The Encounter The apex and center of chapter 2 is the God-ordained encounter of Ruth and Boaz. Samuel designed their meeting to be dramatic, and he uses the dialogue, the structure, and virtually everything in the story to pull the reader closer and closer to the center of the chapter, where the hero meets the heroine.
Samuel almost toys with the reader, indicating on the one hand that Ruth just “happened” to be in the right place at the right time, and “behold” Boaz arrived from Bethlehem. He heightens the providential sense of the story, saying that Ruth “happened” to be in the fields of Boaz. More literally the text says, “Her chance chanced upon.” Well as “chance” would have it, behold, Boaz also went out into the field and addressed the gleaners.
Not only does Samuel accent their meeting with these kinds of statements, but he also uses the structure of the story to move us towards their encounter. The story takes a dramatic turn from Ruth’s travels to her meeting in the field. Suddenly Samuel turns the eyes of everyone in the story to Boaz. Boaz enters with the dramatic word, “Behold.” This is not the most common introduction of a character, and it is intended to create an almost theatrical flair to his entrance. One scholar notes that this word brings a touch of vividness to the narrative.1 Indeed, we don’t have Boaz simply walking to his field, but it is more like an official “appearance” or a “coming.” Behold, Boaz has come!
Samuel’s description of Boaz as “coming” from Bethlehem is another element of divine planning. Another scholar comments that the word “behold” expresses wonder at this arrival and its timing.2 The savior of our story has arrived from Bethlehem. As the savior from Bethlehem arrives, he showers the workers with blessings. His first words are those of blessing. He said to the harvesters, “The Lord be with you all.” And they said, “The Lord bless you.”
Boaz greets them with a traditional blessing/greeting. In fact, this is the same greeting traditionally used in the liturgy of western and eastern churches. In such instances the minister usually greets or addresses the congregation saying, “The Lord be with you.” The people respond saying, “And also with you.”
Not only does Boaz bless them verbally, but he immediately engages in pastoral oversight. He is a pious and godly man in every way, and he immediately begins to oversee the harvest. One author says of Boaz, “An atmosphere of holiness pervades his person and everything around him, which will show itself repeatedly in the verses that follow.”3
Like our Savior Jesus, Boaz does not randomly spread good tidings in some kind of a broad or indiscriminate way. Rather he directs his specific kindness personally to Ruth. For instance, Boaz immediately recognized that there was a new gleaner. He recognized her and began to inquire about her. Samuel reminds us that Boaz met her because she “happened” to be in the tent taking a rest. She was providentially placed right in front of him.
So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, “It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house” (Ruth 2:6–7).
So the man in charge had already granted Ruth permission to glean, and Boaz responded. He moved to her and addressed her directly. Then Boaz said to Ruth, “You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn” (Ruth 2:8–9).
Imagine Ruth’s overwhelming relief! She had been abandoned in the death of her husband, and she had left her homeland in pursuit of precisely this kind of covenant care from the Lord; now she has found it—better yet God has found her.
Boaz intended to supply all of her needs. He pledged that he would provide for her welfare from his own fields exclusively. He recognized that she was no mere gleaner; she was a member of his household, and he acknowledged that he would gladly take her as his personal responsibility.
Boaz specifically told his harvesters to allow Ruth to glean closely without any harassment. It appears that the gleaners would follow from a distance because the reapers didn’t want them too close. Apparently the reapers would swat them back so that they would not interfere or so that they were not allowed into the unharvested grains.
Boaz told her that the servants have been commanded not to touch her. She may have faced the danger of rape or abuse. This would very likely be the case for an unprotected widow, but this would particularly be the case because she is a foreigner and, worse yet, she is a Moabitess. To whom would she go if someone were to take advantage of her? It isn’t likely that Boaz would have workers of this sort. Still, it is possible. Boaz wanted her to have the special privilege of gleaning close to the reapers without being waved back or harmed. Thus Ruth has found a refuge under the wings of a redeemer.
