THE BOOK OF RUTH 2

A Study By Reverend Christopher Cooke

Boaz and Ruth-William Hole (1846 – 1917)

Week 2

Genre

J.M. Sasson = a folktale which is not burdened by its historical background.
R.L. Hubbard = a short story with much historical accuracy.
E.F. Campbell = historical fiction about those on the historical margins and how they are provided for: gleaning, responsibility of the family.
Frederic Bush = “an edifying short story”.
Gerald West = marginalised communities have found much consolation in Ruth.

Frederic Bush = the writer of Ruth very effectively employs contrasts between the principal protagonists and the minor characters or agents i.e.

  • Ruth and Orpah
  • Boaz and the “nearer redeemer” (who is not named)
  • Naomi and the women of Bethlehem

These devices are used by the writer to portray Ruth, Boaz and Naomi as the virtual enfleshment of hesed – kindness, graciousness and loyalty that goes beyond the call of duty (and is typical of God).

E.F. Campbell: “The Ruth story does not represent the style of life which exercises caring responsibility as a forgone conclusion for God’s people. It is portrayed as attainable but elusive”.

Theology

Frederic Bush = The Book of Ruth is very different from the stress in much of the rest of OT literature on the overt, and at times supernatural, nature of the divine guidance. “Thus, the book of Ruth affirms that God often effects his purposes in the world through the ordinary motivations and events of his people – ordinary people like Ruth and Boaz, or like you and me, the ripple of whose lives stir little beyond the pool of their own community – and in particular through their acts of gracious and loving kindness that go beyond the call of duty”.
Although God is not a character in the story, God is nonetheless present in the story. This is evidenced by the way the name of Yahweh so frequently rushes to the lips of the participants. “Clearly, at every level of the story the author affirms the uniform OT conviction that the world is fully and uniformly under the control of an all-powerful and all-knowing God.”
Patricia Tull = the books of Esther & Ruth reflect a subtlety of divine presence that resembles much more closely life in our own world than the pyrotechnics of Mount Sinai.

FEEDING A FAMILY

Boaz is introduced

2:1

How is Boaz introduced?

What is he like?

Ruth and Naomi

2:2-3

Why did Naomi stay at home and let Ruth go to the fields on her own?

Boaz and Ruth

2:4-17

Boaz enquires about Ruth (2:4-7)

Was it chance that Ruth happened on Boaz’s part of the village field?

What right did Ruth have to be there?

Why didn’t Boaz reveal his relationship to Naomi when he first met Ruth?

Boaz’s Conversation with Ruth (2:8-17)

What do you make of Boaz’s extremely generous treatment of Ruth?

Was it because Naomi was kin?

Was it because he wanted to act as a “redeemer”?

Was he interested in Ruth? Was he attracted to her?

Ruth and Naomi

2:18-23

Why did Naomi caution Ruth to stick with the women and not the men in verse 22?

What is Naomi’s judgement of God now?

How does that compare with that in the first chapter? [verses 13, 20 &21]

Has there been a time in your life when your anger with God has given way to great joy?

Naomi has returned home because she has heard “that the Lord had considered his people and given them food” [1:6]. But the presence of food in general does not necessarily supply sustenance for any particular family. The second chapter of Ruth narrates a single day filled with events and speeches.

Comments from Reverend Christopher

Ruth in Boas field Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld 1828

FEEDING A FAMILY

Boaz is introduced

2:1

Of prime importance is the fact that Boaz is related to Naomi on her husband’s side. He is of the same clan as Elimelech. He is not described as “next-of-kin” here (that Hebrew term will appear later).

The narrator describes Boaz literally as a “mighty man of power, a worthy man”. It is a term more associated with warriors than landlords. This indicates his high standing in the Bethlehem community. Boaz is at the other end of the socio-economic spectrum of that community to Naomi and Ruth.

Ruth and Naomi

2:2-3

Ruth is introduced again as a Moabite as she is often to be so in the book of Ruth. She is the foreign outsider. Ruth, by contrast to Naomi, dares to take the initiative to support the two of them.

Gleaning is a primary means of support for the destitute prescribed in Israelite law [Leviticus and Deuteronomy]. The edges of the fields are not to be harvested and the gleanings (i.e. what is not picked up in the first pass-through) also shall be left behind for the alien, the poor, the orphan and the widow. As a poor non-Israelite widow, Ruth seeks out the means of survival for her designated by Israelite law. Ruth does not know about Boaz and is relying upon the kindness of strangers.

