The Love of a Meddlesome Mother-in-Law

The second part of Ruth’s story is lengthy, but if you like a good romance, this fictionalized version reads like a fairy tale. Except in this story, the mother-in-law is not a wicked villain but is instrumental in arranging a special marriage. In fact, the new couple’s names appear in the lineage of Jesus!
If you haven’t read Part 1, why don’t you start there?

Our journey was difficult and long. But when we walked into the city of Bethlehem, I noticed my companion’s shoulders lift slightly.

The women at the town well chattered through our dreary entrance as we passed. “Is this Naomi? Where has she been? Why does she look so old and battered by life? Who is that with her? Where is Elimelech?”

Naomi held her head high through most of the gossip. When an old friend grabbed her hand and pulled her into an embrace, she shed silent tears behind the woman’s back.

“What has happened, Naomi?”

She shook her head, still not ready to talk about her grief. “Don’t even call me that anymore,” she croaked. “Call me Mara—bitter. Because that’s what I am, my dear friend: bitter. God has knocked me down. My life was full when I left here, and now I return with nothing.”

I shook my head but said nothing. I doubted that her God had anything to do with her troubles. I silently asked Him, yet again, for comfort, strength, and blessings for Naomi. The peace I felt as I prayed seemed like an answer. He would provide. We would be okay.

We settled into Elimelech’s old house, but looters had taken everything of value. It broke my heart to watch Naomi look around when we arrived.

“We will fix it up and make a beautiful home here,” I whispered.

She gave a quick nod and set about doing just that.

Naomi’s old friends and neighbors brought us food and household items to help us settle in. I worried about how we would cope when the hospitality came to an end. Where would we get food? Would we have to beg for it? I couldn’t bear the thought of defiling Mahlon’s memory by selling my body in order to survive. If it came to that, I would know that this decision to follow my mother-in-law to her homeland was a mistake.

I found myself in Naomi’s prayer pose on my knees, asking her God to provide for us. Use my life, Lord, but spare me from having to compromise my integrity.

When I arose, I spied the last of the barley bread brought to us by a friend. I recalled Naomi telling me that we had arrived in Canaan during the barley harvest. An idea began to form in my mind. It wasn’t quite as degrading as begging, and might still put myself in danger as a single, unprotected woman, but I accredited the plan to Naomi’s God once again.

I asked for her approval before I left in the morning. The worry lines on her forehead relaxed somewhat when she agreed to my actions. My face heated with her pleasure, and I fought back tears in her embrace.

It seemed foolish to walk by the first field and give up the convenience of working closer to home, but something didn’t feel right. The sour faces on some of the harvesters did not inspire confidence in my endeavor. I felt differently when I came to the next field. I heard singing. The workers seemed to be happy here.

I sent another prayer heavenward for good favor and fell in behind the harvesters. If I could just pick up the grains left behind on the ground, Naomi and I would live to see another day. So, I began to gather; a head here, a stalk there. I hummed along with the singing in the field ahead of me, thanking God for His mercy.

One of the workers, a young girl, dropped back to where I was. “What are you doing?” she asked. “Are you new here? You need to keep up with us to get the most grain.”

I shook my head. “I am not employed here. My mother-in-law and I have just moved from Moab, and we have no husbands to provide for us. I’m just picking up these scraps, hoping the master of the field will be generous to me.”

She smiled warmly. “You are Naomi’s daughter then. My mother grew up with her. Boaz is a kind man. He will not mind you doing this.” She touched my arm before turning to catch up with the other workers. “God be with you,” she called.

No one had ever said that to me before. It was almost like a blessing. I liked it. I liked the thought that God might be with me, that He cared about where I went and what I did.

My back tired as the sun steadily rose in the sky. When I stretched up, I saw a bearded man sitting tall on a horse. He rode toward the field where we worked from the road that led to the city. Even from a distance, I could tell he was older than me by a few years, but his strong jawline and warm eyes were very pleasing. I immediately looked away as I felt ashamed for thinking such traitorous thoughts. My husband had not been dead for more than a couple of months.

As he rode into the field, he called to his workers, “The Lord be with you!”

The harvesters stopped their work and responded with waves and smiling replies of, “The Lord bless you!” They seemed genuinely happy to see him, and their work ethic remained unchanged with their master overseeing them. Many workers whistled or laughed together as they harvested the barley.

