A. Naomi’s instructions to Ruth.
1. (1-2a) Security for Ruth through a kinsman.
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative?”
a. Then Naomi her mother-in-law said: The time of the harvest was over, and certainly Ruth and Boaz had been around each other much in the weeks covering the barley and the wheat harvest (Ruth 2:23). They had much opportunity to get to know each other.
i. However, according to the customs of the day, we can’t say that Ruth and Boaz were “dating” in the way we think of “dating” in our modern culture. They were not paired off as a couple with one-on-one time with each other; rather, they spent their time together in the context of a group - the men and women who worked for Boaz in the harvest.
ii. From God’s perspective, there is much in the “dating game” that works against forming healthy, lasting relationships. For many people, dating means the continual making and breaking of casual romantic relationships - patterns that teach us more how to end relationships than how to make them last.
iii. Additionally, “dating” is usually a relatively superficial way to get to know someone. Each person in a dating relationship tends to put on a mask for the other. For example, many women have been deceived into thinking a man is a good, nice man because he is nice to them in a dating relationship. Of course he is! Often, he’s nice because he wants something in that dating relationship. A better gauge to measure the man or the woman is to see how they act towards others in a group setting - because sooner or later, that is how they are going to treat you.
iv. So over the period of the harvests, Ruth and Boaz got to know each other pretty well - by seeing what kind of people the other was around a larger group, not by dating in the way it is traditionally thought of today.
b. Shall I not seek security for you: Naomi knew that Ruth could best be taken care of if she was married, so she suggested that she appeal to Boaz for marriage.
i. The Hebrew word for security in verse one is the same word for rest in Ruth 1:9, where Naomi hoped that her daughters-in-law would find rest and security in the home of a new husband. This Hebrew word (manowach) speaks of what a home should be – a place of rest and security.
c. Now Boaz . . . Is he not our relative? One might easily think that this was inappropriately forward of Naomi to suggest this to Ruth. It is possible to think that Naomi plotted with Ruth to make her a man-trap, to go out and hunt down a reluctant Boaz for marriage. Not at all; Naomi’s suggestion to Ruth was rooted in a peculiar custom in ancient Israel - the meaning behind the Hebrew word goel.
i. This was the point in Naomi’s question about Boaz: Is he not our relative? She reminded Ruth that Boaz was their family goel.
ii. The goel - sometimes translated kinsman-redeemer - had a specifically defined role in Israel’s family life.
· The kinsman-redeemer was responsible to buy a fellow Israelite out of slavery (Leviticus 25:48).
· He was responsible to be the “avenger of blood” to make sure the murderer of a family member answered to the crime (Numbers 35:19).
· He was responsible to buy back family land that had been forfeited (Leviticus 25:25).
· He was responsible to carry on the family name by marrying a childless widow (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).
iii. In this, we see that the goel, the kinsman-redeemer, was responsible to safeguard the persons, the property, and the posterity of the family. “Words from the root g’l are used with a variety of meanings in the Old Testament, but the fundamental idea is that of fulfilling one’s obligations as a kinsman.” (Morris)
d. Is he not our relative? Since Boaz was a recognized goel for the family of Elimelech - the deceased husband of Naomi and father-in-law of Ruth - Ruth could appeal to him to safeguard the posterity of Elimelech’s family, and take her in marriage. It may seem forward to us, but it was regarded as proper in that day.
i. If Boaz did not fulfill this duty towards Elimelech (though he was now deceased), then the direct family and name of Elimelech would perish. Perpetuating the family name of Elimelech (and every man in Israel) was thought to be an important duty. These protections showed how important it was to God to preserve the institution of the family in Israel - and that it is also important to Him today.
2. (2b-5) Naomi instructs Ruth as to how to petition Boaz to exercise his responsibilities as her goel.
