Text: Ruth 1:19-2:23
Understanding What You Read:
- Why did Naomi’s return cause a stir in Bethlehem?
- What new name did Naomi want to be called? Why?
- Who did Naomi think caused her problems? Was this a lack of faith on her part?
- What did Ruth volunteer to do? Did she have a particular place in mind?
- What kind of relationship did Boaz have with his employees?
- Why would Boaz tell Ruth to work only in his fields? What does it tell you about Boaz?
- What instructions did Boaz give the workers after their meal?
- How much did Ruth gather by the end of the day? Put the amount in modern terms.
- Did Naomi think that Ruth’s harvest was typical?
- Did Naomi approve of what Boaz had done?
Travel in the past was not usually safe. People typically journeyed in groups. That two unaccompanied women made the trip safely is something to be noted.
Naomi’s return caused a stir in Bethlehem. This is a small town and though she and her husband had been gone for ten years, people still remembered them. But at the same time, Naomi was not the same woman who had left so long ago. Naomi insisted that her name, which meant “pleasant,” wasn’t suitable any longer. People should call her Mara, which meant “bitter.” Her time away from Bethlehem due to the Almighty’s hard treatment of her. She had left with much but had returned with nothing. She should not be referred to as pleasant since God has testified against her and made her life difficult.
They returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. This typically occurs in the mid-spring, around April or May. There would be no opportunity to plant a field for themselves so late in the season. Under Israelite law, those in need could provide for themselves by harvesting the leftovers in fields (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19-22). Thus, Ruth volunteers to glean after the harvesters to provide for herself and her mother-in-law. Ruth 2:2, “after one in whose sight I may find favor.” Naomi agrees that Ruth’s plan is good.
The field she happens to choose to work is that of Boaz. The particular field she started at was not an intentional selection. It was by chance that she selected Boaz’s fields. Ruth would not have known of Elimelech’s relatives or where they lived since she had never been to Bethlehem before. But the man, Boaz, is not only wealthy, but he also is related to Elimelech. It was providence that led her to this particular field.
It just so happens that Boaz comes to inspect the harvest at his fields. Seeing Ruth sitting in the worker’s hut, Boaz asks his head servant about her. The servant relates that she is the Moabite woman who returned with Naomi. She had courteously asked for permission to harvest in Boaz’s field early that morning and had been working all day, except for the brief break that she was currently taking.
Boaz is now aware of who Ruth is and realizes that she is a relative. He tells her to stay in his fields and work by his young women. In essence, Boaz is saying that he will take responsibility for Ruth’s welfare. He also told the young men not to touch her. And he gives her permission to drink from the jars his young men have drawn for the harvesters. When Ruth asks why she, a foreigner, is getting such kind treatment, she finds out her reputation has proceeded her. Boaz had heard reports of all she had done for Naomi since the death of Ruth’s own husband. He was impressed that Ruth left everything she knew to come with Naomi. Boaz expresses his wish that God rewards her for her efforts and her trust in God. Thus, Ruth politely thanks him for reassuring her, though she is of lowly status.
Boaz invites her to join the rest of the laborers for lunch. Boaz himself served Ruth roasted grain and she had enough to satisfy her appetite and still had food left, which she saved for her mother-in-law. After lunch, he instructs his servants to be extra clumsy with the harvest, nor were they to say anything to her about how much she was gathering. At the end of the day, Ruth had gathered about an ephah of barley (about 2.4 pecks or 0.6 bushels, which would weigh about 29 pounds). Notice that she worked all day and then continued into the evening to process what she gathered. The amount she gleaned from the scraps were more than she should have found and Naomi notices the amount when Ruth gets home. Ruth also gives Naomi her leftovers from her noonday meal. Before Ruth can tell her who was so generous, Naomi pronounces a blessing on him. When Ruth tells her that it was Boaz who was so generous, she praises God who has steadfastly shown love to the living and those whose life is dead. Naomi realizes that Ruth has been favored by a close relative who could be kinsman-redeemer (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Leviticus 25:25,35, 47ff). Naomi suggests that Ruth continue to work in Boaz’s fields since it was safer. Ruth does so, not only to the end of the barley harvest but also through the following wheat harvest.
Notice how kindness is shown. Ruth willingly works long days to supply food for herself and her mother-in-law. Boaz shows both generosity and a sense of sympathy for a foreign woman working in his fields. He tells his workers not to touch her, not to insult her, and make his gifts look like normal results from hard work. The result of such kindness restores Naomi’s faith (I Peter 5:5-7).