In chapter 2 Samuel shows us the savior of the story, or better yet, one should say that God Himself provides a redeemer. Yes, every detail of this profound little story drives us forward to the coming encounter with the kinsman redeemer, Boaz. It may go without saying, but this author will still remind the reader that Boaz points us to the ultimate kinsman redeemer, Jesus Christ. God combines His sovereign might with His sovereign mercy as He creates the absolutely perfect man to snatch Ruth from the jaws of death. There is nobody in all of Israel more perfectly fitted to rescue Ruth from her unique situation than Boaz. The most creative artist in the world could not have crafted a more beautiful, a more poignant, or a more perfectly suited husband than the Boaz.
Elimelech’s actions have provoked the expected results of death and confusion, and so Samuel brings the reader to another important turning point in the story. From the chaos of the weakness and faithlessness of Elimelech, the Lord causes Ruth to emerge as the heroine. Naomi had resolved to return to Bethlehem for food while Ruth had determined to travel to the city in faith. The Jewish characters from whom one might have expected hope in the Lord have failed miserably. Only Ruth, the foreigner, turns in faith towards the city of bread.
The common portrait of Ruth as sorrowful and forlorn simply does not match the biblical story. John Keates (1795–1821) for instance, in his famous poem, Ode to a Nightingale, paints the all too typical picture of Ruth as haunted with sorrow and filled with despair.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations
tread thee down;
The voice I hear this
passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor
Perhaps the self-same song
that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home
She stood in tears amid the
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas,
in faery lands forlorn.
Many famous pictures and poems portray the young Ruth as beautiful but forlorn, as young but woeful. She is portrayed as haunted with the sadness of loss and filled with the despair of death—a despair that has driven her to a strange and foreign land. As Keates notes, she is homesick for Moab, and, like the beautiful nightingale, sings a charming but sad song that troubles the soul. According to Keates, Ruth stood among the sheaves, homesick. This imagery works well for art and creates excellent pictures for poetry, but compared to the actual story of Ruth, it looks like bad theology.1
The Bible actually paints a strikingly different portrait of our strong, young heroine. Ruth is not forlorn, but hopeful. She is at a new beginning, and she finds joy in her Lord. She is a new creature, and her life has a fresh new start. She is not homesick, nor is she sad and pining for her former life. To the contrary, Samuel portrays a fresh, hard-working and joyful young woman who is vibrant and filled with an unsullied sense of purpose and hope in the Lord. As such, she leads the story forward for us. Unlike the foolish Elimelech, who turned away from the house of bread for food in the cursed land of Moab, Ruth turns to the fields of Bethlehem, and in so doing, she turns the entire story in a new direction. She turns to the Lord of Bethlehem in faithfulness.
Naomi wallows in her bitterness; Ruth looks forward to the salvation of the Lord. She is a vibrant, strong woman of devotion who sees with the eyes of faith. As such, she pulls the story forward with hopeful anticipation of the Lord’s goodness. This is how Samuel draws us from the death and sorrow of Moab to the life and harvest of Bethlehem.
Chapter 2 inaugurates a dramatically different scene. Our two widows have come to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest, and a new man enters the picture. Samuel writes of an obvious change in the fortune of these two women that hinges on this new man, Boaz. He introduces the reader to Boaz, but in a way that draws or pulls one forward in the story toward the “hoped-for” center where Ruth and Boaz meet—and what a great meeting!
Everything about the new setting corresponds to the theme of resurrection. As a reader you must notice that the scene in Bethlehem undergoes a marked change from the beginning of the story. For instance, Bethlehem has now been transformed from famine to harvest, and Boaz is at the heart of these changes—he has been the one who made a difference in the city. The city is now a place of bread, and Boaz is deliberately connected to revival and to harvest. It is into this wondrous scene that Ruth enters the city.
Samuel uses the harvest to mark yet another fundamental turning point in our story. The barley harvest was the first of the cereals to be harvested, probably around April. This harvest, along with the wheat harvest, came to be identified with the festivals of Passover and Pentecost—times of celebration and praise. Harvest marks not only the blessing of Bethlehem, but connected with it, it marks the beginning of restoration or resurrection for Naomi. Harvest, then, has an appropriate resurrection connection. Our dead family returns to the land and is immediately confronted with the hope of harvest and resurrection. This is exactly what happens as the story unfolds.
Ruth 2:1 God Provides a Savior
There was a relative of Naomi’s husband, a mighty man of valor from the family of Elimelech whose name was Boaz.
