While the first chapter of Ruth chronicled the desperate situation facing Ruth and Naomi, the opening verse of chapter two introduces us to someone else, a person who will go on to have a significant impact in the lives of both these women…
“There was a relative of Naomi’s husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz” (Ruth 2:1).
Although Boaz is mentioned only briefly in this passage, his appearance provides us with some important background information that sets the stage for his emergence later within this chapter. First, Boaz’ name is thought to express the general idea of strength. This may explain why his great-great-grandson Solomon later went on to appropriate his name for use in identifying one of the supporting pillars of the temple many years later (see 1Kings 7:21).
Boaz is further identified for us as a man of great wealth (NKJV), valor (JPS), or worth (CEB). The implies that Boaz was a man of character as well as a prominent and influential person within his community. We’re also told that he was a member of Naomi’s late husband Elimilech’s family. While this bit of family history will prove critical to the events that will eventually follow, Boaz’ position as “…a rich and important man” (CEV) is also interesting to consider in light of the events that occurred some ten years earlier.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, Elimilech took his family and relocated to Moab in response to a famine that had gripped the Bethlehem area a decade earlier. However, it appears that Boaz chose to take a different course during that time; he apparently chose to remain in Bethlehem where he was undoubtedly forced to endure the difficulties that Elimilech sought to escape. With this in mind, we might reasonably conclude that God provided for Boaz throughout that lean period and sustained him through those difficult times.
Now it is ten years later and we find that Boaz has become a man of wealth, prominence, and respect. Unfortunately, Elimilech later went on to perish in Moab leaving only his sons to support his widow. When his sons later passed away as well, his wife was left alone with no means of support.
While it is difficult to draw a direct correlation between Boaz and Elimilech, the Scriptures give no indication that Elimilech ever prayed or sought God’s direction before making the decision to relocate to Moab. Boaz, on the other hand, will go on to demonstrate himself to be a man of Godly character and perhaps this may account for the difference in their respective fates.
“So Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, ‘Please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.’ And she said to her, ‘Go, my daughter'” (Ruth 2:2).
This passage demonstrates something of Ruth’s character, especially when we consider the fact that a young, foreign woman working alone without friends, family, or protection was susceptible to various types of assault. In fact, Naomi and Boaz will each go on to reference this particular danger later within this chapter. Nevertheless, Ruth took responsibility to provide for herself and her mother-in-law in spite of this potential danger by “…going out to glean among the sheaves” (MSG).
As mentioned earlier, “gleaning” referred to the act of following a group of harvesters in order to collect any produce that may have been left over. This was made possible by a portion of the Old Testament law that provided the following instructions to farmers and landowners…
“When you harvest your land’s produce, you must not harvest all the way to the edge of your field; and don’t gather up every remaining bit of your harvest. Also do not pick your vineyard clean or gather up all the grapes that have fallen there. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant; I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:9-10 CEB)
“If you forget to bring in a stack of harvested grain, don’t go back in the field to get it. Leave it for the poor, including foreigners, orphans, and widows, and the Lord will make you successful in everything you do. When you harvest your olives, don’t try to get them all for yourself, but leave some for the poor. And when you pick your grapes, go over the vines only once, then let the poor have what is left. You lived in poverty as slaves in Egypt until the Lord your God rescued you. That’s why I am giving you these laws” (Deuteronomy 24:19-22 CEV).
This simple act of “charity with dignity” enabled the less fortunate to find sustenance for their needs. The problem is that the events recounted here within the Book of Ruth took place during a period of time when “All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25 NCV).
If a landowner was disinclined to follow these God-given instructions concerning his harvest, its easy to understand why Ruth might feel dependent upon anyone who would be “…kind enough to let me gather the grain he leaves behind” (NCV).
“Then she left, 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 family of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3).
So in seeking to provide for the needs of herself and her mother-in-law, Ruth took the initiative to go to work and gather the grain that had been left behind after a field had been harvested. Although the text indicates that Ruth entered this particular field by chance, its not difficult to see God’s orchestration of these events behind the scenes as Ruth acted to provide for their needs.
