An Expositional Study Through: Ruth
By: Caleb Fleming
Session 5: The Providential Hero (Ruth 2:1-3)
This week we will kick off the beginning of the second main act in the drama of Ruth. In this act we are introduced to the hero of the story, Boaz. Particularly, chapter two sets the scene for the Act 2 to develop in verse one, where we are informally introduced to Boaz. That is to say, the narrator of the story is presenting Boaz as a character into the story, but in these few verses Boaz take a tertiary role behind the dialogue of Naomi and Ruth. Even though the dialogue of verse two takes the focal point of this passage, the foreshadowing of Boaz is significant to the plot development.
What is Known About Boaz? As the narrator of this drama continues to develop this story, we are informally introduced to Boaz in verse one. The author presents Boaz as the hero who would remedy the problems for the two widows. By this we are introduced to four main points regarding Boaz:
- Boaz was a relative through Elimelech. He was not an acquaintance. He was not a stranger. He was a relative. This does not necessarily mean He was close to Naomi. The narrator is presenting this as the primary fact about Boaz because of the role he plays in the rest of the story.
- Boaz is described as a worthy man. This description is significant for the story since Ruth is later described as a “worthy woman (3:11)”, but what does worthy mean in this context? This same word is used to describe Gideon in Judg. 6:12 (mighty) in the context of a warrior, but there is no evidence that Boaz was a warrior (to be fair, there is no evidence that he wasn’t, either). Another possibility could be that the word is used to describe his wealth and standing within Bethlehem and the surrounding community. What’s more, a third possibility can be seen in the feminine use of this word in Proverbs 31:10 (excellent). This context would speak to his character as opposed to his possessions. Perhaps the use of this word indicates all three. Boaz might not have been a warrior but possessed the fortitude to fight for what was right and honorable. He was clearly a successful Israelite as evidenced by his workers, possession of the field, and his standing among the elders of the town at the city gates (ch. 4). Lastly, we see clearly his willingness to do what is right by Elimelech’s widow and widowed daughter-in-law in the redemption of Ruth. On all fronts we see Boaz as a worthy man, but that begs a question. What do we qualify as worthy masculinity?
- Boaz was a relative through Elimelech because they belonged to the same clan. This indicates a tighter association of their tribe, or a subdivision.
- The root for Boaz’s name occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. It is possible the etymology of his name comes from Arabic meaning to be strong of spirit. The interesting thing with Boaz is that it is not his name that brings meaning to the story, rather his action within the story gives his name meaning. By contrast the author plays on the meaning of Naomi’s name to depict her bitter state.
Ruth’s Request: In verse two, Ruth requests of Naomi her blessing to go find food. She would do this by gleaning in the field. Gleaning literally means to “gather scraps.” What Ruth was requesting to do is to go to the field and pick up what was left over after the workers had passed through. She prefaces this by saying she will do this “in whose sight I shall find favor.” At this point there is no indication that she knew she would find the favor of Boaz, but she was acting within her right as a widow and an alien to work the leftovers in the field (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-22). Here the widow, the sojourner, and the orphan make a significant theological concept that is not only vital to the people of God in the story of Ruth, but to the church today as we minister to the “least of these,” as Jesus says. The implications of the Leviticus and Deuteronomy passages for the church today become hot-button political topics that require careful theological consideration as a Christian prior to patriotic consideration as an American.
Because it is not the purposed intent of this study to dive into these issues, suffice it to say; Christ still expects His church to care for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow as we care for the least of these. How we do this necessarily looks different. The emphasis is not on the how we carry this task out, but that we carry this task out.
One last observation from the text regarding the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. In verse 2 Ruth is hoping to find favor in the field. Additionally, in verse 9 Boaz encourages Ruth to remain in his part of the field, he does this by promising safety. In verse 15, Boaz gives specific instructions to his young men to not reproach or rebuke Ruth. This observation indicates that the life of a sojourning widow was not one of ease.
Ruth’s Destiny: The story continues to unfold as Ruth leaves for the day and just so “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” Now our introduction to Boaz is complete. We have been given sufficient information for the drama between Boaz and Ruth to continue. There is, however, a question regarding chance and destiny presented in verse 3. Ruth sets out in hopes of finding favor, but the text says nothing about finding a redeemer. The question is one of providence. Ruth did not come to the field of Boaz by chance (Epicureans) or by fate (stoics), rather she happened upon the field according to the providence of God.
Working from Lois Berkhof’s addressing of providence, we should understand providence as the efficacious administration of the things declared. Another way of understanding providence is to recognize it as the way God relates to His creation according to the foreknowledge of His will. This begins to jump into the deep end of theology very quickly, and we should remember there are mysteries and tensions within Scripture that we cannot fully know now. We should also remember God is eternal, all-knowing, and transcendent. It is within these attributes God relates to His creation and works to bring about His will; His ultimate and supreme glory.
Ruth’s happening upon the field of Boaz was no accident; it was not the result of fate or chance. Rather, Ruth’s happening upon the field of Boaz was a providential act of God to bring about His will. Resulting in His ultimate and supreme glory being known through Jesus via the line of Obed.
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