A central theme in the book of Ruth is relationships. Rather than food or clothing, abundance and loss is measured in the number of relationships one has. When she returns home from Moab, Naomi tells people that she “went out full” because she left with her husband and two sons, but is returning empty because all of them died in the land of Moab (Ruth 1:21). I think it is interesting that even though she brought her daughter in law Ruth back with her, Naomi still considers herself to be empty.
Naomi felt worthless because she didn’t have a husband or sons which were considered to be blessings from God. The quality of her relationships with her husband and sons is unknown, but when Naomi tells her daughters in law to return to the home of their parents, it says in Ruth 1:14 that “they lift up their voices and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.”
The word clave or dâbaq (daw – bak´) in Hebrew is the same word that is used in Genesis 2:24 where is says that a man shall “leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife.” Ruth pleads with Naomi to not make her go back and even goes so far as to say “Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:17). Similar to a marriage vow, Ruth is saying to her mother in law, till death do us part.
Ruth’s devotion does not seem to be of value to Naomi, perhaps because Ruth was a Moabitess, a foreigner and not a blood relative, but her willingness to leave her own country and family to be with Naomi is certainly commendable. Naomi blames her bitterness on God and believes her affliction is from his own hand. Not only does she not recognize Ruth’s value, she is missing the point that God has blessed her with a lifetime partner that is committed to taking care of her in spite of the personal sacrifice that requires.
“And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s; a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz” (Ruth 2:1). The word translated kinsman, yâda‘ (yaw – dah´) means to know (3045). Naomi was related to Boaz by marriage, but what this verse is saying is that Naomi had a relationship with Boaz, she knew him personally. The interesting thing about this is that there is no mention of Naomi ever interacting with Boaz after she returns to Judah. It would seem reasonable for Naomi to contact Boaz, and if he was a wealthy man, to ask for his help, but Naomi doesn’t do that.
One of the Mosaic laws made provision for a widow to glean in the field of another so that she would not go hungry if she had no one to provide for her. Ruth takes the initiative to go into a field where corn is being harvested and by divine providence she ends up in the field of Boaz. During their first meeting, Boaz tells Ruth that he has instructed his men not to have any sexual contact with her. Ruth’s response indicates that what Boaz has done is not typical behavior. “Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thy eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing that I am a stranger” (Ruth 2:10).
The fact that Boaz, a mighty man of wealth, would show kindness to a Moabite who is gleaning in his field distinguishes him from not only the typical man, but perhaps any other man in Israel. Ruth describes Boaz’s action by saying that he has comforted her (Ruth 2:13). The word translated comforted, nâcham (naw – kham´) is the same word that is translated repented in Judges 21:15. One way of looking at what Boaz did would be that he gave his strength to Ruth. He attempted to make her feel like she was his equal and he raised her status in the eyes of others.
The reason why Boaz’s action qualifies as repentance is because he did the opposite of what would have been expected under the circumstances in order to achieve a more positive outcome. Boaz could have had Ruth thrown out of his field because she was a foreigner or told his female workers to stay away from her because she would be a bad influence on them. But instead, Boaz tells Ruth to stay close by his maidens, warns his young men not to touch her, and even invites Ruth to sit at his table at mealtime.
At the end of the harvest, Naomi seeks to arrange a marriage between Boaz and Ruth. She instructs Ruth to go to Boaz at night, just before he is laying down to go to sleep. The action Naomi wants Ruth to take is a type of marriage proposal. The way it is being presented to him makes it possible for Boaz to refuse and not embarrass Ruth because he has rejected her.
Ruth’s obedience to her mother in law demonstrates her trust and belief in the Jewish way of doing things. She is no longer acting like a Moabite or following the customs of her people. A clue that Ruth has truly been converted is that her actions are described as showing kindness. The Hebrew word checed (kheh´ – sed) is one of the most important words that is used to convey Old Testament theology (2617). Checed is representative of a deep, loving relationship. The word chesed is meant to convey a strong bond that keeps two people knit together, as in a marriage, but more from love that a legal obligation to stay together. Relationship is the basis for checed and personal involvement is what makes it possible for a person to show the extraordinary kindness that checed implies.
Boaz seems to be caught off guard when he wakes in the middle of the night and finds Ruth lying at his feet. It appears that the thought of matrimony has not crossed his mind, perhaps because as he explains to Ruth, “And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I” (Ruth 3:12). When Naomi sent Ruth to Boaz, she knew that he did not have the ability to redeem her as his property. Based on Boaz’s behavior toward Ruth, Naomi may have assumed that he loved her and would want her to be his wife.
Boaz describes Ruth as a virtuous woman (Ruth 3:11). The word translated virtuous, chayil (khah´ – yil) means strength or power (2428). Chayil is often used in a military context and is associated with the word gibbôr (ghib – bore´) to describe a proven warrior (1368). What Boaz may have been implying when he referred to Ruth as a virtuous woman was that she was a good match for him, that they belonged together. Boaz is referred to as “a mighty man of wealth” in Ruth 2:1, which means that he had been successful in battle. Often times warriors took the spoils of their victories and were rewarded for the enemy territories they conquered. If Boaz claimed Ruth as his property, it would likely have established his dominance over her and inhibited her from feeling loved by him. Boaz gave Ruth the impression that she was his equal and her courage in leaving her country and coming to Judah was commendable.
“So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son” (Ruth 4:13). Boaz and Ruth were the great grandparents of king David. There was definitely a divine purpose for them to be married and have a child, but what stands out in the story of how their relationship developed is the mutual respect and admiration they had for each other. Unlike some of the other couples that contributed to the birth of Jesus, Boaz and Ruth typified the loving-kindness that God shows his children. You could say that Boaz and Ruth were made for each other and their marriage is a testament to God’s ability to work all things together for good “to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).