It is not immediately apparent whether Naomi is pleased by the prospect of having her Moabite daughter-in-law return to Bethlehem with her. She says nothing after Ruth’s moving declaration of loyalty (Ruth 1:16–18), and this may indicate she is not enthusiastic about having her around. In any case, Naomi is clearly embittered and not able to see any good in her current circumstances (vv. 19–22).
Yet the Lord’s care for Elimelech’s widow is plain in the midst of her need. First, Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem just in time for the barley harvest (v. 22b), when it would be easy to find food. Second, today’s passage begins by introducing Naomi’s worthy relative, Boaz, to the reader (2:1). Ruth does not yet know about Boaz, even though she “happens” to find his land when she goes to glean (vv. 2–3). Of course, God’s sovereignty means nothing is mere happenstance (Eph. 1:11). Make no mistake, the author wants us to understand that the Lord’s invisible hand guides Ruth’s choice of field.
We are drawn to Boaz when he arrives on the scene because he loves his God and his servants, and he quickly notices the foreigner gleaning in his fields (Ruth 2:4–5). Ruth’s desire to feed her mother-in-law has made her diligent in the exhausting work of picking the leftover kernels of grain from the fragments of the crop not harvested. Ruth’s love is famous; Boaz’s servant expects him to know of the Moabitess who left her nation’s gods to join Naomi’s clan (vv. 6–7).
The Mosaic law orders landowners to leave portions of their fields unharvested so that the poor might eat of the leftovers (Lev. 19:9–10). Boaz lets Ruth continue gleaning in these areas, indicating his righteous intent to obey God. Yet Boaz goes beyond what the Lord requires and allows Ruth to glean among the sheaves his servants are collecting, even telling them to pull some from their bundles for her (Ruth 2:15–16). Boaz understands that fulfilling the Law is more than taking the Lord’s stipulations at face value alone. Just as the command against murder also forbids unjust anger (Matt. 5:21–26), so too does the principle of leaving parts of a field unharvested tell us to give to the needy above and beyond the letter of the Law (Ps. 37:21).
When Ruth reports Boaz’s generosity to her mother-in-law, Naomi begins to move out of her bitterness and back toward faith (Ruth 2:20–21). We should never underestimate the effect our generosity can have on other people. In fact, when we give to others in the name of Christ, we ought not be surprised if some become believers and others renew their trust in the Lord. All of us should be looking for opportunities to give generously of our time and resources.