Naomi, a Judahite woman who lived during the era of the judges, endured much tragedy, suffering the loss of her husband and sons. These events left her somewhat bitter. But she was not left alone. Her widowed Moabitess daughter-in-law Ruth left her gods and trusted in Yahweh, the Lord of Israel and one true God, returning with Naomi to Judah (Ruth 1).
As impoverished women in that ancient culture, Naomi and Ruth had few options for earning a living. That explains why Ruth sought to glean in the fields of Judah (2:1–2). According to the Mosaic law, when the Israelites harvested crops from their fields, they were to leave some plants at the edges and some of the gleanings, the bits of grain that the harvesters would drop or otherwise miss as they went through the fields. The purpose for this legislation was so that the poor and the sojourners traveling through the land could eat from what was left in the fields (Lev. 19:9–10).
Ruth set out and “happened” to come upon the portion of a field where Boaz, a “worthy man,” grew his crops (Ruth 2:1–3). One commentator notes that “worthy man” means something close to our conception of a knight—a valiant, generous individual inclined to protect the defenseless. And of course, in the view of Scripture, nothing ever occurs by happenstance (Prov. 16:33). The author is encouraging us to look beneath the explicit details of the account to see the hand of God’s providence. The Lord brought Ruth to encounter Boaz, and as the story unfolds we will see why that was.
Boaz took notice of Ruth’s gleaning in the field and learned she was the Moabitess whose loyalty to her mother-in-law, as well as her faith, was well known (Ruth 2:4–12). He called her “daughter” (v. 8), indicating that he was older than she. More important, he acknowledged that Ruth had taken refuge under the wings of the God of Israel (v. 12). This close, protective image is one of the handful of times that the Bible compares the Lord’s care for His people to a mother bird guarding her chicks under her wings (Ps. 17:8). Contrary to liberal interpreters, however, this gives us no warrant to address God in feminine terms. As Jesus tells us, we are to call God Father (Matt. 6:9–13).
Finally, note that Boaz went beyond what the Mosaic law required in having his workers leave extra grain behind for Ruth (Ruth 2:13–16). He understood that the law stipulated only the minimum generosity God’s people were to show, and he gave above and beyond it.