|"Ruth" by Antonio Cortina Farinós|
“Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, ‘Why have I found grace in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?’ ”
Reading: Genesis 19:30–37; Ruth 1–4
Naomi looked out of her window, waiting for her daughter-in-law to return. She had been up all night because she knew the mission was fraught with danger. Naomi knew that Boaz, an elderly relative, was a near kinsman to her late husband and as such a possible kinsman-redeemer for Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law. Boaz had shown compassion toward Ruth and Naomi, and so Naomi had suggested that a marriage be arranged. But Ruth was a Moabite, from a people whose ancestry was begotten of an illicit sexual union between Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and his daughter. Lot’s daughters had gotten their father drunk in order to lie with him. Moab, the son Lot’s daughter conceived, was the ancestor of Ruth’s people. The Moabites were notorious for immorality and idolatry.
So how was Naomi to prove to Boaz that Ruth was a covenant daughter of the faith? Naomi told Ruth to go to the threshing floor by night and to wait for Boaz and his men to finish drinking in celebration of their bounty after the harvest. Ruth was to take note of the place where Boaz lay and to approach him secretly while he slept. Ruth was to lie down at Boaz’ feet—not by his side. She was to uncover his feet so that the chill would awaken him in the night. Naomi instructed that after Boaz awoke, Ruth was to ask for covenant marriage according to the levirate law of the kinsman-redeemer. Naomi knew that she was placing Ruth in a position like Lot’s daughter, where Ruth could take advantage of Boaz. But Naomi knew that Boaz would see that Ruth would not behave like her immoral ancestress. It was Naomi’s way of showing Boaz that although Ruth was a Moabitess by birth, she was truly a daughter of Abraham by faith. Yet Naomi’s plan was not without danger. If anyone recognized Ruth that night, her reputation for purity would be gone forever (Ruth 3:14).
So Naomi anxiously awaited the dawn. At last she saw the silhouette of a young lady approaching the house. But in the light of the early dawn, the young lady’s shadow looked like it belonged to a pregnant woman. That couldn’t be Ruth, Naomi thought. But as the young woman drew near, Naomi saw that it was Ruth after all—carrying something in her apron. As Ruth entered the house, she told Naomi that Boaz had promised her right of redemption would be respected. Then Ruth opened the apron of her gown, and she showed her mother-in-law that she was carrying a large portion of grain that Boaz had given her. Naomi gave thanks to the Lord. All the bitterness of her past life was turned to joy. Naomi knew that the Lord had given her a sign that Ruth would bear a child to Boaz. God would preserve her and her daughter-in-law. How wonderful are the ways of the Lord, Naomi thought. She recognized that the union of Boaz, a son of Abraham, and Ruth, a daughter of Moab, would heal the ancient quarrel that had divided Abraham and Lot so many centuries before. God would work a great redemption through her daughter-in-law.
Ruth looked at the abundance of grain Boaz had given her, and she thought of the first time she had come by chance to the field of Boaz to glean. Her arms had grown weary from her hard work, and her back had begun to ache from the long hours of stooping in the late springtime sun.
Ruth had been working since early morning in that field, gleaning from the meager stalks of barley left by the reapers—mostly by the edges of the field. She had paused and stretched her sore muscles, thinking how gracious the law of the Lord was to make provision for the stranger and the poor by letting them glean. She had learned about the law of the Lord from her late husband, Mahlon. She recalled how the tenderness of the Lord’s mercy had struck her, for in her country there was no similar provision for the widow or the stranger. Ruth was now both a widow and a stranger. The brief rest from her labor allowed Ruth’s mind to wander, and she grew reflective. She had learned about the God of the Hebrews from her husband, who was now dead. They had been married for ten years. Ruth assumed from the childless marriage that she was barren. But it didn’t matter anyway, she thought. She was a Moabite, and no respectable Israelite man would have her. So she comforted herself in the love of her mother-in-law and in the love of the Lord.
After the death of Naomi’s husband and two sons in Moab, Naomi had decided to return to Israel. Years before she had fled to Moab with her husband to escape a famine in Israel. But after the death of her husband and sons, she resolved to return, and Ruth had insisted on going with her. Ruth’s anguish at Mahlon’s death still tore through her heart. There was little hope for Ruth or Naomi—two grieving widows with no sons to care for them. But Naomi was determined to return to Israel, and she had urged Ruth to return to her mother’s house in Moab. Instead, Ruth’s great love for her God and for her mother-in-law had compelled her to go with Naomi.
