How Boaz Treated Ruth
Ruth went out to look for a field where men were harvesting their barley, so that she might glean in the field. She came across a field owned by “Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3). As with Elimelech, Boaz was a righteous man. We do not know his precise relationship with Elimelech, but the story later tells us that Boaz was his second nearest kinsman, perhaps a first cousin.
Ruth 2:3 indicates that Ruth had not known whose field it was that she was gleaning. It says,
3 So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
Here we see the sovereignty of God at work, for though we live and walk in the best way we know how, we understand that God directs our paths (Prov. 3:6). In this case, Ruth was unaware that she had “happened to come” to the field of Boaz.
Ruth 2:4 continues,
4 Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.”
Who do these “reapers” represent in this prophetic story? In the parable of Jesus, “the reapers are angels” (Matt. 13:39), who come to cut down the stalks of grain. The Hebrew word for “reaper” is qatsar, which means “to be short, be impatient, be vexed, or be grieved.” Hence, to reap is to cut short, and when applied to grain, it means to reap by cutting the stalks short.
But the word is also used in other contexts, such as we see in Isaiah 28:20, “the bed is too short.” Also, in Isaiah 50:2 God asks, “Is My hand so short that it cannot ransom?” We read in Prov. 10:27,
27 The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened [qatsar].
Hence, when the angels reap the earth at the end of the age, as Jesus said, “the years of the wicked will be shortened,” or cut short, even as the stalks of grain are cut short. The context of this parable is given in terms of harvesting wheat (Matt. 13:25, 26), but the principle of reaping is the same, whether it speaks of wheat or barley.
In fact, we even have the strange metaphor in Rev. 14:17-19 about an angel harvesting grapes with a sickle!
In each case, the underlying theme is about shortening something, sometimes in a positive sense and at other times in a negative sense. In the negative sense God cuts down the wicked, shortening their time to do evil in the earth.
In the story of Ruth, we see the positive side. The barley was being reaped because it was ripe and the time had come for the great Husbandman to reap the reward of His labor, as we read also in James 5:7-9,
7 Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.
God is the “farmer” (or Husbandman) here, and He is also the Judge. Reaping is an act of judgment. Judgment condemns unrighteousness and rewards righteousness. James told the brethren to “be patient” and not to complain, “that you yourselves may not be judged.” There are, therefore, two sides of judgment. Let us be found on the grace side. Patience is also to be contrasted with complaint.
In the story of Ruth, the reapers at the time of barley harvest speak into the overall prophecy, indicating a seasonal change from the wilderness to the Promised Land, from scarcity to abundance, from adversity to comfort and joy.
Although we have no serious enemies being cut down in the story, we are later given an example of a type of believer who refuses the message of Sonship. This is the kinsman who refuses to take Ruth as his wife to bring forth an inheritor of Elimelech’s estate.
The barley harvest in the story of Ruth is primarily positive, focusing on the overcomers, the fruitful ones, those being claimed and gathered to God in the first resurrection of Rev. 20:4-6.
Boaz Notices Ruth
When Boaz arrived later in the day, he noticed Ruth sitting in the shade of the hut. Ruth 2:5-7 says,
5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 And the servant in charge of the reapers answered and said, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. 7 And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.”
The foreman informed Boaz that this was the young Moabite woman who had just returned from Moab with Naomi. Being a small community, Boaz no doubt had heard the news but had not yet met them. Ruth had asked permission from the foreman to glean in the field, because this was probably her first experience as a gleaner. There is no mandate in the law to ask such permission. All gleaners had the right to glean in whatever field they chose, but Ruth was probably timid and, as a foreigner, took pains to avoid being resented.
Boaz then walked to the hut and talked directly to Ruth. Ruth 2:8, 9 says,
8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one but stay here with my maids. 9 Let your eyes be on the field which they reap and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw.”
The first thing we notice is how Boaz’ actions contrasted with the Jews of New Testament times. In Jesus’ day Jewish men did not talk to women other than their own wives. It was doubly horrifying for a Jewish man to talk to a foreign woman. When Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John, His disciples were surprised at this breach of cultural prejudice.
So we find that Boaz was very much a type of Christ in his kindness to a foreign woman. In those days, talking to women and to foreign women was not shameful.
Boaz was kind to Ruth, urging her to glean in his field and go nowhere else. He intended to leave enough gleanings in the field that she could be fully supported in her effort. Furthermore, he “commanded the servants not to touch you.” They were not to lay a hand on her, either to harm her or to take advantage of her sexually.
Boaz must have seen that she was beautiful and that she might be in danger if she were to glean in another field. Later, when Ruth told Naomi about Boaz’ kindness, Naomi told her in Ruth 2:22, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maids, lest others fall upon you in another field.” We may extrapolate from this that not everyone in Bethlehem was upright. Boaz knew everyone in town, and he apparently believed that some did not treat foreigners with equal respect. Not everyone followed the law written in Num. 15:15, 16,
15 As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
Boaz also instructed his servants to allow Ruth to drink from the same water pots that the rest of them used. In other words, she did not have to bring her own water. She was treated with equality with all the others.
Ruth Compared to the Woman from Samaria
This too reminds us of the Samaritan woman at the well, whom Jesus befriended. In that story however, the situation was reversed, for Jesus asked her for a drink (John 4:7). Her first reaction was that of surprise that a man from Judea would speak to a Samaritan woman. Then the situation changed, and Jesus essentially offered her a drink from the fountain of living water (John 4:13, 14).
This is the point where the situation was comparable to the story of Ruth.
In essence, Boaz, the type of Christ, prophetically offered Ruth the Moabitess the water of life, which springs from the word of God. That word of kindness extended grace to foreigners and offered them full equality before God. We see this in the story of Ruth and again in the story of the Samaritan woman.
So in John 4:20 the Samaritan woman asked Jesus the great question faced by all denominations today,
20 “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain [Gerazim], and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father.”
Jesus explained to her that God desired that all should worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). This was the message given to her when she asked to drink of the living water. It was the message that tore down the dividing wall in the outer court of the temple (Eph. 2:14) which separated Jewish men from women and all non-Jewish converts to Judaism.
It was also the message of the veil that was torn when He died on the cross (Matt. 27:51), making a way for all to approach the throne of grace on equal footing (Heb. 10:19, 20).
So that is how I would interpret the significance of Boaz offering water to Ruth. She is treated as an equal to all others of his household, and thereby is she given the revelatory word confirming that we are all to worship at the same “mountain” in spirit and in truth.