An Unlikely Couple (Ruth 2-3)
By David Feddes
The rich old bachelor and the poor young widow had almost nothing in common. He was a man; she was a woman. He was getting old; she was still young. He was a prominent citizen in the community; she was a nobody. He had land and money and employees; she had nothing. He was native-born; she was an immigrant. He inherited family property and prestige that went back for generations; she came to a new land without any blood relatives, without any connections, not knowing anyone who lived there. He was of one race; she was of another race. His people had often been in conflict with her people. He and she seemed like total opposites, and yet the two of them somehow met and came to admire each other and eventually… well, let’s find out what happened.
Chapter 2 of the book of Ruth tells how Ruth first met the man who was her opposite in so many ways. The Bible says:
Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, from the clan of [her husband] Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz.
And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.
Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.
Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
“The Lord bless you!” they called back.
Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, “Whose young woman is that?”
The foreman replied, “She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” (2:1-7)
That’s how Boaz caught his first glimpse of Ruth. He saw a lovely young woman whom he’d never seen before working extremely hard at the lowly task of picking up whatever bits of grain fell to the ground behind the crew of harvesters. Only the poorest of the poor tried to get their food this way. It was hard work, it was hot work, and it was humiliating work, gleaning other people’s leftovers. But Ruth was willing to work at even the lowliest job to provide for herself and her mother-in-law. That’s what Ruth was doing the first time Boaz saw her, and that first impression told him a lot about her.
At the same time, Ruth’s first impression of Boaz told her a lot about him. Boaz was making the rounds of various fields he owned and checking how the work was going. When he got to the field where Ruth happened to be gleaning, what was the first thing he did? He greeted his harvesters warmly and said, “The Lord be with you!” That says a lot about Boaz. Boaz was the boss, but he knew that he must answer to a higher boss, the Lord God. Boaz knew that every one of his workers was precious to God, and so he wanted them to experience God’s nearness and kindness.
If you want to know what a man is really like, don’t watch him when he’s in church. Watch him when he’s in the field or at the office. Watch how he conducts himself when he’s doing his work. Watch how he deals with other people. Boaz knew that God isn’t just someone to worship on one day of the week; the Lord was uppermost in Boaz’s life every day, and it showed in his conduct and conversation, in his business affairs and in how he related to his employees. As a result, his workers appreciated him, and they honored God as Boaz their boss did.
This was a time when most people were godless and immoral and did whatever they wanted. It was the wild and wicked time of the judges. But Boaz wasn’t sucked into the evil. He remained a man of standing and integrity, and he apparently affected those around him. He blessed them in the Lord’s name, and they in turn wished him God’s blessing. That’s a picture of what life can be when boss and workers honor the Lord and value each other.
So, then, Ruth first saw Boaz as a godly man who related well with his workers, and Boaz first saw Ruth as a woman who wasn’t too proud or too lazy to work hard.
Appreciation and Respect
So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?”
Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband–how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant–though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.” (Ruth 2:1-13)
I’m not sure if that first encounter between Boaz and Ruth was love at first sight, but it was clearly appreciation and respect at first sight. Ruth was deeply impressed by the kindness of Boaz. She was just a poor foreigner, a nobody, lower than the lowest servant, and yet this important man who didn’t know her personally and didn’t owe her anything was eager to help her. Boaz knew that there were a lot of rough and ruthless people around, and that a young, single woman could easily be mistreated or assaulted if she turned up in the wrong place. Boaz told her to stay in his fields and stick with the girls who worked for him and drink all the water she wanted so she wouldn’t have to go to the well herself to get it.
Ruth didn’t resent Boaz’s wealth and standing. She was humbly grateful for his help. Some people who have suffered disadvantages due to their race or gender or social class become bitter toward those who are better off. If anyone does treat them well, they don’t feel grateful; they feel it’s their right– they’re entitled to it. But Ruth was different. She didn’t carry a chip on her shoulder. In the depths of poverty she was willing to do whatever work was necessary to survive, and when someone showed her kindness, she was genuinely amazed and grateful. “Why have I found such favor in your eyes,” she asked Boaz, “that you notice me–a foreigner?”
Ruth’s respect and appreciation for Boaz were great, but Boaz’s respect and appreciation for Ruth were equally great. He didn’t want her to think of herself as some unknown nobody. He told her he had heard about how she had left everything because of love for her mother-in-law, and how she had put her faith in the living God and taken refuge under his wings. Ruth’s faith and character were more important to Boaz than race and gender and class. Boaz wished Ruth great rewards and blessings from the God she trusted, and Boaz was determined to be a channel that God would use to bring her blessings.
