1 Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side of the family named Boaz. He was a wealthy, prominent man from the clan of Elimelech. 2 One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields so I can gather grain behind whoever permits me to do so.” Naomi replied, “You may go, my daughter.” 3 So Ruth went and gathered grain in the fields behind the harvesters. Now she just happened to end up in the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.
4 Now at that very moment, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “May the Lord be with you!” They replied, “May the Lord bless you!” 5 Boaz asked his servant in charge of the harvesters, “To whom does this young woman belong?” 6 The servant in charge of the harvesters replied, “She’s the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the region of Moab. 7 She asked, ‘May I follow the harvesters and gather grain among the bundles?’ Since she arrived she has been working hard from this morning until now – except for sitting in the resting hut a short time.” 8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my dear! Do not leave to gather grain in another field. You need not go beyond the limits of this field. You may go along beside my female workers. 9 Take note of the field where the men are harvesting and follow behind with the female workers. I will tell the men to leave you alone. When you are thirsty, you may go to the water jars and drink some of the water the servants draw.” 10 Ruth knelt before him with her forehead to the ground and said to him, “Why are you so kind and so attentive to me, even though I am a foreigner?” 11 Boaz replied to her, “I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband – how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. 12 May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” 13 She said, “You really are being kind to me, sir, for you have reassured and encouraged me, your servant, even though I am not one of your servants!” 14 Later during the mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and have some food! Dip your bread in the vinegar!” So she sat down beside the harvesters. Then he handed her some roasted grain. She ate until she was full and saved the rest. 15 When she got up to gather grain, Boaz told his male servants, “Let her gather grain even among the bundles! Don’t chase her off! 16 Make sure you pull out ears of grain for her and drop them so she can gather them up. Don’t tell her not to!” 17 So she gathered grain in the field until evening.
When she threshed what she had gathered, it came to about thirty pounds of barley! 18 She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much grain she had gathered. Then Ruth gave her the roasted grain she had saved from mealtime. 19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you gather grain today? Where did you work? May the one who took notice of you be rewarded!” So Ruth told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked. She said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be rewarded by the Lord because he has shown loyalty to the living on behalf of the dead!” Then Naomi said to her, “This man is a close relative of ours; he is our guardian.” 21 Ruth the Moabite replied, “He even told me, ‘You may go along beside my servants until they have finished gathering all my harvest!’” 22 Naomi then said to her daughter-in-law Ruth, “It is good, my daughter, that you should go out to work with his female servants. That way you will not be harmed, which could happen in another field.” 23 So Ruth worked beside Boaz’s female servants, gathering grain until the end of the barley harvest as well as the wheat harvest. After that she stayed home with her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:1-25).2
Before I begin, I’d better say something about my title. I don’t mean to categorically express disdain or disapproval of web sites such as eHarmony.com. I’d better not since some in my family have met their husbands-to-be through an Internet matchmaker service. But I will say that when God has purposed to bring a man and a woman together in marriage, it is going to happen, regardless of how hard we try to find a mate, or to avoid marriage.
A number of years ago I found myself engaged in a debate regarding tithing. Is one obligated to tithe today? If so, must the 10% be given to the church, or can some of it be given elsewhere? And, if one is required to tithe, is it to be based on one’s net or gross income? I eagerly jumped into the fray, gathering proof texts and building arguments. I then sent my conclusions on, convinced that others could not avoid the outcome of my logic. And then I happened upon our text in Ruth, and it completely changed my mind. I’ll share how and why at the end of this message.
My plan is to approach this text like one would peel an onion – not tearfully, but a layer at a time. We’ll begin with a brief review of the background (chapter 1), and then we’ll take a quick walk through our author’s account of Ruth’s and Boaz’s providential meeting in his field in chapter 2. I’ll then concentrate on some of the more important details contained in the story. After this, we’ll consider the character of the main players of the story, Ruth and Boaz. In conclusion, we’ll suggest some of the implications and applications for those who live in our time.
The story of Ruth takes place during the days of the judges (1:1). A famine in Israel prompted a man from the tribe of Judah to lead his family to Moab, where he intended to stay until the famine ended. The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. Things did not go well for Elimelech and his family. Elimelech died, leaving his wife and two sons. The sons married Moabite women, and then both men died without having children. That left Naomi and her two daughters-in-law.
