Devotional: Ruth 2 – Loving Kindness By Lara Lee

1) Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.

This relative is an essential person for the reader to keep in mind. Naomi is not entirely alone in this community. She does have family, at least on her husband’s side. “A man of standing” here in Hebrew is the exact same phrase as “man of valor” in the Gideon story. Boaz was not just any man in the community, but a man who was revered as honorable.

 2) And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”

Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.”

Naomi did not seek out help from her relatives, nor was she thinking about providing food for herself or her daughter-in-law. I wonder if it may have been some pride and embarrassment that kept her from seeking help. At this time, a woman who had a husband and sons could expect to live in comfort for the rest of her days. Death of every male meant, to the community onlookers, as the judgment of God and complete poverty was deserved. It is humiliating to spend your life doing everything you are supposed to be doing for success and still end up failing. It is one thing to come home for comfort or help, but it is another thing to beg for it. She was probably hoping for an offer of help or compassion, but often people don’t think about it when they have never been broke before themselves. For some reason, people often assume those in need must be getting help from somewhere else or have money stashed away. It would be hard for anyone struggling to speak up and say just how hard life has become.

This passage is where it seems to me like Naomi just came home to die. Having experienced going home after losing everything myself and finding only sweet words and no help, I understand Naomi’s situation. You can’t eat sweet words, and the depression that settles on you at being completely ignored is a betrayal that hurts so deep that death would seem like a relief.

It is unclear how Ruth learned about the Israelite tradition of gleaning or if gleaning was done throughout Canaan. Even so, it would have been embarrassing to do. Only those in extreme poverty would do it. It is like getting food stamps or going to a food pantry. You do it so you don’t starve, but many people weep at being so poor that they have to do it. 

Naomi may have been too old to glean, but it is more probable to me that she could not bear to have her friends see her so low. Ruth is detached from all of these emotions because this isn’t her family or friends. She is a complete stranger, and it is much easier to lower yourself in front of strangers than friends. Ruth was not ready to give up, and she knows she couldn’t just wait around for Naomi anymore. She had to roll up her sleeves and do what needed to be done. 

Naomi was so down that she didn’t even give Ruth any advice or directions. She doesn’t even go with Ruth to keep her company. Ruth was going to have to figure everything out herself.

Gleaning was hard work. During the time of harvest, the poor were allowed to follow harvesters who were cutting the grain stalks and tying them in bundles. The best harvesters would be careful to gather all the grain stalks possible to be then taken to a central location and the grain beaten out of the stalks. The gleaners were only allowed to collect the leftovers, the stalks that were missed or dropped. They were not allowed to take any from the bundles or cut any stalks that still needed to be harvested. The Bible specifically instructed the Israelites not to cut the corners of their field and leave that for the gleaners. This would probably help the poor a lot because the harvesters would not drop very much unless they were sloppy or lazy. The harvesters were well-paid employees, but the gleaners, who were out at the fields as long as the harvesters, only had what they could gather. Why then did they just not get hired on as employees? They may not be able to do the full heavy work of harvesting or be out in the fields all day. They may not be able to work quickly or just didn’t have the luck to get hired. 

 3) So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

Ruth had no idea what she was doing. This verse says, “as it turns out,” which is like saying “by luck.” The Israelites don’t believe in luck because everything is directed by the hand of God, but this is trying to tell us that Ruth had not planned this out. She found an excellent field and started picking up food. God did the rest.

 4) Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”

The Lord bless you!” they answered.

 5) Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”

God has perfect timing! Not only does Ruth go to the correct field, but Boaz is in town and has come to this field today. He may have had multiple fields, and he could have just left his employees to do the work. God leads him to this field at this time.

Boaz not only goes to the fields himself, but he blesses his employees. Apparently, his harvesters are happy to bless him back. This is a great work relationship that we rarely see today.

