Previously in the book of Ruth: Elimelech, a man from Bethlehem, set out with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons to go to the land of Moab because there was a famine in the land of Israel. While they were in Moab, Elimelech died, leaving his wife and two sons. The two sons married Moabite women; and then the sons died, leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law. When Naomi heard that the famine in Israel was over, she decided to return to Bethlehem. Her daughters-in-law set off with her, but on the journey she turned to them and tried to persuade them that they should return to Moab. There was no way she could provide them with other husbands; and their best chance of marriage was in Moab. And they needed to remarry, didn’t they? In those days, there was no social security and there were no pensions. If a woman didn’t have a husband to support her or children to look after her, then she could end up destitute. So, they needed to remarry.
One of them, Orpah, was convinced by what Naomi said and she went back. But the other, Ruth, refused to leave her. She said: ‘Where you go I will go. Where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die I will die and there I will be buried.’ So she bound herself to Naomi. And more importantly, she bound herself to Naomi’s God. Instead of choosing to return to the dead idols of Moab, she choose the living God of Israel.
When they arrived back in Bethlehem, Naomi said to the people who remembered her from before: Don’t call me Naomi which means Pleasant, but call me Mara which means Bitter, because I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Pleasant, because the Lord has afflicted me and has brought misfortune on me? Of course, Naomi did not know why the Lord had afflicted her, but we know, because we know how the story ends and how the Lord was working all things together for Naomi’s good and for Ruth’s good and for our good as well, because the story of Naomi and Ruth is connected to the even greater story of Jesus Christ our Saviour, who, according to his human nature, was descended from Ruth.
In the second chapter, Ruth went out to glean in the fields. In those days, the poor were allowed to go into the fields and pick up any of the barley or wheat which had been dropped during harvesting. In this way, the Lord provided for the needs of the poor. And it just so happened that Ruth ended up in the field of a man called Boaz, who was related to Naomi by marriage. And he was very kind to Ruth, wasn’t he? He allowed her to gather in his field and told her not to go elsewhere. He made sure his men didn’t bother her. When it was time for a meal, he invited her to sit with his servants and eat the food which had been prepared. And he invited her to drink from his water jars. And he even told his men to drop some barley deliberately for her to pick up. And so, at the end of Ruth’s first day in the fields, she managed to gather a sack-load of grain for herself and for her mother-in-law.
Who was this man, Boaz, who showed Ruth so much kindness? Naomi knew who he was. In fact, she knew what he was. He was one of their kinsman-redeemers. In those days, the kinsman-redeemer was responsbile for delivering the members of his family from trouble. And so who knows? Perhaps Boaz was the answer to all their problems?
And so we come to the third part of this short story. And in this chapter Naomi sends Ruth to the threshing floor to meet Boaz in the night.
Verses 1 to 5
According to verse 1, Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, Ruth, that she thinks she, Naomi, should try to find a home for Ruth, where she will be well provided for. ‘Resting place’ is perhaps a better translation. Since Ruth was a widow with no one to provide for her, she had no rest, because was always having to think about how to make a living and how to get enough for herself and Naomi. And so, Naomi wanted to find her a resting place. She wanted to find Ruth a home with a husband to support her.
And it’s clear from verse 2 that she thinks Boaz is the right man for Ruth. The NIV doesn’t include it, but the Hebrew text contains the word ‘Behold!’ She’s saying: Behold! Look! This is your chance! This is your chance, because Boaz will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor tonight. Winnowing involved crushing the grain and then tossing it into the air. The wind would blow away the useless chaff while the kernels of grain would fall to the ground to be collected. So, now’s your chance to have a quiet word with him. So, wash yourself. Put on your perfume. And while the NIV says that Naomi instructed Ruth to put on her best clothes, the Hebrew text doesn’t say anything about her best clothes. Naomi merely told her to put on a garment. Some of the commentators with over-active imaginations think Naomi is telling Ruth to put on her best dress, because she wants Ruth to seduce Boaz in the night. But at least one commentator suggests that up until now Ruth may have been wearing mourning clothes. In that case, what Naomi is saying to her is that it’s time to bring her time of mourning to an end. Put away those dark clothes which signify you’re in mourning; and put on your normal clothes again so that Boaz will know that you’re ready for marriage. King David did someting similar in 2 Samuel 12 after the death of his son. In that chapter we’re told that he washed himself and put on lotions or perfume and he got dressed to show that the time for mourning for his dead son was over. And it seems that’s what Naomi was telling Ruth to do.