Naomi heard that God had visited His people in Israel and that her home town, Bethlehem, really was the “house of bread.”3 Naomi determined to return to Bethlehem and her daughters-in-law were planning to go with her to Bethlehem. They were on their way to Bethlehem when Naomi commenced her efforts to persuade Orpah and Ruth to go back to Moab, rather than continue on with her. She convinced Orpah that she would be blessed by returning to Moab, marrying a Moabite husband, and worshipping her Moabite gods. Ruth, however, would not leave Naomi and return to her land and her people. She vowed to remain with Naomi, to leave her people, her country, and Moab’s gods, and to cling to the God of Israel, dwelling in His land, embracing His people, until her death, and then she would be buried in Israel, her new homeland.
And so they arrived in Bethlehem and were greeted by those who had known Naomi in the past. Naomi did not embrace her return in a celebratory manner. In her mind, she had gone out full (with a husband and two sons), but had returned empty (without a husband, sons, or grandchildren). No, they should not call her Naomi (“pleasant”); let them call her Mara (“bitter”).
The chapter ends with what might appear to be an insignificant statement: Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem just as the barley harvest was about to begin. This would likely be sometime in the month of March. Does this sound like a coincidence? There are no coincidences in the Book of Ruth (or in the Christian life).
In a matter-of-fact way, the author introduces Boaz as a relative, related to Elimelech. This is for the reader’s benefit, but it is something of which Ruth is unaware. He does not play out the implications of this relationship, which only time will reveal (by the end of the chapter). Since the barley harvest was just beginning, Ruth asked Naomi if she might go into the fields and glean. With Naomi’s permission, Ruth set out to find a field in which to work. The reader is hardly surprised to hear that she ended up in a field owned by Boaz.
Ruth then asked permission of Boaz’s foreman, who was supervising those who were harvesting, and was told she was free to glean. She arrived early in the morning and had worked for some time when Boaz arrived at the field where she was gleaning. He saw her at work in the field and asked his foreman who she was. The field foreman told him that she was the Moabite woman who had returned with Naomi. He described how she had come early and worked hard, taking only a short break to rest.
Boaz approached Ruth, speaking to her as a father would to his daughter.4 He strongly encouraged her to remain in his field and not to go to any other. He urged her to stay close to his female workers. In addition to this, Boaz would instruct the young men not to touch her. When she got thirsty, she should drink from the water which his servants had drawn.
Ruth was amazed and humbled by the kindness Boaz had shown to her, a foreigner. She prostrated herself before him and asked why he had shown her such kindness. By his comments, Boaz revealed that although he had never seen her before, he knew a great deal about her. He knew she had cared well for her mother-in-law since the death of her husband. In addition, he knew that she had left her parents and her homeland to come with Naomi to a people she had not previously known. He pronounced a blessing upon Ruth, that God would reward her because she had sought His protection. Ruth expressed her appreciation for his kindness, knowing that she did not have the status of even his most lowly servant.
Ruth resumed her work, along with the others, until it was time to eat lunch. Boaz took this opportunity to show additional kindness to Ruth. He called her over to where his workers were eating and invited her to partake of their food. She dipped her bread in the vinegar and ate with the others until she was full. She was then handed some roasted grain. She had more than enough, so she set some aside to take home to Naomi. She then returned to her work in the fields until the end of the day.
When she finished threshing what she had gleaned, she ended up with about 30 pounds of grain. When Ruth returned home, it was apparent to Naomi that Ruth’s gleanings were much greater than what would normally have been attained from a day’s work. She questioned Ruth about where she had gleaned, pronouncing a blessing on the man who owned the field where she had labored. Ruth told Naomi that the name of the man who owned the field where she worked was Boaz. This prompted Naomi to pronounce another blessing, this time on Boaz specifically. She then told Ruth that Boaz was a relative who could serve as their redeemer.5
Ruth went on to tell Naomi how Boaz had instructed her to remain close to the harvesters until the end of the harvest, which was obviously preferential treatment – the kind of treatment not expected by a foreigner. Naomi confirmed that this was a good thing because it provided protection for her. And so Ruth continued to work in the fields of Boaz for the rest of the barley harvest and next the wheat harvest, all the while continuing to live with Naomi. Her gleaning would thus have lasted from March until June, and perhaps even early July.
