Matrimony: Boaz Redeems & Marries Ruth (Ruth 4)

Court Proceedings (4.1-12)

The Hebrew sentence structure indicates a new scene. Boaz had promised Ruth that he would act “in the morning” (3.13). Naomi was confident Boaz “will not rest” until he had settled the matter. So we can conclude that there is no large span of time between the end of chapter 3 and beginning of chapter 4. Boaz is taking care of business. This scene begins with Boaz going to “the gate” of the city. Baldwin explains, “The main gate of the town served as the local law court. Planned with an open space around which benches provided places to sit in the shade of the high walls, the gate was a natural meeting place. It had the advantage of being open to the public, who could observe that justice was done.”[1] Therefore, Boaz takes his seat and waits for the kinsman-redeemer to show up.

Boaz does not wait long for the kinsman-redeemer to show up. Boaz invites the redeemer to “turn aside” and “sit down” which he does. We know very little about this man. We don’t even know the man’s name. Boaz’s address of this man has caused some fits for translators. The Hebrew translates to something akin to “Mr. So-and-So” in English. In fact, the NET translates it as “John Doe” with a footnote that includes “Mr. No-Name.”[2] The ambiguity concerning this man’s name is appropriate given the many names with which the chapter will conclude. He does nothing of significance and even refuses to perform the duty of the kinsman-redeemer.

The nearer kinsman-redeemer has taken his place. Boaz then builds the quorum so he can begin legal proceedings. In contrast with the informal calling over of John Doe, “took” seems to indicate Boaz intentionally went out to select these men. These select men will serve as witnesses. The Levirate Law does not specify how many elders are required. Two or three witnesses would suffice under the law in other legal proceedings. Boaz’s ten elders seems to indicate the importance of cases such as his. The legal assembly is convened when the ten elders take their seats.

Verses 3 and 4 are Boaz laying out the situation for John Doe. Naomi is selling the usage rights of the land which belonged to her husband Elimelech. The land was to stay in the family passed down father to sons. With the death of Elimelech and his sons, the right of inheritance would have passed on in a certain order: first, brothers, then, if no brothers, paternal uncles, and finally, if no paternal uncles, the man’s nearest relative (Num 27.9-11). John Doe is the nearest relative, though his relation is not specified. He has the right to redeem the portion of land if he so chooses. If he will not redeem it, the right passes to Boaz, the next nearest relative. The decision is John Doe’s to make.

Boaz’s decision to leave Ruth unnamed thus far in the court proceedings is noteworthy. He has only informed John Doe of the redemption of the land. The reader may wonder why Boaz has left off that very important bit of information. Lange suggests Boaz did not want to appear as though he was only bringing this up to John Doe on behalf of the widow.[3] Others suggest that Naomi only is mentioned since she is directing the negotiations and Boaz wanted to avoid suspicion of needing to marry the foreign women before first making the offer.[4] It may just be that long before Perry Mason, Boaz had a flare for the dramatic in court proceedings.

Initially, John Doe agrees to redeem the land. It is at this point that Boaz lays the remainder of the situation before John Doe: the land comes with the widow Ruth the Moabitess, “to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance” (5). As the kinsman-redeemer, though, John Doe would not only inherit the rights of the land, he would also be responsible to continue the lineage of Elimelech through the widow of one of his sons (which we will not know until verse 9), Ruth the Moabite. It is this right of inheritance which dissuades John Doe from redeeming the land. Technically, according to the letter of the Law, John Doe was not required to marry Ruth. He could redeem the land and not marry Ruth and still be within the legal demands of the Levirate Law (cf. Deut 25.5-10). However, as Block explains, Boaz “was not appealing to the letter of the law but its spirit.”[5] He is prepared to live up to the spirit of the Law; will the kinsman-redeemer?

John Doe says he cannot redeem the land “lest I impair my own inheritance” (6). His dilemma is four-fold.[6] First, he could redeem the land, marry Ruth, and take care of Naomi. Second, he could redeem the land, promise to marry Ruth, then back out of this commitment once the deal was done. Third, he could refuse to redeem the land thereby passing the right on to Boaz, something Boaz has already expressed interest in. Finally, he could redeem the land and let Boaz fulfill the levirate obligation. This course, though, would hurt him financially in the long-run if Boaz and Ruth had a son since the son would inherit the land John Doe had paid for. Factoring in all the financial and, perhaps, ethical implications, John Doe choses the third option, doing so emphatically; twice he says “I cannot redeem it” and he tells Boaz “take my right of redemption yourself.”