Boaz gave her a status above the normal gleaner. She was elevated in her needy estate to that of blessed estate. She became someone with Boaz’s personal protection. For instance, she was given permission to drink from the water jar. No gleaner would have been able to do this. Water was the blessing of the owners and the workers who were harvesting. The gleaners would have had to provide for themselves. Therefore, when he gave her water, he elevated her to a status of privilege. He was acting as a true king in Israel. Boaz had a heart for the needy, and he responded instinctively to his responsibilities as a kinsman redeemer—he helped his family with a tender heart.
Boaz illustrates what a true king in Israel would be like, what a true husband would do. The true husband provides for his household. He pledges to be the sole provider of his household. What a great comfort to hear his words! What a warm encouragement to know that no one else will need to provide for your needs while you are in his household. There would be no need to look to anyone else for your welfare. Yes, just as Christ provides us with living water, so Boaz gave Ruth water to quench her thirst. Ruth will be the bride of the covenant, and Boaz will provide for her welfare. Boaz noted his reasons:
And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. “The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge” (vss. 11–12).
Unlike the popular made-for-television versions of this story, Boaz did not tell her that he loved her and wanted her because she was so good looking. Some versions of this story indicate that this was some kind of love at first sight nonsense. Boaz was not struck by the beauty of her body, but by the beauty of her character. In fact, the age difference seems to tell us that for Boaz, this was more of a fatherly concern. Ruth was probably around twenty to twenty-five years old, while Boaz was from Naomi’s generation and thus much older than Ruth.
We know this because he referred to Ruth as “daughter.” Remember, Boaz was a relative of Elimelech, and his initial duty was to Naomi. Consequently, the age difference between Ruth and Boaz would be roughly the same as that between Ruth and Naomi. In fact, later in the story he thanks her for her concern for him because of the vast age difference. Ruth 3:10,
Then he said, “Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich (verse 10).
While it turns out to be a stunning love story, Samuel makes it clear that Boaz’s initial concerns originated from godly intentions. Boaz intended to care for his obligations as kinsman, and Ruth sought a godly solution to her woes. Therefore, it appears from everything in the story that Boaz had no romantic intentions when he helped her as he did. This is not, therefore, a romance story. Boaz, as a man of honor, took care of Ruth for Naomi’s sake, and romance is not the focus of the scene. He showed her pity as one with a responsible, tender heart. Likewise, as will be clear to us as the story unfolds, Boaz had nothing personally to gain from pursuing Ruth.
He was moved to a tender regard for her because she left her people and identified with God’s people. She left her people and her land to follow after the Lord. Aren’t all of us moved deeply by a good conversion story? We are moved when we hear of how Paul hated and murdered the people of God but how God transformed him into an apostle. Certainly, Boaz was moved deeply by this young woman who followed in so many ways after the path of his own mother, Rahab. Boaz surely had Moses’ song in Deuteronomy 32:11 as the backdrop to his statement in Ruth 2:12 that Ruth had come to be sheltered under the wings of God.4 This is also a helpful key for how we see this story. It is much more than a love story; it is the gospel story.
The gleaning process had revealed Ruth’s true character; she was a woman of God. Indeed, as a woman of humility, she was constantly revealing her true humility when she responded to Boaz:
Then she said, “Let me find favor in your sight, my lord; for you have comforted me, and have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants” (Ruth 2:13)
Ruth 2:14 Bread and Wine
Now Boaz said to her at mealtime, “Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed parched grain to her; and she ate and was satisfied, and kept some back.
In this scene Boaz tells her to draw near. He served her and cared for her, providing her with bread and wine. Thus Boaz invited her to a covenant meal, making her a member of his household.
You don’t need to look very far in the Scriptures to see that eating a meal signifies far more than just filling up the stomach. Eating a meal was symbolic of much more. Indeed, at Sinai in Exodus 24 we see that the elders of the nation went part of the way up the mountain and sat down with Moses and Aaron and shared a meal.
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.” And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.” Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank (Exodus 24:7–11).
