Daughters-in-Law:Beth and Ruth

Five and a half years ago, give or take, my son called to say that he was bringing a girl, Beth, home for his dad and me to meet. I was really nervous. I cleaned for days. I could tell by the way he talked about her that this was no ordinary girl. This might be “the one.”

Little did I know that she was nervous, too. When they were around five minutes away from our house, my son turned to Beth and said, “My dad likes everybody. You don’t have to worry about him at all. It’s my mom you have to worry about.”

Poor Beth! Little did she know that her making my son happy would make me like her.

My husband and I have a good relationship with Beth, I think. In fact, she has been teased about it before. When our son, a Marine, was stationed in D.C. and we would go to visit, her friends would offer her sympathy.

“Why?” she would say. “I like my in-laws.”

“Really?” her friends would respond. “We can’t stand ours.”

I have been thinking about Beth since my daily Bible reading took me to the book of Ruth. If you are interested, you can read it here. Ruth was a daughter-in-law who moved away from her own family. She must have been lonely. While they were away, the men of the family died. Her father-in-law, her husband, and her brother-in-law. Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, offered both daughters-in-law the freedom to return to their own people. One of them did.

But not Ruth. She had formed a relationship with Naomi by that time. Even though she was free to return to her people, what she said to Naomi was “Don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:15). I think this was an unusual response. The impression the story gives is that Ruth was young enough to be married again. Why wouldn’t she go back to her own people?

In our own family, my husband’s brother was tragically killed. He had two sons who were aged three and two months at the time. Although I do not fault her for it, my sister-in-law chose to break off contact with her husband’s family. She was only twenty-three at the time. She wanted to move on. My husband missed contact with the children, though. They were the only part of his brother he had left.

In this context, I began to think about Beth. When my son was busy with his duties in the Marines, she took care to e-mail or call and let us know what was happening. This is especially important in the story of Ruth because Naomi had no connection to her deceased sons, no grandchildren. Only their wives. If both daughters-in-law had left her, she would be truly alone. It was a sacrifice Naomi was willing to make, but Ruth stuck with her.

In fact, Naomi looked out for Ruth. I don’t think she was looking out for herself when she did it, either. After all, hadn’t she tried to free Ruth to return to her people and remarry? To have a life?

The old Hebrews had a custom whereby, if a widow married a relative of her deceased husband, the first child they had would be the heir to the late husband. I’m not sure I understand it all, but it seems to me it was like they would have something left that way. The parents of the husband who had died would not be left without an heir.

Naomi’s son had an unmarried relative, Boaz, who was a candidate for such a relationship. I don’t think Naomi planned for anything to happen at first. But Ruth had gone out to glean so that the two women would have food and, as it turns out, she had been gleaning in Boaz’s fields. Ruth expected poor treatment from everyone because she was not a Jew, but Boaz had respect for her. In Ruth 2:11, Boaz tells Ruth the reason for his respect: “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.” Naomi was relieved.

But an idea had formed in her head, one that was probably sort of risky. Matthew Henry’s Commentary, which you can find here, says that Boaz, as a near kinsman, was “obliged by divine law” to marry Ruth. Still, the plan Naomi came up with, which was for Ruth to lie down at Boaz’s feet, had the appearance of possible evil and might have ended up badly. In the Divine Plan, though, it of course did not.

Now, I hope that Beth thinks I would look out for her regardless of what happens. I hope I would, too. And whether what Naomi did was right or not, she did it because she loved Ruth and was looking out for her. Ruth was young and deserved to be married and happy. And that’s what happened. After offering the only closer relative a chance to marry Ruth, which he declined, Boaz and Ruth married. And God gave them a son. This is what Naomi’s friends said to her when that baby, Obed, was born:

“Praise be to the LORD who has not this day left you without a kinsman-redeemer…..He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age….for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, has given him birth” (Ruth 4:14, 15).

Beth and my son have two boys. I am frequently updated as to what is going on in their lives. And they certainly are a source of joy to their not-quite-old grandma!

So…two women, bound not by blood but by their husband/son, had happy lives. And Ruth, out of love, gave Naomi a grandchild and the chance to interact with him. Naomi, who with an act of love had freed Ruth, received much in return.

Back to the beginning of my story. I was nervous before I met Beth because I had heard so many stories about in-laws not getting along. I had heard that old saying, “A son is a son until he takes a wife and a daughter’s a daughter all of her life.” I am thankful that, in our family, that did not prove to be the case.

I am thankful for Beth.  Just as Naomi must have been thankful for Ruth.

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