Ruth Works in the Field of Boaz

2:1 Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side of the family named Boaz. He was a wealthy, prominent man from the clan of Elimelech. 2:2 One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields so I can gather grain behind whoever permits me to do so.” Naomi replied, “You may go, my daughter.” 2:3 So Ruth went and gathered grain in the fields behind the harvesters. Now she just happened to end up in the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.

Chapter summary.  Naomi and Ruth wouldn’t have got much in those days in the way of unemployment benefit, or widow’s pensions.  But God’s law did make some provision for the poor.  Act 2, then, opens with Ruth gleaning in the barley fields near Bethlehem.  She follows the harvesters, picking up any grain that they have left behind.  Now as it turned out, – it just so happened, –  that the field she was gleaning in belonged to a man of some importance named Boaz.  Boaz himself has heard of Ruth’s kindness towards Naomi and instructs his servants not only to protect her but intentionally to leave some corn behind them for Ruth to pick up.  He offers refreshment to Ruth and prays for her (2:12).  “May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”  He can scarcely have realised that before long God would use him to answer his own prayer.

Whereas Naomi has endured ten years of increasing sorrow and ‘bitterness’, all of this chapter’s significant action happens in the course of a single day.  There are three scenes: (a) Ruth and Naomi at home; (b) Ruth and Boaz in the fields; (c) Ruth returns home to Naomi.

Our narrator introduces the third major character in the story: Boaz.  So central is he to the overarching theme that the writer is not willing to keep Boaz ‘up his sleeve’, as it were.  And when Boaz enters the plot we, the readers, will already be ‘in the know’.

Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side…Boaz – It is clear from v20 that Naomi knew about Boaz.  However, it would seem that she was unable or unwilling to ask him directly for assistance.

The fact that Boaz was related to Naomi on her deceased husband’s side will be critical to the development of the story.

A man of standing – The exact expression rendered “a mighty man of wealth” (AV, RV) is elsewhere translated “a mighty man of valour.” (eg Judg 11:1) we perhaps get the force of it by thinking of our word “knight.” This applied originally to a man distinguished for military prowess, but it is now used widely of those whose excellence lies in other fields. In the Old Testament it most often has to do with fighting capacity. Boaz may have been a warrior, for these were troubled times and any man might have to fight. But in this book he appears rather as a solid citizen, a man of influence and integrity in the community and it is likely that this is what the term denotes here.

We are introduced to Boaz, then, as ‘a man of integrity, a man of influence, a man of means.’ (Atkinson)

Ruth the Moabitess – ‘The narrator’s identification of her again as “the Moabitess” reflects the extraordinary nature of her action. She, an alien in a foreign land, is determined to make something of her life.’ (Block)

“Let me…” – “May I…” (as in v7).  She is asking permission (Moore).  As why she goes, and Naomi does not, it may be that it is because (a) she is younger and fitter; (b) she is (or regards herself) as the social inferior of Naomi, and therefore virtually her servant; or (c) she is simply the one with sufficient initiative and determination not only to hatch such a plan, but to carry it out.

“…in whose eyes I find favour” – Ruth articulates a sense of need, and a willingness to seek help.  In short, she has an awakening sense of the need for grace.  Although the law allowed poor people to glean, it could not be assumed, in the chaotic days of the Judges (Ruth 1:1), that all harvesters and landowners would be co-operative.

Fields is singular.  According to Morris, there would have been one large field, with the various land-owners growing their crops in different parts of it.

The need to go out into the fields in order to glean the leftover grain underscores the poverty of Naomi and Ruth.  Morris comments that there were not many opportunities for a widow to make a living, but the law did provide for gleaning.

Lacking modern welfare provisions, ancient Israel was not without means for supporting the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

‘When the wheat and barley were ready to be harvested, reapers were employed to cut down the stalks and tie them into bundles. Israelite law demanded that the corners of the fields should not be harvested. In addition, any grain that was dropped was to be left for poor people who picked it up (this was called gleaning) and used it for food. (Lev 19:9; 23:22; Deut 24:19) The purpose of this law was to feed the poor and to prevent the owners from hoarding. This law served as a type of welfare scheme in Israel. Because she was a widow with no means of providing for herself, Ruth went into the fields to glean the grain.’ (Life Application Bible)

It cannot be assumed that all farmers and land-owners would be equally helpful towards would-be gleaners.

Duguid comments: ‘Gleaning was hard work; it was hot work; it was not necessarily safe work either, since not every landowner would fulfill the provisions of the law. It was perhaps especially dangerous for a foreign woman, a Moabitess, who had no clan connections to protect her or to call on in distress. So when Ruth volunteered to go out and glean to provide food for the two of them, she was making herself vulnerable not just for her own sake but for Naomi’s too (Ruth 2:2). She was stepping out in faith that somewhere out there was a generous, God-fearing landowner who would make room for the poor. Faith doesn’t simply sit around waiting for provision to drop down from heaven; we are called to do what we can, and as we do, to trust that God will provide for our needs.’

