I have been away too long! My husband got very sick for three solid weeks, and our household has been in chaos. But let’s get back in where we left off. Just open your Bible to Ruth chapter 2 and read through it. It’s quite short. Come back when you’re there and let’s go through this together to find the parts that stick out.
This chapter, in my current view, is all about illustrating the good things that happen when Israel obeyed God and lived by his commands. After reading the dark and depressing tales of moral failure in Judges, we are shown a tale about the hope, peace, and prosperity that come from moral success in Ruth. There are three main points I took from chapter 2, and I’ll just bullet-point them for you here:
1.) Boaz is contrasted in chapter 2 against Elimelech from chapter 1, and it’s an important image for us to think about and discuss.
2.) Israel was a safe and welcoming place when the people obeyed God’s laws. Ruth experiences this when she gathers grain in a godly man’s field.
3.) The concept of a “family redeemer” was tied to personal honor and obedience to God. It protected the family line and property, and this is the stated purpose for it. When we look at the practical implications, however, we will see another purpose: redemption protected and supported Israel’s women.
1.) About God and Birthright – Two Men Compared
Let’s start by looking at the men in this story. In verse one of chapter 2, we are introduced to Boaz, a “wealthy and influential” man in Bethlehem who is a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband, Elimelech. Unlike his kinsman, Boaz did not leave the Promised Land when famine came. He stayed in the land of his birthright and persevered. When we see him among his employees in the fields, we see how Boaz’ faith and obedience have paid off. Far from being destroyed by the famine, Boaz has been blessed. His lawful treatment of his employees has blessed them, as well. In verse 4, Boaz goes into the fields to greet the men and women working for him. “The Lord be with you!” he exclaims. “The Lord bless you!” his workers reply. This is an image of harmonious leadership and god-centered relationship between a “master” and his “servants” as outlined in Leviticus-Deuteronomy.
Now let’s look at Elimelech, and I want to take a moment to acknowledge Thomas of the Pastor Unlikely blog for talking to me about this concept in his comments on my First Reading of Ruth Chapter 1. His comment was so helpful because it drove me deeper into the text, and once you see this picture, it really puts the lesson into high-def. Thank you, Thomas, for the correction and encouragement.
Elimelech walked away from his birthright in Chapter 1. When famine struck, he didn’t keep faith and stay in the land. He disdained his inheritance and took his family to the land of Moab, away from God’s Tabernacle and away from his covenant responsibility to live in the Promised Land. His two sons married Moabite women, establishing a connection with idolatrous Canaanite culture (against the laws of Leviticus-Deuteronomy). Elimelech and his sons all died there in Moab, leaving their women widowed and bereft.
Boaz, who esteemed his birthright and stayed faithful through the famine, has been rewarded for his perseverance with an abundant harvest, respect from the community, and wealth that he shares generously with everyone around him.
Elimelech, who disdained his birthright and lost his faith, is dead. His sons are dead. His line is extinct in Israel, and no one in his community has been blessed by his life and labor. His family’s women are left without abundance, without respect, and without support.
A Little Trip into Context – Amy’s 100% Non-authoritative Thoughts
God really doesn’t like it when people disrespect or abuse their birthright. The first example of this is in the Genesis 25 account of Esau, the firstborn son of Isaac. Esau throws his birthright away on a whim, giving his rights to his younger brother Jacob in exchange for the immediate gratification of a meal. He was feeling hungry and impatient, so he tossed away his God-given inheritance…for a bowl of soup. It meant nothing more than that to him, and so Jacob was the line through which God made the nation of Israel instead of Esau. Jacob was no saint, but he esteemed the position of firstborn and the inheritance that came with it. Esau did not.
Later in Scripture, we are reminded of the importance of birthright and how God responds when we treat his gifts with disdain. In 1Kings 9:10-14, Solomon gives twenty towns within Galilee to Hiram of Tyre as a token of gratitude for the gold and lumber Hiram provided for God’s Temple in Jerusalem. Hiram named the area “Cabul,” which means “worthless.” Solomon gave the birthright of Israel to a foreign king who disdained the gift, and it comes back to haunt Solomon later.
