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Listening to the Stories
Read Ruth 2:1-16

Verse 1: 
  • Man of standing. The Hebrew phrase used here is often rendered “mighty man of valor”, but sometimes it simply refers to a person of ability or of wealth. The connection with wealth suggests that the “man of standing/valor” was wealthy enough to leave his place of livelihood, having his own weapons of war to serve as necessary when there was not a standing army. Even though there is no evidence of military conflict or turmoil in the book of Ruth, Boaz’s description as a man of standing may be significant, since the events are placed within the context of the chaos and anarchy of the period of the judges, when there was occasional need to call people for military duty.

  • Clan of Elimelek. The clan was a social grouping in size between that of the tribe (e.g., Judah) and that of the extended family. The clan definition was based on descent from a common ancestor and from within this context the function of the guardian/redeemer (cf. Leviticus 25) of the narrative will unfold. The clan would normally be responsible for maintaining the social and economic survival of the relatives and in times of crisis would even contribute personnel to the defense of the emerging tribal nation.

Verse 2: 
  • Pick up the leftover grain. Commonly called gleaning. Mosaic Law decreed that landowners were not to harvest the full extent of their fields, but were to leave produce in the hard-to-reach areas. The remaining harvest was for the poor and foreigners who might be in the land (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19-22). Ruth expects to gather the cut remnants that the reapers have accidentally dropped. Obadiah (Obadiah 5) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:9) allude to the expectations of gleaning in their indictments of Edom.

  • In whose eyes I find favor. Even though Mosaic Law prescribed the landowner to permit gleaning, part of the challenge of the period of the judges was that the people did not generally follow God’s law. Ruth’s statement implies not only an awareness of etiquette to request permission, but also the potential danger to herself, particularly as a foreigner. Later prophets reveal that the Israelites did not always follow God’s direction relative to the poor and oppressed (Isaiah 1:17; Amos 5:10-15; 8:4-6; Micah 3:1-3), and almost certainly this abuse would often manifest itself in the refusal to allow them to glean.

  • The purpose of this law was to feed the poor and to prevent the owners from hoarding. This law served as a type of welfare program in Israel. Because she was a widow with no means of providing for herself, Ruth went into the fields to glean the grain.

  • Ruth made her home in a foreign land. Instead of depending on Naomi or waiting for good fortune to happen, she too the initiative. She went to work. She was not afraid of admitting her need or working hard to supply it. When Ruth went out to the fields, God provided for her. If you are waiting for God to provide, consider this: He may be waiting for you to take the first step to demonstrate just how important your need is.

Verse 3:
  • Behind the harvesters. Whether the harvesters were from Boaz’s household cannot be ascertained. The Bible notes that natives and foreigners might hire themselves out for work (Deuteronomy 24:14) either on a daily basis (Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:15; cf. Matthew 20:1-16) or annually (Leviticus 25:53). We do not know the pay scale for the time of Ruth in Judah. Harvesting crops apparently was not a favored occupation (cf. Job 7:1-2; 14:6), and the person’s welfare would inevitably be at the mercy of the overseer (Jeremiah 22:13; Malachi 3:5).

  • A field belonging to Boaz. People typically lived in small towns or villages, which provided safety as well as a sense of community, especially since the people were usually tribally related. The population of the town seldom exceeded a few hundred. The fields were away from the town and it was necessary for the people to leave the security of the town to work in the fields. The fields were marked off in family plots, often with small piles of stones serving as boundary markers. It would be somewhat easy or an unscrupulous person to move these stones over a little at a time to increase his land holdings at the expense of a neighbor. Reflecting this reality, the Bible has injunctions against illicitly moving boundary markers (Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:17; Proverbs 22:28; 23:10; cf. Job 24:2; Hosea 5:10). The production of these small piles of stones, and sometimes low walls, were also a convenient means by which to remove the stones from the cultivable fields.

Verse 4:
  • “The LORD be with you!” “The LORD bless you!” The exchange of greetings imploring the Lord is not unusual. It may denote an element of devotion, but it may also simply have been a customary greeting. In this text, the reader is certainly supposed to read significance in it even if it is conventional. In Psalm 129, the psalmist uses agricultural imagery to describe the interaction with his enemies; the final verse (Psalm 129:8) implies that a blessing including the divine name was common. One greeting in the Hebrew Bible was simply “shalom,” meaning “peace” (cf. Judges 6:23; 1 Samuel 25:6; 2 Samuel 18:28).

Verse 5:
  • The overseer. The Hebrew word used here is sometimes translated “young man,” but the term encompasses much more. People in the Bible who are so designated are often servants or retainers of some kind (Numbers 22:22; Judges 7:10-11; 19:3; 2 Kings 4:12) or military personnel (Genesis 14:24; 1 Samuel 25:5; 2 Samuel 2:14; 1 Kings 20:14). It can also apply to someone who manages an estate, such as Ziba, who had custody of Saul’s estate (2 Samuel 9:9; 19:18). As far as age is concerned, the age of demarcation appears to vary depending on the function of the person involved—for military service, it was age 20 (Exodus 30:14; Numbers 1:3, 18); for Levitical service outside the tent of meeting, it was age 25 (Numbers 8:24); for service in the tent of meeting, it was age 30 (Numbers 4).