But some time after Ruth began working to gather enough food to feed herself and her mother-in-law, the landowner himself arrived to check up on the progress of the day’s work…
“Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you!’ And they answered him, ‘The Lord bless you!'” (Ruth 2:4).
As a prominent and wealthy person in that area, its possible that Boaz may have been attending to his other business interests that morning before heading out to his property. Since the work day for many laborers in the Biblical era often began in the early morning hours before the oppressive heat of the day made it difficult to be productive, its not surprising to find that the day’s labor had already begun prior to Boaz’ arrival.
Upon meeting with his employees, we’re told that Boaz “…said to the harvest workers, ‘The LORD bless you!’ They replied, ‘And may the LORD bless you!'” (CEV) This simple exchange of greetings between Boaz and his employees provides us with an important bit of insight into his character.
While a typical business owner might be expected to open a conversation with a foreman or supervisor by first asking for a production report, it appears that Boaz did not subordinate his business interests to his relationship with the Lord; in fact, it seems that the opposite was true- Boaz placed the emphasis on God first in greeting his employees.
This kind of greeting also implies that Boaz took the lead in establishing a God-honoring business culture in an era when others were doing whatever seemed best for them. While this observation may seem to be an overstatement based on this simple exchange of greetings, the fact that Boaz’ employees reciprocated his greeting tells us that his God-honoring character had a positive impact on those who worked for him, at least externally.
“Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘Whose young woman is this?'” (Ruth 2:5).
In our present day, we might typically seek to identify unknown person by asking, “Who is he or she?” However, a closer look at Ruth 2:5 tells us that this is not the question that Boaz asked of his field manager.
When Boaz saw Ruth gleaning in his field, he phrased his question by asking, “Whose girl is this?” (MKJV). This difference between “who is she” and “who does she belong to” is something that is reflective of the culture of Boaz’ day.
You see, the patriarchal society of Boaz’s time commonly placed a young woman such as Ruth into one of two categories. A girl or young, unmarried woman was considered to be someone who belonged to her father. A young, married woman was considered to be someone who belonged to her husband.
Since a young woman working alone in the vicinity of a group of male farmhands might be subject to any number of physical dangers, the answer to this question would quickly provide Boaz with some important information and let him know if this young, unidentified woman was under the protection of a father or a husband.
As it turned out, the young woman in question was a person that we might identify as a “free agent” today…
“So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, ‘It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab'” (Ruth 2:6)
Its been said that news travels quickly and it seems that the news of Naomi’s return from Moab with this young foreign woman had been widely reported among the members of the Bethlehem community. But while Boaz may have been unaware of Ruth’s identity, we’ll soon find that he was not unaware of the circumstances surrounding her arrival.
In any event, it seems that Ruth had quickly established a positive reputation among Boaz’ employees during her short time gleaning within this field. This included a specific kind of work ethic that apparently caught the attention of Boaz’ field supervisor. Since this man was tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the productivity of Boaz’ workforce, he surely had a keen eye for the quality of the work that was taking place under his leadership.
We’ll see what it was about Ruth’s conduct that caught his attention next.
“‘…It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house” (Ruth 2:6-7).
This passage identifies some important aspects of Ruth’s conduct that are highly applicable for those who serve within a modern-day workforce. For example, we should first consider the fact that the Old Testament Law provided Ruth with the authority to glean within any field she might desire (see Leviticus 19:9 and Deuteronomy 24:19). However, this foreman’s response tells us that Ruth extended the courtesy of asking for his permission before entering his field.
So we might say that Ruth conducted herself with courtesy and respect in seeking to exercise the right that had been afforded to her by the Law. Next, it seems clear that this field supervisor had taken particular notice of the effort that Ruth was putting into her work for he provided Boaz with this unsolicited report: “…she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest” (ESV).