And Naomi then instructed Ruth to go down to the threshing floor. Don’t show yourself to Boaz immediately, but wait until he’s finishing eating and lies down. And note the place where he’s lying, she said. Since it was night time, and there were presumably other men at the threshing floor, Ruth did not want to make a mistake and end up with the wrong person. So, note carefully where he’s lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. Again, some of the commentators suggest that Naomi is telling Ruth to seduce Boaz. However, look back to verse 22 of chapter 2 where it says that Ruth reported to Naomi that Boaz has told her to remain in his fields; and Naomi replied that that’s a good idea, because in someone else’s field you may might be harmed. So, back in chapter 2, Naomi was concerned for Ruth’s well-being and safety. She didn’t want her to come to any harm. So, it doesn’t seem likely that she would now want Ruth to give up all modesty and to seduce this man. But why then did she say Ruth should uncover his feet? Well, by uncovering his feet she was exposing her feet to the cool night air. And so, his feet would get cold and he would wake up in the night. And then, Naomi says, he will tell you what to do. And Ruth listens to her mother-in-law and agrees to do what she says.
Verses 6 to 13
And according to verse 6, she went down to the threshing floor and did everything Naomi told her to do. And so, when Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to a far corner to lie down for the night. Some of the commentators think he may have been drunk and this was all part of Naomi’s plan for Ruth to seduce him. But I think they’re reading too much into the the phrase ‘in good spirits’ and it simply means he was feeling good after a hard day’s work and a tasty meal. Ruth then approached him quietly and uncovered his feet to the cool night air. And then she lay down and waited for him to wake up.
And sure enough, in the middle of the night, something startled him. It might be better to translate that as ‘he shivered’. He shivered in the night, because his feet were cold. And he turned, presumably to rearrange his blanket. And that’s when he found a woman at the end of his bed.
It was dark, of course. And that meant he couldn’t see who this woman was. And so, he asked her to identify herself. And she replied in verse 9 that she was his servant Ruth and she then asked him to spread the corner of his garment over her. Well, those commentator with an over-active imagination, think that she’s asking him to let her sleep with him. But in those days, the phrase ‘to spread your garment’ over someone meant that you were proposing marriage. I’m not sure people still say it, but in the past when two people were getting married, you might have said they were getting hitched: hitched together in marriage. And in Bible times, spreading your garment meant getting married. So, Ruth was proposing marriage to Boaz. Her time of mourning was now over and she was ready to remarry; and she wanted Boaz to be the one. And the reason she has chosen Boaz is because he is their kinsman-redeemer. Do you see that at the end of verse 9? As I’ve already said, the kinsman-redeemer was a relative who was responsible for delivering his family from trouble. And so, since he was their kinsman-redeemer, Ruth wanted Boaz to marry her to deliver Ruth and Naomi from their poverty and from an uncertain future.
And look how Boaz responds. He blesses her. And he speaks of her kindness to him, which he says, is greater than her earlier kindness. He’s referring to her kindness to Naomi, because instead of abandoning Naomi, Ruth stayed with Naomi and remained committed to her. And having shown kindness to Naomi, she was now showing greater kindness to him. And he goes on to explain what he meant. Now that her time of mourning was over, she could have gone after the younger men. And he mentions rich and poor. In other words, she could have gone after anyone she wanted. After all, she was known around Bethlehem as a woman of noble character. So, there may have been many other men who were interested in her. And yet she had chosen him. And so, he praises her for her kindness. And perhaps he’s referring not only to her kindness to him, but also her kindness to Naomi, because marrying Boaz will not only mean security for Ruth, but security for Naomi as well. Naomi will not need to worry about the future, with Boaz and Ruth to look after her.
But there’s a problem, isn’t there? There’s a problem. Yes, he is her kinsman-redeemer. But Ruth and Boaz have another kinsman-redeemer who is closer to them than Boaz. That’s in verse 12. In other words, they had a closer relative than Boaz and the other man may wish to redeem them. So, stay here for the night, he tells her; and in the morning, if this other man wants to redeem you, then fair enough. If not, I will certainly do it. I’ll not leave you stuck. I’ll not abandon you. I’ll make sure your future is secure one way or another.
Verses 14 to 18
And so, she lay down at his feet until morning, but got up early before anyone might see her and start rumours around Bethlehem.
But before she leaves, Boaz fills her shawl with six measures or handfuls of barley. And she returned to her home and told Naomi everything Boaz had done for her. And she added: ‘He even gave me these six measures of barley, saying, Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’ And the words ’empty-handed’ recalls Naomi’s complaint at the end of chapter 1 where she said she has gone away full, but had returned empty. But she’s not empty now; and it’s because of the kindness of Boaz. And the chapter ends with Naomi saying to Ruth that Boaz will not rest until the matter is settled today.
This whole book is about God’s providence, isn’t it? It’s about how he controls and directs all his creatures and all their actions. Nothing happens by chance, but everything happens according to his will.
We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? In chapter 1, Naomi said not to call her Pleasant, but Bitter, because the Lord has afflicted her. Why had the Lord afflicted her? It’s because he was working out his plan to bring Ruth to Bethlehem so that she could meet and marry Boaz, because God had ordained that Jesus Christ our Saviour would be descended from them. Yes, Naomi’s life had become bitter, but it hadn’t happened by chance, because God had sent these afflictions on her as part of his plan for the salvation of the world.
