Ruth Chapter 2
Ruth and Her Redeemer
Most of our modern literature and drama has discarded the use of subtlety. Most books and movies bang us over the head with the obvious. We are told what to think and feel at every juncture of the story. Biblical storytellers knew of no such condescension to their readers. The narrator of Ruth expects his readers to ask the right questions, to think for themselves, and to make the right connections with the rest of Scripture. He expects them to enter into the story with their minds and their emotions. Ruth is storytelling at its best.
Now do not infer from this that Ruth is less than historical. The Hebrew writers held no dichotomy between artful storytelling and historical accuracy. It often is in the manner of telling the story that the theology shines brightest.
The author left us after the first chapter with a number of questions. Will God show His covenant faithfulness to Naomi, who had experienced the curse in a most bitter way? And how could God possibly do so considering the gravity of Naomi’s predicament? Naomi’s problem was two-fold; no provision and no posterity. And as a result we last left Naomi with no hope. But we were also introduced to her daughter-in-law Ruth, who did trust in the Lord despite the circumstances.
A beacon of light for the readers appears in the first verse of ch. 2. Naomi had a relative in her clan named Boaz, a prominent citizen in Bethlehem. In our culture the nuclear family is the cornerstone of society. But in Israel it was the extended family, or the clan, which provided the support and identity for the individual. The clan was to take care of one another, especially seeing to it that no one in their clan would lose their land and their name, i.e., their inheritance in Israel.
To accomplish this the Mosaic Law provided for a Goel, or kinsman redeemer, for each individual in the clan. The Goel was the closest living male relative to the one for whom he was to help. If an Israelite was murdered, the Goel would seek retribution to avenge his blood.
If an Israelite sold his land because of poverty, the Goel was to buy it back for him so that it will remain in the family. If an Israelite was forced to sell himself as a slave, the Goel was to redeem him with his own money. Every Israelite was to have a Goel in his clan. The Goel was to be the constant reminder of Yahweh, who was Himself Israel’s Goel, because as He redeemed them from slavery.
But we do not yet know if Boaz was Naomi’s nearest relative, or if he even cared what God’s Law said about his responsibilities even if he was her Goel. And Naomi does not even know Boaz even exists
Thus one day Ruth decides that she will go and glean in the fields to provide for her and Naomi. They would be close to starving as single women living alone. In the time of the Judges, compassion was not in abundance in Israel. The Law allowed the poorest of the land to glean and pick up whatever grain was left by the harvesters. In v. 3 the inspired author writes that it just happened that Ruth chose Boaz’ field to glean in. He doesn’t have to put the quotations around the phrase it just happened, he assumes you’ll do that on your own.
While Ruth has no expectations at this point, the readers are hoping that Ruth and Boaz meet. The author writes, Behold, Boaz came out that day to the fields. The “behold” is used to draw the reader emotionally into the story, full of anticipation. It would be anticipation born from experience. The reader anticipates a meeting because the reader knows God is faithful to His covenant promises.
Boaz first greets his harvesters with a typical Israelite greeting. He notices Ruth standing by his foreman and asks of her identity. The foreman identifies her as the one who returned with Naomi. Ruth’s reputation was by now well known. The foreman then explained how Ruth had arrived early and how she had asked a very bold question of the foreman: May I please gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.
We may imagine the foreman somewhat indignant at this. Normally the gleaner was only allowed to pick leftover grain from the standing stalks. They were not allowed to pick from the grain already harvested and laid in piles. Ruth’s had made an audacious request, displaying her loyalty to provide for Naomi. How will Boaz respond to such brass, especially from a foreigner?
Obviously things turned out even better than expected for Ruth. Boaz addresses her affectionately as My daughter and said, Listen to me. In other words, pay careful attention to what I am about to say. For some reason yet unknown Boaz was taking this poor woman very seriously. Boaz urges her to stay in his field to glean. He even grants her request to follow after the harvesters and glean from their harvested piles.
For Ruth Boaz goes above and beyond the call to duty. He provides protection for her: follow after the girls, I have commanded my servants not to touch you. The men would commonly pick the grain while the women came after and bundled them up in piles. We should probably not see in Boaz’ admonition a concern for sexual assault, for they were in public. But the paid workers would treat gleaners roughly if they moved in on their territory. And they would especially have no mercy on a foreigner who dared to do what Ruth was about to do. The danger of being roughed up and verbally abused is what Boaz is protecting her from.
If this were not surprising enough, in v. 9 Boaz grants that Ruth was to drink from the jars of water his servants would draw from the well. She would not have to stop gleaning to draw the water, which took much time and energy. As the water-servers nourished the harvesters, they were to provide for Ruth.
First Ruth was raised to a status above the typical Israeli gleaner. Now this woman from Moab was being raised to an equal status with Boaz’ paid workers! Our curiosity is raised. Why is he doing this for her?
Ruth’s response in v. 10 reveals her astonishment to all this. She bows before him in gratefulness and expresses her own unworthiness to be treated so graciously, especially considering that she was a Moabite. According to Deut 23, Moabites enjoyed no covenant privileges with God’s people. Ruth asks Boaz a question all God’s people are abundantly familiar with; why have you lavished such favor upon me?
