Boaz of Bethlehem
(A tale of Romance and Redemption)

Boaz lived in the 12th century BC in Bethlehem, a town later known as “the city of David,” Boaz’ great-grandson. He is introduced in the book of Ruth as a relative of Elimelech. a man who died as a refugee in Moab. Boaz was a “man of great wealth,” though a better translation may be “a man of high standing.”

After a long absence, Elimelech’s widow (Naomi) returned to Bethlehem from Moab with a widowed daughter-in-law named Ruth. Naomi had lost everything, except the love and loyalty of her bereaved daughter-in-law. To survive, Ruth gleaned for grain along with the poor and destitute of Bethlehem. It was the duty of wealthy landowners to leave some gleanings for the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10) and Boaz was glad to comply.

One day, Boaz greeted the hungry gleaners in his field saying, “May the LORD be with you.” (Ruth 2:4). He addressed them with kindness and respect, though many, like Ruth, were strangers. They responded, “May the LORD bless you.”

“Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz),” 1853, by Jean-Francois Millet (French, 1814–1875).
“Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz),” 1853, by Jean-Francois Millet (French, 1814–1875).

Boaz noticed Ruth in his field and took a special interest in her. He generously made sure she went home with plenty of grain. Turns out, her reputation for kindness and selfless loyalty preceded her. He made sure she was not subjected to insults and rebukes and blessed her, saying, “May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.” (Ruth 2:12). Boaz was generous with his blessings!

Naomi recognized God’s kindness in Boaz’ deeds and quickly assumed a crucial role as Ruth’s mentor through a match-making process. She revealed Boaz’ kinsman-redeemer status and the marital prospects this presented to Ruth who had precious little to offer Boaz. Following Naomi’s instructions, Ruth makes a bold move letting Boaz know of his obligation to her (and Naomi) as a kinsman redeemer. The rules of Deuteronomy 25 must have gone through Boaz’ mind when Ruth revealed who she was. How romantic!

Boaz responded to Ruth with yet another blessing, invoking Yahweh: “May you be blessed of the LORD, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich.” (Ruth 3:10). Then Boaz declared his intention to do his duty as a kinsman redeemer, affirming Ruth as “a woman of noble character.” (3:11). He knew Ruth could have gone after younger choice males, but instead she obeyed her mentor and acted as much in Naomi’s interest as her own. Boaz wanted this marriage.

Nevertheless, he respected custom and convention enough to give Ruth up to another relative with first rights as a kinsman redeemer. Fortunately, this rival declined when he saw the inheritance risks and sacrifices involved in doing his duty. This cleared the way for Boaz to marry Ruth.

Ruth and Boaz were initially surprised to find favor in each other’s hearts. When expectations are low, the joy of finding love runs deep. When Boaz called Ruth a woman of “noble character” (3:11), he used the same Hebrew word [hayil] that was applied to him previously as “a man of standing” (2:1). This signals to the reader that she was Boaz’ moral equal and fully qualified to marry him. This same word was used to describe a wife whose worth surpassed jewels (Proverbs 31:10). That was Ruth.

Since Romeo and Juliet, a popular formula for love stories has been to pit romance against family and social obligations. Not in the book of Ruth! The romance between Ruth and Boaz flows richly through their duties, customs, and conventions. In this redemptive love story, social and religious obligations lead the way. It was pure kindness for Boaz to carry on the family line of a deceased relative and take care of his helpless widow and her in-law. As with the redemptive love of Jesus on the cross, the kinsman-redeemer role played by Boaz was no less loving for all the obligations involved. And the lineage of Elimelech endured all the way to the birth of the ultimate Redeemer; Jesus Christ.

Let’s sum up Boaz’ character qualities:

  • He was a man of standing in his community (Ruth 2:1).
  • He was gracious to poor and hungry workers (2:4).
  • He had sympathy for foreigners without prejudice (2:6 & 4:10).
  • He respected and protected the vulnerable (2:9).
  • He was kind, generous and hospitable (2:13-14).
  • He was a good judge of character, attracted to integrity (3:11).
  • He was a reliable man who finishes what he starts (3:18).
  • He responsibly honored his obligations (3:11 & 4:9-10).
  • He was a man of wisdom at the city gate (4:1-8).
  • Boaz was both blessed and a blessing (2:4,12 & 3:10).

Ruth and Boaz were ordinary people with extra-ordinary character and kindness.

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