Ruth: Lesson Four

Ruth Meets Boaz (Ruth 2:1-16)

Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.” She said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you.” They answered, “The LORD bless you.” Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “To whom does this young woman belong?” The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.  She said, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.”

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. May the LORD reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” Then she said, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.”

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, “Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”

Ruth, despite her foreign, widowed, and barren status, takes initiative, risks abuse, and works unceasingly for the sake of her mother-in-law Naomi. And Boaz notices. He protects her, sets her among his own reapers and gleaners, and feeds her. He returns to Ruth the kindness she has shown to Naomi.

Ruth’s Initiative

Naomi and Ruth are impoverished. They have no fields. They have no food. They have no security.

Ruth takes the initiative to improve their situation. It is a bold and risky move on her part. As a Moabite widow, unprotected by a man (she does not, at this moment, “belong” to anyone), she boldly proposes to enter the fields to obtain some grain, which she is permitted to do. As a woman, however, she risks abuse from the reapers and potentially other gleaners. This is a courageous act that involved hard labor for the sake of her mother-in-law, who perhaps was unable to endure such labor. Ruth made up for it as she worked from early morning into the day without resting. She was bold and industrious.

This was not a secret, illegal plan. The poor were permitted to glean at the edges of a field (Leviticus 19:9; 23:22). Moreover, Deuteronomy 24:19 also says to the owners, “When you reap your harvest in the field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” However, it appears she was bolder. She did not stick to the edges of the field but followed the reapers themselves, probably alongside the other gleaners. This, too, was bold and risky. She opened herself up for significant abuse, but none is mentioned in the text. This is in strong contrast to how women were treated at the end of the book of Judges. The reapers permitted her to glean what they had reaped.

“As it happened,” the NRSV says, or “as it turned out,” the NIV (2011) says, she ended up in a field owned by Boaz who employed the reapers and gleaners in his field. The Hebrew word has the sense of “chance.” It appears rather lucky that she ended up in Boaz’s field—and may seem that way to secular eyes. But the narrative is quite aware that God is at work in hidden ways. What appears to be “chance” is actually the movement of God.

Boaz is a relative from the same clan as Naomi. He was a man of “standing” (NIV) or of great “wealth” (NRSV). But the claim in the text is not simply about wealth or status, though it includes that; it is also about character. This same word will describe Ruth in 3:11 where Boaz calls her a “worthy woman.” Her worth was her character which she exhibited by her loving kindness to her mother-in-law.

The narrator clues us into Boaz’s character. He greets his workers with a blessing, “The Lord be with you.” This is no mere ritual exchange but an expression of faith in God’s work and a wish-prayer for his workers. While Naomi fears Yahweh is against her (and perhaps also Ruth as she shares Naomi’s dire condition), Boaz prays for Yahweh’s blessing for his workers. And this is the blessing he also seeks for Ruth.

Boaz Converses with Ruth

Boaz immediately blesses her and offers her his protection. She should stay in his field, his workers will not bother her, and she has access to water to quench her thirst as well. This is loving kindness in action toward an impoverished foreign barren widow. Boaz has the power, wealth, and standing, and Ruth has nothing. Boaz shows Ruth the kindness of Yahweh; he shows her “grace” (or favor).

Ruth’s response is gratitude as she falls on the grown in appreciation for his kindness. She knows this is grace. But Boaz sees this blessing as an appropriate response to Ruth’s own loving kindness toward Naomi. He knows what she has done; he knows her story. He must have inquired.

Just as Boaz blessed his workers, so he blesses Ruth with a wish-prayer as well: “May the Lord reward you for your deeds” since she has sought refuge under the wings of Yahweh, “the God of Israel.” Boaz honors her decision to seek the protection of Yahweh (to hid under Yahweh’s wings for protection, Psalm 57:1) when she could have left Naomi alone and returned to Moab.

In response, Ruth humbly asks for continued grace toward her (and Naomi) and gives thanks for the comfort he has given and kind words he has spoken. She knows she is undeserving since she is not one of his servants but is willing to serve him as a servant. There is some discussion about the meaning of speaking “kindly.” Is it the sort of kindness shown to his own workers, or does she see the beginnings of a romantic possibility here?

Ruth Eats with the Reapers

We may presume this is lunch since she will work into the evening take grain and food home to Naomi.

Boaz doubles down on grace toward Ruth. She is invited to eat with the reapers, he parcels out some grain to her, and he instructs his workers to give her full access to the field without any hostility; so much so that she can glean from the standing sheaves. That kind of gleaning is a lot less work. The workers are told twice refrain from any negative actions and talk, and they are even to leave some of their work specifically for her.

Boaz shows Ruth a grand hospitality: invitation into the field, eating with the reapers, relieving the most difficult parts of her labor, and blessing her in the name of Yahweh. The extend of this grace is in absolute contrast to the way women were treated in the last four chapters of Judges, which immediately precedes Ruth in the English Old Testament.

It is difficult to imagine how overwhelming this might be to Ruth. Boaz’s manganous gesture filled with grace and blessing must have seemed otherworldly. And, in one sense it was. It was the grace and blessing of Yahweh in a representative of Israel’s God. It is, ultimately, a testimony to the character of Yahweh and what Yahweh’s people are supposed to be.

As one of my class members suggested, when Boaz provides a field, protection, provision (a harvest), and affection (“my daughter”), he represents Yahweh who has provided the same for Israel in their land. Ruth’s response is the sort of response appropriate for Israel who was an alien in a land and then loved by God by gifting to Israel a new Eden.

Will this relationship remain where it is, or is more in store for Ruth and Boaz? As we will see, it is again Ruth who takes the initiative, not Boaz. Ruth will act, and once again Boaz will respond.

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