Boaz as a gibbor chayil. When our author introduces us to Boaz in the first verse of chapter 2, he characterizes him as a gibbor chayil (transliterated Hebrew). Translations of this expression vary, but they tend to emphasize Boaz’s wealth, character, influence, and standing in the community. The second word of this expression (chayil) certainly has a range of meanings, depending upon the context.6 It seems to me that most translations have allowed the immediate context to dictate their translations. It is obvious that Boaz is a property owner, and it does not seem out of order to assume that he was reasonably successful. No doubt he had the respect of those in the community. But one important objection remains, one that pushes me to include something that all the major translations strangely avoid. The term in view is not one word, but two (gibbor chayil). When this expression is employed in the Old Testament, it has but one consistent sense – military prowess:
The Lord’s messenger appeared and said to him, “The Lord is with you, courageous warrior!” (Judges 6:12, emphasis mine)
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a brave warrior. His mother was a prostitute, but Gilead was his father (Judges 11:1, emphasis mine).7
Now, why would the author of the Book of Ruth (who is also most likely the author of the Book of Judges) use this expression in a different sense in Ruth 2:1 than everywhere else it is employed, especially when the events of this book took place in the days of the judges?8 Interestingly, the old King James Version comes the closest to this military sense:
And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz (Ruth 2:1, KJV; emphasis mine).
Here, the expression “mighty man” is linked with “wealth.” That’s not too bad, in my opinion. At least it conveys some of the military nuance of this expression.
It is easy to see how translators could get caught up with the idea of “wealth,” although it is not quite as clear to me as it is to some. But the military might theme makes a great deal of sense. Remember, we are in the days of the judges, a time when many of the Israelites fell far short of taking full possession of the land that God had promised to give them.9 In choosing to live among the Canaanites, rather than to destroy them and drive them out of the Promised Land, the Israelites were “doing what seemed right in their own eyes.”
From what I find of Bethlehem (Ephrath) in Judges and Ruth, it seems that Bethlehem was very often free from foreign domination.10 As a matter of fact, Ibzan of Bethlehem was one of Israel’s judges.11 If Boaz was a man who stood apart from and above the typical Israelite of his day (as the Book of Ruth indicates), then why would we be surprised to read that he was (in military terms) a “mighty man of valor” as well as a man of standing in the community?
So, here’s my take on Boaz. Boaz is now an older man. I’m not sure how old, but not young like Ruth is. I envision Boaz as a very stately older man who (if he chose to display them) could wear a very impressive collection of war medals. He may have been the one – more than any other – who summoned the men of Bethlehem to battle whenever any enemy troops drew near. He would have been a man of character and a man of standing in the community. And, if he was skilled in battle and other areas, we would not be surprised to learn that he was also a prosperous farmer. My point in all this is to broaden the description of Boaz so that we see him not only as a wealthy and respected farmer, but also as a war hero. No wonder folks listened when he spoke.
The thought occurred to me as I was thinking about Boaz that he is just about the opposite of Elimelech. Elimelech fled to Moab when times got tough; Boaz stayed in Bethlehem and stood firm in the hard times. Elimelech did not prosper; he died, along with his two sons. Boaz seems to have done reasonably well, even in the hard times.12 Elimelech seemed content to live among the Moabites, when we know that they were one of the nations who oppressed the Israelites.13 I’m quite confident that Boaz regarded Moab as an enemy and not as a safe haven (as Elimelech did).
Ruth’s initiative and Naomi’s passivity. Naomi seems to fade in prominence in chapter 2. The author’s spotlight is increasingly on Ruth and Boaz. Nevertheless, it probably should be noted that Ruth is the one who proposed that she go and glean in the barley harvest. Naomi granted Ruth permission, but that is about all we are told so far as the early verses of chapter 2 are concerned. Why didn’t Naomi take some initiative, rather than leaving it to Ruth? More than this, why didn’t Naomi go out to the fields, if not to glean, to provide Ruth with some companionship and a measure of security? It seems obvious that she realized the danger of a young widow going out alone into the fields to glean. Boaz certainly understood the risk.
We don’t really know the answer, but Naomi’s passivity does accomplish one thing here – it shows the reader that Ruth’s appearance at the field of Boaz was totally a “God thing,” purely the providential kindness of God in caring for His own. As we will see in chapter 3, Naomi doesn’t hesitate to “help things along” (aka, “meddle” or play the “matchmaker”), but there is none of that here in chapter 2, and I believe the author intends for us to see that.
Gleaning in Israelite fields posed dangers for a young Moabite widow. One of the reasons why God has a special concern for aliens (foreigners), orphans, widows, and the poor is that they are the most vulnerable people in any society. Ruth was a young Moabite widow, the perfect target for harassment (of various kinds) and assault. Knowing that Naomi was her mother-in-law would not have been a great deterrent either, since she was an elderly widow.
