Bible Commentary: Ruth 2

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Ruth 2

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Bringing in the Sheaves 

After all of the calamity of chapter 1, Naomi and Ruth begin to settle back into Israel. Without husbands to help provide for them, Naomi and Ruth utilize the legal provisions God gave to Israel for the poor and widows (see Leviticus 19:9-10 Leviticus 19:9-10 [9] And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. [10] And you shall not glean your vineyard, neither shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19 Deuteronomy 24:19When you cut down your harvest in your field, and have forgot a sheaf in the field, you shall not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
American King James Version×
). Ruth seeks permission from Naomi to gather grain in the fields being harvested. Her "reference to whoever is kind enough to let her glean (the meaning of 'in whose eyes I find favor') reminds us that not everyone followed the Law!" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verses 2:2-3). With Naomi's blessing, Ruth "happens" upon the field of Boaz, a kinsman of Naomi's deceased husband Elimelech (Ruth 2:1 Ruth 2:1And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz.
American King James Version×
, 3). She, of course, didn't intend this, not even knowing about Boaz or any connection with him. But it wasn't random chance. God was behind it, as Naomi later recognizes (verse 20).

Interestingly, "about a mile east of Bethlehem is a field, called 'Field of Boaz,' where, tradition says, Ruth gleaned. Adjoining is the 'Shepherd's Field,' where, tradition says, the angels announced the birth of Jesus. According to these traditions, the scene of Ruth's romance with Boaz, which led to the formation of the family that was to produce Christ, was chosen of God, 1100 [or more] years later, as the place for the heavenly announcement of Christ's arrival" (Halley's Bible Handbook, note on chapter 2).

In this field Ruth labored. Indeed, her harvesting would have been hard work—using a sickle to glean the corners of the field and picking through the field for any grain the harvesters had dropped. Ruth caught the attention of the servants because of her hard work, staying in the field from morning through the heat of the day—not even stopping long to rest "in the house" (verse 7), which was probably a tent or canopy to provide some shade in the field. Ruth has thus established a good reputation for herself. "In a small community the story of Ruth and Naomi would be common knowledge, the focus of much conversation (cf. v. 11). Now events showed Ruth hardworking (v. 7), respectful (v. 10), modest, and grateful (v. 13). The reputation we earn opens—or closes—the door of opportunity" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verses 6, 10-11, 13). Indeed, Ruth's having sown seeds of good character was allowing her to "reap a harvest" of great reward (compare Galatians 6:7 Galatians 6:7Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.
American King James Version×
).

Boaz fulfills the instruction God had given Israel to not treat strangers or foreigners differently under the law, and even instructs Ruth to stay and glean in his fields for her protection. This and Naomi's words at the end of the chapter show that safety was a concern for a lone woman during this period. "Again we sense that Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz live in an oasis of peace in a turbulent, sinful society" (note on Ruth 2:9 Ruth 2:9Let your eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go you after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch you? and when you are thirsty, go to the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn.
American King James Version×
, 22). Ruth was apparently in danger of being molested while she worked in the fields. Among Boaz's many kindnesses, he personally warned his workers that Ruth was not to be touched.

In verse 12, "Boaz blesses Ruth, in a statement which may be taken as a prayer.... Boaz believes that Ruth deserves the best for her piety and choice of Israel's God, and is convinced that a just God will see that she is well rewarded. Boaz, who utters this prayer, is the means by which it is answered" (note on verse 12). Boaz goes so far as to provide food for Ruth while she works, instructs his workers not to rebuke and shame her if she works among the already harvested sheaves and even tells them to purposely drop some of the harvest for her to gather.

It is interesting to note that Boaz did not just give her the grain. He "exhibited the highest form of charity by giving in secret so as not to shame the recipient" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 17). Perhaps there is even a spiritual lesson in what happened. While God undoubtedly led Ruth to Boaz's field, and may have even laid it upon Boaz to be so generous to her, Ruth herself had to put forth the necessary work to reap the blessings. Thus, despite the fact that it was a gift, she still had to work. And work she did all day long, gathering an ephah of barley (verse 17). As an ephah equates to about 65 percent of a modern bushel and a bushel of barley weighs about 48 pounds, Ruth gathered about 31 pounds of barley.

This was far more than typical gleaning could bring in, and Naomi immediately recognizes that someone must have helped Ruth out (verse 19). When Ruth tells her about Boaz, Naomi is overjoyed—realizing that he, as a close relative of Elimelech, could redeem the family name and inheritance. And surely, she reasoned, this development was from God (verse 20). So God had not abandoned her after all. He had accepted Ruth and would take care of the both of them. After utter despair, Naomi now trusted God to see them through.

Ruth continues gleaning through the barley and then the wheat harvest (verse 23).