Two chapters later, Edom rises up against Solomon’s Israel. Now, there are several reasons that God was angry with Solomon at this point, and the text does not say that it was about the cities Solomon gave away. BUT…the first thing we are told in the section about Solomon’s failure is the story of his giving away Israel’s cities to a foreign king. Marriage to foreign women and idolatry followed, but I noticed right away that there is an ironic justice in God’s use of Edom to chastise Solomon.
Edomites were the descendants of Esau, and Solomon’s first great defeat came at the hands of Esau’s line. The king gave away a piece of Israel’s birthright, and the army God sent to punish Solomon’s sins was Edom’s army, descendants of a man who forsook his birthright.
Pretty poetic, right? You need to know that none of these thoughts came from scholars or directly from the text. This was a line of thought I had while reading in Kings, and sharing my first thoughts with you is the whole point of this series, right? In 1Kings 9, God tells Solomon to obey the covenant and then the very next narrative event is Solomon giving a chunk of Israel to a foreign king. Two chapters later? A military defeat at the hands of Edom. Make of it what you will and share your thoughts in the comments below.
Whether I’m right in my thoughts on Solomon or not, the point for our study of Ruth is this: Faith and obedience matter. Part of being faithful and obedient is respecting and protecting the birthright God has given. Boaz did that. Elimelech did not.
2.) Followers of the Harvest – Feeding Widows and Foreigners Under the Law
In verse 2, Ruth tells Naomi she is going to go out and see if there is anyone who will allow her to follow a harvest team and pick up whatever grain is left behind on the ground. This was a common practice for the poor, but in Israel, it was enshrined in law.
In Leviticus 23:22, at the end of the instructions for the annual celebration of the harvest, God tells the people:
“When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the LORD your God.”
In Deuteronomy 24:19, this law is repeated:
“When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all you do.”
Being a widow was terrifying in the Old Testament world. Being a foreign widow was even more devastating. Without a father, husband, or son to provide for her, a woman had literally nothing but the mercy of strangers. For her food, for her shelter, and for her dignity, she would depend upon those who legally owed her nothing.
By God’s grace, Ruth ended up in one of Boaz’ fields that day, following the harvesters to gather whatever little pieces of edible barley they might drop. Fortunately for her, she was in Israel, she was in Judah, and she was in a field that belonged to an obedient and faithful man. Ruth worked hard that day, and Boaz took notice of her. When he found out that she was the Moabite daughter-in-law of Elimelech’s widow, he felt admiration and sympathy.
He spoke with her, praised her loyalty, and blessed her in God’s name. He made sure that the men working for him would be kind and leave her alone. He made sure that no one would mistreat or abuse her for being a foreigner. He gave her food from his own table. When Ruth went home to Naomi that night, she had more than half a bushel of barley for them to eat. That’s roughly 25 pounds of dry grain. That’s a lot. It is an abundance.
Remember that Elimelech left his women with no abundance, no respect, and no support. Boaz gave Ruth and Naomi all three in one day. What Ruth’s story in this chapter communicates to us is the value and benefit of godly obedience. Abundance. Respect. Support.
3.) What on Earth is a Family Redeemer?
To close this post, we have to talk very briefly about verse 20 (emphasis added is mine):
“He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband. That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers.”
The concept of “redemption” is first explained in Leviticus 25, and it gets expanded on in Deuteronomy 25. The definition of redeeming here is “to buy back.” When someone has been sold into slavery or indenture, or if someone has had to sell off land and property (birthright again), family redeemers are obligated to buy that person or property back into the family–to “redeem” it or him or her.
In the context of Ruth, a family redeemer comes into play when a married man dies without an heir. The redeemer in such a case is required to marry his deceased relative’s wife and give her a son to carry the dead husband’s name. The son would then receive the deceased husband’s inheritance as a firstborn heir (birthright again) rather than that of the biological father/redeemer.
Redeemers are about preserving the line and property of the widow’s dead husband, but in practice, it protected the dignity and well-being of women. With a son to carry the father’s name, the widow keeps her husband’s land and property until the son is old enough to support her with his inheritance. Without a son, the widow has nothing. Make sense? So this redeemer business isn’t creepy. It’s actually a beautiful system in this context.
This has gotten long, so we’ll pick up redeemers in depth during chapter 4 when the story deals with the concept and the laws about redemption directly.
Let me know about your questions and your thoughts on Ruth chapter 2 in the comments. See you soon in chapter 3!