Ruth gleaned in Boaz’s fields throughout the barley and wheat harvests. She did not need to go anywhere else, because Boaz told her that she didn’t have to, and he even instructed his harvesters to “accidently” leave a little extra when they saw that Ruth was following behind them.
Boaz had a found a small way to take care of Ruth, and we will see in this chapter that it was more than just generosity. Boaz was most certainly aware of the relationship that existed between he and Ruth, and we already read previously that he was aware of her family’s circumstances: there were no heirs to carry the name of Elimelech. The Law included some obligations for the closest male relative in such cases. If Boaz was the closest male relative to Elimelech, this story might already be over, because he would have assuredly performed his obligations on his own accord. But we will see later that Boaz was not the closest relative, and thus it wasn’t his right to act first, it was someone else’s. And so, Boaz had to wait, and in the meantime, do his best to meet the needs of Ruth and Naomi through his culture’s welfare system. That was all that he could do, until he was asked to do more.
Ruth 3:1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you?”
When Ruth followed Naomi to Bethlehem, she committed herself to a life as a widow and as a live-in a care giver for Naomi. This is just the type of person that Ruth was. Naomi wanted more for her daughter, though. Ruth was still young, and if she could turn the pages to a new chapter, she had a great chance of having a terrific life and raising a family of her own.
The word Naomi actually used for “security” means rest. She wanted her daughter to come to an end of the time of restlessness and an unsettled life, and enter into a future of rest. Not retirement. Think of it as just being settled and in a good place, which in those days, for a young woman, meant having a good husband and raising lots of kids, but not just any domestic arrangement. The complete fulfillment for Ruth would be to raise kids carrying Elimelech’s name. There could be no higher station for her in life.
So keep that last part in mind as we ponder Naomi’s motives. She wasn’t just trying to find a man for her daughter, as if that would somehow make Ruth happy. Only one man would do: the one who had the legal obligation and the legal right to redeem the Elimelech family name and restore Ruth into her rightful place in that family.
Naomi knew of Boaz’s ties to the family, and it is likely that she thought that he was the closest male relative to her dead son. If she knew that Boaz wasn’t, perhaps she would have arranged a different circumstance for Ruth. So keep that in mind, too. Naomi must not have been aware that there was a relative closer than Boaz, otherwise she would not have wasted time with Boaz.
Ruth 3:2 “Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor.”
The night’s “winnowing” was actually a party that was thrown on the threshing floor. There would be food, drink, entertainment, and lots of people having fun. Boaz would be there cutting a rug (I’m sure he was a good dancer).
Ruth 3:3-4 “Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.”
Get cleaned up, use some nice perfume, put on some good clothes, and join the party. It was likely that Ruth had been wearing mostly widow’s clothes up until this point, so Naomi was also giving Ruth license to put those old grief clothes away.
But Ruth was also asked to not make herself known to Boaz. In fact, in order to do this, she had to not really make herself known to anyone, because if she had paraded herself around the party, Boaz would have spotted her. So, in spite of the fact that Ruth got gussied up, she was told to remain modest. Her nice clothes and perfume were for Boaz’s benefit, not anyone else.
Perhaps there is a principle in here for all of us. God has no issue with us cleaning up, dressing up, and putting forward our best appearance. But who are we doing it for? Are we doing it to impress people in general? Or are we doing it for the benefit of one person that matters? If you are married, that would be your spouse. Or, perhaps from another angle, why dress up to go to church? Is it so that people will notice? Or is it because we just want to honor Jesus? The reasons behind what we do matter!
Getting dressed up is easy to understand. But it is what Ruth was told to do after the party that might actually be difficult to understand. She was to wait until Boaz went to bed (men slept next to the pile of grain during harvest), and lie down next to his feet, which she uncovered by pulling back the blanket. I don’t know about you, but if someone did that to me while I was asleep, I’d be pretty irritated.
But this would have had a special significance in that culture. By doing this, Ruth would be making a very clear request of Boaz, of which he would have trouble understanding her meaning.
Ruth 3:5-7 And she said to her, “All that you say to me I will do.” 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law instructed her. 7 And after Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was cheerful, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.
Boaz was snoring away, but Ruth would not have fallen asleep. She would have laid there at the foot of Boaz’s sleeping area (a bed of straw?) waiting for him to wake up, at which point she could verbally complete the request that she was making.
I just want to point out that there was nothing inappropriate about any of this. This wasn’t seduction or anything like that. This wasn’t even a marriage proposal. In fact, we have no information anywhere that a girl uncovering a man’s feet and lying next to them has anything to with courtship.
Instead, what Ruth was doing (which, as a Moabitess, she had no idea what she was doing except following directions) was some sort of special “dance” meant to communicate her need for a goel, or a kinsman redeemer. Naomi knew how this worked, and Boaz knew as well (Naomi had said, “Do this stuff, and he will tell you what you should do”).
Ruth 3:8-9 Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet. 9 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.”
