A Good Woman Is Hard To Find
“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” Proverbs 31:10 (ESV)
I like the interpretation from the Message: “A good woman is hard to find…”
Hard to find.
If that was true during the times of the Old Testament when these proverbs were first penned, isn’t it also just as true today? Let’s take a good strong look at the world around us. Where we live. Where we work. Where we go to school. Where we spend our spare moments. Where we play. Even when we look in the mirror.
Where are all the excellent women?
Not many? Well Boaz found one at least.
In Ruth chapter 3 we read Boaz’s heartfelt summary of our heroine Ruth:
“...do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence.” Ruth 3:10 (NASB)
Boaz saw something in Ruth that set her apart, and if you’ve been studying this book with us, you’ve seen evidence yourself about his summary of Ruth’s character.
In chapters 1-2, Ruth does amazing things. She chooses the one true God over the gods of her own land and the comfort and security of her own family. She follows Naomi, proving her love and loyalty, even when it didn’t make a lot of sense. She humbles herself by gleaning grain, working long hard hours day after day. She takes care of her mother in law and faithfully trusts God’s Law to provide.
That’s quite excellent if you ask me and definitely the personification of the Hebrew definition for the word. It paints the picture of a strong, valiant, virtuous woman of substance. Someone, if I am going to be honest, I strive to be. I think a lot of us do. We want to do what is right, and we work diligently to accomplish this goal.
But if I am going to truly be honest -- if I am going to lay it all out -- this work, this discipline to be excellent, can seem pretty fruitless some days. I mean, why am I trying so hard? Does my excellence really matter? It doesn’t seem to be getting me anything. What is the point?
A few months ago I was listening to a message about Ruth. The speaker pointed out a major takeaway for the single people within the audience. Being single, my ears perked up as they normally do when Christianity + Christian speaker + singleness collides.
If you’re past college, still single, a Christian, and spend any time in the context of the church at large, I’m sure you do the same thing. As a best friend wrote in one of the best blogs I’ve ever read, “It’s a graveyard of hearts, this place where single church girls crash into their late 20s and early 30s.” So we listen, hoping to grasp more wisdom for how to live this single life well.
And that day I was listening.
The application from Ruth was for singles looking for marriage to live an excellent life while they waited for a spouse. Just like Ruth lived an excellent life while she waited for Boaz. So then the church would be filled with excellently lived lives looking for other excellently lived lives. It sounded pretty great.
Honestly it’s a message I’ve heard all my life growing up in the context of church and Christian circles. Live rightly, live excellently, and the one day BOOM a man of excellence will show up, you’ll get married, and you’ll live happily ever after. I usually take that message in, nod my head, agree I need to try harder and do more, and then expect that maybe, one day, God would let me get married.
But that day, the day a few months ago when I heard that same message yet again, it immediately felt wrong -- like trying on a coat that is too small or tasting something without enough salt. It didn’t work.
It didn’t work because although that message has great intentions and isn’t necessarily wrong, I believe it misses the point completely. It subjugates our heroine, Ruth, to a pursuit of a marriage instead of a pursuit of God Himself.
This message is one that is pervasive in cultural Christianity: do good things and then you’ll be blessed. The blessing can be anything you want -- wealth, a great job, kids, a spouse, healing, success -- whatever prosperity looks like to you.
Unfortunately it’s a message that seems more American dream than Biblical, because it belittles our Heavenly Father. It makes this pursuit of holiness, of an excellent life, about getting some kind of earthly reward. It also belittles the Gospel, what Jesus did on our behalf, because it insinuates that our good works in the pursuit of excellence make us more righteous.
What a poisonous mindset. It makes so much of me and what I want to the detriment of my Savior. And what happens to my view of God?
It makes me view God as a means to an end instead of The End Himself.
I see a different picture laid out in God’s Word. Let’s look to our heroine, Ruth. I believe the spark that instigated her path towards being excellent is found in Ruth 1:16:
“But Ruth said, “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.”
Although it might be easy to see this as just a declaration of loyalty to Naomi, I see this as more of a declaration of trust in God Himself. Let’s remember Naomi’s actions throughout the beginning of our story - she blames God, she chooses not to work, she lives in the depths of despair, she doesn’t even communicate to Ruth the possibility of redemption until much later - not really someone who you’d want to be around much less live with and serve. A focus on Naomi and serving her negative perspective would have been terrible, a drudgery.
But Ruth chooses to live excellently and earns the label of worthy from all that came in contact with her without the promise of receiving anything good here on earth. That can only happen when you first choose to follow the one true God.
It’s like Ruth already knew the Truth that Paul would write to the Ephesians:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand,that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10
Paul, from a worldly perspective, didn’t have a lot of success. When he accepted Jesus he lost his position in society, he was regularly and publicly hated and beaten, he was imprisoned, he was never married or had a “normal” type of family, etc. It would’ve been easy for him to come to the conclusion that living excellently wasn’t worth the sacrifice and/or risk.
But Paul, like Ruth, saw his own wishes and desires and life as secondary to God Himself.
“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” Philippians 3:8-10
Living a life of excellence has to be grounded in the proper motivation. It isn’t about gaining blessings or success. It isn’t about getting a husband or getting pregnant or getting recognition or any earthly dream we have. It isn’t about anything of this world. It can’t be, or it sells short what was done on our behalf. Living a life of excellence has to be grounded in Christ and His death and His resurrection. We live because He lives.
The Bible says an excellent woman is hard to find. Well, I know I want to be one of them. I want to be found excellent. But I want to be found excellent because God is excellent. He is the one that saved me. He is excellence itself. That fact alone, God alone, changes my perspective. This Christian life then isn’t work and striving that leads to pointless and fruitless labor. It is joyful obedience to The One who holds me in His hands. It is thankfully being open handed with my life - my wants, my desires, my dreams, my thoughts, everything continually becoming secondary to my Lord and Savior.
It is God who is the goal. Always.
Amy Bufkin has loved Jesus for as long as she can remember. Even though she basically lived at her local church growing up, her faith and relationship with The Lord was incredibly shallow until her early twenties. It was then Amy learned how to study her Bible, began to truly commune with God, and her shallow faith began to deepen as she got to know her Lord and Savior. Now her passion is to communicate the same truths that changed her life to young women in as many ways as possible. You can find her on Instagram | Facebook