Boaz

Introduction

1 Chronicles 2:10-11 lists Boaz among the ancestors of King David. Boaz was the son of Salmon (Salmah) from Rahab. Other biblical sources state that his grandfather (Nahshon) was the leader of the tribe of Judah.

However, and unlike his father Salmah and others of his ancestors, the Bible will talk more about him, so much so that we can safely say that he was the only ancestor of David who was described in such depth, even more so than Judah himself. This description will take place throughout the four chapters of the book of Ruth.

In the book of Ruth, Boaz was described directly and indirectly.

-I- Indirect Description of Boaz in the Book of Ruth:

Boaz was described indirectly first by the narrator and second by the mother in law.

1-What does the Narrator Say about Boaz?

On the face of it, the book of Ruth only starts describing Boaz from chapter 2, but we will soon find out that this is not the case.

In verse 1 the narrator informs us that: “1Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.” This blood connection between the two men as well as their social connection renders any genealogical description that was made about Elimelek in chapter 1 to be also relevant to Boaz.

Ruth 1:1-2“1In the days when the judges ruled,a there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.”

The Bible here, indirectly, adds a new information about Boaz. Besides the fact that he was a respectable man of wealth, the Bible also wanted us to know that he was an Ephrathite from Bethlehem in Judah. Genesis 35:19; cf. 48:7 uses Ephrath to mean Bethlehem.

Therefore, we notice that the book of Ruth, from its first chapter, managed to help the reader to get to know Boaz in every way possible.

2-What does Naomi Says about Boaz?

In chapter 2, Naomi says to Ruth before knowing where she was: 19…Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”

When the mother in law learnt that the master who employed Ruth was Boaz, this is what she said: “20The Lord bless him!” … “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers. ”

Through this indirect description of Boaz, the Bible was trying to build a particular image of Boaz.

From the first instance that Naomi set an eye on Ruth, she saw kindness in the number of goods she brought with her and probably the way she looked too. Naomi, who was born and bred in that society, knew exactly what it meant to be a young poor woman and a stranger gleaning in people’s farmlands. It often meant working for the whole day in extreme weather conditions (usually high temperature) while starving and thirsty, among strong competition of other gleaners who would, in different circumstances, turn hostile towards a stranger like her. This may result in Ruth bringing home a very small amount of the gleaned product if any. Also, Ruth (without the direct involvement of Boaz) could have been shouted at, pushed and shoved around and might have even been beaten up. On her return, she could have looked extremely weak not only due to the nature of the task but also due to dehydration and hunger.

Yet, her appearance did not show any of that when she came home. Looking at her, her mother in law only saw a grateful tiredness, a happy fatigue and an optimistic outlook to her future gleaning trips.  The old woman knew for sure that without the involvement of a powerful third party, her daughter in law would have looked very different, not to mention the amount of produce she would have brought with her. This unknown third party must have seemed to both women like a saviour and an angel protector, for they both knew that he didn’t act in kindness to fulfil a selfish desire like a typical human being would do.  Naomi trusted in her daughter’s virtue that she was certain her protector was a unique saviour with special qualities and wasn’t she right? For, this is what happened that led Ruth to come back, happy and loaded with goods:

When Boas saw her in the farm, this is what he said to his helpers: “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. 16Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”

And this is what he said to Ruth herself:

“9Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

Moreover, as soon as the identity of the secret protector was revealed to Naomi, she began adding other qualities to the man, we didn’t know before.

“20The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.”

This verse confirms that Boaz was not acting out of character that day. In fact, generosity, kindness and selflessness were the very things that formed his good reputation. Which means that it was generally and widely acknowledged among people of Bethlehem that Boaz was that type of man. He didn’t gain that reputation because he was powerful or wealthy, for reputations are seldom biased. In fact, a strong ‘tell-tell’ of his selflessness was the fact that he was not only generous towards the living who could thank him for his kindness and show him gratitude, but also for the dead from whom he expected nothing in return.