“Go ahead, my daughter” – Moore comments: ‘With these words, Naomi does more than just give Ruth permission. She confesses her willingness to change. Elimelech, Mahlon, and Kilion, her previous sources of sustenance, are all dead. Whether she likes it or not, she has a different life now, a harder life. Granting permission to Ruth to glean alongside the rest of the institutionalized poor is the point where Naomi hits rock bottom.’

Why did Naomi not go with Ruth?  Perhaps, as the older woman, she was not strong enough.  Duguid, however, thinks that there may be evidence of here of Naomi’s utter despair.  When we lose faith in God’s goodness we can sink into depression and inactivity.

Love the foreigner in your midst

‘The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe, 10:18 who justly treats the orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing. 10:19 So you must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.’ (Deut 10:17-19)

As it turned out – What seems utterly co-incidental turns out to be a key point in God’s master-plan, not only for Ruth and Naomi, for for the redemption of the world.  ‘Her choice of field was no accident; God had been her unseen guide as subsequent events were to prove.’ (NBC)

What is before us we know not,
whether we shall live or die,
but this we know:
that all things are ordered and sure.
Everything is ordered with unerring wisdom
and unbounded love,
by you, our God, the God of love.
Grant us in all things to see your hand, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen
(Charles Simeon)

Block says that this expression, in modern idiom, would mean something like, ‘by a stroke of luck’.  Of course, this raises a question, since the orthodox Israelite did not really believe in luck or change (cf. Prov 16:33).  Block suggests that the narrator may be looking at it through Ruth’s eyes.  Or (better, Block thinks), the statement is ironic: the narrator is giving his readers a nod and a wink that what appears to be chance is nothing of the kind – it is due to the providential hand of God, who has been working (often unnoticed) in every twist and turn of the story.

‘It was the fact that she came to this field and no other that was to lead to her acquaintance with Boaz and subsequent marriage with all that that involved (including, for example, the fact that it led up to the birth of David). Our author thinks of God as being in all this.’ (Morris)

Atkinson remarks that ‘here in the story of Ruth we see clearly illustrated the truth that God’s gracious providence does not over-ride human decision and human action.  Rather it is Ruth’s request, and Naomi’s encouragement, Ruth’s unthinking choice of the field and Boaz’ free decision to harvest his field at this time, which are the instruments in God’s hand for his providential care.  This view of God is far from static and deterministic; it is living, dynamic and responsive.’

Atkinson adds that we should not understand grace in terms of a force, but rather in terms of a relationship.  ‘So God’s grace does not “act on us” in a forceful way to remove our freedom.  Rather God’s gracious relationship creates our freedom.  And his gracious providence is expressed through the outworking in our space and time of our free human choices, decisions and responsibilities.’

A field belonging to Boaz – Rather, ‘the piece of the field that belonged to Boaz.

From the clan of Elimelech – Both the short-term plan for Ruth and Naomi, and the long-term plan for David and his progeny, rely on Boaz in three vital respects: (a) he needs to be a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband; (b) he needs to be a man of substance; (c) he needs to be a man of integrity and kindness.  In other words, he must have the right, ability, and will to help.

So, ‘in the providence of God, the man she meets is indeed a gracious near kinsman.’ (Block)

‘God’s providential working in our lives is both a delight and a mystery. God is constantly working with us (Mark 16:20), in us (Phil. 2:12–13), and for us (Rom. 8:28) and accomplishing His gracious purposes. We pray, we seek His will, and we make decisions (and sometimes make mistakes); but it is God who orders events and guides His willing children. In a spectacular vision, the Prophet Ezekiel saw the providential workings of God depicted by a throne set on a “firmament” that was moved here and there by “wheels within wheels” (Ezek. 1). You can’t explain it, but thank God you can believe it and rely on it!’ (Wiersbe)

Jonathan Prime comments: ‘There is a mystery here beyond our full comprehension. The Bible teaches that the Lord’s sovereign plan incorporates the willing choices of men and women for which they are accountable. This is most clearly illustrated by the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. As the early church prayed in Acts 4:27–28, ‘Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.’ Ruth chose to go to that particular field, but she was doing what the Lord in his power and will had decided beforehand should happen.’

Boaz and Ruth Meet

2:4 Now at that very moment, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “May the LORD be with you!” They replied, “May the LORD bless you!” 2:5 Boaz asked his servant in charge of the harvesters, “To whom does this young woman belong?” 2:6 The servant in charge of the harvesters replied, “She’s the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the region of Moab. 2:7 She asked, ‘May I follow the harvesters and gather grain among the bundles?’ Since she arrived she has been working hard from this morning until now—except for sitting in the resting hut a short time.”

