We continue in the Book of Ruth with Ruth and Naomi settling in Bethlehem after their journey from Moab. Ruth was new in town, but Naomi was a returning legend. While she had been away for an unknown number of years, her old friends still remembered the pleasant woman who once had to pack up and leave. All of the city, in fact, was excited to learn that Naomi was back.
That is really cool, by the way. How many of us get to experience that kind of reception when we return to a place we left long ago? Do the people there still remember you? If they do, what do they remember? Personally, I would like to be remembered, but only if it is for something good!
Anyway, Naomi was back, but she was not in a pleasant mood (“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [bitter]”). She probably had to couch surf for a while and then try and find some sort of permanent of living arrangements that would have been way humbler than what she lived in the last time she lived in Bethlehem. She had no savings, no income, and would have been fully dependent on charity of others. Ruth was right there by her side.
Ruth 2:1 There was a relative of Naomi’s husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz.
One of the ancient translations for this book (used by Old Testament scribes) reads that Boaz was a man mighty in the law. The meaning really could go either way: Boaz could be both very wealthy, and very “mighty” in Scriptures. Being mighty in Scriptures doesn’t just mean knowing a lot of verses. It means, rather, that a person can speak knowledgeably and authoritatively from the Bible, and people listen. Jesus was known for being mighty in the law, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law (Matthew 7:29 NIV). The crowds were often amazed at Jesus’ teaching, at his understanding and his answers (Luke 2:47). That last quote references when Jesus was twelve and discussing theology with the religious leaders in the temple!
Boaz also was known for this type of “mightiness.” Yes, he was also wealthy. I guess you could say that is just an aside. He was known to be wealthy. But he was famous for his ability to speak about Scripture. I think we don’t often get to choose what we are known by. Life has a way of sticking labels on us. But we do often get to choose what we are famous for.
We have met a number of characters in this story, and based on what we have discovered about them, we can say that Naomi was known for being the wife in a family that had been brought down to a lowly estate: their inheritance was gone, and they had no future. But she was famous for her pleasantness. Even when she came back to town bitter, the people wanted to remember the old Naomi. Ruth was known for being the new girl in town, and a Gentile to boot. We will see later what she chose to be famous for. And now we have Boaz. Known for being wealthy, and a son of a very influential and important family (Salmon and Rahab, heroes of the conquest of Canaan). But Boaz was famous for his understanding and ability to talk about, and live out Scripture.
What are you known for? More importantly, what do you want to be famous for?
We also learn here that Boaz was a relative of Elimelech, probably a brother or half-brother (in which case they were both sons of Salmon and Rahab). Elimelech could possibly have been a first cousin to Boaz. Whatever the relationship was, Boaz and Elimelech shared the same grandfather: Nahshon. File this factoid in the “easily reached” drawer for a bit.
In the meantime, we get back to the story of Naomi’s and Ruth’s survival:
Ruth 2:2-3a 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.” 3 Then she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers.
Ruth and Naomi lived in poverty, having little means of supporting themselves. Perhaps they baby sat and cleaned houses for a little money, but there was really no serious employment opportunity for two widows. This is why families were paid dowries. For whatever reason, Naomi’s dowry was either gone, or insufficient to meet basic living expenses, and Ruth didn’t seem to have a dowry at all. They were broke.
Today, the government has a variety of so-called “social safety nets” intended to meet the unmet needs of those in poverty. Rather than spend time talking about what works and what doesn’t in our systems of welfare, we can talk about God’s design in the Law.
God actually had a section of the Law designed to meet the needs of the poor. Nobody needed to be homeless, and nobody needed to starve. There was actually a Levitical welfare system that, if implemented properly, works far better than any system that human governments have ever implemented.
Here’s how it worked. Farmers owned their lands, and had the freedom to plant, grow and harvest whatever they wanted. But the increase belonged to the Lord, and He permitted them to harvest crops for the table and for sale as a business. So, in the Lord’s perfect social safety net system, we start with that premise: God owns the product of whatever it is that our work performs. It’s His, and He lets us make use of it for our personal needs, and for profit (i.e., investment, business, etc.).
In the Levitical economy, farmers were allowed to harvest their crops once at the end of the season. In other words, they were to go through their vineyards, orchards, or fields and gather crops in one attempt. They were not allowed to go back and harvest anything that was missed, or that ripened after the first harvest. They were also not permitted to pick up anything that had fallen to the ground. Once that first go-around was completed, the farmer and his laborers were to move on, and leave the field.
At that point, anyone could come into a harvested field and help themselves to whatever was left. They could pick stuff up off the ground, or they could pluck ripe fruit off of the plants. They could take as much as they could carry, and take it home to feed their families. If they could carry a lot, they could sell the excess on the open market and create an income stream.
