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Go to Bible: Ruth 2
“a relative of her husband.” Boaz took wonderful care of Naomi and Ruth even though Naomi was only related to him by marriage. The word “relative” here is not the same as “kinsman-redeemer.”
“a man of noble character.” The Hebrew can be translated a number of different ways, as we see in the various English versions. The Hebrew could refer to a military warrior, a man of wealth, a person of integrity, etc. The context shows that Boaz was wealthy, but that is likely not what the text is emphasizing here. He would have been a wonderful person for Ruth not because of his money, but because of his integrity and godliness. The major emphasis about Boaz in the Book of Ruth is that he was a man of noble character.
“Boaz.” Boaz was the son of Rahab the prostitute. This helps us understand his moral qualities and lack of prejudice, and also helps us fit the Book of Ruth into the chronology of the Book of Judges. Boaz was not far removed in time from the conquest of Canaan. If Salmon married Rahab during the lifetime of Joshua, which is almost certain, then Boaz would have most likely been born at the latest during the time of the first Judge of Israel, Othniel, although Rahab and Salmon would have been quite old when Boaz was born. The meaning of “Boaz” is uncertain, but it may be related to strength. It was also the name of one of the pillars in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 7:21).
Although it often happened in the Bible that a son differed in his moral character from his parents, it is much more likely that the children followed in the way their parents thought and acted. So much of the parents-to-sons behavior that is portrayed in the Bible occurs in royal families that without careful thought it can skew the mind of the reader. Most royal children were raised in harems which were dangerous places both physically and morally. The women of the harem lived in a terrible and demeaning cultural context. For one thing, they lived a constant contest of who would be the king's sexual favorite, and that changed often, and with it came shifting power struggles in the harem as favorites were often granted special favors. Also, they lived in constant fear of death. It was uncomfortably common that when the king died and one of the king’s sons became king, that new king killed all his half-brothers and often their mothers as well. Also, sons of the king had to be aggressive and self-willed to do well in growing up in the tense atmosphere of the harem and also do well if they got to be the new king or of the family of the new king. The harem fostered aggressive and ruthless behavior, and that shows up in the behavior of many sons of kings.
In contrast to harem life, life for regular families was much different, and the moral qualities of the parents were passed on to the children. That certainly seems to be the case with Boaz. As a Canaanite, his mother, Rahab, was a prostitute, but we do not know why or for how long. It seems certain that her circumstances and the Canaanite culture contributed greatly to that and in fact likely forced it upon her. However, we can see from the Book of Joshua that she was a wise and god-fearing woman and stood out among her fellow Canaanites. Her life totally changed when she was taken in marriage by Salmon, a godly man from the tribe of Judah. It seems clear that the two of them settled in Bethlehem Judah and quickly rose to some prominence, which, together with Boaz’s long life of diligence and wise choices, explains how Boaz got to be a powerful landowner.(top)
“Please let me go.” Ruth asks Naomi’s permission to go glean, wanting to make sure that Naomi feels comfortable with Ruth being gone and very likely in some amount of danger from prejudiced neighbors.
“glean among the ears of grain.” The poor were supposed to be able to glean the leftover grain from anyone’s fields, but not every landowner obeyed that law (Deut. 24:19-22). The “ears of grain” were the heads of grain in the entire kernel cluster.
“behind him in whose eyes I find favor.” Although the Hebrew text does indicate a man, “him” who showed her favor, she was not thinking of Boaz at this point. The culture was that men were the landowners, not women, so what Ruth said about being in a man’s field was general and cultural. In fact, she was likely thinking that the owner of the field would be the one harvesting it, which was not the case with Boaz, who had hired workers doing the work.
Ruth’s concern, “behind him in whose eyes I find favor” was genuine. She was a Moabite, and many Israelites had reason to dislike Moabites at this time. Furthermore, the fact that Naomi left for Moab with a husband and two sons and came back a broken childless widow could only add to their suspicion and dislike. It is likely that Ruth expected to be chased out of many of the fields around Bethlehem even though technically the Law of Moses allowed her to glean. [For more on the reasons people from Bethlehem would dislike Moabites, see commentary on Ruth 2:10].(top)
“And she happened to come.” The Hebrew seems to put an emphasis on the unseen hand of God and His interaction with what would have seemed to Ruth as simply chance. The Hebrew is hard to translate into English, because it is literally something like, “and her chance chanced upon the portion...” or perhaps “and her happening was to happen on the portion….” The meaning of the text is that Ruth did not know where to go to glean, and simply picked a field that she thought would work and it turned out to be Boaz’s field. From Ruth’s perspective, that she chose Boaz’s field was pure chance, but we can see the unseen hand of God in guiding this godly woman’s decision. A wonderful lesson here is that often we don’t know what decision to make, but if we are godly and pray and do our best to make a wise choice, more often than not we will have good success. Many times in life we must press ahead with a decision even though we are not sure of the outcome.
