We left chapter 1 when Naomi’s life seemed to be pitch black. Famine in the land, a move to Moab, the death of her husband Elimelech, the death of her sons Mahlon and Chilion, Orpah returning home, Ruth clinging, and coming home to Bethlehem with no food, no shelter, no money, and no one to take care of them. Naomi and Ruth are hungry, homeless, and hurting. But, the sun still shines even when the clouds block its light, and in this pain God is up to more than the eye can see. As we enter chapter 2 we continue to see the clouds scatter to let more of the light shine through.
I only have 2 things I want to do here:
a) Walk through the events of chapter 2.
b) Walk through the greater meaning of these events.
Follow along as I read chapter 2
In v1 the author lets us in on something that Naomi has forgotten about and that Ruth doesn’t know, Naomi has relative in Bethlehem. This relative is the man Boaz. All of the men in this narrative so far have been poor examples. Elimelech taking his family out of the promise land back into the pagan wilderness, both of his sons seem to be willing to remain out in the wilderness, and all three of them die. Boaz is not only introduced as a relative of Naomi’s former husband Elimelech, he’s introduced with one characteristic that no man in this narrative has had thus far. Boaz in 2:1 is introduced as a ‘worthy’ man, meaning that Boaz is a commendable man, a wealthy man, a prominent man within the city. This word ‘worthy’ could also be translated as ‘warrior’, this lets us know that Boaz is a man of God, who loves God boldly. Now normally such a man would not be single, but it just so happens that Boaz is still on the market.
We learn in v2 of Ruth’s desire to go and get food for her and Naomi, by doing what is called ‘gleaning in the fields.’ Gleaning in a field was a mandated law in the OT. Landowners were to not harvest their entire crop, but leave some leftovers around the edges for the widows, orphans, and foreigners. These often-overlooked people would come and be allowed to ‘glean’ to feed their families by these extras. So off Ruth went, to find a field where she could glean. Now gleaning was not ideal labor, especially if you were a woman. Women who gleaned were usually very poor, forgotten, abused and often mistreated. Sad but true, women who gleaned were often raped (2:9 and 2:22) by the servants of the landowner. So to see Ruth running off into dangerous gleaning work to feed herself and Naomi is no small matter. They were in dire straits, and there was no other option.
But notice v3, “So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.” Did you catch that? ‘It just so happened’, that Ruth wandered into the field of Boaz? This phrase ought to perk our interest, in Hebrew it literally reads “her chance chanced upon her.” So out of all the fields she could’ve ended up in, she ends up in the one that belongs to Naomi’s relative Boaz? This is not good luck. This is not a random coincidence; this is not chance at work here. No, this is God’s sovereign providence. What looks to us, from our human perspective, as mere free will, good luck, or fantastic coincidence, is really the good and sovereign God who, by His providence, is moving and working so that Boaz would meet Ruth the Moabitess. The Bible speaks this way to teach us that there is no such thing as luck, it’s a not a thing, and it influences nothing in the book of Ruth or in our lives today. The Westminster Confession (3.1) puts it like this, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” Psalm 139:16 says God wrote all of our days out in a book before one of them came to be. Yes, this may be mysterious, but how good and glorious is it to know that God is sovereign over us? The hymn What’er My God Ordains is Right says it well, “What’er My God ordains is right, His loving thought attends me, no poison can be in the cup, that my Physician sends me.” So throughout all our lives, God is ordaining, allowing, governing, permitting, and orchestrating everything in our lives for His glory and our good. Ruth is experiencing that here. We see it unfolding as we progress in the book, but at the beginning of chapter 2 she doesn’t see it yet.
v4 is where the story begins to heat up between Boaz and Ruth. You have to read it with some imagination. She’s gleaning and it just so happens that Boaz is approaching his field to check on the work at the same time Ruth is there. As soon as Boaz enters the scene we see the quality attributed to him in v1 on display. He comes out to the field and says, “The Lord be with you.” Instantly his servants respond, “The Lord bless you.” This is not normal. How many of you have had bosses who walked into work and said to you, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” With you responding “…and also with you?” Never. That never happens. But with Boaz it does, because he’s a godly man, who obviously cares for his servants deeply and shares his faith with them.
