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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Ruth 3

 

 

Verses 1-5

RUTH PROPOSES MARRIAGE TO BOAZ

NAOMI'S CLEVER PLAN FOR THE PROPOSAL (Ruth 3:1-5)

"And Naomi her mother-in-law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee? And now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley tonight in the threshing-floor. Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the threshing-floor; but make not thyself known unto the man, until he have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do. And she said unto her, All that thou sayest I will do."

"Shall I not seek rest for thee?" (Ruth 3:1) Moffatt translated this, "I must see you settled in life." "`Rest' in this context is the equivalent of marriage."[1] Naomi is determined to do everything in her power to procure a husband for Ruth, and here she reveals a very clever plan for doing so.

It is significant that Naomi had previously prayed for a husband for Ruth (Ruth 1:8-9), but here she is exerting herself to bring about the answer to her prayer. "Divine and human actions work together" in the achievement of God's purpose. This teaches that, "Believers are not to wait passively for events to happen, but they must seize the initiative when the opportunity presents itself."[2]

"He winnoweth .... tonight in the threshing-floor" (Ruth 3:2). From Isaiah 41:14-16, we learn that the harvest season usually ended with a celebration including the equivalent of a banquet. We are not told just how Naomi knew exactly what was going on and that the very night had come for that crucial occasion. Anyway, she knew what she was doing. She saw her opportunity and took it!

The plan that Naomi proposed was full of risk and danger. Ruth would expose herself to the evident possibility of humiliation or the violation of her chastity, but Naomi knew the character of Boaz and rested the whole scheme upon what she knew to be his honor and integrity. Furthermore, "The popular mind associated threshing-floors with licentiousness."[3]

"Anoint thee, and put on thy raiment" (Ruth 3:3) In context, the `raiment' here is a reference to her best clothes, and the anointing is a reference to the use of perfumes. Although Naomi did not expect Boaz to give way to his sensual lust in the situation, she wisely calculated that the physical desirability of Ruth would enhance the probability of a favorable response from Boaz.

"Thou shalt go in ... uncover his feet ... and lie down" (Ruth 3:4). "According to our customs, this action on the part of Naomi and Ruth appears very objectionable from the moral standpoint, but it was not so when judged by the customs of the people of Israel at that time."[4] By lying at Boaz' feet, Ruth perhaps intended to present herself as a humble petitioner for his protection. Leon Morris pointed out that, "`His feet,' as used here is possibly a euphemism[5] for pudendum (the external genitals) as in Exodus 4:25." James Moffatt apparently understood the passage thus, because he translated the words, "uncover his waist." Whatever Ruth did, it was indeed a daring and dangerous maneuver on her part.

"By lying down at Boaz' feet, Ruth symbolized her proposal of marriage which came a moment later in Ruth 3:9."[6]


Verses 6-13

RUTH'S OBEDIENCE AND BOAZ' FAVORABLE RESPONSE (Ruth 3:6-13)

"And she went down unto the threshing-floor, and did according to all her mother-in-law bade her. 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: and she came softly and uncovered his feet, and laid her down. And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself; and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth, thy handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thy handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman. And he said, Blessed be thou of Jehovah, my daughter, thou hast showed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning; inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou sayest; for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a near kinsman; howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I. Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning; that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman's part; but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as Jehovah liveth; lie down until the morning."

"She came softly" (Ruth 3:7). "The word rendered `softly' here does not mean `secretly,' but `quietly,' so as not to be heard. It is used of David when he cut the skirt from Saul's robe (1 Samuel 24:4)."[7]

"Spread therefore thy skirt over thy handmaiden" (Ruth 3:9). This was a proposal of marriage, as indicated in Ezekiel 16:8; and Morris tells us that such a method of proposing marriage, "still exists among some modern Arabs."[8]

"Skirt" (Ruth 3:9). "The same word in the plural is translated "wings" in Boaz' prayer (Ruth 2:12),"[9] where he speaks of "Jehovah, under whose wings thou (Ruth) art come to take refuge." The metaphor comes from the protection that a mother hen provides for her chickens. Perhaps the connection intended by this resemblance is that, Boaz' spreading his skirt over Ruth is the implementation of Boaz' own prayer that Jehovah would spread his protective wings over her.