“the field belonging to Boaz.” There is some flat ground just east of Bethlehem where grain can be grown, and Boaz had to come out of Bethlehem to his fields. So Boaz’s encounter with Ruth likely happened east of Bethlehem.(top)
“And behold.” The word “behold” alerts us to the “coincidence” of the timing of Boaz’s arrival when Ruth was reaping. Frederic Bush (Word Biblical Commentary) tries to bring out the emphasis with his translation, “And wouldn’t you know it.”
“Boaz came from Bethlehem.” Farming was not done in the ancient Near East as it is done in the USA today. Today, farmers generally live in houses on their farmland, but that was not the case in the ancient world. All the houses were close together in a town or village, and the farmland was outside the city, and depending on the geography of the area could be quite a walk from the city. In Bethlehem, the best farming land was somewhat to the east. Here in Ruth 2:4, Boaz left the town of Bethlehem and went to his fields. After the harvest, shepherds would often be allowed, and even encouraged, to graze their sheep on the fields so the sheep could eat and naturally manure the fields.
“Yahweh be with you.” This warm greeting from Boaz to his workers suggests the quality of man that he is and that he has fostered a good work environment for his slaves and servants. It also indicates that at this early time in Israel’s history people freely spoke the name of Yahweh, which the Jews no longer do.
“Yahweh bless you.” This blessing may have a connection to the harvest (cp. Psalm 129:7-8, where this is connected with the harvest). There is no reason not to believe that these men used the name of Yahweh in their blessings instead of Adonay, etc.(top)
“young man.” The Hebrew is “young man.” Although many English versions say “servant,” which the man certainly was, the translation “young man” indicates much about him.
“Whose young woman is this.” This statement reflects the culture very well. Boaz does not ask, “Who is this woman?” He asks, “Whose young woman is this,” that is, to whom does this young woman belong? To be safe and secure, a woman would always belong to some man or family. Also, the fact that Boaz refers to Ruth as a “young woman” even though she would have been in her twenties gives us a hint that Boaz is much older than Ruth is.(top)
“The young man.” The Hebrew text is “young man.” The young man was likely a servant, but that is more of an interpretation than a translation of the Hebrew text (see commentary on Ruth 2:5).
“She is the Moabite woman.” There is no indication that the foreman who Boaz spoke with knew Ruth’s name at this point, but he did know Naomi.(top)
“Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves.” Ruth was poor and was a widow, so technically she was allowed by the Mosaic Law to glean the fields, but not every Israelite kept the Law. That seems to be especially true in the period of the Judges when “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). Furthermore, there was a lot of prejudice against Moabites because of recent history. The Moabites had caused trouble for Israel when Israel came out of Egypt and was about to enter the Promised Land, and early in the Judges period, Eglon, king of Moab, had oppressed Israel for 18 years (Judges 3:12-14). Historic memories are long in the Near East, and those things would not have been forgotten. Ruth wanted to be sure she was going to be allowed to glean without being run off, so she asked permission. The fact that Boaz’s foreman gave her permission is more evidence of the noble character of Boaz. Boaz treated people righteously, and in turn his workers had that same attitude. (For more on why the Moabites tended to be disliked by the Israelites, see the commentary on Ruth 2:10).
“among the sheaves behind the reapers.” As the reapers went through the field and cut the grain, “reaped,” they would cut more than they could carry, so they would stand up little wrappings of grain, which were referred to as the “sheaves.” So the reapers left sheaves of harvested grain behind them. Ruth asked if she could glean among those sheaves which were left behind the reapers as they moved forward through the field (cp. Lev. 19:9-19; 23:22; Deut. 24:19).
