RUTH knelt by the pile of barley stalks she had gathered during the day. Evening was descending on the fields around Bethlehem, and many workers were already wending their way up to the gate of the little city perched atop a nearby ridge. Ruth’s muscles surely protested the long day’s labor, for she had been working steadily since the morning. Still she kept at it, swinging a small rod or a flail down onto the stalks to loosen the grains. All in all, it had been a good day—better than she could ever have hoped for.
Were things finally starting to look up for this young widow? She had attached herself to her mother-in-law, Naomi, vowing to stick with her and to make Naomi’s God, Jehovah, her own God. Together the two bereaved women had come to Bethlehem from Moab, and Ruth the Moabitess soon learned that Jehovah’s Law made practical, dignified provisions for the poor in Israel, including foreigners.a And now she found that some of Jehovah’s people, who lived under the Law and were trained by it, showed a degree of spirituality and kindness that touched her wounded heart.
One such person was Boaz, the wealthy older man in whose fields she was gleaning. He had taken fatherly notice of her today. She could not help but smile inwardly when she thought of his kind words praising her for caring for aged Naomi and for choosing to seek refuge under the wings of the true God, Jehovah.—Ruth 2:11-13.
Still, Ruth may have wondered about the life ahead of her. As an impoverished foreigner with neither husband nor child, how would she support herself and Naomi in the years ahead? Would gleaning suffice? And who would take care of her when she grew old? It would be understandable if such concerns weighed on her mind. In today’s hard economic times, many struggle with similar anxieties. As we learn how Ruth’s faith helped her through such challenges, we will find much to imitate.
What Makes a Family?
By the time Ruth finished beating out the grain and gathering it all up, she found that she had gleaned about an ephah measure, or 20 dry quarts (22 L), of barley. Her load may have weighed some 30 pounds (14 kg)! She hoisted it, perhaps bundling it in a cloth and carrying it on her head, and then made her way to Bethlehem in the gathering darkness.—Ruth 2:17.
Naomi was pleased to see her beloved daughter-in-law, and perhaps she gasped in surprise as she saw Ruth’s heavy load of barley. Ruth also brought some food left over from the meal that Boaz had provided for the workers, and the two thus shared a simple meal. Naomi asked: “Where did you glean today, and where did you work? May the one who took notice of you become blessed.” (Ruth 2:19) Naomi was attentive; she saw proof in Ruth’s heavy load of provisions that someone had taken notice of the young widow and had treated her kindly.
The two fell into conversation, and Ruth told Naomi about the kindness of Boaz. Moved, Naomi replied: “Blessed be he of Jehovah, who has not left off his loving-kindness toward the living and the dead.” (Ruth 2:19, 20) She saw the kindness of Boaz as coming from Jehovah, who moves his servants to be generous and promises to reward his people for the kindness they show.b—Proverbs 19:17.
Naomi urged Ruth to accept Boaz’ offer to keep gleaning in his fields and near the young women of his own household so that she would escape harassment from the reapers. Ruth took that advice. She also “kept on dwelling with her mother-in-law.” (Ruth 2:22, 23) In those words we see once more Ruth’s hallmark quality—loyal love. Her example may move us to ask ourselves whether we honor the bonds of family, loyally supporting our loved ones and offering them help as needed. Jehovah never fails to notice such loyal love.
Were Naomi and Ruth somehow less than a family? In some cultures it is assumed that there must be someone to fill each role—husband, wife, son, daughter, grandparents, and so forth—for a family to be “real.” But Naomi and Ruth remind us that servants of Jehovah can open their hearts and make even the smallest, most bereft of families glow with warmth, kindness, and love. Do you appreciate what family you have? Jesus reminded his followers that the Christian congregation can provide family even for those who have none.—Mark 10:29, 30.
