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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ruth 2

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 2. Ruth Comes Into Contact With Naomi’s Kinsman Boaz, And Finds Favour With Him.

This chapter focuses on the fact that Ruth came across Boaz’s field by chance, as a consequence of which a relationship built up between herself and Boaz, something which resulted in his showing great generosity towards Ruth, thereby awakening in Naomi the hope that he would play the part of a kinsman by marrying Ruth and bearing children on behalf of the deceased husband, thus preserving the family’s name and possession of land in Israel.

Once again we find a clear chiastic structure. Thus structure was regularly used so as to divide the narrative up into paragraphs (our method of depicting paragraphs was unknown in those days). We should note that while we have paralleled verses strictly in order to bring out the process, the writer’s aim (there were no verses) was more to parallel subject matter:

Analysis.

a And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, an important man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech, and his name was Boaz (Ruth 2:1)

b And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Let me now go to the field, and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favour.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter” (Ruth 2:2).

c And she went, and came and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and her chance was to light on the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech (Ruth 2:3).

d And, behold, Boaz came from Beth-lehem, and said to the reapers, “YHWH be with you.” And they answered him, “YHWH bless you” (Ruth 2:4).

e Then Boaz said to his servant who was set over the reapers, “Whose damsel is this?” And the servant who was set over the reapers answered and said, “It is the Moabitish damsel who came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab” (Ruth 2:5-6).

f “And she said, ‘Let me glean, I pray you, and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came, and has continued even from the morning until now, except that she tarried a little in the house” (Ruth 2:7).

g Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Do you not hear, my daughter? Do not go to glean in another field, nor pass from here, but remain here fast by my maidens” (Ruth 2:8).

h Let your eyes be on the field that they reap, and you go after them. Have I not charged the young men that they must not touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels, and drink of what the young men have drawn” (Ruth 2:9).

i Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, seeing I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10).

j And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has fully been shown me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother, and the land of your nativity, and are come to a people whom you knew not up until now. YHWH recompense your work, and a full reward be given you by YHWH, the God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:11-12).

i Then she said, “Let me find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me, and because you have spoken kindly to your handmaid, although I am as one of your handmaidens” (Ruth 2:13).

h And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your morsel in the vinegar.” And she sat beside the reapers, and they passed her parched grain, and she ate, and was satisfied, and left some of it (Ruth 2:14).

g And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her, and also pull out some for her from the bundles, and leave it, and let her glean, and do not rebuke her” (Ruth 2:15-16).

f So she gleaned in the field until evening, and she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley, and she took it up, and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned, and she brought forth and gave to her what she had left after she had had sufficient (Ruth 2:17-18).

e And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where have you wrought? Blessed be he who took notice of you.” And she showed her mother-in-law with whom she had wrought, and said, “The man’s name with whom I wrought today is Boaz” (Ruth 2:19).

d And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of YHWH, who has not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead.” And Naomi said to her, “The man is near of kin to us, one of our near kinsmen” (Ruth 2:20).

c Ruth the Moabitess said, “Yes, he (Boaz) said to me, ‘You shall keep fast by my young men (the reapers), until they have completed all my harvest” (Ruth 2:21).

b And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maidens, and that they do not meet you in any other field (Ruth 2:22).

a Ruth kept fast by the maidens of Boaz, to glean to the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest, and she dwelt with her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:23).

Note that in ‘a’ we learn that Boaz was kinsman to Naomi This would immediately alert the attention of the reader or listener to his responsibility under the Law of Moses towards the poorer members of his wider family. In the parallel Ruth keeps close to the maidens of Boaz (as he had commanded, thus performing his duty as a kinsman), whilst also dwelling with her mother-in-law who was Boaz’s kinswoman. In ‘b’ Ruth determines to glean in the fields (picking up wisps of barley that had been dropped by the reapers) wherever she finds favour and Naomi tells her to ‘go, my daughter’, and in the parallel commends the going out of her daughter to the fields of the one with whom she has clearly found favour, and nowhere else. In ‘c’ she gleans in the fields after the reapers of Boaz, and in the parallel Boaz had instructed her to keep fast by his reapers. In ‘d’ Boaz is blessed by his men, and blesses them in return, while in the parallel Boaz is blessed by Naomi. In ‘e’ Boaz takes notice of Ruth and enquires as to who the young woman is who is gleaning, and in the parallel Naomi enquires as to where Ruth has gleaned, and blesses Boaz for having taken notice of her. In ‘f’ the reapers declare that Ruth has gleaned ‘from morning until now’ and in the parallel Ruth had ‘gleaned (all day) until evening’. In ‘g’ Boaz instructs Ruth not to glean in another field, but to remain close to his own women reapers, and in the parallel he instructs his young men to allow her to glean in the fields without reproach. In ‘h’ Boaz tells Ruth that she can refresh herself from the water drawn by his young men, and in the parallel the young men supply her with grain to eat, which is to be dipped in sour wine. In ‘i’ Ruth enquires as to why she has found favour in his sight, and in the parallel she expresses the wish to find favour in his sight. Centrally in ‘j’ we are given the reason for the kindness that Boaz has shown towards Ruth. It is because he is aware of how she has been willing to sacrifice herself for her mother-in-law, his kinswoman, and because she has taken shelter under the wings of YHWH.