Samuel tells us that Naomi had a relative, but at this point he is unknown, and we do not know that he is a near kinsman—merely a relative. Samuel’s vague description of our new man is like the description of chapter 1:1, “A certain man of Bethlehem of Judah.” However, our new man is described as a mighty man of valor. This phrase, mighty man of valor, usually refers to someone mighty or outstanding as a warrior. Some translations say that he was a “man of great wealth.” It is also important to note the King David will later be called an ish gabor hiyel or mighty man of valor. According to Andre LaCocque, “The parallel with David’s dynasty is not mere chance.”2 Thus, Samuel subtly makes the connection between the mighty man Boaz and his descendant, King David.
Boaz was certainly a man of great wealth, but his wealth is not emphasized in the story. Rather, Samuel points us to Boaz’s role as a powerful man of the city—not to his wealth per se. He was an influential and vital man in Bethlehem. His connection with David’s dynasty and the coming harvest is powerful in many ways; the connection is also eschatological because it speaks of the future.
Boaz was the ruler or judge of the city. If not in title, certainly Boaz was the man to whom everyone in the city looked as their leader. His exalted position enhances the humility and tenderness he shows as the story progresses. We should take note of his exalted position because as a Christ figure he will rescue Ruth with humility and tender mercy. All of his might is directed not to his own glory, but to the cause of the needy. As such, Boaz’s mighty position enhances the ultimate humility that he shows to this needy widow. What a stunning picture of our Savior!
As the story unfolds, Samuel reveals Boaz’s central importance as the kinsman redeemer. This is yet another of the many literary devices that Samuel uses to awaken the reader’s curiosity, as well as to foreshadow what will happen next in the story. The story is structured to force the reader to think about what God will do for the future of this dead family. The literary structure drives the reader to ask, “Who is this man that we have just met, and what will he do in our story?” This means that as we read the story we are driven to the future of this story, not only for what it means for our characters, but also for us. Indeed, this is what one might describe as an eschatological quality to the whole story. The reader is required to ask “Who are these people, and how do they relate to the overall story of the gospel?”
Samuel places Boaz in the first and last verse of this chapter, and he is clearly the pivotal character. He will mediate the “death to life” situation of our widows. He will act as the ultimate mediator. His description as a mighty man is not incidental to our story, but directs us to calculate his vital role in the unfolding drama.
It is helpful to notice that Boaz is related to the first men in our story but by way of extreme contrast. For instance, we can’t help but juxtapose this new strong man of chapter two with the weak man of chapter one. So far, all the men introduced at the beginning of our story were weak and failing. Now, however, God brings a strong man to the scene. Boaz will be the man who stands where the others have fallen. He is the one who remains strong and faithful where the others have been weak and faithless. You can’t miss Boaz’s role as the savior of the story. He emerges onto the scene and stands as the vital link between Ruth and Naomi. He rises as the link between the death of their family and the hope of life for the future. He becomes the link between the past and the future. Boaz holds, as it were, the destiny of these two widows in his hands.
Even though he is an old man, Boaz becomes associated with strength and hope. His name probably means alacrity (liveliness, alertness, action, willingness, readiness). He was an overcomer, a pillar. He foreshadows Jesus Christ and acts an example for those who would follow the Lord—Boaz is a pillar! One can see the theological connection of Boaz as a pillar in the temple of God in
1 Kings 7:21:
Then he set up the pillars by the vestibule of the temple; he set up the pillar on the right and called its name Jachin, and he set up the pillar on the left and called its name Boaz.
This gives us great insight as to what it means to be a pillar in the house of God. Boaz, who is a pillar in God’s house, is like Christ, who is called the foundation stone of the house of God. And, like Christ, his mercy and strength is focused toward redeeming the needy. Boaz offers a sterling example of Christ’s kindness as our savior.
In 1 Kings 7:21 the origin of the name of the other pillar, Jachin, is unknown. We know nothing more of Jachin than that he was a pillar of faith. He was a great man of faith, and was so great that he was named a pillar in the house of God. It is as if God has given us Boaz as a type of Christ, and then this unknown name points to the rest of us who follow in the way of Boaz or Christ. All the faithful of Christ become the pillars of the new temple, the Church of Jesus Christ. Maybe you are a Jachin. Certainly Ruth’s story highlights the extraordinary role that ordinary but faithful people play in the history redemption. According to Rev. 3:12, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.”
Furthermore, those of us who long to be pillars in the house of God would do well to study the life of Boaz.3 It looks like Samuel is highlighting the life of Boaz to help us to understand the life of our blessed Savior Jesus the Christ and to amplify our understanding of godly character.
