Ruth – part 3 (2:1-23)

At the end of Ruth chapter 1 (see yesterday), Naomi has returned to her homeland, poor and childless. She is bitter, because she sees God’s hand as being against her. She is “empty” – without a man in her family to provide food for her, and without an heir. Yet the chapter ended with a note of hope. Two notes, in fact. One of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, has stayed with her – more than that, has aligned herself with Israel and Israel’s God, despite being a Moabite. And it’s the start of the harvest in Israel. What will happen next?

2:1-3 Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 3 So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. 

As it turned out. Right. Out of all the fields that Ruth – who wasn’t a local – chose to gather grain in, it just happened to belong to Boaz. A relative of Naomi. Interesting.

2:4  Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The LORD be with you!” “The LORD bless you!” they answered.

Just then. Really. How – co-incidental. And he seems to be a godly man, judging by his greeting, and the warm response from his workers.

2:5 Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”

A fast worker, this Boaz. “Is she single? Can you get her number?” would be an approximate translation.

2:6-7 The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”

Oh, a Moabite. Is that going to be a turn-off? But she’s part of Naomi’s family, now. Which means she’s part of Boaz’s extended family. And Boaz may have a soft spot for foreigners joining Israel, what with his mother being Rahab and all. (Yes, that Rahab.)

What will he do?

2:8-9 So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

Can I buy you a drink? Smooth moves. But Ruth is surprised, especially given her Moabite status:

2:10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”

Apparently Boaz has heard of Ruth – heard of how she left her family and people behind, and joined Israel; how she’s been looking after his relative, Naomi:

2:11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.

But here’s the kicker:

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 sees Ruth’s radical decision as an attempt to take refuge “under God’s wings.” As an appeal to the one true God by a foreigner. And so Boaz obliges, by providing that care she seeks:

2:14-16 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. 15 As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. 16 Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”

Why does he do this? Well, I suppose you could see him as just doing his duty. After all, God’s law given to Israel does tell Boaz that he has a responsibility toward Ruth and others who are disadvantaged:

Lev 19:9-10 When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.

The basis for this law was God’s own care for his people in bringing them out of slavery and oppression in Egypt. Now that they’ve been settled in the promised land, they’re to show that same loving kindness to others who are disadvantaged.

So Boaz meticulously obeys this law, right? Well, yes, but there’s more to it than that. After all, the law doesn’t require him to leave some good grain behind deliberately. It doesn’t require him to give her food & water, nor to offer his protection. At the very least you’d have to say that Boaz is a godly man who has gone far beyond the letter of the law, and entered into the true spirit of the law. He’s demonstrated God’s kindness to the weak. Boaz even describes his care for her as being God’s care for her:

2:12b ‘May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’

Yet even that doesn’t explain the extravagance with which he treats her, given her position. I think it’s quite possible that Boaz is expressing not just God’s kindness to Ruth, but his own interest as well. It doesn’t make his motives impure; rather it’s an added dimension to his attention to Ruth’s welfare. Remember his opening question, “Who does that young woman belong to?”

And when Ruth reports what has happened, her mother-in-law seems to spot the potential immediately. She says:

2:19-20 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said. 20 “The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.”

This last remark is pregnant with possibility (pun intended). A guardian-redeemer was a relative who had an obligation under the law to buy back a family’s land when they’d fallen upon hard times. This was so that the land remained within the clan. Connected to this was the custom of marrying the widow of a relative who had died without children, so that there might be an heir to carry on the family name. Interesting. Maybe Naomi’s family won’t remain “empty” of children.

And as a bit of a downpayment on that potential, Ruth brings back some food:

2:17-18 So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. 18 She carried it back to town, and 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. 

At least for one night, no-one is empty.

To think about

Think back to how Boaz viewed his actions – as providing God’s care (or being God’s wings, to keep the metaphor going – that will be important in the next chapter). How does this help you view your own actions whenever you show practical care and assistance to others?

How many “as it turned out” or “just then” type of co-incidences have you experienced? How do you choose to view them, in relation to God’s being at work in your life?

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