Seeking Shelter, Finding Fruit
Ruth 2:1-23- Seeking Shelter, Finding Fruit
Chapter one of Ruth sets the scene for the rest of the book. Naomi and Ruth are now in the land of Judah. Being back in Judah is one significant hurdle to cross. When Sarah and I were engaged, we needed to go through the process of getting a visa for me to come to America. A lot of paperwork and documents, waiting, an expensive medical exam, and an interview at the American embassy. We finally got approval for me to enter the country. However, once we landed in America, we had many more problems that confronted us, planning a wedding, finding housing after we were married, more paperwork, and also waiting for me to have the approval to work. Getting to America was a great accomplishment. However, it was not the only difficult task for us. Naomi and Ruth have returned to Judah, but this is only the beginning.
I. Finding Food
One of the great hurdles for Naomi and Ruth is to find food. We can live in a historical bubble that makes it hard for us to understand. We can preserve and process food. We can go to a store and use our money to purchase food. We live in a society with a welfare system, food stamps, unemployment, social security, and section 8. Back then the family unit was the security people would turn to if they needed help. We can also live in a bubble of an industrial/information economy society. The system of economics in the time of Ruth would have been an agrarian economic society. An agrarian society, or agricultural society, is centered not around industry or information but agriculture. The backbone of society was crops and farmland. This is why the famine in verse one has a considerable impact on the land. During 2020 we have seen some industries crippled by the global pandemic; however, some industries have blossomed. Elimelech might have sold his land to someone else to be able to try and feed his family and then moved to Moab.
Even when things have turned around, and the Lord had visited his people and provided them Bread (Ruth 1:6), when you do not have land, how can you produce any revenue? In many other cultures, women couldn’t hold title to land. However, in Israel, they could. The issue is that Elimelech sold his land. Ultimately the land was God’s that was given to the people and tribes of Israel (Gen 12:7, Num 26-27, Josh 13-21). Leviticus 25:23 explains this principle, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.” If someone had to ‘sell’ their land to someone else because of financial hardships, they would eventually get it back. A better term might be to lease their land. There were different rules if the house was located inside the walls of a city (Lev 25:29-30). Eventually, the land would be returned to the original owner or their family in the year of Jubilee (after seven sabbath years). In the year of Jubilee everything was returned and if they were slaves, they would be sent back to their own clan, freed. Naomi was in Moab for over ten years (Ruth 1:4), so she would have had to wait until the land of Jubilee was to come. However, you could purchase your land back by paying some ‘penalties’ for cutting the lease short, or you could have a relative redeem you. We will see this later.
The Mosaic Law is one filled with great equity that we all can learn from. Not only could women hold titles to land, which was uncommon. The law required landowners to look after the poor, widows, and orphans. This was in the practice of gleaning. Gleaning would allow for the poor and needy in society to follow reapers in a field and pick up any spears of grain (Lev 19:9-10, 23:22, Deut 24:20-21). The reapers would walk through a field and were not allowed to go back over it to get anything they have missed (Lev 19:9-10). The grain might not have been ripe yet, or they missed something. However, they were to leave them. Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This law is an excellent example of the second great commandment. The poor would not have changed their status through this practice, and it all depends on how the people of Israel obeyed God’s law. And during the time of Ruth, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud 21:25).
Ruth and Naomi needed to find food, so Ruth said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain.” She went out to find a field that might provide some grain for the day and maybe some to store when the harvest was over. She came to a man’s field named Boaz. She started early in the morning, taking a short rest, and then captures the eye of Boaz when he comes to check on the field when he comes from Bethlehem. Boaz finds out about Ruth from his chief reaper.
II. Finding Favor
Boaz is not like other men during this time in Israel’s history. Boaz is genuinely devoted to God. When Boaz first greets his reapers, he says, “The Lord (Yahweh) be with you.” His very words we see recorded in scripture are a blessing to his workers. Even Boaz’s reapers follow in his footsteps. They say, “The Lord (Yahweh) bless you.” Boaz has also given them instructions not to hinder any poor from gleaning from his fields. Boaz then goes to speak to Ruth. He shows her favor, far above what is required in the law. He not only allows the poor and needy to glean from his field; he goes above and beyond to help Ruth.
a. Provides Protection
He commands his reapers not to touch her. Women would have been in a very vulnerable position; they would have been all alone in a field with not many witnesses. It seems common practice that women would be assaulted and raped (Ruth 2:22). However, Boaz doesn’t turn away but commands his workers not to touch her. He commands his reapers not to make her feel ashamed and not to rebuke her (Ruth 2:15-16).
b. Provides Water
Boaz explains that Ruth is to help herself to any water that she might need. The law required landowners to not reap everything. However, you could uphold the law but miss the intention of it. Having the poor glean in the middle of the day in the middle east would lead them to not gleaning as much. Again, he says that she can drink the water already drawn by the young men. Even drawing water from a well could be a hard task in the middle of the day, especially when you have been outside for so long.