In this culture, it was expected that a woman would have a man (father, brother, husband) in her life to serve as her protector and provider. I believe this is why Boaz asks the question the way he does: “To whom does this young woman belong?” (verse 5, NET Bible). Or, “Whose young woman is this?” (NASB95, ESV, CSB). A woman was thought of as being under a man’s authority and care. Seeing her working in the fields, Boaz’s first thought concerned her “covering” or protection. When he learned who she was, Boaz stepped forward, taking the role of a father protecting his daughter (which is why he calls her, “my daughter” in verse 8). Having her glean only in his fields keeps her under the watchful eye of his protection. Having her closely follow his workers and stay close to his female servants offers her additional protection. Eating with his workers and not going off the property to obtain drinking water also keeps her safely on his property.
The first words which Boaz spoke to Ruth were all about her protection. I cannot help but wonder why Naomi had no words of caution like this when she gave Ruth permission to glean. Perhaps she did give some warning and safety instruction, but in the text we have in our hands, it is only after Ruth told Naomi about the protection that Boaz offered that Naomi agreed that this was good advice to follow.14
The point I am seeking to make here is that for a young foreign widow to go out into the fields of a stranger to glean involved a fair measure of danger. And remember, these are the days of the judges when women were not held in high esteem and were often mistreated!15 Ruth was not only a woman of faith; she was also a woman of great courage. But then, as Boaz said, she had come to this land to seek protection under the wings of the One True God, and protect her He did. The human instrument of that protection was Boaz, the mighty man of valor. I doubt that anyone gave serious thought to molesting this Moabite widow if it meant incurring the wrath of Boaz.
There is no romance to be found here. We are very much inclined to read the story of Ruth and Boaz (and their eventual marriage) in the light of our own culture. And so we are tempted to think that Boaz saw a good looking woman in his field and, with a gleam in his eye, set out to win her as his wife. We in America always put romance ahead of marriage, but in many parts of the world, marriage comes first. I believe that was the case in Bethlehem. In our text, Boaz speaks to Ruth as his daughter, not some good looking babe. What he highly regards about Ruth is her character and her trust in God, not her good looks. His motives are pure, and it seems clear that he never imagined that she would consider him as a possible husband (3:10). When Ruth chose to accompany Naomi and to immigrate to Israel, it seems that she was giving up any chance of marrying again and bearing children. Naomi certainly saw it this way.
Naomi. We need to be careful here because the author’s eyes are on the two leading characters of his narrative: Ruth and Boaz. Having said this, we should at least take note of the fact that while Ruth was praised for her hard work (2:7), which was Ruth’s honorable means to provide for her mother-in-law (2:11), nothing was said about Naomi doing any work. She did not accompany Ruth to the fields (at least to provide her with company and some measure of protection), nor did she do any of the gleaning. Was Naomi that infirmed, or did she just sit back and let Ruth serve her? While Ruth was praised for her hard work, Naomi was not.
Ruth. What was said of Ruth in chapter 2 provides the basis for what Boaz and the rest of the people of Bethlehem said of her:
“Now, my dear, don’t worry! I intend to do for you everything you propose, for everyone in the village knows that you are a worthy woman”16 (Ruth 3:11, emphasis mine).
The expression rendered “worthy woman” in Ruth 3:11 is found twice in Proverbs:
A noble wife is the crown of her husband,
but the wife who acts shamefully is like rottenness in his bones (Proverbs 12:4, emphasis mine).
Who can find a wife of noble character?
For her value is far more than rubies (Proverbs 31:10, emphasis mine).
Imagine that! Ruth is a rare jewel and a Proverbs 31 woman. It doesn’t get any better than that. As you read the description of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, Ruth really does fit the description on several points. She certain was an industrious woman who “extended her hand to the poor.”17
Ruth’s virtue goes far beyond getting up early and working late or extending her hand to the poor. Ruth’s great virtue is that she was a woman of great faith. She, like Abraham, left homeland and family to come to the land and the people God had promised to bless. She sought refuge and safety under God’s wings. What a marvelous woman she was.
Boaz. Boaz is a wonderful counterpart to Ruth, for he too is a man of faith and of compassion. Boaz remained in Israel, even in the midst of a famine. We can see the character of Boaz in the way he sought to protect and provide for Ruth, and also for Naomi. We will see further evidence of his character in chapters 3 and 4. We also see his character in what he commends and rewards in Ruth. He praises her compassion and ministry to Naomi. He praises her faith in God and her willingness to leave her people and land to identify with Israel. Boaz loved the things that delight God.
