November 19, 2017

Welcoming the Stranger

Landscape with Ruth and Boaz (detail), Koch

By Chaplain Mike

Ordinary Time Bible Study 2011
The Book of Ruth (8)

Naomi and Ruth have returned to Bethlehem, where the Lord has visited his people and blessed them with a good harvest. Ruth takes initiative immediately and goes out to glean in the fields to provide for their household. According to the Torah, the poor could harvest grain from the corners of the fields and follow behind the reapers to pick up grain they dropped. Ruth went out and “by chance” found herself in a field belonging to Boaz, one of her deceased father-in-law’s kinsman.

Today we continue our consideration of the story in Ruth, chapter two.

Ruth 2:4-7
Now at that very moment, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “May the Lord be with you!” They replied, “May the Lord bless you!” Boaz asked his servant in charge of the harvesters, “To whom does this young woman belong?” The servant in charge of the harvesters replied, “She’s the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the region of Moab. She asked, ‘May I follow the harvesters and gather grain among the bundles?’ Since she arrived she has been working hard from this morning until now – except for sitting in the resting hut a short time.”

Boaz arrives and exchanges greetings with the field workers. In a book like Ruth, where God is a “hidden” character, his presence is acknowledged primarily by the words of the story’s human actors. In this conversation, Boaz and the harvesters are presented as faithful people who desire God’s blessing for one another.

Though we often overlook the importance of greetings and disdain cliché speech, these simple practices serve an important function in society, sending signals about whether we are living at peace with God and our neighbors.

Ruth Gleaning, Tissot

Boaz immediately notices and asks about the foreign woman who has come to join the gleaners. There are three points worthy of notice in the servant’s reply to his master.

  • First, the servant stresses her Moabite ethnicity. This is an issue throughout Ruth, though the author alludes to it subtly and usually in the background. A concern about how the young woman will be treated in the fields appears later in this chapter.
  • Second, it appears that Ruth requested more than whether she could do ordinary work of gleaning. She not only asked if she could “follow the harvesters,” but also if she could “gather grain AMONG the bundles.” Gleaners normally picked up sheaves that had dropped on the ground while the harvesters were gathering them into their arms. When their arms got full, the reapers would take the sheaves and place them in piles around the field for later collection. Ruth was asking if she could take grain from those piles, in addition to the droppings. This shows Ruth’s boldness and concern to provide as much as she could for Naomi.
  • Third, the final sentence in v. 7 has been taken several ways. The NASB translates it, “Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.” Other versions make it appear that she had been working all morning, but the text indicates that she may have been waiting for Boaz in order to get permission. Was she not allowed to go into the fields immediately because she was a Moabite? Whatever the reason, this shows Ruth’s perseverance and willingness to do what it takes to provide for her mother-in-law.

Boaz addresses Ruth in verses 8-9:

So Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my dear! Do not leave to gather grain in another field. You need not go beyond the limits of this field. You may go along beside my female workers. Take note of the field where the men are harvesting and follow behind with the female workers. I will tell the men to leave you alone. When you are thirsty, you may go to the water jars and drink some of the water the servants draw.”

These words reveal a genuine concern for Ruth and her safety. Boaz tells her to stay in his field, where he can protect her. She is to stay with the women harvesters and avoid the men. He promises to instruct the men not to insult or harm her. He tells her that she may drink from the water jars of the servants, implying that she might be prevented from doing this otherwise.

The conversation between Ruth and Boaz in vv. 10-13 forms the heart of this chapter and gives clues as to where this story may be heading.

Ruth knelt before him with her forehead to the ground and said to him, “Why are you so kind and so attentive to me, even though I am a foreigner?”

Boaz replied to her, I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband – how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!”

She said, “You really are being kind to me, sir, for you have reassured and encouraged me, your servant, even though I am not one of your servants!”

Ruth acknowledges that her status as a foreigner has put her in a vulnerable position among the other workers in the fields. She is filled with gratitude that Boaz has extended such gracious privileges to her and has provided for her protection. The text literally says, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes, so that you have known me, even though I am one not-known?”

The “foreigners” in our midst often go unrecognized because we do not give them adequate attention, even though we may be able to give them assistance. Boaz was willing to “know” Ruth, to pay attention to her personally and to help with her needs.

Ruth in Boaz's Field, Carolsfeld

Boaz responds by praising Ruth.

  • He remarks how she “left [her] father and [her] mother” in Moab to accompany Naomi to Bethlehem. The only other use of this phrase is in Genesis 2:24, which is the foundational Bible text about marriage. (Where might this relationship be  going?)
  • He also notes how she left her homeland and came to live among a people she did not know—another allusion to Abraham, who left his homeland and went to a land unknown to him. Thus her faith is praised as well, in terms that are remarkable given her Moabite background.
  • Finally, he invokes the Lord’s blessing for her. He prays that God will reward the lovingkindess (hesed) that she has demonstrated through loyalty and diligence. In this blessing, he again notes her faith, saying that Ruth had come to “seek refuge under the Lord’s wings.” This interesting and tender metaphor will appear again in the story, and when it does, it will come as a surprise to Boaz (3:9).

Ruth’s answer to Boaz’s praise is translated by the NIV: “May I continue to find favor in your eyes.” This is possibly a subtle appeal to Boaz to do even more to help in this situation. Already, he has “comforted” her and “spoken to her heart” (a word with courtship overtones). He has treated her like a family servant already, even at this early stage, and all this despite her “foreignness.” He has welcomed the stranger and her prospects look much more positive already.

The subtle and intricate descriptions and conversations in this chapter establish the characters of Ruth and Boaz as people of extraordinary initiative, kindness, and integrity. Ruth exemplifies a spirit of faith and courage, Boaz of concern and generosity.  God is at work in these people. How will he work in and through them to fill the emptiness in the house of Naomi?

Prayer for the Week
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer, you welcomed us when we were estranged from you by sin. You spoke to our hearts in kindness and with generous, outstretched hands. You invited us to freely partake of the Bread of Life. How then can we be anything less than loving to our neighbors, no matter who they are, no matter where they come from? May your Spirit work your lovingkindness in our hearts, that we may live this day for your glory and for the good of those around us. Amen.

Comments

  1. “Though we often disdain cliché speech, it serves an important function in society, sending signals about whether we are living at peace with God and our neighbors.” — I was just thinking a couple of days ago that a good word goes a long way. I got to thinking about the tenor of the conversation on Internet Monk and considered how pleasant it was as compared to some of the caustic back and forth on the internet. It stays with me sometimes when I see a stranger I’ll think that could be Chaplain Mike or Jeff or… A fringe benefit of wholesome conversation with ‘strangers'(of a sort) here is that I feel friendlier toward strangers elsewhere.