As a full-time pastor, I’m fairly sheltered from the rough and tumble of blue collar work life. I remember the cool break rooms after the hot afternoon, the crude jokes on the side, the tired muscles, watching the clock, and so on, but it has been quite a while. Hang on to that thought – I’ll bring it back in a minute.
Now Boaz said to her at mealtime, “Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed parched grain to her; and she ate and was satisfied, and kept some back. 15 And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her.
It’s amazing what it will do for you to slow way down in reading the Bible. I watch a daily video podcast that takes a verse of Hebrew and a verse of Greek and walks through it, analyzing and translating the original text into English. While you take two minues per verse to think of the grammar and how best to translate, it enriches your understanding of the text.
Right now I’m reading Ruth 2, and I did several verses in a row this morning. After a brief conversation at church where a member described the daily schedule at his manual labor, summer job, the description of the reapers really popped out at me.
Don’t reproach or humiliate Ruth, Boaz tells his workers a few times. Out in the field, there is more freedom to engage in crude jokes, probably comparing the women gleaning behind them. Probably even more so at lunch, when the men and women would eat separately.
Now here's where it gets interesting.
Boaz does a shocking thing that shakes up the mundane lunch break routine in verses 14-15. He invites Ruth to sit with the reapers (the men workers) instead of eat with the gleaners (the women). Most people notice the apparent improper act of Ruth going to the threshing floor by Boaz at night, but I’ve never heard a comment about this incident in 2:14-15. I’ve always understood Ruth going to the threshing floor at night as a bold act out of the blue, forging ahead with little to go on. And she does certainly take initiative in that. But Ruth is responding to Boaz’s similar act in 2:14-15. Boaz also does something that feels improper (having Ruth sit with the men), to accomplish something more important than propriety.
Boaz gets two things done. First, he acts on his pious words, extending God’s love to Ruth. He had just called down God’s blessing on her, that He would repay her for leaving her homeland and staying loyal to Naomi. He wanted the God of Israel to take note and make up her Moabite loss with prosperity in Israel. So he then does his part to make that happen. Not only will she get the gleanings of the day from his field, she gets the good food at lunch, and takes some of that home, too.
But the second thing is what caught my eye, related to the rough and tumble of lunch room conversations at work. By bringing a woman to the table, Boaz rebukes or gently reminds his workers, that they can’t talk their usual way now that she is there. You know that awkward sense when a group of ladies is talking and it’s bordering on gossip, and then a man walks up? Or when a group of men are hamming it up, and it’s going a little too far, and then a woman walks within earshot? Boaz makes that happen. He invites Ruth to sit with the men. Maybe he’s changing the culture of his employers, or just reminding them how it needs to stay. And he is also telling them that she is as important as they are. It's too easy when the men and women are apart socially all the time for each to start looking down on the other. He mixes it up to prevent this.
In the end, Boaz did not just give Ruth food, a handout. He gave her social dignity when she could easily have been maligned, mocked and misused.