Just then – lit. ‘behold’, expressing wonder at the providential nature of the arrival of Boaz.  ‘It just so happened’ that Ruth was gleaning in Boaz’ field.  And ‘it just so happened’ that Boaz arrived while she was there.

“The Lord be with you!” – How many employers today would greet their workers with such words!  Or receive a similar reply!

‘To them, the salutation was not an empty form, but an acknowledgement of the Lord, and the expression of a desire for the welfare of each other. Before they degenerated into a sterile formality, such as our “Goodbye” (really “God be with you”), such salutations were really prayers for those addressed.’ (J.O. Sanders, People Just Like us, 56)

‘From the outset we sense that Boaz has provided a positive work environment for his people. In this regard he serves as a model of true covenant ḥesed for all who supervise others in their work; his speech from beginning to end is characterized by grace. And with a boss like this it is no wonder that Boaz’s workers respond with a blessing of their own: yĕbārekĕkā yhwh, “May the LORD bless you!”’ (Block)

‘How good it is to know that God has good people living in bad times! If you knew only the record in the Book of Judges, you might conclude that the righteous had perished from the earth (Ps. 12:1–2; Isa. 57:1; 1 Kings 19:10; Micah 7:2). But there were still people like Boaz who knew the Lord and sought to obey His will. Boaz was concerned about his workers and wanted them to enjoy the blessing of the Lord (Ruth 2:4).’ (Wiersbe)

“Whose young woman is that?” – Perhaps assuming Ruth to be a servant, Boaz may be enquiring about whom she belongs to.  Or he might suppose that she is engaged to one of the other land-owners.  Or, again, he may be asking about her family and clan.  Or, once more, his question may be prompted by surprise that she is present by herself (and therefore unprotected) in his field.  She is a stranger to him, and seems out of place in his field.  But (as Block points out) for the reader the question points towards Naomi (see next verse) and, indirectly, to Elimelech.

Scholars offer a wide range of translations and interpretations of this verse: there is uncertainty about almost all the details.  But the general idea is clear enough: Ruth has politely requested permission to glean in the field.

The foreman gives a favourable testimonial: she is associated with Naomi, she has asked permission to glean, and she has worked steadily at her rather unrewarding task.

Moore, however, thinks that a better translation would yield the sense that Naomi has arrived and has waited until given permission (by Boaz, the owner of the field).  In this case, it would be ‘Ruth’s dignified patience (waiting while others work) that so impresses Boaz’s foreman, not her strong work ethic.’

‘Ruth’s task, though menial, tiring, and perhaps degrading, was done faithfully. What is your attitude when the task you have been given is not up to your true potential? The task at hand may be all you can do, or it may be the work God wants you to do. Or, as in Ruth’s case, it may be a test of your character that can open up new doors of opportunity.’ (Life Application Bible)

2:8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my dear! Do not leave to gather grain in another field. You need not go beyond the limits of this field. You may go along beside my female workers. 2:9 Take note of the field where the men are harvesting and follow behind with the female workers. I will tell the men to leave you alone. When you are thirsty, you may go to the water jars and drink some of the water the servants draw.”

Verses 8-14 consist mainly of dialogue between Boaz and Ruth.  ‘In keeping with their social positions, Boaz takes the initiative, and his first two speeches are rather lengthy discourses. On the other hand, as an alien, a young woman, and a field worker, Ruth’s responses are short and to the point.’ (Block)

The character of Boaz becomes clear as the conversation unfolds.  ‘From the first time Boaz opens his mouth until the last words he utters (4:9–10), his tone exudes compassion, grace, and generosity. In the man who speaks to this Moabite field worker biblical ḥesed becomes flesh and dwells among humankind.’ (Block)

Harper’s Bible Commentary notes that the language used reflects the growth in the relationship between Boaz and Ruth.  He refers to her first as a ‘young woman’ (a neutral term, v5), and then addresses he as ‘my daughter’ (a familial term, v8).  Ruth describes herself first as a ‘foreigner’ (to whom Boaz has no obligation, v10), and then as his ‘servant’ (to whom has some obligation, v13).

“My daughter” – according to Moore, Boaz is beginning to assume fatherly responsibility for the two widows, and restoring them to the kinship group.  Block comments that the expression reflects their age difference, and also his sense of responsibility and concern for this woman, even though she is a foreigner.

‘Fleshing out this role,’ Moore adds, ‘Boaz uses a series of action verbs over the next few verses, each an unexpected gift delicately laid at the feet of a surprised Moabitess: Listen to me … Don’t go … Don’t glean elsewhere … Don’t go away … Stay here … Watch the field … Follow along … Go and get a drink … Come over here … Have some bread … Dip it in the vinegar … Stay with my workers.’

