When I was growing up, my parents raised me with strictness. Although I know they did it out of love, to a budding teenage girl just trying to find her own way in life, it was frustrating. I felt like I missed out on a lot and was never really trusted enough to make the right decisions. Like every girl who felt locked in the closet at home, I sensed a well of rebellion growing inside of me.
I think the worse thing about getting through those high school years was feeling like I was always a few years behind my peers. And my clothes, ugh, well they were years behind my peers. Why? Because I was being taught to be modest, but really it was just old fashion notions that had not caught up with the times.
I was not looking to expose certain body parts for all to see. I just wanted to not feel like I had never left middle school. I remember one year in high school sneaking a mini skirt to school and changing in the bathroom as soon as I got there. Since no one was ever used to seeing me dress that way, the reactions I got that day were astounding! For the first time since high school started, some of the popular boys actually took notice.
I soon learned though that the way I dressed, whether modest or daring, signaled something about me. Fortunately, my shyness kept me from ever going too far and I reeled my fashion back in until I was more mature. I learned to balance looking nice and looking attractive. And I kept my self-respect in check.
In society, modesty versus immodesty usually revolves around appearance. But there are many synonyms to the word modest, and here is the one I want to key in on today–humble.
When I think through the characters in the Bible, the most modest person I think of is Ruth. We are introduced to Ruth as the daughter-in-law of Naomi. Though Naomi is Jewish, Ruth is a Moabite. Ruth loses her husband at a young age and instead of returning to her family, she travels with Naomi to Bethlehem and becomes a part of the Jewish community.
Upon their return to Bethlehem, Ruth immediately begins to care for Naomi by going out and gathering grain for food. She ends up in a field owned by Boaz, a wealthy and influential man. Unknown to Ruth at their introduction, Boaz is a relative of Naomi’s who quickly favors her and provides for her and Naomi.
What caught Boaz’s attention when he first saw Ruth in the field? Perhaps he happened to notice someone new. Perhaps she was strikingly beautiful. We really do not know that from the text, but what we do know is she was hard at work. She had quickly gained the respect of Boaz’s hired help.
Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?” And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.” Ruth 2:5-7 NLT
We also know from their very first interaction with each other, Ruth was incredibly humble (or modest) with Boaz. After instructing her to continue to gather in his field, warning no one to bother her, and giving her permission to help herself to their water supply, scripture tells us that Ruth took the ultimate position of humbleness:
Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.” Ruth 2:10 NLT
There was no batting of her eyelashes, no sweet words thrown Boaz’s way, no overt body gestures. No, Ruth took the position of a servant. As their conversation continues, Boaz lets Ruth know that her reputation for serving her mother-in-law has gone before her and that she is welcome among God’s people. Though Ruth could have entertained thoughts of entitlement at this point, she remains ever humble.
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” Ruth 2:13 NLT
Now hearing Ruth’s good fortune and watching how the interactions between Boaz and Ruth continue over time, Naomi seeks to help Ruth marry again. Knowing that Boaz would be a suitable husband, Naomi instructs Ruth in how to approach Boaz in the Jewish tradition of family redeeming. As the widow of a Jewish man, Ruth would be in line to marry the next closest relative of her late husband.
Following her mother-in-law’s advice, we find Ruth once again in a position of humble modesty, lying at the feet of Boaz.
After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! Ruth 3:7-8 NLT
It is in this exchange between Boaz and Ruth that we fully understand how her modesty is about to pay off. In this simple act, Ruth requests Boaz to redeem her through marriage. Boaz, greatly pleased that Ruth would pick him versus a younger man, expresses this:
Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman. Ruth 3:11 NLT
In the text, there is no indication that anything sexual happened between Boaz and Ruth that night. In fact, Ruth 3:14 clearly states she laid at his feet until morning and then return home before light. Why am I bringing that up? Because Ruth was a Moabite, and in the Bible, Moabite women had a reputation of leading Jewish men into sin. However, in no part of Ruth’s story do we ever get an indication that she reverted to her previous culture’s ways. In fact, there is no indication that Ruth was anything but modest her entire life.
Ruth’s modesty (or humbleness) was her true beauty. Her heart was pure and for that God rewarded her with a second chance at life. She would go on to marry Boaz and she would become a part of the ancestral line of Jesus.
We will all have a Boaz come along in our lifetime. Maybe Boaz does not necessarily represent a particular person for you. Maybe Boaz represents an opportunity. Will you take a modest approach to the situation, or will you charge after it with all the seduction the world says you should use? Today, meditate on what modesty really means to you, but more importantly what it means to God.
Founder, Transforming Love Ministries
Creator, She Steps Forward Women’s Conference
For more of Elaine’s story, you can find Love Echoed Back: I Cried Out; He Answered on amazon.com.
Please note all scripture references taken from the NLT.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.