I took another peek at this tall man who must be Boaz, the owner of the field. He was even better looking close up, with his distinguishing feature being his sparkling eyes that showed laugh lines when he talked. He spoke briefly to the foreman, glancing over at me twice while they conversed. Was he asking about me? Would he tell me to leave?

When I looked up from my work again, he had dismounted and was strolling toward me. My heart pounded unnaturally in my chest.

He greeted me with the greeting that was rapidly becoming familiar, “The Lord be with you, daughter!” I nodded at him. Daughter? I wasn’t that much younger than him. My stomach clenched unexpectedly with what felt like disappointment.

“I wish for you to stay here in my field when you gather grain. Don’t go to any other fields. Look for the young women workers when you arrive and follow behind them as they harvest. I’ve spoken to the young men and they’ve promised to treat you respectfully. Let me know if you have need of anything or if someone does not show you kindness.”

He pointed to the middle of the field. “When you are thirsty, do not be shy to help yourself to the water they have brought with them.”

I could not meet his eyes but instead knelt before him staring at his sandaled toes. “Thank you, master. I’ve done nothing to deserve such kindness. I’m just a foreigner living in your land.”


The one-word answer was resolute and followed by silence. I dared to look up.

“You are not just a foreigner. I know that you love my relative Naomi and that you selflessly accompanied her here after the passing of your husband.”

The mention of Mahlon caused my face to heat up. I lowered my head again. I loved you, Mahlon. Truly.

“I’ve heard of everything you’ve done for her. May the Lord reward you for that. But may I also help you in this way? Stay.”

I spoke to his dusty feet. “Thank you, my Lord. You have comforted me with your kindness. Naomi will be happy to hear of this too.”

I continued to work until the harvesters stopped for lunch. I made to throw the barley onto my shoulder to go home when I heard Boaz call out to me.

“Ruth, daughter. Come and eat with us. Dip your bread in the sour wine. There is plenty.”

I whispered a thank you again as I sat with the young women and ate. They insisted I take the leftovers to bring home to my mother-in-law. Boaz had eaten with the men, chatting and laughing with them all the while.

When we went back to work, there was noticeably more barley left on the ground for me. I suspected Boaz had given the harvesters orders to be kind to me in this way also. 

Naomi’s face glowed as I told my tale and showed her all the barley and the roasted grain left from lunch. She remembered Boaz with fondness. “May the Lord bless him for this kindness. He is one of our closest relatives and one of our family redeemers. You were lucky to have chosen his field today.”

I didn’t tell her that there was no luck involved. It was her God who had led me there. I was convinced of that.

I returned day after day until the barley harvest was over. Boaz then invited me to join the workers for the wheat harvest in another field. He went out of his way to speak to me every time he visited the harvesters. I missed him when he didn’t drop by. His almond-shaped eyes and laugh lines made my heart flutter each time he smiled at me. I apologized to Mahlon every time.

Naomi and I had settled into a comfortable lifestyle in Bethlehem. My mother-in-law smiled more, even laughing sometimes; her friends had revived her spirit. We also became good friends.

But one day Naomi caught me off guard when she said, “My daughter, it’s time that I found a secure place for you. You are too young to be alone. I will not rest until I know you are provided for.”

I laughed, in spite of the odd feeling moving across my middle. “What did you have in mind, Mother? Are you expecting a son for me to wed in twenty years from now?”

She smiled. “I was actually thinking of Boaz.”

My heart skipped a beat as she continued. “He is a close relative of ours, and he’s been very kind to you. Do you think he might be ready to take a wife?”

My heated face was answer enough.

“Yes, I see that you might like that idea,” she chuckled.

She laid a gnarled hand on my arm. “Now, do as I tell you. Boaz will be at the threshing floor tonight winnowing the barley. Go bathe and put on your sweetest perfume. Wash your hair and dress in your nicest clothes.”

My face grew even hotter. “You wish for me to seduce him?” I asked. “That is not something I could do.” 

“Listen to me, daughter. Go to the threshing floor, but don’t let Boaz see you until after his evening meal. Pay attention to where he lies down. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down there. That is it. He will tell you what to do after that.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know, Naomi. What if he thinks I’m too forward? I don’t want him to think ill of me.”

“When have I led you astray, Ruth? Do as I say.”

I bit back more arguments. Naomi was my elder, my family. My thoughts turned instead to Boaz. Would he want me as a wife?

