Studies in Ruth – The Proposal

When we left Ruth and Naomi last time, Ruth had gleaned barley in a field belonging to Boaz. When she brought her harvest home to Naomi, their conversation revealed that Boaz was a close relative who was related to Elimilech, Naomi’s deceased husband. Naomi was already starting to “connect the dots“, and this passage shows how those “dots” got “connected“.

We need to keep in mind that women in that culture had very few rights to “self-determination“. They “belonged” to their father until they got married, and they “belonged” to their husband for as long as he lived. In this case, “belonged” was literal, because in many cultures, the girl’s father “sold” her to her future-husband. Girls and women were “property“, as were servants and slaves.

Boaz’s promise
3 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? 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.” 5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do.”

Security“, for a woman in that culture, meant having a husband, because women usually had no other means of support unless they became someone’s servant. Marriages were “arranged” by the parents of the bride, as is still the case in many cultures in that part of the world, and Ruth’s only surviving parent was Naomi, so it fell to her to try to get Ruth married-off. Finding a good husband for Ruth would provide “security” for both of them, something they lacked at that time.

Naomi’s recommendation was probably based on her understanding of the Law of God;

5 “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. 7 But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ 8 Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’ 9 then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ 10 In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’ (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

There was a penalty for a kinsman who refused to “do his duty“, and God took this seriously, as we see in Genesis 38:6-10.

We may be tempted to conclude that Naomi has lost her mind because her plan was “risky” at best. How was Boaz going to react? Would he be a “gentleman“? Some of the “possibilities” were unthinkable. How many women have you known who proposed to their husband? Was that permissible in that culture?

5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do.” It is valuable to note Ruth’s reaction to this unusual motherly advice. Bearing in mind that Ruth was not likely to have been fully acquainted with Jewish Law or customs, all of her actions up to this point would seem to indicate that she was neither immoral nor stupid, yet she submitted herself willingly and with the utmost humility; she was willing to trust both Naomi and Boaz.

Going for broke…
6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came secretly, and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled and bent forward; and behold, a woman was lying at his feet. 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.” 10 Then he said, “May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. 12 Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives. Lie down until morning.”

In our Introduction, I have already called Boaz a “man’s man” and here you begin to see what I mean by that. A “man”, at least in the old fashioned sense, was not just a grown-up child; he was someone with character and integrity who would do the right thing toward others even when it wasn’t convenient or advantageous… but because it was right. He would take care of his own, and treat others with respect; I might add that he was a person most notable for his restraint, so to be succinct, Boaz was not working an angle or with any ulterior motive.

Naomi gave Ruth some unconventional advice in the first 5 verses, now Ruth takes her advice and acts upon it. After the harvest is complete, it is winnowing time, and after the winnowing is complete, a dinner is held. During all of this, Ruth stays out of sight, but when all is said and done, and Boaz retires for the night, Ruth creeps up on him, uncovers his feet and lies down at his feet (vv. 6-8). At some point during the night, Boaz awakens and says, “Who are you?

Before we go further in the story, please note that Ruth is “at his feet.” It seems to me that when two people sleep together, they are side-by-side, aren’t they? Yet in this case, she is “at his feet.” It would appear to me that Ruth has NOT placed herself in the position of a seductress, but instead has positioned herself in a posture of subservience to Boaz, being “at his feet.” It is as though she is placing herself at his mercy, not so much at his pleasure. Of course, he can still take advantage of the situation and then send her packing, should he choose to do so. We should note that there is no reason to suspect that any more “happened” than what is in the text, even though some commentators try to read more into it.

Now, notice her reply to his question: “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”

In these words, she makes her claim for his redemption as a kinsman-redeemer. It is made with complete humility and meekness, with submission and perfect trust. When she says “spread the corner of your garment over me” she is not saying something like, “take me I’m yours,” she is asking for his redemptive protection; quite a difference. Yet, even now, she is entirely at his pleasure, trusting in his integrity. This should remind us of what Boaz said in Ruth 2:12 about Ruth “seeking refuge under God’s wings“.

In verses 10-14, Boaz responds by saying that she has shown him a kindness!

At this point, we know that Boaz is older than Ruth, but we don’t know how much older. We can surmise that Ruth is probably in her late teens at the most, and we know that the life expectancy was probably 30-35. If this sounds way too young to you, please bear in mind that in the US and many other countries, the age of consent to be married was 10 (not a typo) until the late 19th century, when it rose to 14! My point is that we shouldn’t think Boaz considered this a kindness because he was getting a 22 year-old wife when he was 72! We should also note that the “kinsman-redeemer” statute applied regardless of the man’s current marital-status, so either Boaz already had a son or he was “okay” with his inheritance going to any son that might be born to Ruth.

She hadn’t been chasing “younger men”, (children from our perspective) instead she had come to him; a kinsman-redeemer, and given him an opportunity to do his duty to the family. Let’s also recognize that a kinsman-redeemer who takes on Ruth also takes on responsibility for Naomi who is past her productive working life, and thus no economic bargain.

There is also a complication, for Boaz is not first in line to redeem Ruth, so this must be worked out as well, and Boaz assures Ruth that he will sort things out for her. He allows her to remain unmolested through the night, and sends her home early the next day with a gift for Naomi, who is beyond delighted with the result of the evening’s work.

14 So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 Again he said, “Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.” So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city. 16 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did it go, my daughter?” And she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 She said, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said, ‘Do not go to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’” 18 Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.”

If Ruth had been caught on the threshing floor, it would have been assumed that she and Boaz were up to no-good, because it wasn’t unusual for there to be illicit sexual-activity during such times. Boaz’s caution for her to slip-away quietly was for their mutual-benefit. He is protecting both of their reputations.

Once again, Naomi was all-ears as Ruth recounted her adventure. Of course it was hard to miss the six measures of barley which Boaz had sent as a “down-payment” for the blessings to come. I believe that “gift” was a promise by Boaz that, regardless of what happened when he took his case to the elders of the community, he would continue to provide for Naomi and Ruth so that they didn’t go hungry.

Wait“? Yes, “Wait“. “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.

We all know how hard it is to wait for something, whether it is a test-result which may turn-out either “good” or “bad“, or the results of anything else we may be anticipating. The examples of “waiting” are nearly-endless.

Wait“, but the “wait” won’t be long, because Naomi is confident that Boaz will tend to that business first-thing.

Who will win the “grand-prize” and marry Ruth? Stay tuned…

Sola Deo Gloria!

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2 thoughts on “Studies in Ruth – The Proposal

  1. Yes, I was waiting to hear what you would say about exactly where Ruth was. I had a professor in college who said that the Hebrew word for “feet” could also be interpreted as “testicles’.

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    • I have also seen the other interpretation, but most conservative Bible scholars and commentators, including the ones I trust the most, interpret it the way I do. Ruth’s, and by extension, Naomi’s, objective was to be “redeemed”, in whatever form that took. Unless Naomi had explained the Law and customs to Ruth, she had to take it on faith that what Naomi suggested was “good”. There is no indication in the passage that anything “nefarious” went-on that night.

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