"Blessed be thou of Jehovah ... thou hast showed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning" (Ruth 3:10). In this verse, Boaz suggested that other options were open to Ruth who might have chosen to marry for love (poor) or for money (rich), but instead, "She chose a marriage of benefit for her family."[10] This was the greater kindness to Naomi than the other wonderful things she had done for her mother-in-law.

"Inasmuch as thou followedst not young men whether rich or poor" (Ruth 3:10). By this statement Boaz recognized the attractiveness of Ruth and the possibility that she might have sought marriage among the personable young men of Bethlehem. However, Ruth had chosen to do the thing that would preserve the family into which she came when she married the son of Elimelech. The UNSELFISHNESS of that choice is emphasized by the fact that Boaz, at that time, might have been a very old man. As a matter of fact, "There is a tradition that he was eighty years old when he married Ruth."[11]

"I am a near kinsman" (Ruth 3:12). There are many things about this narrative that simply do not fit the Biblical teaching with regard to levirate marriages. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 says nothing about "a near kinsman," but emphasizes that it is the deceased husband's brother who is to marry the bereaved widow. "We have very little knowledge of the customs prevailing in Israel in antiquity,"[12] and many of the details connected with this marriage are mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. (See my introduction.)

The great point in this remarkable narrative is that Ruth acted UNSELFISHLY by placing the purpose of providing an heir to her husband Mahlon and her mother-in-law Naomi on the very highest level of priority. "She recognized her own happiness as secondary to that intention, and such a model of selfless concern for the needs of others"[13] reminds us of what Paul said of Jesus Christ himself (Philippians 2:1-11).

This paragraph reveals the absolute determination and promise of Boaz to accept Ruth's proposal of marriage, provided only that the nearer kinsman does not preempt the privilege.


Verses 14-18

RUTH REPORTS HER SUCCESS TO NAOMI (Ruth 3:14-18)

"And she lay at his feet until the morning; and she rose up before one could discern another. For he said, Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing-floor. And he said, Bring the mantle that is upon thee, and hold it; and she held it; and he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and he went into the city. And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, Who art thou my daughter? and she told her all that the man had done to her. And she said, These six measures of barley gave he me; for he said, Go not empty unto thy mother-in-law. Then said she, Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall; for the man will not rest, until he have finished the thing this day."

"And he said, Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing-floor." (Ruth 3:14). This sounds like a command given by Boaz to someone, but that is not the case. "`And he said' in this passage has the meaning of, `he thought,'"[14] or "he said to himself." The reason for this caution is clear enough. "Nothing sinful had been done, but Boaz was concerned that the presence of a woman on the threshing-floor might have been misunderstood.

"He measured six measures of barley" (Ruth 3:15). "This may have been sent to Naomi in recognition of her responsibility for Ruth's actions."[15]

"Six measures" (Ruth 3:15). Barnes believed the particular measure here was the seah, said to be about one-third of an ephah.[16] If that is correct, it would mean that Ruth carried two ephahs of barley to Naomi. A bushel of barley weighs 50 pounds; and one and one half bushels (the six seahs) would have weighed about 75 pounds, quite a heavy load. The statement that Boaz "laid it on her" probably means that he placed it on top of her head. "It is well known that women can carry great weights when properly balanced upon the head."[17]

"And he went into the city" (Ruth 3:15). It is clear enough from the context that RUTH is the one who went into the city; and, therefore, it appears likely that Morris is correct in his opinion that, "This must be an early scribal error."[18]

"Who art thou, my daughter?" (Ruth 3:16). This might mean that Naomi did not recognize Ruth because of the darkness, but the words, `my daughter' hardly fit that meaning. The reading in the Cross-Reference Bible has: "My daughter, how hast thou wrought"? Moffatt and RSV render it: "How have you fared, my daughter"?

The wisdom of Naomi appears in the last two verses of this chapter in which she advised Ruth to "Sit still" until the matter was resolved. Naomi well KNEW that Boaz would not rest until the matter was settled. It must have been a very happy day for both Naomi and Ruth.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ruth 3:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/ruth-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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