New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

 

Ruth 3:1 Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?-
"Seek rest" is an idiom for finding a marriage partner. See on Ruth 1:9. Ruth had given up any hope of this in order to follow Yahweh, and Naomi had stressed that returning to Israel with her would mean not finding rest in this sense. But now the possibilities of grace beyond the law occur to Naomi. The lights go on, as they have in the minds of all who start to perceive grace. It was a man who sought a wife, yet the record here stresses the initiative taken by Naomi and Ruth. Jer. 31:22, in a restoration context, speaks of how “a woman shall compass a man” (AV), i.e. a woman would take the initiative. And this surely alludes to the story of Ruth and Naomi. God’s people were to take the initiative with their redeemer, believing He would respond.

Ruth 3:2 Now isn’t Boaz our kinsman, with whose maidens you were? Behold, he winnows barley tonight in the threshing floor-
Threshing floor at harvest time was an immoral place, associated with prostitutes and cheap women: "the harlots hire on every threshing floor of corn" (Hos. 9.1). A case could be made (but see on :3) that the plan was that Ruth would come to Boaz at night whilst he was drunk, dressed up appealingly, and sexually compromise him into marrying her. This would’ve been so difficult for a woman like Ruth, who appears by all accounts an upright woman- more upright, if this were the case, than her Jewish mother-in-law who hatched the plan. The suggestion in :4 that Ruth lay down with him is indeed vague but could arguably suggest sexual contact; and "feet" there could be a euphemism as in Ez. 16:25, a passage which as we shall show was in Naomi's mind. Uncovering the skirt is also capable of sexual interpretation; see on :9. The whole story, of deceiving a man into marriage, coming to him by night, when he’s likely slightly drunk... all recalls the situation of Jacob being tricked into marrying Leah [for surely Jacob couldn’t have been quite sober if he really didn’t know that the woman he was sleeping with wasn’t in fact his beloved Rachel]. The motif of deception appears common to both histories. The connection is heightened by the villagers wishing Ruth fertility like Rachel and Leah (Ruth 4:11). They also wish her the fertility of Tamar (Ruth 4:12)- who also deceived a man using sexual compromise. See on Ruth 2:13. But Ruth was already known as a woman of integrity (:11), who wasn't chasing men (:10). This strongly weighs against the idea that she was practicing sexual manipulation.

But perhaps the simple reality was that "winnowing was generally done at night, in order to take advantage of the breeze". This meant that the grain remained there overnight, and Boaz perhaps Boaz slept by his corn because he feared it being stolen at night. Israel after all was emerging from a time of famine and the corn would have been valuable.


Ruth 3:3 Therefore wash yourself, anoint yourself, get dressed up, and go down to the threshing floor, but don’t make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking-
There is a lot more to this than Springsteen's "Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty / And meet me tonight in Atlantic City". Likewise the advice to wait until he has finished eating and drinking is not simply secular wisdom, waiting until his heart was merry. She does these things and then asks for Boaz to spread his skirt over her (:9), which although not recorded here, was also what Naomi told her to do. What is "more" to all this is that Ezekiel describes Israel's coming into covenant with God in the wilderness as involving bathing, washing, anointing and the spreading of the skirt of the covenant, which the historical record states was accompanied by Israel's representatives eating and drinking before Yahweh (Ez. 16:8-12). And see on :5. Whilst Naomi's advice may all have been fair enough on the secular level, her language choice clearly indicates that she has the covenant at Sinai in mind. And Boaz is clearly represented as manifesting Yahweh to Ruth (see on Ruth 2:1). Naomi and Ruth were not simply sexual manipulators, there was without doubt a deeply spiritual element in all this. Whether that was the sole aspect of the carefully planned encounter is open to debate, but that spiritual dimension cannot be denied.  


Ruth 3:4 It shall be, when he lies down, that you shall note the place where he shall lie, and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lay down; then he will tell you what you shall do-
Laying with a man and uncovering his feet could imply sexual contact; see on :2. "Feet" there could be a euphemism for the sexual organs as in Ex. 4:25 and Ez. 16:25, a passage which as noted on :3 was in Naomi's mind. But she was apparently to note the place where he was laying, and only return to it later that night. And it was quite likely that the threshing floor had other men sleeping on it as well, protecting their piles of corn (see on :2). 


Ruth 3:5 She said to her, All that you say I will do-
I noted on :3 that both women have consciously in mind the covenant at Sinai, and this is word for word the agreement made between Israel and Yahweh in Ex. 19:8. 


Ruth 3:6 She went down to the threshing floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law told her-
Her complete obedience to the idea of entering covenant is emphasized. See on :5.


