The Story of Ruth (Part 3)
November 8, 2022
by Peter Amsterdam
The Story of Ruth (Part 3)
At the end of the previous article, Boaz had told Ruth that she was welcome to glean in his fields until they were fully harvested. She continued working with the women in his fields through both the barley and the wheat harvests, which took two or three months.
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.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”1
Naomi was concerned about Ruth’s future. She was concerned that Ruth would never be able to find a husband to care for her and she wanted to seek rest for Ruth. Other Bible translations say she wanted to seek security for you (NAS), find a home for you, where you will be well provided for (NIV), or it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for (NLT). Naomi had a plan. She pointed out that Boaz was their relative, and therefore he was a kinsman-redeemer, which meant that there was some responsibility for him to marry Ruth to keep her deceased husband’s name (Mahlon) alive. For Naomi, keeping her deceased son’s name alive seemed secondary to finding a good husband for Ruth, who had become like a daughter to her.
Naomi urged Ruth into action. She knew that Boaz would be winnowing barley on the threshing floor that evening. She told Ruth to prepare by washing, putting on her best clothes (or cloak), and using perfume. Ruth may have been wearing mourning garments, and by changing her clothes she was indicating that she was no longer in mourning and that she was returning to normal life.
Naomi also instructed Ruth to keep out of Boaz’ sight until he had laid down and fallen asleep. She was to watch where he slept. Apparently, he didn’t sleep where all his workers did, but perhaps had a special place some distance from them. Once he was sleeping, Ruth was to uncover his feet and lie down. Naomi confidently said that when Boaz woke up and found Ruth at his feet, he would tell her what to do. Ruth agreed to follow Naomi’s instructions.
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.2
After a meal with both eating and some drinking, Boaz was likely feeling good. As the evening came to an end, he went to the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Ruth took note of where Boaz lay down, and once he was asleep, she came and moved whatever was covering his feet, so that they were exposed to night air. She then lay down at his feet.
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.”3
It was probably quite a surprise to Boaz to find a woman at his feet in the middle of the night. His response was to ask who she was. Ruth told him that she was his servant. (In other Bible translations, Ruth describes herself as a slave, maid, handmaid, and maidservant.) When identifying herself to Boaz, Ruth includes the information that you are a redeemer. Other Bible translations say thou art a near kinsman (KJV), you are a family redeemer (CSB), you are a close relative (NAS), you are a kinsman-redeemer (NIV), or you are a family guardian (TNIV). Some have speculated that this encounter between Boaz and Ruth was sexual, but the ESV study notes state: “It is sometimes suggested that ‘his feet’ (lit., ‘place of his feet,’ Hebrew margelot) is a euphemism for sexual contact, but there is no evidence for this and it would be out of place in this story.”
Boaz understood the responsibility of a redeemer; he was to marry Ruth in order to produce a son who would be considered the son of Mahlon, her first husband and Naomi’s son.
And he said, “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. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I.”4
Rather than being reluctant or hesitant, Boaz was inspired by the prospect of marrying Ruth. He prayed that she would be blessed by God. The difference in their age must have been significant, as he again referred to her as my daughter. He likely felt he was too old for Ruth, and therefore hadn’t wanted to make her feel uncomfortable by showing interest in her. However, she had come to him, so he was free to express his feelings.
In saying you have made this last kindness greater than the first, Boaz was probably referring to how Ruth had taken care of Naomi as her “first” kindness. In his mind, the kindness of her choosing to marry him was even greater than all that she had done for Naomi. Of course, that was coming from one who was in love with Ruth. In reality, Ruth’s decision to leave her family, land, and religion to care for her mother-in-law may have been the greater kindness.—But not in Boaz’s mind.
Boaz continued, you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. He realized that Ruth was both young and beautiful, and could have easily found a younger man to marry, but she didn’t; she came to him. 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 agrees to do what Ruth has asked. He also commented that the men of Bethlehem know that she is a worthy woman. Other Bible translations say that townsmen know that she is a virtuous woman, a woman of excellence, or a woman of noble character.
However, there was an impediment that stood between them. Boaz explained, It is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. There was a kinsman who was a closer relative to her deceased husband, Mahlon, which meant that this kinsman was the one responsible to marry Ruth. However, if he chose not to marry her, then Boaz was the next closest in line to do so.
“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 the morning.” 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.” 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.5
Boaz explained to Ruth that if the relative who was nearer than he was chose to marry her, then that was his right. However, if he chose not to, then Boaz pledged that he would marry her. With that decision made, he told Ruth to lie down at his feet until morning. Early in the morning, while it was still dark outside, Ruth rose. Boaz gave the order (likely to a trusted servant), that no one should find out that a woman had spent the night on the threshing floor.
Before Ruth left, Boaz gave her six measures of barley. There was a dual purpose for doing so. The first was as a pledge to Naomi of his intentions to marry her daughter if the first redeemer did not choose to do so. Secondly, if others saw Ruth out so early in the morning, they would assume that she had purchased some grain and was returning home, and nothing more.
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.’” She replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”6
Naomi encouraged Ruth to wait patiently to see how things would unfold. She could tell that Boaz’s intention was to marry Ruth, but she also knew that another relative had the legal right to marry her, unless he refused to do so. Naomi was certain that the matter would be settled that day, but they would have to wait to know the outcome.
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.