Naomi married into her husband’s clan. As an elderly widow, she remained a member of that clan. The area around Bethlehem at that time would have included a few peaceful outsiders, but almost everyone was kin. We have a hard time imagining such a heterogeneous society today. Anyone rising in wealth and power would not face the same sort of hostile envy we take for granted today, nor would you see a heavy stratification at this point in Israel’s history between wealthy and poor. Your rich uncle down the lane might have a bigger house, but hardly much more elaborate or fancy. One of the more prominent men in their clan was Boaz.
In that rocky, hilly terrain, the clan would divide the usable land equitably right after the Conquest. Plenty of it was held in common, but arable fields would be divided by occupation rights. This is what was passed around as family inheritance. While families would try to help their own needy members, Naomi and Ruth had just arrived. They would probably have received housewarming gifts of food, but neither were willing to abuse the privilege. Ruth suggested going out to glean during this height of the barley harvest, and Naomi agreed it was a good idea. Everyone knew who Ruth was, or found out quickly enough simply by asking, but she was as yet unfamiliar with the surroundings. God steered her random search for opportunity to the field of Boaz.
Boaz came out the check on the harvest work. The operation would be managed by a handful of household servants, the work done partially by hired seasonal labor, because it was done all by hand tools. It was of necessity a little inefficient, and God had commanded through Moses allowing the unfortunate to gather the stray stalks of grain for themselves. The Law forbid the owners begrudging this scavenging, because Jehovah promised to more than make up the difference. Ruth was respectful about getting permission, and was no slacker expecting a free handout. Boaz was a good man, genuinely caring about his people, naturally wanting to know who was gleaning his portion of this common field. Upon learning she was kin by marriage, and truly in need, he encouraged Ruth to stay in with his workers, then ordered them to be generously clumsy with his crop to make it worth her while. He told her not to be shy about using the facilities, as there was plenty to share. This is a man grateful to God for rich blessings.
Even among kin, this was a generous gesture, and Ruth expressed her gratitude. Boaz explained he had been impressed with the report of her high moral standards, regarding her as an asset to the community, a gift from God. At the end of the day, she had at least a week’s worth of food to share with Naomi. Her mother-in-law was suitably impressed, and asked how it happened. Ruth had not realized Boaz was such close kin, and Naomi encouraged her to accept the generosity, not least because of Ruth’s own personal safety as a vulnerable young lady. So Ruth took full advantage of Boaz’s generosity through the end of the barley harvest, and through the later wheat harvest, as well. Things were looking good for the two women.