Finally, Boas’ indirect description was in his name. In Aramaic, Boaz is a name made of two words.

First Word: Bo, Boo or Bou, is a dialect word (literary modern Arabic; Abou) it means the father of.

Second Word: Az, El.az or El.izz.  Contrary to some English translations, this word has an entirely positive connotation.

On a financial scale, it means wealth in its right place, an acceptable type of prosperity. On a social scale, it means notability and prominence (but without the meaning of arrogance or haughtiness).

On a spiritual or psychological level, it means to esteem,  respect, dignity, etc.

The word derives from the verb [azza] (present/future: ya.uzzu] which means became dear, cherished someone, or became cherished and loved by someone, hence the second noun: el.ma.azza, which means to cherish someone and found them to be dear (not in a romantic way).

In a nutshell, Boaz’s name is a symbol for his qualities and for his general role in people’s lives, and also in his special role in the book of Ruth as the powerful good saviour and protector of the family tree of David. This is not to say that the whole story was just a parable, but the miracle of the Bible manifests itself in the fact that it is built on multilayers of truths, each one of them is true and meaningful in its own right.

Therefore, we believe that the book of Ruth recounts true events that were used, not only to shape history, but also to symbolise a different truth; which is the power, glory and kindness of Christ, and his work in the lives of the poor and the stranger.

-II- Direct Description of Boaz in the Book of Ruth:

Ruth Chapter 2

There is also a direct description of Boaz, not through a third party’s opinion, but through his actions themselves.

Very early in Ruth chapter 2, we hear that Boaz came to his field where the harvest was taking place.  “3So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz…4Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem…

What did Boaz do first, was to greet his workers appropriately  “4Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”… This action of greeting already shows that Boaz had a humble spirit and that he was not violent.

As soon as he noticed a poor woman he didn’t know before, gleaning in his field, he asked his servants about her. “5Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?” Instead of calling the woman over to ask her to explain who she was, he preferred to ask about her privately, perhaps to be able to make up his mind whether to allow her to glean in his field and how to treat her. This verse shows how much Boaz cared about who worked for him, but it also reveals the intelligence of the man and his decent behaviour.

“6The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’…8So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me.”

Boaz realised suddenly that this woman was his next of kin. He surely knew about Naomi’s return to Judea and he must have learnt about her daughter-in-law, but he was not expecting to see the Moabite woman working in his field. His strategic way of enquiring about her identity in private, saved them both the embarrassment of treating her like a pauper, which she was, though she was also his next of kin, and shared his family name. However, the way he addressed her did not only reflect his respect for the relationship he had with her father-in-law and acute sense of responsibility towards her, but also a feeling of compassion and a great concern for her well-fare. Boaz asked Ruth to work for him alone. This is not just to welcome her and show her his approval but to ensure her own safety. A few verses later (v22), Naomi will repeat the same warning to Ruth, which hints to the reason why they thought she shouldn’t work anywhere else, now that the two women are no longer starving.

Boaz even went a step further when he called Ruth “my daughter“. When the men of the East call a woman their daughter, it is to add honour to the woman and to make her feel safe.  To maximise this feeling of safety, Boaz let Ruth know that he told his workers to treat her with respect.  He also gave her the right not only to work in the field among his servants, but also to enjoy the same benefits they enjoyed:  “9Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you.”And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

Until now, Ruth was not aware of the nature of her relationship with the owner of the field. She had never heard of this rich relative before, and probably she went to his field because it was the nearest one to her home. She must have also been starving to go out gleaning in people’s fields, for we know from Naomi that it was a dangerous undertaking for a woman, thus, she might have been very scared. To find herself suddenly speaking with the owner of the land himself and to be given this much advantages must have rendered her the most grateful woman in the world. No wonder she bowed down before him asking him about the reason behind this favour.  “10At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”

Boaz answered Ruth’s question in the most unexpected way. He shifted the attention off his kind actions to place them on her own good deeds. He wanted to give her a sense of entitlement for the kindness he had poured over her, on one hand, to lift up her crushed spirit, and on the other to calm any concern she may have about his intention.

11Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12May 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.

Boaz statement and prayers surely managed to ease Ruth’s anxiety and she replied with a prayer of her own, to continue to find favour in his eyes. She spoke the truth to show him the depth of her gratitude when she said that she was lowlier than any of his servants, yet, he made her equal to the best of them.  “13“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servantthough I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

However, Boaz, who apparently stays in the field all day long to supervise the harvest, did not stop from showing kindness to the foreigner, gleaning in his field. At lunchtime, he provided her with a generous meal of bread, vinegar and roasted grains which was probably better than what any worker in his field could afford to eat. Then, he told his workers to allow her to gather grains, where gatherers weren’t allowed usually, as the bundles of grain were the master’s alone.  “14At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.””When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. 15As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. 16Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” Boaz shows here his strategic mindset once again. On one hand, he feels compassion for the poor woman and wants to help her, but on the other he doesn’t want to injure whatever pride left in her by giving her an abundant gift to take home, so he asks his workers discretely to pull some stalks from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, as if they were laying there by accident.  These very actions show the extent of the man’s generosity and kind heart.

In this dialogue between Boaz and Ruth in chapter 2, we see many qualities in the man; his intelligence, his understanding of human vulnerabilities and especially his ability to act as a comforter and a counsellor.

Ruth Chapter 3

I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”

Ruth came to Boaz at night and slept at his feet, only to ask for his hand in marriage when he awoke. This was an ancient custom to be used in extreme circumstances like those Ruth and Naomi were going through. It was not something unheard of, but at the same time, the action showed a great vulnerability and an extreme need for protection. However, this rare custom would have been met occasionally with rough reactions from the men-redeemers. Naomi, though, believed she knew what she was doing when she sent Ruth to Boaz.

10The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.”

Faced by this poor intruder who came asking for his hand in the middle of the night, Boaz only seemed shocked by the fact that Ruth wasn’t running after her own sexual pleasures by seeking younger men, but by duty and loyalty to her mother-in-law.  Boaz was the type of man who did not think highly of himself. He didn’t try to convince himself that Ruth was in love with him because of his good looks or power. Instead, he was able to read the truth as it is. In this most unconventional of situations that could have easily jeopardised his own reputation, he had the presence of mind to congratulate her on her own virtue and abundant wisdom. Boaz seems to have the ability to look through Ruth and sees the goodness in every single action she does.

“11And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. 12Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I.” 13Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.”

After letting Ruth know that he understood her motives well, in order to alleviate any feelings of shame or inferiority, he went on to reassure her that he would do what it takes to protect her. In verse 12, we learn that Boaz was not the nearest guardian-redeemer to Naomi and that another man was closer than him. Yet, instead of sending Ruth on her way to try her luck somewhere else, he promised to take up the mission himself.

“14So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, “No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor.”

Boaz allowed Ruth to spend the rest of the night in the threshing floor, keeping a respectable distance from her, and treating her respectfully as if she was his own daughter. However,  when they got up at dawn, he made sure to let her know that she should be discreet for her own sake and his.

15He also said, “Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.” When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and placed the bundle on her. Then he went back to town.”

In spite of the awkwardness of the situation and the fact that he was trying to be discreet about having a woman spending the night in his threshing floor, he did not neglect to offer her and Naomi a valuable gift before she departed. Boaz was a man of duty and honour, but before all, he was a man of compassion and true kindness.

Ruth Chapter 4

The Law of Redemption

According to the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, when the redeemer redeems an estate that is offered with the condition of marrying the widow of its deceased owner, the son he conceives with the widow is legally the deceased man’s child. This child would then take the estate, subject of inheritance, as his own. The redeemer will eventually have no rights over the son he conceives with the widow or over the state for that matter. The redeemer will lose any money he spent to redeem the land and spent on the wife and her children.

Boaz was willing to go through this for various reasons:

1- He was one of Elimalak’s kinsmen and redeemer of his estate. Eli Malak in Aramaic means The King.

