Monday, February 28, 2022
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We've been waiting to see what happens when Ruth takes Naomi's advice regarding Boaz. Naomi told her to clean up, put on her best dress and some perfume, and go down to the threshing floor where Boaz and his workers are threshing the grain they've harvested. A banquet was usually held in the evenings when threshing was going on and Naomi told Ruth not to approach Boaz during the meal but to take note of where he put his pallet down for sleeping. Then, after he was asleep, she was to uncover his feet and lie down at his feet. We discussed how this was not a method of making sexual advances but that, by lying at his feet like a close servant, it was symbolic of Ruth putting herself under Boaz's care. She's about to ask him to be her kinsman redeemer and, in her case, this also means taking her to be his wife.
Ruth obediently does as Naomi says. "'I will do whatever you say,' Ruth answered. So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do." (Ruth 3:5-6) The threshers will all be sleeping on their pallets around the grain. It makes sense to remain where they will begin work again at sunrise and it protects the grain from thieves. In the book of 1 Samuel we will be told that the Philistines had a habit of sending raiding parties to loot the threshing floors of the Israelites. It's possible Boaz even had to protect his harvest from his fellow citizens since our story is occurring during the time when, as the author of Judges kept reminding us, "Everyone did as he saw fit." Those of unscrupulous tendencies were giving in to their natures instead of obeying the Lord's laws and commandments. But there were many who were not living according to the whims of their carnal natures and Ruth and Boaz are two examples of these.
Some scholars believe Ruth was taking a huge chance with her virtue by lying down at Boaz's feet. That might have been the case if he were not a man who loved the Lord. Although there is not much privacy at the threshing floor, a man of low morals might not have cared about that. A man of low morals and his harvesters might have spent the night carousing with women after eating and drinking at the banquet. But such goings-on do not take place on the property of Boaz. Naomi and Ruth are confident enough of his good character that they feel safe with their plan. Boaz never laid a hand on Ruth the whole time she gleaned in his fields during the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. He never said or did anything to disrespect her in any way and he gave strict orders to his male workers that they better not bother her either. Naomi and Ruth believe a man like Boaz will not take advantage of Ruth at the threshing floor and they are correct.
"In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned---and there was a woman lying at his feet! 'Who are you?' he asked. 'I am your servant Ruth,' she said. 'Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.'" (Ruth 3:8-9) In the dark he can't see who is lying at his feet. He knows it's a woman because he smells her perfume. In reply she humbly states, "I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me. Accept the role of my kinsman redeemer." This is a marriage proposal. As we discussed in our last study session, whoever redeems the land of Ruth's dead husband will, in a sense, be entering into "levirate marriage" with her. She is a young childless widow; therefore, whoever redeems her husband's land must marry her and raise up children to carry on her husband's family line. In such cases the land must pass on to the firstborn son of the marriage, even if the man already has children with a previous wife. This custom was used to preserve the family names and the inheritance rights in the land of Israel.
Many times in the Old Testament we'll find the Lord referring to Israel as His wife and comparing His covenant with Israel to the vows between a husband and a wife. In the book of Ezekiel, when He talks about how He chose the descendants of Abraham as His own and called them into covenant with Him, He will say to them that He "spread the corner of My garment over you". (Ezekiel 16:8) He speaks of how He proposed by spreading the corner of His garment over Israel and gave her His solemn oath and "entered into a covenant with you" and "you became Mine".
In our passage today we find Ruth proposing marriage by asking that Boaz spread the corner of his garment over her. She asks that he redeem the property of her dead husband, marry her, and father a son to inherit the land of the late Mahlon. Boaz knows exactly what Ruth is asking him to do and he gladly accepts, only there's an impediment on their path to their happily ever after. "'The Lord bless you, my daughter,' he replied. 'This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don't be afraid. I will do all for you that you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.'" (Ruth 3:10-13)
When Boaz tells Ruth to lie there until morning, he's not suggesting anything immoral. After all, he just finished extolling her virtues, saying, "All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character." He knows she's not the type of woman to have physical relations with a man to whom she is not married. He's simply telling her, for her own safety, to sleep on the threshing floor for the remainder of the night. He can guarantee her protection if she stays with him, under the corner of his garment---under his wing, so to speak. It's the middle of the night and a woman walking alone from the threshing floor back to the city of Bethlehem might be attacked along the way. She mustn't leave until the sun is about to come up.
Boaz blesses her for offering him the privilege of acting as her kinsman redeemer. She didn't have to give him the opportunity to fulfill this role. She is evidently attractive enough that, had she fluttered her eyelashes at some other single man of Bethlehem, she could have had a marriage proposal from anyone she wanted. But she is not the type of woman to rush into anything. She is not the type of woman to be impressed by looks alone or by money alone; this is why he says she did not run after any of the younger men, whether rich (making a play for someone based on his wealth) or whether poor (falling for a man based on looks rather than on his ability to provide for her). Ruth wants a man of integrity for her husband. Ruth wants to do things by the book---the Lord's book---and that includes offering the land of her dead husband's family to his closest male relative. By offering to sell the land to the closest male relative, she is to become the wife of the man who redeems the land.
But Boaz, as it turns out, is not the closest male relative. Naomi and Ruth were not aware that a closer relative exists. After all, Boaz is related to Naomi's deceased husband, not to Naomi herself. She has somehow missed one of the leaves on the family tree. Boaz, like Ruth, wants to do things by the book. He is not going to circumvent the law of kinsman redeemer by failing to allow the closer relative the opportunity to redeem the land and take Ruth as his wife. He says to Ruth, "I must speak to this man in the morning. If he is willing and able to do his duty as kinsman redeemer, your future will be secured. But if he is not willing and able to fulfill this role, I will be more than happy to do it myself. You have my word and you can count on it because I am making this promise to you in the name of the Lord."
Until Boaz can speak with the closer relative, he doesn't know how things will turn out. I imagine he didn't sleep for the rest of the night. Ruth probably didn't either. Naomi, waiting at home for news, likely tossed and turned on her bed all night. But the Lord is not worried. He isn't fretting and walking the floor. He knows the plans He has for Ruth and Boaz and those plans aren't threatened by anyone or anything. He providentially arranged for Ruth to glean in the fields of Boaz who just so happened to be close kin to her late husband's family. He arranged for the two of them to get to know each other and to come to respect and admire each other. Ruth has not met the closer kinsman redeemer and knows nothing about his character, nor does this man know anything about hers. The prospect of this stranger suddenly becoming her husband must have been a daunting prospect but, as always, Ruth trusts the Lord enough to leave everything in His hands. If it should turn out that this man wants to take on the role of kinsman redeemer, she trusts that the Lord is doing what is best for her. Boaz also trusts the Lord in this matter, even though I am certain he hopes the man will turn down the offer. But Boaz, because he cares for Ruth, wants the Lord's best for her even if that isn't him.
There is no safer place to put ourselves than in the Lord's hands. There is no better way to live our lives than in an attitude of submission to His will for our lives. He knows everything that we don't. Ruth may not have grown up in the knowledge and fear of the God of Israel but she has committed herself to Him now. She didn't allow herself to be drawn into marriage by a young, good-looking, smooth-talking man. She didn't allow herself to be seduced by the thought of becoming the wife of some man wealthier than Boaz. She's allowing the Lord to choose her husband for her because she believes---rightly---that He knows best.