After he greets his servants something catches Boaz’s eye. Can’t you picture it? As he looks out over his field and his harvesters, he sees a woman. But no ordinary woman, no, Ruth stands out! She’s a dirty, homeless, and malnourished girl that he’s never seen before. Most of you girls are thinking what Ruth would admit to in this moment, that she isn’t looking very good right now, she’s dirty and grain is all over her, but she catches Boaz’s eye, and Boaz asks his servant, “Who’s that?” We’ve all been here right guys? We see a pretty girl and immediately turn to our friend and ask, ‘Hey, who’s that?’ Boaz wants to know this girl, and make sure that she knows him as well. The servant tells Boaz that she’s the Moabite woman who recently came into town with her old, bitter, crazy mother-in-law Naomi. Apparently Ruth was close enough to hear this conversation going on, and she chimes in and speaks to Boaz for the first time in v7, asking permission to glean among his field.
In v8 Boaz replies to Ruth and says, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one…” Did you notice what Boaz calls her? ‘My daughter.’ This is important because every time Ruth is addressed in this book she is called ‘the Moabitess’ except for when Boaz talks to her. Perhaps you know what this feels like. If you’ve ever been in a place where you’re the foreigner you know what it’s like to feel out of place, like a stranger in a strange land, and when people are calling you the Moabitess all the time it can tend to frustrate you. For us and for Ruth identity matters. Identity is a large part of who we are, and Boaz is helping Ruth’s identity out because with him she is just ‘my daughter.’ Boaz shows more of his quality here in v8-9. He not only provides her with a group of girls to glean with (his maidservants) so she won’t feel lonely, but he provides water for her also, the same water he gives to his servants. Boaz has given Ruth friends, water, and by allowing her to glean he’s given her food and a job. Ladies, you want men like this, you want a Boaz. He knows God, loves God, he has a job, and he takes care of those close to him. Men who are lazy, slothful, and childish look incredibly foolish in comparison to the kind of man that’s on display in Boaz. Men, whether or not you’re married or single, in Boaz we have a wonderful example of how to live and lead our homes – pay close attention to him.
Ruth is obviously aware of how gracious Boaz has been toward her, so she falls on her face and responds to Boaz in v10 saying, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” Why did Ruth ask this question? I think she asked it because she knew two things really well: she knew who she was, and she knew who Boaz was. She knew the social and relational difference between them was massive. She was homeless, she was hungry, she was dirty, and any man making an approach toward her would have to deal with her crazy, old, bitter mother-in-law also. She was an alien, a foreigner, and she’s an immigrant in Bethlehem, an outcast, a Moabite. Boaz was an Israelite: he’s rich, well fed, and powerful. He was a man of influence, a man of strength, a worthy man. Why would someone like him show such kindness and favor to someone like her?
You see Boaz was only required by law to let her glean in his field, but he went above and beyond what the law required and gave her friends, gave her food, and gave her a job.
Why did he do this? Two reasons: First, because of his upbringing. In Matthew chapter 1 Matthew writes a thorough genealogy of the Lord Jesus. You know who’s in the list? Boaz. You know who else is in the list in Matthew 1:5? Boaz’s father Salmon and Boaz’s mother Rahab. Why does this matter? Rahab like Ruth was an alien, a pagan woman, a stranger in a strange land who came to know and trust the God of Israel. This means that Boaz grew up in a house knowing that his mother used to be a foreigner but is now part of the family and near to God. So, you can imagine the soft spot in his heart when he see’s Ruth, a foreign women who came to know the Lord and is in need. Perhaps he saw a glimpse of his mother in Ruth when their eyes met for the first time in the field. More on this in a moment…
Second, v11-12 gives another reason. Boaz heard of what Ruth did for Naomi, and loved her for it. He’s heard of her character and it’s just like his, its righteous, its good, and its worthy of respect. Boaz than prays that God would bless her in every possible way taking care of her every need. God answered this prayer, but do you see that God answered this prayer by sending Boaz to Ruth? Boaz was the answer to his own prayer in v12. This shows us much as well. We ought to devote ourselves to prayer, yes. But it also shows us that while prayer sometimes moves the hand of God to do something, prayer sometimes moves the heart of the one praying to do what is being prayed for. If you’re burdened with something enough to pray for it, don’t be surprised if in praying for it God impresses it on you to be part of the solution.