This seemingly offhand remark serves to remind us that others take notice of our work. Although this foreman never complimented or acknowledged Ruth’s efforts as far as we know, he was clearly aware of the quality of her work- and he remarked on her work ethic to his employer without being prompted to do so.
Although it may be disappointing when others fail to notice or appreciate the quality of our efforts, its important to remember that we shouldn’t work (or minister) primarily to obtain the compliments or acknowledgment of others. Instead, we perform quality work (whatever our occupation) because it reflects well upon the Lord and the name we carry, whether others choose to acknowledge our efforts or not.
For this reason, its important to be alert to the subtle temptation of working simply to receive the affirmation of others. As the Apostle Paul observed in the New Testament epistle of 1 Corinthians…
“…I am not at all concerned about being judged by you or by any human standard; I don’t even pass judgment on myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not prove that I am really innocent. The Lord is the one who passes judgment on me.
So you should not pass judgment on anyone before the right time comes. Final judgment must wait until the Lord comes; he will bring to light the dark secrets and expose the hidden purposes of people’s minds. And then all will receive from God the praise they deserve” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5 GNB).
“Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn'” (Ruth 2:8-9).
In referring to Ruth as “my daughter,” Boaz provides us with a subtle clue that helps us gauge the age difference between them. You see, this remark indicates that Boaz was probably old enough to be Ruth’s father and that, along with the fact that he referred to his field laborers as “young men,” highlights the difference in their respective ages. Since Ruth was probably in her late teens or early 20’s during this time, this means that Boaz was probably 40-50 years old at the time these events took place.
Boaz’ counsel to “…keep close to my young women” also reflects the customary labor arrangement for a typical Old Testament harvest. A group of men would begin the harvest by cutting the grain with a sickle or other implement. They were followed by a second group of women who collected the cut stalks and bundled them into sheaves for transport. Staying close to this second group provided Ruth with the best opportunity to maximize the amount of grain she could collect.
This simple act of kindness also provided Ruth with another benefit: it gave her an opportunity to build relationships with other young women of her age. As a foreigner who presumably knew no one else in Bethlehem other than Naomi, Ruth surely welcomed this chance to develop her own social network.
Next, Boaz dealt with the issue of Ruth’s vulnerability by personally arranging to protect her: “I have ordered my young men not to touch you” (GW). As one commentator observes, “Boaz is hereby instituting the first anti-sexual-harassment policy in the workplace recorded in the Bible.” (1)
Finally, Boaz anticipated Ruth’s physical needs and made provision for her: “…when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn” (ESV). This provided Ruth with a degree of dignity and relieved her from the need to ask (or beg) for a drink of water during her long hours of labor under the hot sun.
In all these things, Boaz serves as a good representation of God’s gracious provision for us.
(1) Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 660 quoted in Constable’s Notes On Ruth, Dr. Thomas L. Constable, http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/OT/Ruth/Ruth.htm#p341
Boaz’ overwhelming display of generosity had quite an effect upon Ruth for she proceeded to respond to his gracious display of compassion in a manner that demonstrated a sense of deep respect and appreciation for everything that he had done on her behalf…
“So she fell on her face, bowed down 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?'” (Ruth 2:10).
As a man of God-honoring character, Boaz certainly accepted his lawful obligation to make his property available for gleaning by travelers, foreigners, or others who were simply less fortunate. However, Boaz went far beyond that obligation in his display of kindness towards Ruth. In response, Ruth acknowledged Boaz’ great compassion by bowing low before him, an act that is still recognized today as a universal symbol of respect.
Boaz then went on to explain the reason for his compassionate response…
“And Boaz answered and said to her, ‘It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge'” (Ruth 2:11-12).
A prominent business owner like Boaz surely had a network of employees, business associates, or others who were available to provide him with the news of the day. Having earlier heard the account of Naomi’s return with Ruth, Boaz now took the opportunity to reward the kindness that Ruth had shown towards Naomi, the same person who was not only Ruth’s mother-in-law but had also been a member of Boaz’ own family.
