Ruth 2: Ruth Meets Boaz
The last passage introduced us to Naomi and Ruth. They’ve returned to Naomi’s home town of Bethlehem, but, since Naomi no longer has a husband or sons to care for her, and since Ruth also has no husband or sons, they have only each other—which makes them fiscally poor.
In this chapter, Ruth decides to go to one of the fields, where they’re harvesting the barley, and pick up some of the leftover grain. This is related to some rules that the LORD gave the Israelites in Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 23:15–25:19; when the Israelites are harvesting from their fields, they’re not to be too thorough about how they harvest it, so that the poor can come after them and harvest what’s left. This is what Ruth wants to do.
She ends up in a field belonging to a man named Boaz. He comes to visit his field, and asks his men who this woman is. They tell him that she is the Moabitess who came back with Naomi, and that she has worked steadily for the entire day, with nothing but a short rest. Boaz approaches Ruth, and advises her to continue to glean from his fields, rather than going to someone else’s; he has advised his men not to touch her, and has also given instructions that she should be allowed to drink from the men’s water jars.
When Ruth hears this, she bows down with her face to the ground, and wonders aloud why she has managed to find favour in Boaz’ eyes, even though she’s a foreigner. He tells her that he has heard all that Ruth has done for Naomi; that she left her family and homeland, and came to live with the Israelites even though she didn’t know them. He prays that the LORD—under whose wings she has come to take refuge (verse 12)—will richly reward her for what she has done.
Not only this, but when the next mealtime comes, Boaz invites Ruth to come and eat with him, and share some of his food. He gives her more than enough food to eat, so that she even has some left over. Then, as they return to work, Boaz gives his men instructions that they are not to embarrass Ruth, even if she “gathers among the sheaves” (verse 15); if that happens, they are to purposely leave behind some stalks for her to pick up.
She remains in Boaz’ field until evening, and then threshes the barley she’s gathered. She has managed to gather about 22 litres of barley, which, to me, sounds like a lot. She brings it back to Naomi, along with the leftover food from her meal with Boaz. When Naomi sees all that Ruth has brought home, she’s overjoyed. She asks Ruth where she’d been gathering, and Ruth tells her, at which point we find out that Boaz is actually a close relative of Naomi’s. In fact, he’s a kinsman-redeemer. (The best definition of “kinsman-redeemer” that I could find in a quick search was on WikiAnswers.)
Naomi and Ruth decide that it will be best for Ruth to follow Boaz’ advice, and stay in his fields, since she might be harmed if she went to someone else’s field. So she does, until the end of the barley harvest, as she continues to live with Naomi.
I don’t know what it means, exactly, when Boaz tells his men not to embarrass Ruth if she “gathers among the sheaves,” but I think the point is that he doesn’t want her to be penalized if she accidentally does something she’s not supposed to. He may be making a special consideration since she’s a foreigner; maybe she doesn’t know the exact customs of the Israelites. Or he may just be paying her special attention. (Or both.)