Ruth 3:1-18

In the fields of Bethlehem, Ruth had been shown God’s steadfast love through the kindness of Boaz. She had gleaned behind his reapers; they had not only dropped their harvested barley by accident, but had been instructed to intentionally take from the bundles of grain to leave for Ruth. She had eaten at the table of the man who had not called her “Ruth the Moabite”, as was the practice with many others; rather, he had called her my daughter, and had blessed her in the name of the LORD, under Whose wings she had come to take refuge. At the end of the day, not only did Ruth come back to her destitute mother-in-law with thirty pounds of food, she also came back with some news that pricked Naomi’s ears. The man in whose fields Ruth had been working was named Boaz. Naomi, taken aback by this wonderful display of God’s steadfast covenant love toward her and her daughter-in-law, blessed the man, saying, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness (steadfast love) has not forsaken the living or the dead!”[1] Immediately after she had blessed him, though, one could almost hear the wheels begin to turn in her head when she added, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.”[2] The word that is translated as “redeemer” is the Hebrew word, “go’el.” Often, we see it translated as “kinsman-redeemer”. In Leviticus, God provided statutes in His law that would uphold a man’s inheritance in the land that God had given to His people. Moses writes, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land. If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother sold.”[3] In the case of Elimelech and his sons, it wasn’t that they had become poor and lost the land; what is worse, they had died. Usually, it would be the case that the inheritance would then pass on to the son of the one who died; however, Mahlon and Chilion had no children. In essence, in leaving behind their inheritance in the Promised Land and then dying childless in Moab, they had forfeited their inheritance. For their name and the inheritance to pass on someone would have to redeem the land. But, childless, even if the land was redeemed, it would belong to the redeemer, not to the one who died. God’s law also provided for this issue as well in the statutes concerning levirate marriage. In Deuteronomy, Moses writes, “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.”[4] So, in calling Boaz the “kinsman-redeemer”, Naomi is recognizing that this kind man is perhaps the only person who can continue the name and inheritance of her husband and sons.[5] Not only must he redeem the inherited land, but he must also act as levir, or “brother-in-law”, and take Ruth as his wife that she might conceive and bear a son in Mahlon’s name. Thus, when Naomi tells Ruth that she must listen to Boaz and continue in his fields, she isn’t just symbolically stating the regret she had for venturing from the Promised Land to the fields of Moab; she’s putting Ruth in a position to win Boaz over. Naomi’s match-making machinations had begun.

However, even after she had been working in the fields, gleaning not only through the rest of the barley harvest, but the grain harvest as well,[6] it seemed that Ruth was no closer to becoming the wife of Boaz than before. The harvests are over, and Ruth will no longer be under the watchful eye of Boaz. If she is going to be redeemed, action must be taken! Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” Though Naomi has recognized that God’s steadfast love has not ceased toward her, the plan that she proposes is fraught with moral danger. The threshing floors were not the nicest places in town. In Hosea, the prophet compares Israel to a prostitute, saying, “Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples; for you have played the whore, forsaking your God. You have loved a prostitute’s wages on all threshing floors.”[7] Threshing floors, where farmers would winnow their grain, were often visited by prostitutes looking for paying customers. Naomi was risking the reputation of Ruth by even sending her there. Not only this, but it was already established that Ruth might be in danger from the young men who were working the fields; sending her to the threshing floor in the middle of the night was a dangerous mission whose prospect very well might have involved Ruth’s assault by a godless man. Thus, the situation itself – Ruth going to the threshing floor – was full of possible peril. But, it gets even worse. In telling Ruth to uncover Boaz’s feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do, Naomi doesn’t necessarily use a euphemism, as some scholars have suggested; it very well may be that she’s only saying, “Uncover his feet, and he’ll tell you what to do from there.” Whatever might be her intention, Naomi is setting Ruth and Boaz up in a very sexually-tempting situation. She is foolishly leaning on her own understanding, instead of trusting that the LORD[8] Who has still shown her His grace and kindness, will restore her family’s name in His own way. Her faith in God’s goodness may have been restored, but she is still rash in her thinking. Sinclair Ferguson writes, “Behind her risky strategy lies Naomi’s old spiritual rashness. It is the residue of the spirit that earlier led to emigration from the Promised Land. If God does not do things speedily enough for us in our way, then we will take matters into our own hands. We devise our own ways of bringing to pass what God has promised to give to us. We refuse to wait for him to bring his own purposes to fruition.”[9] Naomi, though repenting and again believing, is still plagued by the self-determination that took her from the Promised Land to begin with.