But Boaz not only assisted Ruth in providing for her needs, he also expressed his desire for God’s further blessings in her life. In doing so, Boaz utilized the imagery of bird protecting its young with the sheltering presence of its wings, a concept that is also employed in a number of Psalms (such as Psalm 61:4, 63:7, and 91:1-4) as an illustration of God’s care and protection.
Nevertheless, Boaz was surely unaware that he himself would eventually become the means by which God would fulfill his stated desire for Ruth: “…the LORD reward you for what you have done” (GW).
“Then she said, ‘Let me find favor in your sight, my lord; for you have comforted me, and have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants'” (Ruth 2:13)
Life had been difficult for Ruth. She had lost her husband. She had completed a long journey to a foreign nation where she had no friends, family, or acquaintances other than her widowed mother-in-law. She was isolated within an unfamiliar culture with no means of income. Now she was in a position where she had to pick what others had left behind just to have enough to feed herself and her mother-in-law.
Yet now, a previously unknown individual had suddenly appeared with an offer of extraordinary compassion. With these things in mind, its easy to grasp the overwhelming sense of gratefulness, appreciation, and respect behind Ruth’s response: “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!” (NET).
However, Boaz would go on to demonstrate his generosity towards Ruth in a far more immediate manner…
“Now Boaz said to her at mealtime, ‘Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.’ So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed parched grain to her; and she ate and was satisfied, and kept some back” (Ruth 2:14).
In the Biblical era, a typical meal was not generally eaten with knives, forks, spoons or other such utensils as is often the case today. A meal of that day typically consisted of bread that had been broken off from a larger portion. Each person would then proceed to dip his or her bread into a common bowl of sauce while eating. In this instance, the “sauce” consisted of wine or vinegar, an arrangement that was somewhat similar to the manner in which we might place some dressing on a salad or a piece of bread today.
However, Boaz’ invitation involved more than just a simple act of kindness. Since an outsider would not generally be permitted to join a host for a meal, Boaz’ invitation signaled that Ruth had been accepted as “part of the team,” so to speak.
Nevertheless, an attentive reader will notice a subtle aside hidden away within this passage- Ruth ate until she was full but “…kept some back.” We’ll see why Ruth did this (and what it tells us about her character) a little later in this chapter.
“And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, ‘Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. Also let grain from the bundles fall purposely for her; leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her'” (Ruth 2:15).
Boaz’ demonstration of kindness towards Ruth went far beyond his legal obligation under the Law. While the Law of Moses commanded a landowner to make portions of his field available for harvest by the less fortunate, Boaz permitted Ruth to glean even within the area where the cut stalks of grain were bundled for transport. Since the act of collecting these sheaves was sure to dislodge a considerable amount of grain, the ability to glean within this area helped provide Ruth with the best opportunity for success.
In addition, Boaz also instructed his employees to support Ruth by saying, “Be sure to pull out some stalks of grain from the bundles and leave them on the ground for her” (CEV). While Boaz could have simply chosen to give Ruth some grain from his field, he instead chose to assist her in a manner that allowed her to maintain an attitude of dignity and respect as she worked to provide for her needs.
Boaz’ compassionate response provides us with an example of how a God-honoring person can employ the Scripture as a guide for righteous living. Using the directives of Leviticus 19:9 and Deuteronomy 24:19 as a guide, Boaz took the principles found within those portions of God’s Word and adapted them for use in his particular situation.
As the Apostle Paul would later go on to say, “…we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8 ESV). Boaz provides us with a good example of this “lawful use of the law” as he utilized it to extend mercy to someone who was in great need (see Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:8 and Matthew 12:7).
This passage also brings a precept from the New Testament Gospel of Matthew to mind: “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Ruth had shown mercy towards Naomi by working to provide for Naomi’s needs as well as her own and Boaz in turn now demonstrated mercy towards Ruth by helping her to effectively fulfill those needs.
Ruth and Boaz will eventually go on to see another Biblical principle come to pass within their lives, one that fits well within the agricultural theme of Ruth chapter two: “…we should not lose heart in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not faint” (Galatians 6:9 MKJV).
