Topic: Default Passage: Ruth 3:1–18
We are taking a four week journey through one of the most famous stories of antiquity and today we begin chapter 3.
To catch some of you up to speed, there was a famine in Israel and Naomi and her husband, Elimelech fled to Moab, which, as we talked about, was a very bad decision. They then married their two sons to Moabite women, another bad decision we talked about. Then tragedy struck. Naomi’s husband and two sons died.
So, Naomi is left in a life threatening situation. She has no food and no family and she has to somehow provide for these two daughters-in-law. She tries to convince these young women to return to Moab and start over which one daughter-in-law does. The other daughter-in-law, Ruth, doubles down on her devotion to Naomi and Naomi’s God and they return to Bethlehem where they hear food has returned.
In chapter two we saw God do incredible things to solve one of the two issues, food, and we finished with an inkling that He might be working on the family front as well. There is a kinsman redeemer. That is, there is someone Ruth could marry and keep her vow to Naomi and continue the family name. That kinsman redeemer is a man named
Boaz, whose field she just ‘happen’ to wander into and he has shown an interest in her.
But, the barley harvest season, which has brought them all together, is winding down and time is running out if something is going to happen on the marriage front. There is a sense of urgency her to say the least and that is where chapter two ends. I can’t help but laugh at the last line of chapter two. “And she lived with her mother-in-law.” I think in any culture, we can call this a less than ideal situation. And this is coming from someone who has lived with my in-laws on multiple occasions.
Ruth exhibits faith in this book from start to finish, but in this chapter we see what I call risky faith. In the 21st century west we are closing the door on an era when claiming the title of Christian generally made your life better. It benefitted your business and your social standing to be seen as a Christian. I’m thankful for that season, but a result of that season is that we have come to know the most comfortable form of Christianity that has ever existed.
So, it should come as no surprise that the idea of a faith that causes us to risk our safety and comfort is a bit foreign to our culture. What we see in the book of Ruth though is a faith that causes her to take massive risks in this life. Her belief that God is real and is going to take care of her causes her to do very risky things.
Let’s look at Ruth’s risky faith in this chapter through its three scenes. Scene 1: Naomi’s instructions for Ruth. Scene 2: Ruth’s pursuit of Boaz. Scene 3: Boaz’ response.
- Scene 1: Naomi’s instructions for Ruth (1-5)
3 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek krest for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Is not Boaz lour relative, mwith whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 nWash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” - Ruth 3:1-4
Did I mention that we will be looking at some of the shadiest sounding verses in all of
Scripture? And if you think this sounds a bit shady to us, everything I read about the Hebrew speaking original audience leads me to believe that it would have sounded even more scandalous to them. There is no question that lying down, uncovering his feet, and telling him to call the shots from there would have raised every eyebrow. This passage is full of words that are used sexually in other parts of the Bible.
I mean, what if there was a college minister advising women at UCF to pursue men this way? If this is all the information we had, we would have big problems! But this isn’t all the info we have.
I’m going to explain what I think is happening when we get there, but I do think our eyebrows are supposed to go up, so I’m going to let them stay up for a minute. But why not just talk to Boaz in a field? Why not send a mediator of some kind? I don’t know. Maybe that wouldn’t have been appropriate. Maybe this was the only way they knew to get him alone.
Before we move on though we need to see few things about how the author is setting the stage. There are some things that can easily be missed in our culture.
First, as I said, the barley and wheat season is winding down. Boaz has shown significant interest in Ruth, but he hasn’t pursued her as a wife. So, there is this sense of urgency and Naomi is calling Ruth to action.
Second, We need to understand that Naomi is telling her that it is officially time to move on from her son. In verse three she is told to wash and anoint herself. This is how you make it clear that you are done mourning and ready to move on. This is exactly what King David did after having appropriately mounted the loss of his son with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 12.
Third, this would have not been a safe venture and was by no means a normal course of action. A single woman out on her own in the dark. I love how Naomi says in verse four to observe the place where he lies. She’s saying, ‘‘don’t pick the wrong man!!’’ Not only was this place dark, but men had been drinking and she was especially at risk to be assaulted. There was a huge risk that her very presence there would have been seen as promiscuous and derailed any hopes for marriage to a godly man. There was a risk that Boaz would have misinterpreted her intentions and been highly offended!
