If No One Would Know…

Boaz. Who would have ever thought we would know his story? The son of a prostitute. We know her story – Boaz is the son of Rahab, who hid the Israelite spies who were sent by Joshua to scout out the defenses in Jericho before the army marched around Jericho- you remember the story – for seven days in a row, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, finally after marching around the city walls on the seventh day, the priests blew their horns, the Israelites gave a great shout, and the walls came tumbling down. In exchange for Rahab hiding the spies, she and her parents and her brothers and sisters and all their households were spared slaughter when the Israelites captured Jericho.

This is the family that Boaz is born into and raised by. He has done well for himself, and when we study his story, what we see is a man of integrity. A person of integrity does the right thing even when it’s not acknowledged by others, or convenient. Throughout the story of Boaz, we see that he is a man of integrity and we are faced with the question, “Who am I when no one is looking?”

We meet Boaz as he is checking on his fields. It is harvest time in Bethlehem. The reapers are working. And he sees a young woman he doesn’t recognize in his field, picking his barley.

He asks his overseer who she is and learns she is that immigrant from Moab he heard about moving to Bethlehem…came back with Naomi….nice girl…asked to glean, to just pick up the leftovers behind the harvesters…been working since early morning…hasn’t taken a break.

Boaz knows about Moabites. Immoral. Promiscuous. They are descendants of a nephew of Abraham and Sarah, one of Lot’s children with one of his daughters. They speak a dialect of Hebrew, and their customs are not so different from the culture of the Israelites, but God forbad any Moabite from coming into the assembly of the Lord.

Yet, Boaz has heard about this woman who has been so loyal to her mother-in-law and he greets Ruth offering a prayer for her, “May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” Then, Boaz invites her to glean only in his fields and to stay with the women who reap for him. He knows how vulnerable a widow immigrant is. There is no one to hold a man accountable if he takes advantage of her. So, Boaz warns his men to stay away from her. He invites her to drink the water that is provided for his workers and when they break for lunch, he gives her a huge portion….enough to eat her fill and have some to take home.

Boaz owed her nothing. There is no gleaning law for Moabites. No one would know if he went over to her and told her to leave. Yet, he has compassion for this desperate woman who is just trying to have enough to eat. And he goes beyond letting her stay. He tells the reapers to give her some of what they reap. He protects her from others who would take advantage of her. He provides food and water for her. How would you respond? Wait, there are Ruths in our world today. How do you respond? To desperate people? To people working hard to make ends meet? Are you compassionate? Generous? Do you stand up to people who would take advantage and protect them? Would you be proud for your response to be talked about for thousands of years? Boaz certainly didn’t realize we would be talking about his response that day.

Of course, when Naomi hears that Ruth happened to glean in Boaz’s field she is thrilled. Boaz is a kinsman, one of Naomi’s closest relatives. Ruth continues to glean with Boaz’s reapers until the harvest is over. She works hard, and Boaz has told them to be generous, but there’s not enough food for them for the winter.

So, Naomi sends Ruth to try to gain their security. After the harvest is done, there is a huge, wild, party at the threshing floor, women of the night, drink flows freely. Naomi prepares Ruth to go: a bath (not a common occurrence), anointing oil, fresh clothes. And when Ruth gets there, she waits until she sees Boaz settle down at the end of a heap of grain and fall asleep. What happens next is the stuff of Soap Operas. Double entendre fill the story with ambiguity and mystery. Six times, the word for “know” is used…and it is the same word that means “to know in the Biblical sense.” Four times, feet are mentioned, which is a euphemism for the private area of men. Six times the writer uses the word for “lie down,” which can also mean “lie with.” So whether or not anything happened, the writer wants us to understand that Ruth is in a morally precarious position.

At midnight, Boaz startles and sees her beside him. “Who are you?” he asks, and she responds, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next of kin.” The word for cloak is the same word in Hebrew as the word for wing. Remember, when he met her, Boaz prayed that she be rewarded by God, under whose wing she had come to take refuge? Now Ruth asks Boaz to spread his cloak/his wing over her, for he is her next of kin, her refuge.

Now, Boaz has the chance to be the agent of fulfilling his prayer. Let’s pause the story for just a minute. This is often how God answers prayer. When we pray for something, God often responds by giving us the opportunity to act. This wasn’t an easy choice for Boaz. Taking on Ruth and Naomi isn’t something he wanted – if it had been, he would have already done it. It will be costly, and there will be no benefit to him. So, Boaz’s response really reveals his character. How many of us would take on living with a widow and her bitter mother-in-law? Paying for everything for them? Boaz is under no legal obligation to care for them. Yet, he prayed for God to give them refuge, and now he is being asked to provide that refuge.
There might be a way out, though. There is actually a closer relative. Tomorrow, Boaz will talk with him. “If he does not wish to take care of you, he tells her, “then, I solemnly swear, as the LORD lives, I will take care of you myself. Lie down until morning.“ So for now, she stays there where she is safe, and sneaks back home to Naomi in the early morning light.

The next morning, Boaz goes to the city gate, which was where the community gathered and discussions that needed witnesses were held. Everyone passed here at least twice a day going and coming from their fields. Boaz sees the other kinsman and calls him over. He gathers ten village elders as witnesses, and he shares that Naomi has some land that he could claim. Most likely either Elimelech, her late husband, had sold farming rights to it before they left for Moab to escape the famine or some squatters have been farming the land. When they got back, Naomi couldn’t claim the land because once it was planted for the season, you had to wait until after the harvest, but now she can. Knowing that Naomi isn’t likely to marry and have children who could reclaim it, the relative agrees to fulfill his legal obligation as closest next of kin, redeem the land at whatever cost and keep it in the family.

The next part of the story, reveals again Boaz’s character. He tells the next of kin, “I am acquiring Ruth, the Moabitess, the widow, to restore the name of the dead to his inheritance.” Boaz could have let the next of kin reclaim the land, pay whatever fees, deal with whatever squatters, and then if Boaz and Ruth had a son, the land would revert to the son and the next of kin would just be out his money and his trouble. But, Boaz is honest. The relative declines the land. Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son.

And that is the story of Boaz, who was generous and kind and protective of a vulnerable immigrant widow, and no one would have known if he hadn’t been, who didn’t take advantage of a desperate effort to secure her future, who was honest to offer land rights to the unknowing next of kin, and selfless enough to take a foreign woman and her mother-in-law into his home.
Boaz didn’t know that we would know his story. He acted with integrity when no one would know if he didn’t. And his story continues to challenge us because our true character is revealed by the choices we make when no one would know if we weren’t generous, if we did take advantage, if we weren’t honest, if we didn’t sacrifice. Would you want your story told for thousands of years?