Ruth, trusting her mother-in-law, agrees to do what she says. So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. One cannot help but see echoes in this narrative of an earlier story: namely, the origin of Moab. In Genesis 19, after the narrative of the destruction of Sodom, we find the disturbing tale of Lot and his two childless daughters. As they lived in practical isolation, his eldest daughter devised a plan that reeked of disgusting immorality. “And the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.'”[10] Lot, after having drank wine, went to sleep, and the firstborn daughter had relations with her father, conceiving a child whom she named “Moab”.[11] Boaz, after he had worked, doubtlessly, all day threshing his grain, had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry. It’s unlikely, from what we’ve been told of Boaz’ character, that this means he was drunk like Lot; but rather, it’s likely that he was simply glad or joyful, celebrating the blessings of God in the harvest. However, the story seems to proceed on a similar structure. Boaz, who had called Ruth my daughter, lies down to sleep after having eaten and drunk his full. He is, as it were, at the mercy of Ruth when she comes stealthily to him in the night.

But, Ruth, unlike the mother of Moab, does not take advantage of the situation. She is no longer Ruth the Moabite, but Ruth, a partaker in the covenant, united to the covenant people because she is united to the covenant God through faith in Him. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” In the middle of the night, perhaps because the cool, night air was blowing across his exposed feet, Boaz awoke startled. When he looked around, he saw a woman lying at his feet. No doubt this was startling as well! “Who are you?” he asks. It’s at this moment that we see that Ruth, instead of heeding the advice of her mother-in-law, takes the initiative. “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Instead of waiting for Boaz to tell her what to do, Ruth, in an act of faith, hits straight to the point of her actions. When they had first met, Boaz had informed her that he knew precisely who she was; she was the one who had shown steadfast love to her mother-in-law, and, what is more, had put her faith in the LORD, “under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”[12] Now, Ruth had politely commanded that Boaz should spread his wings over her. It’s as if she is saying, “You have acted as the embodiment of the steadfast love of God to me before; do so now in fulfilling your duty as the kinsman-redeemer.” This, in itself, was an expression of faith in God’s steadfast love toward her. Lying on the threshing floor, in the middle of the night, having uncovered the feet of a powerful man, Ruth states her intention purposefully and honestly.

Boaz could have easily taken advantage of this situation. He could have been mortified at the prospect, or repulsed by the audacity of the way in which it was proposed. Instead, he replies, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” Boaz, who had already been in his earlier kindness, a manifestation of God’s steadfast love and kindness to Ruth and Naomi, did not cease to be, even in the middle of the night, in a difficult situation. The eyes that looked upon Ruth earlier and declared her my daughter, now see her, in the darkness of the night, in the awkward and risky midnight hope, and declare again God’s blessing on this daughter. Indeed, he calls her my daughter not once, but twice in this section. Startled awake in the middle of the night, Boaz’ first response to Ruth was still kindness. Micah writes, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,[13] and to walk humbly with your God?”[14] Boaz loved to show God’s steadfast love; and, since he was indeed a kinsman-redeemer, he agreed to spread his wings over Ruth. In this instance, there is a kind of double meaning. On one hand, he’s saying that he will act as an agent of God’s steadfast love, and provide and protect her. However, the word wings in v.9, also means “the corners of a garment.” In Ezekiel 16, God speaks to Jerusalem, saying, “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine.”[15] Boaz isn’t just agreeing to take care of Ruth and Naomi; he’s agreeing to take Ruth as his wife, to make a lasting covenant, to care for her, her mother-in-law, and whatever offspring the LORD brings through their union – though at least the first son would bear the name of Mahlon – at whatever the cost. He praises her, saying, “You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.” He who is acting as an agent of God’s steadfast love to Ruth and Naomi, is acknowledging that Ruth continues to also act as an agent of God’s steadfast love to her mother-in-law. Instead of going after the younger men, she sought Boaz to be her husband – because he was the redeemer through whom the line of Elimelech could continue. This was a selfless act on Ruth’s part, and showed great kindness to her mother-in-law, whose machinations could have proven disastrous for the young convert. Boaz declares, “for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” Ruth had risked everything in order to show kindness to her mother-in-law; but, she had not resorted to sinful means in order to obtain her goal. As Boaz was “a worthy man”, so Ruth was “a worthy woman.” They were, literally, a match made in heaven, a union of equals. Interestingly, in the Hebrew canon, Ruth doesn’t come after Judges, but Proverbs; and, the phrase used by Boaz to describe Ruth is the same phrase used in Proverbs 31, where the author writes, “An excellent wife [worthy woman] who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.”[16] In this kind and godly woman, Boaz recognized that the LORD had given him a gift more precious than jewels, what we often call a “Proverbs 31 woman”.