How Boaz changed my mind about tithing. For many years, I have argued that since we are now “under grace,” rather than “under law,”18 the Christian is not obligated to tithe. Having said this, I have never held that the Christian has no obligation to give. It seems to me that this responsibility is clearly taught in the New Testament.19 But where I had lost my way in the discussion (okay, debate) over tithing was that I had gotten caught up in the details of giving and lost sight of the heart of the giver. To put the matter in Jesus’ words, I had fallen into the trap of straining gnats while swallowing camels.20
Reading the account of Boaz’s generosity in Ruth 2 challenged me to consider giving in a new light. The Israelites of that day were “doing what seemed right in their own eyes,” which is but another way of saying that they disregarded the Word of God as it was revealed to them in the law.21 Boaz was a man who (like Paul in Romans 722) loved the law and who delighted (like the psalmist23) in doing it. Boaz, like Ruth, had the law written on his heart, a heart of flesh, not a heart of stone.24
The instructions of the law pertaining to giving (particularly to the poor) were not a burden to Boaz, but a delight. He did not strive to figure out how he could reduce his benevolence to the bare minimum, but instead he went far beyond what the law required of him. The law was just a base line for Boaz. This, my friend, is the kind of heart we should have toward giving to the poor and all those who are in need. No more debates for me about the “minimum requirements of the law,” or of the New Testament, for that matter. May God give me the heart of Boaz, who gave bountifully and joyfully.
The providence of God. From Naomi’s point of view, all hope (for a husband, and for a family to carry on her husband’s name) was gone. God somehow had it in for her, and there was nothing she could do but endure His powerful and unmerciful hand. Somehow, it was all about her – at least in her mind. But it was a much bigger matter than that. It was about the character of God, not just His power alone. It was about God’s covenant promises, not just Naomi’s happiness. It was about the continuation of the messianic line, not just about a grandson for Naomi.
The days of the judges (in which Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz lived) were some of the darkest days in Israel’s history. In Naomi’s mind, her life had not been pleasant (as her name suggested). Never mind that she and her husband had fled Israel to sojourn in Moab. Nevertheless God was at work behind the scenes. While Naomi’s immediate circumstances convinced her that God was dealing harshly with her, God was quietly at work behind the scenes to richly bless her with a marvelous daughter-in-law, with a godly husband for Ruth, and with a grandson through whom the Messiah would come.
It is amazing how appearances can be deceiving. God promised Abram and Sarai a son, and yet for 25 years they went childless. As the clock continued to tick and the pages of the calendar continued to turn, Abram and Sarai began to wonder if they would ever have a child. And so they took matters into their own hands by producing a son through Hagar – a foolish mistake for which we are all still paying. Jacob viewed the apparent loss of his favorite son Joseph and the imminent loss of his son Benjamin as being against him:
Their father Jacob said to them, “You are making me childless! Joseph is gone. Simeon is gone. And now you want to take Benjamin! Everything is against me” (Genesis 42:36, emphasis mine).
Jacob could not grasp what God was doing in the midst of his despair. God was bringing about the fulfillment of His Word.25 God would take Jacob and his family down to Egypt, where racial prejudice would protect them from intermarriage with the Canaanites26 (or the Egyptians27). God sent Joseph to Egypt ahead of his brothers so that he could serve Pharaoh, and in this position, he could save his family from the coming famine. On the surface, Joseph’s sufferings made no sense at all. How could God be in them? But when God’s providential hand is revealed, we can see that in the midst of Joseph’s suffering God was working to bring about the salvation of His people. And so it was that Joseph could say to his brothers:
5 “Now, do not be upset and do not be angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me ahead of you to preserve life! 6 For these past two years there has been famine in the land and for five more years there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 God sent me ahead of you to preserve you on the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now, it is not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me an adviser to Pharaoh, lord over all his household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:5-8; see also 50:19-21).
The reasons for Job’s sufferings were not revealed to him during his lifetime, but only to the readers of the Book of Job. We know from the first two chapters that God was using Job’s sufferings in order to instruct Satan and, I assume,28 the angelic host. We should not view what God allowed Satan to bring against Job as being to his detriment. To the contrary, by means of Job’s afflictions, he grew in his faith and obedience, and in the end, he prospered even more than he had in the beginning.29
Nothing is more encouraging to the suffering saint than knowing his affliction has ultimately come from the hand of a loving God, a God who is absolutely sovereign (all powerful), who is also merciful and compassionate, and whose dealings are both for His glory and for the believer’s good.30 This was why Paul could rejoice because of his imprisonment.31
The issue of foreigners and immigration. I realize that this is a very emotional topic, especially for those of us who live in close proximity to the Mexican border. Without attempting to propose any simple solutions, I would only point out that the treatment Ruth receives from Boaz is that which is shown to an immigrant – a legal one, mind you – but a foreigner nonetheless. I realize that Old Testament texts cannot be applied directly to us today, or across the board, but let us not forget our text and the Old Testament law underlying it when we think about matters like immigration and our treatment of aliens.
