Ruth 2:1-23

Naomi and Ruth, a bereft mother and widow, and her daughter-in law, a woman of Moab who had also lost her husband. Here they were, in Bethlehem, destitute and with seemingly no prospect for the future. “So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab.”[1] We are meant to feel the poverty of these two grieving women from the beginning. Elimelech was dead. Mahlon and Chilion were dead. Orpah, the almost-believer, had left them behind to return to Moab and her pagan gods. But, Naomi had Ruth, though she did not acknowledge her as the agent of God’s steadfast love to her in the midst of her faithlessness and distress. Here was Ruth, dear Ruth, who had left behind everything she had known before, and had been joined through faith to the covenant community because she had been joined through faith to the covenant God of Israel. “Your people shall be my people,” she had said, “and your God my God.”[2] Here was a Moabite woman in the Promised Land, seeking to follow after and find refuge in the LORD. However, from her entrance into Bethlehem, there doesn’t seem to be any recognition of Ruth the Moabite at all by the women of Bethlehem who greet Naomi; indeed, there doesn’t seem to be any recognition of her by Naomi, either, though Ruth had “clung to her”[3] when all else seemed to be falling away. Here was Naomi, bitter Mara, who had lost her faith in the love of God. She had left during a time of famine; but, having lost those with whom she left, she proclaimed a different perspective of her circumstances: “I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty.”[4] But, in the midst of all this loss and pain and grief, there was Another at work. Indeed, Naomi was right in saying that the LORD had brought her back; and it’s not a coincidence that “they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.”[5]

If the last verse of chapter one informs us of the setting of what is to come, the first verse of chapter two is meant to introduce us to the main personage who will act as God’s agent of steadfast love to both Ruth and Naomi. Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. Boaz doesn’t really appear again until the fourth verse, but from the beginning the prophet who authored the book of Ruth wants us to recognize that Boaz is, firstly, a worthy man; secondly, a man of the clan of Elimelech, a relative of Naomi’s husband. First, Boaz is a worthy man. The word that is used here in the Hebrew is an interesting one. In other places in Scripture, it is used to describe a valiant warrior; indeed, in the book of Judges, this is the word that is used by the angel of the LORD to describe the soon-to-be warrior Gideon: “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”[6] However, this doesn’t seem to be the case with Boaz; at least, we’re never told that he is a mighty warrior. Given the immediate context, another of the word’s meanings comes into view; Boaz is a man of virtue and integrity. Boaz, as we will see, is a man after God’s heart, who sought to be obedient to the will of the LORD; he is a wealthy and a powerful man who uses his wealth and power for the glory of God and the good of others. Secondly, Boaz is a relative of Elimelech. This is incredibly important to remember, as it will come into play later in the book of Ruth. So, with these descriptors of the new “character”, as it were, we progress into the action of the narrative.

And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” There wasn’t a government welfare program in Israel during the time of Ruth and Naomi. However, the LORD Who watches over the widow and the alien,[7] had provided a means in the Law to provide for those who otherwise couldn’t provide for themselves. This means of provision was called “gleaning.” In Deuteronomy, the LORD said to His people, “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”[8] The reason given for this and other commandments concerning the care of the widow, orphan, and alien, is that God had shown the people of Israel His grace and mercy in redeeming them from slavery in Egypt. “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.”[9] Because God had shown mercy to them when they had nothing, they were to show it to others, especially to those who could not provide for themselves. Ruth, having heard of God’s gracious acting toward His people, went forth to take advantage of this wonderful law, trusting that God would work in the heart of some landowner to allow her, a widowed Moabite, to glean on their property. She sought the favor of the LORD (that is, His gracious provision) through him in whose sight I shall find favor. Her faith, clearly, was that the God Who brought her from Moab to Bethlehem, along with her embittered mother-in-law, would provide for their needs just as He had always provided for the needs of His people. Naomi, however, did not go and glean, but sent her daughter-in-law with a laconic, “Go, my daughter.”