Boaz accords Ruth an incremental series of privileges: ‘She is invited to glean in his field for the entire harvest instead of moving from estate to estate; the male workers are warned not to bother her; and she is permitted to drink from the workers’ water. Later she is invited to share a meal with the harvesters; they are ordered to let her glean among the sheaves, are cautioned not to shame her, and are even told to pull out stalks for her from the bound sheaves.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

“Don’t go away from here” – Lit. ‘You shall not wander.’  As Moore points out, Ruth’s wandering days are over; ‘one can only imagine the impact these words must have had on Ruth’s heart.’

“I have told the men not to touch you” – Inappropriate, probably sexual, touching is meant.  This reminds us that we are living in the days of the Judges (Ruth 1:1), which were times of moral chaos.

Block says that ‘contemporary readers will be struck by how modern this comment sounds. Boaz is hereby instituting the first anti-sexual-harassment policy in the workplace recorded in the Bible.’

“Get a drink from the water jars the men have filled” – Extraordinary, because foreigners would usually draw for Israelites, and women for men.  (Block)

Moore notes that ‘Boaz stands out against an uninspiring crowd. His is the only male character in Judges 17–Ruth 4 who consistently demonstrates compassion, integrity, and moral courage in the face of challenge. Others pretend to such traits but uniformly fail to incarnate them. Micah, for example (Judg. 17:1–13), takes his mother’s money under strange circumstances and uses it to finance a “house of the gods” (bet ’elohim). His intentions seem noble, but his methods are suspect. His response to the Danites, moreover, is to whine and sulk. The Bethlehem Levite agrees to serve Micah as priest but abandons his post as soon as a better offer comes along (Judg. 17:7–13; 18:20). The Danites are dutifully labeled “noble” men (bene khayil, Judg. 18:2), but are more interested in enticing employees than in helping widows (Judg. 18:1–31). The Ephraimite Levite says he is “going to the house of the LORD” (Judg. 19:18) but soon surrenders his own wife to a gang of murderers (Judg. 19:1–30). Boaz stands head and shoulders above all the men in the canonical-historical context.’

2:10 Ruth knelt before him with her forehead to the ground and said to him, “Why are you so kind and so attentive to me, even though I am a foreigner?” 2:11 Boaz replied to her, “I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband—how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. 2:12 May the LORD reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the LORD God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” 2:13 She said, “You really are being kind to me, sir, for you have reassured and encouraged me, your servant, even though I am not one of your servants!”

She bowed down with her face to the ground – ‘but not in forced submission to a violent male. Ruth falls before this male out of deep respect, much like Abigail, the wise woman of Tekoa, the Shunammite, and the Syrophoenician woman (1 Sam. 25:23, 41; 2 Sam. 14:4; 2 Kgs. 4:37; Mark 7:25; Eph. 5:25–28).’ (Moore)

This posture was used to express reverence towards deity and royalty.  ‘But the gesture was also performed in less significant contexts as a secular greeting, mark of respect, or expression of gratitude. Unless the gesture was hypocritical, in every case the socially inferior would bow down before the superior (not vice versa), in recognition of the latter’s authority and honor and as an external sign of the inner spirit.’ (Block)

“Why have I found such favour in your eyes?” – ‘At the outset of the chapter Ruth dreams predominantly of human favor (Ruth 2:2). Boaz, however (as will become clear in Ruth 2:12) wants to extend to her a “grace” (hesed) far deeper than anything she has ever yet experienced.’ (Moore)

“…that you notice me – a foreigner?” – ‘Ruth knows who she is—a foreigner, a stranger, a person easily recognized by her speech, her customs, and her beliefs. She also knows that foreigners, widows, and sojourners are usually forced to live on the fringes of society.’

‘Boaz had dignified this destitute widow from a foreign land and treated her as a significant person, on par socially with his hired and presumably Israelite field workers.’ (Block)

‘Ruth’s life exhibited admirable qualities: she was hard-working, loving, kind, faithful, and brave. These qualities gained for her a good reputation, but only because she displayed them consistently in all areas of her life. Wherever Ruth went or whatever she did, her character remained the same.  Your reputation is formed by the people who watch you at work, in town, at home, in church. A good reputation comes by consistently living out the qualities you believe in – no matter what group of people of surroundings you are in.’ (Life Application Bible)

The testimonial of the foreman is supplemented by these words of Boaz.  Even though he did not recognise Ruth when he first saw her (v5), he had heard of her reputation.

“I’ve been told all about what you have done…” – ‘So this is the woman everyone has been talking about!’

“You left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before” – ‘Was he reminded,’ (asks Morris), ‘of the faith of the great ancestor of his race, Abraham, who left his country and his kindred in obedience to the divine command (Gen. 12:1)? Whether Boaz had this in mind or not it seems likely that the author of the book did. He makes no express mention of Abraham, but Ruth, like the patriarch, went out not knowing whither she went. And like Abraham she trusted Yahweh. Again, Abraham was accompanied only by his wife who was designated ‘barren’ (Gen. 11:30; Lot was also with him, but was soon to leave him). Yet God in a wonderful way was to give them a child, and God in a wonderful way was to give Ruth a child.’

