Devotional: Ruth 3 – Hope

 Ruth and Boaz at the Threshing Floor

1) One day, Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for.

 2) Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor.

 3) Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking.

 4) When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

 5) “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered.

This conversation probably came about two months after the last chapter. Ruth has been working each day steadily gathering grain and may or may not have had many discussions with Boaz. Since we are already set-up to see her as a virtuous woman, we can assume that she acted with a diligence that would have re-enforced the excellent impression she had made on all around her, including Boaz. She was given an opportunity to improve her life, and she did not waste it. Now Naomi is able to return the loving-kindness (the theme of Ruth) that Ruth has shown her.

Naomi first presents the problem. They can’t keep doing this forever, and Naomi sees how hard Ruth has to work. The word “home” in this first statement literally means “a place of rest.” Both Ruth and Naomi would have seen marriage as a place of rest and security. This idea of home life is very different than the view modern feminist paint of marriage for ancient women. Modern-day feminists often paint a woman’s plight in marriage as slavery to work all day cooking and cleaning and caring for a family. This is entirely false! Ruth’s work as a single woman was much more challenging than the division of labor that happened in marriage and came with caring for a family. Ancient men and women valued marriage and children as a situation of security and rest. Why? Because in the multitude of people, the work can be divided and each person can care for each other and lift up each other. We live in a selfish time when family and children are not valued because we don’t want to do anything for anyone else. I hear of divorces because people don’t like feeling like they have to compromise and serve each other. Still, we wonder why life is so hard. Historically, the family unit was the health insurance and the retirement account, unemployment insurance, the disability insurance, and disaster recovery insurance. Marrying was rest. Pouring into another person’s life was rest. Caring for others was rest.

The advice Naomi gives next does not explicitly tell Ruth what to ask Boaz to do, but it reminds me of the direction my grandmother had given to me. I had told my grandmother about my interest in Kerry. Her advice was to put on perfume and lovely dresses. There was no advice on what to say. The idea in both cases is to be attractive enough and show sufficient interest that the man will take action. Logically, I have no idea why we do this, but emotionally, it is the foundation for a romantic encounter.

The commentary also points out that the act of washing, putting on perfume, and dressing is used in other areas of the Bible to indicate the end of a time of mourning. The problem with this idea is that in many places in the Bible, a person only shows outward grief for seven days. This part of Ruth’s story has been at least two months after her husband’s death. Ruth may have been still grieving in her heart, but she probably would not still have mourning clothes on.

 6) So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.

The threshing floor would have been a rocky hill-top. The grain would have been carried up there to be beaten and tossed into the air. The grain separated from the stalks, and the stalks were blown away. The hard surface was used to keep the grain dirt-free and sweep up the grain after the day’s work. Threshing would have been arduous work for multiple days, and apparently, it was designated as exclusively men’s work. Women were not permitted there. As with most male-only situations, prostitution probably did happen during this time, so for Ruth to go was to risk her reputation. Naomi would know this as well. But they were willing to risk this for Ruth to speak with Boaz alone with no one seeing her and for her to make her request when Boaz would be the best mood to receive it.

 7) When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.

This is probably the most debated verse in the entire book of Ruth. Boaz was in “good spirits,” which is universally agreed to mean he was a little happy with wine, not sloppily drunk, but still intoxicated enough to feel relaxed and sleep heavily. It seems customary that during this time of threshing, the workers stayed by the grain all night to keep it from being stolen or eaten by animals. The issue that is debated has been what does this verse actually describe Ruth doing. Some scholars want to read this verse as a euphemism for Ruth acting like a harlot. The Bible is not shy about describing the sexual act, such as in the story of Tamar and Judah, so I think this is not true. It is true that Ruth is making herself vulnerable and risking her reputation. Some people try to say this was a standard traditional way for a woman to propose to a man in the Bible. This is not shown anywhere else in the Bible. Ruth was making a risky bet on Boaz’s righteousness and self-control. She, too, shows restraint. It would have been easy for her to seduce Boaz to get pregnant and see if he would care for the child later. We do see this happen in the Bible too. Ruth isn’t just interested in trying to have a child. As we saw earlier in chapter 1, there was no guarantee that she could have children. What she wanted was marriage, and so she symbolically throws herself at his mercy and hopes for his compassion once again.

 8) In the middle of the night, something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!

“Something startled” could also mean that Boaz was shivering. Being cold would make sense if Ruth uncovered him. She ensured that he would wake in the middle of the night when the temperature dropped rather than in the morning when everyone else was waking too.

 9) “Who are you?” he asked.

I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”

At this point in the night, Boaz may not even be able to see she is a woman. I find this scene kind of funny. I see Boaz waking up and going, “Aaaagg!”