“So she gleaned in the field until evening, and beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. Then she took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. So she brought out and gave to her what she had kept back after she had been satisfied” (Ruth 2:17-18).
Gleaning was difficult work and usually offered a poor return on the time and effort invested in that process. A day’s work gleaning might produce enough to feed a person for a day or two, a yield that virtually ensured that the gleaner would have to return to the fields on a daily basis to pick up anything edible that might have been left behind.
Of course, a person with nothing to eat might certainly view such meager returns as better than nothing, especially if he or she had no other choice. However, the return on Ruth’s effort was quite a different story.
When Ruth completed her day’s work in the field, she took what she collected and “…pounded the grain off the stalks” (CEV). This described the act of separating the barley grain from the surrounding husks by striking or beating the grain stalks with a stick. This process was known as threshing and it eventually provided Ruth with an ephah of barley.
An “ephah” was an ancient measure of dry volume that was roughly equivalent to two-thirds of a bushel or about thirty to forty pounds (14-18kg). This represented substantially more than anyone might reasonably expect to obtain from gleaning a field and would provide enough to feed Ruth and Naomi for at least a week or ten days. As one commentary observes, “This was a huge amount of barley for one woman to gather in a single day. It testifies both to Ruth’s industry and to Boaz’s generosity.” (1)
While Ruth might have suspected that she had been helped in her efforts, this did not stop her from working to do the best she could. This demonstrates another important aspect of Ruth’s character, for she might have stopped working after collecting enough food for the day. But instead, Ruth demonstrated the kind of character befitting the virtuous woman spoken of in Proverbs 31…
“She also rises while it is still night, and gives food to her household, and a share to her young women… She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness” (Proverbs 31: 15, 27).
(1) Net Bible notes on Ruth 2:17 https://net.bible.org/#!bible/Ruth+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! 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” (Ruth 2:17-18 NET).
After Boaz invited Ruth to join his employees for lunch, we were told that “…she sat down beside the harvesters. Then he handed her some roasted grain. She ate until she was full and saved the rest” (Ruth 2:14 NET). For someone like Ruth, a person who was unsure of where her next meal might come from, we might expect to read that she went on to save those leftovers for herself.
But this passage goes on to explain that Ruth had a different motivation for saving what was left from her meal: “Ruth also took out what she had left over from lunch and gave it to Naomi” (GW). So instead of simply looking out for her own needs, Ruth made a conscious decision to share the blessings she had received with someone else who was equally in need.
So even while Ruth was enjoying the unexpected benefit of a free lunch with a prominent businessperson and his labor force, she was still mindful of the needs of her mother-in-law and the fact that Naomi had little or nothing to eat. She then made provision to meet that need even while she was in the process of enjoying a meal of her own.
With this in mind, its not surprising to read of Naomi’s response in the following verse…
“And her mother-in-law said to her, ‘Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you.’ So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, ‘The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz'” (Ruth 2:19).
So Boaz’ act of generosity towards a young woman in need effectively blessed two people. This example serves to remind us that our words and actions may sometimes have an impact that reaches far beyond our initial involvement in a particular circumstance or situation. In this instance, Boaz’ act of compassion will help trigger a series of events that will eventually return these blessings to him- but it all started with the simple decision to help someone in need by inviting her to lunch.
It seemed obvious to Naomi that someone had been quite generous to her daughter-in-law. Instead of returning with a meager amount of grain to show from her day’s work gleaning in the field, Ruth instead met Naomi with far more grain that anyone might reasonably expect to receive from such work.
This led Naomi to respond, “Where did you gather all this grain today? Whose field have you been working in? May God bless the man who took an interest in you!” (Ruth 2:19a GNB). When she learned that Boaz had been responsible for displaying such generosity, Naomi responded with an outpouring of thanksgiving to God…
“Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!’ And Naomi said to her, ‘This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives'” (Ruth 1:20).
Through this simple act of benevolence, Boaz became a living embodiment of a principle that God would later inspire the Apostle Paul to author in his second epistle to the church at Corinth…
“Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’ And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, ‘They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.’
