Ruth chapter 3
We last left Naomi with the news that Boaz her kinsman had taken an interest in Ruth. We were introduced to the concept of the Kinsman Redeemer, or Goel, in Israel. The Goel was to buy back land for a member of his clan who had to sell his property because of poverty. He would also buy back his relative if that relative fell into slavery. In Israel to have your family blotted out from inheritance in the Promised Land was the worst of fates.
Now in the Law, the brother of a deceased widow was required to marry his brother’s widow, so that his brother’s name might continue in Israel. Naomi had no brother-in-laws left. Boaz was a kinsman, and he could marry Ruth to continue Naomi’s name, but it would be an act of grace on Boaz’ part. Boaz, not being Elimelech’s brother, was not required by the letter of the law to marry Ruth. But as a Goel Boaz would be fulfilling the spirit of the law by providing for Naomi in this way.
Thus Naomi sees Boaz as the answer to hers and Ruth’s dilemma, so she devises a clever plan to secure what she so desperately wants. She expresses in v. 1 her desire to obtain security, or literally “rest” for Ruth. Rest is what God had promised Abraham and his seed.
While Naomi is to be commended for desiring to provide for her daughter-in-law, we are not to be impressed in the manner she goes about to secure it. This was a very risky scheme. Naomi was putting Ruth in great danger. In Hosea 9:1, we see that threshing floors were notorious in Israel as places of lascivious behavior. The threshing floors were outside the city walls at a place high enough where the winds could blow the chaff away from the wheat. Being rather secluded, they had become a common site for drunkenness and prostitution. To send Ruth there alone at night would be dangerous, if not to her physically, certainly to her reputation. What would the married women of the village think of Ruth sneaking around the threshing floor at night?
Naomi’s plan draws us to our ancestors of old who also schemed to secure God’s promises. We think of Sarah, offering her maid to Abraham because she couldn’t see how God could possibly fulfill His promise of Isaac. Or Abraham, who put his wife in extreme danger because he couldn’t see how God could protect them from Pharaoh. Then there’s Rebecca, who sought to secure God’s blessings on Jacob by deceiving Isaac with the goat hair on Jacob’s arm. Will Naomi’s scheming secure the promises, or nullify them because of her unbelief? We hold out hope, for even though the schemes of Abraham and Sarah failed, God nevertheless was faithful in fulfilling His promises to them.
Naomi commands Ruth to make herself as attractive as possible. She advises her to wait until Boaz has feasted that he may be in the best of moods. Apparently Naomi believed Boaz under normal circumstances would not agree to marry Ruth, so she was hedging her bet every possible way. Ruth was to watch exactly where Boaz lied down to sleep. Approaching the wrong man in the dark would prove most embarrassing. Then Ruth was to lay down and uncover his feet. This was so that the nighttime draft would eventually wake him up. Ruth was to lie there quietly until he awakened. Then she was to do whatever Boaz instructed upon discovering her.
The reader is rightly to be concerned. We are not unaware of the possible outcomes of such a taut situation they would find themselves in. There is a sexual tension in chapter three that can only be relieved if both parties act honorably. But Naomi is putting Boaz under the most difficult of temptations. Surely Naomi knew of the possibilities. Did Naomi hope that an illicit affair would result in Boaz being forced to marry Ruth to protect his reputation? Naomi deserves no praise for this scheme.
Ruth does everything Naomi asks and the story rapidly shifts to the threshing floor in the middle of the night, with Ruth lying at the feet of Boaz. Boaz wakes with a start, his cold feet forcing him to open his eyes. He looked over and saw a woman lying by his feet and asked, “Who are you?” “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a kinsman redeemer.” It must have taken a while for everything to register in Boaz’ brain. You know how you are when you first wake up.
But you may have noticed that Ruth changed the plan. Ruth was supposed to wait for Boaz’ instructions. Instead Ruth proposes to Boaz! The term “take me under your wing can also be translated, “spread your covering over me.” This was an idiom used in Israel to denote marriage. To cover with a cloak symbolized the promise of the husband to protect and provide for his wife. Thus Ruth surprises all of us as she takes the initiative and proposes to Boaz. She would not use deception or temptation.
The irony of this is that Naomi up until now has thought very little of Ruth. When Naomi returned from Moab with Ruth, she complained to the villagers that she had come back without anything. And she had just exposed Ruth to a variety of potentially bad situations. But while Naomi fails to appreciate Ruth, it is Ruth whom God uses to bring about both provision and posterity for Naomi. Ruth as a Moabitess was an unlikely vehicle for the answer to Naomi’s dilemma. God is always confounding the wise with the foolish.
Ruth’s request of v. 9 becomes an ironic play on words. In chapter 2 Boaz had prayed that Ruth would be blessed because she had sought refuge under the wings of the Lord. Here Ruth asks for refuge under the wings of Boaz. Ruth asks Boaz to answer his own prayer!
Is this not what God does to us as His bride? Our marriages were patterned after Christ’s love for his church. Earthly marriage was given as a temporary institution to exemplify the eternal marriage, as Christ spreads His covering over us and takes as under his wings.
