Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take knowledge of me, since I am a foreigner?”

Surprised by Boaz’s generosity and concern for her personally, Ruth inquires as to the cause. Boaz replies with words that at first seem generous and kind, but not especially profound:

Boaz answered her, “I have been fully told about all that you have done to your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother, and the land of your birth, and have come to a people that you didn’t know before.

May Yahweh repay your work, and a full reward be given to you from Yahweh, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

Even the casual reader will see the grace and eloquence in this speech. But it’s easy to miss the amazing comparison hidden here. Compare these two passages:

Genesis 12:1 Ruth 2:11
Now Yahweh said to Abram, “Leave your country, and your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you. Boaz answered her, “ . . . . you have left your father and your mother, and the land of your birth, and have come to a people that you didn’t know before.”


The wording is remarkably similar. A detailed comparison is even more striking.

God directs Abraham to: Ruth voluntarily[1]:
Leave your country left…the land of [her] birth
Leave…your relatives, and your father’s house left [her] father and your mother
go to the land that I will show you [came] to a people that [she] didn’t know before


No wonder Robert Alter calls this passage “a pointed allusion to Abraham.”[2] Boaz’s words leave little doubt that the biblical author sees Ruth as the spiritual “strong partner” to Abraham. Abraham holds the title “Father of the faithful” throughout Scripture. This passage—and the rest of her story—makes it clear that Ruth can appropriately be thought of as “Mother of the faithful.”

You may wonder whether Sarah, Abraham’s actual wife, might be more aptly thought of as the mother of the faithful. First of all, this is a spiritual title. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul makes it clear that faith, not blood, marks us as descendants of Abraham:

Know therefore that those who are of faith, the same are children of Abraham…If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to promise.[3]

And there are a number of problems with Sarah as “Mother of the Faithful.” First of all, she is the one who suggested the shortcut of having Hagar bear a child which she will adopt as her own. This indicates a lack of faith that God will give Abraham and her a son. Then, after Abraham complies with her wishes, she becomes jealous of Hagar, and insists that Abraham banish both Hagar and her son. The whole episode is mean and tawdry.

Perhaps worse than that, when God tells Abraham that Sarah will bear a child, she overhears and laughs. When confronted with this scornful laughter, she lies. Hardly an example of faith.

And then there’s Hebrews 11:11, which would seem to settle all this in Sarah’s favor.

By faith, even Sarah herself received power to conceive, and she bore a child when she was past age, since she counted him faithful who had promised.

As it turns out, however, the passage in question is not nearly so clear-cut. Another translation renders the same verse this way:

By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was too old, he received the ability to procreate, because he regarded the one who had given the promise to be trustworthy.

The reasons for the different translations are too technical for the non-specialist—and that includes this author—to deal with. There are two reasons, from the standpoint of the narrative, to prefer the second reading, where Abraham is the one who has faith, and not Sarah.

Compare how the major sections of the passage (Heb. 11: 8-19) read, depending upon who is the subject in verse 11:

Verse If verse 11 is about Abraham If verse 11 is about Sarah
8 By faith Abraham obeyed…


By faith Abraham obeyed…


9 By faith he lived…


By faith he lived…


10 For he was looking…


For he was looking…


11 By faith, even though…he was too old, he received the ability to procreate… By faith Sarah…
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested… By faith Abraham, when he was tested…
19 …he reasoned… …he reasoned…


If Abraham is the subject in verse 11, the entire section reads as list of demonstrations of Abraham’s faith. If Sarah is the subject, a single short mention of her faith is interjected into the middle of this longer recitation of Abraham’s acts of faith: it seems jarring. It appears to me the first reading makes more sense, that the entire passage speaks of Abraham.

As mentioned earlier, Sarah’s Old Testament behavior does not demonstrate great faith. Quite the contrary.

By contrast, we have Boaz’s words directly alluding to Abraham’s great faith. Ruth, he is saying, has done what Abraham did: she left her homeland and her family, and sojourned in a strange land. But her challenge—and therefore her faith—is far greater than Abraham’s. He had a large family, many servants, and the wealth of flocks and herds. Sarah had Abraham, with all his resources, to provide for her. Ruth has nothing. A widow supporting an older widow, herself the servant, no flocks or herds. And Boaz says these words to her when she is in the midst of the most menial of tasks: gleaning the leavings of a harvest, so she and Naomi can subsist.

Ruth’s faith, her self-sacrifice, and her sweet demeanor in the face of all these hardships surely qualify her as “Mother of the Faithful.”

And there is yet more. The biblical author leaves nothing to chance. He will reinforce the power of her example in several more ways before he is finished.

Read other posts in the “Matriarchs and Prophets” series.

[1] Actually Ruth resists Naomi’s efforts to prevent her from these actions

[2] Alter, Robert (2011-04-26). The Art of Biblical Narrative (p. 71). Basic Books. Kindle Edition

[3] Galations 3:7, 29