This is the second of four meditations on the book of Ruth.
The book of Ruth is many things. Among them are ‘misunderstood,’ ‘underappreciated,’ ‘forgotten,’ and ‘abused.’ Also among them are ‘inspired,’ ‘powerful,’ ‘wise,’ and ‘one of my favorite books of the Bible.’
This is not the place to learn contextual insights or study deeply about what the book means. If you want to do that, I highly recommend Carolyn Custis James’ book The Gospel of Ruth.
What I invite you to do here is to experience Ruth. You may learn some things along the way, but truly, I want to allow you to live the story as fully and richly as possible.
These are not essays on Ruth, nor are they sermons. They are meditations. Orient yourself toward God and rest in the Spirit. Listen to the words as they wash over you, and allow them to reach deep into your being and form you.
Perhaps you may find God, if you listen closely.
Below is the second of four audio recordings, each focused on one of the chapters of the book of Ruth. All you have to do is rest and allow your imagination, the words, and the Spirit to do their work.
If you prefer to read and reflect, the transcript is posted below.
Ruth 2 Meditation
Tuck this away as the story continues: Naomi has a relative of her husband named Boaz [which means “swiftness”]. He is an established, well-respected man of some wealth. This means he is certainly married or widowed and has sons to carry on the family line. No one could carry such status without a secure family lineage. After all, that’s how God shows approval, isn’t it? Boaz has money and influence in Bethlehem. He is a man of valor or renown [Hayil].
Now that they are settled in Bethlehem, Ruth the Moabitess askes Naomi a question with only one answer, showing her respect, valuing her as always: “Will you let me go into the fields and gather fallen grain behind someone who allows me to?” Ruth, though from Moab, knows the Torah enough to know about God’s provision for the poor, the widow, and the foreigner. [What do such provisions reveal about God?]
Naomi answers, “Go ahead, my daughter.” So Ruth leaves their home and enters a field to gather grain, following behind the harvesters.
After a while, the owner of the field arrives. Unknown to Ruth, she happens to be working on land belonging to Boaz, Elimelech’s relative. As he approaches from the town, he greets the workers with respect for them and reverence for Yahweh, as is his custom. “Yahweh be with you,” he calls. “Yahweh bless you,” they respond.
Boaz notices a stranger working in the field, an odd occurrence in a rural village, and asks the foreman, “Whose young woman is this?” [She must belong to someone? Anything else would be unthinkable.]
The foreman tells Boaz, “She’s the Moabite girl who came back with Naomi from Moab. She showed up here this morning and asked if she could gather grain among the bundles behind the harvesters. Obviously, I told her ‘no,’ but I let her follow the usual practice of gleaning behind our workers. She’s been at it all day except for one short break.”
Boaz, thoughtful, approaches Ruth. Her request was risky. Not everyone even allowed as much as the Torah required, let alone letting her gather with his workers instead of picking up the scraps, like she requested.
After a moment, he stops her, saying, “Listen, my daughter. Don’t go and gather grain in anyone else’s field, and don’t leave this one, but stay here close to my gatherers. Follow them and work among them in each field as they go. Don’t worry about anyone questioning you. I’ve made sure my workers know it’s all right. Oh, and when you’re thirsty, you can go ahead and drink from the water jugs that are out for the workers.”
Ruth can’t believe it. He is giving her much more than the Torah requires of him. She kneels and bows, touching her forehead to the dirt. “Why?” she asks, “Why are you so kind to me? Paying special attention to me? And I’m a stranger and foreigner?”
Boaz looks at her seriously, “I’ve heard all about everything you’ve done for your mother-in-law since your husband died. You left your family and your home, your own country, and you accompanied her to a land you’ve never seen and to a people you’ve never known. You have gone beyond what anyone would have expected. I pray Yahweh rewards you for all of it. May you receive a full reward from Yahweh, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
“Sir,” she says, “You have been so kind to me. You’ve comforted me. I feel encouraged. I’m at your service, even though I’m not part of your household or one of your workers.”
She works awhile longer, collecting grain that has fallen. At dinnertime, Boaz tells her, “Come over here. Come on. Have some bread and dip it in the vinegar sauce.” So she eats, sitting with the harvesters, and he offers her some roasted grain. She eats until she is satisfied and sets aside some leftovers.
[Imagine what it feels to be full for the first time in who knows how long. Imagine feeling cared for after all this time.]
She gets up again to gather grain, and as she does, Boaz speaks up, ordering the men who are harvesting, “Like I said earlier, let her even gather grain among the bundles, and don’t humiliate her. In fact, I want you to pull out some stalks from the bundles you’ve already collected, and drop them for her to find. Don’t bother her.” So they do as they’ve been instructed. [It’s Boaz’s turn to go above and beyond.]
Ruth keeps working the rest of the day, gathering grain until evening. Then she beats out the grain from the stalks and ends up with six and a half gallons of barley. She picks it up and carries it all the way back from the fields into the town. She is exhausted, but she can’t wait for Naomi to see how much she has.
Naomi is speechless. Then, to top it all off, Ruth has remembered that Naomi wouldn’t have had anything to eat that day and that preparing and cooking the raw grain would still have taken time, so she’s brought her leftovers home and gives them to Naomi too.
Naomi is overcome with shock and gratitude. She knows there is no way Ruth could have found so much just picking up forgotten scraps. She exclaims, “Where did you gather barley today? Where did you work? May Yahweh bless the man who noticed you.”
Ruth tells her mother-in-law all about her day and how she was allowed to work among the workers instead of following behind the gatherers. She told Naomi, “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz.”
Naomi begins to understand. She knows Boaz and the kind of man he is. She says to Ruth, “May Yahweh bless him. Yahweh hasn’t given up on showing his faithful love [hesed] to the living or the dead.” Naomi smiles, and composes herself. “Boaz is a close relative. He is one of our family redeemers.” Ruth nods in understanding, having learned about the family redeemer laws in the Torah.
Ruth the Moabitess says, “He also told me to stay with his workers until they have finished harvesting all of his fields.”
“My daughter,” Naomi says to Ruth, “It’ll be so good for you to work with the girls in his fields. You’ll be safe there, and nothing will happen to you like it could in some other field.” Naomi is visibly relieved.
So, Ruth goes back each day and works alongside Boaz’s workers and gathers grain until both the barley and the wheat harvests are over, and she stays with her mother-in-law, providing for her all the while.