In other words, Boaz is praising Ruth’s kindness towards her mother-in-law and her courage in coming with her to (what was for her) a foreign land.  As Block remarks, ‘with her declarations in Ruth 1:8–9, 12–13 Naomi had released both Ruth and Orpah of all legal and moral obligation toward her.’  Orpah had accepted the release.  Ruth, however had ‘clung’ to Naomi, pledging lifelong commitment to her, her country, her people, and her God.

‘Fully aware of her non-Hebrew origins, Boaz demonstrates a broader vision of community than do the majority of his peers. He has already determined in his heart to welcome her into the Bethlehemite community.’ (Moore)

Boaz gives a perfectly reasonable reply to Ruth’s question.  But we know that there is more to it: he is a good man, and his kindness comes as God’s answer to Ruth’s wish (implied prayer?), v2, that she might find favour in someone’s eyes.

“May the Lord repay you for what you have done” – The words of Boaz here imply a belief in a morally ordered universe, in which good does not go unrewarded (cf. Prov 19:17), and evil does not go unpunished.

“The Lord, the God of Israel” – The various events in Ruth’s life appear to have occurred through chance, or force of circumstance.  But they have brought to under the care of the one true and living God.

As Block says, ‘The nearer identification of Yahweh as “the God of Israel” is extremely significant in this instance. Ruth is a Moabite. Because of her deeds of kindness to Naomi, an Israelite, she, an outsider, had obligated the God of Israel to repayment. As the last line of v. 12 indicates, however, by transferring her spiritual allegiance from the gods of Moab to Yahweh the God of Israel, Ruth was also claiming Yahweh as her divine patron and protector.’

“Under whose wings” – ‘The imagery is probably that of a tiny bird snuggling under the wings of a foster-mother’ (Morris).  We should take not of this example of the occasional use of feminine imagery with respect to God.

Here his people find:-

  1. Shelter, Ps 57:1
  2. Satisfaction, Ru 2:12 Ps 36:7
  3. Strength, Ps 63:7
  4. Security, Ps 91:4

See also Jesus’ use of this metaphor in Mt 23:37.

Boaz’ recognition that Ruth has accepted the God of Israel reflects Ruth’s pledge to Naomi in Ruth 1:16.

Block finely states: ‘Although Boaz is probably thinking primarily of the day when Ruth transferred her allegiance from Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, to Yahweh, the God of Israel, her actions this morning represent a specific application of her general looking to him for protection. Inasmuch as she had come to Boaz and he had offered her his protection, he was personally functioning as the wings of God. But in so doing he was not only offering her asylum but also honoring God, for in the words of the Israelite proverb: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Prov 14:31; cf. Prov 17:5).’

The inclusiveness of the OT covenant with respect to race, colour, ethnic background and so on may be seen in the description of those gathered in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (under the auspices of the old covenant, be it noted): ‘Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and the province of Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs’ (Acts 2:9-11).

‘The insistence in the New Testament gospel that the grace of Christ and the faith of the Christian transcend all racial barriers, and must be given expression in community relations, is based on the fundamental conviction that God “made from one every nation of men’ (Acts 17:26).  The Saviour Christians proclaim is a universal Saviour who shares our common humanity.  Jesus’ own dialogue with the woman of Samaria whom he met at the well of Sychar (Jn 4) affirms this same point.’ (Atkinson)

‘In due course the prayer was answered through him who uttered it.’ (Leon Morris)

‘What makes Yahwism so different from other ancient Near Eastern religions is its proven ability to transform human character. Boaz does more than just talk about Yahweh’s protection; he becomes Ruth’s protector. He does more than just visualize hesed; he incarnates it.’ (Moore)

‘Boaz’s speech records something rather rare in ancient Israelite literature. Here an Israelite bears witness to a non-Israelite about the very character of God. If Ruth is like most other Syro-Palestinians, she is a polytheist. Presumably what she knows about Yahweh is the direct result of her husband’s family’s influence. Perhaps it is the evidence of this influence that encourages Boaz to be so direct with her…Doubtless Ruth learns from her husband’s family that Yahweh is the imageless deity responsible for humbling Egypt under Moses (Exod. 12:33), the God who leads Israel safely through the sea (Exod. 14:29), the God who confounds the plans of Balak the Moabite (Num. 24:10). Boaz, however, wants to emphasize a side of Yahweh that even Naomi seems to have forgotten: that Yahweh is a God of kindness as well as judgment, a God of refuge as well as war.’ (Moore)

Surveying all that Boaz says to Ruth, Duiguid asks: ‘Can you imagine the impact these words must have had on Ruth, the outsider? These were the first kind words she had heard since she left Moab. More than that, they were a blessing that sought God’s favor upon her, as if she too were a member of the covenant community. Boaz recognized the sincerity of Ruth’s words to Naomi when they left Moab. He saw that she was turning her back not just on her homeland, but also on her former gods, and looking to the Lord for refuge. He therefore prayed for the Lord to grant her the protection that she was seeking.’

