The books of Ruth and Esther are the only ones in the Bible named for women. The two women lived in different times and came from very different backgrounds. So why did Warren Wiersbe group them together in his commentary, Be Committed (Ruth and Esther): Doing God’s Will Whatever the Cost? He says:
Why do we bring these two women together in this study? Because, in spite of their different backgrounds and experiences, both Ruth and Esther were committed to do the will of God. Ruth’s reply to Naomi (Ruth 1: 16–17) is one of the great confessions of faith found in Scripture, and Esther’s reply to Mordecai (Est. 4: 16) reveals a woman willing to lay down her life to save her people. Ruth and Esther both summon Christians today to be committed to Jesus Christ and to do His will at any cost (pp. 15-16).
And then Dr. Wiersbe says something he has repeated in many of his commentaries: “Faith is not believing in spite of evidence but obeying in spite of consequence” (p. 16).
Ruth lived during the time of the judges, before Israel had kings. She was from Moab, people who were enemies to Israel. But her in-laws had come to Moab from Israel during a time of famine. Ruth had married one of their sons, but over time her father-in-law, husband, and brother-in-law all died. Ruth had come to believe in Naomi and Israel’s God, and she traveled with her mother-in-law, a bitter and broken, Naomi back to Israel.
The only recourse the women had for food was for Ruth to glean in someone else’s fields. The law at that time told farmers not to harvest every single piece of produce they grew, but to leave some for the poor. Ruth “happened” upon the fields of kind Boaz (one of my favorite OT people), who told his workers to leave some extra on purpose for her.
Near relations had the right to redeem the land of their deceased relatives, but part of the deal was marrying the widow. The nearest relation to Ruth’s husband was not willing to do this. But Boaz was the next nearest relation, and he was willing. Thus Ruth and Naomi were taken care of, and Naomi’s joy returned with the birth of her grandson–who became the grandfather of King David.
There’s much that could be said about this wonderful book. One point Wiersbe makes is this:
It is encouraging to see the changes that have taken place in Naomi because of what Ruth did. God used Ruth to turn Naomi’s bitterness into gratitude, her unbelief into faith, and her despair into hope. One person trusting the Lord and obeying His will can change a situation from defeat to victory (p. 43).
Esther lived hundreds of years after Ruth. Israel went through several kings, most of whom did not follow God. After much warning and preaching, with little response, God sent His people into exile in Babylon, which was later conquered by Persia. After 70 years, many Israelites were permitted to go back to their land. But Esther and her cousin, Mordecai, were among many Jews still in Persia.
Mordecai raised Esther because her parents had died. The pagan king, Ahasuerus, dismissed his wife for reasons found in Esther 1. His advisors encouraged him to gather the virgins of the land and . . try them out, and then choose from among them a new bride. Esther was one of the young women, and she happened to be chosen as the new queen.
Neither Esther nor Mordecai were known to be Jews at first. Wiersbe talks about the possibility that this may have meant they were not living according to God’s laws, because even the dietary laws would have separated them from other people in the land. We don’t know if this means they weren’t being faithful or if there were other reasons their nationality was not known. There also would have been problems with Esther, as a Jew, marrying a Gentile, and of course with her sleeping with the king before they were married (though she may not have had a choice about that).
At any rate, one person knew Mordecai was a Jew: Haman. Haman was a high official and hated that Mordecai would not bow to him like everyone else did. He was so angry, he plotted to kill not only Mordecai, but all the Jews. When he proposed this to the king, oddly, the king agreed without much discussion.
One interesting thing about the book of Esther is that God’s name is not mentioned once. But His fingerprints are all over the book. The suspense and irony of how God delivered the Jews from destruction is one of the most exciting stories in the Bible.
The highlight of the book is when Esther goes before the king to petition his protection for her people. According to the law of the land, if she came uninvited to see him, and he refused her, she could have been killed. But after fasting and praying for three days and asking others to do the same, she determined to go. Her “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) has rung through the centuries as an example of doing what’s right and what’s best for others despite what happens to us.
Both of these books show God’s guiding hand in the lives of His people, individually and as a nation. One encouragement to me was that God did this despite and even through a pagan king and an enemy to His people.
Finally, there is a powerful personal message in the book of Esther; for Esther, like Ruth, is a beautiful example of a woman committed to God. Ruth’s “Whither thou goest, I will go” (Ruth 1: 16 KJV) is paralleled by Esther’s “And if I perish, I perish” (Est. 4: 16 KJV). Both women yielded themselves to the Lord and were used by God to accomplish great things. Ruth became a part of God’s wonderful plan for Israel to bring the Savior into the world, and Esther helped save the nation of Israel so that the Savior could be born (p. 79).
We must never think that the days of great opportunities are all past. Today, God gives to His people many exciting opportunities to “make up the hedge, and stand in the gap” (Ezek. 22: 30 KJV), if only we will commit ourselves to Him. Not only in your church, but also in your home, your neighborhood, your place of employment, your school, even your sickroom, God can use you to influence others and accomplish His purposes, if only you are fully committed to Him (p. 80).