And so Ruth accompanied Naomi on the journey back to Bethlehem, the town Naomi had left many years before. Their arrival had caused quite a stir. A Moabite in Bethlehem! The people of Israel were all too familiar with the history of the people of Moab. All Israel knew that the king of Moab had once hired a prophet to curse Israel as they fled from Egypt—although Moab had been cursed instead. All Israel also remembered how the Moabite women had tried to seduce the sons of Israel at Baal Peor. They knew that Chemosh, the idol god of Moab, required violent and bloody child sacrifices from the Moabites. Even the namesake of this people, Moab himself, was born out of the incest and drunkenness of the family of Abraham’s nephew, Lot. It was all recorded in the book of Genesis. The very name of Moab was scandalous to the people of Israel.
And now there was a Moabite stranger gleaning in their fields. Naomi was too old to work in the field with the gleaning women, but Ruth was still strong, and she was willing to work for both of them. So she had come to glean in the field behind the harvesters. Although Ruth couldn’t help but notice all the whispering, the women gleaning with her had been kind to her. They respected her love for Naomi, and they were amazed that Ruth, a Moabitess, claimed Naomi’s God as her own.
The painful thoughts and memories passed. Ruth wiped her brow with her sleeve and resumed her work. As she gathered a few more stalks overlooked by the harvesters, she gave thanks to the Lord for His law, for the grace of the commandment that would provide both her mother-in-law and herself with a supper that evening. Naomi was all she had now, but she was a kind and godly woman in spite of her deep bereavement at the loss of her husband and sons. Husband and sons—Ruth was now unlikely ever to have either. She was a Moabite widow who was poor and barren. God may have provided her with a means of obtaining food, but what else was there ever to be for her? Who would ever notice her, or give her any regard?
So she continued working in silence, stooping to pull more stalks from the ground. Lost in her thoughts, Ruth was startled by a man’s voice nearby, greeting her fellow harvesters.
“The Lord be with you,” he shouted, and the workers around her responded, “The Lord bless you!”
Ruth asked the young woman working next to her who this man was. “His name is Boaz,” she answered. “He is the owner of these fields.” Ruth returned to her work, but a few moments later, she heard footsteps and looked up to see that Boaz was walking towards her. She rose nervously to greet him, trying to think of a proper way to express her gratitude to him for permitting her to glean. But Boaz spoke first.
“Listen, my daughter,” he said. “Do not go to work in another field. Stay and work in my field, following along with the young women working near you. You will be safe here. I have given orders that you be protected. When you are thirsty, you are welcome to drink from the vessels of water which are drawn for the harvesters.” Ruth could hardly believe what she was hearing; she immediately knelt down to the ground before the man, overwhelmed by his kindness.
“Why have I found grace in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” she said.
His next words startled her even more. “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me—how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth and came to a people that you did not previously know,” he said. “May the Lord reward your work and may your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”
Boaz’s words brought a peace to her heart that she had not known since her husband’s death. She answered, “I have found grace in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not worthy to be called one of your maidservants.” With a bow, Boaz moved on, and Ruth returned to her gleaning. Her heart was filled with thanksgiving, and she thought to herself, “Surely the Lord God is watching over me after all.”
At mid-day, the harvesters rested and ate. Ruth sat apart from the others, not thinking herself worthy to sit with the people of the Lord. As she ate alone in silence, she again heard Boaz’s voice. This time he was calling her! “Ruth! Come join us and share our meal!” Humbly, she came and sat with the other reapers, and she ate until she was satisfied, saving enough to share a simple supper with her mother-in-law.
Ruth returned to the field and worked until evening, but the gleaning was different now. It seemed to go more easily. That morning she had gathered the barley stalks that left upon the ground by the harvesters according to the law of the Lord. But now, she also found grain left behind that had already been cut down, lying there as if it had been left for her. “This is strange,” she thought, and as she was wondering about this, the young woman next to her spoke. “You have certainly found favor with the owner of this field,” she said. “As you left the meal to return to work, I overheard him command his servants to pull grain from the bundles they had already gathered and leave it for you.”
“How kind the Lord’s people are to strangers,” she thought. “Their love goes beyond the requirement of the law.” Ruth returned to her gleaning, marveling at the favor she had received that day. She continued gathering until evening, then stopped to beat out the stalks of grain. When she returned to Naomi that evening, she was carrying a half-bushel of barley—far more than she could have imagined she would be able to gather.