2- He was a man of duty and loved to honour his word and his position.

3- Although a gentile and poor, Ruth was a woman of honour and duty too.

4- Boaz realised that Ruth had the choice of living a better life away from Naomi, but chose to stand by her, jeopardising her own interests.  Boaz felt it was right to do the right thing by the right people.

5- Although he was eager to do good, Boaz could not have overlooked tradition.  It was a matter of self-respect for him to follow the order of things. And since there was another redeemer to the house of Eli Malak, Boaz was not going to ‘push in’.

Boaz had to meet with the Kingsman and offer him the chance of redeeming the house of Eli Malak. That morning, he knew just where to find him. It seemed to be a tradition that men went to sit in the town’s gate. It was something equal to a village’s only pub. Boaz didn’t have time to organise a meeting and he didn’t need to, because each morning, men, especially the wealthy ones who didn’t have to work hard for a living, met at the town’s gate.  It was also something like a social club where people met to socialise and they kept each other updated with the latest affairs.

There, Boaz, gradually, broke the news to the Kingsman. First, he spoke to him about redeeming the land in the form of a usual purchase which would have been a bargain for the wealthy man, since the land belonged to two poor widows.

“3Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. 4I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if youb will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”                   “I will redeem it,” he said.”

Next, he revealed the whole truth of the transaction which involved the condition of taking on the family name and producing an heir for the dead.

“5Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”  6At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”

The question here is; why would Boaz break the news in two parts, leading the man to declare his acceptance for redeeming the land first, then informing him about the condition at the end? Or, in other words, why did Boaz not tell the Kingsman about the condition of the redemption from the beginning?

The answer may be found in one of the following possible interpretations:

1-Boaz might have wanted to understand the reaction of the kingsman towards each offer by itself; which one he might be accepting and which he may be refusing. He might have wanted to know this for personal reasons.

2-Boaz might have been led by the Holy Spirit to break the news this way, to enable the reader to understand the reality of the transaction. Readers from different cultures and historical settings will not understand the truth behind redeeming a property and marrying one of the owners as part of the redemption process. It may seem to some that what Boaz did was, in fact, every man’s dream, and so Boaz’s endeavour may have seemed less sacrificial. Therefore, the Holy Spirit was keen to show the future reader the sacrificial aspect of the redemption that Boaz took on.

4-Another unlikely interpretation could have been that Boaz really wanted that the Kingsman redeems his next of kin. So, he told him half the truth first to persuade him to accept the offer before all members, hoping that the kingsman may feel embarrassed to change his mind afterwards when the whole truth was revealed.

5-My last interpretation is that all the above possibilities were true at the same time because they can be. Boaz possibly wanted the Kingsman to assume his responsibility of redeeming Ruth with the land. But he wouldn’t have been able to ask in this way without the Holy Spirit’s prompting. In this prompting, the Holy Spirit had a different agenda that Boaz couldn’t comprehend at that time, which was to explain to us today the importance of what Boaz did, and to draw a symbolic image of the sacrifice that the King of Kings has made to ensure the family tree of Judah continues.

This interpretation of the symbolic image of the meeting is not only based on the name of Boaz, but also on that of the Kingsman. This nickname the man was given, in comparison to the true name of Boaz, hints to the spiritual relationship between the two men. The first man is the Father of wealth, prosperity, honour, glory and friendly love; all of which are qualities that place him as a spiritual King and ruler. On the other hand, the other next of kin is described as the Kingsman. Symbolically speaking, this could be a representation of one of God’s servants, like Moses for example who was the lawgiver to the nation of Israel.

There is a good possibility that the kingsman, in the book of Ruth, changed his mind mainly because of the origin of the Moabite woman. Although these events took place a long time ago before the prophet Ezra (Vth c.) banned inter-relationships between Jews and non-Jews, the natural instinct for humanity in general, and for the Jewish population, in particular, was not to trust a foreigner, thus to withdraw from concluding intimate affairs with them. The most important of these affairs was marriage. This pattern of behaviour started from Abraham and his offspring; Abraham made sure Isaac does not marry a foreigner in Genesis 24:

1Abraham was now very old, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. 2He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. 3I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, 4but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

In Genesis 26, the Bible says that: “34When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.”

