by Sam E. Stone
Edith Deen wrote, “Ruth, the central figure in the Book of Ruth, is one of the most lovable women in the Bible. And her abiding love embraces the person you would least expect it to, her mother-in-law, Naomi.” In last week’s lesson we saw Ruth’s determination to return with Naomi to Judah after both their husbands died. The two widows arrived in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.
The Law of Moses directed landowners to leave what the harvesters missed so that those in need—the poor, the alien, the widow, and the orphan—could find grain (Leviticus 19:9, 10, 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21). It was this regulation that permitted Jesus and his disciples to pluck grain as they walked through the grain fields on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-5).
Ruth asked Naomi’s permission to go into the fields and get grain to provide for their immediate needs. God’s providence is quickly seen. Naomi had a close relative on her husband’s side, “a man of standing,” Boaz. “As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz who was from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3). When Boaz came to check on his workers, he noticed Ruth and asked the foreman who she was. He told him, “She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi” (v. 6). After receiving permission to glean, Ruth worked steadily all day, with only a short rest. Our printed text takes up here.
Boaz evidently made full arrangements for Ruth’s protection before he spoke to her himself. Kindly he said, “My daughter . . . don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here.” He instructed his servant girls and the men that she was to be given favorable treatment by all of them. The young widow from a pagan land found a gracious welcome among Naomi’s people. Even water was provided! Normally, the foreigner had to draw water for the Israelite, and the woman for the man. Boaz went far beyond anything required by the law. He even cautioned the men who worked for him not to touch her. No taunting or physical harm!
Ruth was overwhelmed by this generosity and kindness. “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?” K. L. Younger observes, “She is completely surprised at what Boaz said to her. This confirms that he has granted her far more than she has requested. Boaz’s action is once again an evidence of God’s providence (Yahweh has answered her wish in v. 2).”
Boaz explains that he has heard good things about Ruth and how she has helped Naomi. He adds, “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord . . . under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” This is a familiar illustration used in Scripture (see Matthew 23:37). It also provides the setting for the well-known hymn, Under His Wings.
Ruth responded, “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord.” She mentioned specifically the kindness of Boaz for insuring her protection, even though she lacked the status even of a servant girl. Her gratitude is an example of the spirit that should be shown by all who experience God’s grace.
It is easy to lose track of just how many things Boaz did to help Ruth. He urged her to stay at his field; he gave permission for her to follow his servant girls; he gave her water from the jars provided for his workers; and he directed the men to “keep their hands off of her!”
Then when mealtime came, Boaz invited her to join him eating bread dipped in vinegar, even sharing the delicacy of roasted grain as well. So much food was provided that Ruth even had some left over, and she took it back to Naomi. Boaz then arranged for his men to pull out some extra stalks of grain for her to pick up, and not to rebuke her. After a very full day’s work, Ruth returned home with a large amount of barley. This impressed Naomi.
One Bible teacher made this comparison: the love of Boaz raised Ruth from her humiliation and loaded her with precious gifts. Similarly the grace of God in Christ lifts the unworthy sinner out of the depths, enriching his life with both spiritual and temporal blessings.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.