The book of Ruth is a beautifully-told microcosm of life under the Mosaic Covenant during the period of the Judges. We are all too aware of the tagline at the end of the book of Judges where the Israelites did what was right in their own eyes for there was no king to govern them. This concept of kingship becomes paramount to the Israelites through the Judges and into the monarchy.
But, in the midst of the larger picture of geopolitical manoeuvrings, we have this small story of betrayal, failure, and stunning restoration. It is one of my favourite Old Testament narratives. I hope that you enjoy my dramatic retelling of it.
As is the case with most ancient literature, it does not follow the pattern of our modern literature. Even biographies do not follow our modern, scientific, and thorough approach. Thus, it is my intent to remain faithful to the Biblical text, but to add what I believe to be plausible and human brushstrokes to the portrait already presented in the text. This will be done on the foundation and basis of my own exegetical work; my interpretation of the text will be made clear as you journey through the pain, horror, and trauma of Naomi and Ruth. These were real people, experiencing real hardship and fears, so I believe that it is okay to say so.
I hope that you enjoy. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments.
In the town of Bethlehem there was a man called Boaz. He was a relative of Mara's through her husband's side. He was a righteous and godly man, by all accounts. He had even been a friend of Elimelech's, being from the same clan. In those days, the family unit was the smallest unit by which someone was known; Mara was the wife of Elimelech. Then there was the extended family, which could be very large in some cases. Larger still was the clan, which was made up of these extended families. Clans could be as large as 14,000 people. A number of clans made up the tribe. And the tribes of Israel made up the nation. He wasn't as old as Elimelech, though he was older than Naomi.
He was a worthy man, a man of honour, integrity, and station in the town of Bethlehem. All who knew him and dealt with him appreciated his candour, honesty, humour, and diligence. He was, as Elimelech had been, a hard worker, but he was also a man who would do what was right, even if it meant standing alone. As it was barley harvest season, you would be able to find Boaz working in the fields from dawn to dusk alongside his young men and young women. He took his work seriously, having lived through the famine. Boaz knew the dangers of a poor harvest; and he knew, now, what caused the poor harvest. It was neglect of right worship of the one, true, God, YHWH. He would worship YHWH and honour the Instruction, the Torah, of YHWH, as best he could. He knew that the livelihood of his people relied upon proper obedience.
He was indeed a worthy man.
Sun rose early in the morning, and Ruth squinted her eyes as she looked around her new home. They had eaten Miriam's meal the night before and then, after briefly setting out their meagre belongings, collapsed onto the straw-filled mattress (or what was left of it - the famine had indeed been fierce) and fell into a deep sleep. Despite the new surroundings and uncomfortable bed, Ruth slept through the night and awoke to the sound of a town already alive with the bustle of harvest.
She got up and walked over to the doorway where, unknown to her, Mara had cried those tears all those years ago. Ruth's heart was gripped by an icy fear. Would she be accepted? How would she feed Mara? What could, what would, she be able to do in this new town? She stirred the pot that Miriam had left. The embers had long since burnt out beneath it, so she gathered some kindling, and some blocks of wood, and began to make a fire. They would eat some of the left over stew. She had to admit it; the Hebrew woman knew how to make a big meal in a short amount of time. There would be enough here for a few meals, if the women ate with care. But then what?
She watched her mother-in-law sleep. Ruth knew that Naomi could not work, and she would not want to beg, though begging appeared to be her only option, unless Ruth could bring food in somehow. She didn't know how. She would not resort to prostitution! But she may have to beg. And begging brings with it significant dangers, especially for a foreigner like her. She was a Moabite. A Moabite widow from a family of widows. A childless Moabite widow, at that. She was cursed by her own gods and now lived in the land of a foreign god. She worshipped YHWH, now, but she didn't know whether YHWH accepted her, or whether she would be accepted by His people. Indeed, would the Bethlehemites know, or believe, that she was eager to become one of them? Would they believe her? After all, the Moabites were, or had been until very recently, the oppressors of Israel. Her standing in the land was very low indeed.
These thoughts swirled around her head just as the bones and chunks of meat swirled around the pot as she stirred it. The fire had caught and the water began to bubble. She could smell the delicious fragrances with which Miriam had seasoned the meat and they were making her hungry. She heard her stomach growl.
Turning her head, she noticed that Mara had woken from her slumber. She smiled nervously at her mother-in-law.
