By Peter Amsterdam
October 25, 2022
Naomi, the Jewish woman whose husband and two sons died in Moab, decided she would return to Bethlehem, where she was originally from. Orpah and Ruth, the two Moabite wives of her deceased sons, went with her as she started on the journey. However, after starting the trip to Bethlehem, Naomi told her daughters-in-law that they should return to Moab, where they could find new husbands. She blessed them and bade them farewell. Orpah returned to Moab, but Ruth refused to leave, saying,
“Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.1
So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.2
True to her word, Ruth went with Naomi to Bethlehem. We don’t know how long their journey took nor how far it was, as we’re not told exactly where in Moab they had settled. We’re also not told if they walked the whole way or had a donkey and cart to transport them, nor which route they took; but it was probably a trip of 45 to 90 miles (72 to 144 kilometers), depending on the route they took. All we know is that they made the journey, and when they arrived, the whole town was aware. Naomi and Ruth’s arrival was the talk of the town. It had been ten years since Naomi and her husband had left Bethlehem, and now she had returned as a widow with a Moabite daughter-in-law.
The women of the town asked, “Is this Naomi?” Naomi responded in what was likely anguish, Don’t call me Naomi [which means pleasant] … call me Mara [which means bitter]. While Naomi made this statement, there is no evidence that anyone took her up on her request to be called this negative name. Naomi’s outlook upon her return to Bethlehem was despair rather than hope. In her view, the Almighty had dealt bitterly with her. Years earlier, she left Bethlehem with a husband and two sons and probably some resources. She now returns with only a Moabite daughter-in-law and probably few or no resources. She questioned why God had brought all this calamity upon her. In her view, the Almighty had made her life bitter, brought her back empty, afflicted her, and brought her misfortune. But the story doesn’t end there.
Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”3
The two women arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest, which would have been in late March or early April. The book of Leviticus commanded that when crops were harvested, some of the produce was to be left for the poor.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”4
Ruth suggested to Naomi that she could go into the fields in Bethlehem in order to glean the grain in the field of someone who would allow her to do so.
So she set out 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 clan of Elimelech.5
Boaz was a prominent man in Bethlehem, and was from the same clan as Elimelech. He is described as a worthy man.6
And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.”7
After greeting the workers, Boaz spoke with the man who was in charge. He inquired about Ruth, wanting to know who she was. He knew his workers and apparently those who gleaned the fields as well, and he noticed Ruth and recognized her as new. The foreman told Boaz what he knew about Ruth. He also commented on her work ethic, as she had worked continually from early morning, taking only a short break. The foreman was impressed with her, as she asked politely if she could glean, and she had a good work ethic.
Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.”8
Having gotten a good report from the foreman, Boaz spoke to Ruth directly. Referring to her as my daughter might have been a reference to how much younger she was than him. It could also reflect that she was now under his protection. She was to work alongside his women workers.
Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”9
Ruth was astounded by Boaz’s kind words and bowed down before him, asking why he was showing her, a Moabite, such kindness. Boaz explained that he knew what she had given up—her parents and the land of her birth—and that she had committed herself not only to her mother-in-law, Naomi, but also to the God of Israel. He prayed that God would repay her for the sacrifices she had made, that He would give her a full reward, as she would abide under His wings.
Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.”10
Ruth was deeply touched by what Boaz had said and how he had treated her, especially since she was a foreigner. His kind words had given her comfort, which likely made her feel safe.
And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over.11
When it was time for the workers to eat, Boaz invited Ruth to sit with him. He offered her some bread, which was then dipped in wine vinegar, which was probably like a sauce of some kind which softened the hard bread, making it easier to eat. Ruth had some leftovers which, as we’ll see, she took home to Naomi.
When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”12
Once Ruth went back to gleaning, Boaz told his harvesters to actively help her. He instructed them to pull out stalks from the grain that was already gathered and bundled, and to leave those stalks in her path so that she could collect them. They were also told not to insult, shame, or humiliate her.
So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied.13
Ruth worked nonstop until it was evening. After collecting the harvest, she then threshed it by beating it. The day’s work yielded an ephah of barley, which was the equivalent of six gallons. This amount would last the two women for several weeks.
And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man's name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.”14
Naomi wanted to hear all the details about Ruth’s successful day working. After all, she brought home weeks’ worth of food. Ruth gave her the details and told her about Boaz. Naomi responded by asking the LORD to bless him. She also praised the LORD for His kindness. Even though she had felt as if the LORD had stopped caring for her and her family, she now realized that God’s kindness toward her and Ruth was shown through the kindness of Boaz.
Boaz was one of their guardian-redeemers. A guardian-redeemer was a close family member who was responsible to buy back family land which might be or had been sold, in order to ensure that it did not pass out of the family.15 Over time it came to be understood that the redeemers ought to also take responsibility for caring for needy relatives.
And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’” And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.16
Naomi spoke to Ruth about the benefits of continuing on with Boaz’s workers. She would be safe, as she’d be working with his young women. This would keep her from working elsewhere, where she might have risked being assaulted. She continued working until the barley and wheat harvests came to an end. This was about a three-month period.
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Ruth 1:16–18.
2 Ruth 1:19–22.
3 Ruth 2:1–2.
4 Leviticus 19:9–10.
5 Ruth 2:3.
6 Ruth 2:1.
7 Ruth 2:4–7.
8 Ruth 2:8–9.
9 Ruth 2:10–12.
10 Ruth 2:13.
11 Ruth 2:14.
12 Ruth 2:15–16.
13 Ruth 2:17–18.
14 Ruth 2:19–20.
15 See Leviticus 25:25. (See also Deut. 25:5–10.)
16 Ruth 2:21–23.