The Book of Ruth, part 13, Words of Comfort
Jun 15, 2019
In Ruth 2:8 and 9, Boaz told Ruth to glean only from his field so that he could guarantee her safety. He also gave her equal access to the water jars being used by his servants. Perhaps we might interpret his words to indicate “love at first sight,” as some have done. That certainly would add spice to the story, but it also shows prophetically the love of Christ for His bride.
It also shows how Christ welcomes foreigners and treats them as equals. The rabbinical culture in later centuries, which treated foreigner proselytes as second-class citizens, is fully absent from the actions of Boaz. Though he implies that others in Bethlehem might not be so kind and generous toward her, he himself reflected the love of Christ.
Ruth was not expecting such generosity and kindness. We read in Ruth 2:10,
10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor [chen] in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner [nokriy]?”
The Hebrew word for “favor” is chen (pronounced Kane). It means “grace, favor, charm, beauty.” The range of meaning adds to the charm of this love story, because it implies also that Boaz recognized her beauty. This too adds subtle flavor to the theme of “love at first sight.”
Here also it is clear that Ruth identifies herself as a foreigner and not as an Israelite who was living in Moab. If she had been an Israelite, her acceptance would not have been questioned.
Ruth the Nokriy
Years earlier, while Israel was in the plains of Moab before crossing the Jordan River, God had told Moses, “Do not harass Moab nor provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot as a possession” (Deuteronomy 2:9). So the Moabites still remained in that land. In fact, within a century of Moses’ death, the Moabites were numerous enough to put Israel into captivity (Judges 3:12).
The term nokriy is used in Genesis 17:12 when God spoke of “any nokriy who is not of your descendants.” Likewise, in Exodus 12:43, a nokriy was not to participate in the feast of Passover. Nonetheless, in Exodus 12:19 God commanded that both aliens and native Israelites were supposed to keep the feast of Passover. So it is clear that a foreigner was ineligible only if he remained a foreigner and had not joined the house of Israel to serve Israel’s God.
Ruth confessed that she was a nokriy but we know that she had already declared, “Your people will be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). Her faith had qualified her to keep the feasts and to be an Israelite by nationality. Her faith also cancelled the curse upon Moab from its incestuous beginning (Genesis 19:36, 37). As I have already shown, Ruth was most likely the tenth generation from Lot, satisfying the law in Deuteronomy 23:3.
Boaz knew the law and understood the intent of its Author. Ruth 2:11, 12 says,
11 Boaz answered and said to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. 12 May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”
In any small community, local news travels fast. Boaz had already heard of Naomi’s return from Moab after being gone ten years. He had heard that she was accompanied by Ruth, her daughter-in-law from Moab. He had heard of Ruth’s devotion to Naomi, her confession of faith, and her determination to become an Israelite. Boaz did not object to any of this but congratulated her and blessed her for it. He did not even call her a nokriy.
Thus, Boaz prophesies of Christ’s work in destroying the dividing wall in the temple that had left Jews and non-Jews (and all women, too) in a state of permanent division. So Paul tells us that this dividing wall had been torn down (spiritually) by Christ Himself (Ephesians 2:14, 15, 16). Christ’s work did not destroy the law of God but corrected the unjust traditions of men that had misinterpreted the law.
Ruth’s Spirit-Filled Response
Ruth 2:13 says,
13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted [nacham] me and indeed have spoken kindly [leb, “heart”] to your maidservant [shifkha], though I am not like one of your maidservants.”
The Hebrew word nacham means “comfort,” which, in a legal sense, describes the work of the kinsman redeemer (often mistranslated as “avenger of blood”). Hence, Jesus spoke later of the “Comforter” (John 15:26 KJV). The Holy Spirit functions as “another Comforter” (John 14:16 KJV) along with Jesus Himself, as Advocates to give us legal counsel in the divine court.
Ruth’s words prophesy on behalf of the bride of Christ, suggesting the coming of the Holy Spirit.
In addition, Ruth says that Boaz had “spoken kindly” to her. The word she used was leb, which is the Hebrew word for “heart,” or inner man—the source of one’s true feelings. Prophetically speaking, this indicates that the Holy Spirit was to be sent as our legal counsel to reveal the heart of God, that we may know the intent of the law and have it written on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10). In other words, the law that is an expression of the heart of God is also to become part of our own nature as we come fully into the image of Christ.
Ruth also refers to herself as a shifkha, “maidservant” (or handmaid, KJV). Because this comes in the context of a prophecy about the coming of the Holy Spirit, we may link this to the prophecy in Joel 2:28, 29,
28 It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 And even on the male and female servants [shifkha] I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
This prophecy shows that the Holy Spirit was intended for “all mankind,” not just Jews or Israelites. Peter had to learn that lesson when he was surprised to discover that the Holy Spirit fell upon the Roman believers (Acts 10:45). Peter confessed, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34, 35).
Apparently, Peter had not understood the law in Deuteronomy 16:10, 11, which commands both Israelites and non-Israelites to observe the Feast of Weeks (i.e., Pentecost). Apparently, the rabbis had ignored this law, so Peter was unfamiliar with it until God revealed it to him.
Likewise, we find that “your sons and daughters will prophesy.” Not only the men but also the women—equally. We read in Acts 21:8, 9 that Philip had four daughters who were prophetesses. Where did they prophesy? Were they to keep silent in the church, as so many would say? If they received a word of prophesy, did they have to give it to their husbands at home later? Did they have to go out into the street to prophesy?
I covered this topic in my commentary on 1 Corinthians, the Epistle of Sanctification, Book 4, chapter 6. There I show that Paul was quoting from a letter he had received from Chloe, who was reporting to him what others were teaching about the role of women in the church. Paul’s opponents wanted to keep women silent in the church in accordance with Jewish tradition, but Paul responded to that restriction in 1 Corinthians 14:36 KJV,
36 What???? Came the word of God out from you [men]? Or came it unto you [men] only?
In other words, the word of God comes to both men and women. Both men and women may prophesy the word of God equally, as Joel 2:28 says. This is why Paul says in Galatians 3:28,
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
He was not speaking of erasing gender distinctions but was telling us that the law of God gives equal rights to all, and that the Kingdom of God will reflect that principle when it is fully manifested on the earth.
This principle is suggested in Ruth’s depiction of herself as a “maidservant” in the context of nacham (comfort). Though she expressed humility, Boaz elevated her to her rightful position under God.
This is part 13 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Ruth" To view all parts, click the link below.