The Book of Ruth: Ruth’s Approach to Boaz

Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland

Part 3 of 4 of the series The Book of Ruth

Verse 1. When Naomi was told by Ruth that Boaz was her benefactor in the harvest field, she revealed to her daughter-in-law his kinship to Elimelech, and that he was one with the right to redeem them both, 2. 20 r.v. marg. Naomi advised Ruth to abide by the maidens of Boaz in the harvest field, feeling that Boaz had a strong affection for her, and would not only redeem their property, Lev. 25. 23-25, but also marry Ruth to comply with the Levirate law of Israel, Deut. 25. 5-10. It would seem that these two compulsions went together at that time. With this in mind Naomi, at the end of the harvest, felt that she ought to attend to this matter, and informed Ruth that she wanted to seek for her a condition of rest and security attained by marriage; see also Ruth i. 9. She desired a happy and contented future for her daughter-in-law, who had been so kind and thoughtful to her.

Verse 2. Naomi had Boaz in her thoughts as a husband for Ruth, and outlined to her a plan by which this might be accomplished. She knew that at the end of the harvest Boaz would be winnowing barley, that is, cleaning it from the chaff. This was a process usually supervised by the master himself. It was done in the evening - to take advantage of the wind that blew at that time. After supper the master often slept throughout the night on the threshing-floor, alongside the grain, to guard it from being stolen.

Verse 3. To carry out the plan, Ruth was instructed to make herself presentable, and go down to the threshing-floor, but to hide herself in the darkness until Boaz had finished supper.

Verse 4. Then she must take particular notice of where he lay down, and later, when he was asleep, she should lift up the clothes that covered his feet, lay herself down at his feet, and await developments.

Verse 5. Ruth readily agreed to follow Naomi's advice. This all seems questionable to the western mind from a moral point of view, but was possibly in keeping with the customs of the time and place. Three things suggest this: (1) Naomi all the time since returning to Bethlehem had acted in the fear of the Lord; (2) She was jealous of Ruth's honour, 2. 22-23, and would not wilfully endanger her reputation; (3) Boaz apparently took no offence at Ruth's approach in this way, and called her a virtuous woman, 3. n.

Verse 6. Everything was carried out as Naomi had suggested and all went according to plan.

Verse 7. Boaz saw the winnowing finished, had a good supper, and felt happy and contented that all the harvest had been safely gathered. The word here translated "merry" is the same as is rendered "well" in verse 1. Boaz felt the happiness that Naomi wished for Ruth. He lay down at the end of the heap of corn, and was soon fast asleep. This was Ruth's opportunity. She slipped quietly alongside him, lifted the corner of the cloak covering his feet, and laid herself down, without awakening him.

Verse 8. At midnight Boaz stirred in his sleep, and was startled, R.v. marg. On turning to investigate the cause of his disturbance, he discovered that a woman lay at his feet.

Verse 9. On his enquiring who was there, Ruth revealed her identity, calling herself his handmaid, in token of humility. She explained also the reason for her presence;, as she asked him to spread his skirt over her, figurative of requesting him to marry her, Ezek. 16. 8. "Skirt" here is literally "wing", the corner of the sheet that a man spreads over his wife as well as over himself, Deut. 27. 20. As a reason for this request she reminded him that he was her "go'el" - one that hath the right to redeem her, marg. The get's! had four duties to perform: (1) To redeem the inheritance of his kinsman, who through poverty had been compelled to sell it, Lev. 25, 25; (2) To receive any reparation from another on behalf of a dead kinsman to whom it had been due, but who had not lived to obtain it, nor left a son to whom it might be paid, Num. 5. 8; (3) To avenge the killing of his kinsman, pursuing the manslayer even to the city of refuge, Num. 35. 12; (4) To marry the widow of his kinsman., if he had no heir, or brother, Ruth 4. 5. It was this last duty that Ruth required of Boaz, "Take me under thy covering as thy wife".

Verse 10. Boaz commended Ruth to the blessing of Jehovah for her conduct in thus seeking marriage to him. She had shown more kindness, namely, she had given him more joy, in thus following him now at the end of the harvest, than she had done by gleaning after his reapers at the beginning, because she had followed not young men, but one who was older, like himself. Or it may be that he is commending Ruth for her kindness to her mother-in-law, greater now than when they came from Moab, as evidenced in not following after a youthful husband for her own satisfaction, but rather for Naomi's sake seeking the redemption of Elimelech's inheritance through the go'el, even though he was older.

Verse II, Ruth had her mind put at rest, for Boaz promised to do what she had requested. She need not fear being found in a compromising position. All the city (that is, the gate of the city, figuratively standing for the elders who sat there in judgment) knew her reputation as a virtuous woman. The same word is here used of Ruth as that used of Boaz, "a mighty man of wealth", 2. I. She was a woman of immense moral worth. This reputation she had earned since coming from Moab.

Verse 12. But Boaz informed her that though he was a near kinsman, and would do all that was required of him in that respect, there was a nearer kinsman, one who must be given preference in this business.

Verse 13. He pledged his word that in the morning he would acquaint the nearer kinsman with his opportunity to fulfil his right to redeem and marry her. If the nearer kinsman could not, or would not, perform the obligation of a kinsman, he himself would do all that was required. This promise he confirmed with an oath, as did Jehovah on the occasion of His entering into a covenant of marriage with Israel, Ezek. 16. 8. He told Ruth to lie down with him till the morning, as it would not be wise for her to attempt going into the city in the darkness of midnight.

Verse 14. She lay at his feet till morning, but rose up before the dawn, before anyone could discern another's form, for Boaz had said that it must not be known that a woman had come to the threshing-floor.

Verse 15. Boaz requested Ruth to hold out the vail (r.v. mantle) that she was wearing, possibly an apron, which could be opened out. Into this he put six measures of barley. What these measures were we are not told. But, tying up the bundle, he put it on her, possibly on her head, to carry into the city to her mother-in-law.

Verse 16. Arriving at Naomi's home the question she was first asked was, "Who art thou?". Possibly the meaning here is not merely identification, but suggests, "What person art thou?", "In what circumstances hast thou returned?", "What hast thou achieved?", or possibly, "Art thou Mahlon's widow still, or the betrothed of Boaz?". Then followed Ruth's full account of what had transpired during the night.

Verse 17. Finally Ruth showed Naomi the handsome present of barley that Boaz had sent her. This confirmed in Naomi's mind the successful issue of her plan, and the genuineness of the promise that Boaz had made.

Verse 18. Naomi told her daughter-in-law to rest content at home until she learned how Boaz had dealt with his side of the business. She was confident that Boaz would not rest until he had brought everything to a successful conclusion that very day. Did not his name mean "quickness"? He was a mighty man of wealth - whatsoever he did prospered.

Lessons from Chapter Three.

1.   Note the value of young people taking advice from their elders in a difficult problem, v. 1. Experience often is valuable. Rest and comfort through affection are the ideal of marriage. Thus are happiness and contentment assured, v. 1. The world around us knows our character, and will accept our explanation of a questionable situation. One's reputation may be marred by another person, but one's character remains, v. n.

2.   What delight must have filled Ruth's soul as she considered the promise that Boaz had made to her. How she would have been taken up with thoughts of him! So should we be taken up with Christ.

Taken up with Thee, Lord Jesus,

I would be; Finding joy and satisfaction

All in Thee; Thou the nearest and the dearest

Unto me.