Love is... (part 2)
Before we continue our journey through the book of Ruth in search for a deeper understanding of love, let us briefly review.
The very last verse of chapter one sets the stage for the second act by summarizing the critical information.
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
Ruth 1:22 NKJV
At this point the story seems to be all about Naomi, Ruth is merely a tagalong. Naomi has returned, and by the way, Ruth is also with her.
And by the way, Ruth, she is a Moabitess.
She is not an Israelite, she is an alien and her alien status will cause much tension the story. As a Moabite in an Israelite world she can hardly expect any acceptance with the locals.
Ruth is Naomi’s daughter-in-law so she is related by marriage, but her husband is dead, and she had no children. Meaning she needs help and has no way of getting it and no claim to it.
Also her mother-in-law, Naomi, is someone who fled to Moab during the famine, so she might not be the best Israelite to be associated with if you expect to find grace in the eyes of the locals. Also, her mother in law is also a widow, and has no sons. It would not be a far stretch of the imagination to imagine how the locals might consider her cursed by God.
Naomi has returned empty, except for her daughter-in-law, Ruth, who is both a widow and a foreigner. Things are not looking good, but at least these two women have each other.
Nevertheless, when we consider the season, the time of the year, we catch a glimmer of hope. Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem in the beginning of the barley harvest. Naomi and Ruth arrived at the house of bread (Bethlehem) just as the grain is ready to be cut. The time period was likely April or early March (by our western calendar).
Since barley was the first crop to be harvested each year their arrival time could not have been more perfect, for they will be settling in during a time when there is plenty of food available for them to store for the dry season. (Block, Daniel Isaac. Judges, Ruth. Broadman & Holman, 1999. p650)
With the new chapter, Ruth chapter 2, we also get a new character.
There are four very importants details about Boaz that we learn from this brief introduction.
1 Boaz is a relative of Naomi’s husband. It is important for us to note that this does not mean that Boaz is an acquaintance of Naomi, but a relative of her husband. If you happen to be familiar with Israelite family law and custom this details will give you hope. But we will not talk about it in more detail just yet.
2 Boaz is described by an ambiguous Hebrew expression. The same expression used to describe Gideon in Judges 6:12. In reference to Gideon the expression is translated as “mighty man of valor, noble warrior, military hero.” (Block, 651) But will Boaz be like Gideon in this sense, a warrior?
Another way of interpreting this phrase would be “man of substance, wealth” (Block, 651) a man of standing in the community. This would mean that Boaz is not just an average Israelite. This will need to be confirmed later on in the story.
Finally this ambiguous phrase could also be interpreted “noble with respect to character” (Block, 651). You would expect this man to be heroic, to save…
The narrator is hinting at something positive about Boaz, but we will have to wait and see which definition will better fit him once we witness him in action.
3 As we already mentioned earlier, Boaz is from the clan of Elimelech. A clan is a subdivision of a tribe. This confirms how Boaz is a relative of Naomi’s husband.
4 The name Boaz could mean “strength is in him” (Andrews Study Bible note) or “In the strength of YHWH [I will rejoice/trust].” (Block, 651)
Ruth takes action
For the first time Ruth is portrayed as the primary actor and Naomi now becomes the reactor. Ruth seizes the initiative. Even though Ruth is an alien in a foreign land she is determined to make something of her life and she goes to find work in order to provide both for herself and for her mother-in-law.
Ruth politely requests that she may go an glean or “gather scraps.” This is not to be confused with harvesting. Ruth would be picking up ears of grain that were inadvertently dropped or left standing.
Mosaic law displayed particular compassion for the alien, the orphan, and the widow by prescribing that the harvesters deliberately leave the grain in the corners of their fields for these economically vulnerable classes and not go back to gather the ears of grain they might have dropped. (Leviticus 19:9,10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19)
As a Moabite and as a widow Ruth more than qualified to glean. But she could not count on the goodwill of the locals. Moses had given the people of Israel the law, but the people did not always follow the law. That is why Ruth mentions that she will glean behind someone who will look upon her with favor.
