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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Ruth 3

 

 

Verses 1-5

1. Naomi"s plan to secure rest for Ruth 3:1-5

Naomi had expressed a desire back in Moab that each of her daughters-in-law might find "rest" ( Ruth 1:9). The Hebrew word reads "security" in the NASB and "a home" in the NIV, but its meaning in other parts of the Old Testament is a place or condition of rest. [Note: See my note on1:9.] Naomi"s concern for Ruth extended beyond her physical needs of food and safety to Ruth"s deeper need for a husband and, hopefully, a son. God had promised to bless His people with many descendants ( Genesis 12:1-3), and the hope of every Jewish woman was that God would so bless her. If Ruth was able to marry Boaz and have a Song of Solomon , Naomi likewise would enjoy blessing since Ruth"s son would perpetuate Elimelech"s branch of the family. Yet Naomi"s concern appears to have been primarily for Ruth"s welfare in marriage because Ruth had proved to be such a blessing to her.

Bush argued repeatedly that there is no indication in the text that part of the hope of Naomi and Ruth was that Ruth would bear a child who would perpetuate the line of her first husband. [Note: Bush, p147 , et al.] But it seems likely that children played a part in the hope that these women entertained in view of how ancient Near Easterners regarded children, even though the writer made no mention of this hope. It was common for Hebrew parents to arrange marriages for their children (cf. Judges 14:1-10). [Note: Reed, p424.] One writer suggested that Naomi was telling Ruth to act like a bride preparing for her wedding (cf. Ezekiel 16:9-12). [Note: Wiersbe, p191.]

"A significant theological point emerges here. Earlier Naomi had wished for these same things ( Ruth 1:8-9). Here human means (i.e, Naomi"s plan) carry out something previously understood to be in Yahweh"s province. In response to providentially given opportunity, Naomi began to answer her own prayer! Thus she models one way in which divine and human actions work together: believers are not to wait passively for events to happen; rather, they must seize the initiative when an opportunity presents itself. They assume that God presents the opportunity." [Note: Hubbard, p199.]

The plan Naomi proposed was in harmony with Israel"s laws and social conventions. She was not suggesting anything improper much less immoral. [Note: See Allen P. Ross, "The Daughters of Lot and the Daughter-In-Law of Judah: Hubris or Faith in the Struggle for Women"s Rights," Exegesis and Exposition2:1 (Summer1987):79; and Block, pp685-86.] While it is true that in the phrase "uncover his feet" ( Ruth 3:4) the "feet" may be a euphemism for the sexual organs, Naomi was not suggesting that Ruth should remove Boaz"s trousers. [Note: For an advocate of the sexual view, see P. Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, pp182 , 198 , n23. For a feminist interpretation of the Book of Ruth that sees quite a bit of self-interest and sexual preoccupation in the main characters, see Danna Nolan Fewell and David Miller Gunn, Compromising Redemption.] She was probably telling Ruth to remove the blanket or cloak ( Ruth 3:15) that would be covering Boaz"s legs and feet as he slept at the threshing floor. She would then ask him to cover her with it ( Ruth 3:10). This was a symbolic way of requesting Boaz"s protection as her husband (cf. Deuteronomy 22:30; Deuteronomy 27:20; Ezekiel 16:8; Malachi 2:16). [Note: P. A. Kruger, "The Hem of the Garment in Marriage: The Meaning of the Symbolic Gesture in Ruth 3:9 and Ezekiel 16:8 ," Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages12 (1984):86. See also John Gray, Joshua , Judges and Ruth , p395; and Block, p691.] It was an encouragement to pursue the possibility of marriage.

Why did Naomi suggest this method of encouraging Boaz? Evidently other methods were not possible or preferable.

"But why it should be done in this way we do not know. Nor do we know whether this was a widely practiced custom or not. It is not attested other than here." [Note: Morris, p287.]

Ruth again submitted to the counsel of her mother-in-law under whose authority she had placed herself ( Ruth 3:5; cf. Ruth 2:2). Throughout the Book of Ruth the heroine is submissive to the authority of the Israelites. This reflects her commitment to following Yahweh and His chosen people.

It may appear that Ruth was inappropriately aggressive. However, Boaz had previously indicated his strong affection for her ( Ruth 2:11-17). She was only encouraging him to pursue his interest in her.

"Here is a servant demanding that the boss marry her, a Moabite making the demand of an Israelite, a woman making the demand of a Prayer of Manasseh , a poor person making the demand of a rich man. Was this an act of foreigner navet, or a daughter-in-law"s devotion to her mother-in-law, or another sign of the hidden hand of God? From a natural perspective the scheme was doomed from the beginning as a hopeless gamble, and the responsibility Naomi placed on Ruth was quite unreasonable. But it worked!" [Note: Block, p692.]


Verses 6-13

2. Ruth"s encouragement and Boaz"s response3:6-13

Ruth carried out Naomi"s instructions exactly, further demonstrating her loyal love to her mother-in-law, and encouraged Boaz to pursue the possibility of marriage ( Ruth 3:6-9). Boaz"s response to Ruth"s actions is as remarkable as what she did.

"Note that the threshingfloor was a public place and that these incidents all took place in the open. Both men and women were lying about the threshingfloor. Entire families were gathered there. There was not much privacy connected with such circumstances, but it was the custom of the day and was not considered immodest or even questionable. This was a happy family gathering in the spirit of a religious festival....

