In Ruth 2 we saw another glimmer of hope given to Naomi and Ruth. By the providence of God, Ruth has found the field of Boaz, who is their family redeemer and benefactor. Boaz has told Ruth to come to his fields for gleaning and she can do so in safety and protection. So Ruth continued to glean through the barley and wheat harvests. God is at work and is caring for Naomi and Ruth through the kindness and generosity of Boaz. While Naomi and Ruth have been provided for in the short term, they still have a long term problem. Who is going to take care of them? Who is going to provide for them? Boaz has kept these two from starving but their long term prospects for life still appear dim.
The Plan (3:1-5)
Seeing the generosity of Boaz toward Ruth, which we noted in the last lesson was far more generous and gracious than the law required, and recognizing that Boaz is a family redeemer, Naomi has an idea. She declares the problem in verse 1. Basically, Naomi is concerned that when she dies there will be no hope at all for Ruth. Ruth is a foreigner and has no stake in the family to be able to be cared for or provided for. Naomi says her concern is “that it may be well with you.” Naomi wants to remove the reproach of being a widow and solve Ruth’s destitution. Naomi is concerned for Ruth’s well-being just as Ruth was concerned for Naomi’s well-being in 1:16-17.
So Naomi says that she needs to come up with a long term solution for Ruth. Ruth needs a husband. Boaz is staying at the threshing floor. Wash and anoint yourself, go to the threshing floor, but do not show yourself until he is doing eating and drinking. Then while he sleep, uncover his feet, and lie down at his feet. After you have done this, Boaz will tell you what to do.
Now when we read this, we probably do not really know what Naomi is telling Ruth to do. It sounds like the most unusual plan. First, Naomi tells Ruth to wash and anoint herself. This is likely more than just telling her to get pretty. Ruth would very likely have still been wearing her widow garments because she has been mourning the loss of her husband. This would give some explanation as to why Boaz has not attempted to inquire about Ruth regarding marriage. Further, remember that when the husbands of Ruth and Orpah die, that is when Naomi returns to Israel. This is all the more likely what this means when we see what else Ruth is supposed to do.
Second, Ruth is to reveal herself to Boaz at night at the threshing floor and not in the day in front of everyone else who is there. The reason seems to be that we do not want to put Boaz in an uncomfortable position, putting him on the spot in public when Ruth announces herself.
Third, Ruth is to uncover Boaz’s feet and lie down. Many writers have tried to sexualize this action but there is nothing in these Hebrew words that requires such an understanding. There are other Hebrew words that could have been used to communicate this if a sexual act was intended. No, the picture is far more beautiful. Ruth is to uncover his feet and lie down next to his feet. It was most common to sleep with your cloak as your blanket at night. Remember that this is why God commanded that a person who took another’s cloak as a payment for debt still had to return the cloak to that person at night to keep warm while sleeping. By removing Boaz’s cloak from his feet, the cold night air would eventually wake him up. But there is much more because Ruth is to lay down next to his feet. A symbolic opportunity is being requested. We see God use this symbol in regards for his love for Israel.
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. (Ezekiel 16:8 ESV)
Now see what Ruth is doing by this action. She will uncover Boaz’s feet. He will wake up to cover his feet again and Ruth will be laying there by his feet. He will have the choice to simply cover his own feet and send her away or he can cover his feet and her as well, symbolizing that he does love her and will enter into a marriage covenant with her to care for her and provide for her. So this is done at night to not embarrass Ruth or Boaz. Ruth will present herself as an available woman at a time when Boaz would be in good spirits from the harvest and from having a full meal, without the pressure of others watching. This is what is at stake at in this scene. No one knows what will happen when Boaz wakes up, as seen in 3:4, “He will tell you what to do.” She will do this but how will Boaz respond?
The Result (3:6-18)
So Ruth does exactly as she was told to do by Naomi. Boaz wakes up and asks who is there in the darkness. She says, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (3:9). Some translations read to spread your garment or cloak over your servant. It is the same Hebrew word and presents the same idea that we spoke about a moment ago. She is requesting him to provide for her through marriage as seen in this symbolic act of putting his cloak over her. Will he put his wing over her to care for her and protect her?