John Doe’s verbal declaration is followed by a non-verbal declaration which confirms and solemnizes the whole proceedings (verses 7-8). Verse 7 serves as a parenthetical explanation for the reader unfamiliar with the finalization of “redeeming and exchanging.” “In former times in Israel” may indicate that the practice had fallen out of use at the time of the writing. Keil and Delitzsch explain that the sandal became a symbol of transference of property because it was understood that one took possession of property by walking upon it with the foot.[7] Absent from the description are several elements found in Deuteromony 25.9-10: the woman being the agent of sandal removal, spitting in the face, solemn declaration (“So shall it be done, etc.”), and change of name (Unsandaled family). Of course, technically Ruth is not his brother’s wife. So this whole legal scene plays out according to the spirit of the law. Elimelech’s land will stay in the family, the widows Naomi and Ruth will be cared for, and the lineage will continue. Everything intended by the Law will be upheld.

Boaz has successfully navigated the legal proceedings (8). With the declaration for Boaz to buy the land himself John Doe removes his sandal. As the sandal is extended to him, Boaz recognizes that he has fulfilled his word to Ruth. Any anxiety Ruth suffered since she learned of a closer kinsman will dissipate with the sandal exchange. As he takes the sandal, Boaz it signals the closing of the deliberations.

What remains is the actual declaration of the legal transfer that has taken place. Boaz, in his final words in the book, then declares to the ten elders as well as to a crowd of “all the people” who have apparently gathered to watch the court case that they are witnesses. The phrase “You are witnesses today” bookends the actual declaration. Boaz emphasizes his two-fold actions: he has purchased of the land of Elimelech and “all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon” (9) and included with the purchase is Ruth the Moabite who will be his wife (10).

Boaz has three goals for redeeming Ruth (10). First, “to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” This was the same proposition put to John Doe (see v.5). Second, “that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers.” Thus Boaz would ensure that the lineage of Elimelech did not go extinct. Third, “that the name of the dead may not be cut off…from the gate of his native place.” This would ensure that Elimelech would always have representation at the city gate. These goals are likewise witnessed by the crowd and elders.

Everyone at the gate affirm that they are witnesses to the legal proceedings. The crowds invoke a blessing from Yahweh. Rachel & Leah invoked as figures of women whose wombs were opened by the Yahweh (esp. Leah, Gen 29.31-30.24). The people recognize these two women “built up together the house of Israel. This blessing is profound since it seeks to seat Ruth the Moabite with the matriarchs of Israel. The crowds also charge Boaz to “act worthily” and “be renowned in Bethlehem.” The phrase “act worthily” could refer to either financial prosperity,[8] social standing,[9] or reproductive fertility.[10] For Boaz to “be renowned” could speak to Boaz becoming famous (so the NIV). Finally, they invoke yet another blessing from Yahweh. This time another earlier Levirate Law case is mentioned, that of Judah and Tamar (see Gen 38). There is no connection between the character of Judah and Boaz nor Tamar and Ruth. Rather, the people’s blessing must be understood through the lens of a lesser to greater. In other words, if Yahweh had blessed the sordid union of Judah and Tamar with a double portion, then certainly He will bless Boaz and Ruth who are models of a high ethical standard.

Genealogical Considerations (4.13-20)

Verse 13 serves as a time lapse report. Boaz and Ruth are married and at least nine months later Ruth gives birth to a son. Yahweh is acknowledged as the Giver of the child since He “gave her conception.” The implication is that during her decade long marriage to Mahlon Ruth was barren. Now in answer to the prayers of the crowd at the city gate Yahweh yet again “visited His people” by giving Ruth a child.

In response to the grace of Yahweh upon Boaz and Ruth the women of the city break out in spontaneous praise to Yahweh (14a). Their stirring at the beginning of the book when Naomi returned (1.19) is similarly reflected here. The women are stirred this time to utter a blessing to the God of Israel. God is to praised for not leaving Naomi without a kinsman-redeemer. So she who returned empty has been filled through this son.

The women then turn their attention to the boy and bless him (14b-15). First, they seek for his name to “become famous” in Israel (NASB). Second, they declare that Naomi’s emptiness if ended since the child will be “a restorer of life” to Naomi and, presumably when he is grown, will sustain Naomi in her old age (literally, grey hair). The bitter emptiness that death brought her has been reversed (perhaps even resurrected) in the child born to Ruth. Third, there is a statement made about Ruth. She loves Naomi, they say, and she is more valuable than seven sons, having given birth to the boy. Truly, Ruth has loved Naomi, not only in staying with Naomi through all the calamity of chapter 1, nor in finding gainful employment to support both of them in chapter 2, but also in risking her reputation and very life to follow the plan of Naomi in chapter 3. The birth of the son who is, to these women, the kinsman-redeemer (though not a technical or legal way) of Naomi is yet another demonstration of Ruth’s love for Naomi. Certainly with this blessing whatever bitterness lingered in Naomi has dissipated.