Ruth 3:7 When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry-
The mention of this is an inconvenient truth for those who wish to portray Boaz and Ruth as parade examples of peerlessly spiritual believers who fell in love with each other. I have discussed on :2,4 whether Naomi and Ruth were being sexually manipulative in their plan. I overall decide against it. But it is simply so that human motivation is rarely pure, and faith is rarely total. The completed harvest was typically a time of sexual immorality and over eating and drinking. That Ruth should come to him precisely at this time, at night, and that he is described as having a merry heart from drinking... is all unfortunate for any argument for the peerless spirituality of Boaz and Ruth. The situation simply reminds us of their humanity. Ruth's, in that she apparently did capitalize upon Boaz's weakness, instead of inviting him to have a sober meeting with her to discuss things. Boaz's, in that every mention of a heart merry from drinking is in a very negative spiritual and moral context (1 Sam. 25:36; Jud. 19:6,22 cp. 18:20; 1 Kings 21:7). And yet it is through their weakness and humanity that their reality and spiritual greatness shines through. They, who were so weak and human, had such faith and spiritual insight.

He went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. She came softly, uncovered his feet, and laid herself down-
Ruth seems to me to be a wonderful example of a spiritually ambitious person. It was unheard of in those times for a woman to propose to a man; yet by coming to him, uncovering his feet and laying under his mantle, she was stating that she wished to see him as a manifestation of God to her (Ruth 3:7,9 = Ruth 2:12). She went  after him, following him (Ruth 3:10); the poor, landless Gentile aspired to be a part of a wealthy Jewish family, in order to fulfil the spirit of the Law. And she attained this. As noted on :1, this was to be the inspiration for the exiles, when a woman was to compass a man.

 


Ruth 3:8 It happened at midnight, that the man was startled and turned himself; and noticed a woman lay at his feet-
"Startled" is too mild a translation. The Hebrew is "trembled", and is used about trembling at the prospect of Divine judgment (Is. 32:11; Ez. 32:10 s.w.). Why would be tremble in this way if he awoke, sensing someone else near him, and find it to be the young woman whom he had his eye upon, and she was effectively proposing to him. Surely a different word would have been used, rather than one which expresses such fear and trembling in anticipation of judgment. He had got drunk (:7), and now he awakes, sober. He sees a woman near him, and he trembles at the thought that whilst drunk, he may have slept with one of the prostitutes who frequented harvest floors (Hos. 9:1). He had done wrong in getting drunk. But because he realized this and trembled because of his failure, what might have been the night of his shame became the most wonderful night of his life, humanly speaking. The young woman of his dreams proposes to him. And so again we see Divine grace; that in the very midst of human failure, and recognition of that failure... God acts to pour out His grace. We have likely all experienced this in our lives, and we see it so wonderfully at this point in Boaz's life.


Ruth 3:9 He said, Who are you? She answered, I am Ruth your handmaid. Therefore spread your skirt over your handmaid-
But she had taken the initiative and spread his skirt over herself (:4,7). She was asking him to confirm the initiative which she had taken, and to manifest the God of Israel to her, under whose wings she had come from Moab to come under (Ruth 2:12 LXX). The same Hebrew words for ‘spread… skirt’ are those used to describe how the cherubim “spread their wings” (Ex. 25:20; 37:9 etc.). She saw God manifest in that man, her goel / redeemer. To uncover the skirt of a person can mean to have sex with them (Dt. 22:30; 27:20). But clearly she wants marriage, redemption and family life rather than just sex. But this could play along with the possibility of sexual manipulation discussed on :2. For you didn't sleep sharing the same blanket unless you were married. But she asks him to do this because he is "a near kinsman", and not for passing pleasure or money. LXX, following the targum: "Let thy name be called upon thine handmaid to take me for a wife". Ruth was already known as a woman of integrity (:11), who wasn't chasing men (:10). This strongly weighs against the idea that she was simply practicing sexual manipulation; although see on :7

For you are a near kinsman-
But legally, in terms of levirate law, Boaz wasn't the goel. And he wasn't even the closest relative. The levirate law operated when "brothers dwell together". And that wasn't the case. Under Mosaic law, a Moabite woman was not to be married. At best it could be argued that a relative of Elimelech's could marry Naomi and raise up seed to him. But she was barren. It was a stretch of levirate law for Boaz to marry Ruth, let alone that she should take the initiative and proposition him to that effect. The idea of Ruth marrying Boaz had not initially even occurred to Naomi, so we can deduce from Ruth 2:2. I suggest that Ruth was not simply being a forward, manipulative woman. She and Naomi had thought through the levirate law, and were seeking to extend its implications according to the spirit of grace rather than law. See on :12.


