"Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: AJBT. Ruth 3:1-18. Blessed by Love's Integrity
Date: February 24th 2017
American Journal of Biblical Theology
Copyright © 2017, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter Scripture quotes from KJV
As we go through life, we often face quite significant decisions that will dramatically affect the rest of our lives. These might include situations like job changes, major purchases or sales, and major relationship changes such as marriage and family planning including the care for children and older adults. When we face such decisions we often have several options and several ways the task can be approached. Just for discussion’s sake, let’s illiterate three resources we might engage when we approach such decisions: love, logic, and the LORD.
Logic. This is probably one of the most common ways to attack a problem: first, a logical solution demands that we define the problem. We will analyze all the characteristics of the issue including the input we can make to it and the expected outcomes. We will weigh the consequences of different approaches to the problem, sometimes listing advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons, and then at some point, we decide. We may not realize that we use this methodology when we approach a problem logically. Such an approach analyzes facts, and relies entirely on one’s gifts and knowledge of the problem to afford a reasonable solution.
Love. Sometimes the decisions we make affect other people as significantly as they do ourselves, or even more so. Our approach to these types of situations is largely determined by our relationship with those who are affected by our decisions. We can approach them selfishly, being only concerned with our own needs as we “look out for Number One.” Or, our love for others can become the priority that supersedes even some of our logically reasonable choices, leading us to great sacrifice.
LORD. Let us be honest. For many of us, we often will seek the LORD only when our other methodologies do not work, forgetting that we are fully blessed when we “seek first the Kingdom of God” and His righteous in all our decisions. When we seek the LORD, who does all within the context of agape love, and with wisdom infinitely greater than our own, the love and the logic are all fully and properly engaged in the solution.
The book of Ruth opens with an extremely difficult dilemma that faced the widowed wife and Moabite daughters-in-law of Elimelech the Bethlehemite. The loss of the three husbands without the birth of any children left Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah destitute and without any potential support. Following Naomi’s pleading, Orpah returned home to her Moabite family where she would find security. Ruth, however, demonstrated a tremendous love and loyalty by returning to Israel with the Hebrew Naomi, returning as an outsider with no real hope of a future other than to serve the aging and helpless Naomi in any way possible. Naomi pleaded with Ruth to return to her family also, citing many very wise, reasonable, and logical reasons for her to do so. However, Ruth’s solution to the dilemma, though not yet fully engaging the wisdom of the LORD, and likely devoid of any logical defense, certainly was a solution that was based upon love. She promised to return to Israel with Naomi and be with her the rest of her days, even facing death with her should their lives come to that point.
The two women returned to Bethlehem during the barley harvest, and established a relationship with a wealthy landowner and farmer by the name of Boaz, a secondary relative of Elimelech, doing so through Ruth’s labor of gleaning behind Boaz’ reapers. Boaz took notice of the hard-working Ruth, the Moabitess, and was extremely impressed by her selfless loyalty to Naomi. He chose to reward her with significant help as she worked to glean in his fields.
Ruth 3:1. Then Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?
Naomi and Ruth have settled somewhere in Bethlehem, though the scriptures are silent as to their state. Ruth has been leaving Naomi during the day to work as a reaper in the fields to scrape together enough food to survive. Now that circumstances have brought them into a relationship with Boaz, Naomi is now addressing another dilemma that the family faces: the end of the line of the family of Elimelech. The family line and its attachment to the land was one of the most important issues in ancient Hebrew life. Naomi’s two sons had died, and both Ruth and Orpah had no children. The small parcel of land that Elimelech owned would be transferred to the closest relative of Elimelech to keep it in the family, and the name of Elimelech would be lost. This loss of name was thought to be a great curse, a curse that fell upon Naomi.