Startled awake by cold feet, he would have reached down to put the blanket back over his feet, and surprise! There was a woman sitting there!
After Ruth identified herself, she said something that actually meant, “Spread the corner of your garment over your maidservant.” Now, this did not mean that she was cold and was asking for him to share the blanket. Nor was she being all seductive and asking if she could join him in bed. This request was totally symbolic, and Boaz totally understand it: “You are one who has a legal right to redeem my family estate from being lost forever. You have the power to stop that loss from happening, it’s in your hands. I am appealing to you to cover me, make my cause your cause, and restore me.”
Just think a bit about the depth and meaning of that request. This was no trivial “will you be my hubby” request. This was not, “I think you are handsome, and I notice that you notice me, too.” What she was asking of Boaz was something that would have cost him dearly.
We’ve talked in previous studies about how God owned the land. By covenant, He gave the tribes of Israel inheritances from that land, and within the tribes, families were given plots. Each family “owned” property that was meant to stay within that family name forever. But owning did not mean that they owned it outright. God never gave up the ultimate ownership of His land. Instead, He gave people usage rights. They could use the land however they wanted (farming, grazing, development projects, etc.) but God was the actual owner. The people possessed it, and the title deed to that possession was not intended to be transferable.
However, sometimes people got into financial trouble, and they could sell usage rights to their possession (the land that they were given by covenant). The new owner of those rights could then use the land as if they were the covenant possessor. But God never intended for this transaction to be permanent. The Law had a clause which established a way for land to revert back to its covenant possessor (the original title deed holder) every Jubilee Year (which occurred every fifty years). Thus, as you can see, a purchaser of land would never possess it for more than fifty years. Many times, that possession right lasted much less than fifty years, because the Jubilee Year was a calendar event, not a contract length. If you bought a piece of land one year before Jubilee, then you only got to keep it for one year. As you can imagine, the Jubilee clause impacted market prices. Property was worth less the closer you came to Jubilee.
Well, what if your family sold your possession, and you wanted it back prior to Jubilee? Every real estate contract had a buyback clause. It specified the terms and conditions for the covenant title deed holder to exercise the option to take back possession. This was negotiated at the time of the sale, recorded in the contract, and remained a viable option. If the covenant deed holder exercised the option, and fulfilled the terms, he got back his property. There was nothing the buyer could do to stop that from happening.
What of the covenant deed holder wanted the land back, but couldn’t meet the terms of the buyback price? In that case, the Law recognized a goel, or a kinsman redeemer. This was a close relative who could stand in the place of the covenant deed holder, and pay the buyback price on his behalf. No other person had this right. It had to be the closest relative. If this closest relative passed on the option, then it fell to the next closest. The goel could pay the price specified in the contract, and then possession reverted to the original owner, not the goel.
Finally, there was a further complication. What if the surviving family member desiring to be restored to the covenant inheritance was a woman whose husband had died without any children? The widow had no legal right to possess the land, so there was nothing the goel could do for her (he could not take ownership for himself), unless, he married her. This legal situation crossed over into an area of the Law where God had a plan to keep a family name alive in the event that a husband died before having any kids. In that case, a brother to the husband was supposed to marry the widow and help her have a baby boy to carry on her dead husband’s family name. The brother was supposed to! It was a moral and legal obligation.
Back in Genesis 38, Judah had a son named Er who married a girl named Tamar. Er died, and so Er’s brother Onan was supposed to marry Tamar and raise a son to Er’s name. But Onan didn’t want to raise a son to his brother, and so while he did marry Tamar and have sex with her, he did everything that he could to make sure that she didn’t get pregnant. Well, God was not happy with that, and Onan also died.
So, Judah had one more son named Shelah, and morally, Shelah was meant to be married to Tamar, so that children could be raise up to Judah’s first son Er, and so that Tamar could remain a daughter in Jacob’s family. But apparently Judah thought that Tamar was some sort of black widow lady, and so he didn’t let his son marry her.
Judah’s actions were wrong, and well, to shorten a long story, Tamar took matters into her own hands and tricked Judah into sleeping with her. She got pregnant, Judah found out and wanted to kill her (he thought she had been promiscuous) until he discovered that he was the father. Judah and Tamar were technically “married” although he didn’t touch her again. But from this weird round-a-bout soap opera (this is actually a Bible story!), Judah managed to keep his family name going, and good thing, because Jesus descended from Judah (and Tamar, as a matter of fact)!
So back to Ruth and Boaz. She essentially requested two things from Boaz, and this is why I said that it was no small matter to Boaz: (1) she needed a relative of her husband to marry her and raise up seed to her dead husband’s name. (2) she needed a goel to exercise the buyback option on her family’s land possession. Both of these needed to happen, and in fact they could only happen if one man fulfilled both roles at the same time. If he did, then she would be restored to the Elimelech family, Elimelech’s name would continue, and the family would be restored to its inheritance.
So, are you wondering what Boaz would get out of it? Nothing. His land holdings would not change. His family name would not be expanded (as it would if he just married additional wives just to have more wives). In fact, it would cost him some of his own money, because he would be funding the buyback out of his own treasury. He would never be paid back.
