1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” 5 And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”
6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” 10 And he said, “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. 11 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. 12 And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. 13 Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.”
We continue our story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz on this winding path of glory. After hearing our text this morning, you probably have questions, assumptions and you’re maybe scratching your head. It’s an unusual passage filled with tensions, risk and especially in our sexualized culture, the potential to import our assumptions into the passage. While there is lots that is unfamiliar and unusual, the big idea of the text is God accomplishes his redeeming purposes through the ordinary actions of people.
That means I have a challenge to explain it well so that we understand it, God’s Word is honored and that we are able to apply it to our own lives today.
As I mentioned, the big idea we will see in our text is that God accomplishes his redeeming purposes through the ordinary actions of people. I hope that becomes clear as we dive in.
The text breaks down into two scenes. First in verses 1-4 Naomi seeks rest for Ruth. The second scene is verses 7-13 where Ruth now seeks redemption for Naomi and Boaz responds. The two stories are also linked with this transition in verses 5-6 where the common character of the scenes, Ruth, acts as a bridge between the scenes. With that, let’s look at the first scene.
3:1-4 Scene 1: Naomi seeks rest for Ruth
This week the story reaches a climax, but as we’ll see it still has several bends in the road.
At the end of chapter two Naomi recaps Ruth’s day gleaning under Boaz’ protection. As pastor Dave mentioned last week, Naomi has become thankful. Do you see how Naomi has softened since chapter 1? Going from tragedy and bitterness, we see Naomi now think of others instead of herself. When Ruth returns from the field at the end of chapter 2, she is genuinely thankful. She blesses the LORD for Boaz’ kindness and provision. She also notes that Boaz is their relative and a redeemer which will pick up in this chapter.
Notice that the LORD provided blessing to Naomi through people and the result is a softened Naomi. The LORD is working kindness into Naomi. Have you ever tried to stay bitter or cynical despite receiving good things? Let us take note. Seek ways to be kind to your spouse or your kids.
Now the story picks up, look at verse 1: Naomi announces to Ruth “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?”
This echoes Naomi’s statement in 1:9 when she is trying to send Ruth back to Moab, “
In Naomi’s softening she reveals her aim for Ruth. To find a husband to provide and protect her. Who would be a possibility?
Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were?
Naomi mentions that Boaz is our relative, which she noted at the end of chapter 2 as well. But this time she doesn’t say anything about his status as a redeemer. While Boaz is both a kinsman and a redeemer, Naomi only mentions the aspect that is relevant to a potential obligation to marry Ruth. Naomi then gives Ruth instructions:
See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor.
The threshing floor was an area outside of town with a rocky floor, open sides and often a roof. After grain was harvested, people would go to the threshing floor to separate the grain from the outer chaff. Using a winnowing fork, a kind of rake, they would toss the grain in the air, and the gentle breeze of the night would blow the chaff away and the heavier grain would fall into a pile below. Despite being a landowner and having a higher status and workers underneath him, Boaz is apparently humble enough to do the hard work himself. Another nod to his worthy character.
While this was a key component of the farming community, it was also known to have associations with prostitution and sexual immorality. Hosea 9:1 refers to the threshing floor as the place where prostitutes would go. It could have the same imagery as the Red-Light District in our culture. This would have certainly been the case during the time of the Judges, when everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
Next Naomi explains the plan: wash, anoint yourself, and put on your cloak. Maybe you see this as a way for Naomi to play matchmaker and have Ruth get all dressed up to attract Boaz. Keep in mind this would be done in the middle of the night, so it would have been silly to imagine Ruth getting dressed up in a fancy dress-as if Ruth would have the means for that anyway- or trying to physically attract Boaz. Instead this appears to indicate that Naomi is encouraging Ruth to end her mourning as a widow and indicate to Boaz that she is ready and willing to be married. This is seen elsewhere in the Bible in 2 Sam 12 where David does the same thing. After mourning his son’s death, he rises, washes, anoints himself and changes his clothes.
We saw how Elimelech and Naomi took matters into their own hands in chapter 1 with tragic results. How is this different? Isn’t Naomi just trying to force the issue? If not, what’s different?
Does Naomi see an opportunity to get Ruth a husband and works as a matchmaker? I don’t think that’s exactly what is going on here and there are several clues in the text that we will see throughout this part of the story.
As God’s kindness has softened Naomi, she is now seeking the interests of others and not only her own. Further, she is applying God’s Word. At this point in history, Israel had the first five books of the Bible. God’s law provided ways to care for widows and the poor. Naomi at least understood the levirate marriage laws from Deut 25 and it seems she is trying to be obedient.
Another clue is that she instructs Ruth to wait for Boaz’ instructions. Naomi is trusting that Boaz will act in a worthy way.
Naomi continues in verse 4:
4 But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.”
While there is a theory that this scene is scandalous, Boaz and Ruth don’t have sex and I don’t think Naomi had this in mind when she devised her plan either. Maybe your imagination, steeped in our modern culture has filled in details. There is ambiguity and many of the Hebrew words carry the hint of scandal, let’s look at why this is not the case.