“May I continue to find favour in your eyes” – Block interprets this not as a request for further favour, but as an expression of thank, giving the sense, ‘You are kind to me.’

“You have given me comfort” – ‘Ruth hereby tells Boaz that his kindness has brought her great relief. Like a young chick frightened by the pouring rain, she has come out of her fears and found comfort and security under the wings of God. Those wings are embodied in the person of Boaz.’ (Block)

‘Boaz’ words must have meant a great deal to her. They represent the first cheerful thing recorded as happening to her since the death of her husband in Moab. She had had to face widowhood, exile from her own land and people, and in Israel grinding poverty. Her kind reception at the hands of Boaz represents a landmark.’ (Leon Morris)

“I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls” Lit. ‘I will never have…’ (Block): she accepts her low social status as permanent.

‘She regarded herself as inferior to the girls who worked for Boaz – perhaps because of her poverty, her Gentile nationality, and her heathen background.’ (Wycliffe Bible Commentary)

Ruth is a foreigner, a widow, and of low social standing.  No wonder she is amazed at the kindness of Boaz.  ‘Ruth is totally amazed that differences of race or class could not stifle Boaz’s compassion toward her.’ (Block)

‘The striking characteristics of Boaz the man of faith, and of Ruth the woman of faith, which this paragraph highlights, are their respective refusals to stand on rights (Boaz as owner, Ruth as gleaner).  We are given evidence rather of their willingness humbly to express their faith in God by caring (Boaz for Ruth), and by grateful and humble acceptance of care (Ruth for Boaz).  A living faith is seen sometimes in giving, sometimes in willingness gratefully to receive.’ (Atkinson)

2:14 Later during the mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and have some food! Dip your bread in the vinegar!” So she sat down beside the harvesters. Then he handed her some roasted grain. She ate until she was full and saved the rest. 2:15 When she got up to gather grain, Boaz told his male servants, “Let her gather grain even among the bundles! Don’t chase her off! 2:16 Make sure you pull out ears of grain for her and drop them so she can gather them up. Don’t tell her not to!” 2:17 So she gathered grain in the field until evening. When she threshed what she had gathered, it came to about thirty pounds of barley!

As in modern societies, eating is more than of merely nutritional significance.

‘In the ancient Near East people did not eat only to satisfy hungry stomachs; eating together also had great symbolic significance. Meals were put on by hosts as an expression of hospitality (Gen 18:1–8) and to celebrate special occasions (Ps 23:5; Matt 22:1–14; Luke 12:36; 14:8; 15:22–23; John 2:1–11); treaty partners climaxed agreements with a covenant meal (Gen 31:54; Exod 24:11; Luke 22:14–20); social realities were expressed at mealtime (Gen 43:33–34; Luke 14:7–11; 16:21); religious groups met over meals (Exod 32:5–6; 1 Cor 10:21; 11:20, 33); and people ate and drank together just for a good time (Isa 21:5; Amos 6:7).’ (Block)

Accordingly, these words of Boaz ‘are not mere dining instructions. Boaz wants to introduce Ruth to Bethlehem society, starting with his own workers. He insists that Ruth be treated no differently from any other worker.’  This is not a text about caring for the poor: ‘What Boaz gives to Ruth is justice. Doubtless aware that nativistic segregation is a problem (Judg. 19:11–12), Boaz wants his fellow Bethlehemites to rise above passive toleration and actively accept Ruth.’ (Moore)

‘Obviously,’ writes Block, ‘this verse is not simply about feeding the hungry. The narrator hereby shows how Boaz took an ordinary occasion and transformed it into a glorious demonstration of compassion, generosity, and acceptance—in short, the biblical understanding of ḥesed.’

“Come over here” – This invitation suggests that Ruth had been standing at a distance, as befitted her social status.

‘The law gave the gleaners the right to go over the field after the reapers. But that is the point. They must do so only after the reapers had finished their work and had taken all they wanted from the field. Boaz was now going beyond the legal rights of the gleaners and allowing Ruth to glean before the reapers were through.’ (Morris)

Boaz is determined to help Ruth, but in such a way as preserves the cultural norms (that would have included ‘social distance’ and face-saving).

Once again, we are reminded that the story of Ruth takes place in a context where honour and honesty were rare.  ‘There would be no need for Boaz to be so direct were the potential for abuse not so pervasive.’ (Moore)

“Don’t embarrass her…don’t rebuke her” – Together these words reiterate and extend the protection Boaz had offered in v. 9, when he commanded his servants not to touch her. One can well imagine the abuse that persons like Ruth, who arrive at the field uninvited or unengaged, might receive from those “upstanding” citizens who have been properly hired by the land owner to harvest the crops. Now Boaz lets his workers know that they are to have no part in such action toward Ruth. They will not threaten her physically or shame her psychologically with snide comments about her alien status or the low class she represents just because she is forced to go begging for fields in which she might glean.