“The Lord blessed your labor today, Ruth,” Naomi said. “Tell me—in whose field did you glean? Someone took notice of you to do you this measure of kindness!”
“His name is Boaz,” Ruth replied. Naomi’s eyes widened, and she lifted her hands to heaven. “May he be blessed of the Lord! Ruth, this man is one of our closest relatives. Truly God was leading you today!” And so all through that season, Ruth followed Boaz’s instructions, gleaning faithfully in his fields alongside the young women working there until the end of the summer harvest.
Ruth’s love for Naomi and her humility before God demonstrated her true faith in the Lord God of Israel. Month after month Ruth labored in Boaz’ field, stooping low over the earth to collect the fallen stalks—first of the springtime barley and then of the summer wheat. Ruth could not imagine that anyone would take notice of her—bereft and poverty stricken as she was. She came from a rebellious and idolatrous people. She was a foreigner and destitute. She was a widow without children and only an aged mother-in-law to care for. Perhaps this is why she was completely overwhelmed when Boaz spoke kindly to her and made provisions for her comfort.
But there is much more to Ruth’s story. Boaz did not merely take notice of this poor foreign widow and provide food for her. We learn from Scripture that Boaz was a “close relative” or “kinsman redeemer” of Naomi’s family. According to the custom of the time, the closest blood relative had the duty of preserving the family name, and thus of marrying the widow of a deceased relative.
Surely Boaz had already seen in Ruth a faith much like that of Abraham, the father of the faithful. Ruth, like Abraham, left her people and her country to come to a strange land. We, too, must exercise the same faith, as Christ calls us to follow him and live as aliens in a foreign land (Heb 11:9), and love him above our family of origin (Matt 10:37; Luke 14:26). Boaz knew well that faith can be found in unlikely places—even in a poor, barren Moabite widow—for his mother Rahab was a Canaanite of Jericho (Matt 1:5), a harlot who had been rescued from death to become an ancestor of Christ himself and whose faith would be memorialized forever in Scripture (Heb 11:31).
And so Ruth’s story is much like ours. Like Ruth, we were destitute outcasts, strangers to the covenants of promise and the family of God (Eph 2:12), with nothing to offer God but our barrenness and poverty. Far too many of us, like Ruth the Moabite, come from family lines scarred by the most heinous of sins. Thus, the question Ruth asked of Boaz is the same question we might legitimately ask of our Savior: “Why have I found grace in your eyes?” Like Ruth, we can point to no righteousness in our works, no respectable family history, nothing that qualifies us for the redeeming love of Christ.
But just as Ruth is a picture of us, Boaz is a picture of Christ. Boaz prayed that Ruth would be blessed by the God of Israel, “under whose wings you have come to seek refuge” (Rut 2:12). Ruth later echoes these words when she asks for Boaz to redeem her. As she lies at his feet, she asks Boaz, “Spread the corner of your garment over your servant” (Rut 3:9). Some translations recognize that the Hebrew word for the “corner of a garment” that Ruth mentions here is also the word in chapter 2 that is translated as “wings.” Ruth is thus asking Boaz to be like God to her—to spread his wings of protection over her. Because Boaz goes beyond merely providing for her physical needs but also takes in and redeems her—though she is an outcast—he becomes an image of God Himself, who promises to hide us under the shadow of His wings (Psa 17:8; 91:4). Like Boaz, Jesus does not simply offer to care for us and provide for us. He pledges to stand as our Redeemer and to one day take us as His bride.
Ruth could never have imagined, as she stooped over those fields of Bethlehem to glean, that not only had Boaz taken note of her, but God Himself in heaven had appointed her to be nothing less than the hope of the world. For it was the barren Ruth, humbly gleaning in Bethlehem’s fields, who would one day have a son by Boaz named Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David the King, ancestors in the line that led to Jesus Christ! The very fields where Ruth gleaned, where the outcast was taken in, would one day hear the songs of angel choirs announcing to shepherds the birth of a greater Redeemer from Bethlehem than even Boaz! What a story of redemption! Ruth, humbly gleaning in the Bethlehem fields, was appointed by heaven to be the hope of the world, one of the ancestral mothers of Jesus!1
1. Gage, W. A. (2014). The Romance of Redemption: Biblical Types of the Bride of Christ (pp. 38–43). Fort Lauderdale: St. Andrews House.