“He Is One of Our Repurchasers”
From the barley harvest around April until the wheat harvest around June, Ruth kept gleaning in the fields of Boaz. As the weeks passed, Naomi no doubt thought more about what she could do for her beloved daughter-in-law. Back in Moab, Naomi had been convinced that she could never help Ruth find another husband. (Ruth 1:11-13) Now, though, she was beginning to think differently. She approached Ruth and said: “My daughter, ought I not to look for a resting-place for you?” (Ruth 3:1) It was customary in those days for parents to find mates for their children, and Ruth had become a true daughter to Naomi. She wanted to find Ruth “a resting-place”—referring to the security and protection that a home and a husband might provide. But what could Naomi do?
When Ruth first mentioned Boaz, Naomi said: “The man is related to us. He is one of our repurchasers.” (Ruth 2:20) What did that mean? God’s Law to Israel included loving provisions for families who as a result of poverty or bereavement fell on hard times. If a woman was widowed while still childless, she was especially devastated because her husband’s name, his posterity, would be cut off, lost to future generations. However, God’s Law allowed the man’s brother to marry the widow so that she could give birth to an heir who might carry on her deceased husband’s name and care for the family property.c—Deuteronomy 25:5-7.
Naomi outlined a plan of action. We might imagine the young woman’s eyes widening as her mother-in-law spoke. Israel’s Law was likely still new to Ruth; and many of its customs were no doubt still quite foreign. Even so, she held Naomi in such high regard that she listened carefully to every word. What Naomi advised her to do might have seemed awkward or embarrassing—even potentially humiliating—yet, Ruth agreed. She meekly said: “All that you say to me I shall do.”—Ruth 3:5.
Sometimes it is difficult for young people to listen to the advice of those who are older and more experienced. It is easy to assume that older ones do not really understand the challenges and problems the young face. Ruth’s humble example reminds us that listening to the wisdom of older ones who love us and have our best interests at heart can be very rewarding. But what was Naomi’s advice, and was Ruth really rewarded for heeding it?
Ruth at the Threshing Floor
That evening, Ruth made her way to the threshing floor—a flat, hard-packed area where a number of farmers would take their grain for threshing and winnowing. The spot chosen was usually on a hillside or hilltop, where the breezes were strong in the late afternoon and early evening. To release the grain from the chaff and straw, workers used big forks or shovels to toss the mixture into the wind, which carried off the lighter chaff and allowed the heavier grains to fall back to the floor.
Ruth watched discreetly as the work wound down in the evening. Boaz oversaw the winnowing of his grain, which grew into a great heap. After eating heartily, he lay down at one end of the heap. This was evidently a common practice, perhaps designed to protect the precious harvest from thieves and marauders. Ruth saw Boaz settling down for the night. The time had come to put Naomi’s plan into action.
Ruth crept closer, her heart racing. She could tell that the man was sound asleep. So just as Naomi had said, she went over to his feet, uncovered them, and lay down by them. Then she waited. The time passed. To Ruth, it must have felt like an eternity. Finally, around midnight, Boaz began to stir. Trembling from the cold, he stretched forward, likely to cover his feet up again. But he sensed that someone was there. The account reads: “Look! a woman lying at his feet!”—Ruth 3:8.
“Who are you?” he asked. Ruth replied, perhaps with a tremor in her voice: “I am Ruth your slave girl, and you must spread out your skirt over your slave girl, for you are a repurchaser.” (Ruth 3:9) Some modern interpreters have sought to imply that there were some sexual undertones in Ruth’s actions and words, but they ignore two simple facts. First, Ruth was acting according to the customs of the day, many of which are long lost to us. So it would be a mistake to view her actions through the warped lens of today’s debased moral standards. Second, Boaz responded in a way that clearly shows that he saw Ruth’s conduct as morally chaste and highly commendable.
Boaz spoke, and no doubt his gentle, soothing tone comforted Ruth. He said: “Blessed may you be of Jehovah, my daughter. You have expressed your loving-kindness better in the last instance than in the first instance, in not going after the young fellows whether lowly or rich.” (Ruth 3:10) “The first instance” referred to Ruth’s loyal love in accompanying Naomi back to Israel and caring for her. “The last instance” was the present one. Boaz noted that a young woman like Ruth might easily have sought a husband among much younger men, whether rich or poor. Rather, she wanted to do good not only to Naomi but also to Naomi’s deceased husband, to carry on the dead man’s name in his homeland. It is not hard to see why Boaz was moved by this young woman’s unselfishness.