She threshed the barley she had gathered – by beating it with a stick or flail in order to separate out the grain.  We do know know where she did this, but, knowing the generosity of Boaz, it is quite possible that he allowed her to use his threshing floor.

An ephah – scholars are uncertain of the exact quantity entailed, but Block says that it would have been between 30 and 50 pounds (between 12 and 20 kg).

So Ruth gathers more barley than she could have hoped for or expected.  Her hard work has been amply supplemented by Boaz’ kindness.

On welcoming the outsider

‘Do we welcome outsiders like Ruth, the non-kosher people, the people who do not naturally fit in our community, the way that Boaz did? It is doubtful whether many rich men in Bethlehem would have looked over the laborers harvesting their fields, instantly picked out a single foreigner, and identified her as someone new. So also, perhaps, many of us scan the rows of people in our church and completely miss all of the Ruths in our congregation because we are only looking to make friends with people who are like us. We cast an eye over our neighborhood or community and completely overlook those who are outcasts and strangers, the immigrants and the homeless, the poor and the needy. We have eyes but do not easily see what Boaz saw, because we are not looking for the poor and the outcast.’

Whom do you see? Are you consciously looking for those who are on their own? Do you have eyes to see the poor and needy in your own neighborhood, the outcasts and neglected in your own church, or do they remain invisible to you? Boaz went far above and beyond his mere duty in order to take care of the poor and include this outsider. He took time and care to build ties of relationship with her, and paid the costs of her provision out of his own pocket. Do we have a similar heart of compassion for those who seem to have little or nothing to offer us in return?(Duguid)

Ruth Returns to Naomi

2:18 She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much grain she had gathered. Then Ruth gave her the roasted grain she had saved from mealtime. 2:19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you gather grain today? Where did you work? May the one who took notice of you be rewarded!” So Ruth told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked. She said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 2:20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be rewarded by the LORD because he has shown loyalty to the living on behalf of the dead!” Then Naomi said to her, “This man is a close relative of ours; he is our guardian.” 2:21 Ruth the Moabite replied, “He even told me, ‘You may go along beside my servants until they have finished gathering all my harvest!’ ”

The scene is almost comical, as Ruth staggers into the house with her bulging sack of grain on her back and her doggie-bag in her hand.

Her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered

Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough – The remainder of the roasted grain referred to in v14.

“Where did you glean today?” – ‘Where in the world did you get all that!’

Naomi can see that Ruth has gathered an extraordinary quantity of grain, and is keen to know whose generosity she had benefited from.

“He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead” – To whom is Naomi referring? To Boaz, or to the Lord?  According to Morris, ‘the whole drift of the passage shows that Naomi is thinking of God (cf. Gen. 24:27).’  Duguid observes: ‘since Boaz has had no history of dealings with Naomi, in context it surely has to be the Lord whom Naomi is describing.’  Moore and Block agree that Naomi is referring to the Lord here.

‘Kindness’ translates ḥesed, a key theological term in Ruth, and a word which ‘wraps up in itself an entire cluster of concepts—love, mercy, grace, kindness, goodness, benevolence, loyalty, and covenant faithfulness.’  Naomi’s words represent a ‘total turnaround from her despairing and accusatory words in Ruth 1:20–21’ (Block).

Although Naomi had experienced bitter sadness and disappointment, her heart was still open to the God whom she now realises has not lost his capacity for kindness.

‘We who live in the New Testament era should see the constant faithfulness and glorious grace of this God even more clearly than Naomi did. In the Scriptures, we have written down for us the rich history of God’s long-suffering with his rebellious children. We know more fully that the Father stands with open arms and open heart, scanning the horizon for the returning prodigal, eager to welcome her home. He doesn’t just allow us grudging admission to glean in his field; he invites us to his table to partake in his feast.’ (Duguid)

‘In spite of everything that has happened, her convictions about family remain unshakeable. Like all Syro-Palestinians, Naomi believes in an innate, mysterious connection between kin, cult, land, and the unseen world. Outside of the prophetic and apocalyptic texts, this statement is about as close to a resurrection faith as one can find in Scripture. The locus of this faith is the family. The means for reigniting it comes from family’ (Moore).  Hence the exclamation that follows…

“That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers” – The word goel (or some variant of it) occurs over twenty times in the book of Ruth.  A kinsman-redeemer was a near male relative whose primary role was to keep land belonging within the family by buying it back if it had been sold.  He might agree to marry his (deceased) brother’s widow.