'How did you sleep, mama?' Ruth turned her attention back to the pot. 'I'll make us some more of the stew to get us up. Then we will have to introduce ourselves to your family, if there are any here, and figure out how we can survive.'
Mara yawned. 'My daughter, you are wasting your time on this old woman. I have nothing. I have no one. I am no one, not anymore. I am here to let my old bones find sleep in the land of my father. That is all I have to offer you, death. But, until then, I will have some stew.' She chuckled mirthlessly.
Ruth took it in stride. She had grown accustomed to Mara's negativity and depression. She couldn't blame her. Mara had lost more than Ruth could ever imagine. And now, what if her family had died in the famines, or in the Moabite raids over the years? Could it be that this old lady was indeed all that was left from Elimelech's line?
'Well, I will make us both some of this stew and then I was thinking that perhaps I should go out and try to find somewhere that I could work? You know, maybe find a field I could glean in so that we can at least make bread? I will ask around the fields until I find someone in whose sight I find favour and maybe someone will have mercy on us, and we will be able to store up food for the weeks ahead.' She smiled positively. She didn't feel positive in her heart; she was, after all, a Moabite. But Mara needed some encouragement.
'Go, my daughter. Do as you say. There is a law, here, in our land. Or at least, there used to be. It has been so long,' she said, sighing. 'The law stated that what fell from the hand or scythe of the reapers was not to be picked up by the workmen, but left for the likes of you and I. Perhaps you will find someone who will have mercy on you and will let you gather the fallen grain. Perhaps there will be enough for us to make some bread with. I will try to find out what I can about the town and my family. Maybe there is a relative somewhere who will be able to bless us and provide for us. Or, at least, to whom I can sell Elimelech's property.'
Ruth handed her a roughly-hewn wooden bowl with some of the stew. There were slices of carrots swimming in the liquid, bobbing against large cuts of meat. It was one of the best meals they had eaten since leaving Moab and it tasted even better this morning than it had the night before. Ruth moaned with delight after tasting her first spoonful.
'Oh wow! Do you taste that, mama? The stew is so flavourful! It was good last night when Miriam made it, but this morning? It's delicious. It's like the meat has marinated in the juice and absorbed so much flavour from the spices.' She smacked her lips appreciatively and reached for a piece of the barley bread to dip it into the rich juices.
Mara smiled. 'My dear girl, this is nothing. Wait until the harvest is gathered and our women cook for real. You only think you have enjoyed a feast. When i was a young girl, they would kill the fattened calves and bake breads of all kinds and the smells would linger on our clothes and in our hair for days. We would eat like kings. The spices, the flavours, the sauces, the meats, the breads, even the vegetables, all tasted like the richest of rich delights. That was before the famine, of course. I wonder how many of these younger ladies know how to cook like we did back then? At least Miriam hasn't lost her touch! Maybe, if we make it to then, I'll offer to lend a hand. Then, my daughter, you will taste real food! And proper Israelite cooking, at that!'
For a moment Ruth saw the old sparkle in Mara's eyes. When she was remembering the days before YHWH's judgement on Israel, Mara looked like the Naomi of old. But, as if remembering she was meant to be Mara, her eyes clouded over just as swiftly, and the forlorn demeanour set in once more.
Ruth finished her meal and rose. She grabbed a goblet of diluted wine, drank it, and handed the rest to Mara.
'Okay, mama, I'm going to go now. You look after yourself, okay? If you need me, just send one of the young children to find me. I'll be walking around the fields hoping to find someone that will let me glean. Tell them to look for the foreign woman!' She laughed to herself, but stopped when she saw a look of concern flit across Mara's face. She walked over to Mara.
'I'll be okay, mama. Okay? We are in YHWH's land now, and there's prosperity and peace. I will be okay. We will be okay. YHWH will direct me to the right place. Don't despair.' She stood up and walked to the door. She turned to see Mara looking glassy-eyed towards the ceiling. Mara said nothing.
As she left the small house and entered the sunlight, her eyes shot through with the bright light before slowly acclimatising. Blinking repeatedly, she looked around and saw, unexpectedly, numerous older women and small children staring at her. The children were more obvious than the older ladies, but nevertheless she knew that, for today at least, she was the star attraction.
'Mara is in the house, ladies. She would value your time, I am sure,' Ruth said. A couple of the ladies smiled. Some looked embarrassed. Others refused to even look at her.