Boaz continued: “And now, my daughter, do not be afraid. All that you say I shall do for you, for everyone in the gate of my people is aware that you are an excellent woman.” (Ruth 3:11) He was pleased at the prospect of marrying Ruth; perhaps he was not completely surprised to be asked to be her repurchaser. However, Boaz was a righteous man, and he was not about to act merely on his own preferences. He told Ruth that there was another repurchaser more closely related to the family of Naomi’s dead husband; Boaz would approach that man first and give him the opportunity to become Ruth’s husband.
Boaz urged Ruth to lie down again and rest until morning was near; then she could slip away unnoticed. He wanted to protect her reputation as well as his own, since people might wrongly assume that something immoral had taken place. Ruth lay near the man’s feet again, perhaps with a mind more at ease after he had responded to her petition so kindly. Then, while it was still dark, Boaz filled her cloak with a generous gift of barley, and she made her way back into Bethlehem.
How satisfying it must have been for Ruth to contemplate what Boaz had said—that she was known among all the people as “an excellent woman”! No doubt her eagerness to get to know Jehovah and to serve him had much to do with that reputation. She had also shown great kindness and sensitivity toward Naomi and her people, willingly adapting to ways and customs that were surely unfamiliar to her. If we imitate Ruth’s faith, we will seek to treat others and their ways and customs with deep respect. If we do, we too may find that we develop a reputation for excellence.
A Resting-Place for Ruth
“Who are you, my daughter?” Naomi said when Ruth arrived home. Perhaps it was the darkness that prompted the question, but Naomi also wanted to know whether Ruth was still the same unattached widow or one with prospects of marriage before her. Ruth quickly told her mother-in-law of all that had passed between her and Boaz. She also presented the generous gift of barley that Boaz had told her to give to Naomi.d—Ruth 3:16, 17.
Wisely, Naomi urged Ruth to sit at home quietly that day instead of going out to glean in the fields. She assured Ruth: “The man will have no rest unless he has brought the matter to an end today.”—Ruth 3:18.
Naomi was quite right about Boaz. He went to the city gate, where the city elders usually met, and waited until the man who was a closer relative passed by. In front of witnesses, Boaz offered the man the opportunity to act as repurchaser by marrying Ruth. However, the man refused, claiming that doing so would ruin his own inheritance. Then, before the witnesses there in the city gate, Boaz stated that he would act as the repurchaser, buying up the estate of Naomi’s dead husband, Elimelech, and marrying Ruth, the widow of Elimelech’s son Mahlon. Boaz declared his hope that doing so would “cause the name of the dead man to rise upon his inheritance.” (Ruth 4:1-10) Boaz truly was an upright and unselfish man.
Boaz married Ruth. Thereafter, we read: “Jehovah granted her conception and she bore a son.” The women of Bethlehem blessed Naomi and praised Ruth for being better to Naomi than seven sons would have been. Later, we learn, Ruth’s son became an ancestor of the great King David. (Ruth 4:11-22) David, in turn, was an ancestor of Jesus Christ.—Matthew 1:1.e
Ruth was blessed indeed, as was Naomi, who helped to raise the child as if he were her own. The lives of these two women stand as vivid reminders that Jehovah God notices all those who toil humbly to provide for their own and who serve him loyally with his chosen people. He never fails to reward faithful people who earn a reputation for excellence with him, as did Ruth.
b As Naomi noted, Jehovah’s kindness is not restricted to the living; it even extends to the dead. Naomi had lost her husband and both sons. Ruth had lost her husband. Surely all three men had meant a great deal to both women. Any kindness shown to Naomi and Ruth was, in effect, kindness to the men who would have wanted those dear women to be cared for.
d Boaz gave Ruth six measures of unspecified weight—perhaps to suggest that just as six work days were followed by a Sabbath rest, Ruth’s own days of toil as a widow were soon to be followed by the “rest” that a secure home and a husband could provide. On the other hand, the six measures—perhaps shovelfuls—may simply have been all that Ruth could carry.