The final two verses which close out the narrative (16-17) contain a summation of the story. Naomi receives the child onto her lap and becomes his nurse. Naomi’s emptiness is filled as she takes the child onto her lap and cares for him. Finally, the women name the boy and we find out his identity in the grand scheme of things. This completes the symmetry of the book as the neighbor women who had declared “Is this Naomi?” (1.19) now declare “Naomi has a son” and give him a name. He is Obed (his name means “one who serves”), the grandfather of the man who would be King David.

So the book ends with a final genealogical account tracing the Davidic lineage. It begins with Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar. Ten generations are listed, most of them nothing else is written about these men but their name. They served their purpose in their generation then died. So too does Obed. No other stories are tied to him. He too served his purpose: a comfort to Naomi, but also carrying on the lineage of David.

[1] Baldwin, 293.

[2] English is not the only language which has had difficulty with the phrase פְּלֹנִ֣י אַלְמֹנִ֑י. The Septuagint translates to “O Stranger” and the Vulgate side steps the issue with the ambiguous phrase “he called to him by name” (NAB).

[3] John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Ruth (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 47.

[4] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 175.

[5] Block, 715.

[6] See Block, 716, who summarizes a summarization of Bush’s comments.

[7] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 358.

[8] The NASB emphasizes this translating וַעֲשֵׂה־חַיִל “may you achieve wealth.”

[9] So the NIV reads “may you have standing.”

[10] So the NRSV reads “may you produce children.”

Machinations: Naomi Schemes While Boaz Dreams (Ruth 3)

Naomi’s Plan (3.1-5)

The structure of chapter 3 is virtually identical to chapter 2. There is a scene between Naomi and Ruth (presumably in their home – 2.2-3; 3.1-5) followed by a scene involving Ruth and Boaz (which takes up the majority of the chapter – 2.4-16; 3.6-15) and ending with a report by Ruth to Naomi concerning how things went for Ruth (2.17-23; 3.16-18). The barley and wheat harvests have passed without Boaz doing anything to move his relationship with Ruth beyond work-place associates. Naomi is concerned with the well-being of Ruth so she presents a plan for her daughter-in-law.

She once more identifies Boaz as their “relative,” though she uses a different than 2.20.[1] She is aware of his daily schedule and knows he will be at the threshing floor winnowing the barley from the harvest. So Naomi instructs Ruth to bathe, put on aromatic oils, and put on an outer garment designed for sleeping during cold weather and not her “best clothes” as the NIV translates it. In fact, it seems more likely that Naomi is calling on Ruth to end her time of mourning and prepare for a new phase in life (cf. 2 Sam 12.20 and see Block 1999, 683). She then was to wait in the shadows until Boaz ate, drank, and lay down to sleep.

Noting the place where he lay, Ruth then was to go over and “uncover his feet.” This phrase has been much debated as to its exact meaning. “Nuances in language and style yield a wealth of meanings.”[2] One difficulty is that “feet” could be translated as “feet” or it could be understood as the whole lower part of the body – hips to feet.[3] The latter definition coupled with “uncover” or remove can leave the reader with a titillating narrative. Would Naomi tell Ruth to engage in, at best, such sensual behavior? Given that Boaz is a “worthy” man and, as we will soon find out, Ruth is a “worthy” woman, and given that Ruth is presented in sharp contrast and distinction from her ethnic group (the Moabites, who themselves were the offspring of Lot through the immoral actions of his daughters [see Gen 19.30ff]), it seems very unlikely that Ruth would engage in any kind of sexual escapades with her kinsman-redeemer.

Since this is the case many commentators take a more conservative approach to the meaning of “uncover his feet.” Some take it to mean that Ruth would uncover Boaz’s feet so that in the cool of the night he would be roused from slumber. Others note that slaves and even women were welcome in that culture to take the excess fabric of the master’s garment for their own covering as they lay at the foot of the bed. In such an arrangement, in the night, Boaz’s feet would hit an object in a space usually empty. Still another view sees Ruth’s actions as a quasi-marriage proposal.