Then, lastly, she’s clear about the timing. Wait until he has eaten, drunk, and rested. Some people think that Naomi is wanting him to be drunk. I don’t think that is what is happening. Naomi has been married before and knows that after a long day of work, a man is just more reasonable once he has been fed and napped. They don’t want a hangry Boaz. Those are the instructions and Ruth replies, “All that you say, I will do.” Are you nervous for her right now? You should be! This is SO risky! Naomi and Ruth are taking a calculated risk. Let’s see how it goes.
- Scene 2: Ruth’s pursuit of Boaz (6-9)
So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” - Ruth 3:6-9
Again, not your typical Hebrew love story! An older Israelite man, a younger Moabite woman who would put me to shame in barley hauling contest. And this whole thing on the floor! So, what is going on? It absolutely has sexual overtones, but I don’t think what is happening is sexual. It just doesn’t fit the context. Throughout the whole book of Ruth (and the whole Bible for that matter) both Ruth and Boaz are held up as models of faith and character. Probably, the lifting of the sheet is just a way of ensuring that his feet would get cold and he would wake up.
I think we can say it’s a bit creepy. She’s watching him at night while he wasn’t aware. You’d go to jail for that today. But her intentions are so good. Here’s the picture I have in my head. My son Collins would get. out of bed at night when he was about two, walk over to our bed, and just stare at us. I’d open my eyes and there were his eyes staring right at me. It was creepy, but it wasn’t malicious in any way. He just loved his parents.
In addition to that, the author adds a VERY important detail. When Boaz says, “Who are you?” Her answer is something we are reading for the first time. She asks him to spread his wings over her. This is when it becomes clear that she’s asking for marriage. This is ancient Hebrew for ‘put a ring on it.’ Some of your translations say spread your cloak over me. That is how they got down on one knee. But there’s more!
The author is using the same word ‘wings’ here as he did back in chapter two when Boaz says, The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” - Ruth 2:12 This is no coincidence. Ruth is saying, “Do you remember what you prayed for, Boaz? I want you to be the way the Lord answers that prayer.
So, what in the world do we do with that today? This may be a bit tangential, but I think it’s important. Ruth’s risky faith drove her to do something very unorthodox with a man. Do we take this to mean single women in the church need to man up and start pursuing single men? I wouldn’t interpret this that way exactly. A woman shouldn’t have to risk the way Ruth is. But, there are times a man doesn’t step up. Single women, maybe you have been hanging around a guy for a while and he’s giving you all the clear signs of being interested, but he’s not flat out pursuing you. Maybe he didn’t have a dad to explain these things. Maybe he’s shy. Maybe he’s just clueless. That happens a lot with men. I think there are less than ideal times when it is good and right for a woman to say, “I have really enjoyed being around you, but it’s time you are clear about your hopes for us. Continuing in this kind of friendship is not a healthy place for me.”
Ruth has waited, she’s running out of time, and her option seems really clear. So she steps out in faith to pursue what she believes God has for her. There is a fine line between risky faith and faithlessness. Risky faith steps out in belief that God will do something. Faithlessness steps out because of a lack of faith that God will act. Faithlessness is taking things into your own hands because you don’t believe God will give it to you otherwise.
I have never seen this until this week, but think back to the story of Lot and his daughters. Lot’s two daughters are worried that they have no prospects for marriage, that the family line will end and they take matters into their own hands devising a plan that involves alcohol to make Lot the father of their children. Can you see it? Two stories both involving two women scheming to preserve the family line, both Lot and Boaz drink wine and in both cases a woman walks away with a seed. Ruth, as we will see walks away with barley and Lot’s older daughter walks away with a son named Moab. The father of Ruth’s people!
The author wants us to see this! The original readers would have seen Ruth as a shining light coming out of a sad background. The two stories are a perfect contrast. A photo negative (if you are my age or older, you know what that is). Lot’s daughters took matters into their own hands because of a lack of faith, but Ruth is taking initiative because of an abundance of faith. Not only that, but God is using Ruth’s risky faith to to bring redemption to a sin that has spanned generations.
We as Christians are called into a faith that risks! It’s going to look different for each of us here, but we are all called to trust God by taking strategic steps to seeing His kingdom strengthened and expanded. If you don’t feel like your faith is causing you to take risks, it might be time to reexamine your faith. We have a name for a person who comes to church, but doesn’t really want to serve, doesn’t really want to work on their personal holiness, and doesn’t want to risk relational awkwardness in evangelism: a consumer minded Christian.