Employer/employee relations – ministry in the marketplace. I must warn you that this is one of my passions. Foreign missionaries have been greatly used by God in the past, as I’m sure they will be in the future. But sometimes it is possible to get the impression that foreign missionaries are the “first class” citizens of this world, while “mere businessmen” (or “businesswomen”) are second class citizens. Some are tempted to believe that the best they can do is to make money and use it to support full-time missionaries. Sometimes this may be the case. But Boaz serves as an example of a man whose business (farming) has a profound impact on the lives of others. If he was a “mighty man of valor,” then he likely motivated a number of Israelites to possess their inheritance by going to war with the Canaanites. The way in which Boaz blessed his workers, and they in turn blessed him, shows that his faith and obedience profoundly impressed and impacted them. Businessmen and women can have a very significant impact for the gospel. These days, missionaries are not allowed in many countries, but businessmen are almost always welcomed with open arms. Boaz should be an encouragement to pursue business interests for the sake of the gospel.
God’s way of providing for the poor. I prefer not to use the term “welfare” here because of what this term means today. The term “benevolence” may serve us better in this regard. As I read chapter 2 of the Book of Ruth, it seems to me that we can discern some guiding principles. Let me list a few of them.
God provides food for the needy, not money.
God provides food for those who are willing to work for it.
God provides equally for all in need (orphans, widows, needy, foreigners).
God provides for those in need in a way that preserves and promotes human dignity.32
Recipients (gleaners) and donors (farmers) benefit from God’s blessings due to obedience, just as they both suffer when God punishes His people for their disobedience.33
God’s provision for Israel’s spiritual leaders was linked to Israel’s care of the poor.34
Boaz’s care for the poor included not only provisions for their physical needs (food), but also protection from those who might do harm to those who were rendered vulnerable by their poverty.
God did not forcibly take from the rich (those who had something to give) and redistribute it to the poor; He instructed those with means to care for the poor, and left the matter of generosity somewhat undefined, so that the Israelites were encouraged to give generously from the heart.
Seeking your life’s partner. So let’s talk about marriage for a moment as we prepare to bring this message to a close. I would begin by pointing out that in the Book of Ruth, God arranges an inter-racial marriage. I point this out because I am aware that some believe that such marriages are wrong, indeed that they are forbidden. I have performed the marriage ceremony for a number of inter-racial couples and have yet to regret one of them. I realize that some inter-racial couples may face additional stresses and difficulties, depending on various circumstances. But having said this, I can find no biblical basis for forbidding or discriminating against such marriages. Our church has been greatly blessed by the inter-racial marriages God has brought to us.
Would eHarmony have matched Boaz and Ruth if they had applied on-line? I doubt it. I do not know all of the areas of compatibility that serve as the basis for matching couples, but I can point out some that would probably not be in Ruth’s and Boaz’s favor. They came from very different racial, cultural, political, and social backgrounds. Boaz came from the top of the socio-economic scale; Ruth was now at the very bottom. In her own words, she was lower than one of Boaz’s servant girls. Their age was another strike against them. Boaz was quite obviously an older man; Ruth was much younger.35 Not only was Ruth of a different nationality, but as a Moabite, she would have been looked down upon, especially by Israelites.
If Ruth and Boaz were not “compatible” in the areas mentioned above, what was it that drew them together besides the fact that Boaz was a near relative? I believe that at the very deepest level of their being, Ruth and Boaz were kindred spirits. Both shared a common faith in the God of Israel. Both were committed to living according to God’s Word, rather than according to what seemed right in their own eyes. Both shared a deep compassion for the poor. Boaz helped the poor by leaving much to glean; Ruth helped her mother-in-law by laboring hard in the field as a gleaner. Both were committed to looking after Naomi. Both were people of godly character. Boaz would not take advantage of Ruth, but instead took it upon himself to protect and provide for her (and Naomi). Ruth was a “woman of excellence, of noble character.”36 It is at these deepest levels of spirituality and character that Ruth and Boaz were compatible, and that is the kind of compatibility that makes for the finest marriages.