In chapter 28, we see that even Isaak agrees that Jacob shouldn’t marry a non-Jewish woman like his brother: ‘1So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2Go at once to Paddan Aram,a to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.”

And although the reason behind this avoidance was spiritual, to begin with, due to the fact that Abram was called to separate from other nations to build a new one with different values and traditions that pleased God, the true meaning, later on, was forgotten and all that was left, was fear and disdain towards the foreigner, something that God did not call for, hence his message to the Jews and foreigners of their lands, through Isaiah 56, about two centuries later:

3Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,

“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”

And let no eunuch complain,

“I am only a dry tree.”

 

With regard to the Moabite nation, in particular, Moses was very clear in his opinion about it. In Genesis 19: 36-37 he traces their origin to an incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters.

In Deuteronomy 2:9, God is clearly ordering Moses to leave the Moabites alone. He says:
Then the LORD said to me, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.” However, Numbers 25 describes how stress took its tall over the spiritual leaders of the nation and over Moses in particular, when the Jews rebelled against God and his representatives and entered forbidden relationships with Baal and with women from Moab and Median. There was also the news that came to them from the prophet Balaam about Moab’s King’s true intention for Israel. 

As a result, Moses excluded all Moabites completely from entering the assembly of God in Deuteronomy 23: “3No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. 4For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaimb to pronounce a curse on you. 5However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. 6Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.”

In the book of Ruth, the Holy Spirit was doing a lot more than just tracing and explaining King David’s genealogy to the nation of Israel. The Holy Spirit main mission here was to offer the gift of forgiveness and mercy to the offspring of the Moabites. In this book, we see the ban that was put by Moses, being lifted, particularly off those Moabites who were willing to adhere to God’s commandments, like Ruth for example.

This plan of grace was inaugurated by the offering of an amazing gift to the nation of Moab, which was God’s will for them to become involved in Christ’s plan for humankind. They were not only to become part of the family tree of the most amazing King-figure in Jewish history, namely King David, but also to become part of the tree of the Messiah himself.

The Kingsman-Moses saw a conflict of interest in including Moab in God’s future plans. Their origin, certainly, did not fit the bill. They were conceived out of sin. Then, their King opposed the returning Jewish-Egyptians to the future Israel and tried to attract God’s curses on the Jews by using Balaam; a prophet of God. In brief, Moses thought and behaved like a normal man, although he was God’s man and his prophet. He allowed situations, friction and resentment to cloud God’s merciful act of kindness.

In Deuteronomy, Joshua implicitly describes how Moses feared God’s curse and begrudged the Moabite King for trying to frame the Jews and bring them under a curse and this was the main reason for his hatred and strong anger against the Moabites.  God, of course, had no intention of cursing the nation of Israel, his offspring, but at the same time, He did not want to extend the punishment to include all the Moabites’ future generations. He gave Moses the chance of applying grace when claiming the land, but we know that Moses was not able to apply mercy, even towards his own people which led him to be banned from entering the promised land. It soon became clear that Moses was not going to love the Moabites; as Abram loved Lot and applied grace in dealing with him. Moses refused to make allowance for those Moabites who chose to follow the right path, either.  Moses-the kingsman removed his sandals and asked the Father of Glory to do the deal, instead. When this became clear, God took over and applied his direct grace over them by bestowing such a precious gift upon Ruth, the virtuous, godly Moabite.

Therefore, the meeting between Boaz, the guardian-redeemer and the ten witnesses, at the town gate of Bethlehem, although I believe was historically accurate, it was at the same time a symbolic representation of the plan of salvation that was offered to all those who may be willing to follow Christ, in spite of the condescending attitude of the Jewish leaders towards the gentiles from the time of Moses till the present day.

 

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