Love is... (part 3)
At the end of Ruth 2 Ruth is with her mother-in-law and barley and wheat harvest have ended.
At the beginning of chapter 3 both the wheat and the barley have been cut and gathered at the threshing floor. Depending on how much grain was harvested a few weeks might have gone by before Naomi shares her plan with Ruth.
According to Naomi’s words (Ruth 2:20) about Boaz being a close relative we can speculate that she had hopes that Boaz would initiate a relationship with Ruth, one that would hopefully lead to marriage.
Perhaps Boaz was being sensitive to Ruth as a widow not wishing to impose himself upon her until she was emotionally ready to contemplate remarriage. Though we are uncertain regarding the reasons behind it, one thing is clear, Boaz was not making any moves.
Naomi decided she was going to do something about this situation.
Naomi calls to Ruth saying
“my daughter, shall I not seek security (rest, home) for you, that it may be well with you?”
The Hebrew word used here speaks of the rest and security an Israelite woman would receive in the home of a loving husband. (Block, Daniel Isaac. Judges, Ruth. Broadman & Holman, 1999. p681)
The fact that Naomi uses a similar expression to the one she used in her prayer in Ruth 1:8-9 (quoted below) makes us wonder if the events that will follow are just a result of Naomi’s scheming or an answer to her prayer.
Then Naomi told her daughters-in-law, “Each of you should go back home to your mother. You have been very kind to me and my sons who are now dead. So I pray that the Lord will be just as kind to you. I pray that the Lord will help each of you find a husband and a good home.” Naomi kissed her daughters-in-law, and they all started crying.
Ruth 1:8-9 Easy-to-Read Version (bold mine)
The reason for Naomi’s scheming is that it may go well with Ruth. Ruth has been so good to her, she wants things to go well for Ruth as well. Naomi wants to remove the reproach that has come upon Ruth because of her widowhood while also providing a solution for her destitution by securing her the economic necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing) and to calm her anxieties regarding the future.
“As in any healthy covenant relationship, these are two people who have committed themselves to the other’s good above their own.” Block, p681
Ruth was concerned with providing for Naomi and Naomi was concerned about Ruth’s future. This is the type of relationship you want to be in. Where both parties are focused on the other, this is the key to a happy relationship. This is how hesed works.
1 - Boaz is a near relative.
2 - Behold! He will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor.
Barley was usually threshed at the onset of the dry season (late May-June) after all the grain, both barley and wheat, had been cut and gathered.
Usually people would thresh their grain in rock outcrops on hilltops. The hard surface would keep the grain dirt free and would also make it easier to sweep the grains at the end of the day. The wind available at the hilltop would also help in blowing away the chaff or husks when the grain was tossed in the air with a fork while the heavier grain kernels would fall to the floor. They probably threshed the grain at night to take advantage of the cooler breezes as opposed to gusty wind of the daytime. (Block, 682)
Naomi never tells Ruth plainly that she is planning her marriage to Boaz, rather she giver her daughter-in-law detailed instructions on how to take advantage of their current situation.
1 - Ruth is to take a bath
2 - Ruth is to apply perfume
3 - Put on her dress - the word used usually refers to an outer garment that covered everything but the head. There is no hint in the text of this dress being provocative in any way. This garment most likely indicated that Ruth would spend the night outside and would need to keep warm. This garment would serve as a blanket during the night. (Block, 683)
The reference to putting on a dress could also be related to putting an end tot he period of mourning. Perhaps Ruth was still wearing garments that indicated she was mourning. This would also explain why Boaz had not made any moves. Perhaps Boaz was respecting her period of mourning not wanting her to feel pressured. He wanted her to have enough time to grieve the loss of her husband and he was willing to wait until she was ready.
The dress in this case would indicate Ruth was ready to return to normal life, including marriage.
4 - go to the threshing floor where Boaz is working and where he will spend the night. The men would sleep at the threshing floor to guard the grain from animals or thieves.
Detail - Ruth was not to let Boaz see her until after he was done eating and drinking.
5 - Observe without being noticed and find out where Boaz will be sleeping
6 - Uncover Boaz’s feet and lay down.
In case you have not stopped to wonder about this yet, this may look really bad. A woman who bathes puts on perfume and in the dark of night goes into a field and uncovers a man’s legs and lays down? There are so man ways this could go wrong, so many ways it could be misinterpreted.
This would look really bad if the writer had not spent so much time building up all these characters as virtuous men and women.
Otherwise, how would Boaz, a virtuous man react to this? Due to the context and the character of those involved we assume that Naomi did not intend for anything sexual to take place. But this is a risky plan, not what I would recommend. I am not saying that sex is sinful or wrong, I am saying it would be in this situation, that is, outside of marriage.