c. Provides Lunch and Wine
When all of Boaz’s workers stop for lunch, he invites Ruth to come and eat lunch with them. He also shares some of his wine with her. Ruth is able to eat and drink and have more energy to glean more. Ruth eats enough until she is satisfied, leaving some leftovers. Boaz does not merely give her crumbs at his table but puts before her enough and more.
d. Provides bundles of grain
Boaz lets her work with his workers, so not only following along to get the rest but giving her the best. This would give Ruth more to harvest but also make sure she is not in a vulnerable position. He even leaves out some bundles of grain for her to take home.
e. Provides stability
Boaz not only looks after Ruth in that one day but says she can come back until the end of the barley harvest. He gives her permission to come back every single day. This amplifies the blessing which is shown to Ruth. In one day, she was able to collect about eight pounds of pure barley grain. Having enough for one day is good, but what happens when the harvest is over? You need enough grain to get you through the year. If you have people who leave a small amount of grain after their reapers go through, then it can be hard to survive.
We need to understand Boaz is going above and beyond what the law required to look after Ruth and Naomi. This kindness comes at a great cost to Boaz. Every bundle and grain is money that he would not get at the market. Every hour that one of his workers works to provide for Ruth is money that he pays and does not get any return from. Every grain that Ruth gleans while working among the other reapers picking valuable grain is again a great loss at the market. His giving water, Bread, wine would be a great expense, especially if it was to happen throughout the whole harvest. Boaz is generous. He sees his wealth as a means of blessing those less fortunate.
Ruth is not sure why Boaz is showing this much favor to her. She asks Boaz, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me since I am a foreigner?” She set out to glean in the field of whose sight she might find favor (Ruth 2:2). She found favor and was not sure why Boaz was showing this favor to her, a foreigner. Boaz explains that he has heard about Ruth, what she has done for her Mother-in-Law. But more importantly, the main reason she returned to Judah. Ruth 2:12, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward is given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Ruth not only came to Judah because of her loyalty to Naomi but her devotion to God. She came to take refuge under the wings of God. Boaz says that it is not what country you come from but which God you worship.
Boaz explains it is not my favor you have come under but Yahweh, the God of Israel. You have come to be under the wings of Yahweh. Under his wings, you will find peace. The word translated ‘repay,’ has the same root letters as ‘shalom,’ which means completeness or wholeness. Ruth will find favor under Yahweh. The metaphor of God as a mother bird protecting her chicks is common in the bible. This metaphor is frequently used speaking of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Exodus 19:4 says, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” That same God is the one who projected sojourners in the wilderness, protects Ruth in Judah.
John Owen says,
“Did you never run to a tree for shelter in a storm, and find fruit which you did not expect? Did you never go to God for safeguard in these times, driven by outward storms, and there find unexpected fruit, the peaceable fruit of righteousness, that made you say, “Happy tempest, which cast me into such a harbor”?”
Ruth indeed not only found shelter under the wings of God but also fruit for her to eat.
III. Finding a Redeemer
When Ruth set out that day to find food and possibly favor, she had no idea what the day would hold in store for her. She just “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3). Frequently we are told as we read through this that Boaz is related to Elimelech (Ruth 2:1, 3, 4). However, Ruth had no idea. When she returned back with food from lunch for Naomi and about eight pounds of barley. Naomi asked where she worked. Ruth explained she worked in the fields of Boaz. To Ruth, she spoke of the nice man who showed her favor in the fields. However, Naomi responds, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” (Ruth 2:20). The Lord had not forgotten her and not forsaken her. The Lord shows Naomi his steadfast love and kindness. The word used is ‘hesed’ the same word in the blessing in Ruth 1:8. The word speaks of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people. Boaz, she explains to Ruth, is a close relative, one of their redeemers. Before we talk about what a redeemer is, we need to note the hand of providence in the book of Ruth. Ruth and Naomi happen to arrive in Judah at barley harvest. Ruth happens to glean in a field belonging to Boaz. Boaz happened to notice Ruth and ask about her. We see the ordinary providence at work in the mundane.
A Redeemer (goel) is someone who pays the price on behalf of a relative who has sold themselves or their property to someone else. They basically buy out the rest of the ‘lease’ to release their relative of his/her property (Lev 25:25-54). In the book of Ruth, the word ‘redeem’ or ‘redeemer’ occurs twenty-one times. It occurs just over 100 times in the Old Testament, so one of five times the word is used is in the book of Ruth. We will see more of this law in the book of Ruth.
The word redeemer and redemption is used in the New Testament to speak of Christ’s death as the redemption of our transgressions (Heb 9:15). The law of Kinsman redeemer is a foreshadowing of Christ. We need redemption. We are sold into the slavery of sin and are unable to pay out the debt which we owe. Christ, the true redeemer, redeems for himself his bride, the church. Jesus Christ redeems his people. As Boaz showed favor to Ruth, Christ shows favor to us. As Boaz provided protection for Ruth, Christ protects us. As Boaz provided food in abundance for Ruth, Christ gave Himself as the Bread of life. Boaz would redeem the line of Elimelech (My God is King). He would be in the line of David the King of Israel, which will culminate as Jesus the King of kings.