And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter.
And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech. . . . .
And when she was risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the; sheaves, and reproach her not.
And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not.
Having made their home in Bethlehem, Naomi and Ruth were left with one great problem,—they possessed no means of livelihood, they were poor.
For Naomi this was a very severe burden. She knew that in Israel the law had made special provisions for the care of the poor; but at the same time there were heavy considerations which made her hesitant to avail herself of them.
In the first place, there was the continual consciousness of guilt which made her life bitter. At one time she and her family had been cared for in the land, they had even prospered; but when the days of hardship and famine had come, they had refused to share them, they had fled the land. For this they had been punished, and the Lord had cut off her family from eventual participation in Israel’s promised future. Now that she had returned alone to Bethlehem, she feared to leave the impression with anyone that she thought herself to have a right to share in the prosperity that had returned to the land. She would rather suffer: even die, than to appear presumptuous in her sin.
Intermixed with this, and inconsistently so, was an element of natural pride. Naomi had been raised in Israel as one of the higher and more prosperous class of people. She had learned almost unconsciously to look down upon the poor, and now she was poor herself. As wrong as she knew it was, she hated to admit her state. She found it hard to meet those whom she had known in former years. It was easier to let Ruth carry out what contacts had to be made with these people, and this Ruth graciously did.
Finally, and most discouraging for Naomi, was the realization of how far short Israel actually came from living according to the precepts of the law. The poor were supposed to be taken care of, but few took this seriously anymore. Their pleas for assistance were most likely to be answered with sneers and derisions. When it came to the rights of the poor to glean; a harvest field, they might be openly denied, or else allowed only because not enough was left in it to make gleaning worthwhile. Those who nonetheless did venture out in their desperation could figure on being made the objects of taunts and humiliations. A lone, unprotected woman might fear things even worse. These were the days of the judges, when every man did that which was right in his own eyes; and Naomi knew it full well.
Troubled by all this, Naomi found her life indeed bitter. She had only one consolation, that was her daughter-in-law from Moab. In Ruth was a spirit of kindness, consideration, and love the like of which the village of Bethlehem could not remember. On any day she could be seen cheerfully doing whatever she could to provide comfort and assistance to Naomi. Poverty did not trouble her. Humility and meekness she wore as a crown. Joy filled her every labor. The village watched and wondered what could give rise to such selfless devotion.
To Ruth herself it was no mystery. She had found a joy in life which she assumed that everyone in Israel had tasted. To her had come the privilege of dwelling among Jehovah’s chosen people. She realized that it was only the smallest of places. She was a Moabitish woman, and her only right was based upon her very brief marriage to Chilion. She was ready to accept Naomi’s verdict that no other Israelite could be expected to find interest in her, so that she would be left without a family and without a future in Israel. What she had was enough nonetheless. What did the poverty matter? of what concern the lowliest of labor? To her it was much better to be the lowliest of servants in the household of God than to dwell in the tents of Moab forever.
There was perhaps a certain naivetÃ© about Ruth during those early days in Bethlehem. We can understand that. While still in Moab, Chilion and Naomi had spent many hours telling her about Jehovah and His people. They had been anxious for her to love them as they did. Thus, quite understandably, they had described for her the ideal state of Israel set forth in the law and not the wretched lawlessness into which the nation had fallen. Through their efforts and by the grace of God, she had come to love the righteousness and mercy of Jehovah with which Moab had nothing to compare. She could not imagine but that everyone who had heard the words, of the law must feel the same about it as she did. Coming into Bethlehem, she assumed that everyone there shared the same joy of love which filled her heart. If Naomi had tried to warn her against this, it had gone uncomprehended. Surely it could be only a rare person in Israel that did not appreciate the wonder of their God.
