Studies in Ruth – Ruth Goes To Work

We have come to one of the most amazing stories in the Old Testament. Ruth, who was from Moab, is not only accepted into the community, she is also welcomed by one of the prominent men in the community. Far from being lazy and hoping that someone is willing to help them out, she actively-pursued an opportunity to work for her keep and help feed them.

God had commanded the children of Israel to care for the poor, the stranger and the alien by giving them the opportunity to glean in their fields. They had been commanded to not harvest the corners of their fields, nor were they allowed to go back and get anything they missed, but they were to leave it untouched so that those less-fortunate than them could have a place to get food. (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22, and Deuteronomy 24:19-22)

19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:19-22)

Another interesting command goes along with this one: 17 “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

Not only were they to provide for the needs of those who were poor and needy, they were also to make sure that the alien and orphan got the justice they deserved. They weren’t to be treated as “second-class citizens” in the courts of law. Did you notice the reason why God gave these commands?

We saw last time that Naomi and Ruth had arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. Barley was the first grain to be harvested, and it was usually ready in about April. Thus, they had come home during a time when an abundant-harvest was a time of celebration and giving thanks to God. We will catch a glimpse of this celebration later on.

Ruth Gleans in Boaz’ Field
Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.

This verse seems to come out of left field; it interrupts the narrative, yet it is used to set up what will shortly come into the story. His name means in him is strength, and he is a man of standing, meaning that he was mighty in wealth and in godliness, a rare combination.

2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. 4 Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.” 5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 The servant in charge of the reapers replied, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. 7 And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.”

God’s providence is very-evident in this story. Not only did Naomi and Ruth get to Bethlehem at the right time, they were near to a prominent man in the community who was not only quite-wealthy, but was related to Naomi. Was it just “coincidental” that she picked a field belonging to Boaz? It looks more like a “divine-appointment” to me.

We see more of Ruth’s character coming out in the section, she was not only ambitious, she was also hard-working. She asked Naomi if it was okay for her to go glean in someone’s field, thus honoring Naomi’s place in their family. She also didn’t presume that it was okay to glean in that field; she asked the head-reaper first. By the time Boaz came along, she had already been in the field for several hours.

When Boaz came from Bethlehem back to his farm, the first thing we need to notice is how he greets his reapers. We don’t see him acting and talking like a “head-honcho” even though he is talking to his servants. He said; “May the Lord be with you.” This sounds more like a benediction or doxology than a mere-greeting. He is calling on God to be with his laborers as they do their work. They are not just “hired-hands” or “servants“… He is the kind of godly-boss everyone should delight to work for.

Notice their response; “May the Lord bless you.” Again, we see a benediction or doxology. Was this their “customary-greeting“? If they had worked for Boaz for many years, this may have become their “customary-greeting“. Among the Finnish-Lutherans, their “customary-greeting” is “God’s peace“.

While Ruth is toiling, Boaz returns from town and greets his workers, and then asks the boss if he knows who this woman was who was gleaning. Some commentators suggest that Boaz was curious about her because of her great beauty, but if our text has mentioned her being beautiful, I missed it; probably he just didn’t recognize her. The overseer tells him who she was, and from there forward, our text records the kindness Boaz affords Ruth. Boaz, it seems, views Ruth as a part of his extended family and recognizes that he has a responsibility here to care for her in some way. Now let’s be clear about that; Boaz has no legal responsibility for Ruth because her husband was dead, and she is free to marry anyone who will have her. In addition, she is a Moabite, and in that case, he would have no responsibility for her at all, yet because of the loyalty that she has shown to Naomi, Boaz goes out of his way to help her.

We don’t know whether the head-reaper was plugged-in to the community-grapevine, but he already knew who Ruth was. As we will see in the next few verses, Ruth’s reputation had already made the rounds in that community. Is our reputation so “good” that it goes-before us, or is our reputation so “bad” that we wish that no-one knew about us?

Have you ever treated someone like “family” even though they are not “related” to you?

8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. 9 Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw.” 10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11 Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. 12 May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.” 13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.”

Boaz offered Ruth a “safe-place” to work, something that might not be guaranteed otherwise. Even though the Law required land-owners to allow the poor and needy to glean in their fields, some of them might not have been very “happy” about it. In addition, he also provided the means for her to get refreshed and to relax when she needed to.
Ruth didn’t take these extra “perks” for-granted, she asked why Boaz even noticed her, and she is thankful that he had noticed her.

It seems like Ruth must have been “the talk of the town” because Boaz already knew her whole history. As Boaz speaks of Ruth coming to seek “refuge under the wings of the God of Israel“, “refuge” became a recurring-theme for their future great-grandson, David, in the Psalms that he wrote. Psalm 36:7 is only one of many.