‘The responsibilities of the kinsman-redeemer included avenging the death of a murdered relative (Num 35:19), marrying a childless widow of a deceased brother (Dt 25:5–10), buying back family land that had been sold (Lev 25:25), buying a family member who had been sold as a slave (Lev 25:47–49), and looking after needy and helpless members of the family (Lev 25:35).’ (EBC)

Moore delineates five basic functions of a goel: ‘he acquires the alienated property of a kinsman (Lev. 25:25); he purchases property in danger of being lost to a stranger (Jer. 32:6–15); he redeems relatives who have been reduced to slavery (Lev. 25:47–55); he avenges relatives’ wrongful deaths (Num. 35:17–34); and he is obligated to support a relative’s widow (Ruth 4:4–10).’  In various ways, then, the goel functions as means of ‘mending’ a society when its fabric has been broken.

Moore adds: ‘“Redeemer” can…appropriately translate the Hebrew goʹel as long as it is adequately defined. The English word “redeem” comes from a Latin verb, reddere, which means “to give/buy back” and is a term fundamentally rooted in law and economics. Ga’al, however, is a Hebrew word designed to denote the process of restoring the created order, including, but not limited to, the legal, socioeconomic, and theological aspects of that order. Thus Yahweh himself is the quintessential go’el, the compassionate Redeemer who delivers Israel from every distress (Ps. 78:35; Isa. 52:3).’

Curiously, none of the texts cited above specifies the role of the goel as marrying the widow of his deceased brother.  However, this certainly falls within the spirit of the role, and is testified clearly enough here in Ruth.  Moreover, the law governing levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-10) does make specific provision for this.  As Block explains, ‘a levirate marriage represents a legally sanctioned union between a yĕbāmâ, a widow whose husband has died without having fathered any offspring, and the yābām, the brother of the deceased.’

A kinsman-redeemer must have the right, the will, and the ability to redeem.

‘Though Ruth may not have always recognised God’s providence, he had been with her every step of the way. She went to glean and “just happened” to end up in the field owned by Boaz who “just happened” to be a close relative. This was more than mere coincidence. As you go about your daily tasks, God is working in your life in ways you may not even notice. We must not close the door on what God can do. Events do not occur by luck or coincidence. We should have faith that God is directing our lives for his purpose.’ (Life Application Bible)

Ruth is as breathlessly excited as Naomi.

Their supply of food was therefore guaranteed for several months to come.

‘Like all patriarchs, Boaz’s instinct is to shelter those who are most vulnerable. Jacob does the same thing when he takes his family to meet Esau, carefully sheltering Rachel at the back of the caravan (Gen. 33:1–3).’ (Moore)

2:22 Naomi then said to her daughter-in-law Ruth, “It is good, my daughter, that you should go out to work with his female servants. That way you will not be harmed, which could happen in another field.” 2:23 So Ruth worked beside Boaz’s female servants, gathering grain until the end of the barley harvest as well as the wheat harvest. After that she stayed home with her mother-in-law.

Naomi expresses warm approval for the arrangement between Boaz and Ruth.  In warning Ruth to stay put in the field of Boaz was she thinking of her own fateful decision to travel to Moab?

His love in time past
Forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last
In trouble to sink;
And can he have taught me
To trust in his Name
And this far have brought me
To put me to shame?

(John Newton)

Ruth…lived with her mother-in-law – A reminder that Ruth still has no husband, no home or family of her own.  No permanent change has happened yet.  They must live, for the time being, with a renewed hope in redemption, rather than with its actuality.  Noami’s dream (v20) must remain a dream for the time being.

‘Boaz has been introduced as an extremely kind and gracious man and as one who qualifies to rescue the line of Elimelech. But the dream seems to have died an early death; Boaz has helped Naomi and Ruth economically, but he is doing nothing about the real crisis in the family created by the deaths of all the male members. Only time will tell if this situation will be resolved.’ (Block)

Little had changes in Naomi’s and Ruth’s outward circumstances.  They remain widows.  They remain poor.  Yet they would have gone to bed that night wearing smiles on their faces.  For on that memorable day they had seen enough of God’s kindness to know that he had not forgotten them, that he had not ceased to care for them.

‘If we fix our eyes on the glorious grace of God, and his costly answer for our deepest need, then we will not so quickly doubt that he will meet all of our other needs. Since the Lord has shown us this covenant faithfulness, will he not order all things well in our lives? In sickness or in health, in poverty or in riches, for better or for worse … all of these conditions come to us as part of our Father’s plan. No, even the bitterest parts of our lives are given to us as part of his perfect plan for us and must in some way work for our blessing.

What is more, these hardest of providences come to us from our Redeemer’s nail-scarred hand. The Jesus who commits himself to be with us in the midst of our trials knows what it is to suffer. As a result, he is able to be our Refuge in the storm, the one under whose wings we may come and take shelter. He is our Redeemer from and through all kinds of difficulties. Follow the path he sets before you, holding firmly to your faith and knowing that his covenant faithfulness will never leave you nor forsake you. His hesed never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning (Lam. 3:22), and will accompany us every step along the hard road of life, until our faithful God welcomes us into our heavenly home. (Duguid)

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