First, it doesn’t fit the character of Ruth nor Boaz. As Pastor Dave has preached in past weeks, Boaz and Ruth are both noted throughout the book for their character. They are both sinners, no doubt, but the book is picture of worthy character. There is no evidence elsewhere in the book that they would act in this way.
Second, to understand this scene as sinful we have to fill in details that the text doesn’t provide. When the Bible notes sin, the authors make it pretty clear what is going on. You don’t get very far into Genesis without some pretty wicked events. and the biblical authors record them as they happened without mystery or requiring the reader to fill in the blanks.
To understand what’s going on here with the feet, I need to get slightly technical, but it’s important for us to understand what Naomi’s instructions mean and what she doesn’t. Like the connotations with the threshing floor, this uncovering could be interpreted in a scandalous way. Uncovering could mean uncovering more than one’s feet, but in this case, the Hebrew word used is slightly different and literally means feet. It means the author was careful to indicate that this word meant feet and only feet. Naomi’s purpose is not to scandalously uncover Boaz’ clothes, but simply to cause him to wake up and see Ruth in the middle of the night. It’s similar to when the covers of your bed fall off at night, you wake up because you are cold. Naomi hopes the cool of the night will wake Boaz as well.
Notice also the two uses of ‘lie’. The word can mean to lie with someone in an intimate way, but it has to be connected to another object, like David lay with Bathsheba. The word in this text is used first of Boaz to refer to him sleeping. It couldn’t mean anything else, Boaz is lying alone. So when Naomi instructs Ruth to lie down, with the same word without connecting it to an object, Naomi is commanding Ruth to literally lie down. This is the same use in verse 13 when Boaz instructs Ruth to lie down. He means, go to sleep, lodge here. Nothing steamier can be implied.
3:5-6 Bridge: Ruth’s response and the tension rises
5 And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”
Ruth 3:6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her.
Ruth’s character is again seen in her humble obedience and loyalty to Naomi. But as we’ll see in a minute, it’s not merely blind obedience. She isn’t just a pawn for Naomi to achieve Naomi’s plans. Ruth thinks for herself and takes initiative many times to show kindness and honor both to Naomi and Boaz.
As I said, it’s unlikely that they acted sinfully, but it was still incredibly risky for Ruth to approach Boaz in this way. She’s a woman, sneaking down to the threshing floor in the middle of the night. what if he misinterprets her intentions?
Boaz’ possible responses:
- He interprets Ruth’s presentation as a prostitute and acts.
- He interprets Ruth’s presentation as a prostitute and in his virtue makes her leave
- He interprets Ruth’s presentation as a marriage proposal and denies her.
- Further, what if someone else sees them? Even if Naomi, Ruth and Boaz understand the honorable intentions, someone else could easily misinterpret them as scandalous. What if someone sees this?
There are a lot of ways that this could go wrong and Naomi’s plan for marriage is ruined. And only one way for it to go right. A lot is riding on Boaz’ response.
3:7-9 Scene 2: Ruth seeks redemption for Naomi
7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain.
In the same way that I think Ruth and Boaz didn’t act in a sinful way because of their character, the text doesn’t support Boaz being drunk here. More likely he is simply celebrating a hard day’s work and the end of the harvest. He’s not drunk, but he is satisfied.
Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down.
Have you ever had the covers pulled off you at night? Everything in the story now hinges on Boaz’ response.
8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”
Ruth takes a phrase that Boaz had spoken in chapter 2 and turns it back to Boaz. This image of wings is a picture the Bible uses to illustrate God’s protection and provision. A mother bird provides shelter and warmth for her babies. She gets in the way of predators. This is the kind of protection that Boaz first prays for Ruth in chapter 2, and which Ruth now seeks directly from Boaz. There might be a note in your Bible that wings can also mean corner of a garment. This is where the marriage imagery comes in: Boaz would have worn a long outer garment and for a man to propose marriage, he would have flipped it over his head and covered the woman to symbolize this kind of intimate protection and provision. This imagery is seen in Ezekiel 16:8, when God speaks to Israel and covers her with his garment, an illustration of his covenantal love for his bride, Israel. This is what Ruth is requesting. She is asking for Boaz to marry her.
To this point the text says Ruth carried out Naomi’s instructions, but now she boldly escalates things. Not only does she ask Boaz to marry her, but she seeks redemption for Naomi. The second part of her request, “I know that you are a redeemer,” now ups the ante for Boaz. Now it’s not only Ruth’s protection, but also the responsibility to redeem Naomi’s property according the redeemer laws. It’s both marriage and property. Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 25 are now coming together in Ruth’s request. So how will Boaz respond?
3:10-13 Boaz’ response: promise to ensure redemption
10 And he said, “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. 11 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 blesses Ruth in the LORD. He calls her ‘my daughter’, far different than her status when she first returned to Israel. And he notes the hesed that Ruth has shown first to Naomi, and now to Boaz in an even greater act.