Verse 1

And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, an important man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech, and his name was Boaz.’

Introductory to what is about to unfold we are provided with information about Boaz, the man who will feature prominently in the story. He was ‘an important man of wealth’, and was of the family of Elimelech. Family was an important concept in Israelite eyes, and a man was seen as having a responsibility towards other members of his wider family. It was expected of him that where he could, he would redeem any family property that had had to be sold, and would enable the continuation of his kinsmen’s names by producing sons to take up their inheritance. Whilst the Law of Moses had only indicated this as being an obligation to brothers of a deceased man who had died childless (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), it was also apparently seen as incumbent on other close relatives to perform the same function, albeit voluntarily, when there were no brothers. Compare how Judah had basically admitted that he had been responsible to ensure that his daughter-in-law had had children by a family member, and that she could not therefore be greatly faulted for having ensured the continuation of her husband’s name by having intercourse with him by trickery (Genesis 38:6-30). Such perpetuation was ancient custom and a matter of family honour. Deuteronomy had only been applying it to a specific situation.

Furthermore they would be seen as having an obligation to ensure that family members did not go hungry, and it is clear from the narrative that Boaz had been making enquiries into Naomi’s situation and was well informed about it (Ruth 2:11). He was thus behaving like a loyal kinsman.


Verse 2

And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Let me now go to the field, and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favour.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”

Israel, thanks to God’s Law, had its own social welfare system designed to ensure that no one living in the land would starve. When the fields were reaped any wisps of barley or wheat that fell to the ground were to be left there for the poor to gather, as was grain that was at the edges of the different sections of the fields (Leviticus 19:9-10; Leviticus 23:22). This gathering by the poor was called ‘gleaning’. The same applied to the fruit of trees when it was gathered (Deuteronomy 24:21). The methods used by agriculturalists always ensured that some small amount of fruit was left on the trees. This too was available to the gleaners. Gleaners, however, were not always respectful or helpful, and it would appear that sometimes there was friction between the reapers and the gleaners (Ruth 2:15-16). Nevertheless the law was a good one. A similar social welfare law required that the third year tithe be stored so that it could be called on, among others, by the poor and by aliens (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), whilst in the seventh year, when the land was not to be worked, all were free to gather what grew by itself (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 25:4-7).

Thus as a widow without a provider Ruth was within her rights to glean in the fields. Gleaners were not, however, always looked on as desirable, especially ‘foreign’ ones, and it was therefore her intention to seek out the field of someone who would prove favourable. As Ruth 2:7 indicates, she sought permission before she gleaned, although legally such permission could not be withheld. Naomi, recognising their need for food (not just for eating at the time but also with the remainder of the year in mind) gave her permission and in kindly fashion bade her, ‘go’.


Verse 3

And she went, and came and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and her chance was to light on the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.’

Leaving the town to glean in the fields Ruth found a field where, having made enquiries of those working in the field, she was given permission to glean (Ruth 2:7). She therefore began to follow the reapers as they cut and gathered the barley, picking up any gleanings that were left. The reapers would be both men and women, mainly free men and women who made themselves available at the various harvest times (compare Matthew 20:1 ff.). Ruth was probably not the only gleaner there, and there would no doubt also have been quarrels among the gleaners as they sought for the best gleanings, and she may well have been looked down on even by them. It was not the pleasantest of tasks and offered little reward. But unknown to her she ‘chanced’ to have selected a part of the ‘field’ which belonged to Boaz, who was kinsman to her deceased father-in-law and her deceased husband. It was not, of course, a fenced field, ownership of parts of a large area of ground being indicated by landmarks, which sometimes unscrupulous owners would move (Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17). There can be little doubt that the author did not really see it as having happened by chance. Notice how YHWH is emphasised in the next verse. (We can, however, compare ‘by chance’ with Luke 10:31).


