Chapter 2 begins with a statement:
Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. (2:1)
This verse seems to come out of left field; it interrupts the narrative, yet it is used to set up what will shortly come into the story. His name means in him is strength, and he is a man of standing, meaning that he was mighty in wealth and in godliness, a rare combination.
Ruth asks Naomi if it would be all right if she went out to glean; Naomi consents. Gleaning was something that only the poor and destitute would usually do, and it was very hard work. A large farmer would allow poor and desperate people to follow behind his harvesters and pick up whatever the harvesters missed in the harvest. Sometimes they would leave the corners of a field unharvested so that the poor might have something to eat, and this is what Ruth was asking to do. Notice in verse 2 that Ruth was not approaching this as some kind of an entitlement, but rather that she was hoping to find favor that she might be allowed to do this back-breaking work to keep her mother in law and herself from starving; she was demonstrating in this a level of humility that might seem foreign to us today.
In verse three she heads off. Remember that she is a stranger to this land and would have no idea which farmer owned which field, yet somehow, she finds herself in the field of Boaz.
While Ruth is toiling, Boaz returns from town and greets his workers, and then asks the boss if he knows who this woman was who was gleaning. Some commentators suggest that Boaz was curious about her because of her great beauty, but if our text has mentioned her being beautiful, I missed it; probably he just didn’t recognize her. The overseer tells him who she was, and from there forward, our text records the kindness Boaz affords Ruth. Boaz, it seems, views Ruth as a part of his extended family and recognizes that he has a responsibility to care for her in some way. Now let’s be clear about that; Boaz has no legal responsibility for Ruth because her husband was dead, and she is free to marry anyone who will have her. In addition, she is a Moabite, and in that case, he would have no responsibility for her at all, yet because of the loyalty that she has shown to Naomi, Boaz goes out of his way to help her.
Notice that Boaz orders his men to leave her alone, that he gives her a seat at the table with the rest of the household (a household in the OT would include the servants) and that he arranges for her to receive considerably more grain than she would have received just from gleaning. Also, please take note of Ruth’s attitude of humility; even now she assumes no rights or entitlements.
These are two very unusual people!
Earlier, I called Boaz a “man’s man” and here you begin to see what I mean by that. A “man” at least in the old-fashioned sense, was not a grown up child, he was someone with character and integrity who would do the right thing toward others even when it wasn’t convenient or advantageous… but because it was right. He would take care of his own and treat others with respect; I might add that he was a person most notable for his restraint, so to be succinct, Boaz was not working an angle or with any ulterior motive.
By the time she was finished with her work, Ruth carried home about 30 pounds of grain, plus her leftovers from the meal that Boaz had provided her with, an impressive haul to say the least. I have a hunch that Naomi will take notice when she finds out what has taken place…
She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.
Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”
Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.
“The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.”
Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’”
Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.”
So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
After the events of Ruth 2:1-17, Ruth returns home with the grain she had obtained from her gleaning in the fields of Boaz. First, she gives the leftovers from her meal to Naomi to eat, and then Naomi, noticing how much she had brought back, asked her where she had been allowed to glean. Ruth tells her that she has been gleaning in the fields of Boaz, and Naomi is quite pleased.
Naomi knows that Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer, which comes from the Hebrew word ga’al which means “kinsman-redeemer”, rendered by the NIV as “guardian-redeemer”. A kinsman-redeemer is a relative who is obligated to “redeem” the property, and sometimes the life or marriage, of a relation who has fallen into severe distress. For example, if there is real property that is owned by a widow, the kinsman-redeemer might buy that property so that the widow, who couldn’t farm it herself, has an income to live off of. They might also pay off a mortgage, take the person into their household, or marry a brother’s wife if they have no children so that the brother can live on through the children. In the case of Boaz, he was a kinsman-redeemer for Naomi, since he is related to her husband. In the case of Ruth, he is a relative of her husband as well, but the fact that Ruth is a Moabite would give Boaz an “out” if he wished to avoid his responsibilities to the family. Finally, we must remind ourselves that there had been a famine in the land 10 years earlier, and we do not know how long it lasted. A famine in the Promised Land would tell us that God’s Law was not being obeyed in that generation, thus Boaz may or may not be the kind of man who would honor this obligation. Naomi seems to think that he will do his duty, based upon Ruth’s report.
As a result of all of this, Naomi advises Ruth to continue gleaning in Boaz’ field, and to visit no others, since Boaz has decided to see to her safety… and that is exactly what Ruth did.