The expression to “find favor in the eyes of” means one person acknowledges her/his dependence upon and need for mercy at the hand of a superior. Usually this would take place in the court of a king. The favor of the superior cannot be taken for granted. (Block, 652)
Ruth is dependent upon the mercy of the men in the field. Keep this in mind for this is one of the key points in this story.
The next part of the story is really interesting.
Ruth 2:3 is best appreciated in the original language. A literal translation would go something like,
"...and her chance chanced upon the allotted portion of Boaz..."
The narrator intentionally draws attention to Ruth’s luck. What are the chances of her arriving exactly int he field of Boaz?
What an incredible stroke of luck right?
Or is it?
Either Ruth is extremely lucky, or God cares and guides and blesses her.
This awkward and redundant phrase is one of the key statements in the book. The book of Ruth can be seen as just a love story. But that would make Ruth one extremely lucky woman. Or, perhaps, the book of Ruth is teaching us about God.
To the devout Israelite, there is no such thing as luck, or chance.
When the writer of the book of Ruth excessively attributes these events in Ruth’s life to chance he is intentionally forcing the reader to disagree with him. The attentive reader is forced to sit up and disagree, especially in light of everything that follows this “chance” encounter. The writer is using irony to drive home a theological truth.
This statement does the opposite of what it says. Instead of interpreting these events in Ruth’s life as mere chance it undermines such an interpretation and undermines the search for purely rational explanations for human experiences. This statement and the entire story in the book of Ruth refine the reader’s understanding of providence.
The writer is actually screaming “See the hand of God at work here!” (Block, 653)
God provided and guided, but Ruth had to decide to go out and glean. Ruth did not stay home feeling sorry for herself and fearing how she might be treated if she tried to glean. She did not wait at home for God to drop food on her lap. She went out there and "lucky" her, she went straight to Boaz’s field.
God’s hand allowed the famine and the death of Naomi’s husbands and sons. The hand of the same God also guided Naomi and Ruth back to Bethlehem at the exact time of the wheat harvest, and it is the same hand that guided Ruth to the field of Boaz. But the "coincidences" don't end here.
The attention now shifts from Ruth to Boaz who arrived at the field where Ruth is, while she is still there. The writer seems surprised that Boaz "happened" to show up at the right place at the right time.
Look who’s here! Its Boaz! The guy briefly mentioned at the introduction! Nobody saw that coming right!?
In the providence of God, Ruth went to the right field, on the right day, and at the right time.
Boaz arrives with a blessing on his lips.
Now Boaz was seen coming from Bethlehem. He said to the people gathering the grain, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bring good to you.”
Ruth 2:4 New Life Version
We see right from the get-go that Boaz provides a positive work environment for his people. Boaz is a model of true covenant “hesed.”
Boaz’s speech is characterized from beginning to end by grace. (Block, 655)
When Boaz asks, "whose young woman is this?" (Ruth 2:5) it may sound harsh to our modern western ears, but this question is the equivalent of “Whose daughter or wife is she?” or “To which clan or tribe does she belong?” I know it can still sound chauvinistic to the modern reader, but in its cultural context that information was important.
The focus of the story returns to Ruth, and the reader begins to wonder about her status as an alien and as a widow.
But Ruth is not only described by her status as a foreigner, but also by her actions, she accompanied her mother-in-law, she had been working hard all morning, except for a short break (verse 7). Ruth is not a passive victim of her lot in life, she is a fighter, she gets things done, she makes things happen, she does not sit idly by the sidelines.
Boaz is also an incredible man, but in a different way. From the moment he first opens his mouth until the last words he speaks his tone exudes compassion, grace and generosity.
“In the man who speaks to this Moabite field worker biblical hesed becomes flesh and dwells among humankind.”
-Block, Daniel Isaac. Judges, Ruth. Broadman & Holman, 1999. p659 (emphasis mine)
Boaz refers to Ruth as “my daughter” intentionally breaking down barriers that separate her from him. Like a loving father Boaz offers this foreigner his protection and his resources. Boaz knows she is from Moab, but he treats her with respect, with dignity, with love. There is no hint of physical attraction or anything romantic. This is a love that we are not used to encountering. This is hesed in action.