Faith is never without action. It’s one thing to say we trust that we trust God’s grace; it’s another thing to actually act upon the faith we have in God’s grace. Ruth trusted God, and so she left behind everything that she had been, everything that had identified her as separate from God and the people of God; she believed, and strengthened by God’s grace, she repented. Ruth trusted in God’s character, So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. She went out to glean, trusting that the LORD would provide. And here, the author of Ruth says, in a touch of irony, that Ruth happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz. Also, ironically, he writes, And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. From a worldly perspective, it just so happened that Ruth came to Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest, widowed and childless. It just so happened that Ruth was gleaning in the field of Boaz; Ruth was not looking for Boaz’ field in which to glean – as she didn’t know anyone in Bethlehem, seemingly, other than Naomi, she was just gleaning in a field, from her point of view. And, it just so happened that while Ruth was gleaning in Boaz’ field, who should arrive from Bethlehem, but Boaz himself! The writer, using the literary tool of irony, is trying to help us see that he no more believes that all of this is a work of chance than we should; rather, all of these events that are taking place in the book of Ruth are being guided by the hand of the sovereign God Who is working all things to Ruth’s good.[10] More than this, though, all of these events, guided by the hand of our gracious God, would not simply impact Ruth; indeed, as we will see, all of these seeming coincidences were really the work of God’s providence in bringing about the fulfillment of His covenant of grace in bringing to earth His Son Jesus Christ, the Son of Abraham, the Son of David.[11] God is always working for our good and His glory in ways that we with our limited creaturely wisdom cannot possibly fathom. Ruth went to the field that day simply because she was hungry; God brought her to that field because He was working out the plan of redemption for all the elect in Jesus Christ! Praise be to our Sovereign God!

It just so happened that Boaz, whilst visiting his fields and checking up on the harvest, noticed the young Moabite woman gleaning after his reapers. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” Many have tried to make the book of Ruth into a kind of Hallmark romance. But, the author doesn’t tell us here that Boaz looked upon Ruth and immediately fell in love. Ruth is not central to Boaz’ world; the LORD is. From his first words to his reapers we know that Boaz is a man who is seeking the Lord; that is, he is a worthy man. When he sees Ruth, we’re not told that his first thought is one of infatuation; rather, he only seeks to identify her. Immediately, upon hearing his servant’s report, he knows who she is. Apparently, Ruth had been the talk of the town, and Boaz had heard of this woman who had returned to Bethlehem with Naomi. We see hints of this in his first interaction with her: 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. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” From the beginning, Boaz, knowing that Ruth is a Moabite, does not forbid her to leave, though he no doubt knew the law that forbade friendship with a Moabite.[12] We have already been told that Boaz was a worthy man, and have seen by his only previous dialogue that he feared the LORD. Still, here Boaz does not rebuke Ruth for her presumption in gleaning in the field of a man of Judah; instead, he speaks to her softly, calling her my daughter, giving her permission to glean in his field, offering her protection against any possible harm that might befall her from the young men, even allowing her to drink from the same water source as his Jewish servants. This was far more grace and mercy than Ruth had expected. Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” Boaz, acting as the agent of God’s steadfast love, had provided for the need of this poor widow from Moab; Ruth was astounded by this! Boaz had brought the outsider in![13] And why had he done this? But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Boaz had shown mercy to Ruth because Ruth’s identity was no longer “Moabite”; through faith in the mercy of the LORD (which expressed itself in the leaving behind of her past life, clinging to the people of Israel, and seeking refuge in the LORD) Ruth was a part of the covenant community. Boaz knew that this could be from his own family history. After all, according to Matthew’s genealogy, the mother of Boaz was none other than Rahab the Canaanite prostitute who had rescued the spies in Jericho;[14] just like Ruth, Rahab had heard of the works of the LORD, and had put her faith in Him. Rahab said, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of you… for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”[15] Rahab’s faith expressed itself in joining herself to the people of God, risking her own life to save them; for this, not only was Rahab’s life spared, but she married an Israelite – Salmon – and the book of Joshua records, “she has lived in Israel to this day.”[16] Ruth the Moabite was no longer Ruth the Moabite, but my daughter; Rahab the prostitute was not Rahab the prostitute, but my mother. When you are joined to the covenant community through faith in Christ, you are no longer what you were. In Christ, you belong to God forever! You have taken refuge under His wings! And you are one with all others who have taken refuge under His wings in Christ! Boaz saw this in Ruth, and he sought to show her the steadfast love of God for His people through his own kind actions.

Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” Listen to the heart of Ruth as she speaks these words. She had lost her husband, he father-in-law, her sister-in-law; she was destitute, with none but her embittered and faithless mother-in-law to keep her company; she was in a foreign land where she was constantly only seen as Ruth the Moabite. She had come to the fields that day, hoping only to scrape a bit of food up to keep her and Naomi alive. And God, in His providence, had brought Boaz to the field; Boaz had not called her Ruth the Moabite, but my daughter; he had bidden her to keep close to my young women. But more than this, And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean and do not rebuke her.” So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned and it was about an ephah of barley. When the time for eating came, Ruth was not sent away to find a meal; rather, Boaz had her eat at his table – bread dipped in wine, roasted grain. Not only did she eat her fill, but she had food left over! Then, when she rose to glean, Boaz had his young men intentionally take barley out of the bundles and leave it for her; by the end of the day, Ruth had collected an ephah – about thirty pounds – of barley to take home to Naomi. Ruth had gone looking for just enough to survive; and God had provided her with more than she needed and more than she could ever have expected! How reflective this is of the grace of God! How often we go to God’s field looking for just a little grace, just enough to get by, just enough forgiveness, just enough peace! And yet, in Christ, He gives us more than we could ever have possibly imagined! “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us!”[17] The Greater Boaz does not merely invite us to take from His fields, but invites us to sit at His table! He welcomes the outcast as one of His own! We are no longer strangers to the covenant of grace! We are citizens of the covenant community! Weary one, you who have labored in the field since the morning, begging for scraps, come to the Master’s table, sit, and eat! He calls, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[18] Do you not hear Him speak so kindly to you, calling you away from what you used to be to now be His own forever? There is more grace for you in Jesus Christ than you could ever possibly comprehend! Even when your capacities have been satisfied, there is yet more! Glory be to God the Father and to our Lord Jesus Christ!

And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. Can you imagine the look on Naomi’s face when the young woman who had accompanied her to Bethlehem from Moab came walking up to her with thirty pounds of barley after only one day of gleaning in the field? Suddenly, sullen, bitter Naomi is astounded at God’s provision for her and her daughter-in-law. And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” Astonished, she who considered herself cursed by God, blessed the man Boaz for his kindness to her daughter-in-law. So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked is Boaz.” And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Praise be to God for His eye-opening grace! Naomi, who had changed her name to Mara, because she thought God was against her, dealing with her bitterly, is awakened to see, seemingly in a moment, that God in His providence has been working kindness toward her and Ruth that she could never have possibly expected. She blesses Boaz in the name of the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead! The living to whom she refers is, of course, herself and Ruth; the dead, likewise, does not need explaining. But, the word translated here as “kindness” is actually the Hebrew “hesed”; elsewhere in Scripture it is translated as “steadfast love”. The word refers to God’s covenant love for His people that endures forever![19] Contained within this word is all that accompanies God’s covenant love: love, kindness, grace, loyalty, goodness, etc. Naomi, who had given up faith in God’s love, suddenly sees that faith restored through God’s manifestation of His steadfast love in the kindness of Boaz. God providentially allowed Elimelech and his sons to die, to bring Naomi and Ruth back to Bethlehem during the barley harvest, so that Ruth could providentially be guided by God’s sovereign hand to the field of Boaz on the day when Boaz providentially showed up so that Ruth could be confirmed in her conversion and the faith of Naomi might be restored – among many other reasons our minds can’t grasp! In all of this, God’s steadfast love was holding onto Naomi; even when she had let go and had become embittered by her circumstances, God was using those circumstances to bring her back from Moab to Himself. And now that she was back in Bethlehem, He was providing for her, even in the midst of her bitterness. Brothers and sisters, God is more ready to show His steadfast love to His people than we are to receive it! Praise the God Who keeps covenant with His people!

When Ruth tells Naomi what Boaz had instructed her to do, Naomi tells her, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law. Naomi’s affirmation of Boaz’ instructions is somewhat indicative of her realization of her own past folly. “Ruth, stay in Boaz’ fields; don’t go away from the place of God’s grace.” Indeed, Naomi had learned this by experience. Her repentance had begun while she was still in the fields of Moab, in another field, and we see here that it continues back in Bethlehem. All of this, from first to last, is because of the grace and steadfast love of the LORD! And, as Ruth is told by Naomi, it just so happens that Boaz is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.

 

 

[1] Ruth 1:22a

[2] Ruth 1:16

[3] Ruth 1:14

[4] Ruth 1:21

[5] Ruth 1:22b

[6] Judges 6:12

[7] Psalm 146:9; Deuteronomy 10:18

[8] Deuteronomy 24:19

[9] Deuteronomy 24:22

[10] Romans 8:28

[11] Matthew 1:1

[12] Deuteronomy 23:3-6

[13] Ephesians 2:19

[14] Matthew 1:5

[15] Joshua 2:9,11

[16] Joshua 6:25

[17] Ephesians 1:7-8

[18] Matthew 11:28

[19] Psalm 136:1

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