For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.
So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God. As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you” (2 Corinthians 6:14 NLT).
“So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, ‘The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.’ Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!’ And Naomi said to her, ‘This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives'” (Ruth 2:19b-20).
Boaz could be considered as someone who was a “close relative” to Ruth only in the sense that Ruth had previously been married to a man (now dead), who had been the son of a man (also dead) who had once been a member of Boaz’ family. Nevertheless, this tenuous connection did not prevent Naomi from saying, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers” (ESV, emphasis added).
Although Ruth had been a stranger, a foreigner, and someone who shared no genetic connection with Naomi, Boaz, or anyone else within that area, Naomi still considered Ruth to be “family.” In this manner, Naomi foreshadowed the Apostle Paul’s message to the church at Ephesus in explaining what Jesus has done in reconciling those who were once far from God…
“Christ came and preached peace to you Gentiles, who were far from God, and peace to us Jews, who were near God. And because of Christ, all of us can come to the Father by the same Spirit. You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God” (Ephesians 2:17-19 CEV).
Its also interesting to note Naomi’s change of attitude upon hearing this news. Remember that Naomi was the same person who once said, “Do not call me Naomi (or “pleasant”); call me Mara (or “bitter”), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20).
But God’s gracious provision through Boaz now caused Naomi to break out in a spontaneous expression of thanks and appreciation: “May he be blessed by the Lord, who has not forsaken his kindness to the living or the dead” (HCSB). To paraphrase a verse from the New Testament epistle of James, it seems that Naomi had now begun to see the end intended by the Lord through the circumstances of her life and discovered that He is both compassionate and merciful (see James 5:11).
In addition, Naomi’s comment regarding God’s “kindness to the living and the dead” serves as a reference to the memory of her late husband and son. We’ll see how and why Naomi connected Boaz to these now-deceased family members next.
“This man is closely related to us—he is a kinsman-redeemer of our family” (Ruth 2:20b Voice).
The concept of a “kinsman-redeemer” is one that may not be well-understood in many 21st century cultures but it is an important Biblical concept that caries a significant implication for everyone who follows Christ.
A number of modern Biblical versions attempt to translate the idea of a kinsman-redeemer by rendering this term, “guardian” (NET), “family redeemer” (NLT), or “one of those responsible for taking care of us” (GNB). This tells us that Naomi recognized Boaz as someone who was more than just a family member- he was a close relative who held an important position of responsibility. In the words of one commentary, “In this context Boaz, as a ‘redeemer,’ functions as a guardian of the family interests who has responsibility for caring for the widows of his deceased kinsmen” (1)
In the original language of Ruth, Naomi identified Boaz as a “ga’al” a phrase that refers to a person who possessed the ability to re-purchase family property, redeem another family member who had been sold into slavery, extract punishment on behalf of a relative who had been injured, or undertake the responsibility associated in continuing the lineage of a deceased male relative.
You see, if a man died without a son to carry on the family name in the Biblical era, it became his brother’s responsibility to marry the deceased man’s widow and have children with her. The first-born son from their relationship would then be considered as the heir of the man who passed away (see Deuteronomy 25:5). (2)
These are important details, for the fact that Naomi recognized Boaz as someone who could fulfill the role of a ga’al (as well as her comment regarding God’s kindness to both the living and the dead) indicates that she was already beginning to consider certain possibilities- and we’ll see exactly what Naomi had in mind a little later in Ruth chapter three.
When we take these concepts into account, its easy to see the application of the kinsman-redeemer concept to our relationship to Christ. Jesus serves as our kinsman-redeemer in the sense that He is related to us through our common humanity. His death on the cross served as the purchase price to redeem us from our estrangement from God. He then cares for us, protects us, provides for us, and gives eternal life to all who follow Him.
Jesus serves as humanity’s kinsman-redeemer and in the words of Naomi, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!’