One view which no one suggests is that Naomi is actually giving Boaz a subtle, gentle ultimatum. The penalty for not carrying through the levirate law was the man’s family becomes the family of uncovered feet. It may be that this is Naomi through Ruth by way of a vivid midnight object lesson telling Boaz he is missing his sandals. He can rectify the situation with Ruth. Whatever the precise meaning, Ruth understood the command and did what she was instructed to do.

Ruth Implements the Plan (3.6-9)

The plan worked just as Naomi described it. Boaz worked and ate and drank himself into exhaustion. He went and fell asleep in a random location at the pile of grain. Ruth, who has been watching from the shadows, makes her move. She creeps quietly over to him, uncovers his feet, and lay down. At midnight to his surprise, Boaz finds a woman sleeping at his feet. Keeping in mind that this is the period of the judges when spirituality was lacking among many in Israel the reader might expect Boaz to take advantage of a night visit from a woman. However, Boaz is of such character that he does not take advantage of Ruth. In fact, there is a targumic reading which likens Boaz to Joseph when he resisted the advances of Potiphar’s wife.

Although Naomi told Ruth that it would be Boaz who tells her what to do (3.5), it is Ruth in a bold move who tells Boaz what she needs. For Boaz to “spread [his] wings” over Ruth means more than just to be responsible for Ruth’s welfare; it was Ruth asking for Boaz to marry her. This idiom is well attested in other Old Testament texts (Deut 23.1; Eze 16.8). As Yahweh had spread his wings over his bride Israel (cf. 2.12), so Ruth is seeking Boaz to do his duty as kinsman-redeemer and marry her. In a masterful stroke, Ruth has not only answered Boaz’s question of “Who are you?” (“I am Ruth, your servant”), she has also answered the unspoken question of “Who is Boaz?” (“You are a redeemer”).

Ruth’s speech is short yet compelling. Block summarizes just how stunning Ruth’s statement is: “Here is a servant demanding that the boss marry her, a Moabite making the demand of an Israelite, a woman making the demand of a man, a poor person making the demand of a rich man.”[4] This plan should have been doomed from the start, and yet it works.

Boaz’s Reply (3.10-15)

Boaz’s reply to Ruth’s proposition is noble. He invokes a blessing from Yahweh upon her (10a). The language is virtually identical to that which Naomi used to bless him (2.20). While one might expect a rebuke or even a curse, Boaz blesses. Also, he commends her conduct (10b). He calls this her “kindness” or “loyalty” (NRSV).[5] No doubt Boaz has in mind Ruth’s choosing solidarity with Naomi which he commended her for earlier in the season (2.11). Next, he assuages her fears (11a). Perhaps Ruth was afraid that her actions might cause Boaz to curse her or denounce her as an immoral woman. Boaz stills Ruth’s heart with the phrase “do not fear.” Further, he promises her that he will do what she has asked him (11b). Earlier in the evening, Naomi told Ruth to do whatever Boaz tells her to do (4). In a surprising twist it is now Boaz agreeing to do for Ruth all that she has asked. In addition, he gently informs her of a potential complication (12). It is true that Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer and he states as much. At the same time as a “worthy man” (2.1) Boaz must inform this worthy woman that there is a kinsman-redeemer who is a closer relative than he is.  Finally, he reassures her that redemption is coming in the morning (13). Either the closer kinsman-redeemer or Boaz will redeem Ruth. While Boaz is willing to perform the duty of kinsman-redeemer, his integrity requires him to defer first to the closer kinsman. He even uses typical oath language to show his willingness (“as Yahweh lives”).  To close out this scene he bids her to lie down until morning (13b). One wonders if after the midnight conversation Ruth and Boaz got much sleep. He perhaps planned how he might redeem Ruth and she perhaps wondered if it would be Boaz or the other nearer kinsman. Additionally, he sends her out in the morning before daylight so no one can recognize her to maintain her integrity (14). Boaz may have been concerned that if he sent her out while it was still midnight she might get hurt wandering around in the dark or by some nave in the night. At the same time, if it is too bright outside and Ruth is recognized there is no telling how much suspicion the rumor mills around town might produce. As a final act of kindness and goodwill he also supplies her with even more grain (15). Boaz had taken care of Ruth when she first came to his field and he commanded his young men to leave some of what they reaped behind to ensure Ruth got plenty (2.15-16). Once again he is providing for Ruth with six measures of barley, a generous amount. Everything Boaz does for Ruth is to her benefit.