This was hard work, but it provided a way for those who were unfortunate, downtrodden, and impoverished to glean from those who were blessed. These weren’t handouts or a dole system propped up by taxation, and these weren’t even based on a charity system (Charity, or freely giving to those in need is covered in other portions of the Law). It was an economic system where God paid wages to those who were willing to work, and the wages came out of God’s resources, not man’s or the state’s. God owned the increase and the product of the seed planted by the farmer. The farmer earned his profit from God’s increase in multiplying the seed to produce a harvest, and the poor earned an income from God’s design to leave enough left on the vine and on the ground to meet the poor’s needs.
OK, with that basic overview of the social safety net at the time, back to Ruth. She and Naomi were likely subsiding on charity, but she wanted to work. So, she asked permission of Naomi to join the other gleaners following the harvesters, gather some grain, and make some extra cash.
Notice, we are starting to add a little bit to the answer to the question: What was Ruth famous for?
Ruth 2:3b And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
And it “just so happened!” Really? The Hebrew word miqreh can actually be translated as an “unforeseen meeting or event, accident, happening, chance, fortune.” These would be the way that Ruth and Naomi would have looked at it. There was no agenda here (like Ruth scheming to get near a relative). She just got up the next day before sunrise (a Proverbs 31 woman!) and went out and followed some other village women towards the fields. As they neared the fields, the women began veering off towards various fields. Ruth, “by chance” followed a particular group and ended up in Boaz’ field.
But in the Lord, there are no coincidences. There is no “fate” or “accidental meeting.” These are how we perceive events, and even how we describe them in human language. That is fine. But when God guides people, His hand is in everything. Things happen, not be accident, but by design.
But let’s look at Ruth’s perspective for a minute. As she walked down the road, in the early-morning dark, she probably wasn’t deep in prayer, “Lord, which field should I go to?” She probably wasn’t looking left and right for some sort of supernatural “sign” that said, “This Field.” She wasn’t listening for a spooky voice that would say, “Tuuuuuuurn leffffffffft at the nexxxxxxxxxxxt stoplight -light -light -light [fading echo].” She just got up and went to work.
So, why do we super-size the spiritualization of stuff? Do we think that God can’t guide us unless we enter into some sort of trance? If that is the case, maybe we should just take hallucinogens and create the “trance” part! No. It can and should be simple. God guides our paths and directs our steps. He arranges the “chance” meetings and the “coincidences.” We just entrust our whole lives to Him and then get up and go to work. He might send a sign. But He doesn’t have to.
Ruth 2:4 Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered him, “The Lord bless you!”
We saw what Boaz was famous for. Now we see one of the reasons why. He not only knew Scripture, but he lived it. The Bible teaches what a godly boss looks like, and how a manager can be a good steward of God’s resources – the laborers. Bosses and managers: the people that work for you do not belong to you. They are God’s, and how you treat them should reflect that!
Ruth 2:5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”
Naomi was known in town, Ruth was not, at least not by Boaz. It was unusual for a young woman to be unaccounted for. It was assumed that she belonged to somebody, either as a servant, as a daughter, or as someone’s wife. While we don’t know exactly why Boaz asked after her, it is safe to assume that it was out of interest for her well-being.
Ruth 2:6-7 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. 7 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.”
There’s a lot to learn here, but I’ll try and keep it brief. First, Ruth was known by reputation (if not by face). Her background and family ties are all encompassed in that first statement about her relationship with Naomi. This told Boaz that she was family, and it implied a great deal of information about her status (widowed, childless, dis-inherited, etc.). Those things also identified her greatest need, for a form of redemption. But on that note, I’m getting ahead of the story. Boaz would have known exactly what I was talking about though.
Next, we see something else about Ruth that she was becoming famous for: her modesty and humility. Gleaning was a person’s right, codified in the Law. But Ruth didn’t just bull her way into her right. She asked for permission, a reflection of her humility and an indication of her modesty.
Finally, we see her industriousness. She worked almost non-stop from before dawn, with only a small break. If there is any doubt about God’s feelings towards hard work, just spend a little time in the Book of Proverbs. Industriousness is one of those highly esteemed qualities which God appreciates in the character of a person.
Ruth 2:8-9 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. 9 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.”
Boaz was so concerned for Ruth’s well-being that he asked her to hang out with a group of female gleaners that felt safe in Boaz’ fields, and to remain there for the rest of the season. He let her know that she would be safe from any trouble by men working in the field (the Boss said that she was off limits!). Even her need for water was addressed. She could feel safe to go and ask one of his workers to give her a drink.
Ruth 2:10-12 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?” 11 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. 12 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.”
It is so uncommon for people to treat each other with kindness that when someone experiences the type of kindness that Boaz showed Ruth, it is almost unsettling for the recipient. “Wait, why are you being do kind and generous to me? What have I done to deserve this?”
See what happened there? We assume that the only way we deserve kindness and to be the recipients of generosity is that we somehow have to deserve it. But we know that we are sinners, and undeserving of anything except wrath and judgment. Receiving free kindness thus makes absolutely no sense.
Ruth didn’t feel like she had done anything to deserve kindness. It is so sad that we all feel this way. Boaz addressed Ruth’s question, but he didn’t answer the “why kindness?” part. He didn’t need to, because as a godly man, he knew that God asks us to be generous and kind and compassionate, based on grace, not on whether or not it is deserved.