Verse 4

And, behold, Boaz came from Beth-lehem, and said to the reapers, “YHWH be with you.” And they answered him, “YHWH bless you.”

Being a good man Boaz came to see how the reaping was going, and greeted his reapers with the words, ‘YHWH be with you’ (compare our ‘goodbye’ which means ‘God be with you’). They in return called down on him the blessing of YHWH. We are intended by this to see Boaz as a godly man. Note that in the Hebrew it literally reads, ‘YHWH be with you -- bless you, YHWH’ with the Name of YHWH forming an inclusio. YHWH is brought into the centre of the situation.


Verse 5

Then Boaz said to his servant who was set over the reapers, “Whose damsel is this?”

As he looked out over his land he saw Ruth following his reapers, and he turned to his overseer and asked who the woman was who was gleaning, and to what family she belonged. He possibly wanted to ensure that she had the right to glean (it was restricted to the needy), and even possibly in order to ensure that his overseer was doing his job properly. Part of his job would be to check up on the gleaners.

It is not surprising that Boaz did not know her, She would probably be well and discreetly covered up, and he may well never have seen her. Women did not move around as freely as they do today. So while he had made enquiries about Naomi’s situation, it was unlikely that he had ever met Ruth.


Verse 6

And the servant who was set over the reapers answered and said, “It is the Moabitish damsel who came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab.”

The overseer demonstrated that he was fulfilling his duties, and informed Boaz that it was the Moabitish young woman who had come back from Moab with Naomi. It would appear that Ruth’s loyalty was well known in the town. The overseer may not, however, have known her family history, and that she was related to Boaz by marriage.


Verse 7

And she said, ‘Let me glean, I pray you, and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came, and has continued even from the morning until now, except that she tarried a little in the house.”

He explained that Ruth had in fact asked permission to glean, following the reapers as they gathered the sheaves. And he pointed out how hard she had worked at her task, working from dawn to this moment, apart from taking shelter for a short while in a lean-to which was apparently provided in order to offer a brief shelter from the hot sun while people ate such food as they had. She would no doubt have chosen a time when it was not otherwise being used, but it had not failed to be noticed by the overseer. His words may have been expressing admiration, or they may have been an assurance to Boaz that he was being observant. Gleaners no doubt sometimes exceeded their rights.


Verse 8-9

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Do you not hear, my daughter? Do not go to glean in another field, nor pass from here, but remain here fast by my maidens. Let your eyes be on the field that they reap, and you go after them. Have I not charged the young men that they must not touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels, and drink of what the young men have drawn.”

Recognising that Ruth was related to him, and admiring what he knew of her, Boaz either went over to her or summoned her to him. And then he adjured her remain in his portion of the land, following after his male and female reapers, and sticking close to his female servants. He assured her kindly that he had charged his young men not to touch her, so that she would be quite safe, and that when she was thirsty she must feel free to drink of the vessels of water drawn by his young men from the local spring. This would be a great boon as it would mean that she did not have to take time off from her gleaning to satisfy her thirst at the same spring.

We have an indication here of some of the dangers of gleaning for a good-looking young woman. Unscrupulous field owners, or their servants, may well often have taken advantage of such young women. They were unprotected, except to some extent by the Law, and many would take no notice of what happened to them.


Verse 10

Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, seeing I am a foreigner?”

Ruth was filled with gratitude, and humbled herself, bowing deeply before him. Humbly she asked him why such an important man was condescending to take such notice of her. He must be aware that she was a foreigner (something the writer continually emphasises). Why then was she proving so favourable in his sight? Her words did not indicate suspicion, but merely an estimation of her own worth as compared with him.


Verse 11

And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has fully been shown me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother, and the land of your nativity, and are come to a people whom you knew not up until now.”