We should imagine a communal village field with certain parts designated as belonging to individuals.

God is working behind the scenes. What might be seen as chance is really divine providence.

Boaz and Ruth

2:4-17

Boaz enquires about Ruth (2:4-7)

The third principal character, Boaz appears on stage giving and receiving divine blessing. Boaz assumes that Ruth belongs to some man. There was no such thing as an independent woman. The head reaper replies that she is a Moabite who came from Moab with Naomi. She is described twice in one sentence as “the foreigner”. The head reaper has more to say but this is the corrupt verse in Hebrew. Whether Ruth is gleaning, resting from gleaning, or still awaiting permission to glean at the moment Boaz first sees her, the initiative is now his, and he approaches Ruth.

Boaz’s Conversation with Ruth (2:8-17)

Boaz urges Ruth to stick to his part of the field. In fact, Boaz gives five instructions. The man is used to giving orders! A foreigner from a disliked ethnic group could be easily victimized. It is quite probable that the offer of water was an extra perk. However, he had already instructed the young men not to bother Ruth. Boaz would be seen as Ruth’s male protector. Boaz may have been attracted to her as well.

Ruth’s reply recognizes the special privileges that she has been offered. This is much more than she could have hoped for. Is Ruth’s question rhetorical? Is she confused?

Boaz’s reply suggests he views Ruth’s behaviour towards Naomi as exceptional. Although Boaz does not use the term hesed here, it is implied. This is confirmed by Boaz’s prayer over Ruth. Boaz draws parallels between Ruth’s conduct and that of Abraham. Naomi has previously blessed Ruth. But Naomi’s God who Naomi claimed had deserted her, is now called upon to bless Ruth! Ruth has sought refuge under Yahweh’s wings and Boaz prays that this will be fulfilled. This is a beautiful prayer – another side to the man who gives orders.

Ruth’s prostration shows the humble deferential demeanour of a woman who has a technical legal right to glean but who also needs the goodwill of the overseer or owner to carry this out. Ruth does not yet know that Boaz is related to Naomi.

Boaz approaches Ruth again at the midday meal. This is not a private tryst but a gesture of inclusion in the larger community. Not only is Ruth fed but her status is much improved. As the meal concludes, Boaz instructs his workers to offer Ruth further privileges beyond those usually offered to gleaners. Through this Ruth gleans enough to feed two people for two people for about five or seven days. This reminds us that gleaning was only the flimsiest of safety nets and it was only a short-term solution. Gleaning would only last as long as the barley harvest followed by the wheat harvest i.e. about seven weeks.

Boaz fails to mention he is related to Naomi and yet showers Ruth with attention and help. Like Naomi, he addresses Ruth as “my daughter” (verse 8) – a title which will be found on their lips frequently as the story progresses. Boaz’s concern for her welfare and his concern that she may be molested by the men, suggest his interest may not be wholly paternal.

Ruth and Naomi

2:18-23

At home with Naomi, Ruth shows her mother-in-law first the harvested grain and then the parched grain left over from her meal with Boaz. Naomi is impressed and asks where Ruth has worked. The storyteller withholds Boaz’s name until the last moment. When Boaz’s name is mentioned, we have reached the turning point theologically and rhetorically in the book. Naomi links all the dots!

Naomi invokes a blessing upon Boaz – the hesed she mentions could be referring to Boaz or, more conventionally, to Yahweh – there is an ambiguity (purposely?) in the Hebrew. God has surely shown kindness: Ruth through providence has come into Boaz’s field. God’s kindness has been shown to the living (Naomi and Ruth) and to the dead (Elimelech and their sons). What a change around in Naomi’s view of God! And if God has not deserted her, she is a new relationship with him. Naomi has begun a healing journey. Like many people Naomi has experienced calamity but now she knows that God has not abandoned her.

What Ruth understood as a favour, Naomi understands as loyalty. Naomi uses the technical term for “nearest male relative” who has the right to be a redeemer.

With regard to land, we see this in the book of Jeremiah when Jeremiah redeems land that Hanamel needs to sell even though the Babylonians are about to overrun the land.

We know that Boaz has instructed his male servants not to bother Ruth so Ruth uses the male version for servants. Naomi however instructs her to stick close to the women and this is what Ruth did.

If chapter 1 describes a series of disasters which embittered Naomi and disagreements about which course the women should take, chapter 2 is increasingly overfilled with good-will, good-fortune and well-being.

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