Ruth does not describe herself as Ruth the Moabitess or Ruth the daughter-in-law of Naomi. Instead, Ruth connects herself to Boaz, declaring herself his handmaiden. At this moment, Boaz has all power over her future, and her introduction reveals this. Her following statement is a total force blunt marriage proposal. It was common for prophets and various people to act out messages while delivering them. The phrase “spread the corner of your garment over me” is used to refer to marriage in other places in the Bible. Ruth acts out this request by forcing Boaz to re-cover himself and hopeful her as well. This is the only place in the Bible that I know of that a woman proposes marriage. Gutsy! Apparently, she may not have quite as subtle as Naomi intended with the “perfume and dresses” advice, but I wasn’t either. Sometimes men just need a woman to spell it out for them: I am interested in you, dummy!

The reason Ruth gives for the marriage proposal is that Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer. Boaz was not Mahlon’s brother nor Elimelek’s brother. Boaz had no obligation to marry Ruth, but because he is a near relative, he can fulfill this role if he wants. Only a kinsman-redeemer can have a child who will inherit a deceased relative’s estate. Only a brother is required by law to do so. Some scholars see Boaz as simply doing his duty in marrying Ruth, but in reality, Boaz is free to choose.

 10) “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.

 11) And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.

 12) Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I.

 13) Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives, I will do it. Lie here until morning.”

Boaz’s first response is to bless her for this proposal rather than criticize her for throwing herself at him. Again we see the Hebrew word for loving-kindness. His observation that she could have any man she wanted is a reversal of what we see from Ruth’s perspective. So far, we have seen how her choices were limited and that she may not have been a desirable wife with no fortune and even questionable childlessness. From Boaz’s point of view, though, she was a beautiful, virtuous, hardworking woman who would be a blessing to any man to marry. He states that everyone knows this, but it shows that Boaz was already in love with her to some degree (in admiration rather than lust). He saw the value in her and couldn’t imagine any man not wanting to marry her. Such a sentiment sounds a lot like the beginnings of love. Boaz is an older man who has not married or had children as far as we know. He does not consider Ruth as a potential wife for a son but as a potential wife for himself. Is it possible that Boaz did not see himself as a desirable husband? Perhaps he wasn’t as handsome as other men around him. He may have thought a beautiful young woman would much rather have a handsome young man. He calls Ruth’s marriage proposal a kindness and treats it as an honor. Perhaps Boaz had resigned himself to the idea that he may never marry. Still, the hope and excitement of having a beautiful young wife is demonstrated in the fact that he promises to take action the very next morning, right in the middle of his essential work of threshing. He is even willing to leave his grain to get this settled. Yet, at the same time, Boaz is entirely righteous in seeking out the nearer relative. He wants to do everything according to the law, even at his own expense, and risk his own happiness.

When Boaz invited her to stay the night, he uses the Hebrew word for lodge rather than the vague term to lie here, which could be misinterpreted. Scholars, for some reason, have a hard time believing that a man and a woman can sleep in each other’s presence without intercourse. I think they showed themselves to be pure throughout this story. Why not assume they are pure at this point too? I imagine that they may not have slept much that night thinking about what a future marriage would be like. The hope and expectation in both of them would have been intense. All their dreams were so close to coming true. They also had the anxiety of her getting away unseen in the morning and of the work that needed to be done the next day. 

 14) So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, “No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor.”

 15) He also said, “Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.” When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and placed the bundle on her. Then he went back to town.

 16) When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?”

Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her

 17) and added, “He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.'”

 18) Then Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”

Naomi’s question here is literally, “who are you, my daughter?” This is a strange question since she obviously recognizes Ruth, her daughter. This may be the same question as what Boaz asks in the field, implying “who do you belong to?”. Naomi may be asking if she was engaged yet or if she belonged to Boaz yet. 

Ruth tells the story of what happened and shows Boaz’s gift. This gift could have been just another sign of generosity. It also could have been Ruth’s excuse for being out so early (she was out getting grain). Another suggestion scholars also give is that this gift could have been the down-payment for the bride price. If this was part of the bride price, then Boaz was showing Naomi his genuine intention to marry Ruth and take care of everything that day.

We end this chapter with hope. It is not just hope for Ruth, but also hope for Naomi and Boaz as well. Hope is one the great gifts God gives us to strengthen us and lift us up. Without hope for the future, life becomes too hard to bear. What hopes has God given you? What positive thing do you look forward to in the future?

I know that this question may be hard to answer for some. Sometimes life is hard, and we don’t have much we are looking forward to. Sometimes we are so busy with now we don’t think about the future. Sometimes we just take for granted the future will be more of the same that we are experiencing today. The book of Ruth is a testament to the fact that nothing is impossible for God, and with God, there is always hope for a better tomorrow. Hold onto hope!