Ruth quickly turned to her left and, bowing her head low, she pulled her shawl over her hair and made her way to the outskirts of the town. She slowed as she reached the town gates. Seated by the gates were older men talking in an animated fashion. She tried to listen in, briefly, but didn't really understand all that was being discussed. There was much laughter. At the other side of the gateway she saw labourers. About fifteen young men waiting to get picked for the day by various landowners. Her own husband had been one such man but a few years ago, in Moab. She hoped their fate was better than his.
Walking on she eventually came to a field. She had noticed it yesterday, as they had made their way to Bethlehem. It was a large field and, today, it was full of workers. There were strapping young men wielding large scythes cutting the long stalks of barley, wrapping them into bundles, tying them, and placing them in piles. Behind those men were younger boys, taking the bundles and bringing them down the field towards the threshing floor where the grains would be winnowed from the chaff. Behind those boys were women of various ages. They didn't appear to be going after much, but were collecting a few stalks that fell by the wayside. Everyone was busy. No one looked at her.
She walked into this field and made her way through the barley, following the clearly devised paths, towards a section of the field that was marked off with pieces of fabric dipped in a red colour. She decided, for no apparent reason, that she would make her way to the owner or foreman of this part of the field and ask for permission to glean. Approaching one of the older ladies, she asked her where the owner was, that she might speak with him and seek his permission to labour in his field. The older lady looked at her and, noticing that she was a foreigner, rolled her eyes and then pointed with her lips towards a man standing about 200 feet away. He was wearing a funny hat which, Ruth guessed, was his symbol of authority.
When she got close enough to him, she bowed before him and waited until he addressed her.
'Yes? What is it? Who are you?' He spoke gruffly, but not angrily. He didn't want to be distracted from his duties.
'Please, lord, my name is Ruth. I returned from the land of Moab with my mother-in-law, Naomi, the wife of Elimelech, who died in Moab. Naomi is now Mara, by name. I am her daughter-in-law, also a widow. If possible, may I be permitted to glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers?' She paused, but had yet to raise her eyes towards the man.
'Stand up, girl. In this country, you don't bow to a man who isn't a king, and, since only YHWH is king, you don't bow. You may glean. Follow the ladies of our town so that you may learn our customs from them and what is legal and right. I'll check in on you later. But know this, it's hard work. The sun is hot, the barley feels heavier and heavier as the day moves on, and my priority is my men. They eat and drink first. What's left is for the servants and the women, you hear?'
Ruth stood up, but kept her eyes low. 'Yes, lord. Thank you.' She walked back down the path way, to the very bottom of this part of the field, where the linen delineated new ownership. She felt elation; she could work and provide for Mara. And so she started to glean. Here and there she found stalks of barley that had been cut by the men but not gathered. She placed them into her basket and moved forward. At times she stopped for a moment to stretch her back, then she leaned forward again, and moved forward a pace, gathering as she went.
The labour was very painful after a few hours. Her back began to ache, her hands had blisters, and her lips were dry from the heat, yet she didn't stop. Around midday she noticed that she was the only one still gleaning. The men had stopped and had made their way to the shade of the threshing floor where they were eating some bread and drinking wine. The ladies, likewise, had stopped and made their way for a brief lunch. Ruth looked around. She was the only one still in the field. Everyone was talking and joking and enjoying the bounteous harvest. She realized how hungry she was, but she didn't want to go down to the threshing floor when everyone was eating. She was an outsider and felt her awkwardness keenly. So she continued until the men began to make their way back. She knew they had been talking about her; some smiled as they passed her. Some even spoke to her. Others, however, pointedly, refused to smile, even after making eye contact.
She felt like such an outsider. And she was glad she had not gone to eat with them.
After the men had started again, she stood up and stretched. She jumped in fright as the foreman spoke from behind.
'Here, girl. You need some of this.' He handed her a flagon of diluted wine and some bread. He looked at her quizzically. 'You worked exceptionally hard. I'm impressed. Stick with it. The owner of the field will be here soon. I'll tell him about your diligence.'
Ruth bowed her head again. 'You don't need to do that, lord. Thank you for the food.' She stretched out her back again and finished the bread and figs he had given her. Looking at her hands, she saw how they were cut and bleeding from the repetitive motions. The skin between her thumb and forefingers was blistered. Her lips were dry and she was tired. But this was not new labour for Ruth. She knew that she needed to continue. She had one basket filled already. By the end of the day she hoped that all three of her baskets would be full. Then she would go home and make food for Mara before sorting the grain, storing it, and preparing the baskets for tomorrow. It would be a long harvest, but if she worked hard, and the owner of this field permitted it, she would have months of food stored by the end of the season.