Verses 6-7:
  • From morning till now. The Hebrew text is difficult to decipher. The NIV has opted for a rendering that describes the agricultural custom of rising early to work in the fields. Farmers typically rise at or before dawn to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures. In pre-industrial societies, and especially in a hot climate like that of Israel, it would be normal to take an afternoon break during the heat of the day and resume work in the later afternoon. This is part of the context for David’s late afternoon walk on his roof after his rest (2 Samuel 11:2).

  • Short rest in the shelter. Again the Hebrew text is difficult. The NIV has opted to render the verse to reflect Ruth’s industriousness. She has not stopped working “except for a short rest in the shelter.” Work in the hot sun can quickly drain one’s energy. The shelter was a kind of brush arbor set up as a break shade for the workers. Because of Israel’s low humidity, retreat into the shade yields a dramatic differential in temperature, since the dry air rapidly evaporates the perspiration and accentuates the cooling effects.

  • Ruth’s task, though menial, tiring, and perhaps degrading, was done faithfully. What is your attitude when the task you have been given is not up to your true potential? The task at hand may be all you can do, or it may be the work God wants you to do. Or as in Ruth’s case, it may be a test of your character that can open up new doors of opportunity.

Verses 8-9:
  • Follow…after the women. It appears there was a division of labor, the men doing the cutting (v. 15) and the women doing the binding (vv. 8-9), although this separation is not necessarily absolute.

  • Men not to lay a hand on you. Ruth’s presence on the scene as a stranger and especially as a foreigner would naturally draw attention and almost invite abuse by some in society.

  • Lay a hand on. The Hebrew word carries several nuances including to strike (see Genesis 32:25, 32; Joshua 8:15 [“driven back”]; Job 1:19), to inflict injury (see Genesis 26:11, 29), and to have sexual relations  (see Genesis 20:6; Proverbs 6:29). Unless Boaz suspected his employees to be of the basest sort, it is unlikely that sexual relations (i.e., rape) would be the point of his prohibition; more likely it was that they were not to strike or abuse her or inflict upon her verbal abuse.

  • Water jars. The young men were to permit her to drink from the jars they had filled. Without a readily available water supply in the field, it was necessary to prepare for the day’s activities. While not necessarily exclusively so, drawing water was commonly a woman’s job (Genesis 24:11, 13; 1 Samuel 9:11). The Israelites sometimes coerced foreigners into the job (Deuteronomy 29:10-11; Joshua 9:21-27).

Verse 10:
  • Bowed down with her face to the ground. While we cannot be absolutely sure of the posture involved, the Black Obelisk depicts Jehu of Israel bowing before Shalmaneser III with his face to the ground.

  • When have you had the opportunity to see a stranger’s perspective, and how has it changed you?

  • When has knowing someone’s story challenged how you understand our responsibility to love others as we love God and love ourselves?  

Verses 11-12:
  • Under whose wings. In this case, Boaz likely simply alludes to the protective covering of the Lord’s care. The Lord elsewhere is portrayed as providing such protection (Psalm 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 91:4). Occasional artistic depictions of deities spreading their wings over their subjects can be seen in the ancient Near East. Boaz’s imagery might draw from the wing-protected ark of the covenant law with its cherubim (Exodus 25:17-22).

  • Ruth’s life exhibited admirable qualities: she was hard-working, loving, kind, faithful, and brave. These qualities gained for her a good reputation, but only because she displayed them consistently in all areas of her life. Wherever Ruth went or whatever she did, her character remained the same.

  • Your reputation is formed by the people who watch you at work, in town, at home, in church. A good reputation comes by consistently living out the qualities you believe in—no matter what group of people or surroundings you are in.

Verses 13-14:
  • At mealtime. The day’s meals normally began with a light breakfast and a light noon meal such as reflected in this narrative. The evening meal was the main meal of the day and usually consisted of basically a one-pot stew mainly of vegetables; the stew was sopped with bread.

  • Wine vinegar. May have been a type of vinegar-based sauce. The Hebrew word could render a commonly used chickpea sauce, hummus, prevalent through the Mediterranean world, into which bread is dipped. The roasted grain was a common addition to the meal (1 Samuel 17:17; 25:18; 2 Samuel 17:28).

Verses 15-16:
  • The characters in the book of Ruth are classic examples of good people in action. Boaz went far beyond the intent of the gleaners’ law in demonstrating his kindness and generosity. Not only did he let Ruth glean in his field, he also told his workers to let some of the grain fall in her path. Out of his abundance, he provided for the needy. How often do you go beyond the accepted patterns of providing for those less fortunate? Do more than the minimum for others.

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