“She has been sitting a little while in the shelter.” As worded, Ruth was in the shelter at that time. The NASB gets the sense as in the REV: “she has been sitting in the house for a little while” (Ruth 2:7 NASB). The fact is there is no consensus as to how to translate the Hebrew, which is very difficult, and some scholars consider the last phrase of Ruth 2:7 to be the most difficult line to translate in the Book of Ruth (Daniel Block, The New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth). This explains the various translations: “except for a short rest” (ESV); “her sitting in the house has been little as yet” (DBY); “with scarcely a moments rest” (NAB); “without resting even for a moment” (RSV). So the scholars differ as to whether Ruth had rested, was now resting (cp. REV), or had not as yet rested.(top)
“Listen carefully, my daughter.” The Hebrew is literally “Have you not heard, my daughter? This is an idiom and basically means, “Listen carefully, my daughter” (cp. CSB; ESV; NAB; NASB; NET; NIV; NJB; NLT; NRSV). Frederic Bush (Word Biblical Commentary) writes: “Hebrew often uses a negative question in such a way as to be emphatically affirmative...the whole construction certainly has an exclamatory effect...The same idiom occurs in v. 9 and 3:1, 2.” However, it is possible that Boaz was not sure why Ruth was in his field of all the fields around Bethlehem and was asking her if she had heard from Naomi that he was a relative of hers. But that explanation seems less likely given the fact that it does not flow with the next phrase in the verse.
The addition of “my daughter” reflects the fact that Boaz already feels some affection and responsibility for Ruth because of her relation to Naomi, and also is a reflection of the age difference between them.
“Do not go to glean in another field.” Boaz now knew that Ruth was with Naomi and we can see that both as a godly man and a relative of Naomi’s he felt some responsibility toward her safety and also how well she did in gleaning. As a man from the area, Boaz likely knew that there was some general animosity towards Moabites and also some ungodly behavior toward young unattached women. Furthermore, if the story of Ruth falls chronologically during the time of the judgeship of Deborah (see commentary on Ruth 4:18), there was much sexual oppression, however more so in northern Israel. The fact that Boaz told Ruth not to glean in other fields shows the wealth of Boaz. He owned enough land that just gleaning from it alone would be enough for Ruth and Naomi.
“stay here close to my young women.” As a wealthy landowner, Boaz had both male and female servants working in his fields. The time of the harvest was critical so birds, mice, etc., did not eat the harvest, so it was important to harvest it quickly. Harvest time was usually an “all hands on deck” type situation. This was also why Ruth worked so hard during this time. Harvest was the one-time event that provided food for the whole rest of the year. The verb translated “stay here close” is a strong word and the same as we see in Genesis 2:24 where the man “joins” to his wife and also in Ruth 1:14 where Ruth “clung” to Naomi. Ruth would be better protected and would eventually develop friends in the village if she stayed close to Boaz’s young women.(top)
“and go after them.” Ruth could not go with the young women, who were harvesting, but could follow after them and glean.
“touch.” A euphemism for harass, especially sexually. Ruth was an unmarried woman not protected by a father or brothers, so she was very vulnerable to being harassed and even raped. The word “touch” is used of sexual intercourse in verses such as 1 Corinthians 7:1, and it is used for “harm” in Joshua 9:19.
“and drink from that which the young men have drawn.” Although Boaz could have had a cistern somewhere around his field from which water could be drawn, it seems more likely that it would have been drawn from the well close to the gate at Bethlehem (2 Sam. 23:16) and then carried to the fields where the work was being done. In the biblical culture it was usually the women who drew water (cp. Gen. 24:11). It is possible that the men actually drew this water, or it is possible that Boaz’s fields were far enough away from the well that the men carried the water there and Boaz spoke in general terms. In any case, the water was drawn by Boaz’s servants, and water was jealously guarded in the biblical culture, particularly during the dry season, which had started by the time of the barley harvest and would last from April until late October or so. That Boaz would offer his water to Ruth shows more of his noble character and kindness towards her.(top)
“bowed herself down on the ground.” The Hebrew word for “prostrated herself” is shachah (#07812 שָׁחָה), which can mean to prostrate oneself, or to bow down, or to “worship.” It can be confusing to the English reader, however, that in most English versions when one person bows before another person, “bow down” is used, while if a person bows before God, “worshiped” is used. That has led to the false teaching that people only “worship” God. The act of worship was the same before people, angels, and God; it was bowing down. It was the posture of the heart, not the action, that separated bowing before God or bowing before another human.
Daniel Block (The New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth) writes: “Overwhelmed by Boaz’s generosity, Ruth (literally) ‘fell on her face and worshiped him’...This verse illustrates the biblical understanding of worship. ...As the first clause, ‘and she fell on her face’...explains, fundamentally “worship” [Block uses the Hebrew word] denotes the physical gesture of prostration, that is, falling to one’s knees and bowing with face/nose to the ground before royalty or deity. But that gesture was also performed in less significant contexts as a secular greeting, mark of respect, or expression of gratitude.”
