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

King of Hopelessness, pt 9 (2:18-23)

וַתִּשָּׂא וַתָּבוֹא הָעִיר וַתֵּרֶא חֲמוֹתָהּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־לִקֵּטָה וַתּוֹצֵא וַתִּתֶּן־לָהּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־הוֹתִרָה מִ‍שָּׂבְעָהּ׃
וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ חֲמוֹתָהּ אֵיפֹה לִקַּטְתְּ הַיּוֹם וְאָנָה עָשִׂית יְהִי מַכִּירֵךְ בָּרוּךְ וַתַּגֵּד לַחֲמוֹתָהּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־עָשְׂתָה עִמּוֹ וַתֹּאמֶר שֵׁם הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי עִמּוֹ הַיּוֹם בֹּעַז׃
וַתֹּאמֶר נָעֳמִי לְכַלָּתָהּ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לַיהוָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא־עָזַב חַסְדּוֹ אֶת־הַחַיִּים וְאֶת־הַמֵּתִים וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ נָעֳמִי קָרוֹב לָנוּ הָאִישׁ מִ‍גֹּאֲלֵנוּ הוּא׃
וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה גַּם כִּי־אָמַר אֵלַי עִם־הַנְּעָרִים אֲשֶׁר־לִי תִּדְבָּקִין עַד אִם־כִּלּוּ אֵת כָּל־הַקָּצִיר אֲשֶׁר־לִי׃
וַתֹּאמֶר נָעֳמִי אֶל־רוּת כַּלָּתָהּ טוֹב בִּתִּי כִּי תֵצְאִי עִם־נַעֲרוֹתָיו וְלֹא יִפְגְּעוּ־בָךְ בְּשָׂדֶה אַחֵר׃
וַתִּדְבַּק בְּנַעֲרוֹת בֹּעַז לְלַקֵּט עַד־כְּלוֹת קְצִיר־הַשְּׂעֹרִים וּקְצִיר הַחִטִּים וַתֵּשֶׁב אֶת־חֲמוֹתָהּ׃

And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.”

And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.”

And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’ ” And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law. (2:18-23)

The man who took notice of you. When Ruth returns from the fields with an ephah of barley, Naomi is surprised. And why wouldn’t she be surprised? Ruth gleaned the equivalent of a day’s work for someone who was supposed to be harvesting in the field. It is clear that someone noticed her and provided for her.

“The man who took notice” is actually just one Hebrew word – נָכַר, nakarNakar is distinct from the Hebrew word that indicates intimate knowledge (יָדַע , yada’) of marriage. This is purely a recognition or a shift of focus. In other words, Naomi is excited that someone is interested in Ruth but not pursuing her. I am not sure that Naomi was fully aware of the situation until Ruth mentions that the man’s name was Boaz.

Blessed by the LORD. As soon as Naomi hears the name Boaz, she realizes that YHWH has not forsaken her. This is an important turning point in the story because until this point, Naomi believes that she is under some kind of curse. She was bitter and broken, but here she sees the hand of Providence that has guided her to this point.

It is good, my daughter. Ruth’s revelation that Boaz commanded her to stay close to his own young women is a signal to Naomi. She realizes that not only has Boaz chosen to protect her but that he has singled her out as a potential wife. The young men have been assigned the task of protecting Ruth from other young men, a sort of informal bodyguard for her. Ruth is not oblivious to this, as we saw in the way she responded to Boaz’s flirtatious statements to her; but Naomi confirms it.

I question the English translation of פָּגַע (paga’) as “assaulted”. While the context is certainly that young men could meet young women in the field and have sex with them, thus claiming them as their own, there is no indication here that this was an “assault” or rape, which the translation clearly implies. The word is used much more in the sense of meeting or encountering, and the concept seems to be a more consensual thing. Clearly, Naomi is concerned that Ruth remain focused on Boaz, but I think her concern is more that Ruth might find a young man that she prefers over the most likely older (3:10) Boaz.

Until the end of the harvest. Now, here is an interesting paradox because in the next chapter we will discover that Ruth goes to Boaz and they make their marriage covenant during the barley threshing, which would have occurred before shavuot, meaning within seven weeks of paschal. The wheat harvest, however, extends until succoth in the autumn. How could Ruth remain with Naomi until autumn but also enter into her marriage covenant with Boaz?

We will wrestle with the nature of the marriage covenant in a subsequent post, but it is important to remember that actual marriage ceremonies, which the Hebrews seem to have really enjoyed, took place long after the covenant was made between the bride and groom. Boaz could take Ruth has his wife but she remain with Naomi until the ceremony; and there really would be no time for such a ceremony during the barley harvest and the wheat growing season.

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