Boaz’s question about Ruth is really asking, “Whose wife or daughter is this?” He doesn’t recognize her and sees that she is vulnerable, entirely by herself in the field. We have stories in other places in the Bible in which women are raped in a field, but we also get quite a few love stories that have a setting in a field too. The fields were far off from the town and isolated from any crowds of people. Even today, people are often attacked in the middle of larger parks even during the day. Boaz is showing concern about who would let their wife or daughter do this.

The phrase “young woman” gives commentators the impression that Ruth is much younger than Boaz. 

 6) The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi.

 7) She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”

The overseer is telling the whole story and complementing Ruth for working hard. Boaz apparently has a very generous nature in such a way that the overseer is not embarrassed to permit Ruth to gather free food without even consulting Boaz. When Kerry worked at Lifeway in Tyler, TX, his boss often encouraged him to act generously with customers for the sake of creating good customer loyalty. On the other hand, Family Christian Store would claim to be generous yet squeeze the customers for more money whenever possible. This attitude is a reflection of those who owned the company. The success and failure of the companies was directly a result of the boss’s attitudes. Boaz has no problem with what the overseer did and, at this point, moves on to speak to Ruth. In other words, the overseer was an extension of the loving-kindness theme we see throughout Ruth and gained approval from Boaz for his actions. 

 8) So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me.

 9) Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

Boaz immediately brings comfort to Ruth by addressing her as a daughter. This phrase also shows that he is much older and wants to protect her, not take advantage of her. Then Boaz gives Ruth the instruction and advice that Naomi failed to provide. He looks out for her safety, he guides her to get as much as she can, and he offers her the employee break-room and provisions. These acts of kindness were unheard of both then and now. (This is similar to when Kerry would give his lunch to homeless people at the Family Christian Store and let them sit on a chair from the break room in his store. This was not told to his district boss, who would have discouraged such action. But just like Boaz, Kerry’s employees loved him for it.)

 10) At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”

I can imagine Ruth’s emotions here. She has spent all morning working in the field to gather grain by herself. She had plenty of time to feel everyone staring at her and whispering about her being a foreigner. She had the whole morning to feel the full embarrassment of her poverty. If she were at all like me, she would have been wondering if this was what the rest of her life would be like. What would happen as she grew older. Would she be safe doing this day after day? What if one of the men took a fancy to her? Sometimes it’s not the work that makes a person weary, but the weight of worry and stress. Boaz has, in one moment, lighten the load tremendously. She would have to work hard, but she was safe for now, and she would have enough to eat. I imagine that she had tears in her eyes as she thanked Boaz.

 11) Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.

12) May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

Boaz deflects the praise by giving credit to her own merit. Apparently, Naomi had not been just telling her friends about her troubles but was also bragging about Ruth and her kindness. The stories Naomi had told had spread around town. That would happen quickly in a town of just a few hundred people. Boaz mentions nothing of his relationship with Naomi’s husband or any other motivation. He is pretty much just telling Ruth, “you earned it.”

 13) “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

There are multiple words in the Bible for servants, depending on rank and job. Ruth classifies herself as the lowest tier of servant. In her previous speech, she was shocked by his kindness to her as a foreigner. In this speech, she brings up her poverty as well. Even today, worldwide, there is no one despised more than a poor immigrant.

 14) At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.”

When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some leftover.

This is lunchtime. Boaz is eating with his employees in the break-room, not off in a special “office” for the boss. This verse continues to show Boaz’s good relationship with his employees. Then, he also shocks everyone, including Ruth, by inviting her to eat with them. 

She had very properly and deliberately gone to eat on her own. She may or may not have had any food with her that she had brought, considering how poor she was. Boaz invited her to dine with him, a wealthy man, and his employees. He offers her the use of the sauce for the bread. He then gave her as much as she wanted to eat from his own hand and more. 