[For more on shachah and its referring to prostration, bowing, or “worship,” see commentary on 1 Chron. 29:20].
“Why have I found favor in your eyes.” Ruth was not expecting to be as well received as she was, in fact, she likely expected to be resisted most everywhere she went, so her surprise and question are genuine.
“since I am a foreigner?” Ruth was not just a “foreigner,” she was a Moabite. That fact alone reveals the personal courage she had in coming with Naomi back to Israel, and it reveals her love for Naomi and for Yahweh, the God of Israel. She had no idea the kind of prejudice and persecution she might face in Israel, but she bravely did what she knew was right to do and was willing to face whatever challenges or difficulties presented themselves.
The Israelites had some good reasons for hating the Moabites. The Moabites descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot, and Lot’s son Moab was the son born from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter (Gen. 19:30-38). Although the Dead Sea and the Arnon River in the Transjordan were general borders between the two countries that prevented what could have been general border problems such as happened between Israel and Syria, there certainly had been problems between Israel and Moab. For example, the Moabites had resisted Israel when they came out of Egypt and hired Balaam the prophet to curse Israel (Num. 22-24). Also, the Moabites attempted to lure Israel away from Yahweh to the worship of their gods via the sexual rituals tied to cultic prostitution, and that eventually led to the death of more than 24,000 Israelites (Num. 25:1-9). Also, Moab was so onerous to Israel that God commanded that they be excluded from the assembly of Yahweh (Deut. 23:3-4). And most recently to the time of Ruth, there had been the 18-year Moabite oppression of Israel, especially southern Israel where Bethlehem was, under the reign of Eglon, king of Moab (Judges 3:12-14). So Israel had reasons for disliking Moabites, but that did not deter Ruth from supporting Naomi and going to where she could worship Yahweh.
The reasons for Israel to dislike Moab also show the quality of man that Boaz was. Boaz was an old man, so he almost certainly was alive during the oppression of Israel by Eglon king of Moab, and thus could have had his own personal reasons for hating Moabites. Yet he realized that people should be judged on their own merits and not be condemned because of the nation they came from.(top)
“It has been told, yes, told to me all that you have done.” Boaz understood the genuineness of Ruth’s question and explained why he is showing her such favor. The Hebrew text uses the figure of speech polyptoton, repeating the verb “told” in different forms for emphasis (the literal is, “being told it was told to me.” For more on the form of the translation and the emphasis of the polyptoton, see commentary on Gen. 2:16). The NLT expresses the idea of the text in amplified language: “I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband.”
Boaz’s answer is also a view into his soul, that he truly was a noble and humble believer. A proud and arrogant person would have thought, “That’s just the way I am, a great guy,” but that kind of thinking would never have even come into the mind of a wonderful believer like Boaz. He credits his treatment of Ruth as springing from her godly actions, not that he was so great.
Here we learn that Boaz had been told all about Naomi and Ruth before Ruth ever showed up in his field. He was not expecting Ruth in his field and did not know who she was when he saw her. So this tells us that Boaz was a wise man who kept abreast of the news and gossip in the village. Also, as a close relative of Elimelech, when he learned that Naomi had returned to Bethlehem and that Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion had all died, he would have known that he might have to step into the role of the kinsman-redeemer to help Naomi out, and that would have caused him to be even more interested in Naomi and Ruth than he might otherwise have been if it had been someone from another family who came to Bethlehem.
“how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth.” Many choices in life are very difficult, and the choice of leaving her father and mother may have been difficult for Ruth, but that is the choice she made. The fact that Boaz said, “you have left your father and mother” indicates that they were still alive. But Ruth had tasted the love and justice of Yahweh and decided that Israel was where she wanted to live and Yahweh was the God she wanted to worship.
Communication was much more difficult in the ancient world than it is today, and we have no information about whether she ever saw her birth family again, but the chances are that she did not. When Christians make the choice to worship the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, it often happens that they lose the close fellowship with their family that they once had, but making the choice to serve God is the right choice.(top)
“May Yahweh repay your work and a full reward be given to you from Yahweh.” Although in this context Boaz would have meant that he desired for Ruth to be repaid in this life for all her kindness to Naomi and her service to God, he certainly would have known that it often did not happen, so he would have also had in the back of his mind that if people did not get repaid for their service to God in this life, they certainly would in the next life.