So why would Boaz agree to this? Maybe the clue to that answer is found in a parable told by Jesus in Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Boaz was a lot like the man who bought the field in Jesus’ parable. In order for Boaz to agree to fulfill Ruth’s appeal, he would have to want to be with her. The great cost and great sacrifice it took in order for him to have her as his wife would have to pale in comparison to the joy of just having her. He would have to consider that she was a treasure worth paying any price for. It wasn’t an investment. He could care less about not ever getting the money he paid back. Even if the price was everything he had, it was worth doing for the joy of being with her.
Ruth 3:10 Then he said, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich.”
You know, Ruth was not even Jewish. She had no history in that area. The land meant nothing to her. Even Elimelech’s name meant nothing, because she was from Moab anyway. She was perfectly within her rights to go seek out the richest and handsomest dude around and throw herself at him. Or, she could have made romance an important focus, and sought out the perfect guy. But she did neither. Instead, she took on Naomi’s burden as her own and made it her obligation to restore the family’s fortunes. Boaz noticed this! He was impressed by this!
And, I want to point out that God noticed and was impressed, too, because Boaz said “Blessed are you of the Lord.” Why would God like what Ruth did? Because it was selfless, and it put the needs of others over her own. She would rather do the right thing than do the thing that made her feel the best.
Ruth 3:11 “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.”
And, Boaz agreed to Ruth’s appeal, because it was also the right thing to do. Boaz accepted his moral and legal obligation under the Law. He noted that Ruth had maintained a reputation as a virtuous woman, which means that since arriving in Bethlehem, Ruth had stayed out of trouble. She had done nothing that would cause anyone to raise any red flags over Boaz becoming her goel and her husband. There was no scandal. There were no skeletons in the closet. Thus, Boaz had no reason to turn down her request.
However, there was a complication.
Ruth 3:12 “Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I.”
The right to be the kinsman redeemer fell on the closest living relative. He alone had the legal right to step into that role. Boaz was not the closest relative! This other man (perhaps Elimelech’s brother) must get first dibs.
Ruth 3:13 “Stay this night, and in the morning it shall be that if he will perform the duty of a close relative for you—good; let him do it. But if he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you, as the Lord lives! Lie down until morning.”
Well, Boaz promised to make it happen one way or the other the very next day. Either Ruth would be married to this other guy, or to Boaz. Either way, the land would also be redeemed.
Boaz also asked Ruth to remain the rest of the night. This has nothing to do with anything inappropriate! She just didn’t need to be wandering the streets at night, so he was both protecting her safety and her reputation as a woman of virtue.
Ruth 3:14 So she lay at his feet until morning, and she arose before one could recognize another. Then he said, “Do not let it be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.”
Boaz had a plan, which we will see in the next chapter, and his plan involved nobody else knowing what he and Ruth were up to. So, he had her head home before the sun came up so that anyone else who was awake would not notice that she was a woman then and start asking questions.
Ruth 3:15 Also he said, “Bring the shawl that is on you and hold it.” And when she held it, he measured six ephahs of barley, and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.
He must have suspected that Naomi was behind all of this, and Boaz just didn’t want Ruth to go home empty handed. Naomi, who had waited up all night and was watching out the window, would have seen Ruth trudging down the street carrying a big bundle of grain and would have rejoiced right away.
Ruth 3:16-17 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “Is that you, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 And she said, “These six ephahs of barley he gave me; for he said to me, ‘Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’”
An ephah is nearly six gallons. So Boaz gave Ruth and Naomi close to thirty-six gallons of barley! She carried that home in a bundle slung over her back. Strong girl!
Ruth 3:18 Then she said, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day.”
Poor Ruth might have found it hard to sit still. She didn’t want some other guy to be the kinsman redeemer! She and Boaz had already made a connection, and she was settled on him. But it was outside of her hands, and so she had to wait to see what would happen.
“Be still, and know that I am God,” God says to us (Psalm 146:10). This is so hard sometimes! We appeal to the Lord for His mercies and His grace, and sometimes we have to wait, and while we wait, we need to sit still. God is not sitting still. He is working. We don’t understand how it is that His work often means that we wait, because in His infinite power, can’t He just snap His finger and make it happen? Yes, of course He can. But what if He is working things out in someone else’s life, and that person has the same kind of free will choice that you have? Sometimes it takes time, because God is dealing with people, not puppets. But in the end, God will conclude the business, and He won’t rest until it is done.
But it is so worth it! Think about what Jesus did! He didn’t rest until He was finally ready on the cross to say, “It is finished.” Now where is He? Seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for you and I. And, we get to rest in that. Maybe in so many other areas of life there is a lot that seems unsettled and unfinished. God is working those things out. But in the most important thing, we have that rest in which we can sit and be still. That is the peace that Jesus brings.
In the next study, we get to see the culmination of the business between Ruth and Boaz!