“In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.” And she said to her, “All that you say to me I will do.”
a. Therefore wash yourself: Naomi, in her advice to Ruth, showed a keen knowledge of male behavior. She instructed Ruth to make herself pretty and smelling good (anoint yourself, put on your best garment), and to leave Boaz alone while he ate (do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking).
b. Uncover his feet, and lie down: At the appropriate time, Naomi instructs Ruth to go in, uncover his feet, and lie down. Some might think this was a provocative gesture, as if Ruth was told to provocatively offer herself sexually to Boaz. This was not how this gesture was understood in that day. In the culture of that day, this was understood as an act of total submission.
i. In that day, this was understood to be the role of a servant - to lay at their master’s feet and be ready for any command of the master. So, when Naomi told Ruth to lie down at Boaz’s feet, she told her to come to him in a totally humble, submissive way.
ii. Don’t lose sight of the larger picture: Ruth came to claim a right. Boaz was her goel, her kinsman-redeemer, and she had the right to expect him to marry her and raise up a family to perpetuate the name of Elimelech. But Naomi wisely counseled Ruth to not come as a victim demanding her rights, but as a humble servant, trusting in the goodness of her kinsman-redeemer. She said to Boaz, “I respect you, I trust you, and I put my fate in your hands.”
c. He will tell you what you should do: Of course, this was a situation that had the potential for disaster, if Boaz should mistreat Ruth in some way. But Naomi and Ruth had the chance to get to know Boaz, and they knew what kind of man he was - a good man, a godly man, one to whom Ruth could confidently submit.
i. In the marriage relationship, many husbands wish they had a wife who submitted to them the way Ruth is being told to here. But do they provide the kind of godly leadership, care, and concern that Boaz showed towards Ruth and others?
ii. In the marriage relationship, many wives wish they had a husband who loved, cared, and treated them they way Boaz did towards Ruth. But do they show the same kind of humble submission and respect Ruth showed to Boaz?
d. All that you say to me I will do: Ruth humbly and wisely received the counsel of her mother-in-law Naomi.
i. “On the whole, we must say, had not Boaz been a person of extraordinary piety, prudence, and continence, this experiment might have been fatal to Ruth. We cannot easily account for this transaction; probably Naomi knew more than she revealed to her daughter-in-law. The experiment however was dangerous, and should in no sense be imitated.” (Clarke)
ii. “Let none be encouraged hereby to enter into God’s ordinance through the devil’s portal, lest they smart and smoke for it.” (Trapp)
B. Ruth and Boaz at the threshing floor.
1. (6-7) Ruth lays down at Boaz’s feet.
So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law instructed her. And after Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was cheerful, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.
a. He went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain: There was a good reason why Boaz slept at the threshing floor. These were the days of the Judges, when there was much political and social instability in Israel. It wasn’t unusual for gangs of thieves to come and steal all the hard-earned grain a farmer had grown. Boaz slept at the threshing floor to guard his crop against the kind of attacks described in 1 Samuel 23:1.
b. She came softly: Ruth did just as her mother-in-law Naomi had recommended. She heard the advice, she said she would do it, and she did it.
2. (8-9) Ruth’s request.
Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet. And he said, “Who are you?” So she answered, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.”
a. It happened at midnight that the man was startled: This was an amazing scene. We can well imagine that Boaz was indeed startled, waking up in the night as he turned in his sleep, knowing that someone was out there but not being able to see clearly because of the darkness and the sleep in his eyes.
i. Since Boaz had been there to protect against thieves, it must have given him quite a shock to wake up and know someone was there. But his shock quickly turned to wondering when he found out the visitor was a woman.
b. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative: Ruth identified herself and made a simple request. In beginning with the words “take your maidservant,” Ruth again showed great humility and submission. She presented herself as Boaz’s servant.
c. Under your wing: Here, she boldly asked Boaz to take her in marriage. The phrase can also be translated as “spread the corner of your garment over me.” This was a culturally relevant way to say, “I am a widow, take me as your wife.”
i. “The spreading of a skirt over a widow as a way of claiming her as a wife is attested among Arabs of early days, and Jouon says it still exists among some modern Arabs.” (Morris)
ii. “Even to the present day, when a Jew marries a woman, he throws the skirt or end of his talith over her, to signify that he has taken her under his protection.” (Clarke)
iii. In Ezekiel 16:8, God uses the same terminology in relation to Israel: I spread my wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you and you became Mine, says the Lord God.
d. For you are a close relative: This shows that this was not an inappropriate thing for Ruth to do towards Boaz. It was bold, but not inappropriate. Ruth understood this as she identified Boaz as her close relative (literally, you are a goel, a kinsman-redeemer).
i. Though deceased, Elimelech had the right to have his family name carried on and as goel, Boaz had the responsibility to do this for Elimelech. This could only happen through Boaz marrying Ruth, and providing children to carry on the name of Elimelech. Ruth boldly, yet humbly and properly, sought her rights.