From the fields of Moab to the Fields of Boaz
Ruth turns to the field of Boaz, which becomes the setting for the family’s salvation. In a sense, there was actually only one field in the land. The fields of Israel were divided into plots of land for the various families. If you remember from the beginning of the tribal settlements, all the families were given plots of land, which belonged to them permanently. If they sold their fields, as Elimelech had done, they either had to wait for the year of jubilee or they had to rely on a kinsmen redeemer to buy back their land for them.
Ruth 1:1 stated that a certain man went to sojourn in the “fields” of Moab. Verse 2 says that the family entered the “fields” of Moab and remained there. Ruth 1:6 mentions that Naomi wanted to return from the fields of Moab, for she heard in the field of Moab that the Lord had visited his people by giving them bread. Finally, in the last verse of chapter 1, Samuel says, “. . . who returned from the fields of Moab.” This sets the stage for a contrast with the fields of Bethlehem in Judah. It is helpful in terms of the theology of the story to take note of the kinds of parallels or contrasts that Samuel uses.
The story takes us from death in the fields of Moab to the life in Boaz’s portion of the fields of Judah. Ruth has now left the fields of Moab, and she has taken refuge in the fields of Boaz in Bethlehem of Judah. She has left the land of her pagan forefathers, and she has now entered into the land of promise. She is taking refuge in the land of God’s people. She leaves the fields of barrenness and death, and joins herself with the fields of harvest and life.
Laws of Gleaning
Since it was the harvest, it was an opportunity for those who were being blessed to help those who were less fortunate. Samuel provides the reader with yet another setting that has powerful literary and theological meaning. It helps us to make sense of the gleaning laws that played a central role in the setting of our story.
The reader might be tempted to ask the question, “Why didn’t Boaz provide for Naomi and Ruth immediately when they entered the city?” After all, he certainly had enough wealth to help them out of their situation financially. Perhaps he had questions about Naomi. After all, what kind of a family leaves the land of Judah for Moab? Wasn’t Naomi a bitter old woman whose bitterness could poison the people of God? God gave gleaning laws to help men ferret out precisely these kinds of questions about a person’s character.
The gleaning laws were helpful for people in all the right ways. Gleaning, as we will see, was hardly a welfare handout program. People who gleaned were not “on the dole.” God required the poor who were able-bodied to work for what they gleaned—they had to work very hard for the help that they received.
The fields were not shared in common in some kind of a socialistic manner. Rather, each family owned and cultivated their field or plot of ground. Hence, in Ruth 2:7, Samuel tells us that Ruth asked permission to glean. Perhaps in order to guard against the abuse of gleaning laws, the owners were at least notified. This would have been a practical and necessary growth of the practice of gleaning. In fact, there would be a very important need to ensure that only the truly needy gleaned from the property. True generosity always distinguishes between the “worthy” poor and others. This may sound callous and contrary to charitable kindness, but it appears to be a necessary part of responsible charity. There is no doubt that Paul makes similar distinctions in 1 Timothy 4 when he speaks of widows who are worthy of the support of the church. Thus, God’s love to the needy requires personal responsibility, which ultimately blesses those who give and those who receive.
The poor of the land were to be assisted. But most of them were helped as they were allowed to help themselves to the excess of the wealthy—they were required to work. God provided that the corners of fields were not to be reaped, and if you accidentally dropped a sheaf, you were required to leave it behind for the needy according to the law of Moses (Leviticus 19:9; 23:22, Deuteronomy 24:17ff). Extra blessings were to be left for the poor to glean. Similar laws were given regarding vineyards and olive yards. Note Leviticus 19:9,10—
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God.
And Deuteronomy 24:17–22,
You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing. When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this thing.
Gleanings are those pieces of barley or wheat that were either not gathered or that had fallen to the ground in the process of harvesting. These laws were perfect for the rich and for the poor—they required the wealthy to have a proper sensitivity to God’s blessings and to those less fortunate. They also required the poor to be responsible to work, and to be accountable to property owners as well as thankful for the blessings they received. God’s people were not to obsess with collecting every drop of God’s riches. Those who were blessed at harvest were required to share, and those who were needy could not demand a handout—they had to work. Those who had abundance were to possess it with open hands. They were never allowed to grasp too tightly to the material things with which God has blessed them.
God’s people are all beggars and suppliants; we are all needy without the mercy of the Lord. God’s people should be so aware of the compassion that has been poured out upon them, that when they see the needy, they are reminded of their own lot without God, and it should help them to respond with God’s compassion to others. God’s people (with Boaz as the classic example) ought to be characterized by kindness and mercy.