Despite the fact that Ruth is a poor immigrant humbly laboring for her survival, Boaz invites her to dinner in v14 and serves her dinner himself, showing his humble character. This is again ridiculously gracious, because by doing this Boaz was treating Ruth as a member of his own household. Afterwards, she rose again to glean and by the end of this first day she had acquired 1 ‘ephah’ of barley. What exactly this number means is debated, but most think it’s around 30 to 50 lbs. of food. This is like a few thousand dollars for one day’s work. Boaz has abundantly provided for Ruth and Naomi. Remember in chapter 1 the clouds were thick and dark. Here in chapter 2 we begin to see the clouds scattering, letting more of the light shine through for Naomi and Ruth.
When Ruth returned home Naomi sees this ridiculous amount of food she immediately wants to know who Ruth worked with that day, and when she finds out it was Boaz, she remembers something that sets the theme for the rest of the book. v20 says it, Boaz is a close relative of theirs, he is a redeemer. In the OT a redeemer was a relative who could redeem people and property. A redeemer had the ability to take in a widow and care for her as his own wife and have children with her to continue the name of the deceased husband (Lev. 25:23-55). In v21 Ruth than told Naomi that Boaz said he would take care of them until harvest was over. This meant that Boaz would provide them with almost a year’s worth of wages and food in just a few months. When Naomi heard this astonishing news, she gives Ruth some advice, ‘Stay close to Him! Don’t go to another field!’ So Ruth remained with the maids of Boaz to reap and glean in his field until the end of the harvest.
Well, we’ve covered the events of chapter 2, but chapter 2 is not done. It has a greater story in it that you may or may not see. Chapter 2 is a pointer in the Bible, pointing forward to a similar yet greater story than this one. This greater story becomes clear to us when we examine how Boaz welcomes Ruth, the foreigner.
You see Ruth was an alien. Imagine what it would be like living in a foreign land for the first time. You would feel like an outsider, the culture and the customs are vastly different, all you want is someone to welcome you and make you feel at home rather than making you feel like an outsider. This was Ruth, the stranger in a strange land. When Boaz welcomes Ruth, he changes everything for her! He gives her food, friends, and hope that sustains her and Naomi.
You see, we are like Ruth, and Boaz is like Jesus. Eph. 2:12-13 says it like this, “…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” You see it? We are like Ruth, without hope and without God in this world, empty handed, dirty, an alien to God, and more so, hostile to Him and His enemy because of our sin. But just as Boaz welcomed Ruth and lavished such grace on her, so too Jesus welcomed us and lavished grace on us!
If you find yourself far away now, without hope and without God in this world, dirty and rotten in your sin, come to Jesus. He is the greater Boaz, who not only welcomes sinners, but dies for them on the cross, rising for their justification, and lives at the right hand of God to interceded for sinners. If you come to Him now, or if you’ve come to Him in years past you know the proper response to such lavish grace is? You’ll cry out as Ruth did in v10, because you know who you are, and know who Jesus is, and you’ll be amazed, astonished, and befuddled that Jesus would love a dirty sinner like you.
Boaz did all of this for Ruth, and by doing so gives all those who read the book of Ruth a wonderfully clear gospel picture. Boaz grew up in a home with a famous mother. She was Rahab, the once foreigner, who came into the fold of God’s people through the warm welcome to a man named Salmon. Rahab received what she knew she didn’t deserve. Upon seeing Ruth, Boaz gives her what she doesn’t deserve, warm welcome into the family. When Salmon welcomed Rahab, it changed her life. When Boaz welcomed Ruth, it changed her life. When Jesus welcomes us, it changes everything!
There are two calls here:
If you don’t know Jesus, He is calling you to come right now, empty handed, sinful, and dirty, as Ruth did. If you come, you’ll find welcome.
If you have been so welcomed by Jesus and know Him now, you know you received something you didn’t deserve. His kindness to us leads us to be kind to others as well, it leads us to welcome others as Boaz welcomed Ruth. To welcome others as God welcomed you through Jesus.
This, I think, begs a question. We know God is sovereign, we know He’s in the details, doing far more than we know. So think, are there any Ruth’s or Naomi’s God has brought into your life? May you not only have eyes to see them, but hearts open to them, and hands eager to serve them. Why? Because Jesus served, and still serves us.