The widowed Ruth is facing an even more difficult situation with no name, no land, and literally nobody to take care of her. However, she is still the widowed wife of Mahlon, son of Elimelech. Mahlon’s son would have been the rightful heir of the land that Elimelech did own, and Elimelech’s name would have continued through him. To perpetuate this social system of inheritance, the Hebrew law included a rule of “Levirate” marriage. If a man dies and leaves a wife and no sons, it was the duty of the nearest male relative in the paternal line, usually a brother, referred to as a gō'ēl, a kindred redeemer, to take the widow as a wife and father a son with her. That son would legally be the son of the deceased, not the son of the redeemer. As the wife of the deceased Mahlon, the rule of Levirate marriage would call upon the closest male living relative of Mahlon to take Ruth as his wife, and produce a son with her who would be the son of Mahlon, and the owner of the land. This son would also have the responsibility of caring for Ruth and Naomi in their old age.
Though the phrase of verse-1 does not specifically address this issue, the context clearly implies that this is the form of “rest” that Naomi is referring to.
Ruth 3:2-3. And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor. 3Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.
By this time, Boaz, a wealthy and influential Bethlehemite landowner, has taken more than a curious interest in Ruth. He has lavished her with favor in the fields and spoken very highly of her. Naomi has taken note of this, and gave Ruth some very specific instructions on how to respond to Boaz’ kindness.
Noting that Boaz will be working all night on the threshing floor, Naomi instructed Ruth to complete some very specific tasks. First, she was to “wash” herself. The word used for “wash” refers to ritual cleansing that carries with it the theological import of confession, repentance, and demonstrated faith in the LORD. This indicates that, by this time, Ruth was secure in her faith in God. Ceremonial cleansing also included anointing with oil, and the wearing of appropriate clothing. It may be important to note that the appropriate clothing is Hebrew dress, not the dress of a Moabite. This also illustrates the voracity of Ruth’s faith in the LORD and her rejection of the Moabite gods.
The process that Naomi requested of Ruth was very specific in its definition and purpose: this was also the means by which a woman would approach a man to communicate a desire for marriage. Naomi was setting in motion the sequence of events that could lead to Boaz’ service as the kinsman redeemer: the one who would restore the name, the land, and a son to the family of Elimelech.
Ruth 3:4. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do. 5And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do.
Having been prepared and attired for this proposition, Naomi instructed Ruth to go to the threshing floor and, after Boaz had fallen asleep, to go to him and “uncover his feet.” This was a very specific action that was used to make known her proposal for marriage. Though some argue that this statement is an idiom for some other action, many scholars agree that there is little to be read into what is, literally, the uncovering of his feet. Some have stated that, following the uncovering of the feet, the woman would lie at the man’s feet, waiting upon his awakening. The nature of the Hebrew grammar makes the details of this particular passage difficult to determine, and this difficulty has led to any different interpretations, including the presence of both women at the threshing floor.
Ruth 3:6. And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law bade her. 7And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.
At the end of a hard day’s work, it is quite reasonable that Boaz would have a meal and find a place in the threshing floor to rest. Though some have stated that Boaz was drunk, there is no literal basis for this conclusion. Boaz simply had a good meal and was in a favorable mood when he lay down to sleep. It had been a good day.
Ruth 3:8. And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.
The chronology of the narrative indicates that Ruth may have arrived at the threshing floor while it was still light. Her presence there would not have been controversial in any way since she had become so closely engaged with the reapers. However, Ruth would have to wait until the cover of darkness and until Boaz is fast asleep before she could slip into the threshing floor next to him without drawing attention to herself. It is probably no surprise that Boaz was startled when he awoke and found someone so close to him. The darkness of midnight would have made it difficult to determine exactly who was so close to him.
Ruth 3:9. And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.
When Ruth answered Boaz’ question, the entire context of the encounter was obvious to him. Consequently, the “uncovering” of his feet, her request for him to cover her with his “skirt,” as well as her reference to his status as a kinsman redeemer, clearly make known to Boaz her request that he would be willing to serve as her redeemer, given her status as the sonless widow of a man who was likely a nephew.