Thus it was that soon after their arrival in Bethlehem at the time of Barley harvest, Ruth said to Naomi, “Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace.” She had heard from the law the precept of Moses, “When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hath forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.” (Deut. 24:19) To her this was extremely beautiful. It really did not matter to her that she would be a recipient of this kindness. Had she been blessed with possessions, she would have distributed just as willingly. The important thing was that in Israel every one acknowledged that all they received was from the hand of the Lord. Together they were to share in the blessings of God with thankfulness and love. Ruth welcomed the opportunity which was hers to participate in this joy of harvest.
We may well imagine, however, with what uncertainty Naomi listened to this request. She knew full well how far short Israel could come from this ideal. The one who wished to glean in the fields of Israel was almost sure to meet with endless humiliations. She could expect to be turned back from field after field with taunts and even curses. If at last she did find a field where gleaning was allowed, she was almost sure to find it stripped so bare that gleaning would be all but fruitless. Alone in the field she would be abused, and a young woman might well find herself in danger. Should she not warn Ruth of this. But Naomi could not, lest the new found faith of this young convert be dashed by disillusionment. Quietly, fearfully, and with a prayer in her heart, Naomi answered, “Go, my daughter.”
“And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz.” This was not the cold, impersonal hap of luck or chance so often claimed by the world. It was the hap of God often spoken of in Scripture. His hand guided the young and tender Ruth to the place which had been determined for her. She came to the field of Boaz.
Boaz was a man unique in his generation. He loved the Lord with all his heart and walked in His fear. He knew the law and followed it in all that he did. His fields were open to all of the poor who wished to glean them. As the law commanded, the corners were left standing for them, and the reapers did not return to pick up that which had fallen from their hands. Boaz obeyed the Lord, and by the hand of the Lord he prospered. Still he was alone in his generation. Few thought to follow his example. Rather, they despised him for it. Boaz had come to the strength of his manhood, but he had never married. He had not fond a woman who would share with him his faith in God and his love for the law.
Coming to his fields, the faith of Boaz was reflected in his greeting to the reapers. “The LORD be with you,” he said to them, and they accordingly answered, “The LORD bless thee.”
Immediately the eyes of Boaz were attracted to the young stranger who labored among the gleaners. We do not know if Ruth was beautiful; she may have been. Surely there was about her the attractiveness peculiar to young women, particularly in the eyes of a single man. But there was more than this in Ruth. On her face and in her every action was reflected the cheerfulness of spirit from which the truest beauty arises. It could be seen that she found pleasure in the privilege of honest labor. With impulsive interest, Boaz asked the reapers, “Whose damsel is this?”
The reapers too had been impressed by Ruth, and particularly by the gentleness of her request to glean behind them. They answered Boaz, It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab. And she said, I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.”
With this the interest of Boaz became even greater. He was a relative of Elimelech, and he had heard of Ruth’s kindness to Naomi although he had never met her. Hers was a spirit of love seldom found any more in Israel. Immediately Boaz was attracted to her and longed to show her kindness. Without hesitation he went to her side and said, “Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from thence, but abide her fast by my maidens: let thine eyes Abe on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn.”
Surprised by this unexpected outpouring of kindness, Ruth meekly leaned down and with eyes to the groundanswered, “Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?”
For this Boaz was ready and answered, “It bath fully been showed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.”
Here was the same faith that had come) to live so recently in Ruth’s own heart. She understood it, though she did not feel as though she deserved it. After all, she was a stranger and not of Israel. Gratefully she answered, “Let me find favor in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens.”
That noon, by special invitation of Boaz, Ruth went to eat with him and with the reapers. With them she found herself strangely at home, more so than she had ever really felt with her own people in Moab. With them she shared a singular joy, the love of Jehovah, Israel’s God. She had tasted it first when she had heard the words of the law of God. Now she found again, as she had with Chilion and Naomi, that it was a power that united together all that believed in Jehovah.
Little did Ruth realize, however, that Boaz too found their meeting to be an almost unique experience. In all of his years in Israel, he had not found such unity of faith as he felt with this young convert from Moab. His heart went out to her from the very first. This was reflected when, after Ruth had returned to her gleaning, he instructed the reapers, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not: and let fall handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not.”