Turning to thank the foreman again, she realized that, again, she was alone. She knelt down, onto her knees, and began to glean again. She ruminated on the foreman's words. 'The owner was coming.' Ruth felt another bout of anxiety hit her; would he permit her to stay on the land? Would he send her out? Had she gleaned too much? She didn't know what to expect, or what the rules and etiquette were for gleaning. She tried hard to stop herself overthinking. That wasn't an easy thing to do, however. She started to think about the stories of the past, from Naomi's past. There were things about this place she should know. The history of this people. How to worship YHWH appropriately. Perhaps even what clothes to wear to be a proper, a real, Hebrew woman. Her Hebrew would need to get better, as well. So much to do, to be worried about.
Time passed. Ruth kept working. Her work was slow and it was arduous. She was looking forward to resting her back later. But she kept plodding along. She made her way along one row, then turned and took the next row. The pace was slow but she was making good progress. At times she caught up to the young boys who were stacking the bundles, so she slowed down further, then sped up again after they had worked ahead again. This pattern became her norm and, eventually, she began to talk to the young boys. She learned some of their names and stories. They giggled with her as they worked. But she felt they were inquisitive because she was different. They wanted to know about her story more than they wanted to know about her. She tried to not let it bother her but she couldn't help feeling like she was an outsider. That she didn't belong. It discouraged her.
At the bottom of the field she heard a booming, 'YHWH be with you!' She stood up, startled. She looked around. An older, bearded, man was laughing with his arms raised in greeting. She looked around again, and heard the men around her respond, 'YHWH bless you!' The men were smiling and waved a tired greeting to this man. The foreman, who had been kind to her, walked hurriedly towards the newcomer, who was, in turn, walking towards this section of the field.
'I guess this is the owner,' thought Ruth. She would be sure to speak with him later. She wanted to be above reproof and his permission would be the best way. She raised a quick prayer to YHWH under her breath and then went back to her work.
Boaz, meanwhile, made his way to his foreman, Eliezer. He surveyed the scene. YHWH had indeed been faithful. The field was as full as he had ever remembered it! There would be barley for the whole year at this rate; and the other crops in his other fields were coming along just as nicely. Even his animals looked fatter and more plump than he remembered. Truly, YHWH honoured His covenant. He smiled as Eliezer met him.
He grabbed Eliezer's arm and brought him in for a bear hug. 'YHWH bless you, leader of my men. How are things progressing? I see we have measures upon measures of grain! We are indeed blessed. Give me the report.'
Eliezer began to give Boaz the rundown of the day's labourers. His young men had been working with vigilance and strength, though they faded around noon. The yield was increasing by the day; even the widow women were gossiping about how much they were able to glean, saying that it was more than they had ever remembered. And that was with the men working hard and trying not to let much drop. Truthfully, it was beyond belief that there was so much this year. He grinned at Boaz. 'YHWH is good.'
Boaz smiled and nodded. He looked around his property and noticed a gleaming shawl atop an unfamiliar face. He could tell by the design on the shawl, and the colour of her skin, that she was not an Israelite and especially not one of the usual gleaners. He watched for a moment longer and then raised his hand to Eliezer.
'Who is she? That one? She is not one of ours, is she? Whose is she?'
Eliezer's checks flushed. He couldn't read Boaz's face. She was a foreigner. A Moabite. They had been oppressed by Eglon of Moab as judgement from YHWH for worshipping foreign gods. Boaz had, as had all Israel, only recently returned to worshipping YHWH alone and now there was a pagan foreigner gleaning in his land? Would he be furious? After all, intermarriage between the tribes of Israel and the pagan nations is what caused the idolatry in the first place! Should Eliezer have told her to go elsewhere?
'Lord Boaz, she is the young Moabite woman. Naomi, the wife of Elimelech, returned from Moab and brought with her this young woman, who had been married to Mahlon. She asked me for permission to glean from the field and gather among the sheaves after the reapers. I gave her my permission, until you arrived at least. Frankly, she has surprised me by how well she has worked. She has outpaced all our women by some stretch, even managing to catch up to our young boys on more than one occasion. She started this morning and has barely stopped, except for one short rest.'