The word of God is full of festivals and meals to which the Lord invites us to come to enjoy him and his love. Heaven is even described as a great wedding feast of celebration where God’s people celebrate the overwhelming grace of God.
Sharing a meal was deeply covenantal. The host gave symbolically to the guest and thus shared life with them. When God shares a meal with us, He shares Himself with us. This is a helpful point to remember when we have the Lord’s Supper. There is something powerfully symbolic when God shares a meal with us. This is true of times in redemptive history when servants or outcasts are invited to share a meal with someone who rescues or saves them.
In some cases covenant meals indicated that the servant who was receiving mercy was in the meal being elevated to the status of a member of the household. There is a great example of this in the beautiful meal to which David invited Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9:7–13:
So David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake, and will restore to you all the land of Saul your grandfather; and you shall eat bread at my table continually.” Then he bowed himself, and said, “What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?” . . . So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem, for he ate continually at the king’s table.
In this sense it looks like Boaz symbolically invited Ruth to join his household as she eats with them. Furthermore, he was the one who served her. Where it says he “served her roasted grain,” it literally means “he heaped up the portion of her food.” He gave more than enough for her to eat. He gave her bread and wine and fed her abundantly. She is served so much that she takes leftovers back home to Naomi. As David rescued Mephibosheth, so Boaz rescues Ruth. The picture is too beautiful to miss. Boaz does for Ruth what Jesus does for all of His humble followers—Boaz is typological of Jesus.
Ruth has unique permission to glean anything that has fallen down from among Boaz’s personal harvest. These sheaves were the bundled piles or stands of harvested foods. The gleaners were not allowed to partake of the sheaves, because the sheaves were actually part of the harvest. This is a special provision of mercy that comes from his storehouse. He even told his men purposefully to leave some out for Ruth among the sheaves. Ruth is getting Boaz’s own personal harvest.
She had separated the kernels from the husks, the chaff and the stalks, and she still had a huge amount left over. Because of Boaz’s generosity, Ruth was able to glean so much that she had an ephah of barley. Scholars note that an ephah was about a half bushel of barley. This is such a large amount that when Naomi saw it, she was amazed. Not only did Ruth bring home an amazing amount of barley, but she brought her mother-in-law the meal from lunch.
Naomi announced a blessing. It appears that she was saying, “May that man be blessed of the Lord, and the Lord has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and the dead.” This appears to be Naomi’s repentance and confession. God has dealt kindly with her. Naomi is now becoming pleasant again. Naomi was gently restored from bitterness to joy in the covenant. Naomi says to Ruth in 2:22, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, and that people do not meet you in any other field.”
Finally Naomi is giving someone good advice! Salvation is coming, and it appears that even Naomi has started to recognize that the hope of the covenant really does come to those who seek it by faith. Naomi finally begins to direct Ruth to safety, hope and protection.
A likely interpretation of Naomi’s advice is that she wanted Ruth to show Boaz that she trusted in his protection. If she went into other fields, the girls of Boaz might see her, and Boaz might think that she did not really trust him. It was important that she put her trust in Boaz. Naomi seems to indicate that since Boaz has taken care of Ruth, she should not look anywhere else for help. This is the way we also should look for help. Our help is in the Lord. This is why we humbly pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We are to look to Christ alone for help and life.
Ruth responded as a humble suppliant. She was overwhelmed with Boaz’s kindness, and responded properly as a humble receiver of grace and mercy. She did not deserve the mercy she gained, but she had been blessed, and she recognized this with humility.
This is exactly the humility that Ruth had already displayed. Her humility led her here. Indeed, earlier she indicated that she already understood her humble lot as a foreign widow. She had told Naomi in Ruth 2:2, “Please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.” Ruth used a phrase that is quite revealing. It clearly suggests her demeanor as a humble woman of God. She used a phrase originally served as a formula in the royal courts. It was used of subordinates who are addressing a ruler in whose presence they don’t believe themselves and equal. Consider the response of the Egyptians to Joseph when he provided for them during the famine:
So they said, “You have saved our lives; let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s servants” (Genesis 47:25).
