King of Hopelessness, pt 6 (2:4-10)

וְהִנֵּה־בֹעַז בָּא מִ‍בֵּית לֶחֶם וַיֹּאמֶר לַקּוֹצְרִים יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה׃
וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז לְנַעֲרוֹ הַנִּצָּב עַל־הַקּוֹצְרִים לְמִי הַנַּעֲרָה הַזֹּאת׃
וַיַּעַן הַנַּעַר הַנִּצָּב עַל־הַקּוֹצְרִים וַיֹּאמַר נַעֲרָה מוֹאֲבִיָּה הִיא הַשָּׁבָה עִם־נָעֳמִי מִ‍שְּׂדֵה מוֹאָב׃
וַתֹּאמֶר אֲלַקֳטָה־נָּא וְאָסַפְתִּי בָעֳמָרִים אַחֲרֵי הַקּוֹצְרִים וַתָּבוֹא וַתַּעֲמוֹד מֵ‍אָז הַבֹּקֶר וְעַד־עַתָּה זֶה שִׁבְתָּהּ הַבַּיִת מְעָט׃

And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”

And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 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.” (2:4-7, ESV)

Greetings. Finally, we meet Boaz. His name means “quickness” or “swiftness” and as I mentioned in the last post, he is a mighty man in the clan of Elimelech.

He greets his reapers with יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם (YHWH ‘ēmakam, literally “YHWH be among you”), to which they reply יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה (abarak-ak YHWH, “blessings of YHWH”). Apparently, this was a traditionally greeting among the Judahites at the time, meant to convey an allegiance to YHWH – their God. Living in a truly pluralistic society where there were many gods, it was important that people remained their allegiance to the God of Judah.

The greeting marks Boaz out as a follower of YHWH, which meant that all his laborers would also have been devotees. Unlike Naomi, Boaz never attributes a duality or consort to YHWH, maintaining YHWH alone as God.

Who’s the girl? Boaz immediately notices Ruth. Again, Bethlehem is a small town so a new woman would be immediately noticed. Boaz knows those of his clan, and Ruth clearly is not one of them. He speaks to one of his na’ar about her as a na’arah. I mentioned these words before, and they are used for people beyond puberty who have not yet been married. This means that Ruth must have been young enough that it was possible she was not yet married.

At the time polygamy was permitted by Torah, so it would not be surprising if Boaz were already married but the indication in the story is that he is a bachelor – older than most, but a na’ar regardless. His interest in Ruth is obvious, and it is really demonstrated in the next passage, which we will get to in a moment.

A worker. Ruth demonstrates three traits that stuck in the mind of this reaper. First, she did not have to be there. She is still identified as the young woman from among the Moabites, and everyone knows she does not belong. Second, he notes that she asked to glean in the fields. This would not have been required since the fields were common property for the most part. Third, she worked with little rest. She is a hard worker.

These traits (and her looks) impress Boaz.

וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז אֶל־רוּת הֲלוֹא שָׁמַעַתְּ בִּתִּי אַל־תֵּלְכִי לִלְקֹט בְּשָׂדֶה אַחֵר וְגַם לֹא תַעֲבוּרִי מִ‍זֶּה וְכֹה תִדְבָּקִין עִם־נַעֲרֹתָי׃
עֵינַיִךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר־יִקְצֹרוּן וְהָלַכְתְּ אַחֲרֵיהֶן הֲלוֹא צִוִּיתִי אֶת־הַנְּעָרִים לְבִלְתִּי נָגְעֵךְ וְצָמִת וְהָלַכְתְּ אֶל־הַכֵּלִים וְשָׁתִית מֵ‍אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁאֲבוּן הַנְּעָרִים׃
וַתִּפֹּל עַל־פָּנֶיהָ וַתִּשְׁתַּחוּ אָרְצָה וַתֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו מַדּוּעַ מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ לְהַכִּירֵנִי וְאָנֹכִי נָכְרִיָּה׃

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? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.”

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?” (2:8-10, ESV)

Protection. Boaz tells Ruth to remain in his fields and to stay close to “my young women.” This again is the term na’arah indicating women eligible for marriage. Although Boaz is a mighty man in his clan, he cannot protect Ruth or the other young women from the men outside his clan; and if they choose to take her (even forcibly) she will belong to them. Even within the clan, this fact remained.

To protect Ruth for himself, he commands his own young men to leave her alone. This means that he has already declared his intentions toward her. This is a woman worth marrying, and Boaz is not about to let some field hand with spring in his heart take her and make her his wife.

By inviting Ruth to drink water from the vessels his young men draw, he is also inviting her into the life of the clan. Normally, a foreigner (נָכְרִי , nokrēy) would wait until the workers of the clan were finished and then draw her own water. Once Boaz welcomes her at the wells, she is welcomed into their homes and at their tables.

Even in the relatively fertile hills of Judea, water is a precious commodity. The laws of hospitality required that you provide for people traveling through, but foreigners who had taken up residence had to wait for someone to invite them into the group. That it is Boaz who invites her is quite significant because his influence rippled through the families of his own clan.

Finding favor. Ruth is not stupid. She knows Boaz’s intentions, which is why she asks him why he is doing so much for her. Remember that Ruth has no idea who Boaz is, and she is a widow so she does not appear to be in a hurry to find a new husband.

Beyond this very practical observation, Boaz and Ruth’s interchange represents a beautiful illustration of grace. Grace is favor that we do not merit, the notice of God. In this interchange, Boaz can be seen as a type of God and Ruth as a type of the believer. He extends protection and provision to Ruth when there is no reason for it other than he has “noticed” her.

In the same way, God’s grace extends to us because he has taken notice of us. This theme appears later in David’s psalms. Ruth establishes the redemption motif that resonates throughout David’s psalms, and it is probably because of the formative nature of this story. David and much of Judah was probably familiar with the Ruth story, so it should not surprise us that it changed the way they viewed their relationship to their God YHWH.

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