After coming from Moab to Bethlehem, Naomi and Ruth ran very low on money (Ruth 1:19-21). Just when Naomi was becoming very concerned about matters of food and fuel, Ruth came to her with a most timely suggestion.
“It’s spring harvest time,” she reminded Naomi. “Just this morning I watched women gleaning barley in a field not far from here. Why shouldn’t I go tomorrow to one of such fields and glean the barley that the reapers drop? Perhaps I could bring back much grain just for the taking!”
Naomi was pleased and encouraged by Ruth’s enthusiasm. She knew this could be the difference between going hungry and having enough to eat – at least for the present. At the same time she didn’t like to see a comely young woman like Ruth venture out by herself among strange harvesters.
“Go if you wish, my daughter,” Naomi finally told her with a smile. “But try to find a field not too distant, and don’t follow closely behind the harvesters unless you get permission from the owner of the field or his foreman” (Ruth 2:1-2).
Next morning Ruth took a large cloth bag and set out for a field where barley was being harvested. When she arrived, she noted that a great part of it had already been worked over, and that the harvesters were at quite a distance away. She felt that they were so far ahead of here that no permission would be necessary to pick up what she could find. Nevertheless, she sought the field foreman to ask if she could glean, and was told that she could.
By the middle of the day she had filled her bag less than half full of barley that had been overlooked or dropped when it had been bundled. In her zeal to accomplish more, she failed to notice that the workers had stopped for the noon meal at a tent just ahead. She looked up to see some of them staring at her. One or two of the women harvesters motioned for her to join them in the shade of the tent.
At that moment Boaz, the owner of the field rode up on a horse and eyed Ruth with even more interest than the harvesters showed.
“God be with you!” he called to the workers with enthusiasm.
“May God bless you!” was the cheerful response from the people in and around the tent (Ruth 2:3-4).
Such friendly and sincere greetings showed that these men and women had a high regard for each other and for their Creator, and knew that it was God who watched over them and provided their needs. When an honest man like Boaz was a community leader, the people always had a higher regard for their Creator than when evil men were looked to as leaders.
“Who is that young woman?” Boaz asked his foreman as he glanced at Ruth. “I don’t recall hiring her.”
“She’s not working for you,” the foreman explained. “She came to me early this morning to ask if she could glean, and I told her she could. She’s the Moabite woman who lately came here with Naomi, the widow of Elimelech. She has been here working all day, except that she spent a few minutes getting acquainted with the women in the house before starting her work.”
Boaz walked over to Ruth, who at first thought that he was angry with her for some reason.
“If you must glean, young woman,” he said to her. “I trust that you won’t go to other fields. Stay behind my women harvesters, and you won’t end the day empty-handed. And don’t be afraid of any of my men. They’ll have orders to treat you with the greatest respect. You are welcome to any of the privileges that the people have who work for me” (Ruth 2:5-9).
Ruth was so overwhelmed by this unexpected treatment that she fell on her knees before Boaz and bowed her head to the ground.
“Why are you being so considerate?” she asked. “I am a stranger here, and there is no reason that I know of to show such favor to me.”
“Ah, but there is,” Boaz replied gently, helping her to her feet. “I have heard about how well you have treated your mother-in-law, and how you chose to come here with her instead of staying in Moab. She has told all her friends about your goodness to her. May our God reward you for what you have done, and may he protect you for looking to Him for your way of life!”
“Thank you,” she murmured to Boaz. “You have made me feel as though I am as welcome here as one of your workers.”
“I am happy that you want to be with us,” Boaz smiled. “Now please come into my tent and have lunch with us.”
Ruth was a little ill at ease among so many strangers, but she was pleased when the owner of the field sat among his workers and passed food to her. He even had one of his helpers prepare a package of food to take home to Naomi. When the meal was over, Ruth expressed her thanks and quickly slipped back to a spot well behind the harvesters (Ruth 2:10-14.
As soon as she was gone, Boaz instructed his foreman to tell the workers that the new gleaner should receive special privileges.
“Let her go wherever she wishes, even if she wants to glean at the heels of the harvesters,” the foreman was told. “It might even be a good idea if they purposely dropped a little grain now and then.”
The foreman nodded solemnly, but shook his head and grinned knowingly as soon as Boaz had turned away.
That afternoon Ruth surprisingly found that there were many more stalks of barley left on the ground that there had been in the morning. Close to evening she had emptied her bag several times by the threshing shed. Night being not far away, she worked hastily to beat out the grains on an unused part of the floor. To her great satisfaction the result was about eight gallons of fine barley – enough to make many loaves of bread after the chaff was sifted out and the grains were ground (Ruth 2:15-17).
Ruth easily swung the tied bag of grain over her shoulder and left for home just as it was growing dusk. It wasn’t difficult for her to carry in such a manner. If she tired of carrying it that way, she was quite adept at balancing a load on her head.
When she showed Naomi the grain and the package of food, her mother-in-law was pleasantly surprised.
“What welcome bounty?” Naomi exclaimed. “Where did you go to receive such special favor? May blessings come to the one who has treated you so well!”
“I went to a nearby field where barley is being cut,” Ruth explained. “The foreman over the workers told me I could glean, but during the morning I was discouraged by the small amount of barley I had gathered. Then the owner of the field arrived on a handsome horse. He invited me to eat in the harvesters’ meal tent. He even asked me not to glean anywhere except in his fields. In the afternoon I picked up so much barley that I was able to thresh out all the grain you see. And this package of food is especially for you from Boaz. That’s the name of the owner of the field” (Ruth 2:8-19).
Naomi was happily startled at this last bit of information.
“I know who Boaz is!” she exclaimed. “He is a close relative of my dead husband, and a wealthy and God-fearing man! God has been good to direct us to him. You would indeed be wise not be seen in any fields but his. You can be sure that you will be safe if you stay on his property.”
Ruth gladly stayed in the fields of Boaz for the full harvest time of barley and wheat, which was for a month or so (Ruth 2:20-23). Meanwhile, she was treated with special attention by Boaz, insomuch that there was an increasing affection between them, though neither of them expressed it very much in words. Each could see that the other was a person of very high moral standards. As for her gleaning, Ruth daily brought home so much grain that the two widows made a small income by selling part of it.
From the glowing reports Ruth brought home about Boaz, it was plain to Naomi what was taking place. She planned to do what she could to push the situation into full bloom, lest it fail to fully develop naturally.
Boaz was spending most of his time at the threshing shed, where his crew was removing chaff from the grain with the help of strong evening breezes. Naomi knew that the workers didn’t go home until after midnight, and that Boaz then slept in the shed to save time in going to his home and back again to work just a few hours later. Besides, he preferred not to leave his large stock of grain unattended, what with thieves constantly prowling about.
“You know that I want what is best for you,” Naomi reminded Ruth, “and continuing to live here with me in this small home isn’t the best for a young woman who should have a more promising future. Boaz cares deeply for you, but he hasn’t mentioned marriage because you haven’t shown him that you’re greatly in favor of it.”
“I am very happy here with you,” Ruth told Naomi. “As for Boaz, I don’t want him to think that I’m too bold.”
“But you should make him aware of how you feel,” Naomi continued, “and the sooner the better. I suggest that you use your best perfume, put on your prettiest clothes and go to the threshing shed where he’ll be staying tonight. Watch from outside till he had gone to bed. Then slip inside and lie down at his feet” (Ruth 3:1-4)!
Ruth was startled at the suggestion. When Naomi saw her expression of wonder, she hastily reminded her that it was an Israelite custom and duty that the nearest eligible male kin of a dead husband should marry the widow in the event she had no children, so that she might have the opportunity to have offspring through the family that had chosen her (Deut. 25:5-6).
“Boaz realizes just how he is related to you,” Naomi observed. “I’m sure he will understand your good intentions and treat you fairly.”
At first Ruth didn’t want to do what Naomi suggested. To her it seemed a bit too forward, but the more she thought about the matter, the more she was convinced that this was something that should be done in accepting the right ways of Israel.
“I shall do as you say,” she finally told Naomi (Ruth 3:5).
Before midnight Ruth went to the threshing shed, careful not to be seen by anyone. The workers had gone, but there was a light inside the building. She peered inside to see Boaz finishing a late meal and relaxing with a mug of wine. She watched him wearily stretch out on the straw-covered floor, lean his head against a sheaf of barley, pull a blanket over himself and snuff out the oil lamp. Ruth patiently waited outside until she could hear the slow, deep breathing that indicated sound sleep. Then she slipped quietly inside, lifted the part of the blanket over Boaz’ feet, and carefully and silently lay down with the blanket partly over her (Ruth 3:6-7).
Even though Boaz had fallen into a deep sleep, Ruth’s presence awakened him. He was alarmed when he felt something warm and alive pressing against his feet. Could it be some kind of animal seeking a snug place, or was it some intruder who meant him harm? There was enough moonlight being reflected from the roofless part of the threshing floor to make it possible to see dimly. Boaz slowly pulled his blanket toward his head, gradually exposing the object at his feet. He blinked in disbelief when he realized that he was uncovering a woman curled up on the floor. He was even more startled when he recognized her.
“You!” he blurted. “What are you doing here, Ruth?”
Ruth glanced up in embarrassment, then dropped her gaze to the floor.
“I’m here to remind you that you are my closest of kin among men in Israel,” she answered in a quiet voice. “I understand that according to your custom, you may marry me, since my husband was your close relative. Spread your blanket over me to show if you are willing to be married” (Ruth 3:8-9)!
Boaz was so surprised that words failed him for a few moments. This added to Ruth’s discomfort.
“May God bless you for this wonderful compliment to me!” Boaz exclaimed, reaching over and putting his hand on Ruth’s veiled head. “When I first met you, I thought that you were a most unusual woman because of your beauty and humility. But now I have reason to think even more of you. Everyone in our city knows you are a virtuous woman. You could have chosen younger men even among the wealthier ones.”
Encouraged by these words, Ruth forgot her embarrassment and raised her eyes happily and expectantly up to Boaz.
“It’s true that I am a relative of yours,” he continued. “But I am not your nearest of kin here. There is another man living in this area who is more closely related to you than I am.”
Ruth’s smile faded. There was an awkward silence as the woman from Moab realized that in a way she was talking to the wrong man!
“But Naomi, my mother-in-law, though that you ----“ Ruth’s voice trailed away as she stared ruefully at the floor.
“Don’t worry,” Boaz said softly. “Leave this matter to me, and I’ll take care of it tomorrow. Just lied down where you are and rest until morning” (Ruth 3:10-13).
Ruth lay at Boaz’ feet till nearly daylight. When she was about to leave Boaz spread her sheet-like veil out on the floor and poured a sizeable gift of barley on it. Pulling up the corners, he tied them snugly together, thus making a bag of the veil.
“This is a big load,” he said, “but I know you are capable of handling it. I also know that you are known as a virtuous woman, so there’s no reason to risk spotting your good reputation by telling anyone except Naomi that you have been here to talk to me.”
Ruth arrived home before anyone was stirring that morning and related everything that had happened. Her mother-in-law didn’t seem too concerned about another man being more closely akin to them than was Boaz.
“I don’t know the intentions of this one of whom Boaz speaks,” she said, “but don’t be upset. If Boaz promised you that he’ll straighten matters out, then that’s what he’ll do.”
We will continue with The Story of the Bible in future articles, be watching.