Ruth 2a; Gleaning in the fields

Welcome  back to our study in Ruth. Let’s remember as we go forward that these events took place in a very dark time of Israel’s history – the time of the Judges. The book of Ruth is a story of light in the midst of darkness.

So in chapter 1 we saw Naomi and her family spend 10 years in Moab during which time her husband and sons died. She then returned to Israel after the famine ended and one of her two daughters-in-law (Ruth) gave up everything she had – family, culture, friends – to follow Naomi. We realised that Naomi must have been walking as light in a dark world, because she had taught Ruth to turn away from the false gods of Moab to serve the True God. This should challenge us to remember Christ’s call in Matt 5 to be light in a dark world. Finally, we ended chapter 1 returning to Bethlehem, in Judah, and people of the town being stirred up by their arrival.

Be light in this dark world

Chapter 2

As we enter chapter 2, we again see the bravery and loyalty of Ruth in the face of poverty and starvation:

And Ruth the Moabite 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.” (Ruth 2:2)*.

Ruth chose to put herself in danger to care and provide for her mother-in-law. Remember that Israel had gone away from the commands of God in the time of the Judges. This was not a safe time for a young woman to venture out alone amongst men working in the fields. This was not a safe time to be a young widow in Israel. But as widows they needed to get food for themselves so out Ruth went . . .

Immediately, however, we see a very different atmosphere in the field that Ruth “stumbled upon” than what we should expect in this time:

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” “The Lord bless you!” they answered. (Ruth 2:4)*.

God is watching over His servant, Ruth! Without knowing where she was going, she chose to glean in the field of a righteous man! Ruth must have thanked the Lord to find a field whose owner was righteous, and who made his men walk in righteousness!

The NIV said that Ruth was going to “pick up the leftover grain”. Other translations say she went to “glean” in the fields. What made her think that she could just go into a farmer’s field and take from their land? That wouldn’t make us too popular today if we tried – especially here in South Africa! I would be rather afraid to go onto a farmers’ property today and take from his crops! We would be seen as thieves and could rightfully be shot according to property law, or at least reported to the police. But gleaning in Israel was part of the Lord’s provision, as commanded in the Torah. It was how God provided for the poor and lowly – the orphan, the widow, the foreigner.

Boaz was faithful to the commands of the Lord. In a time of national unfaithfulness, we see Boaz keeping what the Lord commanded in regards to gleaning. The laws for reaping the harvest are found in a few places in the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible that lay out God’s law):

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.’” (Leviticus 19:9-10)**

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’” (Leviticus 23:22)**

“‘When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.  When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.  Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.’” Deut 24:19-22**

The law prohibited reaping to the edge of the field

Ruth’s character

This chapter gives us some further insights into Ruth’s character. We see that she was:

  • Hard working: She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” (Ruth 2:7)
  • Humble: Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10)
  • Well known for kindness: But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. (Ruth 2:11)
  • Servant of the Most High God: The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12)

Boaz’s character

We see in Ruth 2:8-9 that Boaz was faithful to God’s covenant. He let Ruth glean his field as required of him by Law:

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you?” (Ruth 2:8-9a)

But Boaz didn’t stop at the letter of the Law. He went beyond what was required of him by the Law:

  • He commands her to stay with his women servants and not just through the barley harvest, but the wheat too – about 3 months! (Ruth 2:8,23)
  • He tells her to drink the water of his own people (Ruth 2:9b)
  • Later in the chapter he tells his workers not to tell her off if she goes amongst the unharvested crop – where she wasn’t meant to be (Ruth 2:15)
  • He also tells them to intentionally leave some extra grain on the ground for her – to ease her workload (Ruth 2:16)
  • And at mealtime he gives her food from his own hand! So much so that she has extra to take back to Naomi at the end of the day! (Ruth 2:14, 18)

Boaz was a man who knew God’s Law and had His heart! Boaz understood the heart behind God’s laws, unlike the Pharisees, who Christ condemned:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23) **

Boaz could have used the darkness of the times as an excuse, but instead he chose to go beyond what God asked of him. So the question for us is: Do you go beyond what is required of you? Do you have the heart of God’s commands? We have the choice today between sin and obedience.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:14-18) **

Are you being obedient to Christ’s teachings? Are you a slave of righteousness?


Up next: Ruth 2b-3

**I normally quote Scripture from the ESV, so please note that Scriptures marked in this post with “** are quoted from the NIV: New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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