Harry Whittaker
Judges And Ruth

28. Gleaning (Ruth 2)

The Bible narrative does not say what kind of home Naomi and Ruth at last found in Bethlehem, but Ruth’s suggestion that she go a-gleaning in the barley harvest seems to imply real poverty. Naomi would naturally wish to go too, not only to add to her meagre store but also because of her expressed fears that Ruth might come to some harm, as a stranger amongst harvesters of easy morals. The fact that Ruth went alone implies that Naomi was too old, or was worn out with recently experienced privations.

“I will glean....” said Ruth, “after him in whose sight I shall find grace.” This common expression is a charming Hebrew idiom for: ‘Grant me a favour, give me my request.’ Here, then, Ruth’s meaning is: ‘I will glean where I can get permission.’ Being a Moabitess, and unaccustomed to the laws of Israel, she would not realize that gleaning was a right of the poor for which no special permission was necessary. The poor had their mandate from God and God’s law in Deuteronomy 24:19.

Boaz of Bethlehem

It was then apparently by a lucky chance, but actually by the inscrutable design of Almighty God, that Ruth found herself gleaning in the fields of Boaz. Such are the ways of Providence! Strange that the entire redemptive purpose of God in Christ should hang on such an apparently trivial circumstance. So, at least, it would appear from a merely human point of view. Thus the discerning reader is bidden recognize that the dividing line between chance and design in human life is so fine that it cannot be drawn.

Boaz was near of kin to the dead Elimelech, and was evidently the leader of the tribe of Judah in those days, for was he not son of Salmon, the prince of Judah who had married Rahab the faithful? But Boaz is also described as “a mighty man of valour”, not a mighty man of wealth as in the Authorised Version. He deserves therefore to be classified with men like Gideon and Jephthah. His name is in striking contrast to that of Mahlon and Chilion, which mean ‘Sickness’ and ‘Pining’; for Boaz means: ‘In him in strength’.

Probably when Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem he was away from the town busily engaged, maybe, against the growing power of the Philistines, or in the struggle for freedom led by Othniel against Chushan-rishathaim. There are slight indications, such as the phrase “my daughter” (2:8), that suggest that Boaz was middle-aged and yet apparently and surprisingly unmarried. Or perhaps more probably, he was a childless widower. Such was the man in whose fields Ruth found herself gleaning.

There is an immediate clue to his character in his first recorded words — a hearty although conventional greeting to the reapers: “The Lord be with you”; and to this they gave ready response: “The Lord bless thee”.

Love at first sight — obviously

Boaz enquired with kindly curiosity after the stranger gleaning with his reapers, and was glad to encourage this young woman whose faith in the God of Israel and faithful friendship for Naomi had already made such an impression on the people of Bethlehem. After all, was not Boaz’s own mother just such an one as she?

The fact that in answering this enquiry about Ruth, the farm manager used the word ‘damsel, or girl’ shows that, even though Ruth had been a married woman for something like ten years, she still retained her youthful freshness.

Boaz was emphatic in his instructions that Ruth continue her gleaning in his fields, and nowhere else; for he not only admired her steadfast character, he also appreciated, perhaps more than she did, the risks that such a comely and unprotected girl ran among the none-too-scrupulous labourers in the corn fields. “Have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee?” he said.

To these assurances Boaz added all kinds of preferential treatment. Ruth was to avail herself freely of the refreshment provided for the workers as though she were one of his employees. And when a meal was provided in the middle of the day she was to be included in the circle of those who shared it. More than this, by himself handing her an ample supply of food he indicated to all his workers that she was under his own special protection.

Boaz also passed the word to all concerned that they were to allow her a special privilege in her gleaning so that she was actually among the reapers, and not behind them. He even added the further instruction that they were to make her gleaning all the more rewarding by deliberately dropping a handful out of the sheaves right in her path. There must have been a charming ingenuousness about Ruth not to see through a scheme as transparent as this was.

In her response to all this kindness Ruth showed neither false pride nor cringing self-pity. She could have misinterpreted Boaz’s motive, and have acknowledged his generosity coldly. On the other hand, in an attempt to make the most of the situation, she could have told a maudlin tale of adversity and poverty. Instead, marvelling quietly that a man of Boaz’s station should take notice of her at all, she thanked him frankly for his help to one so needy: ‘Thou hast comforted me....thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid — though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens,” she added lest the wrong construction be put on the ambiguous term she used.

