Putting God's Plan Together
Putting God's Plan Together
Surrender Your Will
I The Opportunity
The reader is not told how much time lapsed between the closing of chapter 2 and Naomi’s question to Ruth in 3:1. Naomi asked whether she should “try to find a home” (mānôaḥ, “find rest”) for her daughter-in-law. “Rest” here (cf. another form of the same word in 1:9) implies the security and benefits found in marriage by a woman in the ancient Near East. It was customary for parents (or, in this case, Naomi) to arrange marriages (Gen 24:3–4; 34:4; Judg 14:2).
Naomi’s motive was unselfish: “where you will be well provided for” (NIV; lit., “that it will be well to you”; “I seek for you a happy future,” Sasson [in loc.]). If Ruth remained an unprotected widow in a foreign land, life could go very hard for her.
II The Operation
II The Operation
Naomi knew that Boaz was a kinsman (but not the nearest, as v.12 reveals; cf. a similar word in 2:1) who could satisfy the levirate law of marriage. She interpreted Boaz’s kindness to Ruth that allowed her to work alongside his maidservants as an indication of a favorable disposition on his part toward Ruth and possibly a willingness to do the kinsman’s part.
One must resist an inclination to caricature Naomi as a “matchmaker,” but obviously she had been giving the matter some thought. She knew that Boaz was going to winnow barley at the threshing floor that same night, and she had devised a plan whereby he might know of Ruth’s willingness to marry him.
Threshing floors were nothing more than level places of smooth rock or pounded earth located on a hill, where the grain could be separated from the chaff by tossing the threshed grain into the wind that rose in the evening from the Mediterranean. The grain, being heavier, fell to the ground as the chaff was blown away.
3 Naomi instructed Ruth to beautify herself according to the custom of the times by washing (cf. Isa 1:16) and perfuming herself (“anoint,” NASB). Then after putting on her “best clothes” (NIV, RSV; however, it is unlikely that an impoverished Ruth would have had best clothes; the Hebrew means only a “garment” or “mantle”; cf. Ezek 16:9–13 for a description of a bride’s preparations), she was to “go down” to the threshing floor (Bethlehem stood on the ridge of a hill that was higher than the threshing floor; however, the LXX has “go up”). Naomi cautioned Ruth not to reveal herself to Boaz till he had finished eating and drinking.
Commentators have speculated about Boaz’s presence at the threshing floor. It seems unusual that a man as important and wealthy as Boaz would have been guarding his grain through the night from thieves, as some suggest (Morris, p. 285), when a trusted servant would have been expected to perform that duty. Also, to avoid falling asleep, one who planned an all-night vigil would not likely have filled himself with food and drink (and, as a matter of fact, Boaz did fall asleep). Some scholars have interpreted his actions as ceremonial, perhaps as preparation for some cultic festival; but this interpretation finds no support in the rest of the story. Whatever Boaz’s motive may have been for spending the night at the threshing floor, his presence there reveals an unpretentious man, one who enjoyed all aspects of life associated with the land.
4 Naomi further instructed Ruth to “note” (lit., “know”) where Boaz lay down and then to go in, uncover his feet, and lie down. She would then wait for Boaz to tell her what to do. Naomi probably had in mind that Boaz would recognize Ruth’s action as an appeal to marry her as the next of kin. Many scholars point out that the word “feet” is frequently used as an euphemism for the sexual organs and is so used here (cf. Exod 4:25; Judg 3:24; 1 Sam 24:3; Isa 6:2; 7:20; Ezek 16:25). Others caution against rashly accusing Naomi of encouraging Ruth to such an act of boldness and immorality. The verb šāḵaḇ (“lie down”) frequently refers to sexual intercourse, but again that interpretation is not unequivocal here. Staples (“Ruth,” pp. 150, 156–67) interpreted Ruth’s act as an example of sacred prostitution at the high place in Bethlehem, but the extreme cultic interpretation he gives the book has been almost universally rejected as without foundation.
Some commentators suggest that what Ruth did presented an opportunity for immorality. But nothing in the passage supports this. Her mother-in-law had complete confidence in the integrity of the kinsman-redeemer. Boaz could be trusted to act responsibly. And Ruth was recognized by everyone as “a woman of noble character” (v. 11). The uncovering of the feet was a ceremonial act that was completely proper. Probably the scene took place in the dark so that Boaz had the opportunity to reject the proposal without the whole town knowing about it.