Verse 15 ends with a textual variant. Is it Ruth or Boaz – she or he – who went into the city? Modern English translations are pretty well split between either option.[6] The Syriac and Vulgate have the feminine. The Masoretic Text has the masculine. So too does the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Septuagint likewise can be and is translated in the masculine.[7] The masculine perhaps has the better explanatory power in that Boaz left work on the threshing floor in order to fulfill his promise to Ruth to ensure she is redeemed. He leaves straightway to go up to the gate (4.1). Given this textual confusion, a definitive conclusion is difficult to attain.

Ruth’s Report to Naomi (3.16-18)

Ruth returns home early in the morning to report to Naomi how things went. No sooner is she through the door then Naomi is asking, “How did it go?” (NIV) Ruth faithfully reports all that Boaz did with a further addendum that Boaz’s generosity was likewise intended for Naomi (17). While this statement is conspicuously absent on Boaz’s lips in the previous scene, there is no reason to doubt Ruth’s report. At the same time, this may also have been a diversionary tactic by shrewd Boaz: Ruth, laden with so much he had to “put it on her,” would have been less suspicious than dolled up unburdened Ruth. Nevertheless, Ruth tells Naomi everything that transpired. Having heard the report, Naomi replies that Boaz will not rest until he has done what he said he will do.

[1] מֹדַעְתָּ (mōdaʿtānû) rather than גָּאַל (gōʾēl).

[2] Trible, 844.

[3] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[4] Block, 692.

[5] The Hebrew word is hesed, a word typically translated “steadfast love” in the ESV.

[6] For “she” – KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, RSV, HCSB. For “he” – ASV, NIV, NET, NCV, NRSV.

[7] So reads the Lexham English Septuagint.

Moving: Ruth Finds Gainful Employment in Boaz’s Field (Ruth 2)

Ruth’s Initiative to Find Work (2.1-7)

Up through chapter one the narrative has primarily been focused on Naomi. Indeed, the transitional verses (1.22-2.1) are about Naomi’s return and serve as a transition in the setting with the introduction of a new character named Boaz.[1] Boaz is a relative of Naomi’s husband, of the clan of Elimelech. In 2.20 Boaz is called “a close relative” and three times throughout the book he is called a “kinsman-redeemer” (2.20; 3.9, 12). This latter term is “a technical legal term, related specifically to Israelite family law.”[2] Boaz, as the redeemer, was responsible for ensuring that the parcel of land in Bethlehem which Elimelech had sold during the famine would stay in the family and that the family name continued after the death of all the males with no male heir to carry on the name. This function was prescribed in the Law in Leviticus 25.25-30 and Deuteronomy 25.5-10.

Boaz is also a “worthy man.” He is a model Israelite, a man of wealth, and possibly a valiant warrior (see Judg 6.12, where Gideon is described using the same phrase). While the phrase is somewhat ambiguous, the intent seems to be to emphasize that Boaz is a noble man of character.

At 2.2 the narrative shifts focus onto Ruth. In fact, she initiates the conversation with her mother-in-law about going to work in the fields. Her aim is to “find favor” with a field owner. “Finding favor” is a theme of chapter 2 (v.2, 10, 13). Overwhelmingly the Hebrew term chen is translated as “favor” in the Hebrew Bible (53 out of 70 occurrences) though this word can also be translated “grace” (e.g. Est 2.17; Jer 31.2). A field owner showing Ruth grace would mean she would be allowed to “glean” the corners of his field. According to the Law, Ruth was dually qualified to glean the corners of fields as both a sojourner and a widow (Deut 24.19).

Given a brief affirmative answer by Naomi, Ruth makes her way to the fields. Will she find favor from some field owner? We do not wait long for the answer as she perchance ends up in the field of Boaz.[3] Enter our hero with whom Ruth will find grace. “Behold” marks his providential entrance. He happens to show up the same day and quite possibly the same time as Ruth happens upon his field. Boaz came out to the field from the town of Bethlehem. That is, the boss came to the work site. Boaz appears to be a benevolent employer; he invokes Yahweh’s presence upon them as they work. With such an employer, the workers respond in kind by invoking a blessing from Yahweh upon Boaz. Of course, Yahweh blessing Boaz will mean blessing for them also.

Boaz apparently knows who his workers are and the regulars who glean behind his workers because he notices a newcomer. He inquires as to her identity with the foreman. The question itself – “Whose young woman is this? – may be Boaz asking who’s daughter or wife Ruth is or which clan she belongs to. Or it may just be generally informational. The youth mentioned in this verse (“young man” and “young woman”) stands in distinction from Boaz who is apparently an older gentleman (cf. 3.10).