And then, in chapter 2, we read that ‘as it turned out’, Ruth ended up in the field of Boaz. The author made it sound as if it happened by chance. So, she happened to end up in his field. By chance she ended up in the field. As luck would have it, she ended up in that field. But nothing happens by chance, but by design. And God is the great designer so that everything that happens in the world happens according to his will. He plans it all. And so, he planned that Ruth would come to that field and meet Boaz.
And we can discern God’s hand in the events of this chapter. When Boaz shivered and woke in the night and discovered Ruth lying there, he could so easily have reacted differently, couldn’t he? After all, I’m sure it was a shock to his system to find Ruth there. And so, he could have shouted out in alarm. Or he might have thought she was up to no good. Those commentators who think that Naomi sent Ruth to seduce Boaz have misunderstood her intentions. However, it seems that in those days there were prostitutes would would gather at the threshing floor in the night. And so, Boaz could have assumed that’s what Ruth was one of them; and, being a righteous man, he might have sent her away. And yet he doesn’t send her away. He doesn’t shout out in alarm. But he was prepared to listen to her and find out what she wanted.
And then, when he found out what she wanted, he could so easily have refused. After all, who was Ruth? She was a Moabite and he was an Israelite. So, she was a foreigner. An outsider. Why would he be prepared to listen to her, let along contemplate marriage with her? And it was very unusual for a woman to propose marriage to a man. It didn’t normally happen. And, of course, he was a man of standing in the community, whereas she was virtually destitute. So, there was little reason for him to listen to her, let along agree to marry her.
And yet, remarkably, he was prepared to do everything Ruth suggested. Why was it? Well, he was clearly a kind man, wasn’t he? We have ample evidence of that. But it was also because the Lord was working out his plans for Ruth and Boaz and Naomi. In the book of Proverbs, it says that the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. And if the Lord is able to turn and direct the heart of the king, so that the king does what God wants, then God is able to turn and direct the heart of every person, including Boaz so that Boaz did what was necessary to fulfil God’s plan for him.
And we ought to remember this when we go about our daily lives. Here’s a person who said ‘no’ to me. Why was it? Is that person just being difficult? Well, perhaps he was just being difficult. But if that’s the only explanation we have, then we’re likely to complain, aren’t we? And here’s another person who said ‘yes’ to me. Why was it? Is that person just being kind? Well, perhaps she was just being kind. But if that’s the only explanation we have, then the only person we think of thanking is that person who said ‘yes’ to us. But we also need to remember that God is working out his plans for us through these people and through what they say and do to us. And so, when things go well for us, you should remember to give thanks to God for his kindness to us, because didn’t he enable this person to treat us favourably? And when things go against us, you should submit to God’s will for us, because nothing happens by chance, but according to his design. And, of course, while we may not understand why he does what he does, we believe that God is good and his plans for his people are good. And so, this chapter, like the previous ones, is about God’s providence.
But let’s think about Boaz again in his role as kinsman-redeemer. Look at his kindness to Ruth and his willingness to do what she asked and to deliver her from her misery by marrying her. And even before Ruth leaves to go home, he fills her shawl with grain as a sign of how he intends to take away their emptiness and to fill their lives with good.
And therefore he foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our kinsman-redeemer. As I said last week, he is our kinsman because even though he’s the Eternal Son of God, he took to himself our human nature and became one of us. He became our relative. And he became our relative in order to deliver us from our misery. If it were not for Boaz, Ruth’s future was bleak. But because of his willingness to marry her, her future became bright, because she had someone to look after her who would fill her life with good. And if it were not for Christ our kinsman-redeemer, your future would be bleak. In fact, it would be worse than bleak, because all of us deserve God’s wrath and curse in this life and in the next for all that we have done wrong. And so, there would be nothing for you to hope for in this world or in the next. But because of Christ, who paid for our sins with his life, we are pardoned by God and we can look forward to everlasting life in his presence, where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. And he not only delivers us from misery in the life to come, but he delivers us from our misery in this life, because through him we can come to God the Father in prayer to seek his help for this life’s troubles and trials. Because of Christ, we have peace with God and can rely on him for his gracious help each day.
But, of course, there’s a big difference between Boaz and the Lord Jesus, isn’t there? Well, there are two big differences. The first is that while Boaz was willing to deliver Ruth and Naomi from an bleak future by marrying Ruth, the Lord Jesus was willing to deliver us from a bleak future by dying for us on the cross. That’s the first big difference. The second is that Ruth went to Boaz. She went to meet him. She woke him. She spoke to him. She proposed marriage to him. She took the initiative; and he responded to her. But the Lord Jesus came to us. There’s the hymn we sometimes sing: ‘The church’s one foundation’. And it says in the first verse:
The church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ the Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the word;
from heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride
with his own blood he bought her
and for her life he died.
He left the glory of heaven and came down to earth in order to save his people who make up the church. And so, before we loved him, or knew anything about him, he loved us and he came to save us. Ruth had to go to Boaz, whereas the Lord Jesus came to us. And he comes to us, Sunday by Sunday, in the preaching of his word, and he holds out his arms to us and he invites us, he commands us, to come to him for rest. And the way we come to him for rest is by trusting in him as the only Saviour of the world.