“from Yahweh, the God of Israel.” Boaz knew that Ruth was a Moabite, and no doubt said this on purpose to acknowledge to Ruth that he understood that she had made allegiance to Yahweh. However, there is also no doubt that Boaz believed in Yahweh himself. Boaz was not one of those Israelites who had forsaken Yahweh to serve Baal or some other pagan god, he was a believer in Yahweh, and his kind and generous actions came from that belief.
“under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” Boaz uses the metaphor of a bird that spreads its wings over the young chicks to protect them. (Technically Boaz used the figure hypocatastasis, see commentary on Rev. 20:2). Psalm 36:7, 57:1, and 91:4 mention taking refuge under God’s “wings.”(top)
“because you have comforted me.” This was not just something nice for Ruth to say. Boaz’s words brought great comfort to Ruth. She no doubt started the day with palpable tension, wondering if she would be allowed to glean or be driven off people’s land and wondering if she would get enough grain to comfortably feed her and Naomi. Now she was comforted and could relax in the knowledge that she would be allowed to glean and would be able to get enough food for her and Naomi.
“speak to her heart.” An idiom often meaning, “to speak tenderly” (cp. Isa. 40:1), but here also having the meaning of speaking encouragingly.
“servant.” Here in Ruth 2:13 the word “servant” (which occurs twice in the verse) is a translation of the Hebrew word shiphchah (#08198 שִׁפְחָה). In Ruth 3:9 the word “servant” is a translation of 'amah (#0519 אָמָה). For the difference between the two words, see the commentary on Ruth 3:9.
“I do not have the standing of one of your female servants.” The literal Hebrew is “though I am not like one of your female servants,” but what Ruth meant was that she did not have the household standing of one of Boaz’s female servants.(top)
“And at mealtime.” So there has been a time break between the last conversation between Boaz and Ruth and now.
“Come here.” As a Moabite and a poor gleaner, Ruth would have naturally kept her distance from Boaz and his workers. But Boaz intervened and made her part of the group. This may have made Ruth or some of Boaz’s workers uncomfortable, but if that was the case the Bible does not mention it. Any uncomfortable feelings would have been in the head and heart of the individual, not God or the godly man Boaz, so if they were there at all they are not mentioned. Those kinds of feelings need to be dealt with, but are usually up to the individual to deal with and overcome.
“in the wine-vinegar.” This vinegar is a wine-vinegar, not the apple cider vinegar that is common in the United States today. Dipping bread in wine-vinegar is still done today, and often oil and perhaps some other spices are added to the vinegar. It is likely that the reason there was wine-vinegar at the cross of Jesus was that some of the people or the soldiers had some to dip their bread in.
“So she sat beside the reapers and he.” The fact that Boaz, a wealthy landowner, would eat with his workers is still more evidence of the quality of man that he was. He could have afforded to eat a much better meal than just bread and roasted grain, and many wealthy men would not have eaten with the workers, but Boaz did not separate himself that way. While there is no evidence he tried to blend in as “one of the guys,” neither did he stay aloof from them.
“he passed roasted grain to her.” The Hebrew verb translated “passed” is only used here in the Hebrew OT, and its meaning is debated, which explains the diversity of the ways it is translated in the English versions (“reached her,” ASV, JPS, KJV; “gave her,” BBE, NLT; “served,” CEB, NASB; “passed,” CJB, ESV, NKJV, RSV; “offered,” CSB, NIV; “handed,” NAB, NET, TNK; “made a heap,” NJB; “heaped up,” NRSV). The word is used in modern Hebrew for “pinched,” and although the verb could have meant something different in ancient Hebrew, if the modern Hebrew is a guide it might refer to some of the grain being “pinched” apart (perhaps “portioned out”) to her.
“and had some left over.” So Boaz gave her such a large portion that she could not eat it all. Boaz likely knew that ahead of time and was trying to help her, and that theme continues in the next verses.(top)
“Let her glean even among the sheaves.” The sheaves were the bundles of grain that the reapers left as they went through the field cutting the grain and then wrapping it up into bundles. The reapers would go through the fields cutting and wrapping the grain into sheaves, then come back and gather the sheaves and put them in a cart if there was one available (cp. Amos 2:13). The fact that the sheaves were not gathered yet in Boaz’s field meant the harvesters had not finished in the field, and normally gleaners—the poor people and others who needed food—would not be allowed to glean until the field was fully harvested and the sheaves picked up. Since the sheaves were only held together by a few stalks of grain wrapped around a bundle of harvested stalks, some of the sheaves would come apart, and a gleaner would tend to act as if that grain was free for the taking when it was actually not. For Boaz to allow Ruth to gather even among the sheaves shows his great generosity towards her and Naomi. We see that generosity still more in Ruth 2:16 when he tells his reapers to leave some grain on purpose so Ruth can glean it.