Let me focus on godly character for just a moment. Boaz is introduced to the read as a gibbor chayil. In chapter 3, Ruth is called an ishshah chayil, a woman of excellence. In using the same term (chayil) to describe both Boaz and Ruth, I believe the author is underscoring the fact that both were people of great and noble character, his was manly (military and otherwise), hers was womanly. Who could be better matched than this? I don’t believe that Boaz or Ruth needed to see a picture of the other to be able to accept them as the one God had brought to them in marriage. I don’t believe that sex appeal or “romance” were the great drawing cards here. And I suspect (as is usually the case in the East) that romance came after marriage, rather than before it.
I believe that while God was in the process of bringing Ruth and Boaz together as husband and wife, neither was thinking of or seeking marriage in chapter 2. I believe that Ruth believed (as Naomi strongly indicated) that in leaving her people and her country, she would not expect to find a husband in Israel. Her goal was to devote herself to caring for Naomi until her death. Boaz was an older man, and for whatever reasons, it does not appear that he had a wife at the time Ruth arrived with Naomi in Bethlehem. His interest in Ruth is as a godly convert to Israel’s faith in God, and he is committed to protecting her and providing for her as he would a daughter. The passion of both was the will of God, and this is where they expended their efforts and energies. I believe a Christian is much more likely to find a wife or a husband by following the example of Ruth and Boaz than by spending a great deal of effort, energy, and time searching for a life’s mate.
So what advice do I believe Ruth or Boaz would give to those who are single and hoping for marriage? Let me suggest several things.
First, the decisions you make before marriage will make all the difference in who you do marry. Ruth decided that following God was the most important decision she could ever make. She was not willing to marry a Moabite man, for he would undoubtedly worship the Moabite gods. Her decision to accompany Naomi to Israel, and to embrace Israel’s God as her own, paved the way for her to meet (and later to marry) Boaz.
Second, an unhealthy obsession to get married will get you into trouble; a decision to follow after God will save you from much trouble. I believe that Ruth assumed that in order to serve Naomi she would need to stay single. In the light of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:29-35, she might have been right, except that God had other purposes in mind that Ruth did not know about at that moment in time. Setting your heart on serving God as a priority will help keep you from a sense of desperation concerning marriage. It will keep you content with being single, if need be for a lifetime. But it will also free you to serve others, and it may just be that in the midst of serving that you are led to someone who has a similar passion for serving God and others. I do not promise that serving God first and foremost will produce a life’s mate, but I am convinced that it will never keep you from the mate God has chosen for you.
Third, beware of shallow, superficial compatibility, and seek for the deepest levels of spiritual compatibility. Strive for godly character in God’s strength and then look for it in others. Seek to associate with those who share your passion for service.
Fourth, in those times when it may appear that there may never be a godly mate for you, dwell on the providential care which God has for His people. Naomi had given up all hope, but God was at work behind the scenes preparing great blessings for her.
Fifth, forsake the “it’s all about me” mindset, and recognize that it is all about God and the fulfillment of His purposes and promises. When we dwell on ourselves, we are destined for despair. When we dwell on God and on His purposes, we can be assured that He will do what He has promised.
Now a brief word to those who are already married. It may be that the “spark” has gone out of your marriage. That may be because your attraction was superficial or your focus was self-centered. The key to restoring a dying marriage is to develop the mindset we see in both Ruth and Boaz. It is a mindset of serving God through service to others. It is a mindset of living a godly life and maintaining godly character. As these qualities grow in your life, and hopefully in the life of your mate, you will be drawn close to each other for the most noble of reasons.
Finally, let me conclude by pointing out that Ruth and Boaz provide us with a picture of the relationship of Christ and His church as we see in Ephesians 5.37 Boaz is a picture of Christ as the provider and protector for His bride. And Ruth is an example of one who places herself under the protection and care of a gracious, sovereign God. If you have never trusted in the saving work of Jesus Christ on your behalf at Calvary, I urge you to trust Him today. He sacrificially bore the penalty for your sins, so that you might be declared righteous in Him, and then eternally enjoy fellowship with Him.
How does one go about trusting in Jesus for salvation? I would suggest that you follow Ruth’s example. First, you should recognize the folly of whatever religion you embrace that does not worship the one true God, the God of Israel, the God of the Bible. Ruth forsook her Moabite gods, knowing they could not save her. Ruth clung to the one true God, the God of the Bible. As Boaz noted, she sought refuge under God’s wings.38 That is to say she abandoned any trust in herself, in her own righteousness, in her national religion, and trusted in God alone.