The young man gives no indication that he knows Ruth’s name. Rather, he states information the reader has been given previously: she is a Moabitess who returned with Naomi. He also relays a conversation he had with her when she came to the field; she came to glean. By the young man’s admission we find out that Ruth has worked much of the day, taking only a “short rest,” probably to get water and seek respite from the sun.[4]

Ruth and Boaz Meet (2.8-13)

Verses 8-13 records the first conversation between Ruth and Boaz. In verses 8-9, Boaz urges Ruth to stay in his field and that she will be one of his female workers. “Keep close” is the same word used in 1.14 when Ruth “clung” to Naomi and is used again in verses 21 and 23. He promises protection from the men who are instructed not to lay a finger on her. She is free to drink water drawn by the young men. Ruth has found grace in Boaz’s field. In response to Boaz’s kindness, Ruth prostrates herself before him as a sign of respect and gratitude. Seemingly astonished by Boaz’s grace, she asks why he has taken notice of a foreigner like her. Ruth’s reputation has preceded her (Bethlehem had been “stirred” by Naomi’s return in 1.19) and “all” of Ruth’s kindness and self-sacrifice has been “fully” told to Boaz. Therefore, Boaz invokes a blessing from Yahweh upon Ruth. He calls on “the God of Israel” to “repay” and give a “full reward” to Ruth. Because of her kindness to Naomi the Israelite, the God of Israel is indebted, as it were, to Ruth. Further, since Ruth has chosen solidarity with Yahweh, she has found protection and safety under His wings. The image was a common one used for Yahweh.[5]

Ruth, like the reader, wondered at Boaz’s grace. How will this repayment manifest? What form will Yahweh’s reward take? Time will tell. In the meantime, Boaz has “comforted” or relieved Ruth. She went out in the morning in search of grace and has found it before the day is out. Whatever mental strain this had put on Ruth has been removed by Boaz’s kindness and she can breathe a sigh of relief. In addition, Boaz has “spoken kindly” to Ruth. He is an Israelite and she is a Moabite. Yet Boaz has been willing to cross these racial barriers to show compassion to Ruth.

Mealtime (2.14-16)

“At the mealtime” signals that the morning shift is over. That Boaz eats with his workers is yet another testament to the kind of man he is. This particular meal is more than just refreshment before the afternoon shift begins. Boaz’s compassion continues into lunch as he invites Ruth to join in the meal. Ancient Near Eastern culture saw the table as an opportunity for hospitality and fellowship. Thus, Boaz is essentially communicating to his fellow Israelites that he is in fellowship with this foreign woman. Yet again, Boaz’s generosity knows no bounds.

Boaz is the only spokesperson in this particular scene (2.14-16). First, he invites Ruth to join the meal and ensures she has plenty to eat. Then, he gives instructions to his young men. His instructions to them are two-fold: let Ruth glean, even intentionally pulling from their sacks and leaving it behind for her, and do not be harsh with her by reproach or rebuke. Anything which caused Ruth to blush with embarrassment, any occasion in which the workers even raised their voice would be a violation of Boaz’s command. So through Boaz the protection of Yahweh is extended to Ruth.

The Rest of the Day and the Rest of the Harvest Season (2.17-23)

Ruth works the rest of the day “until evening” (2.17). She threshes the barley, presumably on Boaz’s threshing floor, though the text does not indicate this. When all that Ruth gleaned is accounted for, it totals “an ephah” or, as the footnote in the ESV indicates, 22 liters, which is 5.8 gallons, an extraordinary amount for a single day of work. Then she carried the “thirty pounds” (NET) home to Naomi, which she seemed to notice immediately. Ruth also gives Naomi her leftovers from lunch.

No doubt Naomi is surprised by the haul. She inquires as to where Ruth gleaned such a hefty amount of barley while invoking a blessing upon the man who “took notice” of Ruth (2.19). Ruth recites the day’s activities, finishing off her narrative with the reveal that the field she worked in belonged to a man named Boaz.

A remarkable thing occurs in Naomi (2.20). She is woman who has lost and grieved, blaming Yahweh for her bereavement and bitterness. In a stunning turn, she invokes a blessing from Yahweh upon Boaz for the “kindness” (or mercy, Heb hesed) he has shown. Although the ESV translates the phrase as referring to Yahweh’s hesed, the Hebrew indicates that it is actually because of Boaz’s kindness that he is to receive a blessing from Yahweh. By taking care of Ruth and Naomi, Boaz has shown faithful love to the living (the two widows) and the dead (Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion).

