Experiencing God’s Providence (2:1-7)
The first chapter of Ruth depicts a woman named Naomi who has lost everything. In Ruth 1:20-21 she says, “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?” However, the chapter ends with a small picture of hope that she and Ruth (her daughter-in-law) have returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. It is the beginning of a time of hope and reversal.
The second of act of our narrative begins with a man named Boaz. The description given to Boaz is “quite ambiguous and capable of a wide range or interpretations” (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary, 116). This can be seen by looking at the differences in the English versions. The ESV reads that Boaz is a “worthy man” while the NASB reads “a man of great wealth” and the HCSB reads “a prominent man of noble character.” The NET says he is “a wealthy, prominent man” and the NIV says “a man of standing.” So which is it? Does he have noble character, great wealth, or prominence and influence? This is a phrase that refers to a mighty man of valor (cf. Judges 6:12) but that does not fit here in Ruth well because we do not read of Boaz leading an army or fighting in battle. Since this phrase can refer to his character, his economic standing, and his social standing and this fits with what we read about Boaz in this book, it is appropriate to accept all three. He is noble in respect to his character, he is a wealthy man, and he is an influential, prominent man. Now the wording about his relationship to Naomi is also interesting. He is described as a relative of Naomi’s husband and from the clan of Elimelech. This description shows great social distance. They live on a whole different level on the social and economic structure of life than Naomi.
In verse 2 we see Ruth asking Naomi to allow her to “go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” Gleaning was a provision for the poor. The farm owner was not allowed to harvest every grain but were to leave some in the field and that which fell to ground while reaping (Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21). You were not to strip the field bare during the harvest but leave some out there for the poor. This is what Ruth is asking to do so that she and Naomi can eat. Now the language of the account invokes the providence of God. In verse 3 Ruth just so happens to find a field that belonged to Boaz, the distant relative of Elimelech. Further, in verse 4 it just so happened that Boaz came from Bethlehem (the house of bread) to his very field. The account is directly pointing out how God is at work. We can be blind to the plan of God but that does not mean that God is not working!
So Boaz arrives and says to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” This is amazing because if you remember that these are the days of the judges, a time of great wickedness and evil. But the text is validating for us that this Boaz is a worthy man of noble spiritual character. Then Boaz asks who the woman is and who she belongs to. He is asking if she is married who is her husband and if she is not married then who is her father. The reapers respond that this is a young Moabite woman who came with Naomi from Moab. She asked to glean and gather and she is taking a lot because she has worked all day (2:7).
Hope In God’s Faithfulness (2:8-13)
Now listen to the kindness and generosity of Boaz. He tells Ruth to not leave his field and to stay with the other young women. He tells her to follow the harvesters and gather what she wants. Further, he has told the young men to leave her alone while she is out there working. Finally, when she is thirsty, go to the vessels and drink the water that the men have drawn from the well. What grace and favor! Stay in my field, take what you want, follow the harvesters, stay with the other young women, enjoy my protection, and help yourself to our water. Ruth is stunned by Boaz’s generosity and asks in verse 10 why she has found favor in his eyes especially because she is a foreigner. Boaz tells her that he has heard about what she has done since the death of her husband and how she has been steadfastly loyal to Naomi. Now listen to the key for this chapter which is found in verse 12: “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!” Boaz sees himself as an instrument of God’s blessing to Ruth. Boaz is declaring a blessing on Ruth for her faithfulness but then sees himself as a means for that blessing from God to flow.
We must think of ourselves in the same light. We can be the instruments of God’s providence to those who are hurting. We can be the blessings to other people who need help spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Boaz does not begrudge Ruth but provides above and beyond for her. Boaz is going the extra mile (Matthew 5:41) and giving to the one who begs of him (Matthew 5:42). We must desire to be the conduit of God’s blessings to others. The apostle Paul told us why we work.
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Ephesians 4:28 ESV)
See ourselves as a conduit of God’s blessing and providence to others.
Enjoying God’s Provision (2:14-23)
But then the blessings become more amazing. At mealtime Boaz tells Ruth to come in and eat with the reapers until she was satisfied and had food left over. This outsider, this foreigner who has no reason to expect a blessing, is receiving an immense blessing by God through Boaz. She is not being treated as an outsider but as one who belongs. She is given equal status among the reapers. Then Boaz tells the young men to let her even reap from the harvest itself and intentionally pull out bundles of grain and leave it for her (2:15). So Ruth gleans until the evening and brings back to Naomi this amazing amount of grain along with the leftovers from her meal. Naomi is just is shock. Listen to what she says in verse 19. “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So Ruth says that she worked in the field of a man named Boaz. This means nothing to Ruth. She thinks she has stumbled upon a random field and does not know that God is at work.