3. (10-11) Boaz’s response.
Then he said, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! 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. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.”
a. Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! . . . you did not go after young men: Apparently, there was a considerable age difference between Ruth and Boaz. It also seems that because of this, Boaz considered himself unattractive to Ruth and had therefore ruled out any idea of a romance between them.
i. This shows something else wonderful about Boaz. He had the right to force himself upon Ruth as her goel, but he did not. He wasn’t going to just say, “There’s a woman I want, and I have her by right.” He was kind enough to not act as goel towards Ruth unless she desired it.
ii. It also shows something else wonderful about Ruth: She based her attraction to Boaz more on respect than on image or appearance. Tragically, many people fall in love with an image or an appearance, rather than with a person we can really respect.
b. I will do for you all that you request: Boaz made Naomi look brilliant in her advice to Ruth. The plan worked perfectly.
c. All the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman: Boaz was also attracted to Ruth because of her character. We don’t really know how Ruth looked, but we do know that she was a woman of godly character.
i. Literally, Boaz called Ruth a hah-yil woman. The basic meaning behind this Hebrew word is “strength; moral strength, good quality, integrity, virtue.” This same word is used in a term for heroes in the Bible: A mighty man of valor. Just a courage and strength make a man a hero, so Ruth’s courage and strength, shown in her virtue - make her a hero, on the Proverbs 31 kind of definition of a woman of virtue.
4. (12-13) A potential problem: A nearer kinsman.
“Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. Stay this night, and in the morning it shall be that if he will perform the duty of a close relative for you; good; let him do it. But if he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you, as the Lord lives! Lie down until morning.”
a. There is a relative closer than I: Apparently, though Boaz was a recognized goel towards Ruth, there was another goel closer in relation to her deceased father-in-law Elimelech. So, Boaz could not exercise his right as kinsman-redeemer unless this closer kinsman-redeemer relinquished his rights towards Ruth.
b. If he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you: Wonderfully, Boaz wasn’t willing to cut corners. He would do God’s will God’s way. He knew that if it was really of the Lord, then it could be done orderly and in a proper way.
C. Ruth goes home.
1. (14-15) Boaz sends Ruth home.
So she lay at his feet until morning, and she arose before one could recognize another. Then he said, “Do not let it be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” Also he said, “Bring the shawl that is on you and hold it.” And when she held it, he measured six ephahs of barley, and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.
a. Do not let it be known: Boaz and Ruth were not trying to hide anything scandalous; it was just that Boaz didn’t want this nearer kinsman to learn that Ruth was now demanding her right to marriage to a goel before Boaz could tell him personally.
b. He measured six ephahs of barley: As a proper gentleman, Boaz did not sent Ruth home empty-handed. Not having any chocolates, he gave her six handfuls of grain. The added word ephahs is almost certainly incorrect; that would be more than thirty-three gallons (120 liters) of grain, more than Ruth could carry home in her shawl.
i. Jewish traditions say that the six measures of barley given as a gift to Ruth were a sign of six pious men who would descend from her, endowed with six spiritual gifts: David, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and the Messiah.
2. (16-18) Ruth tells her mother-in-law Naomi all that happened.
So when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “Is that you, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her. And she said, “These six ephahs of barley he gave me; for he said to me, ‘Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’ ” Then she said, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day.”
a. Sit still, my daughter . . . the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day: This was a time of considerable anxiety for Ruth. She had claimed her right to marriage, and would be married. The only question was to whom would she be married? Would it be to Boaz, or to the nearer goel? The issue would be decided that very day.
© 2006 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission