Read: Ruth 1
This chapter sets the scene for the little drama that is this story. It leaves us with 2 widows; one old, Jewish and bitter returning destitute to her home land; the other young, Moabite, equally destitute, refusing to leave her mother-in-law but showing great courage and love.
OT law specifically gave ways for the destitute to work and fend off starvation (Lev.23.22). Rather than being charity cases & becoming dependant on hand outs, the very poor in Israel were allowed to follow behind the farmers & pick up the grain they dropped. The same was true or harvesting grapes in vineyards or olives from the trees. However, Boaz here is not only keeping the law but going so far as to leave extra grain for Ruth to collect – with her dignity of having worked for it still intact!
Read: Ruth 2
OK, what can we deduce?
We can also tell that;
Sometimes, when you read commentaries on the book of Ruth, people suggest that Boaz fancied her from the word go. That he noticed her because she was beautiful. The Bible doesn’t say that anywhere – her appearance isn’t even mentioned. All that is referred to is her character; her courage, sacrifice and determination, that everyone in town knew she was ‘a woman of excellence.’ And that is what Boaz sees in her. He’s heard the gossip in the village, he’s been told that she is working her fingers to the bone and since she is part of his extended family and he has the power to help – he does just that.
Yes, he invites her to eat with the workers.
Yes, he makes an exception to provide more for her.
Yes, he instructs his men not to harass her in anyway.
But there’s no implication it’s because he thinks he’s ‘in there’ (so to speak). This is a kind, generous older man trying to help out a destitute young widow. In a world where we think everyone has an agenda we assume Boaz must have been on the prowl, but that is not necessarily true.
As a church we spend 2 Saturdays every year prior to Christmas offering to wrap people’s presents for them in a local shopping centre. The responses we get from people are hilarious. Basically people cannot believe that this service is free, that there are no strings attached. Sometimes people get really stroppy about it – think they are being taken advantage of in some way – because someone wants to help them for free. If we charged them £1 – they’d be happy they were getting a bargain, but because we want to demonstrate God’s free grace for us we do it for free. It makes people really uncomfortable. That ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ idea is what people often read in Boaz’s actions. That he was grooming Ruth in some way – I think that does him a disservice. This was a man with plenty, a man who was following the law of God, a man of respect and honour in the community. Personally I think he was also a lonely man with a broken heart.
Read: Ruth 3
It all gets a bit culturally weird for us here. At the end of the grain harvests the workers would thresh out the grain – to separate the chaff from the wheat and barley. Boaz the boss is down there, working alongside his men to get the harvest finished, and having done a night’s work the men would sleep at the threshing floor to protect their grain from robbers.
In the ancient world it was unthinkable that women would be independent. Both financially and physically women without a man to protect them were extremely vulnerable. The only real way to survive was prostitution.
God’s law made a way for widows and children to be protected. (Lev.25.47-55). The closest adult male relative was required to act as ‘kinsman redeemer’ to take on the responsibilities of his dead kinsman in farming his land, marrying, providing for and protecting his widow & children. Any descendants would be named after the dead father to ensure his name was carried on.
This was a big responsibility and didn’t always work out well (See Tamar’s story in Genesis 38) but on this occasion it worked exactly as the God intended – Boaz taking responsibility for Elimelech’s land and family.
He’s worked a long, but satisfying day. Eaten and drunk with his workers. He’s tired but grateful for what God has blessed him with and he settles into a the heavy sleep of a man whose worked physically hard. V7 says he was ‘in a contented mood’.
At midnight a noise startles him. He wakes up expecting to find a thief – and finds a sweet smelling, nicely dressed young woman lying beside him.
On asking who she is (she’s probably wearing a veil) this young woman essentially proposes to him. Asks him to take up the role of kinsman redeemer and ‘spread his cloak over her’.
‘Uncovering his feet’ V7 is a Hebrew euphemism for uncovering something else, and ‘spreading his cloak’ was an invitation to provide some privacy so that he might have sex with her. Ruth is offering herself to him... on a plate! (Yes, I know your Sunday school teacher didn’t tell the story like that – but it’s what the text says!)
Boaz’s speech is beautiful. He still calls her ‘my daughter’ – acknowledges their age difference. He also shows how flattered he is that she would be interested in an old bachelor like him. He comforts her, ‘do not be afraid,’ and promises that he will marry her, protect and provide for her – but that he wants to do this right, and there are some family complications to sort out. The fact that he knows there is a closer relative makes me suspect he’s been thinking about this already – but his surprise and delight at her request implies (to me at least) that he didn’t think he stood a chance.
He also doesn’t take advantage of her sexual offer. Even though she is there, smelling good, looking nice, offering herself to him (which must have been a huge temptation) he wants to do this right. Even protecting her reputation V14 and sending her away with a sizeable amount of grain, as proof of his intentions.
What a sweetheart! What a great, godly, honourable, generous, kind man.
Mr Darcy – eat your heart out!
Why not? Why would a wealthy, prominent, mature Jewish landowner not have a wife and family? We don’t know for sure but it seems quite likely that Boaz had been widowed. The idea of ‘waiting for the right one’ wasn’t really Jewish custom – so it’s unlikely that Boaz had been holding out for his dream girl. It was also a sign of disgrace not to have descendants; children to carry on your name. So, given that he doesn’t appear to have children that must have been a source of distress for Boaz. Perhaps he lost his wife in childbirth? It was very common.
Another interesting fact to note about Boaz was his family line. He is listed in both the genealogies of Jesus (Luke 3.32) but significantly in Matthew 1.5 we are told his father’s name was Salmon and his mother?
A certain Rahab – yes, THE Rahab, former prostitute, hider of Hebrew spies, the only survivor of Jericho; a foreign woman who had allied herself with God and his people. No wonder Boaz had such great respect for Ruth – a foreign woman allying herself with God and his people. And maybe because his family line was less that impeccable (Jewish status is carried down the mother’s family line) it had been difficult for him to find a good Jewish wife despite his wealth and faith?
Read: Ruth 4
In Ancient Societies like Israel the ‘city gate’ was the place where all business and legal matters were conducted. The men of the city would gather and the ‘elders’ the older wiser men would act as judges and witnesses to any deals that were transacted. Giving someone one shoe was a public sign of a deal being done. Where we might shake hands and sign a contract – they exchanged a sandal. (Smelly but true!)
Yay! What a great ending. Boaz goes to do ‘the right thing’ and for a moment it seems that all may be thwarted as the other relative says, ‘Yeah – I’ll buy the land’. The audience hold’s their breath.... but, when he realises that is will mean taking on another man’s widow and that the deal has strings, he pulls out - leaving the way free for Boaz to publically redeem Elimelech’s land – and more importantly Ruth herself.
Hear the cheering! Grab a tissue! Happy ending! Music is playing, credits are rolling....
The crowd go wild, the people are delighted, pronounce an epic blessing V11-13 (Rachel & Leah did produce a load of kids between them & their servant girls!) ‘May you bestow a name in Bethlehem’, essentially means – may you have so many children that your name is never forgotten in this place.
And the epilogue is that God did give them a baby boy; Obed,
What a great story!
But what does it teach us?
Here are some suggestions.
For Boaz it was keeping the spirit not just the details of Old Testament law. For us it may simply be following Christ, living in ways that honour him, that are faithful to the gospel. They may not be exciting – we may not become a Christian celebrity, we may never feel that we’ve changed the world – but ‘well done good and faithful servant’ is what Paul says we should be aiming for. In a society that loves prestige, that honours celebrity, that thinks it’s all about being noticed; being known – it is good to hear that God shows such honour to ordinary, faithful ‘little people’ who do what they can to honour him where they have influence. At work, in our professional lives; in our studies, in our friendships, relationships, marriages, families; to be kind, generous, and honourable – this is what God longs for. This is the gospel at work, the kingdom in action.
All three of the major protagonists here, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz play a part in bringing this ending about. Ruth is faithful, courageous, sacrificial; Naomi is shrewd and encouraging; Boaz is generous and honourable. When God’s people will demonstrate these qualities everyone get’s blessed. Yes, God moves dramatically, in power at times – we see inexplicable signs and wonders. But how often do we stop to spot God at work in the seemingly ordinary, through those who love him? Who has God used to bless you? How have you responded to that? Who might he be wanting to bless through you?
A faithful, kind, honourable woman like Ruth may not look like Paris Hilton, she won’t dress like a pussy cat doll, she won’t be a high maintenance prima donna with a tiny little waist and huge assets. Keep your eyes peeled for ‘a woman of excellence’ who loves the Lord, loves others and is faithful to both. As Proverbs says – ‘she’s far more precious than rubies and pearls’ (Prov 31.10)
Who is generous, honourable, who loves the Lord with his whole heart. Age, looks, charm – not the issue, heart and character are. Here’s something to ponder; Kind is better than funny. A man who respects and cares for you is better than one who is charming and the centre of attention. Choose a man who honours God and will treat you (and your family) well.
The book of Ruth is not a grand passion – it’s not Romeo and Juliet. It’s a book of quiet, ordinary people who follow God and are blessed by him for that. And Boaz – he’s what my granny would have called ‘a good ‘un’.
Praise God for men like that!
© Ruth Perrin 2009. Last revised on 17 December 2009
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Cloud of Witnesses is a series of Bible studies on the men and women of scripture. You'll find everyone from Gideon and Andrew through to Tamar and Tabitha.
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Ruth Perrin, the author, is on staff at King's Church Durham and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry.
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