Ruth bases her marriage proposal on the fact that Boaz was a kinsman redeemer. She saw past the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. Boaz, be a true Goel by providing for Naomi a grandchild and a future in Israel.
In v. 10, Boaz is taken aback by Ruth’s godliness; “for you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich.” The beginning was her willingness to leave Moab to provide for Naomi and stay in Israel. But this act at the threshing floor was an act of even greater devotion to Naomi.
Why was this act greater? We often bring our pre-conceived notions of romance into Bible stories. We easily imagine with Boaz and Ruth a handsome middle-aged man eyeing a young beautiful woman and then sparks flying. But nowhere are we told of their looks. Boaz praises Ruth for her marriage proposal because the marriage would be a sacrifice for Ruth. Boaz was an older man. Boaz knew Ruth could have gone after younger men. Ruth was giving up many natural desires to marry Boaz. She wasn’t marrying Boaz because though older he still looked like Sean Connery! Ruth was marrying Boaz so that her mother-in-law would have a name in Israel. Ruth had found refuge under the Lord as her Redeemer, and as a result she considered her life as nothing for the sake of Naomi. In a sense, a Christian becoming Christ-like!
Well, as soon as it seemed everything would turn out fine for all parties involved, Boaz throws a wrench into the works. In v. 12 we hear that there is a closer relative who has the right to marry Ruth and redeem her and Naomi. Isn’t that just like life? As soon as everything seems to be turning out fine, a new trial appears to test our faith. As is the way with good storytellers, the author will leave the answer to who gets Ruth to his last section.
But we do get a glimpse into the honorable character of Boaz in v. 13. He bids Ruth to stay near him until morning, for walking home alone after midnight would be very dangerous. He will not attempt to take advantage of her in this situation, though one wonders who the stronger one really is. Boaz will not sneak around to get what he desires. If there is another kinsman, he will approach him in daylight honorably and legally. He will trust the Lord with the outcome. One wonders why Naomi didn’t do the same. But the text raises another question. If there is a closer relative than Boaz, why didn’t Naomi send Ruth to him instead? Did Boaz simply have more to offer?
Boaz not only protects Ruth physically, but also sought to protect her reputation. He makes sure she leaves early enough to not be noticed. Would the villagers send her back to Moab if they suspected her a prostitute? Boaz would take no chances of that. He wakes up and fills her outer coat with grain. This would stop any early risers from asking uncomfortable questions on her way home.
Thus Boaz the earthly redeemer is also being made into the image of Christ his heavenly redeemer. In the last chapter he engrafted this Moabitess into equal status with his Jewish harvesters. By the end of chapter 2 the Jews were serving her. Now her engrafting has almost been made complete. This redeemer desires to make her the bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.
In the third chapter Ruth is no more called Ruth the Moabitess. In chapters one and two she is referred to as the Moabitess. But in chapter 3 she is only Ruth, the maidservant and soon-to-be wife of Boaz. Ruth is becoming a full-fledged member of God’s household. The Gentiles are joining the Jews as one body.
The author ends his third section like the second, with Ruth coming home with abundant grain to report to Naomi. I don’t think Naomi got much sleep that night. In v. 17 Ruth reports Boaz’ words, that he gave Ruth the grain so that Naomi would be provided for also. Will Naomi now see? Will she trust in the God of grace to fulfill His promises? The author leaves that question unanswered, for the major problem of the book has not yet been resolved; the lack of grandchildren to carry on their family’s name.
This section of the story draws us back to another story in our Bible history, the story of Lot and his daughters. Lot’s daughters were in the same predicament as Naomi; they were stuck in a cave with no possibility of posterity. As you know, the older daughter got her father drunk one night and had relations with him to secure posterity. The result of that sin was the nation of Moab. A nation cut off from the promises.
But now one comes from Moab to bring about a reversal of that curse. Like Lot’s daughters, Ruth will have an opportunity to take advantage of an older man asleep. But unlike her ancient mother, Ruth trusts in the Lord for her provision, even waiting for the resurrection to receive it. Thus through this Moabitess the reversal of the curse is foreshadowed. Out of the nation of judgment comes the one whom God will use to bring about a Deliverer for the nations. And that Deliver will send his body, the church, into those cursed nations to call out a people for Himself.
This is the last time Ruth speaks in the story. This book is really about Naomi more than Ruth. This book is about God fulfilling his promises of a deliverer for Naomi; thus for all His people suffering under the curse. Naomi did not need to scheme, but believe. Ironically, Naomi and Boaz never meet in the book. They do not have to, for God will sovereignly bring about deliverance in spite of Naomi’s schemes. All the while Naomi was fretting and scheming, the God of grace was preparing her Deliverer in the inward parts of her daughter-in-law.
This book is about God bringing the Christ to you His people. Remain faithful and patient; flee the schemes and plans of the flesh. God will bring to pass all He has promised. May you and your family rest in that peace. Amen