There is one possible hitch in the plan of which neither Ruth nor Naomi seemed to be aware. Boaz continues, “And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the LORD lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until morning.” Boaz, even though he recognizes that Ruth is a worthy woman, is himself a worthy man, a godly and virtuous man who does not wish to bypass God’s law in order to benefit himself. There’s another kinsman who is more closely-related to Elimelech than he is, and the opportunity should be presented to him to fulfill his duty as redeemer. But, Ruth is able to breathe a sigh of relief; even if this fellow doesn’t redeem, Boaz certainly will, a word he makes clear by sealing it with an oath – as the LORD lives. There does seem to be a hint of wordplay in the dialogue of Boaz when he says, “there is a redeemer nearer than I.” Of course, Boaz is speaking of the nameless chap that we meet in the next section. That being the case, we must also recognize that in all of this, God was providentially working out His redemptive purpose – not only to redeem Naomi and Ruth, but all the elect through the One Who would come generations down the family line of Ruth and Boaz. Throughout the narrative God has worked His redemption through the use of agents of His steadfast love; but, we must never forget that the true Redeemer is the One Whose steadfast love is manifested in Ruth and Boaz – and eventually and fully manifested in the self-giving love of Jesus Christ our Redeemer! “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”[17]

So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” Again, we see Boaz’ concern for Ruth, a concern that her reputation as well as her physical safety might be maintained. Even though she had been in a precarious situation, Ruth’s integrity had not been lost, and Boaz would not hear of anyone saying otherwise. And he said, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city. And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her, saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.'” Boaz loads six measures of barley on the back of Ruth before she leaves that morning. If a “measure” is the same as a “seah” here, that means he gave Ruth around eighty pounds of barley and sent her back home. This is an almost ridiculous amount of food, but it shows something more than the charity of a wealthy man. In the beginning of chapter three, Naomi had sought rest for her daughter-in-law. Indeed, we see her seeking the same even before they came back to Bethlehem when she blessed both her daughters-in-law saying, “The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!”[18] Why does the author of Ruth tell us specifically that Boaz gave Ruth six measures of barley? Seven, in the Old Testament, was the number of completion; the LORD rested on the seventh day, after He had created the world and declared it very good.[19] He who supplied the six measures of seed meant to supply the seventh in marrying Ruth, giving her rest, and providing a child for Naomi’s son. Naomi had gone out of Bethlehem full and come back empty, by her own admission. Ruth, just as in chapter two, had gone to Boaz empty and returned full. Boaz would not rest until he saw Ruth redeemed; God meant to redeem Naomi through that union. Excitedly, Naomi replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”

 

 

 

[1] Ruth 2:20a

[2] Ruth 2:20b

[3] Leviticus 25:23-25

[4] Deuteronomy 25:5-6

[5] Particularly Mahlon, the husband of Ruth.

[6] Ruth 2:23

[7] Hosea 9:1

[8] Proverbs 3:5

[9] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Faithful God: An Exposition of the Book of Ruth (Bryntirion, Wales: Bryntyrion Press, 2013), 85.

[10] Genesis 19:31-32

[11] Genesis 19:37

[12] Ruth 2:11-12

[13] Literally, “steadfast love”

[14] Micah 6:8

[15] Ezekiel 16:8

[16] Proverbs 31:10

[17] Romans 3:22-25

[18] Ruth 1:9

[19] Genesis 1:31-2:3

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