“do not reproach her.” The Hebrew is more literally, “do not put her to shame.” In the Eastern culture, even today, being reproached or reprimanded in pubic causes a person to be ashamed, as the Japanese say, “to lose face.” Although the immediate context is Ruth gleaning among the sheaves without being reprimanded for it, Boaz’s general statement, “do not reproach her” (do not put her to shame) has a wider context as well. Prejudice can run deep in people and in cultures, and some of Boaz’s workers may have had animosity against Moabites (some of it well-deserved) and might well have made hurtful comments to her.(top)
“pull out, yes, pull out.” The Hebrew text uses the figure of speech polyptoton, repeating the verb for emphasis. [For more on polyptoton and this way of translating it, see commentary on Gen. 2:16].(top)
“until evening.” There was no “five o’clock quitting time” in the ancient world. Working people worked while there was daylight to do it. Job 7:2 says “Like a servant who earnestly desires the shadow,” which means that the servant looks for the big shadow cast by the setting sun because that means the end of the day’s work.
“then she beat out.” Ruth did not carry the grain on the stalk back to Bethlehem, but threshed it right there by the field. She would have been tired from gleaning all day, but pushed herself to complete the work she had to do by beating the grain off the stalk.
Beating out grain referred to the process of separating the wheat from the stalk, also called “threshing” (cp. Judg. 6:11). Small amounts of grain were threshed by beating the grain by hand, which is what Ruth would have done. Although a very small amount might be threshed by simply beating the stalk on the ground, it was more common to beat the grain with a stick. Often some kind of flail was used. For example, although the origin of nunchaku (better known as “nunchucks”) is unclear, they were likely invented by Okinawan farmers as a flail for threshing rice, which had to be threshed off the stalk just as wheat and barley had to be threshed off the stalk. Although the Bible does not tell us the method Ruth used to thresh the barley she had, it is unlikely she carried a flail with her and therefore much more likely that she just beat the stalks of barley on the ground.
If the amount of harvested grain was large, one way that it was threshed was by having a cow or other heavy animal walk back and forth over the grain pile. When the animal walked over the grain pile, its hoofs separated the grain from the stalk. The Law of Moses forbid the animals to be muzzled while they were working, they got to eat as they worked: “You are not to muzzle the ox when he treads out the grain” (Deut. 25:4; cp. 1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18). Another way that grain was threshed was by using a “threshing sled.” Threshing sleds were heavy wooden sleds with rocks or iron pieces driven into the wood on the bottom of the sled to cut the stalks of grain up and separate the grain from the stalk (Amos 1:3).
“about an ephah of barley.” There is serious disagreement about how much an “ephah” was. It was apparently between 30 and 50 pounds, or between two-thirds of a bushel and a bushel.(top)
“picked it up.” This is a general term for the entire process of picking the grain up off the ground after threshing it and then picking it up to carry it home.
“saw what she had gleaned.” Naomi noticed how much Ruth had gleaned, and recognized at this point that someone had intentionally helped her, as we see from Ruth 2:19.
“what she had left over.” This is referring to what she had eaten earlier in the day (Ruth 2:14).(top)
“Where have you gleaned today.” Communication was very limited in the biblical world. There were no cell phones or other means of easy communication. When Ruth walked out the door of where she and Naomi were staying in the morning, the only thing that Naomi knew was that Ruth was going to walk eastward towards the fields of grain there. But from the time Ruth walked out until when she walked back in there would usually not have been any news about her. Naomi no doubt had some amount of anxiety as to where Ruth would go, how she would be treated, and how much grain she could glean to sustain her and Naomi.