Verse 11, Boaz gives his answer, which is parallel to Ruth’s answer to Naomi in verse 5. Boaz says, “I will do for you all that you ask.” Why? Because Ruth is a worthy woman. Somehow, this humble, poor, widowed foreigner, now gleaning in Bethlehem has gained a reputation. But it is a worthy reputation. She is woman very much the equal of Boaz in character. Both are noted for their worthiness and their kindness. Their covenant faithfulness and steadfast love. English can’t capture it all in one word.
In the Hebrew Bible, the order of the books is different than our English Bibles. And in that order, Ruth follows immediately after Proverbs. At the end of Proverbs 31, the writer poses the question, “An excellent wife, who can find?” In the time of Judges, this must have been especially hard to find. But here, at the threshing floor, we find the answer. Here is Ruth, an excellent woman who would make an excellent wife.
Ruth and Boaz getting married makes total sense, they’re both noble, quick to show kindness to others and honoring the LORD. 1+1 makes 2. Except Boaz now reveals the next roadblock: there’s another redeemer who is closer in the family line. How often do we see this in life?
Things look like they are falling in place, everything makes sense and then there’s a sharp curve in the path. Maybe it’s that new job you applied for that perfectly matches your resume, you ace the interview and then the company calls and says they are putting the position on hold. Maybe it’s the court system putting more roadblocks in the way of adoption. We all experience roadblocks.
Despite the roadblock, Boaz makes a promise to ensure that Ruth and Naomi will be cared for. Either by this other redeemer, or Boaz will do it himself. And Boaz will see to it as soon as he can. Notice again the character of Boaz. He could have tried to take matters into his own hands and agreed to marry Ruth. Certainly, that is his first wish. But his honor requires him to do so legally at the city gate and give first rights to the other redeemer. And so we will have to wait for chapter 4 to see how things will work out at the city gate.
God’s providence along the winding path
When we think about faith and God’s work, there is a temptation to think, “If I lived during the time of the Exodus and saw God speak audibly, lead his people in a pillar of fire, then I would have faith. Or if I saw Jesus in the flesh, teaching and doing miracles, then I would trust God and follow him. But here in Ruth we have a story just like our own. Instead of revealing himself in dramatic and visual ways, which were necessary for that time, God is behind the scenes. It’s ordinary much like our own lives.
God works through people. God’s wings of protection and provision are over his people, and yet in a more immediate way, God provides husbands as protection and provision for wives and children.
Ruth and Boaz had no idea that their marriage and child would ultimately lead to the lineage of King David or to King Jesus. They were simply being faithful to God’s commands to marry and care for the poor and widowed around them.
I want to go back and look at two statements from chapters 1 and 2 and see how the writer uses irony to highlight God’s work in chapter 3. In chapter 1 verse 9, as Naomi tries to convince Ruth and Orpah to return to their homes in Moab, she says, “The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” It almost reads like a throwaway line. Naomi is bitter and says “I hope you find a husband in your home. I’ll pray for that.” Now, after God has softened Naomi, she is the one working to fulfill that prayer in chapter 3.
In the same way, Boaz blesses Ruth in chapter 2 verse 12. After working in his field, Boaz tells Ruth, “the LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” Now at the threshing floor, Ruth turns this phrase around and asks Boaz to be that refuge, that man who will provide and protect her. And Boaz does cover her in his wings. God uses Naomi and Boaz to be the answer to their own prayers.
It would be similar to one of us talking to someone else and saying, “I hope you find a job. I’ll pray for that.” And then you turn out to be the one God uses to employ that person. How ironic.
In our own winding paths of glory, here are a few ways that we can work in faithful obedience to recognize and participate in God’s providence.
- Pray to the LORD. God’s purposes will succeed, but God works through the means of prayer.
- Know God’s word and obey it. The more we know God’s word, the more we are able to take ordinary steps of obedience.
- Grow in godly character so that you can respond in godly ways when circumstances come your way. When faced with a tense ecision, Boaz’ character shined through.
- Look for small ways to be obedient. Do something. How often do we look at a large task ahead of us and become overwhelmed? aybe it’s a pile of bills, sorting through family priorities, tackling a sin that has entangled you, caring for a parent with ailing health, or a season of suffering that won’t relent. The temptation is to freeze. God has to do something, but I don’t now what I’m supposed to do in the meantime. God’s wings of refuge work through people’s acts of obedience.
- Give generously, even if it’s a small dollar amount. In God’s providence, it may be the piece that God uses to supply someone’s needs.
God works through people to accomplish his sovereign plans. How true is that when we turn to look at the cross. Because of our wickedness and rebellion, because we have taken matters into our own hands and have failed to trust God’s providence, God worked through a man to redeem us. But it wasn’t in a vacuum. Jesus wasn’t beamed down directly to the cross. God worked through people in often ordinary ways.
Jesus was born to live the perfect life. God worked through other men to accuse, betray and arrest Jesus. God acted through both Roman soldiers and Jewish leaders to nail Jesus to a cross. To someone witnessing these events, it was the normal course of history, and yet God’s glory was displayed through these events, and through them our sins were atoned for.
God works through people. It is sometimes winding, sometimes ironic, but God always works to accomplish his plans, bringing glory to himself and good to his people. And our job is to respond to his glory in faithful obedience.