We are not given the source of his information, which was probably one of his servants whom he had sent to enquire into Naomi’s general welfare, but he now makes clear that he is aware of almost the full story of what had happened. He knew something of what she had done for Naomi after the death of her own husband, and how she had left her own family, and the land of her birth, so as to come with Naomi among what to her had, up to this time, been a strange people. He had also seemingly learned of her devotion to YHWH. This may have become common knowledge as Naomi had spoken with her fellow citizens, or it may have been information obtained from Naomi herself as a result if his kindly enquiries.,


Verse 12

YHWH recompense your work, and a full reward be given you by YHWH, the God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to take refuge.”

Boaz’s godliness comes out in his wish for Ruth, that she be recompensed by YHWH, the God of Israel, and given the full reward that she deserved. In view of his age he was probably unaware at this moment that he would prove the answer to his own prayer.

Especially important in the narrative are his words concerning the fact that she had come ‘to take refuge under the wings of YHWH’. This would suggest that he was aware of her piety and genuine love for YHWH. To take refuge under the wings of YHWH indicated a commitment to the covenant. But what is even more important is that it was making clear to the reader or listener that her faith in YHWH was true and genuine. She was a genuine proselyte and as such one of the children of Israel by adoption (Exodus 12:48). What follows in the story would not have happened had it been otherwise. While her race would not matter (it was deemed more important with males), especially because she had married an Israelite, her attitude towards YHWH and His covenant would matte. It is this continued emphasis that indicates that part of the reason for the account was in order to indicate to would be proselytes that they could be totally accepted into Israel. This was especially important at the time of David’s greatness when many foreigners would have been considering the claims of YHWH.

This figurative expression is derived from Deuteronomy 32:11, and we can compare Psalms 91:4; Psalms 36:7; Psalms 57:1. It was a classic description of someone who was genuinely true to the covenant and therefore under the protection of YHWH.


Verse 13

Then she said, “Let me find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me, and because you have spoken kindly to your handmaid, although I am as one of your handmaidens.”

Ruth responds to the words of the great man with true humility. Basically she is saying, ‘let me continue to find favour in your sight’, for she has previously stated that she has found favour in his sight (Ruth 2:10). And she is grateful for the comfort that he has given her, which she may well have found lacking in some people in Bethlehem, and appreciates the fact that he has ‘spoken kindly’ towards her. ‘Your handmaid’ is in fact a typical way in which a woman, even one of some importance, speaks to someone important. There are any number of examples in Scripture (e.g. 1 Samuel 25:24). Thus Ruth is not literally seeing herself to one of his handmaids. What she is seeing is that she is not more important than they, which makes the kindness and gentleness of Boaz appear to her even more important. She is appreciating the comfort and the kindliness of a man of some importance.


Verse 14

And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your morsel in the vinegar.” And she sat beside the reapers, and they passed her parched grain, and she ate, and was satisfied, and left some of it.’

When mealtime came around for the shearers Boaz invited Ruth to join them calling on her to share their food and sour wine mixed with oil. And in consequence, rather than being treated as a gleaner, she sat among the reapers while they passed to her edible parched grain, to such an extent that she was more than satisfied and was able to leave some over, which she carefully stored up so as to take it back to Naomi. It was royal treatment indeed for such a one as Ruth. Such edible parched grain is still partaken of by reapers in the Middle East today. The grains of barley or wheat, not yet fully dry and hard, are roasted in a pan or on an iron plate. They constitute a very palatable type of food; It was food near to hand, and there was as much as they wanted.


Verse 15

And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her.”

Then once the meal was over and she arose in order to start gleaning again, Boaz commanded his young men to allow her to glean even in the very place where they were reaping without reproaching her. She would thus be able to pick up the best of the gleanings, with the other gleaners being unable to prevent it. For they did not dare to glean among the reapers. They knew that they would be sharply rebuked for it, and even manhandled.


Verse 16

And also pull out some for her from the bundles, and leave it, and let her glean, and do not rebuke her.”

He also commanded them, not only to allow her to glean among them, but also to ensure that she had plenty of gleanings by taking some of the barley stems out of their sheaves and dropping them in her path so that she could collect them up. And she was not to be rebuked for doing so. By this means he was ensuring that Naomi and Ruth would be well provided for in the coming months without appearing to be unnecessarily charitable. He was demonstrating that he was aware both of their needs and of their sense of pride, and of their feelings.


Verse 17

So she gleaned in the field until evening, and she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.’

So Ruth continued to glean diligently until nightfall, after which she beat out what she had gleaned, and it came to about an ephah of barley. Due to the generosity and kindness of Boaz it was far more than she could have expected as a gleaner. An ephah was a vessel large enough to hold a small woman (Zechariah 5:6-10).