Boaz considers Ruth’s act a display of faithfulness and great loyalty (3:10). Ruth is not obliged to marry Boaz but she is looking to not just provide for herself but for Naomi as well. Ruth could marry another marry, be cared for, and live happily ever after. But Ruth is asking Boaz so that Naomi’s lineage would remain intact and provision and care can be given to her. Ruth is choosing what is godly, not what is convenient or what may be her own desires. This is why Boaz says, “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 recognizes Ruth to be a worthy woman. She is a virtuous woman of noble character and excellence. This is the same Hebrew phrase that we find in Proverbs 12:4 and 31:10 in describing the worthy woman or excellent wife. She has practiced sexual integrity. She has been faithful and is making godly, spiritual decisions, not selfish, self-centered decisions. Boaz is praising this character in Ruth.
But there is a problem with the plan. Boaz is not the closest relative. There is another who is a closer family relative to Elimelech who can fulfill the role of benefactor. The romantic music suddenly stops because these two cannot be married and live happily ever after. There is another person who should fulfill the role of family redeemer because he is a closer relative. But Boaz says that he will accept this offer from Ruth if this other family redeemer will not. Therefore, stay the night, which was likely for her safety. Remember what we terrible and gruesome evil that happens at night in the days of the judges. So stay here for the night where it is safe but get going early in the morning, likely so that no one gets the wrong idea. Boaz does not want Ruth’s reputation damaged because she is not a prostitute but a faithful, worthy woman. The threshing floor was a place where prostitutes would come (cf. Hosea 9:1) so Boaz takes great care to ensure that Ruth is not portrayed this way because this is not what has happened. Both are pure before God and each other. So early in the morning before it was light Boaz sends Ruth back to Naomi with a great amount of food to care for the both of them. With this, the chapter ends in verse 18 with everyone waiting and wondering how this matter will turn out.
Messages For Today
There are three messages that we can consider from this section of our study of Ruth. First, God blesses the upright. Our two main characters in this account have been described as worthy people in terms of their character. Ruth is described as a worthy woman (3:11). Boaz was described as a worthy man (2:1). Friends, we need to be people of integrity. We need to be people of honor. We need to be people of honesty. We need to be people that are upright. We must look different than the world. To be the salt of the earth and the light of the world requires us to be live a different life. We need to be sexually pure. We need to be upright in our words. We need to show integrity in our manner of life. We must desires to be instruments of God’s grace and mercy to the world. This means we will look to be reflecting the holiness and honor of God to the people around us.
Second, believing in the providence of God does not lead us to fatalism or passivity. Rather, we are actively looking for God’s blessings in our lives. Having faith in God to operate in our lives does not mean we sit back and do nothing. Naomi does not sit back and hope for God to do something for her and Ruth. Instead, she does what she believes that God wants her to do, trusting that God will bless her efforts. This is an important concept for us to consider. I have heard of Christian leaders saying that if we have faith in God, then we should do nothing and watch for God to act. But we never see this idea in the scriptures. God does not say do nothing. Rather, God says to act in faith. Believe that God is with you and will help you. In the same way, I have heard Christian leaders say that we can make bad decisions as a church with the faith that God will keep us from disaster. But this is putting our God to the test in a bad way. We do not willfully choose to make bad decisions with the belief that God will keep us from our mistakes. We never see God doing this in the scriptures either. God tells us to walk in wisdom (Colossians 4:5). The Proverbs teach us to apply the fear of God to our decisions so that we will make righteous, godly decisions. We look for God to bless but this does not mean we are to be inactive but act in faith.
Finally, and closely tied to the last point, we must ask ourselves what is the basis for our life decisions? Do we walk by faith or do we walk by sight? I want you to see how this chapter ends. This chapter does not end with great clarity about what God is doing. Ruth does not know if Boaz can become the family redeemer. Naomi does not know if she is going to be provided for either. Putting our faith in God does not mean we can see what the outcome will be. Sometimes we think we should receive immediate answers to our life because we are trusting in God. But faith in God does not mean we know what the outcome will be. Rather, faith in God gives us hope and confidence during our dark days. Serve the Lord, walk by faith, and look for the blessings of God.