Why was Ruth told to stay with the other women in the field?

Q. Why was Ruth told to stay with the other women in the field? and the workers were told by Boaz to leave her be? Were women not safe from rape in those days? Hard to understand.

Unfortunately, women were still in danger of rape even within the ancient Israelite theocracy, and particularly at the time when the book of Ruth is set, “in the days when the judges ruled,” when, according to the book of Judges, “Israel had no king” and “everyone did as they saw fit.”

That is why Boaz, who is introduced from the start as a godly man, takes special measures to protect Ruth, who would otherwise be at great risk as a defenseless foreigner.  He tells Ruth not to glean in anyone else’s field (where the owner or foreman might not be godly) and even to stay in the part of his own field where his female servants are working.  He also says, for everyone to hear, that he has warned all the men not to lay a hand on her.  As a “man of standing,” Boaz has the power to enforce this order of protection.

Similarly, when Ruth returns home and tells the story of her day, Naomi observes ominously, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.”  (The Hebrew is more explicit: “and they will not molest you in another field.”)

We see here the great courage and faith of Ruth, who was willing to do the only thing she could to support herself and her mother-in-law:  go out and ask if she could glean in someone’s field, even though this meant exposing herself to the danger of potential rape.

We also see that the godly character of Boaz led him to take active measures to protect women like Ruth from sexual abuse and exploitation.  In this way Boaz provides a biblical model for all men today who aspire to lead a godly life:  they, too, should protect women from sexual abuse and exploitation, and not participate in anything that degrades or exploits them, such as on-line pornography, actual prostitution, or anything similar.

“Ruth Gleaning,” James Tissot, 1896

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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