One reason (though not the only one) for the concern of Boaz for Ruth’s welfare was her exceptional devotion to her destitute mother-in-law, and her quite surprising faith in the God of Israel:

Boaz answered and said unto her: “It hath fully been showed me all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.”

What is particularly impressive about these words is their sustained allusion to God’s promises to Abraham: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kin-dred and from thy father’s house....I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward....The Lord God of heaven which took me from my father’s house and from the land of my nativity....” Thus Boaz was more prophetic than he knew, for it was through this winsome Gentile, whose only strength was faith and fidelity, that those far-reaching promises to Abraham were to be fulfilled.

A good day’s work

Never was such a prosperous day’s gleaning. So bulky were the combined fruits of Ruth’s industry and the covert generosity of Boaz that she was unable to carry home what she had gathered. Instead she must needs spend the last hour of the day winnowing all of it. Picture her, then, utterly tired out, but happy in her anticipation of Naomi’s glad surprise, as she staggered wearily home burdened with half a hundred weight of barley. She carried also the remains of the lavish meal of roasted corn which Boaz had handed to her personally. With characteristic unselfishness she had saved some for Naomi at home, but the best of all her gleaning was the evident regard of a good man.

A redeemer

When Naomi learned the good fortune the day had brought, with a woman’s quiet intuition she immediately perceived a deeper and happier intent in Boaz than that of mere generosity to one destitute and deserving. “Blessed be he of the Lord” she said, “who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead.” By this she meant that God besides being gracious to Ruth and herself was also showing kindness to the dead Elimelech: “The man is near of kin unto us”, that is, he is a redeemer for us.

This term go’el calls for explanation. It described the nearest relative on whom devolved the responsibilities of redeeming an inheritance which through ill-fortune had passed out of the family. Another duty was that of continuing the family name of a near kinsman who had died childless, and also of avenging the blood of a kinsman slain in a feud. The first two of these, both appropriate in Ruth’s case, help to explain why the Law of Moses assigned a double portion of inheritance to the firstborn son, since he would have to take on himself most of these responsibilities. It would seem, then, that Naomi had already considered the possibility of Ruth finding a go’el in Bethlehem; by enquiry, if not be knowledge of the family, she had already ascertained that one of Elimelech’s near kinsmen, and therefore Ruth’s, was Boaz. It will be seen by and by that the same thought had also been pondered in the mind of Boaz himself.

Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz right through the barley harvest, and the wheat harvest as well — with intermission, a period of two months or more. Then Naomi came to an important though reluctant decision. Since Boaz was so evidently in love with Ruth, why did he not, more promptly, seek to make her his wife? Possibly he was deterred by the knowledge that he was not the nearest of near kinsmen with the right of redemption. Or, and perhaps more probably, he found it impossible to believe that the young and comely Ruth would wish to have as husband one so much older than herself.

Whatever the explanation, Naomi felt Ruth should now claim what was her right, for even though she were a Moabitess, the levirate law of marriage applied in her case by virtue of the fact that her first husband was an Israelite. Perhaps the biggest problem in this story of Ruth is to explain why Naomi chose such a method by which Ruth might claim her right of marriage, for it involved a serious risk of scandal throughout the town, with a distinct possibility of evil consequences for both Ruth and Boaz. Why, one wonders, did not Naomi herself act as go-between in this delicate matter, or devise some other means less open to misinterpretation?

Can it be that behind this charming but risky procedure recommended by Naomi there is some local custom of the time, knowledge of which has disappeared? Or is it possible that by such a device Naomi betrayed the flaw in her character, that she had the best possible aspirations on Ruth’s behalf but lacked the faith and patience to let God bring these hopes to fruition in His own way? One hesitates to adopt such a conclusion, but the possibility of it should not be excluded. Whatever the explanation, Naomi’s plan resulted in one of the most delightful stories in the Bible.


The Lord be with you must mean, in this context: ‘The Lord give you a good harvest.’ The words come with that meaning in Ps. 129:7,8; Jud. 6:12; and also in a more subtle sense in 2 Th. 3:16; Lk. 1:28.
Tarried; i.e. she first did the chores at home.
After them, the other girls who were gleaning. The pronoun is feminine.
Paraphrase: Why do you grant me my request and these privileges when I am a perfect stranger?
Wings. An allusion to the cherubim overshadowing the mercy seat.
Among the sheaves. Yet another privilege.

Reproach her not. AVm shows what Boaz was afraid of.
Let fall also....Literally: Ye shall plunder a plunder for her from the handfuls.
That they (masc.) meet thee not. Again, AVm shows the implied meaning.

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