Verse 18

And she took it up, and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned, and she brought forth and gave to her what she had left after she had had sufficient.’

Ruth then returned home and showed Naomi what she had gleaned, and she also gave her what remained of the parched grain that she had been given at mealtime. She ‘brought forth’ (‘drew out’) the spare parched grain, probably out of a kind of pocket that she had made with her robe.


Verse 19

And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where have you wrought? Blessed be he who took notice of you.” And she showed her mother-in-law with whom she had wrought, and said, “The man’s name with whom I wrought today is Boaz.”

Naomi seemingly gathered from the quantity of grain that Ruth had brought that someone had been especially kind towards her (‘blessed be he who took notice of you’), and asked her where she had been working, and in whose field she had been gleaning. And Ruth informed her that she had been working in the field of a man called Boaz.


Verse 20

And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of YHWH, who has not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead.” And Naomi said to her, “The man is near of kin to us, one of our near kinsmen.”

At this Naomi’s heart rejoiced, for she saw in it the hand of YHWH, recognising by it that He had overlooked neither her and Ruth, nor her dead husband and sons. It appeared to her that YHWH had taken note of their plight and had the intention after all of producing sons to carry on the family name. She called on YHWH to bless Boaz, and explained to a puzzled Ruth that Boaz was in fact of near kin to them and was thus, legally speaking, ‘a near kinsman’. For the responsibilities of a ‘near kinsman’ acting as a goël, or redeemer, see Leviticus 25:25; Leviticus 25:47-49. .


Verse 21

And Ruth the Moabitess said, “Yes, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close to my young people (the masculine noun covering both men and women), until they have completed all my harvest.”

Ruth then explained what Boaz had said to her, that she keep close to his young people for the remainder of the harvesting, where she would be safe from being molested, and could be sure of ample gleanings. Note again the reference to Ruth as ‘the Moabitess’, which confirms that that fact is important to the writer’s purpose.


Verse 22

And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maidens, and that they do not meet you in any other field.”

Naomi the expressed her approval of what Boaz had said. As she had remained at home, a fact which suggested that she was old and infirm enough not to have joined the gleaners, she had probably had time to worry about Ruth’s welfare. Who knew what unscrupulous field owners, or feisty young reapers, or jealous gleaners, or unpleasant young women who looked down on an alien, might do to take advantage of a virtually unprotected, and seemingly beautiful, young woman? But now she knew that YHWH had been watching over Ruth, and was content. So she confirmed Boaz’s words and called on Ruth make sure that she went out into the fields with Boaz’s young women, and not work in any other field where unpleasant people could meet her (or more literally ‘fall upon her’, i.e mistreat her or misuse her).


Verse 23

So she stuck close to the maidens of Boaz, to glean to the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest, and she dwelt with her mother-in-law.’

So Ruth did what Naomi had asked, and ensured that she stuck close to Boaz’s young women, who would have regard for her because she was a protégé of Boaz, all the while that she was gleaning, first with regard to the barley harvest, and then with regard to the wheat harvest which followed. And thus two or three months passed by. It was clear that YHWH was watching over the one who had taken shelter under His wings (Ruth 2:12), and was keeping her safe.

“And she dwelt with her mother-in-law.” She remained a firm member of the family of the deceased Elimelech. It was as such that God’s purposes would be fulfilled. And thus she had protection, both when she was in the fields, and in the home in which she lived, for Naomi was a respected member of the community. But there is here also a reminder that they were two widows, two defenceless women living together. However, as we shall soon learn, God is the One Who watches over widows and orphans, and so they were not without a protector.

“The barley harvest -- the wheat harvest.” The barley harvesting commenced immediately after the Feast of Unleavened Bread in late March or early April, whilst the wheat harvest was terminated by The Feast of Sevens (Weeks), that is, seven weeks later in late May or early June.

It should be noticed how God’s purposes are unravelling. Ruth 2 has dealt with the concern of Ruth and Naomi to find sufficient food to see them through the coming months, and with Ruth’s diligence in going about the task. For them that was a basic need and they had no other thought in mind. But it was while they were seeking to do this, with no other thought than to be obedient to God’s Law and to take advantage of His provision, that the One under Whose wings Ruth had taken refuge has revealed that He had greater purposes in mind.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ruth 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ruth-2.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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