Naomi’s double question, “Where have you gleaned today...Where have you worked,” followed by her emphatic blessing, “May the one who took notice of you be blessed” expresses her great surprise at Ruth’s showing up with so much grain. The questions came rapid-fire, and were more expressions of surprise than actual questions, although they were questions and would be answered later. The scene is actually like Ruth walking in the door with over 30 pounds of grain and Naomi exclaiming, “Oh my goodness! Where on earth did you glean today? Where did you work that you could have gotten all that grain! Blessed is he who helped you!” Only after Naomi was over the shock and surprise at all the grain Ruth had was Ruth able to begin to tell her where she had worked that day.(top)
“Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Blessed of Yahweh be the one.’” After hearing that Ruth “just happened” to go to the field of Boaz, a kinsman-redeemer, she spontaneously speaks a second blessing on Boaz and that he be blessed by Yahweh. Naomi may have been bitter against Yahweh, but she still believed in Him and could see His invisible hand in this “chance encounter” between Boaz and Ruth. Actually, this statement by Naomi marks a shift for the better in Naomi’s life and things get better and better for her through the rest of the book. Also, her statements marks a shift for the better in her attitude towards Yahweh. Although it would be wonderful if everyone would be like Job and have a positive attitude about God through good times and bad times, most people are like Naomi—when times are good people have a good attitude about God and when times are bad they have a bad attitude towards God. Perhaps if Naomi had been in a better state of mind to begin with, she could have directed Ruth to start gleaning by going into fields that belonged to members of Elimelech’s family, but either she was too upset to see that possibility or after being gone from Bethlehem for ten years she did not know what fields belonged to family members.
“his covenant-faithfulness.” The Hebrew word hesed (#02617 חֶסֶד) cannot be easily translated into English. It is rooted in relationship and the concept of covenant and relates itself to the faithfulness that God shows in keeping His covenants and His promises. Hesed wraps up in one word much of the wonderful qualities of God: covenant faithfulness, lovingkindness, mercy, grace, loyalty—wonderful qualities that come from the heart. Hesed is thus impossible to translate by the same word in all of its contexts; the translator/reader must understand the semantic range of the word and use the meaning that best fits the context. However, since hesed is, on its most basic level, a relationship word, and when it comes to Israel and the Israelites a covenant word, it is good to try to use “covenant faithfulness” or something such as that when translating it if the context warrants it, which it often does if hesed is referring to the relationship actions between God and Israel.
It is worth noting that different scholars understand hesed to have different meanings, and this is due to the wide semantic range of the word itself. The NIDOTTE says, “The concept of faithfulness, steadfast love, or more generally kindness, represented by hesed, has a strong relational aspect that is essential to any proper definition of the term. … The divine exercise of hesed is based on God’s covenantal relationship with his people; hesed is the ‘essence’ of the covenantal relationship” (Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1997, Vol. 2, p. 211).
Scholars agree that hesed is grounded in the relationship between people and/or the relationship between people and God. So it is in understanding the relationship, and the spoken and unspoken promises and commitments that underpin that relationship, that are a vital part of hesed. It is because of the relationship, and the expectations of the relationship, that hesed exists and can be expected. For example, if God had hesed towards Israel, it is because of the relationship that exists between them. Depending on the context, that hesed can be expressed in many ways, “faithfulness, mercy, love, grace,” etc., but underpinning those things is the relationship (usually an expressed relationship or even a covenant) that exists between the two parties. Thus, when God moves in favor of Israel, His covenant with them is usually at play in some manner, and so in those cases “covenant-faithfulness” is often a good way to understand God and why He does what He does.
Although hesed is rightly used of God because of His covenants and promises and behaviors associated with covenants and keeping them, it is also used by people in a more general way to indicate devotion, kindness, faithfulness, love, etc., depending on the context. For example, when Boaz says that Ruth showed hesed (Ruth 3:10), some of the translations of it in the English Bibles are “devotion,” “kindness,” “faithful,” “loyalty,” “goodness,” “faithful love,” and “lovingkindness.” Different scholars see the exact nuance of hesed in Ruth 3:10 differently, and thus the different translations. It is noteworthy that Naomi uses the word hesed in her blessing, because part of the covenant, the Mosaic Law, was that people show love and kindness to widows, which Boaz was doing.
“to the living and to the dead.” The “living” are Naomi and Ruth, who need Boaz’s help. The “dead” are Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion, who had the responsibility to care for Naomi and Ruth but could not fulfill it, whom Boaz has remembered and honored by taking some of their responsibilities upon himself.
