow her mother-in-law wherever she went. Ruth shares with us such inspiring words, “Entreat me not 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. 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.” Ruth 1:16-17 NKJV.
Ruth loved her mother-in-law and was willing to leave everything, not knowing what her future in a new land would hold, trusting in her new found faith. Even in this, God’s miraculous hand is working. Elimelech had a wealthy relative named Boaz, who would become enamored with Ruth, the Moabite, and eventually becomes her kinsman-redeemer. Boaz makes inquiries about Ruth from one of the servants in charge of the reapers. Boaz is so impressed by Ruth that he comments, “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. 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.” (Ruth 2:11-12).
Boaz is impressed by Ruth’s courage and humility, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do no fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman. Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I.” (Ruth 3:10-12). Love is in the air, immediately after Boaz meets Ruth, a virtuous woman, his heart is set at redeeming her and taking her as his wife.
Naomi, aware of the hand of providence in the matter, orchestrates and counsels Ruth to remain with the reapers because she is aware that Boaz, ‘one of our close relatives’ meets the lawful qualifications of ‘performing the duties of a wife whose husband has died without children.’ In the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 25:5-9) it is the responsibility of a close relative to ‘perform the duty of a husband’s brother to the widow’ by taking her as wife – bear a son – so that the family name continues in Israel.
Naomi instructs Ruth to perform this strange custom ‘uncovering the feet’ which seems usual to us but it was a tradition practiced at least amongst the tribe of Judah ‘related to kinsman redemption or marriage.’ There is no hint of this practice ‘uncovering the feet’ found in the Mosaic Law, so it could have been a custom practiced by neighboring nations and later adopted by the Israelites. Ruth obediently follows the instructions of Naomi, puts on her best dress and quietly lays at the feet of Boaz. Boaz is awakened around midnight, finds Ruth laying at his feet, and asks Who are You? Not sure what to expect. Ruth answers, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.” Ruth makes a bold move by showing interest in Boaz in hopes that he will pursue the necessary legal steps to make her his wife. Boaz is ecstatic and eager to immediately fulfill the obligation.
This “under your wing” stated by Ruth is a subtle proposal of marriage. And Boaz is eager to perform his duties as a close relative, but there is a potential obstacle, in that there is someone closer than he. So, by law he must present his case before the elders, in the gate of the city, to officially determine if the other relative is interested in accepting the necessary legal requirements regarding the widowhood of Ruth (Ruth 4:5). Boaz is relieved of the outcome. The closes relative indicates that due to a conflict of interest he would not be able to meet the obligation. Shortly thereafter Boaz and Ruth are married, and Ruth gives birth to a son, named Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David – king of Israel – in which the lineage of the long-awaited Savior of the world, Jesus Christ would come nine-centuries later. Who would have ever thought that the orchestration of this marriage between and Jew and a Gentile would bring to us, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?
Mary, Mother of Jesus (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2).
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the best known and most loved woman in human history. Of the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) however, Mary, is most revered in the Christian and Islam faiths. In three of the four gospels, and the book of Acts, Mary is mentioned less than two dozen times. She is indirectly mentioned a few times in two epistles (Romans 1:3; Gal 4:4) and possibly insinuated in New Testament prophetic writing of the Apostle John (Rev 12:4-6, 13-17). Mary can be identified as a very courageous, yet humble, soul. Except for a couple of difference noted in the gospels (Matthew 12:46-50; John 2:1-5) she seems to prefer the quiet setting and throughout maintains a low profile. We are not told her age. We can assume that she was a young Jewish female coming into womanhood, maybe 13-17 years old, and the ripe age for marriage. Mary holds her faith dear, raised with strong religious convictions and being betroth to Joseph, also a very righteous man, whose heritage has royal ancestry – it is for this reason Mary is chosen as the appropriate candidate for the bearing of the Son of God.
The details are recorded in two gospels (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1:26-2:40). Mary, is betrothed (engagement) to Joseph, which is the customary way of saying ‘we are now married’ or ‘you are my wife’ until the official ceremony was conducted in the next ten to twelve months (unlike engagements today). Joseph’s blood line traces back to Abraham and to the royal blood line of king David. In this historical narrative, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and shares with her a message that will change her life and that of the whole world forever. The messenger is sent by God to tell this God-fearing woman, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” So, as a young virgin woman, she is not only surprised but also troubled by the message delivered by the angel. Why me, how is this possible, she probably thought? Mary is further bewildered by the angel’s comments, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus…” Knowing the prospect of a woman being found pregnant without being married (without an official marriage ceremony), not only brings shame to the family name, but under the Mosaic Law, a fornicator or adultery, is a just cause for being stoned to death.
Mary is humble, but very courageous, and intuitive enough to seek clarification from the angel asks, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” The angel reassures her that the child she bears in her womb, is the Son of God, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. Gabriel, provides additional confirmation for Mary by informing her that her relative Elizabeth – who is a senior citizen and beyond the years of childbearing – is now six months pregnant. Elizabeth, childbearing was both by God and human agency, but Mary’s pregnancy was through the miraculous intervention of God. How? Because with God all things are possible. Mary courageously, in humble obedience, accepts her new and extraordinary call from God by responding, “Behold the maid servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
Mary’s mind is still reeling from the angelic encounter, yet eager to verify and confirm the message recently received by angel Gabriel. She quickly takes the eighty-mile journey from city in Nazareth southward to the city of Judah to visit her pregnant relative Elizabeth. Mary during her travel to Elizabeth, likely pondering the omnipotent works of God, recalling the miraculous event in the Old Testament regarding Abraham and Sarah, who in their old age gave birth to a son, named Isaac. Upon Mary’s entering Elizabeth’s home and giving a greeting – the babe, John the Baptist, leapt in her womb and being filled with the Holy Spirit Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” confirming for Mary all the things the angel had told her to be true. Mary overwhelmed with joy, is moved to share what has been traditionally called Mary’s song “the Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55), exalting God’s faithfulness and how He fulfilled His promise to send into the world the long-awaited, Son of God, Jesus Christ, delivering mankind from the grip of sin and death – not only for Israel, but also the Gentile nations who put their trust in Him. Mary remained in the home of Elizabeth for three months, until the child John the Baptist was born, and then returns to her home in Nazareth.