Naomi must have had remarkable confidence in Boaz.
Naomi was also trusting in God to guide Boaz in making the right decision.
But you have to admit that the potential for disaster is extreme!
There are so many ways that this plan can go wrong. There are so many cues that could be misinterpreted. So many non-verbal gestures that could go very wrong very fast.
The chances of Boaz interpreting everything correctly are slim.
I would say the more likely outcome is Boaz rejecting Ruth by interpreting her behavior as that of an immoral woman. This would cause Boaz to want nothing to do with her. In this case Ruth would be doomed and so would Naomi and their family name.
The more I think about this plan, the more I am convinced that the outcome desired by Naomi is actually the least likely scenario to take place.
That is, unless the hand of God is guiding this.
Honestly, what are the chances of Boaz waking up and in his groggy state understand Ruth’s intentions and not take her for a prostitute in the darkness of night?
Ruth went down to the threshing floor and did everything Naomi told her to do.
Except instead of waiting for Boaz to tell her what to do, she told him what to do.
This presents us with several irregularities.
Here we have
- a woman proposing to a man.
- a younger person proposing to an older person
- a field worker proposing to the field owner
- an alien proposing to a native.
How will Boaz respond?
Apparently Boaz was sound asleep by the time she came. He was exhausted after a long day’s work. After eating and drinking he fell asleep, happy and exhausted. Ruth uncovers his feet but it makes little difference until midnight. Perhaps when the air became cooler Boaz was startled, not only by his feet being uncovered but by the presence of a woman at his feet.
Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet. And he said, “Who are you?”
So she answered, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.”
Ruth 3:8-9 NKJV
Boaz asks who she is and Ruth identifies herself as his servant.
And she asks him to spread his wings over her. This reminds us of Ruth 2:12. This was an expression understood at the time to be a reference to marriage. (691)
The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
Ruth 2:12 NKJV
Surprisingly, this crazy plan that seemed doomed to fail from the beginning worked!
How did Boaz, being woken up at midnight with his legs uncovered and a woman laying by his side correctly interpret the situation? God must have been guiding him.
Boaz then tells Ruth that her act of hesed is greater. (Hesed in this instance meaning family loyalty and devotion.)
Ruth could have gone after any man, but she wants to keep the family name alive. Ruth was not only looking after herself, but rather she was following the law of Moses and doing the right thing for her mother-in-law and for her dead father-in-law and her deceased husband. Ruth put their interests ahead of her own. At least this is how Boaz interprets her action.
In a surprising turn of events we have Boaz telling Ruth he will do what what she wants. He becomes her servant. Boaz, the wealthy Israelite, serving Ruth, the destitute, Moabite widow!
And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.
Ruth 3:11 (NKJV)
Boaz elevates Ruth to his same status. saying she is a woman of strength, a woman of worth, a virtuous woman. Because os her devotion to her mtoher-in-law, because of her demonstration of hesed (kindness and loyalty).
Ruth demonstrates the same qualities that Boaz values and displays. He recognizes her as an incredible woman. He sees her as equal to him in character and raises her status. When Boaz refers to Ruth as a virtuous woman in Ruth 3:11 he uses the same word חַיִל (chayil) as the word used to describe him in Ruth 2:1.
However, there is a problem. Boaz is not the closest kinsman and because he is an honest man and he will not do anything illegal. Though he could just marry Ruth, He will do things right, he will follow the law to redeem the family name of her deceased father-in-law.
He gives Ruth some grain to take to her mother-in-law. This would mean that Boaz is showing his intention of marrying Ruth and rescuing the family. This is not just about Ruth, this is about the family as well.
None of these characters, Naomi, Ruth, or Boaz are selfish. None cheat for personal gain. All are interested in serving and faithfully helping the other.
It is no wonder that God has brought all of them together.
Reading this story we witness what a relationship can be life, what family can be like when everyone is dedicated to living out hesed. Loyal kindness, a love that is focusing on blessing the other.
The plan had worked, but there was one more hurdle.
Are you able to sit still after you have done your part and the rest is beyond your control?
We have witnessed love, hesed, faithful kindness, overcome indredible odds. We have witnessed the hand of God at work in bringing people together and answering prayers.
Can we trust in God to finish what He has begun.
God is working in your life.
Can you remain faithful and kind as you wait?
Can you be faithful and kind to the members of your family?
To your spouse?
Can you afford to be as loving as God is?
Can you trust Him to to guide events that are beyond your control?
This love may seem impossible, it may seem crazy, but its the best human representation we have of love before Jesus came.
Jesus demonstrated this love and died for us.
Can we at least demonstrate this love towards Him as we allow Him to teach us how to demonstrate it to those around us?
I hope you are willing.
I hope that our love for Jesus will overflow towards all those around us.