|Ruth Meets Boaz - Nicolas Poussin, 1660|
As it happened, the field in which Ruth chose to glean was that owned by a relative of Naomi’s husband, of the clan of Elimelech. This relative was a man by the name of Boaz. When Boaz found out who Ruth was, that she was the young widow that had come to help Naomi, he took a special interest in her. Everyone in Bethlehem had heard the story of Naomi and her daughter-in-law. We read in the text that the whole town had been “stirred” by their story.
Boaz told Ruth that she should not go to another field because he had instructed his harvesters not to mistreat her. She could feel safe while she gleaned in his fields. More than that, he told his workers to pull some stems of barley out of the bundles that they had already gathered and leave them for Ruth to pick up.
Boaz, as we discover when we read the story, eventually falls in love with Ruth and the two become married. Initially however, it does not appear that infatuation was the reason that Boaz began to show favoritism toward Ruth. Rather, it was the reputation that Ruth had gained among the people of Bethlehem because she had given up her own life in order to devote herself to the care of Naomi.
Ruth asked Boaz, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”
It is interesting to see the difference in perspective between the two widows, the elder Naomi and the younger Ruth. Whereas Naomi at this time was viewing her life as one plagued by “calamity,” as she called it, and had become bitter because of her circumstances, Ruth acknowledged the blessing that was given to her by a perfect stranger.
Boaz recognized this trait in Ruth, and responded to her question as to why he was being kind to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge” (Ruth 2:11-12 NAS).
In the story, Boaz not only eventually marries Ruth, and in that act redeems both her and Naomi by buying the field that Naomi still owned. By doing this, he also pledges to care for the needs of Ruth as well as Naomi. Later, Ruth and Boaz have a child, a baby boy.
The widow Naomi, who earlier seemed always to be speaking of her life being filled with bitterness, now instead sees her life as one of blessing, as this old blessed widow is able to hold her grandson on her lap.
The women of Bethlehem perhaps said it best when they said to Naomi: “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:14-15 ESV).
The story of Ruth is one of the most beautiful of love stories in the Bible. It has historical and messiahlogical significance as well, since the baby boy that was born was to be named, Obed, who would become the father of Jesse and the grandfather of King David. It is a family line that would eventually be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, also born in Bethlehem.
But for our purposes here, the story of Ruth is an illustration of how the bitterness of widowhood was turned into blessing. Naomi and Ruth were both redeemed by the kinsman-redeemer Boaz, but in some ways, Ruth was the redeemer for Naomi. Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi, despite very difficult circumstances that seemed to have no bright future, and Ruth’s equally difficult decision to look for blessing instead of becoming bitter, lifted Naomi herself from our of the depths of bitterness.