At meal time Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat some bread, and dip your morsel in the vinegar.”
Alert readers will recognize this as the next step in the Betrothal Narrative, step 6, where the stranger is invited to share a meal. This extraordinary event extends the series of such events. There might be many gleaners in a field, and the owner might be somewhere else altogether. But here the owner, Boaz, having singled out Ruth already, invites her to share his meal. No doubt this started tongues to wagging among the laborers. Clearly Boaz had—as we might say—“taken a shine” to Ruth. And the evidence for that only grows.
When she had risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and don’t reproach her. Also pull out some for her from the bundles, and leave it. Let her glean, and don’t rebuke her.”
Boaz makes it clear to his workers that he wants Ruth to get all the grain she can carry, by allowing her to glean in the main part of the field, not just the corners or edges. And to make sure, they are to take some grain from that already bundled, and leave it on the ground where she will find it. This has striking results:
So she gleaned in the field until evening; and she beat out that which she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. She took it up, and went into the city. Then her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned; and she brought out and gave to her that which she had left after she had enough.
Her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? Where have you worked? Blessed be he who noticed you.”
An ephah would be approximately 2/3 of a bushel, or about 30 pounds, enough for Naomi to have all she needed and more besides. Naomi immediately knows something extraordinary has taken place: ordinary gleaning would not yield nearly so much. So she inquires as to where Ruth had spent her time. Upon hearing the name Boaz, Naomi informs her daughter-in-law that he is “a close relative to us, one of our near kinsmen.”
Ruth the Moabitess said, “Yes, he said to me, ‘You shall stay close to my young men, until they have finished all my harvest.’”
“All my harvest….” From Boaz’ perspective, this achieves to positive outcomes. First, he faces the pleasant prospect of being able to see the pleasing young woman on a regular basis, and in a manner which will not start tongues wagging. Second, it will assure that Ruth and Naomi will have a more than adequate supply of grain, which he has already indicated a desire to provide.
Whether Ruth recognizes the significance of Boaz’ relationship to Elimelech or not, Naomi does. At this point, Naomi has no way of knowing for certain whether Boaz is just being kind, or whether he is attracted to the young widow, but clearly she is on the alert. Naomi has explicitly identified Boaz as “a near kinsman,” indicating her awareness that a levirate marriage might be a possibility. Boaz has no wife, and has demonstrated more than casual interest in Ruth. Even if his primary interest in simple kindness, she knows that can easily blossom into something more.
Naomi was just as aware as any of us today the possible effects of continued close association between a healthy male and healthy female who enjoy each other’s company. Realizing that neither of them may be aware of just how strong the attraction between them has become, Naomi shrewdly counsels Ruth to do just as Boaz suggested, to continue to go only to his fields. And the narrator informs us that:
She stayed close to the maidens of Boaz, to glean to the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest; and she lived with her mother-in-law.
The barley harvest took place in our month of April, the wheat harvest in May. So the relationship between Boaz and Ruth continues, perhaps as long as two months. If their interest in each other has grown, the narrative gives no indication. Boaz shows no intention of changing the status quo, and in that culture, Ruth is limited in what she may do about it. Besides which, her humility probably limits even her aspirations. Ruth sees herself as beneath his consideration, as we know from her own words. Her first words to Boaz had been:
Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take knowledge of me, since I am a foreigner?
She clearly recognizes the common disdain of Israelites for Moabites, and is surprised that such a wealthy and important Israelite would show her kindness. His reply, that he knows of her devotion to Naomi, demonstrates a nobility in Boaz rare in any age. He sees her character, and that matters more than her ethnicity, and so he bestows this benediction:
May Yahweh repay your work, and a full reward be given to you from Yahweh, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.
Remember those words about taking refuge under God’s wings. This imagery will be important later on. And in reply she yet again she expresses humility.
Let me find favor in your sight, my lord, because you have comforted me, and because you have spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not as one of your servants.
The words, “I am not as one of your servants,” mean she does not consider herself worthy to be one of his servants.
Whatever the causes, after two months of continual close contact, nothing seems to have changed between Ruth and Boaz. Naomi decides that the time for change has arrived. We know what she proposed, but what she had in mind—and what really happened that night on the threshing floor—are matters of considerable debate. Which we will explore next time.