Ruth 3:10 He said, Blessed are you by Yahweh, my daughter. You have shown more grace in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as you didn’t go after young men, whether poor or rich-
Heb. "You have made this last kindness greater than the first". His idea may be that she had not gone chasing men in Moab, because she wanted to follow Yahweh and not the gods of those men. That was her first grace. And now she had shown another grace or kindness, in that she wanted to marry Boaz because she perceived him to be a spiritual man and manifestation of Yahweh; and because she chose him specifically because of her respect in the principles, although not the letter, of the levirate laws of the covenant. He rightly perceives that his wealth was not an item of attraction. His usage of the word grace / kindness is slightly out of context, but we can understand it if he saw that out of it all, it was a kindness to him for a young, attractive widow to offer to marry him as an old man. Jewish tradition claims that he died soon after their marriage; perhaps his old age was one reason why the idea of Boaz marrying Ruth didn't initially occur to her. It can also be understood that her first kindness was to her late husband and his family. She wanted to raise a Godly seed for him, even though he was apparently weak in faith; and so her first kindness was that she had refused her Moabite suitors after his death. And now the second kindness was in being willing to marry an old Israelite man in order to continue her kindness to her first husband, by raising a Godly Israelite seed for him.

Boaz here recognizes that Ruth is ‘going after’ him. He feels she is showing him grace- reciprocating the grace he had shown her in the harvest fields. Just as he had invited her to see God’s skirt spread over her (Ruth 2:12), so she is asking him to spread his skirt over her. Her ambition in effectively proposing to Boaz, a Gentile nobody proposing herself to a man of the Jewish establishment, is indeed inspirational. See on 2:13. The GNB probably catches the idea: "You are showing even greater family loyalty in what you are doing now than in what you did for your mother-in-law”. This is looking very positively on Ruth- she was desperately poor, childless despite a previous marriage, and to throw herself on a rich distant relative in the hope of marriage and long term support was all absolutely human and natural. But Boaz, with the imputation of goodness which comes from being in love, saw her boldness and desperation in a very positive light. He liked to think of it as her showing grace to him, the old guy.


Ruth 3:11 Now, my daughter, don’t be afraid; I will do to you all that you say-
Again, as noted on :5, this is the language of the covenant at Sinai. Ruth does all Naomi says, and Boaz does all Ruth says. The power of faithful, spiritually minded women is being emphasized, in a male dominated society. We note that both Boaz and Naomi call her "daughter".

For all my people in this city know that you are a worthy woman-
That Ruth was already known as a woman of integrity rather precludes the possibilities discussed on :2 that there was an element of sexual manipulation going on. Although human behaviour and motivation is rarely pure, and we cannot totally rule it out, as discussed on :7. "Worthy" is the same word translated "wealthy" in Ruth 2:1. Boaz was a worthy / wealthy man, and Ruth was a worthy woman, who was to be also wealthy when she married Boaz. They were perfectly suited for each other in moral and spiritual terms, and "all my people in this city", all the family [including the nearer kinsman], knew this. If this reading is correct, the idea of them getting married would not have come as a shock to the elders of the city in Ruth 4. It also confirms my suggestion later that Boaz and Naomi had agreed that the condition of buying her field was that the purchaser marry Ruth. They had had the two months or so of barley and wheat harvest (Ruth 2:23) to work things out and have some kind of courtship.


Ruth 3:12 Now it is true that I am a near kinsman; however there is a kinsman nearer than I-
But I explained on :9 that the levirate law didn't really define Boaz as any kind of goel. He was only that through a seeking to extend its implications according to the spirit of grace rather than law. But he goes along with the idea. She appeals to grace, and he already understands that grace goes beyond the letter of the law. Dt. 24:19 doesn't make allowing gleaning a binding law upon landowners. The text simply states that "When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, do not go back to get it. It shall be for the foreigner, for the fatherless and for the widow". By allowing gleaners to come and pick up dropped grain, Boaz's grace was going far beyond the letter of the law. This would account for the hint in Ruth 2:22 that not every landowner allowed gleaning in their fields. And he was a descendant of the Canaanite prostitute Rahab, who had been allowed to marry into the princely line of Judah (Mt. 1:5). 


Ruth 3:13 Stay this night-
This presumably was because it was dangerous for a woman to walk at night, or because he didn't want Ruth to be thought of as a threshing floor prostitute (Hos. 9:1) by being spotted walking near the threshing floor alone late at night. I suggested on :2 that Boaz slept by his corn to protect it from wandering thieves. But by saying this, he sets himself up already as her protector.

