My latest favorite read, hands down, is an academic compilation from Kregel, edited by my friend Dr. Sandra Glahn, called Vindicating the Vixens. This collection of essays about women in the Bible challenges commonly held assumptions about some of the vilified, sexualized, and marginalized women we think we know. Today I interview one of the contributors, Marnie Legaspi, the author of the chapter “Ruth: The So-Called Scandal.”
The subtitle is “marginalized, sexualized, and vilified women of the Bible.” How does Ruth fit into any of those categories?
Some might look at Ruth’s inclusion in this book as unnecessary, as she is most often known as the daughter-in-law who pledged total commitment to her mother-in-law. In many circles, however, Ruth is vilified with accusations of acting as nothing more than a common harlot for initiating a marriage proposal to a man she had known for mere months. Many believe her intent with Boaz on the threshing floor stemmed from nothing more than the heart of a seductress. They believe she “enchanted” Boaz, making herself sexually available to him. Her seeming calculated deception reduced her actions to the pagan ways of her Moabite heritage, seeking to lead a good Jewish man astray.
Additionally, Ruth can be considered a marginalized woman, due to her ancestry as a Moabite, one of Israel’s greatest enemies, as well as being a childless widow. In a patriarchal society where a widow’s sustenance relied entirely on her male relatives, Ruth was left empty-handed. Although Naomi gave her the opportunity to return to her father’s house, going back equaled failure on her part and great shame upon her father. Ruth had every strike against her as an immigrant, Moabite, and childless widow. For these reasons, Ruth’s place in Vixen’s is well-deserved.
Why is Ruth such a memorable character and why does she need to be vindicated?
The Ruth story becomes memorable because of her famous words, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where 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. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16–17) Her poetic vow is not made to a handsome Prince Charming as one might expect. Rather, her declaration of love and loyalty is given to her mother-in-law, of all people!
The church tends to admire her choice for a couple chapters, but quickly taints her character with accusations of being a temptress and seductress, due to her actions with Boaz in chapter three. Her reputation is put on the line, as the church attempts to dissect her bizarre actions. And, granted, her actions are peculiar. She approaches a man above her status, in the darkness of night, uncovers his feet (a meaning that can have sexual undertones), lays with him (again, sexual undertones) and essentially proposes marriage to him. Again, all actions the reader does not expect from the virtuous chapter one Ruth. An examination of the text and culture sheds light on her bizarre actions and exonerates her from the temptress or seductress status. For these reasons, her vindication is required.
Why does this new or more accurate understanding of Ruth matter to readers today?
Ruth rises off the pages of Scripture as a beacon of God’s loyal love during some of Israel’s darkest days. The days of 2017 are dark as well. Any evening newscast communicates that, whether you live in Southerland Springs, Texas, or Africa or North Korea.
We have the opportunity to learn from this immigrant, Gentile widow, who had every strike against her, and yet took a risk of faith, not knowing what the outcome would be. The choice Ruth faced on that dusty Bethlehem road is no different than the one each of us faces today: “Choose you this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24:14–15). Ruth chose Yahweh, despite every risk and fear and unknown piece of the puzzle. Ruth chose to believe that Yahweh was exactly who he promised to be and had proven himself to be to his people. She chose to believe he would be exactly the same for her.
In doing so, she overcame the stigma of her ethnicity as a Moabite, a tribe originating from incest, and as an immigrate to a new land. Ruth overcame her status as a widow in a society where her social and physical security rested entirely on a man. Ruth overcame her failure (in the eyes of society) to produce a son for her husband Mahlon. She continues to overcome the misconceptions we have made of her for centuries.
We have the opportunity to be beacons of God’s loyal love amid the dark days of losing a loved one, broken marriages, terminally ill children, mundane employment, financial constraints, broken governments, false accusations, and lonely nights. The choice for us remains as difficult as it was for Ruth, centuries ago. Yet, the outcome of our risky choice, might just yield a result we could have never imagined.
Why should the average believer consider picking up a copy of Vixens?
Vixens answers questions that the church has chosen to ignore and/or misinterpret for years. How can a prostitute be considered righteous? Should Bathsheba receive complete blame for what happened with David when, in fact, it was rape? How can an enemy of Israel, Ruth, have more understanding of Yahweh’s law than his chosen people? Was Queen Vashti guilty of failure to submit like “a good wife,” or actually the victim of exploitation? Where would we be if Eve hadn’t eaten the forbidden fruit and led Adam astray?
If any of these questions resonate with the average believer today, buy the book. If any of these questions cause you pause, buy the book. If any of these questions yield an “I’m not sure” response, buy the book.
Vixens takes a fresh, in-depth look at women who are quickly judged and handed down life sentences as nothing more than seducers, home-wreckers, and insubordinate deceivers. Vixens proves, through careful examination of the original languages and culture, that these women rise off the pages of Scripture as women chosen, ordained, and set apart to serve as living examples of the gospel of grace. They become examples of the breadth and depth of God’s love for the outsider, victimized, marginalized—statuses that any believer in the church can relate to on some level. Not only are these women of the ancient text vindicated, but the average believer just might find his or her own vindication amid the pages as well.
What did you enjoy most about researching and writing this chapter?
I loved peeling back the layers of Ruth’s story and uncovering the depth of her commitment—yes, to Naomi, but first and foremost to Yahweh. For years, I’ve missed that aspect of her story. I misunderstood her actions as merely that of a dutiful daughter-in-law, helpless to do anything else but obey. I failed to actually see Ruth amid the loss she endured, the poetic vow she delivered, the grain she harvested, the commands she received, the feet she uncovered, and the shoe exchange at the city gate. Behind each detail of the narrative stood an ordinary woman I failed to see.
I became shocked at Ruth’s understanding of Yahweh’s law. She understood that it revealed how his followers were to represent him on earth, based on how he had revealed himself. As a result, I believe, it became the driving force behind her choices and actions. Fear did not drive her. Desperation did not define her. Duty did not force her hand.
Ruth’s choices were made out of a loyalty and commitment to Yahweh. Her faith multiplies with each chapter, propelling her to live counter-culturally. We see this in chapter three when she steps out of her pre-described place in society and bravely approaches Boaz in the middle of the night. We see this when she commands her own story, holding Boaz accountable to Yahweh’s law, naming him as the rightful go’el, or redeemer. She did so, not to usurp authority or for selfish ambition, but rather to represent Yahweh well, according to his law, character and loyal love. Ruth exemplifies the gospel, in many ways more than any other Old Testament character. These truths changed me.
Marnie Legaspi is a Maine-born passport stamp collector, French press coffee connoisseur, carbohydrate consumer who currently lives on the California coast. She has been happily married to God’s most unexpected gift to her, Josué, since 2014. Her great joy is being a full-time mama to their son Judah and his little sister arriving in a few months. She received her BS in Bible from Lancaster Bible College and her Master of Theology degree in Systematic Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Her experiences serving the church as a missionary in Eastern Europe, Africa, and India propel her passion to understand and communicate the gospel of grace to the overlooked and forgotten among us.