What we have just witnessed is a normal and traditional interaction between an Israelite man and an Israelite widow who has married into the man’s family. What was unusual about this encounter was that Ruth was not a Hebrew. Though Mosaic Law did provide for marriage to Moabites in this situation, she was still considered an alien in their culture. However, what was also unusual was the transparency of her loyalty to Naomi, and her unfettered embrace of Naomi’s faith in God. Ruth’s impeccable embrace and execution of the Hebrew traditions that culminated in her request of Boaz, made it clear that this was no ordinary Moabitess. This was a faithful woman, the widow of the Hebrew Mahlon, son of Elimelech, a secondary relative to Boaz.
It is apparent that, knowing the state of Naomi and Ruth, and his close relationship with Ruth, Boaz may have already been considering the remote possibility that he might be able to marry Ruth and serve to restore the land and family name to Naomi and Ruth. Boaz’ response might imply this.
Ruth 3:10. And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast showed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.
Boaz’ blessing of Ruth, invoking the name of the LORD, indicates his full acceptance of her as a member of Naomi’s Hebrew family, and as the wife of the deceased Mahlon. The endearment, “my daughter” could refer to his more advanced age, as well as the reference to “young men.” However, it is probably not necessary to read too much into this statement that is referring to Ruth’s kindness, not Boaz’ age. Boaz is referring to his observation of Ruth’s amazing loyalty to Naomi. Having come to Israel, rather than seeking her own security by searching for a man to marry, Ruth continued to work hard and selfless hours in order to care for her mother-in-law, Naomi. This love, compassion, and faithfulness impressed Boaz, and demonstrated to him that she was a woman of honor, integrity, love, and faith. Some have stated that, due to some of his earlier remarks, Boaz also found Ruth to be quite attractive, and that a woman like Ruth would be “quite a catch.”
The narrative is silent concerning the structure of Boaz’ family. There is no reference to his having either a wife or sons. This will come into play shortly.
Ruth 3:11. And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.
What Ruth just did must have taken quite a bit of courage and determination. She could certainly have feared rejection by Boaz, a rejection that would not only been a personal embarrassment to her, but would also serve to terminate her tenuous security as a favored gleaner in Boaz’ fields, placing both her and Naomi’s lives in jeopardy. Recognizing her fears, Boaz quickly told her that he would do everything possible to provide redemption for Naomi’s family and land. Boaz also expressed his own confidence in Ruth by declaring the public knowledge of her integrity.
Ruth 3:12-13. And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I. 13Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the LORD liveth: lie down until the morning.
We find Boaz is also a man of integrity. Certainly, Naomi would have known of the closer relative to her late husband, but she also knew Boaz’ character, and Ruth had established a relationship with Boaz. As a wealthy landowner, Boaz would be able to easily take care of the duties of the kinsman redeemer, and as a man of integrity, he would not stop until those duties were accomplished. As much as it is evident that Boaz deeply wanted to take Ruth as his wife, he also knew that to do so would be dishonest, knowing of a closer relative to Elimelech. It is likely that nobody would have ever known or cared about the redeemer function that Boaz was accomplishing had he simply married Ruth. However, she had approached him in the traditional Hebrew manner, specifically requesting that he serve as her redeemer. Consequently, he felt obligated to contact the one who was first in line for this duty and offer the service of redeemer to him.
Boaz then stated an oath, the most solemn oath a Hebrew man can make, an oath that was considered a breach of the third commandment if broken, an offence that had no atoning sacrifice. In doing so, he was promising to Ruth that if given the opportunity, he would be her husband, father Mahlon’s son, and restore the parcel of land to her family.
Ruth 3:14-15. And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could know another. And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor. 15Also he said, Bring the veil that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city.
Ruth remained at his feet until morning, rather than venture out into the village after midnight, leaving before dawn so that no one would know of her presence. There was no impropriety in the encounter between Ruth and Boaz, and it would not serve anyone if rumors of impropriety were started at this important time for both Ruth and Boaz. Some have argued that “laying at his feet” is some form of idiomatic expression that refers to an intimate encounter between Ruth and Boaz. There is simply no merit to this argument, and such an encounter would have been inconsistent with the context of the situation, as well as out of character for two people who demonstrate such honesty, honor, and integrity.