And it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform for you the part of a kinsman, so be it; let him do the kinsman’s part-
Although as explained on :12 the whole idea of Boaz being the goel was a long stretch of the law, he was willing to take the spirit of the law and extend it by grace. But this didn't mean that he therefore disregarded the original principle behind the grace he was willing to show. And he therefore is careful not to simply flout Divine law and principle in the expression of grace. And this is an important principle to grasp for all time. Seeing he was clearly in love with Ruth, this was no painless formality for him.

But if he will not do the part of a kinsman for you, then will I do the part of a kinsman for you, as Yahweh lives. Lie down until the morning-
The levirate laws stated only that the brother of the dead was to perform the duty of levirate marriage. And the duty only concerned "brothers dwelling together". Seeing Elimelech had left Israel, this hardly applied in this case. We get the sense throughout that Boaz wants to marry Ruth; and that he was showing far more grace than the law actually required. Just as he allowed gleaners in his fields, extrapolating from the letter of the law towards a far more gracious position; see on Ruth 2:2.

Ruth 3:14 She lay at his feet until the morning. She rose up in the dark; for he said, Let it not be known that a woman came to the threshing floor-
This could be what he said to himself, explaining his reasoning for sending her away before others had woken up. I suggested on :13 that he asked her to stay the night because  it was dangerous or unseemly for a woman to walk alone at night. He was concerned that people didn't think he had slept with her. Perhaps the thinking of the Mishnah (Yeb. 2:8) was already current, whereby "a man suspected of having sexual relations with a gentile woman is excluded from performing the levirate with her".


Ruth 3:15 He said, Bring the mantle that is on you, and hold it. She held it; and he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her; and he went into the city-
By removing her "veil" [AV} in order to hold the barley, she was effectively removing the sign of her widowed status. Surely there were other means of transporting it, but Boaz is acting in faith that indeed he will marry her.


Ruth 3:16 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, How did it go, my daughter? She told her all that the man had done to her-
"Had done" rather than "had said" is perhaps significant. We could read her as meaning that he had promised to marry her. But again we cannot escape the thought that what he had "done" to her was to sleep with her or at least be sexually intimate with her, as discussed on :2. The huge amount of barley given her in :17 would then be some form of payment or at best concession that he had not acted completely correctly by her. Perhaps this whole question is indeed raised by the text, but left tantalizingly unanswered. It would be part of the story line which intrigues and holds attention, and leaves us with the caveat that for all their faith and spirituality, Ruth and Boaz were not sinless but still human.


Ruth 3:17 She said, He gave me these six measures of barley; for he said, ‘Don’t go empty to your mother-in-law’-
"
Empty" here is s.w. Ruth 1:21, where Naomi laments that she is "empty": "I went out full, and Yahweh has brought me home again empty". To be "full" was one of the blessings for obedience to the covenant, and the potential gift of God to Israel when they first entered Canaan (Dt. 6:11; Neh. 9:25 s.w.). But she had left Israel assuming that those blessings were not fulfilled. See on Ruth 1:2. Now she realized that she had seen the cup half empty instead of half full. To be empty was to be without blessing (Gen. 31:42; Ex. 3:21; Dt. 15:13). And so here Boaz tries to indirectly persuade her that this was not the case ultimately; she was going to receive blessing such as she could never have imagined, even in this life. She felt that although she had not experienced blessing from Him, indeed she had lost the potential blessings and was without His blessings, yet still she wanted to return to Him. Contrary to Pentecostal reasoning, the experience of "blessing" was not what attracted her to Him. Rather she wanted to simply be in relationship with Him, like the prodigal son returning from Gentile lands not looking for any material blessing- and yet all the same finding it.    


Ruth 3:18 Then she said, Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will end; for the man will not rest-

"The matter will end" uses the word usually translated "fail". The idea could be "Wait and see whether our plan has failed". "The matter" is the Hebrew translated elsewhere as "word" or "thing". Not one word failed of God's plan to bring Israel from Moab into the land and give them an inheritance there (s.w. Josh. 21:45; 23:14). And neither would this word for Ruth's redemption fail either.

Until he has finished the thing this day-
Literally, "fulfilled the word". And Boaz did do so, manifesting God to the exile Naomi and the Gentile Ruth. The very same phrase is used of God fulfilling His prophetic word of restoration through the decree of Cyrus to restore Judah from Gentile lands to Israel (Ezra 1:1). See on Ruth 1:16 for the relevance of Ruth to the restoration.