Barren, Widowed Ruth as the Proverbs 31 Woman Incarnate

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This is an updated version of a post that first appeared at Unlocking the Bible.

Years ago, I sat alone in a small, cold, quiet room in the back of the doctor’s office. The doctor shared with me some test results, about which I was rather hopeful and optimistic, until I heard his words, “You have a one to two percent chance of ever conceiving.” The doctor started rattling off treatments to “fix” my problem, and it was as though the room started spinning, the walls caving in around me.

I walked in to that doctor’s office wondering what was wrong, if anything was wrong, and I walked out with a new identity:

Barren.

In a matter of seconds, I moved from identifying with woman-kind as life-bearer, the trait many would say that knits women together as females, to feeling broken, marginalized, and defective.

How can I, a God-fearing woman, continue to pursue becoming a biblical woman apart from fulfilling the calling of motherhood?

Can a barren woman bear fruit, apart from bearing children?

It was here that my journey to understanding true biblical womanhood began. I started to ask the question, “What is the mark of a true biblical woman?” And then I began to seek out answers for myself.

According to Pinterest in my circles, a true woman was one that meal plans, stays home, doesn’t dare wear a bikini, knows how to sew, and can turn toilet paper rolls into beautiful decorative wreaths. I found articles there on being a self-controlled wife, keeping the home (including practical tips for tackling laundry), raising godly children, and biblical motherhood.

Most of our conservative, evangelical resources on biblical womanhood point us to women’s roles as wives and mothers.

But what about a Christian woman who might never marry? Never have children? Is she considered less of a woman?

The Church has been doing a better job the last few years of clarifying our definition and broadening our understanding of biblical womanhood to include women at every stage of life and calling. While a biblical woman may fulfill the role or calling of wife and mother, that is not her highest calling. Her highest calling is the fear of the Lord.

The most famous passage about biblical womanhood, Proverbs 31, teaches that a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30). This virtuous woman is commended for being a precious wife, a hard worker, a homemaker, a business-woman, a woman who cares for the poor, a woman whose children bless her, and as a teacher of kindness and wisdom.

However, this woman of virtue is all of these things because she first and foremost fears the Lord.

In my research on biblical womanhood, I learned that the book of Ruth directly proceeds Proverbs 31 in the Hebrew Bible, the incarnate woman of virtue (which Boaz calls her in Ruth 3:11). Why? How could a barren, widowed, single woman portray this Proverbs 31 woman of virtue? Because of her fear of the Lord!

Ruth understood the great calling it was to be a follower of Yahweh, to be grafted into God’s chosen people, and she responded with gratitude and obedience. She served her mother-in-law with loyalty and served her God with faithfulness. She worked hard and broke cultural barriers by gleaning in the fields and making herself noticeable to Boaz. She is commended and honored, not for her role as a wife and mother (for at the time she was neither), but for her fear of the Lord.

The Posture of Biblical Womanhood

The Proverbs 31 woman and Ruth have taught me that true biblical womanhood has less to do with your place as a wife or mother, and everything to do with your posture of heart, surrendered and submitted to God, in fear and reverence of him.

A biblical woman, a virtuous woman, understands three things:

1. A biblical woman understands she is created in the image of God.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16)

2. A biblical woman understands she is redeemed as a follower of Jesus, regardless of her roles.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:28-29)

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. (Ephesians 1:7)

3. A biblical woman understands she is gifted and empowered by God.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

The biblical woman is a gospel-centered woman. She is created, redeemed, blessed, and gifted to be a blessing to those around her.

Pastors and ministry leaders, as we teach our women what it means to pursue “biblical womanhood,” may we be careful to clarify our definition and broaden our understanding, never limiting it simply to marriage and motherhood.

May we as the Church learn how to better respond to our single and barren sisters, helping them become all that God has called and gifted them to be, without diminishing their season of life. May we better illustrate biblical manhood and womanhood through fear of the Lord, rather than through our titles and our roles.

May we as women learn to be marked by our fear of the Lord, living in gratitude of the gospel. May our lives, like Ruth’s, illustrate Proverbs 31 through the work of our hands and the posture of our hearts.

What other traits of a gospel-focused biblical womanhood would you add to this list?

 

Melissa Danisi is the Co-Founder of Self Talk the Gospel and serves at The Well Community Church, encouraging and equipping women by teaching God’s word and shepherding leaders.  She has written bible studies on Ephesians, Philippians, Sermon on the Mount, Spiritual Disciplines, and Genesis. She recently received her Master’s Degree in “Pastoral Care to Women” from Western Seminary and will celebrate 10 years of marriage to her very Italian husband this June.

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