Ruth’s story does not involve a needy widow as some kind of a massive coincidence. No, Ruth’s story has covenant or theological purpose to it. Ruth was by all accounts a needy person in the land. She most certainly qualified as a needy person at virtually every level. She was a widow and a foreigner, and she was exposed and without security. Ruth needed a protector; she needed a savior.
Widows were to be treated with kindness (Exodus 22:22, Deuteronomy 14:29, 16:11, 24:17–21, 26:12, 27:19). In the New Testament the same tender regard for them is inculcated (Acts 6:1–6, 1Timothy 5:3–16) and exhibited. See also, James 1:27,
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
Ruth 2:3 The Beauty of Redemption: (God the poet, we his poems)
Then she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
Samuel’s deliberate use of the phrase “happened upon” the field of Boaz actually heightens our sense of the sovereign hand of God. God is crafting a masterpiece of redemption. With better dexterity than a Renaissance artist, God has been at work for many years. Indeed, the man Boaz is so beautifully created to be the absolutely perfect man to redeem Ruth that it should amaze us and inspire us.
It is good to reflect on the sovereign artistic hand of God at work here in our story. God is the ultimate story teller and artist—he is the great poet of redemption. He not only creates the plot for the narrative, but he sovereignly crafts everything in all of history towards the perfect ending. Paul describes all Christians as the “poetry of God.” He says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
We ought to mediate on the love, the attention, the care, the artistry that God gives to us. Here again we should be moved by that reality as we consider the work of God in our story. Of course Ruth did not just “happen” to walk up to the fields of Boaz. Think of the beautiful irony in the story so far. Elimelech didn’t “happen” to fumble his way to Moab from Bethlehem. The ironic reversal is unmistakable. Did a man and woman whose names meant “God is my king” and “pleasantness” really just happen to make the choices that led them to have two sons names “weakness” and “wasting away”?
The reversal of the curse of Moab through Ruth was not a miracle of fate. What about the incestuous beginnings of Moab as the source of the reversal of the incestuous break in the tribe of Judah found in Genesis 38 with Judah and Tamar? What a masterpiece of redemption! The reader ought to recall that Moab was the son of Lot from an incestuous relationship with his daughter. What a perfectly horrible source for hope! Maybe not; maybe this is a perfectly wonderful source of salvation to highlight the masterful God of grace. He uses everything that humanly speaking is completely the opposite. In God’s artistic love he highlights the strokes of an artist’s brush as he reverses the irreversible! No wonder one of the most popular hymns in history is entitled “Amazing Grace.”
The reader becomes blissfully aware that God had been at work in this man, Boaz, just as he had been with Ruth. Boaz is suited in so many ironic and artistic ways to be the perfect man for Ruth. If the reader follows the tidbits of information about Boaz in other sections of the Bible, then he is amazed. For instance, in Matthew 1:5 we find recorded that Boaz was the son of Rahab the harlot.
Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king.
Think of it! Who would be better fitted to appreciate our heroine Ruth than a man whose own mother had walked in Ruth’s sandals? Yes, Rahab the harlot was Boaz’s mother. Could there be a better man for Ruth?
Boaz of all men knew of the plight of strangers in the land, and he didn’t know this plight from the Scriptures only. Because his mother Rahab had walked where Ruth was now walking, Boaz intimately understood the pain of being an alien woman in the land of Israel. He knew what it meant to need the mercy of the people of God. He had learned from his own mother to have a heart of mercy and kindness to the needy. He already knew what James would write centuries later when he said that true religion consists in looking after the orphan and widow in distress. What a poignant scene we have—Ruth the Moabitess meets the tender-hearted son of a former prostitute who had also been a foreigner in the land. What a beautiful story!
Here again Boaz points us to Jesus. Could there be a better Savior for us but Jesus? Jesus is the one who left heavenly glory to become a human like us. Jesus understands us. When we come to Him we are coming to one who is not a distant judge or remote king; but we come to one who has been tempted in all ways just as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:14–16 says, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
God, the artist of redemption, God, the poet of salvation, creates a masterpiece in everyone who believes. Who can remain silent in the presence of such amazing grace!
1. James Dennison, audio tapes, Ruth.
2. Andre LaCocque, Ruth, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2004), p. 62.
3. Jim Jordan, “Ruth.”
Questions for Consideration
1. Explain why the popular portrait of Ruth is wrong.
2. What is the theological significance of the “harvest”?
3. What does the title, “mighty man of valor” mean?
4. How does this title highlight Boaz’s acts of kindness?
5. What can we learn from this?
6. What is the significance of the setting in “fields”?
7. Describe the laws of gleaning.
8. Explain the artistry in God using Boaz.
9. How is there always similar artistry in our own salvation?