Now, if Boaz had simply stated a pious blessing, it wouldn’t have meant much. But the fact that he showed her genuine respect and offered her food and water and protection and many other kindnesses showed that as a godly man, he wasn’t just going to talk about God’s blessing; he was going to be God’s blessing.
Later in the day, Boaz invited Ruth to join him and the rest of the harvesters for a meal, and he gave her such big portions that she had plenty left over to take home and share with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Boaz also ordered his workers to make sure Ruth’s gleaning went well by purposely leaving behind many stalks of barley. That way this poor widow would be sure to get what she needed without having her dignity trampled. Ruth wouldn’t feel like she was getting a big supply of grain as a handout. She would be working hard to get it, and Boaz was just going to make sure that her work paid off in a big way. Needless to say, the rest of the day went well for Ruth, and she returned home to Naomi that night with an amazing amount of barley.
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 kinsman-redeemers.”
Suddenly things were falling into place. Naomi had been away from Israel for ten years, and she didn’t think there were any living relatives left from her deceased husband’s family. She had either forgotten Boaz or assumed he had died. But Boaz was alive, and Ruth had met him, seemingly by chance, on her very first day of going out into other people’s fields looking for food. Naomi immediately knew it was no coincidence that Ruth had wandered into a field belonging to Boaz. It was God’s doing. Earlier Naomi had bitterly complained that God was against her and had left her empty, but now she realized that God had not forsaken her, after all. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead,” she exclaimed.
The dead were in God’s hands, and so were the living. God was with Naomi and Ruth, watching out for them, and God was providing a special man to watch out for them. Boaz was a relative, a kinsman-redeemer. In that time a kinsman-redeemer was a man who, when a male relative died and left a widow, would look out for the widow, who might be weak, childless, and defenseless. The kinsman-redeemer would pay any debts the widow had inherited from her deceased husband. If she or any children of hers were sold into slavery because of debts, the kinsman-redeemer would buy her freedom. If she had enemies, the kinsman-redeemer would defend and protect her. And if she had been left childless, the kinsman-redeemer would marry her, and their first child would inherit the land of the deceased and maintain property that belonged to the family in the provisions of God’s covenant.
In many ways the role of a kinsman-redeemer foreshadowed the ultimate redeemer, Jesus Christ, who came to pay our debt of sin, free us from slavery, protect us from Satan and all our enemies, and give us new birth and life and an inheritance for the future.
The story of Ruth took place long before Jesus, of course, and at that moment the good news for Ruth and Naomi was simply that the Lord was showing kindness and that he was doing it through the man of his choosing, the kind and God-fearing Boaz.
So Ruth spent her days in the safety and generosity of Boaz’s fields and spent the rest of her time with Naomi. One day Naomi decided it was time to play matchmaker. It was time to find out if Boaz might be interested in having Ruth for a wife. Naomi told Ruth to bathe and perfume herself and put on her best clothes. Thus far Boaz had seen Ruth as a humble, hardworking person who believed in God. Now it was time for him to see her as a lovely, attractive woman who was interested in him, and to consider whether he might want to be her redeemer and husband.
Ruth liked Naomi’s suggestion, but it would be delicate, even a bit risky. She had to be at her most alluring, and at the same time, she had to find some way to meet with Boaz when he was in the best possible mood and in private, with nobody else to listen in. So Ruth got herself ready in a way that would bring out her full womanly beauty. Then she waited until it was night and everyone had gone to sleep after a happy harvest party. She went quietly to where Boaz was sleeping, uncovered his feet, and lay down. There in the middle of the night Boaz suddenly awoke to find a woman lying at his feet.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.”
“The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier. You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all that you ask. All my fellow townspeople know that you are a woman of noble character.”
Boaz was absolutely delighted that Ruth wanted to be his wife. He was a humble man, and he was amazed that a lovely young woman would want to become his wife. That’s one of the marvels of love. The man doesn’t see himself as a great catch, and the woman doesn’t see herself as a great catch. But he sees her as a great catch! And she sees him as a great catch! Each thinks the other is better than they had any right to expect. We saw earlier how Ruth asked why Boaz would even pay any attention to her at all. Now we see Boaz expressing amazement that Ruth would want him.
The two of them were opposites in so many ways. He was rich; she was poor. He was old; she was young. He was important; she was a nobody. He was native-born; she was a foreigner. But all those differences melted away as they saw in each other a person of noble character, a person who was God’s loving gift.