The Hebrew makes it clear that he serves her himself rather than just offering her to help herself or having a servant serve her. In other words, he is loading up her plate himself and not allowing her to try to be politely meager with his gift. She may not have eaten well in a while. If she was well-bred, then she would not have gorged, but Boaz overcompensates for her politeness. This way, she doesn’t need to feel embarrassed if she sneaks a bite from her stash later on without people watching. He is publicly making it clear to all who are eating with them that she has his protection. He is saying to all watching that he sees her as the equal of anyone else in the room.

Commentators are often very forceful about this not being a romantic gesture. It may not have been sexual, but a single man offering kindness and protection to a vulnerable single woman is still romantic even if the two parties are not thinking about marriage at that moment. My friendship with Kerry was very much just a friendship until we decided it was more. The events during our friendship were only romantic looking back at them because of what eventually happened in our relationship, not because of what the intention was at that moment. It is still a love story, and I find this interaction an excellent foundation for mutual admiration between Boaz and Ruth. Both of them shine virtue, hard work, godliness, and kindness from beginning to the end of the day. 

 15) As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her.

 16) Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”

So Boaz is not just commanding his employees to protect her physically, but to protect her emotionally. She is already humbling herself to glean the leftover food in the fields, but Boaz doesn’t want anyone to add to the shame. In fact, he is telling his workers to work sloppier for her sake. Why doesn’t he just give her a bag of grain and send her home? Because it would have been even more embarrassing to be seen a just a beggar. At least she was working for her food and saving some dignity and virtue in that. Boaz is allowing her to work for her food and yet have greater success than typical. 

 17) So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah.

 18) She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had leftover after she had eaten enough.

Threshing means that she took a stick and beat the stalks of grain until the barley grain came loose. Then she gathered the grain. An ephah is about 1/3 to 2/3 of a bushel or 5.8 gal or 30lbs of grain. 

 19) Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”

Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.

 20) “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.”

 21) Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.'”

 22) Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.”

 23) So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.

Ruth had gathered a lot of grain. If it was correctly dried and stored properly, it could provide food for a very long time. I recently read an article that oats could be stored for many years and still be eaten. Joseph in the Bible was able to store grain for seven years. Naomi and Ruth both see this as a miracle from God.

It is only now that Ruth learns that Boaz is a relative, which is very comforting, and Naomi confirms that she will be safe with him. In the Bible, a kinsman-redeemer was the nearest relative to a person who could act legally on their behalf. If a person was murdered, a kinsman-redeemer had a right in the Bible to kill the murderer. If a poor person was being sold into slavery for a debt, a kinsman-redeemer could pay the debt and free the poor person. The kinsman-redeemer was not required to marry a widow, though. This was only the responsibility of a brother. Boaz was not Naomi’s brother-in-law, so he was doing actually more than required of him at this point. So far, Naomi and Ruth don’t need any legal help, so he is just making sure they have what they need. I am not sure why Naomi had not thought about Boaz earlier in the story. Perhaps she wasn’t sure if he was still in town. Whatever the reason, Naomi shows complete confidence in Boaz’s character.

I have also noticed in this chapter how many times Ruth’s well-being was a concern. Ruth may have been a childless widow, but she apparently was still young and beautiful enough to draw attention from the men around her. Naomi and Boaz were taking great care to protect her.

The invitation to continue gleaning is a great thing. Not just for the food stated in the verses, but also for the potential to gather enough grain to sell some to get money for other needs. Ruth will have to work hard, but they will be able to live. The end of this passage implies that they fall into a routine in which Ruth goes to work each day.

Barley was one of the most important grains raised in Palestine. It was grown chiefly for horses and donkeys but was also eaten by the poor. It was sown in the fall and harvested the following spring. In the lowlands near Jericho, the harvest usually began in April; in the hill country, it was in May. The wheat harvest came four weeks later. Bethlehem was in the hill country, so Ruth had two months of full-time work (probably all of May and June) until our next chapter. The amount of grain that they were going to be able to have was indeed a miracle.