Boaz also commands his men not to bother Ruth, the verb used here includes not to strike, harass, take advantage of, or mistreat. (Block, 659-660) Boaz just instituted the first anti-sexual-harassment policy in the workplace recorded in the Bible!
Because Boaz is so in tune with the biblical notion of hesed he is way ahead of his times, and those who work for him are privileged to have such a great leader.
Boaz even allows Ruth to drink from the water his men had drawn. This is extraordinary! The water would usually be drawn in the cool morning, a large container would be filled than brought to the field where the workers would drink from throughout the day. Not only that, the cultural context would expect foreigners to draw water for Israelites and women to draw water for men. (Block, 660)
Ruth cannot believe how gracious Boaz has been to her, a foreigner.
Then she fell with her face to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes? Why do you care about me? I am a stranger from another land.”
Ruth 2:10 New Life Translation
Even though we are not sure if Boaz even knew Ruth’s name at this point, she was just the Moabitess who came with Naomi, he acknowledged her. Boaz has dignified this destitute widow from a foreign land and treated her as a significant person. Ruth is aware of her social status, as not only a widow, but also an alien, from Moab to make matters worse.
Boaz is aware of Ruth’s actions, his extraordinary kindness towards her mother-in-law and her courage in accompanying her in her travels to a foreign land. Later her actions will be characterized as hesed but not yet. (Block, 661) Ruth’s faith in leaving her home and family behind could be compared to Abraham’s faith. Ruth left her gods for Israel’s God.
Boaz is a great example of a good man, a man of noble character as described in Ruth 2:1. Boaz is a genuine member of the community of faith, he is a true believer who embodies the standards of covenant faithfulness (hesed). He spontaneously utters words of encouragement and naturally performs deed of kindness (hesed).
In the beginning of the chapter, Ruth had expressed to Naomi her desire to to glean behind someone in whose eyes she might find favor, although she was not praying at the time, God heard her wish.
Boaz is kind to Ruth because Yahweh has prepared his heart for her!”
- Block, Daniel Isaac. Judges, Ruth. Broadman & Holman, 1999. p662
God had been working preparing Boaz, developing him into the man that he is. God was preparing Boaz to bless Ruth. Do you realize that God could is preparing you to bless someone? If you don't fight and rebell against God's will and His plan for your life, He will use you like He used Boaz, to bring great blessings to someone.
Or perhaps you identify as Ruth, doing your best to help and follow God. God has someone who will bless you.
After all this, Boaz does not believe he has done enough for Ruth, so he blesses her as well. He calls upon the LORD to repay Ruth for her actions.
May the Lord reward you for your work. May full pay be given to you from the Lord, the God of Israel. It is under His wings that you have come to be safe.”
- Boaz (Ruth 2:12 New Life Version)
Boaz’s blessing illustrates the principle stated in Proverbs 19:17; 14:31; 17:5.
"Giving help to the poor is like loaning money to the Lord. He will pay you back for your kindness."
(Proverbs 19:17 Easy-to-Read Version)
"Whoever takes advantage of the poor insults their Maker, but whoever is kind to them honors him."
(Proverbs 14:31 Easy-to-Read Version)
"Whoever makes fun of beggars insults their Maker. Whoever laughs at someone else’s trouble will be punished."
(Proverbs 17:5 Easy-to-Read Version)
Ruth, by her acts of kindness to Naomi has not only indebted her mother-in-law but also The LORD. So Boaz prays that the LORD will repay her for her work. In coming to Israel Ruth had turned to the God of Israel for protection. So Boaz introduces one of the most beautiful pictures of divine care in all of Scripture. He describes God as a mother bird who offers he wings to protect her defenseless young. (Block, 663)
Ruth has found relief under the protection of Boaz.
“Like a young chick frightened by the pouring rain, she has come out of her fears and found comfort and security under the wings of God. Those wings are embodied in the person of Boaz.” (Block, 665)
Ruth is amazed that differences of race and class do not stifle Boaz’ compassion towards her.