Boaz stared at her. He slapped his thighs, looked at Eliezer, squeezed his shoulder and started to walk down the field. Eliezer followed behind him. He was nervous. She was a foreigner. How had he been so stupid? Boaz must surely be upset, perhaps even offended, that such a woman was on his property, never mind taking his grain! He would learn from this mistake, he swore to himself. 'YHWH should not be mocked,' he thought to himself.
Boaz reached Ruth and stopped. He looked at her again. She noticed the shadow in front of her and lifted her eyes briefly. Wiping the sweat from her brow she realized that before her stood the owner of the field. She fell to her knees and knelt before him. She lowered her head and waited for him to speak. Boaz looked confused and turned an eye to Eliezer who simply shrugged in return. Boaz cocked his head in amused puzzlement.
He paused another second before speaking.
'Listen to me, daughter. This field shall be your home for the harvest, okay? Do not go and glean anywhere else. Stay close to my young women, do you hear me? This is where you shall find your food. Follow the women; where they go, you have my permission to go. Have I not made it clear to my men,' and here he gestured towards Eliezer, 'that you are not to be harmed nor even touched? You have my personal pledge of protection for so long as you follow my advice and stay in my property. When you are thirsty, go to our water vats and drink deeply. When you are hungry, feed yourself heartily from our rations. Be at peace with my permission to come and work as one of us.'
Eliezer gasped in surprise and exhaled with relief, after the words had sunk in. Boaz was not going to chastise him for allowing Ruth to glean. Instead he was making sure that she was properly cared for. 'Almost,' dare he even think it, 'almost as if she was an Israelite woman!'
Ruth, herself, was astonished. She could feel tears stinging her eyes. He had called her, 'Daughter.' For the first time since she had crossed into Israelite territory she truly felt welcomed. Welcomed for who she was as a person, as Ruth, rather than simply as the daughter-in-law of Mara. His words of generous compassion made her want to cry. Emotion swelled within her breast. She fell from her knees to her face, prostrate before him and spoke from the ground. 'My lord, why have you taken notice of me? I am a foreigner, why have I found favour in your eyes?'
Boaz chuckled before speaking with a serious, somber, tone. Eliezer watched, transfixed, as Boaz once again proved himself to be a man of integrity and compassion.
'I have been in Bethlehem and the women have been talking. I have heard all that you have done for your mother-in-law. I know how you chose to honour Elimelech and Mahlon by leaving your own home, the land of your gods, to come with her to a place you do not know and live among this people. A people you don't know and have every right to be afraid of. Your kindness to her and her family has been noticed. May YHWH repay you for all that you have done, and a full reward be given to you by YHWH, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!'
Ruth's voice cracked as she responded. She felt no fear when she spoke with this man of YHWH. His character shone through his words and his love for YHWH was evident. 'I have found favour in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and have spoken kindly to your servant, even though I'm not one of your servants.' She didn't know what to do or what else to say.
YHWH had heard her prayers and responded to her with grace and kindness. This owner was offering her provision and protection. He was the instrument of YHWH's love towards her. He was the answer to her prayers. Her heart burst with praise for YHWH. Never before had she experienced such compassion from a man. And now, unbeknownst to him, Boaz had proven again that YHWH had accepted Ruth's declaration of loyalty to YHWH. She truly felt included by YHWH, and felt that this man would indeed be true to his word.
Boaz told her that she was welcome and then he and Eliezer walked on. She heard him reach the men and talk to them, each, by name. He teased them playfully, mocked them gently, and laughed as they responded in kind. These workers appeared to truly enjoy Boaz, who carried himself with dignity and strength, yet was joyfully and cheerfully fun. They laughed with him and, from what she could see, worked hard for him. She could understand why. In her brief interaction with him, she had learnt more about YHWH than all the stories from her mother-in-law and husband. Granted, they provided the foundation with which to understand YHWH but until now she had not truly seen someone exemplify what she had been told the Torah demanded. This man looked joyful, not afraid, when he spoke of YHWH. He did not fear his God like her priests back in Moab had feared Chemosh and Baal. In fact, his compassion towards her felt a lot more like what she imagined the man Moses would have been like. She resolved to work hard and, as soon as possible, tell Mara all about her day. It had begin with many fears and uncertainties, but now she was able to plan for the rest of the harvest season! YHWH be praised indeed.
