By the providence of God, Ruth had been brought to the field of Boaz. It was the day of the judges when everyone did what was right in his own eyes, and the law was little regarded any more. The poor were left uncared for and oppressed. There were few fields in harvest time where a gleaner could expect to find enough grain to be worthwhile gathering. Meanwhile, there was the ever present danger, especially for a young woman, of being molested if allowed to enter at all. But Ruth in her young and tender faith, unmindful of the situation, trusted in the provisions of the law and went forth to glean nonetheless; and the hand of the Lord led her to the field of Boaz. He was a man, unique in his day, who still knew the law of God and abided by its commandments, and he was near of kin.
With characteristic meekness, but diligence, Ruth labored all day gathering the grain which had been left standing in the corners of the field or which had escaped or fallen from the hands of the reapers. Quite unmindful was she of the fact that her reputation had gone before her. She was recognized immediately as the Moabitish maiden who had befriended her mother-in-law, Naomi. The whole community had observed with what selfless devotion she comforted Naomi in her sorrow and cared for her in her need. Especially Boaz, when he had heard of it, had felt how she put Israel to shame with her simple devotion by reflecting the principle of love commanded by their law. As soon as he knew it was now she that gleaned in his fields, he determined to show her like kindness in return. It was the least that he could do. Naomi was related to him through Elimelech, and he felt a responsibility to her. He would have liked to help her in her need, but without a request from Naomi he had not known exactly how it could be done. Here was the opportunity. Graciously he shared with Ruth his noontime meal and instructed the reapers to drop “handfuls of purpose” where she was gleaning. Quite unaware of the special attention she was receiving, Ruth worked with application until evening. When she was through, she had gleaned a full ephah (well over a bushel) of barley, a highly unusual amount for a day of mere gleaning.
Returning at evening to her home, Ruth was greeted by a very anxious and relieved Naomi. For Naomi the day had been one of fear and extreme anxiety. She had known so well how far selfishness and sin had carried Israel away from the observance of the law. Although she had not dared to forbid Ruth to glean, lest her new found faith in the provisions of the law should be undermined, she had feared that the experience for Ruth could be little more than a disappointment and disillusionment. She only hoped that it would not be too painful. Already in the morning, she had begun to look for Ruth’s return with some bitter tale of shame and disappointment. But Ruth did not come, and hour by hour Naomi’s fear grew to greater proportions. She could think of little else. What if Ruth had been molested or suffered violence? How could she ever forgive herself for having allowed Ruth to go, or at least for not having suppressed her pride and accompanied Ruth into the field? When, at last, with night approaching, she saw Ruth coming through the dusk apparently safe and unharmed, she rushed forth to greet her with a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanksgiving.
Then came the surprise when Ruth laid down at her feet the full ephah of barley which she had been carrying. In former years, it would have appeared to her a rather paltry amount, hardly worth the day’s effort. But now her eyes had become accustomed to measure in terms of poverty, and it appeared a mountain in size. Instinctively she knew that this was much more than could possibly be expected from an ordinary day of gleaning the remains of an already harvested field, especially for one as inexperienced in the arts of harvesting as Ruth. Behind it there must be something unexpected. In her surprise the questions poured forth, “Where hast thou gleaned today? and where wroughtest thou? blessed be he that did take knowledge of thee.”
Ruth was more than ready to answer. She had found her day to be a wonderful and exhilarating experience. She had found the satisfaction of engaging in productive labor as she gathered the grain and prepared it. But more, she had found in Boaz a perfect example of what she felt a man of Israel ought to be according to the law which God had given. So she answered Naomi, “The man’s name with whom I wrought to day is Boaz,” and from there undoubtedly went on to relate all that had taken place within the day. Eagerly and with enthusiasm, Ruth told how she had been greeted and welcomed to the field of Boaz both by the laborers and by Boaz himself, how she had been encouraged with kind words and invited to share in the meal of Boaz and his workers, how she had had no difficulty at all in finding more than enough grain that could easily be gleaned. It had been a day of pleasant relationships and experience throughout.
It was while she was recounting these events that there gradually began to dawn upon Naomi a new thought which she had not dared to anticipate before. It brought from her the final answer, “Blessed be he of the LORD, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and the dead,” and then by way of explanation added, “The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen.”
