1 Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. – Ruth 2:1-3 ESV
What at first appears to be little more than a throwaway line was actually intended to provide a welcome transition from the dark days that marked Naomi’s life in Moab to the more hopeful future that lay ahead as she returns to the land of promise.
This entire story began with a reference to the period of the judges and a description of a famine in the land of Judah. With these two details, the author provides an important preface for the remainder of his narrative by establishing that this story takes place during a time marked by Israel’s disobedience and God’s judgment. The nearly 300-year-long period of Israel’s history recorded in the book of Judges was filled with repeated outbreaks of apostasy on the part of God’s people, followed by periods of suffering as a result of God’s divine judgment. The famine, while a natural disaster, had been God-ordained. Israel was suffering yet again the righteous wrath of God Almighty. But Naomi had received word that God had relented.
…the Lord had visited his people and given them food. – Ruth 1:6 ESV
It was this news that had prompted Naomi to return home. And the story reveals that she arrived in Bethlehem at just the time when the annual barley harvest was taking place. When she and her husband had left Judah, it had been a time of famine. Now she was returning at a time marked by fruitfulness and feasting. For Naomi, Moab had been a place of loss and sorrow. While there, she had experienced the deaths of her husband and two sons. But now, she was returning home to Bethlehem, the “house of bread,” and just in time for the first of the first fruits of the God-ordained harvest to be gathered.
Naomi had no way of knowing what the future held. She was still a widow and she was accompanied by her widowed Moabite daughter-in-law. She had no source of income, and there is no indication that she had a home in which to live upon her return. Her immediate prospects were bleak. But the author wants us to know that God was at work behind the scenes. His mention of the harvest is a subtle, yet powerful reminder that the lives of Naomi and Ruth were in the hands of God Almighty.
Despite her dire circumstances, Naomi would find herself far from alone. In fact, chapter two opens with a hope-infused reference to Naomi’s relative.
Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. – Ruth 2:1 ESV
The timing of her return to Judah was divinely ordained and sovereignly orchestrated. Even the decision by Ruth to leave abandon her own home and family to align herself with Naomi is going to be revealed as the will and the work of God. There is no luck, kismet, or cosmic karma going on here. This is not a case of fortunate timing or happenstance. Everything about this story is intended to point to God. He is at work behind the scenes, orchestrating every single aspect of the story, from the timing to the characters involved. And it is because He has a much larger and grander plan involved than Naomi and Ruth could have ever imagined.
With the author’s introductory details concerning Boaz, he telegraphs yet another seemingly serendipitous encounter. Naomi and Ruth are not aware of Boaz’s presence yet. He has been introduced but has not yet made his appearance in the story. But Ruth, desiring to provide some source of sustenance for she and Naomi, offers to go into the fields outside Bethlehem and “glean among the ears of grain” (Ruth 2:2 ESV). In order to do so, she will need to find a farmer willing to let her gather some of the grain that remained in the corners and edges of his field.
This was a common practice among the Israelites because God had ordained it as a means of caring for the poor and needy among them. It had part of God’s original law passed down to the people of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai in the wilderness.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 10:9-10 ESV
Now, decades later, here was Ruth preparing to take advantage of this divine decree in order to provide for her and her mother-in-law. But little did Ruth know that God had something far more significant in store for the two of them. She was a stranger to Bethlehem, a widowed Moabite woman wandering around the barley fields outside the city. And she just happens upon a field that belongs to the close relative of Naomi.
So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. – Ruth 2:3 ESV
The author wants us to know that this appears to be a case of blind luck. He purposefully uses the Hebrew word miqreh, which means “unforeseen meeting or event, accident, happening, chance, fortune.” But he knows this is nothing of the sort. It appears as if Naomi has inadvertently and unexpectedly stumbled into this situation. Unknowingly, she has chosen to glean barley grain in the field that belongs to a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband. But while Naomi was operating blind, her every action took place under the divine gaze of God. He was watching but also directing each and every aspect of this story.
Think about the details of this story. Naomi moves to Moab with her husband Elimelech in order to escape a famine in the land of Judah. While there, her husband unexpectedly dies. Her two sons end up marrying women from Moab. Had the family not moved to this foreign country, this would never have happened. One of those women just happened to be Ruth. When the two sons of Elimelech died, Naomi was left with Moabite women as her only family. But when Naomi announced her plans to return to Judah, only one of the women made the fateful decision to accompany her. And that woman was Ruth.
Now, Ruth, who had promised to stay with and care for her mother-in-law, has taken upon herself the responsibility to seek some kind of food for the two of them. And she happens to end up gleaning barley grain in the field of Boaz, a close relative of her deceased father-in-law, Elimelech.
The scene is set and the next act in the divine drama of God’s redemptive plan is ready to be revealed.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.