The phrase expressed more than simple courtesy. It communicated a true sense of dependence upon someone else who you were recognizing as superior and capable of providing for your needs. Ruth recognized her position and her need of someone who would give her grace.
The scene, like that of a royal court, presents us also with the need of the king or redeemer to look upon her with favor. If the king, or, in this case, Boaz, found the servant “in his eyes” to be acceptable, he could choose to provide for her. Perhaps you can recall Queen Esther’s precarious position in approaching the great king Ahasuerus, who had already shown himself capable of treachery towards his own wife. That is, after all, how Esther had become queen. We can all recall the scene in which she approaches the king.
So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter (Esther 5:2).
The outsider is welcomed as an insider. The one with no ethnic claim to protection under the wings of the Lord is now assured of the very same protection. Boaz assured Ruth that the Lord God would cover her and be her refuge.
Surely Boaz’s heart was warmed to see this poor young widow taking refuge under the wings of the Lord just as his mother had once done. Boaz was acting in regard to his role as her protector—what a tender scene!
The reader can hear the sound of salvation in the echoes of this story. Listen again to the description! Ruth fled to Boaz’s fields, but only as she had fled to the Lord’s protection “under his wings.” In our Lord’s ministry among the Israelites, He was constantly calling people to turn away from former things so they could turn fully unto Him. One way you hear this described is when Jesus says, “Leave father and mother and follow me.” Jesus says in Matthew 10,
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it (vss. 37–39).
This is clearly a redemptive theme. Why had Ruth left Moab? She had nothing physically in Bethlehem; why would she leave? Boaz tells us that Ruth had left her father and mother in Moab, but why did she leave? It was for faith in the Lord that she left. She fled to find refuge under the wings of the Lord. When the reader keeps redemption central to his understanding of this story, it comes alive with deep meaning.
So she fell on her face, bowed down 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).
How else could she respond? She has fled for refuge under the shadow of her new savior’s wings. She has not only been helped, but elevated to join in a meal with her master. Isn’t such singing and gratitude the only proper response? Wouldn’t anyone in such a position cry out with an overwhelming sense of thanksgiving? God’s grace has overwhelmed her, and she cries out appropriately.
There is salvation for all who will flee to the savior for refuge. Does this not also penetrate our own heart as we see our own condition before the great kinsman redeemer? Don’t forget, beloved Boaz has a son; Christ Jesus is the future son of Boaz, and He will redeem his bride in the same way. And likewise Ruth’s response is the response of all those who have been taken under the shadow of His wings.
Will you join with Ruth in her appreciation of the grace of God? Come to the table of the Lord as she did with a heart overawed by the grace of God through Jesus. Why, O Lord, would you love one such as I? Why, O Lord, would you take me under your wings for refuge? Ruth’s story is our story! Will you join Ruth in her response?
1. Arthur E. Cundall & Leon Morris, Judges & Ruth: An Introduction & Commentary, (Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, 1968), p. 271.
2. Daniel I. Block, The New American Commentary, vol. 6, Judges, Ruth: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, 1999), p. 655.
3. Andre LaCocque, translated by K.C. Hanson, Ruth: A Continental Commentary, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis 2004), p. 65.
4. David Atkinson develops this theme insightfully in his book, The Wings of Refuge: The Message of Ruth. See especially Wings of Refuge, p. 75–77
Questions for Consideration
1. Describe some of the ways Samuel highlights the importance of Ruth meeting Boaz.
2. Describe how Boaz’s love was pointed and personal.
3. What specific things did Boaz do to show this love?
4. In what way does he play the role of a husband?
5. Explain the importance of the phrase, “under the wings of God.”
6. Why are meals important?
7. How did this meal symbolize Ruth’s entry into a household?
8. What indicates that Naomi’s heart was softening?
9. Describe Ruth’s response and explain why it should be our response.