Already before they had left Moab, Naomi had warned Ruth, as she had Orpah also, that there was little possibility that she would find another husband in Israel. There were reasons for this. It was not that the law had made no provisions for the widow whose husband had died without leaving her children and a family; it had. The law clearly stipulated that in such an instance it was the duty of the brother, or nearest of kin, to take the widow to be his wife and raise up children to his brother. Thus the man’s name and family would be retained in Israel. But Naomi had little confidence that this would happen. She knew too well the state of Israel in that day. It was a sinful day, when few took the law seriously any more. Each did what was right in his own eyes; and this law of kinsmen responsibility had never been generally accepted. Already in the days of Jacob, Judah had ignored it (See Gen. 38), and the generations that followed had done little better. The law depicted an ideal state, but rarely had it been carried out in practice. And in this instance there was even more reason than usual not to expect anything to come from it. Ruth was a Moabitess. Although this was really now irrelevant because Ruth was a convert to the religion of Israel and had become part of the nation through her marriage to Chilion, it would provide more than ample excuse for anyone who wished to evade his responsibility under the law.
This had been Naomi’s chief reason for sorrow after the death of her husband and children. It was her deepest desire, along with that of every true believer in Israel, that through her children and family her name and place in Israel would be carried on into the promised glory and blessing of the nation. But now with her husband and children dead, it was as though her family had been cut off from the future of Israel; they had become a dry root in the nation of promise. Neither did she feel free to demand their rights before the elders; for, after all, it was God who had cut them short because of their sin of having left the nation.
And now into her darkness, there suddenly burst forth a small glimmering of promise and light. It was Boaz. She had not thought of him; she hardly remembered him; he had, perhaps, been little more than a child when they had left Bethlehem for Moab. If his parents had been faithful believers, she could hardly have expected that he would have carried on their faith in those days of gross apostasy. Only as Ruth eagerly poured forth her unusually pleasant experiences in gleaning, did Naomi gradually begin to understand that here was a man who was different. The every word and action of Boaz toward his servants and toward the poor, as carefully related by Ruth, testified to the fact that he was one who abided by the law of God and found his pleasure in its way of love toward every neighbor. If he did this so carefully with regard to the laws of gleaning, was it not to be expected that he would do so in every respect? It seemed almost unbelievable suddenly to remember that this man was actually their kinsman. It would seem that he was not an immediate relative, for then she would have thought of it earlier. But as she thought back, she began to realize he was one of the closest they had, nonetheless. It was as though the Lord had taken over their lives and led Ruth to him. And he had responded favorably, with kindness and with mercy. Could it be that here was one who still retained sufficient love and respect for the law that he would honor his responsibility as a kinsman? Could it be that he would raise up a seed unto her son and her husband that their name might not be cut off forever from Israel? Could it be that the Lord had not cut them off completely, but was returning to restore to them a place among His people? For the first time again Naomi began to taste the sweet joy of hope for the future. With irrepressible joy, Naomi burst forth, “Blessed be he of the LORD, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and the dead . . . The man is near of kin unto us.”
Even more reassuring was Ruth’s next statement, “He said unto me also, Thou shalt keep fast by my young men, until they have ended all my harvest.” This was more than just normal concern for the poor in their gleaning. It seemed to indicate that he felt for Ruth a special concern, a special favor, perhaps a special responsibility.
Quietly but firmly, she answered by instructing Ruth, “It is good, my daughter, that thou go out with his maidens, that they meet thee not in any other field.” Naomi, through the years, had learned the lessons of discretion. It was best not to force the issue and make immediate demands of Boaz beyond that which he suggested. She and her husband had once tried to force their lives into more favorable circumstances, and it had led to disaster. They would wait patiently now for some further indication from Boaz as to his continuing concern and favor. But meanwhile, they would not spurn his suggestion. It was well that Ruth should become identified with him alone in her gleaning. They were dependent upon him more than anyone else in Israel; and, if possible, she wanted him to know it.
Of the days and weeks that followed before the grain was all gathered from the field in harvest, we are not told. But we may well imagine the ever deepening relation of mutual respect which developed between Ruth and Boaz. Every day Ruth found herself secretly but with increasing frequency casting swift glances toward where Boaz was working. In him she saw a perfect example of the ideal man of Israel, and his every action indicated that to her. She tried hard not to let herself think it was more than this. In turn Boaz, with almost embarrassing but irresistible frequency, found himself making special provisions for the convenience of Ruth. She deserved it, he thought; it was the least that he could do for her. It was the beginning of love. Neither dared to admit it, for they regarded themselves each as quite undeserving of the other. But it was a beautiful love above many others because it was founded in a mutual regard for God and His law.