Now that the Messiah has come (through the seed of Ruth and Boaz) and we have the revelation of the New Testament, we know that we must place our trust in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ in our place, knowing that He took the guilt and penalty of our sins upon Himself, and in its place, He offers us His righteousness, if we will receive it. And then you will notice that having trusted in God alone, Ruth chose to identify with the people of God. For New Testament Christians, that means joining the fellowship of a local church and becoming an active part of that body of believers. That is what the New Testament encourages us to do:
41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added. 42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts (Acts 2:41-46).
23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).
May God draw you to Himself as He drew Ruth so many years ago. And may you find fellowship and fruitfulness in your relationship with Him as Ruth did.
1 Copyright © 2010 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 2 in the series, Ruth: A Story of Redemption, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on January 24, 2010. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
3 Bethlehem means “house of bread.”
4 I strongly disagree with the translation of the NET Bible in verse 8 which renders the Hebrew expression, “my daughter,” “my dear.” It is the same expression that Naomi spoke to Ruth in verse 2 and again in verse 22, where it is rightly rendered “my daughter.” I am opposed to any rendering that has so much of a hint of romance, where only fatherly care is conveyed.
5 The term that is rendered “relative” in verse 1 is a more general term. The term that is rendered a “guardian” in verse 20 is a much more specific one, which might be transliterated gaal.
6 For example, it can refer to physical power or strength (Psalm 33:17; 1 Samuel 2:4), wealth or property (Genesis 34:29; Job 20:18), or courage/bravery (1 Samuel 14:52; 1 Kings 1:42).
7 See also 1 Samuel 9:1; 1 Kings 11:28; 2 Kings 5:1; 1 Chronicles 12:29; 28:1; 2 Chronicles 13:3; 17:16-17; 25:6; 32:21.
8 Ruth 1:1.
9 See Judges 1 and 2.
10 See Judges 17:7ff.; 19:1ff.
11 Judges 12:8.
12 I say this because Naomi and Ruth seem to have returned fairly soon after hearing that God had visited His people by reversing the famine and giving them crops and prosperity. When Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem, not only Boaz, but the entire city of Bethlehem appears to be doing fairly well, even though it has not been that long since the famine had plagued Israel as indicated in Ruth 1:1.
13 See Judges 3:12-14.
14 See verse 22.
15 The closing chapters (19-21) of Judges make this abundantly clear.
16 A “virtuous woman,” (KJV, NKJV); a “woman of excellence” (NASB95); a “woman of noble character” (CSB, NIV).
17 Proverbs 31:20.
18 See Romans 6:14-15.
19 See, for example, Matthew 6:19-34; Luke 16; Acts 2:41-45; 4:32—5:11; 6:1-6; 11:27-30; 1 Corinthians 9:1-11; 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8 & 9; Galatians 6:6, 10; Philippians 4:17-20; James 2.
20 Matthew 23:24.
21 See Deuteronomy 12, especially verses 8 and 28.
22 See Romans 7:12, 16; 8:4; 13:8-10.
23 See Psalm 119:97, 113, 163.
24 See Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; 2 Corinthians 3.
25 See Genesis 15:12-16.
26 See Genesis 38.
27 See Genesis 43:32; 46:34.
28 See Job 1:6-12; 1 Corinthians 11: 10; Ephesians 3:8-10; 1 Peter 1:10-12.
29 See Job 38-42.
30 See Romans 8:28.
31 See Philippians 1:12-26; 3:7-11.
32 Ruth’s character is evident in the way that she works hard in the field and in the way that she uses her labor to provide for her mother-in-law. My point is that people looked up to Ruth for her labor in the fields. God’s charity elevates men and women, or provides the opportunity for us to manifest godly character qualities.
33 In Deuteronomy 28, God promised to bless Israel’s crops and cattle when they were obedient to His law, and also warned that He would diminish or destroy Israel’s crops and cattle for their disobedience. Both the land owner and the poor suffered from Israel’s national disobedience, and profited from Israel’s obedience.
34 In Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and 26:12-15, there was a tithe that was to be paid every third year. This tithe was to be used to care for the poor (aliens, orphans, and widows) and to care for the Levites. If the Levites were to fail in their mission of teaching the Israelites their spiritual obligations, they would suffer for that, along with the poor. Would that it worked that way for our spiritual and political leaders today.
35 Boaz spoke to Ruth by calling her “my daughter” (2:2; 3:10-11). In 3:10, Boaz commends Ruth for not going after young men, but instead seeking him as her redeemer.
36 See Ruth 3:11.
37 See verses 22-33.
38 See Ruth 2:12.