Before leaving, Boaz gave Ruth a gift of six measures of barley, enough to sustain both Ruth and Naomi for a sufficient amount of time for Boaz to clarify the situation with the kinsman redeemer. This gift simply did away with the need for Ruth to continue the hard work of gleaning in the fields. Boaz had just committed to take care of Ruth for the remainder of her days, so there is no justification for returning her to the fields. Boaz simply asked Ruth to wait for him. The six measures of barley, a large and heavy amount, can also be understood as a symbol of bounty that becomes a turning point in the text where the famine and their current need while in the “House of Bread” is met. From this point on sustenance and fertility will return to Naomi.
Ruth 3:16. And when she came to her mother in law, she said, Who art thou, my daughter? And she told her all that the man had done to her.
The question posed by Naomi might seem odd. Did she not recognize Ruth because of the darkness of the morning? Obviously, by stating, “my daughter,” she knew quite well that this was Ruth. The question was posed not to determine her identity as her daughter-in-law as most seem to hold, but to inquire if her family identity had changed as a result of her visit with Boaz. Since Ruth did not return until morning, it is obvious that she met with Boaz, so Naomi was simply asking if Ruth is now betrothed to Boaz. One can imagine the excited Ruth sharing all of the conversations that she had with Boaz, and Boaz’ promise to assure her redemption.
Ruth 3:17-18. And she said, These six measures of barley gave he me; for he said to me, Go not empty unto thy mother in law. 18Then said she, Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day.
The journey back home from the tragedies of their experiences in Moab is about to come to a just and blessed end. There were many possible outcomes that could have been realized by Ruth and Naomi, and when in the depths of grief, fear, and despair, neither of them certainly foresaw this one. What brought them to this point illustrates the spontaneous fruit of godly people, when they put their trust in the LORD, and sought in all they did to honor one another and honor the LORD. The book of Ruth is characterized by acts of godly kindness, hesed, with at least two dozen examples of this kindness expressed between one another. It was love and integrity that bound Ruth to Naomi. It was love and integrity that caused Naomi to accept Ruth as her own daughter. It was love and integrity that Ruth showed toward Naomi by working the gleaning fields that won the hearts of Boaz and many of the people of Bethlehem. It was love and integrity that inspired Boaz to fulfill his part as kinsman redeemer, done so with no labor of sacrifice, but rather with a heart full of love for Ruth and a sincere desire for her to be his wife.
When we sincerely love the LORD, we will always desire to honor Him by our uncompromised sensitivity and obedience to His will, a will found in His word, and by applying our knowledge of it in every circumstance of life. When we do so, we place ourselves in a position to be blessed by Him. When we sincerely love the LORD, we will also sincerely love others in the same, unconditional way that He loves us. When we do so, we place ourselves in a position to be blessed by others and to develop deep and lasting agape-based, koinonia friendships that last a lifetime. It is often through these friendships that the LORD can bless us by meeting many of one another’s needs.
Boaz was, indeed, true to his word. The very next morning Boaz went to the gates of the city, and in front of ten chosen witnesses he offered Naomi’s land to the rightful kinsman redeemer who refused his right when he realized that the land came with the Levirate marriage to Ruth, the inclusion of her mother-in-law, Naomi, and the subsequent assignment of inheritance of the land to the son he was to father. This would also serve to complicate his own inheritance. Boaz then took Ruth as his wife and she gave birth to Obed who would be the father of Jesse, who would be the father of David, King of Israel.
We can observe how the LORD could bless Ruth and Naomi when their decisions, the way they treated one another, and the way they treated others was characterized by uncompromised love and integrity. They, along with Boaz, can serve as models for us to follow as we also strive to live lives of uncompromised love and integrity. One who demonstrates true integrity can be trusted. One who demonstrates true integrity to the LORD can be trusted by the LORD. Let us embrace for ourselves the testimony of Joshua, who said, “You may choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” This is the way of true spiritual integrity.
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