They all worked into the evening. Ruth was surprised to see the owner himself, whom she now knew to be called Boaz, working with the men. He was scything bundles at a quick rate, tying them, and leaving them for the boys to pick up and transport. She was impressed by his pace and that he kept talking to the others around him. When the wind stopped blowing and the stalks stopped rustling, it was his booming laugh she continually heard. It made her smile.
Eventually the sun began to fall. Some of the women down by the threshing floor had started a fire and Ruth's stomach began to grumble. She was hungry. She was thankful for the food she had been given earlier by the foreman; it meant that her bread from home remained to be eaten and she was looking forward to getting to eat it. She joined the women as they made their way towards the fire. No one spoke with her and she kept towards the back of the group. Dusk would be falling in another few hours. Thy would eat, do a little more work in the field, then, under the light of the fire, winnowing the grain before going home.
Some, she knew, would sleep in the field to guard the grain that had not yet been winnowed. If Bethlehem was like Moab, the young men would probably work in shifts throughout the night, and share the work of guarding the grain throughout the week. She remembered that Mahlon and Elimelech used to take one night every two weeks as their time to guard the field.
The closer she got to the fire the louder the voices sounded. The ladies all moved towards the centre to get some food and then they sat down at one side, while the men, who were eating their own meals, sat together and talked about the day's yield.
Boaz noticed that Ruth sat somewhat awkwardly on her own, nibbling a small piece of bread. He gestured to her, but she didn't see him, or, perhaps, she chose not to see him. It was obvious to him that she felt conspicuous and uncomfortable. She, presumably, wanted to feel part of the community, but didn't know how to ingratiate herself. 'That shouldn't be her responsibility,' thought Boaz.
Boaz knew all about this. He remembered his grandfather talking about his grandmother, and how the first months had been so difficult for her. And, he knew, she was married by then. She had been a prostitute in a city captured by the Israelites. Captured by her ingeniuty towards the Israelite spies, no less. Because of that act of compassion to the Israelites, she was granted life within Israel, and had come to trust and worship YHWH herself. She had become an Israelite. But it hadn't been easy. Her history was always in the background. Feeling like an outsider was only one comment away. Boaz understood Ruth's plight intimately for his grandmother had told him all about it. The loneliness. The angry words. The shame she felt at her past. The insults thrown in arguments. All of it and so much more. And his heart broke for this young widow. To struggle through all of this on her own, with only Naomi, now Mara, to help her.
'Ruth,' he said. 'Come. Take some bread and dip it into the wine, and eat with us.' As he spoke the entire congress grew silent. Ruth looked incredibly sheepish and awkward. Boaz smiled to her, and, with his right hand, gestured towards the bread. The silence was deafening. Ruth could hear her blood pulsing through her head.
Slowly, timidly, Ruth took a small portion of the bread and dipped it into the wine and bit into it. It tasted delicious. She smiled gently, awkwardly, embarrassedly, towards Boaz and the men, before quickly looking down again. She made to return to her isolated spot but Boaz, again, spoke and gestured at her.
'Come, daughter. Come and sit with us that we might get to know you a little better. Come, sit with us and eat and drink with us.' Again, he waited. Again, the silence was terrifying. Again, Ruth timidly obeyed. She sat between Eliezer and another man and smiled, again, awkwardly, at Boaz.
Slowly, the men began to talk once more, and the women, although keeping an eye on the foreign woman, started their conversations anew. Ruth, embarrassed and awkward, sat quietly. She noticed Boaz watching her. But it wasn't the leering eye of the old men she knew so well from her youth. It was an eye of curiosity and compassion, protection even. It was almost like a caring father, or uncle, keeping watch over her. She felt safe under his gaze, which wasn't something she had ever felt before.
Eventually she finished her morsel of bread and, to her surprise, Boaz raised the tray of roasted grain and reached it over towards her. She took some, a small handful, and smiled her thanks. Boaz held the tray there and nudged it towards her. 'That handful wouldn't feed a sparrow for dessert. Take a real portion, Ruth.' Embarrassed once more, she complied and ate until she was satisfied. Boaz was a big personality, but she appreciated his care.