Naomi continues and says that Boaz is “a close relative…one of our redeemers” (2.20b). As mentioned previously, “redeemer” is a legal term referring to the family law practice of levirate marriage as prescribed in the Law. Lev 25.25-30 and Deut 25.5-10. It referred to the buying back of land sold during impoverished circumstances (Lev 25.25-30). It also referred to the duty of a brother to raise up heirs with the widow of his deceased brother to continue the family name (Deut 25.5-10). “The book of Ruth extends his duties to providing an heir for a male relative who has died childless.”[6] It seems that over time the levirate law grew in the scope of who could be a kinsman-redeemer. In Ruth’s case, since there was no brother-in-law to perform the duty of raising up a male heir, a distant relative like Boaz could fill the void and perform “the duty of a husband’s brother.”

One vital part of the levirate law was if the brother-in-law refused to perform the duty. In such a case, the man would be summoned by the elders of the city and make a public pronouncement that he refuses to perform the duty of raising up progeny for his brother with his widow. The widow would then take her brother-in-law’s sandal from his foot and spit in his face. From that day forward his house shall be called “the unsandaled family.” It is assumed that should Boaz refuse to fulfill this duty this would be his fate.

The final exchange between Ruth and Naomi (2.21-22) is Ruth’s reiteration of Boaz’s statement to remain in his field throughout the harvests. Naomi concurs that this is a “good” thing lest she fall into the hands of those who seek to harm her. This is essentially a different way of saying what Boaz had said earlier in the day. Verse 23 serves as a summary statement. Ruth stays in Boaz’s field with his young women for the duration of the barley and wheat seasons. She continues to live with Naomi as she promised to in chapter one.

[1] While the name Boaz could mean “strong” or “strength,” the meaning remains debatable and obscure.

[2] Block, 674.

[3] “[Ruth] happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz” (2.3). The chance part of this is clearly seen in 2 Samuel 1.6 where a young man “by chance…happened” to see King Saul dead on his spear. In fact, Block says the phrase could be rendered “her chance chanced upon” the field of Boaz.

[4] There are translation problems with the exact meaning of the Hebrew phrase שִׁבְתָּהּ הַבַּיִת. The Septuagint and Vulgate seem clearer, indicating some kind of shelter whereby workers could take a break. Thus, the foreman’s point is to emphasize Ruth’s good work ethic.

[5] Yahweh is portrayed as a mother bird spreading out her wings over her fledglings (Deut 32.11-12; Isa 31.5). Perhaps no other text makes use of this image so vividly to capture the safety offered by God’s faithfulness than Psalm 91 (esp.v.4).

[6] Joyce G. Baldwin, “Ruth,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 292

Mourning: Death of the Family (Ruth 1)

The Death of the Men of the Family (1.1-5)

The phrase “In the days when the judges ruled” would place the timeline of this historical narrative near the beginning of the judges’ period based on the Matthean genealogy: Boaz is the son of Salmon and Rahab. Assuming this is the same Rahab from Joshua 6, these events would be very early in the period of the judges chronologically speaking, perhaps even in the years immediately following Joshua’s death (Judg 2.16). “Famine” was typically a sign of the judgment of God upon His people for faithlessness to the covenant (Lev 26.18-20; Deut 28.23-24).

There is irony in the starting place for this narrative and the circumstances which have come upon that place. Bethlehem is literally “the house of bread” reflecting the fertility of the land. Yet even the house of bread has no bread during the famine. The severity of the famine is what drove the family of Elimelech (whose names means “God is King”) to the country of Moab. Moab was the washbasin of the God of Israel (Psa 60.8; 108.9). The washbasin was used for washing feet. Therefore, Moab is where Yahweh washed His feet. Yet this is where Ruth and Orpah are from.

Sometime after the family arrives in Moab tragedy strikes: Elimelech dies from an unspecified cause. Naomi (whose name means “pleasant”) is left with her two sons: Mahlon and Chilion. Some have speculated that their names mean “sickly” and “frailty” respectively, though there remains uncertainty as to their exact meaning. They both take Moabite wives, something expressly forbidden by the Law (Deut 7.3; cf. Exodus 34.16). While unclear initially which brother takes which woman, 4.10 makes it clear that Mahlon married Ruth.

In verses 1-5 a shift in the narrative takes place as Naomi goes from being a support character (“his wife Naomi,” v.2) to the main character (Elimelech becomes “the husband of Naomi” [v.3] and “her husband” [v.5]). In addition, Mahlon and Chilion similarly go from being “his two sons” (v.1, 2) to being “her two sons” (v.3, 5). This is the narrator’s subtle way of shifting the focus of the narrative onto Naomi.

