There are only two books in the Old Testament that bear the names of women, Ruth and Esther. God used both of these women in two distinct ways to change the course of history. The books of Ruth and Esther show what it means to make difficult decisions during difficult times and how God can be working behind the scenes in many circumstances. However, Esther and Ruth come from very different backgrounds and circumstances.
Ruth was a poor widow who supported her mother-in-law and was a convert to Judaism. In contrast, Esther was a young woman raised a Jew and became the King of Persia’s wife. Despite their contrasting backgrounds, both were women of great faith and became redeemers for their people.
After her husband dies, Ruth pledges to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi, despite the fact that she would not have the marital prospects she would have in her own homeland. Ruth pledges faith to Naomi and God by saying, “For wherever you go, I will go; 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 I will be buried.” Ruth completely sets aside her former allegiances by her decision not to abandon Naomi even after death. Ruth shows that she is committed to keeping her oath by going out into the fields to provide for Naomi and herself.
By chance or by the hand of God, Ruth chooses to go to a field that belongs to a man named Boaz. Boaz is impressed with Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law and treats her with kindness. He makes sure that Ruth does not wander to other fields where someone might take advantage of her and through his kindness; Ruth is able to gather enough grain for several days. Hearing of Boaz’s kindness Naomi constructs a plan to obtain a husband for Ruth. She has Ruth put on her best clothes and perfume and boldly ask Boaz to marry her. This is risky because there is a chance that Boaz would interpret her actions to be that of a prostitute. However, Boaz correctly identifies her intentions and agrees to marry her. This shows Ruth once again putting others before herself by showing loyalty to Naomi and ensuring that future generations would come through the family line of Naomi and her deceased husband. Through God, Ruth is able to conceive and the genealogy that eventually produces King David continues.
In the book of Esther, the king of Persia, king Ahasuerus, became angry with his wife and sent her away. He then started a search to find a new queen. Esther was a Jew living in Susa with a man named Mordecai. Because of her beauty, the king chooses her as the new queen, but does not reveal her Jewish identity because Mordecai warns her not to. After Ester became queen, a man named Haman gained the king’s favor. Mordecai refuses to kneel or bow before Haman which fills Haman with rage. Haman then plots to do away with all the Jews and convinces the king to go along with his plan. Upon hearing of the plan, Esther goes to speak to the king. This was a dangerous decision because Esther was not allowed to see the king unless he called for her. However, upon seeing Esther he is not angry and she invites him and Haman to a banquet. Esther does not reveal her wish at this banquet, but at one she has the next day. She lets the king know she would not have bothered him if it had not been for her life and the life of her people. The king erupts in anger towards Haman and he is executed. Although, even with Haman’s death the proclamation is still in effect, so Esther once again goes before the king to beg for the lives of her people. He allows Esther to write her own decree that will counteract his own. The Jews are allowed to take any means necessary to defend themselves. This allows the Jews to kill many of their enemies.
Though the books of Ruth and Esther tell similar stories of strong women who ensure the continuance of their people. They are both quite different. Esther hid her Jewish beliefs, slept with a man to whom she was not married, and married a pagan king. All of these are against Jewish tradition. Also curiously, God is never mentioned in the book of Esther. The way I see God’s influence in the book of Esther is through His redemptive power. Even though, Esther made many wrong choices, God made good out of the bad by allowing there to be an opportunity for her to save her people.