Ancient History, History, King of Hopelessness: A Study of Ruth

King of Hopelessness, pt 8 (2:14-16)

וַיֹּאמֶר לָה בֹעַז לְעֵת הָאֹכֶל גֹּשִׁי הֲלֹם וְאָכַלְתְּ מִן־הַלֶּחֶם וְטָבַלְתְּ פִּתֵּךְ בַּחֹמֶץ וַתֵּשֶׁב מִ‍צַּד הַקּוֹצְרִים וַיִּצְבָּט־לָהּ קָלִי וַתֹּאכַל וַתִּשְׂבַּע וַתֹּתַר׃
וַתָּקָם לְלַקֵּט וַיְצַו בֹּעַז אֶת־נְעָרָיו לֵאמֹר גַּם בֵּין הָעֳמָרִים תְּלַקֵּט וְלֹא תַכְלִימוּהָ׃
וְגַם שֹׁל־תָּשֹׁלּוּ לָהּ מִן־הַצְּבָתִים וַעֲזַבְתֶּם וְלִקְּטָה וְלֹא תִגְעֲרוּ־בָהּ׃
וַתְּלַקֵּט בַּשָּׂדֶה עַד־הָעָרֶב וַתַּחְבֹּט אֵת אֲשֶׁר־לִקֵּטָה וַיְהִי כְּ‍אֵיפָה שְׂעֹרִים׃

And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over.

When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”

So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. (2:14-17)

A Meal Together. Boaz’s invitation to Ruth is yet another sign that she has been welcomed to the clan. This is a social meal more than a sustenance one. Because the harvest was a time of celebration, they would be eating the roasted and preserved products from the previous harvest. The term for roasted grain (קָלִי, qaliy) can be applied to many different dried or parched products, from roasted grain to dried spices.

The Egyptians still eat a dish called duqqa which dates from the time of the Pharaohs. It is bread dipped in wine and then dipped in a mixture of chopped up spices and grains. The content of duqqa varies but it is most likely that this is the kind of meal that Boaz invited Ruth to participate in.

The participants probably sat around shallow bowls of wine, which at this point in the year would have been nearing the end of its lifespan, and dipped their bread into the wine and duqqa. Their conversations would be about the day, the harvest and of course the people in the fields. Ruth probably sat across from Boaz, and you can imagine the way he looked at her.

Leave it for her to glean. Boaz’s further instructions to his reapers expands significantly on the idea of gleaning. First, she is permitted to glean among the sheaves (עֹמֶר, ‘omer). The sheaf was the primary form of measurement used for grains. It was roughly the amount of stalks that one man could carry and appears to have been the amount of grain one person ate in a day. (Exodus 16:16) It works out to about 2 liters of grain, and ten omer’im were equal to an ephah. (Exodus 16:36)

The reapers would gather a handful of stalks (צֶבֶת, tzebeth) and cut it with their scythe. The handfuls were somehow bound together and left lying. Another reaper would then come behind and bind the handfuls into sheaves which were stood up in the field. At the end of the day, the sheaves were carried to the threshing floor. The reapers would shake the grain from the stalks into ephah baskets before being threshed to release the grain from its spike and husk.

Apparently, the reapers were to drop some of the grain from the handfuls and leave it around the sheaves. As the sheaves were cleared, this left a supply of grain for Ruth to pick up. She would have had a much more difficult task since she would be doing the gathering herself. She would need to shake out the grain herself, and most likely she carried it in the fold of her robe.

At the end of the day, Ruth had collected an ephah of grain. That means she had harvested the equivalent of ten sheaves of barley. This was a week’s worth of grain, if she and Naomi were willing to eat barley bread. Of course, making barley bread was not a simple task and involved threshing, malting and grinding; but Boaz’s generosity is still unmistakeable.

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