Boaz cites Ruth’s reputation as the reason, that she had shown herself faithful to Naomi, thus to the Lord. V. 12 provides the central statement of the section. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, under whose wings you have come to take refuge. Is this not the great question of the book? Is God to be trusted? Will He provided provision and posterity for those who trust Him? Naomi saw no reward in following Yahweh.
Naomi doubted His faithfulness. But Boaz presumed that God would reward one who had left all and sought salvation in Him. Here is a beautiful description of salvation. Coming under the wings of the Lord to take refuge.
But our curiosity is again raised. How will God show His faithfulness to Ruth and Naomi? Will it go beyond the grain? Will it include posterity? Will Boaz himself play a part in this reward? Is Boaz completely unaware of that possibility? After all, he is a kinsman of Naomi.
Ruth’s reply in v. 13 ends their dramatic conversation. She again expresses her unworthiness and her desire that she would continue to be pleasing in his sight. This again would raise the readers’ suspicions. Is there something else going on between these two.
In the story of Ruth something new is happening in the history of salvation. It was Abraham who left his home and way of life for the unknown land of God’s Presence. It was to Abraham’s descendants that the covenant of grace was promised. God promised to reward Abraham with an eternal inheritance in the land with his descendants. Moabites were excluded from those promises. But now this single Moabite woman was slowly being engrafted into the people of Israel. She served Israel’s God, and Boaz lifted her up as an equal to his Jewish laborers.
The prophets describe a day when many from the Gentile nations shall come and bow down to the Jews, and they will join them in worship. As we witness Naomi bowing before Boaz, we get a glimpse into the church age, where Jew and Gentile together bow before their Redeemer, the Son of Boaz. Yes, Boaz would be Ruth’s Goel. And this redeemer hailed from Bethlehem. Let the subtlety draw you to your Savior, even as you read on.
At mealtime, the workers would stop and eat lunch. Boaz sat with them. But Ruth sat away from the group, considering herself unworthy to sit among the Israeli laborers. Boaz calls out to her in front of his workers, “Come over here.” What would his laborers be thinking? The gossip mill would be on overload that evening. Ruth joins the laborers for a meal; she now fully enjoys equal status with the Jewish harvesters.
Then Boaz offered her some bread and wine. Boaz the boss began to serve Ruth the Moabitess! She ate, was satisfied, and had some left over. As New Covenant believers you have seen those words elsewhere, have you not? Does this not remind you of Jesus feeding the five thousand?
Boaz then offers one more extraordinary act of generosity. First he warns all the workers to leave Ruth alone. Then he commands them to purposefully leave behind some of their grain so Ruth would have an abundance of grain. Now the Jews were to serve the Gentile! This was unheard of in Israel. The Old Covenant is being pushed into the background as a picture of something new is forming.
Again we are left wondering what was behind Boaz’ attitude toward Ruth. Was it simply family devotion? Was it only because he was impressed with her character? Was there a romantic interest forming?
Ruth worked until dark, and she ended up with about an ephah of grain, which normally took two weeks to collect. Ruth and her mother-in-law would not starve this winter!
When Ruth arrived home Naomi immediately noticed the huge bundle on her arm. But before Naomi could satisfy her curiosity, Ruth also brought out some of the roasted grain Boaz had given her. Naomi head must have spun seeing this. Not only abundant grain, but cooked food to eat!
The questions now excitedly poured out of Naomi. Where did you work today? Whose field was it? Ruth was keeping Naomi in anticipation, even as the author does his readers. The readers would be calling out, “tell her who he is, she’ll know it’s her kinsman.” The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz.
The name Boaz triggered two responses from Naomi. First, she praises him as one who has shown kindness to the living and the dead. It seems rather odd to heap this praise on Boaz for simply providing food. How would that show kindness to the dead, the dead being Elimelech? No, Naomi saw other possibilities in Boaz. Could he marry Ruth and provide the posterity she had before given up on?
Secondly, Naomi instructs Ruth to continue gleaning while harvest season lasts. Harvest season only lasted about seven weeks, which in itself presented some difficulties. Could something happen in seven weeks? Was Naomi’s faith finally being lifted up, or did she begin to scheme in the flesh. Would she trust in God’s promises like Abraham in his better days, or will she scheme to secure them in the flesh, like Abraham when he had relations with Hagar?
The author ends his section as the first, with the barley harvest. The first three sections of this story all end with a reference to the harvest. Harvest time was Israel’s reminder of God’s covenant faithfulness. The covenant God made with Abraham promised provision and posterity. In chapter one Naomi and Ruth were without either. Chapter 2 brings resolution to the problem of provision. But the reader is left wondering about the second. Will God also bring about posterity for Naomi?
Your Redeemer keeps you under the shadow of His wings. He has lifted you up, though you in your sin were an accursed Moabitess. He feeds you the bread and wine of His own body and blood, crucified and raised for you, His beloved. You have eternal provision in His Bethlehem, His eternal house of bread. And you have a spiritual posterity that can never be stamped out, an inheritance with the family of God. Jesus has come and served us salvation. He is our Goel! Be at peace. Amen