Each chapter of the tale of Ruth builds with tension. In this chapter, we’re introduced to a mighty man, who could save our distressed damsels. But will he? This portion of the story is a real cliff-hanger. It doesn’t give any resolution, but it does leave us important hints. It foreshadows, without giving anything away.
And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech. And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The LORD be with you. And they answered him, The LORD bless thee. Then said Boaz unto his servant that was set over the reapers, Whose damsel is this? […] (Ruth 2).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Naomi & Ruth returned empty to Bethlehem, during the barley harvest (1:22). They were empty, but Bethlehem was full. The disaster has befallen, but now we witness a hero arise, a mighty man, of the kinfolk of Naomi, Boaz was his name. His name means “fleetness” or “in him is strength” (v1, Cf. 3:18); a clear contrast with Mahlon. Ruth sets out–with Naomi’s blessing, and likely due to Naomi’s instruction–to busy herself with the lawful means of subsistence given to widows & strangers (v2; Cf. Lev. 19:9). God’s hand is clearly at work, for she “happens upon” the field of Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman (v3). A diligent man, Boaz comes to see the state of his harvest with a blessing for his reapers who bless him in return (v4). Like any good love story, he spots the fair maiden, and inquires of his steward as to who she was (v5); the steward provides a thorough report: 1) she was the Moabitess who’d returned with Naomi, 2) she’d sought permission to exercise her right to glean, and 3) she’d displayed a remarkable work-ethic (vv6-7).
Boaz speaks to Ruth, inviting her to glean permanently in his fields, permitting her to work alongside his maidens without harassment by his young men, and encouraging her to help herself to the cool waters of his wells (vv8-9, Cf. 2 Sam. 23:15). She bows in reverence, asking as to how she, a stranger, should procure his grace (v10). He explains that he’d heard the full tale of her loyalty to Naomi, forsaking her own land (v11), and he speaks a word of covenant blessing over her, for by her faith Jehovah’s wings were spread over her (v12). She expresses her gratitude (v13), but his kindness to her is not yet done, for he welcomes her to dine with him & his harvesters (v14), and then instructs his reapers to purposefully make her gleaning both easier (v15), more abundant, and hassle-free (v16).
After Ruth’s full day of work, she returned to Naomi with the abundance of her industry: arms full of blessing (vv17-18). Naomi insists on knowing who to bless for this bounty, and Ruth informs her it was Boaz (v19). This news incites Naomi to burst forth in prayer & praise, explaining the importance of their relation to Boaz (v20). Ruth and Naomi then agree that this gleaning arrangement should be continued (vv21-23).
THE ONE WHO CLUNG
In some Rabbinic tradition Orpah is known as “the one who kissed,” and Ruth is known as “the one who clung.” Ruth clung to Naomi, displaying a true conversion to the God of Naomi. In Chapter 2, Boaz invites Ruth to cling to his fields amidst his handmaids and young men until the end of the harvest (Cf. 2:8,21); which is the very thing she does (2:23).
This is the same word that’s elsewhere used to describe a husband cleaving to his wife (Gen. 2:24). The Lord repeatedly tells Israel to cleave unto Him (Deu. 10:20, 11:22, 13:4, 30:20); and to not cling unto the cursed things (Deu. 13:17) or else the curses will cling to them (Deu. 28). Joshua renews the insistence that Israel continue cleaving to the Lord, if she would enjoy the Deuteronomic blessing (Jos. 22:5, 23:8,12).
But Bethlehem has been under the curse of God, as evident by the famine. However, Ruth has come to cling to Naomi and her God; and now in Boaz, she clings to the fields of Israel. In contrast, Elimelech forsook the fields of Israel for the fields of Moab. Ruth has clung to God, and as the story unfolds we wait to see whether this clinging will result in blessing. We often want to see the blessing before we cling in faith. But Ruth displays the life of true faith, clinging comes first. Faith and then sight. As the hymn writer put it, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”
THE MIGHTY MAN
The arrival of Boaz into the narrative is meant to tantalize us, but not satisfy us. He’s a close kin of Naomi, and thus he could fulfill the required duty of redeeming her, and raising up an heir for Elimelech (Deu. 25:5).
There are a few things we learn about Boaz. He himself apparently doesn’t have an heir. He was the son of Salmon and Rahab. Some scholars object to the timeline, and insist that the genealogy at the end of the book must have been streamlined. But this just shows a lack of imagination and basic math skills. John Tyler (born 1790), our tenth president (1841-1845), still has a living grandson. In other words, it is not at all unlikely that Boaz’s mother was indeed that famous Jerichoite, Rahab.
So his own mother had been a Gentile stranger who came to rest in the land of Israel. He was likely rather old, as his referring to Ruth as “my daughter” indicates. His care of her is initially paternal. He is a mighty one. And, as we see, a man of profound generosity. His charity is notable, and worthy of emulation. But most importantly, he’s a possible Kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and Ruth.
LIGHT IN THE SHADOWS
This whole section is laden with important symbolism. There’s a contrast being made between how Boaz treats this Moabitess with how Moab treated Israel during her wanderings (Deut. 23:3-4). Another shadow which is being illuminated for us is in the language used to describe Ruth’s departure from the land of her nativity (2:11). It calls to mind Abram’s departure out of Ur. Boaz’s feast invites us to see in him a sort of Melchizedek, bringing wine and bread to this feminine version of Abram.
The first man, Elimelech & his sons, left Naomi and Ruth in a wasteland. Not unlike Adam in Eden. Boaz arises to be a sort of second Adam. He is painted as what a good and godly king ought to be. Mighty, diligent to know the state of his flocks & fields (Pro 27:23), overflowing generosity, a mouth full of blessing. He is indeed a portrait of a godly patriarch, and all this is aimed to reinforce the Davidic Kingdom.
UNDER JEHOVAH’S WINGS
The only place of protection is under the wings of Jehovah. This expression will come into play again in the next chapter. But to be under the wings of Jehovah is likely a reference to the wings of the cherubim, which covered the ark of covenant. It was by the blood, sprinkled on the mercy seat, whereby all of Israel rested under the blessing and protection of God.
The story of Ruth is the story of the Redemption of the world in miniature. It sets before you the question: have you come to rest under the wings of Jehovah? Ruth the barren, brings to Naomi, in the midst of her bitter trial, armloads of sweet blessing. Where did this abundance come from? It came from resting under the Shadow of the Almighty. But the blessings here only foreshadow greater blessings which await these godly women.
This truth remains unchanged. Many people want God’s blessing, but they do not want to forsake Moab’s fields. They want their arms loaded full with the harvest, but they do not want to cleave to the fields of Boaz. God’s blessing is found, even in the midst of bitter trial, by clinging to Him alone, obeying His Covenant Word, and steadfastly hoping in the promised Seed.
Naomi gives a speech at the end of each chapter. The first chapter is her cry of godly despair; she even refuses to call God by His covenant name, opting instead to call Him El Shaddai (the Almighty). But here at the close of chapter 2, she praises Jehovah, and His covenant-mercies. The Redeemer arises, to make good on all the promised covenant blessings.