So, I followed her instructions, laying at his feet after he had filled his belly with food and wine and was in good spirits. Around midnight, he stirred, and I knew he was awake. My heart pounded erratically. Would he throw me out? My heart was invested in this. I had more to lose than Naomi could know.

“Who lies there?” he asked.

“It is your servant Ruth.” I trembled as I spoke, but my voice sounded sure and steady. “You are my family redeemer. I was hoping you might cover me with the corner of your blanket.”

Boaz sat up and reassured me with his warm smile. “The Lord bless you, my daughter! You continue to show family loyalty to Naomi by coming here. Don’t worry, I will do what is right by you.”

As he adjusted the blanket over me, he said, “The truth is, while the thought of making you my wife pleases me greatly, there is another man who is a closer relative to you. I will speak to him in the morning and find out if he intends to be responsible for you. If he refuses your hand, I will gladly do so. Lie down and stay the night. You are safe with me.”

For once, I didn’t speak to my dead husband. It was time to move on. I felt Mahlon would approve. 

I stayed at Boaz’s feet until morning, but sleep did not come. My pulse raced as I realized this man might become my new husband.

While it was still dark, with the sun ready to light the morning, Boaz whispered, “It’s time to go, my daughter. No one can know you were here overnight. Come, spread your cloak over here before you go.”

He filled my cloak with six scoops of barley and placed it on my back. “I pray that God blesses me with your hand,” he said as he bid farewell.

I whispered a similar prayer as I crept into the dawn light, back to Naomi. The next few hours would be torturous as my future remained unknown.

The old woman’s eyes lit up as I described what happened. She clapped her hands and embraced me. “Be patient, Ruth. He will work things out for you.”

I wasn’t sure if she meant Boaz or God, but I hoped she was right.

I didn’t go into the field that morning. Tired and restless, I prayed that God would work things out for His will, but secretly hoped I needn’t become a stranger’s wife instead because of traditions that were foreign to me.

Naomi reminded me several times to stop biting my nails. I did it without thinking as I cleaned the entire house from top to bottom. When everything was spotless, I paced.

Naomi finally had enough. “Go for a walk, daughter. You’re making me mad with your energy.”

I apologized and headed outside. I walked down to the field out of habit. Some of the female workers called out a friendly greeting. I smiled and waved, repeating back the words of blessing. Their happiness was a direct reflection of what kind of man Boaz was. He treated his workers with respect and genuinely cared about them. He knew each of them by name, even though there were hundreds of them.

I noted the goofy smile on my face as I walked along. Every time I thought of Boaz, my mouth stretched into that grin. I almost walked into a goat that wandered into my path as my mind imagined a future with Boaz. My nervous energy was quickly turning to frustration. My future lay in the hands of a stranger.

I whispered another prayer to Naomi’s God. Did He care about such things?

When I opened my eyes, I saw a lone rider heading toward me. As he got closer, I recognized his posture on the animal’s back. His greying hair blew in the wind as he rode. I searched his face for the smile I had grown to love. He looked happy. Would he smile so if he had bad news?

His twinkling eyes didn’t leave mine as he dismounted. “The Lord be with you,” he said, his smile broad and teasing.

I gave him a look that said these were not the words I’d been waiting to hear, yet was secretly relieved he had stopped calling me Daughter.

“How do you feel about marrying an old man like me and spending the rest of your life with him?”

My lips stretched into a smile so big I couldn’t form words with them. As my future husband told me of his dealings at the gate, my mind prayed, “Thank you, God. You do care about me!

I watch Boaz pick up his son to comfort him. Obed is very blessed to have a father who loves him so much. That makes three of us, for my mother-in-law Naomi continues to be a part of our family.

I thank God every day for Naomi, not only for orchestrating my marriage with Boaz but also for introducing me to her God. What an awesome God He is!

“You are faithful, God. The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” 

Lamentations 3:22-23

This is a story about faithfulness. Ruth was faithful to her mother-in-law. Naomi was faithful in helping provide for Ruth’s future. Boaz was faithful to fulfil his role as kinsman redeemer. And God was faithful to them all.

Isn’t it amazing that God so freely forgives us when we are unfaithful to Him?

Think of the past couple of days. What things have you prioritized above God? Pray and ask for His forgiveness and His assistance with your spiritual growth in the area of faithfulness.

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