But he was not done.
Social realities were expressed at meal time.
But this meal time was not what one would expect in its cultural context.
For one thing, Boaz, the landowner, is eating with his harvesters. That was already unusual for the time, but Boaz goes beyond that and invites Ruth, an outsider, a Moabitess, to join him and his workers.
The fact that Boaz has to call her to come closer shows that she had deliberately, and appropriately (according to the customs of her time) kept her distance.
Not only does Boaz invite her to join him and his workers for the meal, he invites her to share the food prepared for his workers.
Boaz does not even allow her to eat dry bread while he enjoyed more pleasant food, but invites her to dip her bread in a sauce or condiment used to moisten and spice up dry bread.
Not only that Boaz served her roasted grain himself. He gave her with his hand, a word used only here in the entire Old Testament.
Boaz is so generous, Ruth eats and has food left over. The writer makes sure to mention this detail to help us grasp Boaz’ generosity. Boaz did not just feed the hungry, but he took an ordinary occasion and transformed it into a glorious demonstration of compassion, generosity, and acceptance — that is exactly the biblical understanding of hesed. (Block, 667)
This chapter, this story, these dialogues, teach and develop a theology of love. In this story we learn that
“The wings of God are not only comforting to Israelites; they offer protection even for despised Boabites.”
- Block, 667.
Back to gleaning
After the meal, Boaz tells his workers to pull out some of the stalks and leave them lying on the stubble for Ruth. His workers are not to humiliate or insult her. Boaz's workers will not threaten Ruth physically or shame her psychologically because of her alien status or the low class she represents just because of her current situation, having to go begging to be allowed to glean in the fields.
Boaz made provisions for Ruth to work in peace and to have enough to support her and her mother-in-law. (Block, 669)
After a long day’s work Ruth gleaned and threshed one ephah of grain. This is the equivalent of roughly 6 gallons which could have weighed from thirty to fifty pounds. The harvesters must have listened to Boaz and allowed Ruth to glean liberally.
Naomi is surprised by Ruth’s productivity and utters a blessing upon the man who took notice of her daughter-in-law.
Her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you gather grain today? Where did you work? May good come to the man who showed you favor.” So Ruth told her mother-in-law, “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz.”
- Ruth 2:19 New Life Version (emphasis mine)
Once Naomi finds out its Boaz and she realizes Ruth's “luck” Naomi spontaneously erupts with a second blessing for him.
Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he receive good from the Lord, Who has not kept His kindness from the living and the dead.” Then Naomi said to her, “The man is near to us. He is of our family.”
- Ruth 2:20 NLV
Ruth stays in Boaz’s field not only until the end of the barley harvest but the end of the wheat harvest as well (Ruth 2:23). Ruth must have been out in the fields 6-7 weeks from late April until early June (by our western calendar).
Boaz has been introduced as an extremely kind and gracious man and as one who qualifies to rescue the line of Elimelech. Though Boaz has helped Ruth and Naomi economically, there are no hints that he is doing anything about the real crisis created by the death of all the male member of the family.
Will this situation be resolved?
How will it be resolved?
For that, you have to come back next week.
For now I hope that we can be like Boaz.
I hope we can live as a personification of God’s love.
Boaz does not shame Ruth, but respects her. He does not judge her by her origin or her current condition or social status, but praises her for her kindness admiring her determination and courage.
Boaz allows her to provide for herself and her mother-in-law without fear of abuse in any form. He respects her and grants her dignity.
He goes above and beyond the social norms of the time, he breaks the prejudice and crosses lines that the society and culture of his time had erected.
Boaz was a true Israelite and did what was right. He embodied the love of God. He was blessed by God and blessed those around him.
It is my prayer, that you will also be a blessing wherever you go, breaking down barriers and walls that prejudice builds up. Let us live by God’s standards. Let us teach the world the true meaning of love by how we work and how we treat those around us. Because that is more powerful than any theological truth that might come out of your lips.