Following the Right Path
At this point, if this were a modern romance or a TV drama, Ruth and Boaz would immediately grab one another and spend a night of passion together. But Boaz wasn’t that kind of man, and Ruth wasn’t that kind of woman. They were alone, it was the middle of the night, the stars were shining above them, nobody would know anything about it, but Boaz and Ruth respected each other too much, and they revered God too much, to do what they knew was sinful. They were determined to do what was right, not just do whatever they felt like. So they refrained from giving their bodies to each other, because they weren’t yet married.
Indeed, Boaz had such a strong sense of duty that he not only kept his urges in check; he also felt he had to tell Ruth about another man, a closer kinsman who had a prior claim to marry her under the custom of the time. Boaz loved Ruth and told her he was thrilled she wanted to marry him, but they couldn’t go ahead until he had first given the other man his rightful chance to redeem the family property and marry Ruth.
Can you believe it? Boaz loves her, but he keeps his hands off her. He wants to marry her, but he insists on doing the right thing, even if it means losing her to another man. Sometimes it’s a bother to do what’s right, isn’t it? It’s a lot easier, when something we want is there for the taking, just to go for it, rather than letting our conscience get in the way. But easier doesn’t mean better. If something is worth having, it’s worth waiting for. If God really means it to be, he’ll make sure it happens. So don’t cut corners on doing what’s right. Follow God’s path. There may be twists and turns and obstacles along the road, but God will make sure you get where he wants you to go.
When the sun came up the next morning, Boaz and Ruth were still pure. They kept their midnight discussion a secret, and waited to see what would happen next. Sure enough, God worked things out for them. The last chapter of Ruth tells more about that, but for now, let’s summarize four things we can learn from how this unlikely couple, Ruth and Boaz, were drawn together.
- God is in charge.
God is in charge of little coincidences just as much as he is in charge of stunning miracles. When Ruth first came to Boaz’s field, she didn’t have any reason for going to that particular field. She had to start somewhere, and that just happened to be the field she picked. It seemed like an accident. But with God there are no accidents. He is in charge, and he does some of his best work when nobody notices, when nobody realizes what he’s up to. Only later does it become clear that he was in charge, setting things up all along. If you’ve walked with God for a while, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t yet trust in God, it’s time you did, and you’ll find out what I’m talking about. It’s a tremendous comfort to know God is in charge of every step on your journey.
- God works through people.
Back when Ruth was an idol worshipper and God wanted to bring her to faith in him, he used Naomi to introduce Ruth to the Lord. When God wanted to help poor, heartbroken Naomi after she lost her husband and sons, the Lord used Ruth to help Naomi when she had nobody else. When Ruth and Naomi needed food, God used Boaz to supply their needs. And in the end, of course, God used Boaz and Ruth to be lifelong blessings to each other. Boaz spoke of Ruth finding refuge under God’s wings (2:12), and later on, when our translation has Ruth asking Boaz to spread the corner of his garment over her (3:9), what she really asks (in the original Hebrew) is for Boaz to spread his wing over her. So God spreads his wing over Ruth by having Boaz spread his wing over Ruth. God works through people. What does this mean for us? It means you and I must be alert to ways that God can work through us to bless others. It also means that whenever someone else is a blessing to us, we should be grateful not only to those kind people but also to the Lord who has blessed us through them.
- God blesses obedience.
Ruth obeyed God even when it seemed to produce nothing but heartache and poverty; Boaz obeyed God even though society around him was often rotten, even though no women seemed to have an interest in him. Ruth obeyed God in everyday things like working hard and behaving politely; Boaz obeyed God in everyday things like how he spoke with his workers and how he treated poor foreigners. Boaz and Ruth both obeyed God in following the path of purity when they fell in love with each other, and they refused to take any shortcuts. It wasn’t easy, but it was pleasing to God, and the Lord blessed them. Boaz and Ruth prized God above everything. Their faith and godliness shone in their character and conduct and drew them to each other, despite their differences. God blessed their obedience. He blessed this unlikely couple, and he can bless you too, when you trust in the Lord Jesus and obey his Word in the Bible.
- God’s favor is a gift, not a right.
When good things happened to Boaz and Ruth, they didn’t say, “Well it’s about time I got the happiness I deserve!” No, they were humbled and grateful at the good things God gave them which they hadn’t done anything to earn. So, too, you and I need to realize that every good thing we enjoy, whether it’s our next meal, or a loving spouse, or eternal life in heaven, is a gift of God’s amazing grace. God’s favor in Jesus is a gift, not a right. Accept it by faith, and enjoy it with humility and gratitude.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.