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. (Psalm 36:7)

Boaz pronounced a blessing on Ruth; 12 “May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel,”

Even though Boaz “knows-of” or “knows-about” Ruth, he still doesn’t really “know” her yet. Thus it is in all of our relationships. Most of our relationships are superficial, at best. Even in marriage, our “most-intimate” relationship, we each have a long “voyage-of-discovery” as we travel life together, and we may not really know what makes our spouse “tick” until we go through some kind of traumatic life-event, such as loss of a job, or a major-move. That kind of event may bring out the “worst” in one or both spouses.

14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. 16 Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.”

Notice that Boaz orders his men to leave her alone, that he gives her a seat at the table with the rest of the household (a household in the OT would include the servants) and that he arranges for her to receive considerably more grain than she would have received just from gleaning. Also, please take note of Ruth’s attitude of humility; even now she assumes no rights or entitlements.

Even though Boaz was “duty-bound” to allow Ruth to glean in his field, we see him “going above and beyond the call of duty” in how he treats Ruth. We call people who “go above and beyond the call of duty” Heroes.

These are two very unusual people!

17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 She took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also took it out and gave Naomi what she had left after she was satisfied. 19 Her mother-in-law then said to her, “Where did you glean today and where did you work? May he who took notice of you be blessed.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Again Naomi said to her, “The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives.” 21 Then Ruth the Moabitess said, “Furthermore, he said to me, ‘You should stay close to my servants until they have finished all my harvest.’” 22 Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maids, so that others do not fall upon you in another field.” 23 So she stayed close by the maids of Boaz in order to glean until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. And she lived with her mother-in-law. (Ruth 2)

Even though reapers didn’t usually “thresh” or “beat-out” what they had harvested until the harvest was done, what Ruth had gleaned was useless unless she did “thresh” or “beat-out” her harvest. “Threshing” separated the grain from the stalk and chaff.

How much grain did she get? An “ephah” was about half a bushel, or about thirty-pounds of grain. Once that barley was ground into meal or flour, it was going to make a LOT of bread, or whatever else barley was used for.

Naomi was probably blown-away by how much barley Ruth brought home because it is unlikely that gleaning-alone would have netted her that much. It certainly got her attention. It also aroused her curiosity; “Where did you glean today and where did you work?“, and also garnered a blessing; “May he who took notice of you be blessed.” From blaming God for her misfortunes to asking God to bless the man who was blessing them…

Ruth’s answer will set the stage for the rest of this story; “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Why is this important? 20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Again Naomi said to her, “The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives.” Was Naomi already starting to “connect the dots“?, because in that culture, family-legacy was so important that God had given them a means for preserving family-lines (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). We will look at that in more detail later in our study, along with what it means for us today.

Naomi knows that Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer, which comes from the Hebrew word ga’al which means “kinsman-redeemer”. A kinsman-redeemer is a relative who is obligated to “redeem” the property, and sometimes the life or marriage, of a relation who has fallen into severe distress. For example, if there is real property that is owned by a widow, the kinsman-redeemer might buy that property so that the widow, who couldn’t farm it herself, has an income to live off of. They might also pay off a mortgage, take the person into their household, or marry a brother’s wife if they have no children so that the brother can live on through the children. In the case of Boaz, he was a kinsman-redeemer for Naomi, since he is related to her husband. In the case of Ruth, he is a relative of her husband as well, but the fact that Ruth is a Moabite would give Boaz an “out” if he wished to avoid his responsibilities to the family. Finally, we must remind ourselves that there had been a famine in the land 10 years earlier, and we do not know how long it lasted. A famine in the Promised Land would tell us that God’s Law was not being obeyed in that generation, thus Boaz may or may not be the kind of man who would honor this obligation. Naomi seems to think that he will do his duty, based upon Ruth’s report.

I am sure that Naomi is “all-ears” as Ruth recounts her day at work. 21 Then Ruth the Moabitess said, “Furthermore, he said to me, ‘You should stay close to my servants until they have finished all my harvest.’” Naomi immediately-recognizes that Ruth will be safe as long as she doesn’t go somewhere else. “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maids, so that others do not fall upon you in another field.

23 So she stayed close by the maids of Boaz in order to glean until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. And she lived with her mother-in-law.

We see Ruth revealed as our first “type“. She was a “type“, or “forerunner” of everyone who will ever become a member of the “family of God” through faith. Up to that time, people were “born-into” the “family of God” by physical-descent, but not anymore. The Jews, in Jesus’ time, claimed Abraham as their “father“, however, in Ruth, we see that “door” opened-up to people who were NOT descended from Abraham, such as us. We become members of the “family of God” through faith, much as Ruth did. In the New Testament, we are called “the spiritual children of Abraham” (Romans 4:11-25), and yes, we still have a “blood-connection“, but it is not our own blood. Our connection is through the shed-blood of Christ, who was descended from Abraham.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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