(1) NET Bible Notes on Ruth 3:9 http://classic.net.bible.org/bible.php?book=Rut&chapter=3#n39
“Ruth the Moabitess said, ‘He also said to me, ‘You shall stay close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest'” (Ruth 2:21).
Although Ruth shared the blessings of her day’s work with Naomi, there was something that was not entirely correct in this report of her conversation with Boaz.
You see, when Ruth began to elaborate on all that had taken place during the course of the day, she told Naomi, “(Boaz) said to me also, You shall keep close by my young men whom I have until they have ended all my harvest” (MKJV). But those who have been closely following this account know that this is not what Boaz actually said to Ruth.
When Boaz invited Ruth to continue working within his field, he said to her, “Do not go to glean in another field, neither go away from here, but stay here close by my maidens” (Ruth 2:8 MKJV emphasis added). However, it seems that Ruth had somehow interpreted Boaz’ message as an invitation to get a little closer with the young men who were working for him.
We should also note that when Boaz invited Ruth to join his employees for lunch, she did not elect to sit with the members of Boaz’ female workforce; she instead chose to take a seat among the reapers or grain cutters (see Ruth 2:14).
So while Ruth might have welcomed the opportunity to meet and establish relationships with Boaz’ female employees, these subtle clues indicate that she may have been equally interested in meeting an eligible bachelor. While we can’t fault Ruth for possessing such a desire, it seems that Boaz was aware that it would not be in her best interest to get too close to the male members of his workforce for he also told her, “I have warned the young men not to touch you” (Ruth 2:9 Voice).
It also appears that Naomi picked up on this potential risk as well…
“And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, ‘It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, and that people do not meet you in any other field'” (Ruth 2:22).
So just as Ruth was vigilant in seeking to provide for Naomi’s needs, it appears that Naomi was drawing upon her experience in watching out for her young (and perhaps somewhat undiscerning and naive) daughter-in-law. As touched upon earlier, its also possible that Naomi had already begun to formulate another relationship idea for Ruth, an idea that would come to fruition soon enough.
“So she stayed close by the young women of Boaz, to glean until the end of barley harvest and wheat harvest; and she dwelt with her mother-in-law” (Ruth 2:23).
Although Ruth may have been interested in getting a little closer with the young men of Boaz’ workforce, Naomi wisely counseled her daughter-in-law to stay near his female personnel in order to minimize the potential for something bad to happen.
The “something bad” that Naomi had in mind is clearly implied within their conversation: “Who knows what might happen to you in someone else’s field!” (Ruth 2:22 CEV). Other translations indicate that Naomi was concerned that Ruth might be molested (GNB), harmed (NIV), or even assaulted (ESV) if she moved out from under the protection of Boaz’ leadership.
For her part, Ruth demonstrated that she was willing to follow this wise counsel by acting on the advice provided by both Naomi and Boaz, both of whom possessed the benefits of age and experience. Instead of disregarding their recommendations in favor of doing whatever she thought was best, the final verse of Ruth chapter two tells us that “…Ruth stayed with the young women who were working for Boaz…” (GW).
We can contrast Ruth’s decision with the later experience of a young man named Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon. After Rehoboam replaced his father as king, the Scriptures tells us that he made a decision to act on the unsound advice provided by the men he grew up with rather than the wise counsel offered by the men who had earlier advised his father (see 1 Kings chapter 12:1-24). Unfortunately, this decision led to a considerable amount of internal division and eventually caused a large portion of the nation to secede from his leadership.
Unlike Rehoboam, Ruth’s decision had little national impact. Nevertheless, it is significant to note that she adhered to her mother-in-law’s wise counsel and continued to dwell with her for these actions serve as a further testament to her good character. You see, the fact that Ruth continued to work with Boaz throughout the barley and wheat harvest indicates that she gleaned within his fields for perhaps as long as six to eight weeks.
So while Ruth had demonstrated an admirable measure of faithfulness in persevering with Naomi through the difficult times, she continued in demonstrating that same degree of loyalty, dedication, and commitment now that their prospects were improving as well.