Ruth 3: The Redeeming Relative

People often say "the ball is in your court" when they expect someone else to make the next move, and I think it is interesting to watch how "the ball" gets passed in the story of Ruth and Boaz. God showed us favor. Now the ball is in our court, to lay at the feet of Jesus in servitude to ask for forgiveness.

Introduction

Ruth 3 is where the story climaxes. Here we really start to see how Boaz and Ruth parallel Christ and the church. We also see that—surprise—Ruth actually makes the first move.
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Obligations

As a next kinsmen, it was Boaz's responsibility to step in and redeem the family. The law stated that a near kinsmen was supposed to redeem their land in order to keep it in their family. Also, it was customary for the person to marry the widow to produce children and ensure the line continued. Deuteronomy 25 speaks on levirate marriage in which the brother of a deceased man was to marry the widow of his brother and produce heirs if none existed. Leviticus 25 discusses the responsibility of redeeming the land. Ruth may not have had any knowledge of these laws, since she was not an Israelite, but Naomi knew was aware of the law and hoped that Boaz's generosity was a sign that he was willing to redeem them by marrying Ruth.
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Naomi's Advice

Naomi instructs Ruth to subtly bring up the topic of marriage to Boaz. Interestingly, reading Naomi's coaching of Ruth, I really felt the mother-daughter, or even a sisterly, relationship between the two. The scene of a woman trying to help another woman bring up a sensitive topic to a man she's trying to pursue is completely relatable! This really is a conversation I can see women having even today.

Of course, at some point my overactive brain kicked in and asked if this is an example of God sanctioning "ladies' choice" or the practice of a woman asking a man to marry her. Marriage was more of a business deal than the romanticized practice of today for most of human history. Fathers often handled the affair, not just for women but for children in general. While Jacob found and committed to Rachel without Isaac's assistance, it was Abraham sending a servant to find a wife for Isaac that brought Isaac and Rebekah together. It seems quite contrary to the narrative people try to present about the role of women in the Bible to see that it was completely acceptable for Ruth to bring up the topic of marriage to Boaz.

I bring up this point because it shatters the idea that women were not to have a voice. We could argue that in the absence of a father or husband, Ruth has autonomy that she would not have had otherwise—Numbers 30 suggests women who were widowed or divorced were responsible for themselves. However, in Ruth 1, Naomi suggests Ruth return to her family which implies Ruth's father may have been living. Remember, it was only after the fall that God told Eve she was to submit to Adam. God's original design was for them to be equal partners. Even if Adam (man) was given the final authority on decision making, hence the command for Eve (woman) to submit to his decision, there was still meant to be a dialogue between the two. Otherwise why bother to create Eve or sanction marriage? Before making Eve, God says "It is not good that the man should be alone." What good is having another person present if they have no voice? If that other person isn't allowed to think or opine, to broach subjects or to introduce you to a new perspective? If the other person is just going to agree with everything you say and rubber-stamp you, you might as well talk to yourself! Clearly it was acceptable for Ruth to tell Boaz she was ready to be redeemed, which is really no different than a woman saying "It's time to take this to the next level" to a man today...

I'm not suggesting a revolution of women proposing to men—I quite a fan of the tradition of men proposing. However, I am suggesting we revisit how we view the Bible's stance on what women can and cannot do.
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Confronting Boaz

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The first thing Ruth does is change clothes, which seems pretty natural even in our world today. One of our first inclinations in dating is to pick the "right" outfit. Though, Ruth's reasons for changing clothes weren't as superficial as ours generally are. Ruth was removing her mourning clothes, a sign that she was ready to move on and to be remarried. For Ruth, this wasn't just about finding the right color to bring out her eyes or accentuate the right features to make her more desirable, but a literal sign saying she was "over" her deceased husband and now "available" for Boaz.

Following Naomi's instructions, Ruth attends a gathering Boaz is hosting, but does not interact with him until he has finished eating and drinking. While "drinking" is mentioned, something tells me Boaz wasn't out getting drunk... Of course he does go to sleep right after so it's hard to say. Either way, chances are that Naomi's advice was meant to 1) ensure he was in a pleasant mood when Ruth approached (you probably don't want to broach the topic of marriage to a man who is "hangry") and 2) ensure he was not busy entertaining guests, this was a personal and private matter that didn't need prying eyes eavesdropping into.