Mary, faithfully believing and trusting God, still finds herself in an inescapable quandary. She is now more than three-months pregnant making it difficult to conceal the unborn child and aware that such a serious indiscretion is worthy of death. How does she explain this unnatural pregnancy to her betrothed husband, Joseph? Words alone would never be sufficient to persuade him. As a just and righteous man, Joseph would never have participated in conjugal relations with Mary until the official marriage ceremony was completed. Will he believe Mary when she tells him that an angel came and told her that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit bringing forth the Messiah, Jesus Christ, into the world? Would any man accept such an explanation? Adultery, would be the only possible explanation, which is worthy of death amongst conservative religious Jews.
Joseph, is also in a difficult situation, all he knows is that Mary is pregnant and the unborn child she is carrying is not his. According to the law, adultery is a capital offence – stoning to death – but Joseph’s love for her is so strong he refuses to make her a public example. He decides to put her away privately (secretly). Joseph’s soul is tormented by his current dilemma and is restless in sleep. He needs help. So, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and lifts his heavy burden, “…do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Joseph did as the angel commanded him and received his wife. He remained celibate until Mary gave birth to their firstborn Son, Jesus.
For the next six-months, Joseph and Mary, together watched as the providential hand of God confirms in miraculous ways that He is guiding and directing them each step of the way. The next thirty-three years are fraught both with da combination of overwhelming joy and insurmountable difficulties.
1) Insurmountable Difficulty: The Roman government conducted a census, in order to register all Jews for taxation purposes, necessitating that Joseph and Mary travel eighty-miles one week before giving birth in Bethlehem, Judea (end of her nine-month pregnancy), fulfilling the prophecy where Jesus was to be born (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:4-6; Luke 2:1-5). Arriving in the city of Judah, Mary gives birth to Jesus Christ, her firstborn child – wrapping him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.
2) Overwhelming Joy: An angel appears to the shepherds (the least among humanity) at night with the message of good tidings, “…for there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” The shepherds make haste to the location to witness this extraordinary event – The Savior is born – and then they joyfully share this information with all of their relatives, friends and neighbors concerning the child. But Mary tucks these things deep in her heart.
3) Joy and Difficulty: On the eight day, according to the law of Moses, the newborn child is brought to the Temple to be circumcised and given a name (Luke 2:21-22). Joseph and Mary are confronted by two righteous strangers, Simeon and Anna, the prophetess, who predict great and troubling future events through the advent of Jesus Christ. Simeon proclaims, the long-awaited Messiah has brought salvation to the world (for Jews and Gentiles), but his birth will also expose the wicked hearts of men (both Jews and Romans), of which treachery leads to the crucifixion of Christ and it will be like a sword piercing the heart of Mary. Anna, the Prophetess, announces that this child Jesus would bring redemption to those who put their trust in Him.
4) Joy and Difficulty: Joseph and Mary returned to their hometown, Nazareth, where the child grew, being filled with wisdom and grace. Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem to worship the new king. The wise men followed the star to the house of the young child Jesus (maybe 2-3 years old), they worshipped him and presented to him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then they returned to their own country (Matthew 2:9-12). King Herod troubled by the sayings of the wise men he had conference with about two years earlier sought to kill all children (12-30 children), two years and under, hoping to eliminate the threat of another king rising to power, that is king Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18). Joseph, after being warned by an angel, took his wife and child to safety in Egypt.
5) Insurmountable Difficultly: Joseph, Mary and Jesus would attend the annual Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem with a company of friends. Jesus’s parents discovered that he was not with the caravan company so they had to return to Jerusalem and found Jesus in the Temple discoursing with the religious teachers. His mother filled with consternation said, “Son, why have you done this to us?…” And He said to them, “…Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:48-50). Not fully understanding his comments they returned home.
6) Insurmountable Difficulty: Mary must have mustered all the courage she could to be at Golgotha hill for the execution of her innocent Son – her maternal instincts were too strong, so suppressing her fears, she had to go see him for the last time, so she thought – if she did not go, she would never see her Son again. Mary, seeing Jesus one last time, witnesses His horrific crucifixion. Even in death, Jesus however, gives final instructions to John, ‘the disciple whom He loved’ in regards to the welfare of His mother, Mary (John 19:25-27). His body would be prepped for a custom Jewish burial, with strips of linen and spices of myrrh and aloes from head to feet (John 19:40), then He was placed in a new tomb where a heavy grave stone would be rolled over the entrance. The terrifying prophetic utterances spoken by the Old Testament prophets and Simeon more than thirty years earlier in the Temple, which Mary had long pondered in her heart, are now painfully being fulfilled.
7) Overwhelming Joy: A new joy emerges for Mary, after discovering that her son, Jesus Christ, the Son of God was raised from the dead and has all power in His hand. The sting of death could not keep him in the grave. He is risen indeed and seated at the right hand of God! Mary is later found in the upper room on the day of Pentecost with about one-hundred-twenty other faithful Christian believers waiting to receive the promised of the out pouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, 12-14).