It was the time of barley-harvest when Ruth and her mother-in-law arrived back in Bethlehem. Here was hope for them! A barley-harvest in Bethlehem meant that there was bread once more in the “house of bread.” And where there is bread, there is life!
Ruth asked and obtained permission of her mother-in-law to go and glean in the rich fields near the town – hoping thereby to at least obtain a means of temporary subsistence. Observe Ruth’s humility! When Providence had made her poor, she cheerfully stooped to her lot. And she provides us with a wonderful example of industry, for she did not eat the bread of idleness. And when we spiritually apply Ruth’s request in verse 2 to the state of the soul, it will open a subject that is both pleasing and profitable. When a sinner is brought out of the world by the Holy Spirit (as Ruth was out of Moab), the world promises plenty of enjoyments and a fullness of all sensual pleasures. And yet the person who is poor in spirit desires rather to glean of the Bread of Life – even though it may be in the smallest portions of the ears of barley – than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. In the field of the Lord’s Word and ordinances, there is plenty indeed to glean. Jesus gives us grace, and He also causes our souls to find and inherit true treasures (Prov. 8:18-21).
The Lord’s kind Providence directed Ruth to a field belonging to Boaz, where his reapers – under the supervision of a trusted servant – were already busy at their task of cutting down the barley and laying it upon the ground. The maidservants of the household followed behind the reapers and tied up the sheaves of barley into bundles. From the servant’s words in verse 7, we understand that Ruth asked permission to glean “among the sheaves” – which was a very unusual request. According to the merciful provisions of the Mosaic law (Lev. 19:9-10), a landowner was to leave a rounded swath of crops at the corners of his fields. These rounded corners were left for the foreigners (like Ruth) and the poor to gather up, as well as the gleanings (or the “leftovers”) of the harvest that were left behind here and there in the fields. But Ruth requested permission to be allowed to glean “among the sheaves.” In other words, she was asking for a privileged position where she would have the best chance possible of finding barley to gather! She wanted to follow right behind the men cutting the barley, and glean from among the sheaves that they had just cut – before the women-servants came along behind to tie the sheaves into bundles. And she was not asking for this privileged position because of a heart of pompous pride; but rather, because of her heart of loving desire to support Naomi.
Eventually Boaz came from town, where his home was located, to check on the status of his harvest in his country fields. The pious and kind language between him and his reapers shows that there were indeed Godly persons in Israel. True religion teaches a person how to behave rightly in all circumstances and conditions; it will form kind employers and faithful workers, it will create harmony in families, and it will even cause mutual love and kindness to exist among persons of different ranks.
Of course, the appearance of the unfamiliar maiden at work in the fields attracted the favorable notice of the landowner. He inquired of his servant and speedily learned all that could be known of the character and history of the girl. He addressed her in kind and fatherly tones, and bade her to remain under his protection with his own women-servants. He added that he had been informed of her devoted affection for her mother-in-law, and of her conversion to the faith of Israel; and he pronounced the Lord’s blessing upon her for seeking refuge in Him. At mealtime, Boaz invited her to share the food that had been provided for the reapers and gleaners. Nor did he merely give Ruth poverty-rations; he elevated her to a seat of honor and gave her so much food she had some left over to take home. He also made it clear that she was welcome to keep gleaning in his field until his harvest was all gathered in; and he even commanded his reapers to purposely drop some of the barley they cut, and leave it behind just for her. And of course, in Boaz’s kindness to Ruth, we observe a wonderful picture of the kindness of our Lord Jesus to poor sinners!
At sunset, Ruth threshed the barley she had gleaned and returned to her mother-in-law with an unusually large amount of barley for a day’s labor in gleaning. With delight, she related the account of the reception which had been given her; and upon hearing the name of Boaz, Naomi immediately recognized him as a close kinsman! And in the events of this wonderful day, we may well believe that both Naomi and Ruth were able to discern the first gleams of returning comfort and prosperity! Boaz would prove to be their help and their hope – just as the Lord is to His people (Ps. 146:5).
This chapter contains one of the most beautiful pictures of God pouring out grace and more grace upon us! He shows kindness to the widow and the foreigner (Ps. 146:9). But Ruth shows us a picture of ourselves! By nature, we are strangers and foreigners to God’s Covenant-family. When we come to God’s threshing-floor and ask permission to glean in His fields, He tells us to go and glean directly behind His chief Harvester – Jesus, our close Kinsman, Who brings the harvest to us, and showers His grace and lovingkindness upon us!
Lord, let Your Holy Spirit keep us from ever going to glean in other ground, for all the world beside You is only a wilderness to us; but in our blessed Savior, there are enough supplies to keep us alive forever! Amen.
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illustration by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1828 | Wikimedia Commons