It dawned on her that Boaz was fulfilling his vow. As awkward as this all felt in her bones, and despite how desperately she had wanted the ground to swallow her up, she realized that Boaz had really been acting in her best interest. Publicly, he was declaring to all present that she was one of his women, his workers, under his protection. She would be under his protection should any man, or woman, try to hurt, abuse, or in any way come against her. But not only that, he was very intentionally introducing her to all his men. They would know her, could recognize her, and thus would be part of her protection. They would know her when she was in the field so wouldn't scold her away from gleaning. Yet, further still, Boaz was very clearly welcoming her. She was made to feel as one of the group. One of his workers. Rather than shun her as a foreigner, he called her 'daughter.' Rather than simply abiding by the letter of YHWH's law for the outcast and foreigner by letting her glean, he was welcoming her in as a daughter of Israel, to be part of the community. Again, her heart was filled with admiration for YHWH's kindness towards her through this stranger's compassion.
As the sun continued to go down, a few men began to speak with her. Gentle comments, mostly relating to her work ethic. The young boys who had spoken with her in the morning approached her and talked with her. They giggled at her accent and asked her to say certain words to see how they sounded when she said them. Playfully, she thickened her accent so they sounded even weirder. Everyone started laughing and, for the very first time, Ruth began to relax in Judah.
Boaz watched and smiled. He knew that her journey was only starting. But he would do all he could to help it be as easy as possible. YHWH was indeed kind. What a remarkable coincidence that she had just so happened to stumble onto his property! YHWH works in his own way, that was for sure.
Eventually Ruth stood up to go back to work. There were a few hours left and she could finish her third basket. She thanked the men for their kindness and bowed to Boaz who smiled at her. 'You do a lot of bowing, daughter of Naomi. Surely you do enough of that in the field without adding to it here. We don't need that from you. You are as one of us.' She smiled sheepishly.
After she left to return to the fields, Boaz spoke to his men. 'You will look after Ruth, do you hear me? Allow her to glean amongst your sheaves. Be sure that she has enough. Even drop a few stalks now and again so that she can pick them up for her and Naomi. Don't rebuke her. We have plenty. YHWH has blessed us so that we can bless others.' They all nodded assent and smiled. Boaz was a good man.
Ruth continued working until the sun descended and night had fallen. She returned to the threshing floor and borrowed a whip from one of the older women. Under the light of the flickering flames of the fire, she beat the stalks until the grain fell off and then she gathered up the grain. She had collected almost a full ephah of grain, much to her surprise. That was about two weeks worth of grain, in one day. She placed the grain into the baskets and stacked the baskets on her head before slowly making her way out of the field and beginning the journey towards the town. It would be treacherous in the dark, so she joined up with a group of women who had brought torches to light the path so that they wouldn't stumble. Again, Ruth quietly kept to herself towards the back, but her anxiety had diminished significantly, thanks to Boaz.
Finally, she reached home and burst through the door. A small oil lamp flickered on the table as the gust of air blew over it. Mara was seated at the table waiting for her. Ruth took the load off her head and went and hugged Mara. She couldn't stop smiling. Mara smiled briefly and looked Ruth over, up and down, to be sure she hadn't been hurt or attacked.
'Well, daughter? How did it go? I see you brought us food! That must be nearly an ephah of barley, Ruth. That will last us for at least two weeks. Where did you go? Did you speak with anyone? Tell me all that happened.'
Ruth smiled and started from the beginning. As she was speaking, she handed Mara some figs and the left over roasted grain that Boaz had made her take. Mara chewed on the grain slowly as she listened, and then she bit into the figs, enjoying their sweet taste.
Ruth was a gifted storyteller. She filled in the story with details about her work, her trying to grasp the language, and about the kindness she had been shown, but hadn't mentioned the name of the owner of the field. Mara noticed this.
'Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!' Mara was eager to know the name of the man. She would know the wisdom of Ruth's returning there when she knew the character of the man. Was he acting in good faith, or did he have other motives?
'Oh mama, you are not too sly for me,' Ruth replied with a chortle. 'The man's name with whom I worked today is Boaz.'
Mara looked at her, as if trying to remember the name. Then she smiled and laughed with understanding.
'Oh YHWH be praised indeed! May Boaz be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!' She smiled and laughed as she bit into another fig. Ruth tried to figure out who it was that Mara meant? Who was it who had not forsaken the living or the dead? Boaz or YHWH? Before she could ask, however, Mara continued.
'You see, Ruth, Boaz is one of our relatives. In fact, he's a close relative. He's one of our redeemers. Tell me, again, how did you come across his field? Did someone tell you? What happened? Tell me everything!'