“kinsmen-redeemers.” The Hebrew is the verb gaal (#01350 גָּאַל). In this context it has both the idea of a family member and one who acts to restore and preserve the family. Daniel Block writes about the form of the Hebrew word and its meaning. “The participle form, גֹאֵ֖ל, functions as a technical legal term, related specifically to Israelite family law” (fn: More than half of its occurrences are found in four texts involving Israelite family matters: Lev 25, 27, Num 35 and Deut 19). This is a kinship term denoting near relatives who were responsible for the economic well-being of other clan members” (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament: Ruth). Daniel Block lists five responsibilities of a גֹאֵ֖ל, a kinsman-redeemer: buy back hereditary property that had passed to people outside the clan (Lev. 25:25-31); buy and free people from the clan who had sold themselves into slavery due to poverty (Lev. 25:47-55); finding and executing murderers of near relatives (Num. 35:12, 19-27; cp. Deut. 19:6, 11-13. There was no police force in the ancient biblical world); receiving restitution money on behalf a deceased victim of a crime (Num. 5:8); and ensuring that there was justice in lawsuits that involved relatives (Job 19:25; Ps. 119:154; Jer. 50:34).
It was also the responsibility of a blood brother of the dead husband to marry his brother’s widow and have children by her who would bear the name of the dead brother (Deut. 25:5-10). Although it is not explicitly stated in the Law that a relative should do what a blood brother was supposed to do, the fact that Naomi seemed to think that one of her relatives would marry Ruth indicates that in many cases a relative probably stepped up to marry the widow and be a kinsman-redeemer as if he was a blood brother. Boaz also said that by marrying Ruth he would raise up progeny to keep the name and inheritance of Elimelech and Mahlon alive, which is what a blood-brother kinsman-redeemer would do. However, what ended up happening in the biblical text was that when Boaz married Ruth who bore Obed, Obed became part of Boaz’s genealogy (Ruth 4:18-22; 1 Chron. 2:4-15; Matt. 1:3-6; Luke 3:31-33), and neither Elimelech or Mahlon is ever mentioned again. The reason for that is not explained in Scripture, but it could easily have to do with the fact that Boaz is part of the famous genealogy that led from Adam to Jesus Christ, through King David, and that overshadowed the line of Elimelech.(top)
“Ruth the Moabitess.” The fact that the text adds “Ruth the Moabitess” here reminds the reader of the cultural unlikelihood that anything could ever come of the relationship between a dedicated Israelite like Boaz (or one of his family members) and the Moabite woman, but in doing that it increases the reader’s awareness of the goodness and grace of God, and how He can make what seems impossible possible.
“You should stay close to my young men.” Boaz knew that without proper protection, Ruth was vulnerable to being harassed and perhaps even raped, so he acted to protect her. Naomi recognized Ruth’s vulnerability as well (Ruth 2:22). Boaz’s attitude towards this young Moabite woman demonstrates God’s heart for people who are “different from us.” All humans are descended from Adam and Eve. There is no room or reason for prejudice in God’s heart based on color or place of origin. What matters to God, and what should matter to us, is how people talk and act. There are ungodly, evil, and dangerous people, but that is not based on skin color, language, or place of origin.
Interestingly, what Boaz said was for Ruth to stay close to his “young women” (Ruth 2:8). Here Ruth said that he said to stay close to his “young men.” It is possible that he said both, or that Ruth interpreted him to mean his harvesters in general which would mean both his young men and young women. It is also possible that now that Ruth knows she will have food for her and Naomi that her primary interest shifts from her sustenance to her protection, and the fact that Boaz’s young men and women worked in close proximity meant that being close to the women also meant being close to the men who would protect her.
“finished all my harvest.” Not just the barley harvest, but all the harvest. Although in this context Boaz likely meant the grain harvest, depending on what he grew his complete harvest could go on through the spring and early summer grains, the summer vegetables and grapes, and the fall fruit trees.(top)
“It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women.” This statement by Naomi reflects more of the change in her heart as she shifts away from being so bitter about God. Angry, bitter people focus on themselves, but in this statement Naomi is only interested in Ruth’s welfare, not that she will have food for the year.
“so that others will not harm you.” See commentary on Ruth 2:21.(top)
“in order to glean.” The Hebrew infinitive denotes purpose. Being in Boaz’s field close to his young women allowed her the safety and opportunity to glean through the whole harvest.
“until the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest.” The barley harvest was associated with Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so it usually started in our April, while the wheat harvest was usually associated with Pentecost, which was often in our June, so Ruth’s gleaning was probably at least six weeks and more likely around two months. The importance of having a plentiful harvest and storing lots of grain cannot be overstated, because there was only one harvest all year and it had to feed the family for that whole next year. So there is little doubt that Ruth worked very hard for those couple of months.(top)