Most civilised societies have welfare programmes to help feed the poor. In giving the Israelites “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Leviticus 20:24), God also commanded them to take care of the poor living among them (19:9–10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19–22). They were to deliberately not harvest everything so that the needy could glean the leftovers to feed themselves, working for their food with a modicum of dignity. God’s solution to hungry stomachs involves the generous hearts and open hands of His people (Deuteronomy 15:4–11).
In the days when judges ruled (Ruth 1:1), and “everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6), unscrupulous landowners would not allow the poor to glean. As a woman and foreigner living in perilous times (Ruth 2:2, see 2:9, 22), Ruth hopes to “go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour” (or “grace”, 2:2 KJV). We are not told how she knows of this Mosaic provision, but this tells us that since marrying a Jew, Ruth has taken the trouble to learn more about God and His laws. Ruth volunteers to glean. Naomi? Perhaps she is too old—or too proud—to glean. This is a step of faith for Ruth, for it means she not only believes what God says, and is also acting upon it (James 2:17). Relying on His grace, Ruth is trusting God to protect and to provide.
Her choice of field is random. But “as it [turns] out”, Ruth finds herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, a wealthy and influential relative from the clan of Elimelek (Ruth 2:1, 3). One rabbinic tradition says Boaz was a nephew of Elimelek, though Scripture does not define what the precise relationship was. A chance occurrence? This “happenstance” is God’s mysterious providence working through the ordinary circumstances of life.
Boaz is “a man of standing” (in Hebrew, ’is gibbor hayil). The same description is used of Gideon and Jephthah, each of whom was called a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12; 11:1). Given that these are the perilous times of the judges, Boaz could well be a military leader too. Perhaps that is why the Talmud identifies him as the minor judge Ibzan (12:8). There were two pillars at the portico of Solomon’s temple, named Jakin (meaning “He establishes”) and Boaz (meaning “in Him is strength”, see NIV footnotes for 1 Kings 7:21; 2 Chronicles 3:17). Some scholars say this was to remind the Israelites that it is the Almighty God who established the Davidic throne. Others surmised that these pillars, named after two of Solomon’s ancestors, were to affirm that Boaz was a key person in the ancestry of David.
The law of gleaning is God’s care for the poor (Leviticus 19:9–10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19–22). How can Christians today apply this law to help the poor in our midst?
What welfare programme does your home church have for helping the poor and the needy in the community? What is one thing you can do to help the poor on a regular basis?