After Boaz has eaten and drank his fill, Ruth finds him asleep by some corn. She uncovers his feet and lays there, per Naomi's instructions. While this may seem extremely forward (and a little weird, to be honest), in Ruth's era this was a sign of servitude. Many servants slept at their master's feet in this same manner, so it would not have been considered improper or forward nor weird[1]

Boaz doesn't wake up until a little pass midnight. As you could imagine, he was surprised to find Ruth laying at his feet. In fact, he doesn't even recognize her at first. Ruth identifies herself and reveals to him that he is a near kinsmen, which was the subtle way of saying "you have an obligation to marry me." It is unclear if Boaz already knew she was a kinsmen. Boaz shows himself to be quite the gentleman after hearing her words. Whether he was in love with Ruth or not, he recognized that there was actually a man who was closer kin to Ruth and Naomi than he and by right that man had the right to accept or refuse the offer first. Boaz promises Ruth that he will take care of the matter and broach the topic with the man, assuring her that if the man refuses Boaz will do it himself.

It is very possible that Boaz always knew of his relationship to Ruth and made no move because he expected the nearer kinsmen to fulfill this duty. It is also possible that Boaz was interested in Ruth and her redemption but didn't make a move because she was still in mourning. There isn't a conclusive answer in the text.

Boaz allows Ruth to sleep until the morning, but makes sure she leaves before anyone can see her. This was to protect both of their reputations. Boaz did not want people to think they had done anything improper. He also gives her 6 measures of barely, a suitable excuse for why she would be at his house.
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Reminder For Today

People are often quick to judge, and sometimes they make leaps that you would never think of, especially if you are innocent minded. I remember once I was talking about how much fun undergrad was and the person I was talking to immediately assumed I was talking about drunken nights and wild parties. Sometimes there is nothing in our power to control where people's minds go, however, there are times when we know exactly what people will think. On the one hand, it really isn't anyone's business what other people do, but as Christians we are to set an example. We are told not to be a stumbling block for our fellow man. Allowing people to think Ruth had slept with Boaz would have been an affirmation from him that the behavior was OK. If people perceive us to condone ungodly behavior it can cause confusion. Whether the person believes that we are hypocrites and loses faith in God (this is seen by the argument presented by people who support homosexuality give, pointing out the amount of premarital heterosexual sex in the church) or whether they believe that it is acceptable because someone they trusted did it and decide to do the same, we are the source of that person's stumble. When we have the power to avoid such cases of misinterpretation, we should do so.
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Parallels to Christ

The parallels to our relationship with Christ are powerful. Like Ruth, we lay at Christ's feet and ask Him to redeem us. It is the Father whom we really seek forgiveness from, and Jesus acts as our intercessory, just as Boaz acted as an intercessory to the nearest kinsman for ruth. Jesus promises us that once we ask it of Him, it is taken care of; we don't have to worry about the details anymore. Boaz also promises Ruth that he will make sure she is redeemed, be it by the man who was supposed to do it or by himself.

People often say "the ball is in your court" when they expect someone else to make the next move, and I think it is interesting to watch how "the ball" gets passed in the story of Ruth and Boaz. Ruth acted first by choosing to go into the field to harvest barley. Boaz then acted by showing favor to Ruth. Ruth followed this with an indirect proposition for redemption, and Boaz took it from there. This pattern is true for the Church's relationship with Christ. Israel prayed to be delivered from bondage—they meant bondage from Egypt, but God was already planning to save mankind from the bondage of sin all together. God responded by creating a nation of His people—the first nation or "Church" of God. Just like Boaz provided safety, water, food, and extra grain for Ruth, God provided laws meant to keep the Israelites safe and healthy and His Son to fulfill this law. God showed us favor. Now the ball is in our court, to lay at the feet of Jesus in servitude to ask for forgiveness. When we shed the clothes of the world and vow to serve God, Jesus will tell us not to worry that He has it covered, just like Boaz told Ruth she was guaranteed redemption.
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References

  1. Ruth 3 Commentary. Bible Study Tools. 2016

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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