Naomi first expresses praise and gratefulness. “May be he blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” (2:20). Notice that Naomi recognizes Boaz as a conduit of God’s blessings. His kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead, in which Naomi is referring to herself as the dead one because she has lost her family and is economically doomed. But Boaz has caused the dead to be alive because of his kindness and generosity. Further, Naomi tells Ruth that Boaz is a close relative, one of our redeemers.
Now we need to understand what Naomi is saying by calling Boaz a redeemer. The HCSB and NLT call him a family redeemer, the NIV calls him a guardian-redeemer, and the NET says he is our guardian. This is not a spiritual connotation of the word. He is not one who saves from sins. Rather, the person is a near relative who is responsible for the economic well-being of a relative. He is to help the family in distress when they cannot get themselves out of the crisis. According to the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, the word refers to “a near relative who was responsible for (1) purchase of clan property sold out of economic necessity, thus keeping the land in the clan (Lev 25:25–30; Jer 32:1–15); (2) buying the clan members out of slavery if he had the money (Lev 25:47–55); (3) in the case of the redeemer of blood, pursuing and taking vengeance on anyone who killed a clan member (Num 35:12, 19–27; Deut 19:6, 12; Josh 20:2–9); (4) acting as clan representative to receive restitution money due a deceased clan member (Num 5:8; cf. Lev 6:1–7); and (5) as demonstrated by metaphorical use of the term, assisting clan members in lawsuits to see justice done (Job 19:25; Ps 119:154; Prov 23:11; Jer 50:34).” It is important to state here and we will consider again in the next chapter is that there is no requirement for marriage. Boaz should be seen as a benefactor for this family. God has brought Ruth in the field of Boaz, who is godly man, a worthy man who has the economic ability to be a benefactor and caregiver for Naomi and Ruth. Therefore, Ruth continues to glean in the field of Boaz until the end of the barley and wheat harvests (2:23).
We have seen in this chapter a couple of important messages. We have seen that God can be at work in our lives, bringing a blessing to us when we do not even see it. The unseen hand of God provides us for us in rich and surprising that we simply do not recognize. How terrible it is that we criticize God for something we think he should be doing for us when we have no idea what God may have already done so far! We should consider every blessing as coming from God’s hand.
Further, we should see ourselves as instruments of God’s blessing. We should look for ways that we can be a conduit of God’s blessings to one another and to the world, showing the goodness and glory of God to all. What can you do today to be show the blessing of God to another?
Closely tied to this idea we are able to see that even in our disaster God is at work. God can work through our tragedy. Tragedy does not mean that God is not there. Distress does not mean that God is not working to bring a blessing through the distress. Sometimes we are given just a small sliver of hope like Naomi is given from Boaz. Things are still a disaster in Naomi’s life. But they have found a redeemer, someone who holds the promise of help, protection, security, and hope. How often God works through pain and suffering to bring a blessing and help us in our time of need! I think about this in my own life that I have shared with you many times. My parents divorced when I was in elementary school and it was devastating to my life. I cannot begin to explain and describe all of the pain and difficult that proceeding from the divorce, not only in the immediate term but lasted for years and years and years. It did not seem that there was any way for the pain and hurt to end. But it is only through this tragedy that I would decide to go to Florida College. This would not have happened without the divorce. By going to Florida College, I found the love of my life and have a wonderful family. Further, I would not be preaching the gospel if the divorce had not moved me to Florida so that I could be in my father’s training program eventually in Arkansas. Tragedy and pain changed the direction of my life that I could not see but changed everything for the future of my life. Notice that this is exactly what we have seen in the book of Ruth. Tragedy strikes Naomi which is going to cause a dramatic change in life direction. Rather than living in Moab happily ever after, she moves back to Bethlehem with Ruth, who then finds their family redeemer who can now provide for them. Through tragedy, life is moving to a blessing. Friends, just because you are experiencing deep tragedy and distress does not mean that God is not working a blessing if you will remain faithful to him and trust him. May we seek a deeper faith to trust God more, who loves his people and blesses his children.