“Whose Damsel is This?”

The first time I visited a Half Price Books was last year in Arlington, Texas. Like Radio Shack, it's the kind of store I like to stop in whenever I see one, but generally I don't buy anything. It's not because there is nothing I'm interested in, quite the opposite. Instead, if I were to buy everything that caught my eye at a Half Price Books I'd soon be broke.

This past Saturday, however, I couldn't help but purchase a rather large Bible. First, the price was right—only $4.99. Of course, value is relative…$4.99 wouldn't actually be a great deal for some mass-market paperback versions. However, when it is "the only Bible of the twentieth century designed and illustrated by a single artist, renowned bookman Barry Moser" that includes 232 pieces of his artwork and is printed on "high opacity 50-pound Glatfelter paper" (with a Smyth-sewn binding)…well, then it is both a beauty to behold and a steal.

And now it's mine. 🙂

This masterpiece's translation is the King James Version, which generally I would avoid because other modern translations are much easier to understand (and are based on better manuscripts). However, I've been using my new Bible a bit as I continue this year to read through all 66…and this week that included the book of Ruth.

I'm sure most reading this article remember her story. Ruth's mother-in-law, Naomi, had some pretty tragic luck—first she lost her husband and then her two sons. That left her and two daughter-in-laws, Orpah and Ruth, and Naomi encouraged them to return to their people (as she went back to Israel). Although both daughters initially wanted to stay with her, ultimately "Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her" (Ruth 1:14b).1 That is, Orpah left and Ruth stayed…even after Naomi again attempted to get her to reconsider.

And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me (Ruth 1:16-18).

Now, people could say that Ruth wanted to stay with her mother-in-law for sentimental reasons. However, notice how not only does she say her mother-in-law's God will be her God, but she refers to Him matter-of-factly as "Lord." On the surface, it appears that Naomi not only provided Ruth with a husband—she provided Ruth with a faith.

Space limitations mean I cannot continue much more with Ruth's story, but buying that new Bible from Half Price Books meant I ran into wording I don't ever recall seeing before. Ruth had been gleaning corn from Boaz's field (Boaz was related to Naomi's husband) and when Boaz saw Ruth he asked his servant…

"Whose damsel is this?" (Ruth 2:5b)

You have to admit, sometimes seventeenth-century English is a lot more interesting than our modern dialect (which, for instance, renders the question as "Whose young woman is this?" in the English Standard Version).

Perhaps Boaz's reaction was because Ruth was a beauty or just someone he didn't recognize, but I can't help but think there was more to it. In responding to his master's question, the servant noted how Ruth had asked if she could glean in Boaz's field and that she "hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house" (Ruth2:7b). I wonder if even from a distant Boaz could tell there was something different…something commendable…about Ruth. Something that warranted his question:

"Whose damsel is this?"

Turning the last page of Ruth does not lead to switching back to the normal male-centeredness of the scriptural narrative. Instead, we are immediately introduced to Hannah, another woman visited by misfortune. With Ruth it was the death of a spouse—with Hannah it was barrenness (a condition that was accompanied by a great stigma in her day). Ruth showed wisdom in choosing Naomi's God, and Hannah showed wisdom by turning to that same God to answer her prayers. The short version of her petition is, "If you give me a son I will give him to you." Of course, God came through and Hannah…

Did exactly as she promised.

Can you imagine being a woman who strongly desired a child, finally got one, and then willingly gave him away? Wouldn't you instead try to rationalize how God wouldn't really want you to give up your toddler?

Ruth didn't rationalize. Once her boy was weaned she fulfilled her vow.

Not only that, but every year she had to go through the pain of leaving her little boy again:

Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice (1 Samuel 2:19).

Faithful to God. Faithful to her son.

"Whose damsel is this?"

Those are only two of the women whose words and actions are either implicitly or explicitly commended by the Bible. Everything from an Old Testament prostitute (Rahab) to a New Testament "seller of purple" (Lydia). From an Old Testament judge (Deborah) to a New Testament virgin (Mary). Women who can cause someone to ask:

"Whose damsel is this?"

And, from Scripture, the answer is clear. They all belonged to the One mentioned in Hannah's prayer:

There is none holy as the Lord:
For there is none beside thee:
Neither is there any rock like our God (1 Samuel 2:2).

They were the Lord's…and whether it is "Whose damsel is this?" or "Whose young man is this?"…we all should hope that the answer for us is the same as the answer for them.


1 All quotes taken from The Holy Bible: King James Version. 2009 (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.


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