An Opportunity to Repay
Text: Ruth 3
Understanding What You Read:
- What did Naomi wish to obtain for Ruth?
- How was Ruth to prepare herself?
- How was she to gain Boaz’s notice?
- What did Boaz praise Ruth for not doing?
- Where was it inappropriate for a woman to be?
- What did Boaz send home with Ruth?
- What did Naomi predict would happen?
Naomi wants Ruth to have a more secure future than Naomi could offer her. The Hebrew word, manoach, translated as “security” means “rest.” It implies peace, security, and a lack of anxiety about the future. Namoi wants things to go well for Ruth (Ruth 1:9). The Israelites had a law for childless widows. The nearest of kin could marry her and raise up children on behalf of the deceased man (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). But I don’t think Naomi was aiming for marriage, though she might have hope of a possibility. She has Ruth wash and put on her best clothes. She was not to let Boaz notice her until after the harvest feast is done. But Naomi is also confident that Boaz would know and do the proper thing for Ruth’s future.
It has been over a year since Naomi has returned to Bethlehem. Ruth and Naomi arrived during the barley harvest, Ruth continued working through the wheat harvest, and we are now once again near the end of another barley harvest. The barley had been gathered and threshed to separate the berries from the husks. The threshing floor, where the winnowing is done is an open, flat area to allow breezes to blow and carry off the husks. Boaz would be at the threshing floor when the evening breeze blows. A celebration was planned for the end of the harvest work and Boaz himself planned to spend the night as one of the guards of the harvest.
Boaz, we are told, was in a good mood when he went to lie down beside the heap of grain. There is no indication in the passage that he was drunk, but rather that he had eaten well after the days of work. But in the middle of the night, he awakens, startled to find that someone is lying at his feet.
Why Ruth was to uncovering Boaz’s feet has been a source of debate. Some commentators note that the terms used can be euphemisms for sex, but such would be out of character for both Boaz and Ruth. Perhaps the wording is to let the reader know that Ruth was taking a chance that could turn out wrong with someone of lesser character. It could simply be that by uncovering his feet, he would wake up. Most likely, Ruth’s action demonstrated her willingness to put herself under Boaz’s feet; that is, to become a servant in his household or possibly a concubine. It is not unusual for servants in that region to sleep at the foot of their master’s bed. Notice that when Boaz asks who was at his feet, she said she was his female servant. She asks that Boaz spread his garment over her; that is, to take her under his wing and care for her (Ezekiel 16:8). Ruth calls Boaz a near-kinsman; thus, hinting that she would like to be more than just a servant to him.
Why did Ruth come to Boaz at night? To avoid embarrassing either one of them if Boaz turned her down.
Boaz is honored that Ruth would offer herself to him. He praises Ruth for not chasing after the many young men she could have sought out. Instead, she shows a commitment to her adopted family by seeking out a close kinsman. There is a hint here that Boaz is not a young man. By seeking out close kin, she was ensuring that Naomi would have an heir to care for her in her old age. His response “I will do for you whatever you ask” echos Naomi’s assurance that “he will tell you what to do.” To Boaz, the offer of marriage to a virtuous woman like Ruth was not one to pass up. While he agrees to the offer, there is a closer relative who must be given the right of refusal before Boaz can step in. Most likely there is a brother older than Boaz who could lay claim to Ruth if he so desired. If the nearer kinsman does not take Ruth, Boaz promises with an oath to redeem Ruth himself.
He tells her to stay the night because the threshing floor is out of town. It would be dangerous for a young woman to be walking home at such a time. But he suggests she leave early to protect his reputation and hers. He also tells those with him not to let it be known that a woman was on the threshing floor that night.
He also wouldn’t let her go back empty-handed. The amount is uncertain as the size of the actual measurement is not stated. If it was a seah, which is one-third of an ephah, he measured out about 60 pounds of grain. Another possibility is that he just scooped out six double-handfuls of grain, which would be enough for three generous meals for two women. Whatever the quantity, it shows Boaz’s kindness.
When Ruth returns home, she explains to Naomi that Boaz would not let her return empty-handed. It is a contrast to Ruth 1:21 where Naomi says she returned to Bethlehem empty. Seeing the gift, Naomi understands that Boaz plans to do something about the proposition that day.
What we see is the integrity of the people involved. Ruth was known as a woman of excellence. Though Ruth approached Boaz at night, he did not take advantage of the situation. He makes sure her reputation is preserved. Though it becomes clear that Boaz has more than gaining a servant in mind, he insists that the nearer relative be given a chance first.