Instead, Boaz answer Ruth’s second question (“Why should you take notice of me?”). His answer: Ruth had a reputation that caught Boaz’ attention. I mean, he probably noticed everything going around him, both good and bad. But what impressed him was the good reputation shown by people such as Ruth.
This is very important. We all have an opportunity to impress upon the people around us, either good or bad reputations. What kind of reputation do you want to be famous for? If it is a bad one, yeah people will notice, but people like Boaz won’t be impressed. He will still be kind and generous, and let the gleaner glean. He’ll still offer a drink of water, and safety and security. Those are basic human needs, not to be withheld based on whether or not a person is deserving. They are freely available (or should be) as acts of gracious kindness offered between people.
But, a person like Boaz will see a good reputation, and it will impress upon him something positive about the character of the person exhibiting that reputation. We should care about this stuff! God notices, too, and above and beyond the meeting of basic human needs, God wants to shower a person with His favor! Boaz said, “The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you” meaning that Ruth’s efforts to do the right thing would pay off big time in God’s economy.
Ruth 2:13 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 could have left things where they were (gleaning, and a little special status, with her saying “Thanks”) and the story might have ended right here. But Ruth did something beyond just a simple “thank you.” She graciously asked for Boaz’ continual goodwill. You have to picture this. Poor woman, scratching in a field approached by rich guy who treats her kindly and then expresses a little special treatment. She says “thank you,” acknowledges how much it means to her, and then she asked for even more favor.
Who does this in our world? If you were Boaz, would you have been offended? Would you have thought, “What an ingrate! I was nice to her and she has the gall to ask me for more kindness?”
Ahh, the evil perspectives of our selfish fleshly nature. Always looking for a selfish angle.
But consider this. What does God do when He showers us with kindness, and we respond in gratitude, and then we ask Him for even more favor? He doesn’t get mad at us! In fact, this pleases Him! Maybe this is why God doesn’t fill the plate up with that first shower of blessings. Instead, He gives us a taste of grace, we love it, we are grateful for it, and then we ask Him for more! “Lord, please fill my plate up with more of that good stuff!” Yet, how many times are we afraid to ask for more? What are we afraid of?
Usually, we are afraid that we aren’t deserving. I might think that God has a limit in His available grace for me. Once I draw to that line, that’s it, I’m cut off until I earn some more. NO! God’s grace is free to you and me. It is undeserved, but nonetheless, it is still freely offered. But sometimes, I have to ask God for more blessing. Maybe it is because God desires a relationship with me, and in the context of that relationship, I can ask, He can give, and then I can receive. Not just once, but over and over again.
Ah, so now we are talking about a relationship! What Ruth was doing was asking Boaz if he was OK in establishing more of a relationship, in spite of the fact that she was poor, different, a servant, etc.
Look at how Boaz responded to this!
Ruth 2:14-16 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. 15 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. 16 Also let grain from the bundles fall purposely for her; leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.”
Boaz’ answer? He invited Ruth to his table. Oh my word, there is so much possibility for teaching in that, from the asking, to the invitation to come to the table, from the bread and from the wine. But we’ll continue forward… and we see Boaz just increasing the blessing available to Ruth. She even kept some of her dinner for later, probably to share with Naomi.
Ruth 2:17-19 So she gleaned in the field until evening, and beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah [an ephah is about five gallons] of barley. 18 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. 19 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.”
At this point, Ruth probably didn’t really know who Boaz was. All she knew was that this strange, wealthy land owner had treated her very kindly.
But Naomi knew exactly who this guy was!
Ruth 2:20 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.”
Boaz had not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead. Naomi meant that she remembered instances of Boaz’ kindness to her husband and sons before they all left for Moab, and here he was, years later, still being kind to Elimelech’s family. Boaz hadn’t changed. That is such a good thing to be noticed for when it comes from a reputation of kindness and generosity.
Naomi also explained the relationship, and probably had to explain the complicated rules pertaining to family inheritances (passed from father to son) and what could happen in cases where the heir dies before receiving the inheritance. We’ll get into those in a later study.
Ruth 2:21-23 Ruth the Moabitess said, “He also said to me, ‘You shall stay close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’” 22 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.” 23 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 explained the invitation that she received from Boaz to follow his reapers (the young men) and glean behind them, and not go to any other fields because he would make sure that she was taken care of.
Naomi thought that this was a great idea (“people do not meet you in any other field”) but she added some great motherly advice: stay close by the young women of Boaz. This was not just about safety (Boaz already took care of it…. No man would touch her in Boaz’ fields), but it was about Ruth’s virtuousness.
Naomi did not have any idea of what the future held for Ruth, but she was still young, and had a lot of life ahead of her. Naomi’s advice? Don’t put yourself in situations where you risk compromising that reputation you work hard to maintain, or that character that God esteems. Ruth had an opportunity to develop a relationship with the right guy, so why mess around with other guys and squander that opportunity?
The story just gets better. Until the next study in this series…