Ruth did as Mara asked. She told Mara about how she had walked into the field and walked by the side until she had seen the linen that was red. She had decided that she would work in that portion of the field, if permitted. There had been no subterfuge or guidance by any mortal man or woman. It was chance. Happenstance. Coincidence. Or perhaps it was YHWH.
Mara smiled. YHWH hadn't forgotten about the living or the dead, indeed. She looked to her daughter-in-law, whose face was wearied and tired, yet not as depressed as it had been in the morning. Mara had seen through Ruth's weak attempts to encourage her. But now, this evening, YHWH had done just that. Ruth was dust-covered, windswept, sunburnt, and evidently tired. Yet she was smiling with a genuine relief. Mara matched her smile.
'He told me,' continued Ruth, 'to keep close to his young men until they have finished his harvest.'
Mara nodded seriously. 'Yes, you must do this, Ruth. He is a respected leader in Bethlehem. He will protect you and he has clearly demonstrated to his men that you are to be treated as one of us. Stay with his young women, my daughter. Other men in other fields may only see your foreign beauty and may assault you for your body, or women for your grain. Stay in Boaz's property and you will be safe.
After they had talked some more, Ruth washed her face and applied some ointment on her hands as a salve for the stinging. She finished a draught of diluted wine and then fell into a peaceful sleep.
The next morning, and many mornings through the duration of the harvest, she continued to work in the fields of Boaz. She remained close to the women who worked for him and, slowly, began to develop friendships with them. She learned their names and heard about their families, and she began to understand more of their pain from the famine and from the oppression of Moab. Everyone had lost someone. But all expressed a deep appreciation for YHWH who was loyal to the covenant; when the people returned to Him, it was almost as if the light from the oil candle burst aflame. Suddenly the land was fruitful again. Just like that. Ehud, the judge, had craftily killed Eglon and freed Israel from Moabite oppression. The harvest had returned. Peace and prosperity was here again, now that they were observing the Mosaic covenant once more. The people praised YHWH like never before. And, of course, it did help the national mood that Ehud had ended the life of Eglon in a most comical fashion.
'Sorry, Ruth. I know he was your king,' said the women.
'Do not apologise to me,' she would reply. 'I'm here among you, now. This is my home and YHWH is our king.'
They smiled and continued talking. Ruth began to open up about her life. She feared being shamed for the loss of her husband and father-in-law. Yet these women appeared to understand her. The famine, after all, had taken many from them. They understood death. And, lest anyone forget, Israel had been under YHWH's judgement for betraying the covenant; Mara wasn't on her own in thinking her situation was YHWH's wrath.
During the meal times they ate and drank together, and, after the sun had gone down and the grain had been threshed, Ruth wearily returned to Mara. She made food for her, cleaned herself up slightly, fell asleep, prepared for the routine to start anew in in the morning.
She worked hard and diligently through the barley harvest and then through the wheat harvest. As they neared the end of the harvest season, Ruth and Mara took stock of their foodstuffs. They were going to be okay for the winter. They had little meat and needed some vegetables, but they would have bread enough to last them through the most difficult months, and, if they were careful, they would have some grain left over to buy vegetables. If things were as good next year, they may be able to buy a goat to get milk and maybe even make cheese. Things were finally beginning to look up.
At least, they were to Ruth. Mara still feared for Ruth's survival should she pass away. What could she do to help Ruth? How could she protect her and ensure that she would not simply be 'the foreigner' when that time came? These thoughts plagued Mara for many nights and she desired to make a suitable, safe, future for Ruth. A plan started to hatch in her mind. Mara was a coy woman and she began to think through her new plan from every different angle possible. Such thoughts helped to begin to break her free from her depression. She was still Mara; but now she was Mara with a plan.
By the time she was ready to approach Ruth, she had worked through every single possibility. She knew what she had to do. And she knew how to do it. It was bound to work. It should work. She prayed it would work. She prayed to YHWH, and only to YHWH, that He would guide her endeavours. Not for her sake, but for Ruth's, whom He so clearly favoured.
'May you let Ruth be another Rahab, oh YHWH our God. Give her rest, and I shall accept all your wrath for my sin. But do not take it out upon her. Give flight to my plan, I beseech you.'
She would talk with Ruth in the morning.
I hope that you enjoyed chapter 2. I will hopefully get to the next chapter in a few weeks. After the entire book has been drafted, I will do a YouTube recording of all four chapters of this dramatic retelling of the narrative along with theological summary to explain the necessity and the message of the book of Ruth.
Please leave a comment or reflection; I love reading them.