The goods that people consume here might not be fog lights and lasers, but that doesn’t mean we are immune to this phenomenon. We have goods like expository preaching, robust doctrine, and theologically rich music. Do we come to worship knowing that it is a launching pad into all the risks we will need to take as Christians in a dark world? Do we believe that we can be a light in Orlando the way Ruth was in Bethlehem? If that isn’t our goal, we are consumers of a certain brand of church and we will not have a faith that risks much.
Last scene. The tension is high! How is Boaz going to respond?
III. Boaz’ response (10-18)
And he said, r“May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than sthe first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. -Ruth 3:10-11
Ok!! We can breathe a bit easier! Not only is he willing, he seems honored. You get the feeling that he hasn’t pursued Ruth because he just didn't expect her to be interested. He thought she would prefer a younger man. And we can’t miss the reason Boaz is interested. He calls her a worthy woman. So, if there was any hint of impropriety still hanging around, it’s gone now. There are no stains on Ruth’s character. No hint that she had done anything wrong in taking this calculated risk in the middle of the night on the threshing room floor.
And the original audience would have seen this even more clearly than we. In the Hebrew Bible, do you know what book immediately precedes Ruth? Proverbs. And what would have been the last thing you would have read in Proverbs before moving on to Ruth? Proverbs 31: A wife of noble character. It’s the exact same Hebrew word Boaz is using here!
Do you remember in chapter two the reason Ruth did not see herself as worthy of Boaz’ kindness? She said, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” The word for foreigner is the same word used in
Proverbs 5 speaking of the adulterous woman. The one who leads men astray (as the Moabite women were commonly accused). That’s how Ruth sees herself. But now, it’s all coming together and God is providentially using the exact same words so we all see it. Ruth is not the foreign woman of Proverbs 5, she is the woman of valor of Proverbs
- A wife of noble character.
Could this story being going any better? Next verse. 12 And now it is true that I am ua redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. 13 Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, was the LORD lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” - Ruth 3:12-13
What??? There is another man?? And the author just now tells us about him? Ruth really is the prototypical Hallmark movie! I feel so discouraged. So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.”
Good old Boaz, doing everything he can to protect Ruth’s image. Let’s keep reading. 15 And he said, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city. We aren’t told how much a measure is, but we have every reason to believe it’s a lot. And we know old Ruth can carry it.
So, she goes back to Naomi and we can’t forget that Naomi probably hasn’t slept all night. Ruth can’t text her updates. 16 And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her, 17 saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’” 18 She replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.” - Ruth 3:14-18
There is so much in this paragraph that is masterfully woven together. The first thing Naomi asks is literally, “Who are you my daughter?” Is this not the question of the whole book? Is she a Moabite or an Israelite? Is she a widow or a wife? Now, we know that she is an Israelite and that she will be a wife, but she has to wait 24 hours to see who her husband will be.
But now Ruth adds something hugely important to her retelling of the interaction with Boaz. Something we see for the first time in verse 17: ...for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’ - Ruth 3:17 This is literally “Don’t leave your mother in law ‘empty handed.’ Do you remember at the end of chapter one what the depressed and dejected Naomi said upon her return to Bethlehem? I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” - Ruth 1:21
The barley Ruth is bringing Naomi is more than food, it’s a promise. God has not left her empty. In fact, we can see how God was working to bring about good for Naomi even as those bitter words were coming out of her mouth. If you are in a season where you feel like nothing is working out, remember this story! Sometimes it is when we feel the most empty that God is working the most good. A faith that takes risks is not a blind faith, but one that is founded on the promises of God.
Believing God is for you and will take care of you will drive you to take more calculated risks in your faith. Imagine standing in front of a dark hole and being told to jump. If you know there is a net down there, you’re ok jumping. If you don’t, you likely won’t jump.
This chapter closes in waiting so we will too. But, there is one more thing. Probably the most important thing in this chapter when it comes to Ruth’s risky faith and ours as well. The author has sprinkled one more very intentional word: Hesed. We talked about this word last week. We really don’t have a word like it in English. One pastor said this word is like “kindness, grace, love, loyalty, faithfulness, mercy, and compassion all wrapped up together with the strongest sense of commitment. Maybe the closest thing we have in English is the word ‘loving kindness.’”
This word is used in Ruth 1:8, 2:20, and now in 3:10. This is the word used for God’s covenant love for His people AND for how God’s people should love each other. This is the design!
But, sin has fractured that design. Like Ruth, we are foreigners in need of a redeemer and that is what makes this story ultimately about Jesus. We have willingly rejected God’s hesed and Jesus comes to bring it back. And when we believe in Jesus and experience God’s loving-kindness, it drastically enhances our desire and ability to love others in that same way.