Chapter 1 introduces “a certain man of Bethlehem, …and his wife and his two sons.” Chapter 2 introduces us to a relative of that certain man. This brief introduction, telling us that he and Elimelech were of the same family, along with the information that he was a man of means sets the stage for what follows. Several aspects of the story are prominent in this chapter: the character of Ruth, the character and compassion of Boaz, and the careful oversight of God as he superintended events.
The last phrase of Ruth 1:22 is also significant – “they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.” The theme of harvest, plenty, fullness predominate in the rest of the story – quite the opposite of how Naomi thought of herself and her circumstances. Yet for the three central characters – Naomi, Ruth and Boaz – an extended period of experiencing God’s richest blessing was about to begin.
It is important to bear in mind as we go along that this is all about pretty normal stuff: meeting basic daily needs for food and shelter; caring for a parent; relationships; starting over after death (or divorce). It’s in the context of “normal life” that God is at work; there is nothing in the story of Ruth that would count as miraculous. There is much that shows evidence of God’s hand directing the steps of the main characters during the course of everyday life.
A. her character v.2-3a, 7, 10, 12c, 13, 17-18, 23
well-mannered v.2a, 7a
graciously submitted to the authority of her mother-in-law – please let me
asked permission to glean – didn’t take conformity to the law by the farmer for granted; did not expect to usurp a place given to someone else
industrious v.2-3a, 7b, 17-18
practicing workfare, not expecting welfare
v.7b – she came and she has persisted – working diligently with few rest stops
accomplished much by her diligence – 20-25 pounds of barley (about 4 pecks), a lot of work for a young woman even considering the consideration of the harvesters
given what Ruth knew of the poor treatment given to foreigners at that time (think about how foreigners had treated them!), she was greatly surprised by the kindness shown her
could have expected preferential treatment because of relationshp to Elimelech, if not on her own account, then on Naomi’s
how public the information was isn’t clear, Boaz had received a full report (v.11); put a “Christian” interpretation on her words to Naomi before they left Moab – Ruth was placing her trust in the God of Israel for her protection and provision. That trust would be shared by Boaz as the instrument God used to provide for Naomi and Ruth.
quickly expresses her thanks to Boaz for kindness shown and comfort given; recognizes that his condescension is out of the ordinary, is grateful for it and says so. Side note: this is the point in the narrative where Boaz’ interest in Ruth changes – up to this point his prime concern has been to make sure Ruth is treated well and her reputation kept untarnished; now Boaz is genuinely interested in Ruth and wants to spend more time with her – let’s do lunch.
not just a flash-in-the-pan, one day wonder, committed to working to provide for herself and Naomi for the long haul; beginning of barley to end of wheat harvest – about 3 months. Also significant that she didn’t expect a promotion from Boaz; was content to continue with hard work of gleaning.
B. his compassion v.4-6, 8-9, 11-12b, 14-16
kind to his help v.4
had a godly concern for their well-being, God’s blessing on them and their work; kind and civil to workers, not merely supervisors. Doesn’t seem to be just for show since workers/reapers responded in kind, as to a customary greeting from the big boss. Would be a good opportunity (midway through the workday) for Boaz to check on progress of the harvest, to make sure supervisors were not over or under working the help.
perhaps by virtue of her dress, perhaps other means, Boaz noticed the stranger. Inquired of the superintendent who she was – asking about more than identity, wanted to know her heritage and where she fit into the scene before him. Observed from superintendent’s response that there was great significance to Ruth’s presence, required more than just passing attention. Disposed to be kind and considerate anyway, there were family connections to take into account.
considerate of Ruth’s
made sure Ruth had a safe place/surroundings in the field – with the other women; meant they would need to show kindness to her in spite of her immigrant status, not shun or isolate her because she was different.
told the men to leave her alone, not take advantage of or harass her; didn’t need to specify consequences. What he expected of them communicated the message they better treat her right or they’d hear about it from him. They might easily infer that Boaz was more than casually interested in Ruth even though he was perhaps somewhat older – “my daughter”.
physical needs v.9b, 14
if Ruth had not brought sufficient water to the field, would be easy to get dehydrated; Boaz made sure she knew where the water was and that she was welcome to share it.
continued to show consideration by inviting her to lunch, probably to ensure she had a good meal; first day gleaning, “new” to the area, might not have had anything at home to bring for lunch. Also would give opportunity to spend time with her, get to know her better.
attentive to details v.11-12b
of her family – from Moab
her circumstances – widow; left father, mother, home
her conduct – care she had taken of her mother-in-law
her faith – put her trust in the Lord God of Israel, relying on him for protection
rewarding diligence, not just simple pity or response to a pretty face – would be wasteful for reapers to throw good food on the ground if Ruth could not be counted on to pick it up
Boaz’ actions were charitable but not simple charity; didn’t give Ruth an outright gift, provided opportunity for her to provide for herself and Naomi
C. God’s care v.3b, 12, 20
a providential “accident” v.3b
told from the perspective of a bystander, but… it’s clear throughout the story the author recognized the hand of God orchestrating events and circumstances – living demonstration of the proverb: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Prov. 16:9
not thunderbolts or visions or quasi-miraculous occurrences that represent God’s activity in daily events. “A chance in outward seeming, yet a clear shaping of her course by unseen hands. Her steps were divinely guided to a certain field, that God’s good purposes should be worked out.” God quietly and unobtrusively works through normal mundane circumstances to bring about his intended purpose. Not the sort of things we can discern when we’re in the middle of them, maybe not after the fact, at least not the full significance of how things work in our lives.
a full reward v.12
Boaz prayed for more than he knew, not realizing at this point that he would be part of that full reward, not understanding the scope of the reward. For Ruth reward included: husband, son, material provision, place in the royal line, example of God’s inclusion of Gentiles in the plan of redemption, eternal reward in heaven. Took some really hard experiences to move Ruth from idol-worshiping Moabitess to ancestor of the Lord Jesus, but what a reward!
a faithful God v.20
just as v.13 was turning point for Boaz, v.20 is for Naomi. Even though she was at the bottom of spiral of depression, still able to find hope in Ruth’s experience of the day. Recognized God’s faithfulness, that perhaps the tide had turned and God would bless them after all. Piece by piece the reality of their new circumstances began to penetrate Naomi’s thinking – the provision of food, the familial relationship with Boaz, the obvious concern/interest Boaz had in Ruth. Gradually tangible evidence of God’s continuing care of them reoriented Naomi’s thinking from preoccupation with what was lost to an interest in what might be gained.
May God give us eyes to recognize his faithful, undramatic hand at work in our circumstances, working out all things for our good and his glory. Then may we respond properly with praise and thanksgiving to him.