RUTH Chapter 2
17 So she gleaned in the field until evening; then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 And she took it up and went into the city; she showed her mother-in-law what she had gleaned, and she also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 19 And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Bo′az.” 20 And Na′omi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Na′omi also said to her, “The man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin.” 21 And Ruth the Moabitess said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my servants, till they have finished all my harvest.’” 22 And Na′omi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is well, my daughter, that you go out with his maidens, lest in another field you be molested.” 23 So she kept close to the maidens of Bo′az, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests; and she lived with her mother-in-law.
The narrator has told his readers about Boaz being a relative of Naomi, through her late husband Elimelech, but Ruth does not know of the relationship, and Naomi has no expectation that he will meet her daughter -in -law. The readers are given the information so that we can be just a little ahead of the characters as the story unfolds, but not too far ahead.
A key word in the relationship between Boaz and Ruth is used when first they meet and again in this passage, where Naomi speaks of the man “noticing” Ruth. The Hebrew verb is nazar, whose root meaning is “to be strange or foreign” but which comes to mean “taking account of someone, recognising them as friend rather than foe.” That’s exactly what Boaz has done with the foreigner Ruth, prompted by what he knows Ruth has done to the foreigner Naomi. The new identity which has been formed by the two women is recognised and authenticated by Boaz, so that when Naomi reveals that he is a go’el, close family, literally, one who might redeem their situation, the reader knows that he is true family in more than a mundane sense.
The male role of Go’el in ancient Israel focused on consanguinity with a married man who had died childless. It was expected that the Go’el would marry his widow, and that they could bear children for the dead man so that his “name would not vanish from Israel.” As soon as Naomi gives Boaz this title the Jewish reader would have foreseen the possibility of Boaz taking on this duty with Ruth on behalf of her dead husband.
Naomi links Boaz’s kindness to Ruth to the faithful kindness of Yahweh-God, who does not forget either the living or the dead. Again this God is identified by the same loyal love shown by Ruth. The slow pace of the story with its many repetitions allows time for the reader to respond to its subtlety. After all, the reader already knows what Ruth tells Naomi and what Naomi tells Ruth, but the scene quietly develops the relationship between the two women: although this is Naomi’s homeland, Ruth becomes the active member of the pair, and Naomi wisely lets her, while advising shrewdly in the background.
The danger of being a lone foreign woman is emphasised in Naomi’s warning to Ruth to stay close to her benefactor as in other farms she might be molested. The “new identity” created by Ruth and Naomi, which now includes Boaz, is no mere emotional fantasy, but a practical relationship which provides safety. The author wants to show that human solidarity is a better basis for society than religious and racial exclusivity.
We could set this wise and beautiful narrative against the story in today’s news of a Scottish university student using hateful language online towards Nir Biton, the Celtic footballer, an Israeli man, who has supported his country’s policy to Palestinians. It is true that Israel has become a society tarnished by racism towards Palestinian Arabs, and by religious suspicion of Muslims. It is true that Nir Biton has publicly expressed his support for his nation. But that does not excuse the student’s assertion that Biton as a Zionist, should be gassed. The whole sequence of events in this story of intolerance and hate, shows how exclusive identities can be formed by imitative violence; whereas the story of Ruth shows how inclusive identity can be formed by imitative kindness.