The Response of the Widows (1.6-22)

God is introduced for the first time in verse 6. Yahweh is introduced into the story as the merciful and gracious God He is (cf. Exodus 34.6-7). He has visited His people to give them food. The “house of bread” has bread once again. Naomi will “return” to Bethlehem and, in this way, she repents, changing her mind.

At some point along the way Naomi began a conversation with her daughters-in-law concerning their return to their home country of Moab. Naomi is sending her daughters-in-law back to their “mother’s house” with the intent that they would remarry. She prays Yahweh’s kindness (Heb. hesed) and rest be upon them. Yahweh’s “kindness” or “faithful love” (HCSB) is his covenantal love. So Naomi understands that Yahweh is interested in the nations, even the well-being of two foreign widows. Ruth and Orpah have shown faithful covenant love and so Naomi invokes the blessing of Yahweh’s faithful covenant love upon them. “Rest” or “security” (NRSV) is likewise invoked as a blessing up Ruth and Orpah. By finding new husbands they would be spared a nomadic life of wandering and enjoy peace in their husband’s house. The women then give vent to their emotions when they “wept loudly” (NIV, translated as a hendiadys). The women will not go home, choosing to “return” to Naomi’s people.

Once again Naomi pleads with her daughters to “turn back” (same word for “return” throughout this chapter). While phrased as a question in most translations, her words to Ruth and Orpah can also be translated as a rebuke: “There is no reason for you to return to Judah with me!” (NET) She wants Ruth and Orpah to repent, as it were, of their folly in following her. Her reasoning is three-fold: 1) she is past childbearing age; 2) she is beyond marrying age; 3) even if she married and had sons, it would take years before they would be old enough for Ruth and Orpah to have as husbands. We are also introduced to a recurring theme for Naomi: her bitter situation. She is a widow without the prospect of relief from these circumstances. She does not want her daughters-in-law to experience what she did in Moab – being a widow in a foreign land. Therefore, she pleads with them for a second time to return to their homeland.

In a stunning twist, Naomi blames Yahweh for the calamity which has befallen her. While Yahweh had visited His people with bread, Naomi believes He has visited her with tragedy. This is her theological assessment of the deaths of her husband a decade ago as well more recently her two sons and having no children from her daughters-in-law to carry on the family lineage.  Block sums up Naomi’s perspective: “Naomi is a bitter old woman who blames God for her crisis. Naomi feels that she is the target of God’s overwhelming power and wrath.”[1] So God is to blame for her bitterness.

The reaction of Ruth and Orpah is virtually identical to verse 9: loud weeping. This time, though, the outcome is different. Orpah leaves after kissing Naomi goodbye. We never hear of her again. Ruth yet again refuses to leave. In fact, Ruth “clung” to Naomi as a husband is to “hold fast” to his wife (Gen 2.24).

Naomi tries a third time to dissuade Ruth from going with her (15). Ruth, however, refuses to “abandon” (NET)[2] Naomi. She makes a three-fold commitment. First, Ruth will live wherever Naomi lives. Second, what Naomi has (people and God) Ruth will likewise share. Third, Ruth will be buried wherever Naomi is buried. Ruth is promising to be with Naomi the rest of her life. To show her full loyalty she binds herself with an oath to Yahweh that nothing short of death will separate them (17b). Seeing Ruth’s determination Naomi says no more.

The women arrive back in Bethlehem which causes an uproar among the citizens. After a decade Naomi, the pleasant one, has returned marked by the grief, pain, and trouble of those years in her physical appearance it would seem for the women ask, “Is this Naomi?” The women asking this question implies Naomi is unrecognizable. Naomi has become embittered by the calamity which has befallen her. She invokes a self-imposed name change; she is now Mara or “bitter.” Once again we see that she blames “the Almighty…Yahweh” for the calamity. She claims, somewhat paradoxically, to have been “full” when she left during the famine a decade ago. There is no hint that Naomi credits Yahweh for her fullness when she left. However, Yahweh, in her mind, is certainly to blame for her emptiness in her return. The Almighty has “testified” in the divine council against Naomi, declaring her guilty and deserving of the bitter calamity which has befallen her. This is why she should be called Mara. Yet despite the name change, the narrator never calls Naomi Mara; she remains Naomi throughout the narrative. Perhaps 1.22 is why the name change does not stick: Naomi still has “Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her.” She is not really empty after all. Also, the famine is over and the barley harvest has arrived.

[1] Block, 637

[2] Most English translations have “leave.” The NET translates ozbek (Heb. עזב) as “abandon.” This agrees with the primary definition found in the Dictionary of Biblical Languages.