"Instead of bringing him before the public eye and forcing him to perform the part of a goel [kinsman redeemer], she was giving him the opportunity of rejecting or accepting the office of goel quietly." [Note: McGee, pp92 , 94.]

Evidently Ruth assumed, or at least hoped, that Boaz was the closest living single male relative of her husband Mahlon (cf. Ruth 4:10). As such he would have been able to marry her if he desired to do so. She was inviting him to exercise the legal right of her levir (brother-in-law). The Hebrew words translated "spread your covering [wing] over your maid" ( Ruth 3:9) are an idiom referring to marrying (cf. Ruth 3:10; Ruth 2:12; Deuteronomy 22:30; Deuteronomy 27:20; 1 Kings 19:19; Ezekiel 16:8; Malachi 2:16).

The Old Testament nowhere lists marriage as a duty of a kinsman redeemer. Therefore Ruth"s request seems to go beyond Boaz"s obligations in that role. However there are indications that the duties of the go"el went beyond what the law stipulated, namely, the redemption of property and enslaved relatives. This was the spirit of the law if not its letter.

"The word"s metaphorical usage suggests that he also may have assisted a clan member in a lawsuit ( Job 19:25; Psalm 119:154; Proverbs 23:11; Jeremiah 50:34; Lamentations 3:58). Further, if one assumes that the picture of Yahweh as go"el reflects Israelite legal customs, the go"el also was an advocate who stood up for vulnerable family members and who took responsibility for unfortunate relatives. [Footnote10: Genesis 48:16; Exodus 15:13; Job 19:25; Psalm 119:154; Proverbs 23:10-11; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 44:22-23; Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 52:9; Isaiah 63:9; Jeremiah 50:34; Lamentations 3:58; cf. Psalm 72:12-14. Note also that a go"el could be a baby, hence referring to future help, and a "restorer of life" and "sustainer of old age" ( Ruth 4:14-15).] In sum, it seems likely that the duty of go"el was a broad one-indeed, far broader than the redemption acts taught in Leviticus 25 and those typical of the levirate. Evidently it aimed to aid clan members, both the living who were perceived to be weak and vulnerable and the dead. Indeed, it may be particularly significant for the book of Ruth that two of the duties concern actions on behalf of the dead ( Numbers 5:8; Numbers 35:12; Numbers 35:19-27; etc.)." [Note: Hubbard, pp51-52.]

"The lives of genuinely good people are not governed by laws but character and a moral sense of right and wrong. For Boaz Yahweh"s covenant with Israel provides sufficient guidance for him to know what to do in this case." [Note: Block, p696.]

Why did Boaz not initiate a proposal of marriage? Evidently for two reasons: he assumed Ruth wanted to marry a younger Prayer of Manasseh , someone closer to her own age ( Ruth 3:10), and he was not the closest eligible male relative ( Ruth 3:12).

The blessing motif surfaces again as Boaz wished God"s blessing on Ruth for her kindness to him ( Ruth 3:10). Evidently her first kindness was her willingness to stay near Boaz by serving as his maidservant and by gleaning in his fields. Her last kindness was her willingness to marry him and thereby provide Naomi with an heir even though Boaz was an older man. Ruth assumed this familial obligation to Naomi of her own free will.

"Kindness" is loyal love (Heb. hesed, Ruth 3:10). This motif also appears again here. Previously Naomi had prayed that God would deal kindly with her daughters-in-law as they had dealt with her ( Ruth 1:8). Then she had prayed that Boaz would experience Yahweh"s blessing for his loyal love to Naomi, Ruth , and their husbands ( Ruth 2:20). Now Boaz acknowledged that Ruth had been God"s channel of blessing to him out of loyal love to him.

Boaz"s description of Ruth as a woman of "excellence" (NASB) or "noble character" (NIV, Heb. hayil) is interesting because the same Hebrew word describes Boaz in Ruth 2:1. Hayil means a person of wealth, character, virtue, attainment, and comprehensive excellence. As such Ruth was worthy to be the wife of Boaz. They were two of a kind. The word hayil also describes the ideal woman in Proverbs 31:10 (cf. Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 19:14).

Boaz promised to marry Ruth if the nearer kinsman chose not to exercise his right to do so ( Ruth 3:13). [Note: McGee, pp115-76 , wrote an extended discussion of the qualifications of a redeemer. See also Bush"s excursus on the relationship between Ruth"s request and the question of levirate marriage, pp166-69.]

"Not to carry through his commitment after invoking the Lord"s name would have been a violation of the third commandment ( Exodus 20:7)." [Note: Huey, p538.]

What the nearer kinsman"s decision involved becomes clear later in the story ( Ruth 4:3-5). Even though Boaz wanted to marry Ruth , he did not violate the Mosaic Law to do so. His submission to God"s Law reflects his submission to God. We see here another reason he was an excellent man ( Ruth 2:1).


Verses 14-18

3. Ruth"s return to Naomi3:14-18

Ruth had risked danger by sleeping on the threshing floor ( Ruth 3:14). Other people might have seen her and assumed that something bad was taking place. Evidently some of Boaz"s reapers were aware of her presence, but Boaz told them to keep Ruth"s presence there a secret ( Ruth 3:14).

"He knew that if it became known, town gossips would put the worst construction on the incident, just as some modern commentators do, thereby destroying Ruth"s reputation and perhaps his own." [Note: Ibid, p539.]

Boaz had previously given Ruth an ephah of barley to carry back to Naomi in addition to her gleanings ( Ruth 2:7). Now he gave her six measures of barley ( Ruth 3:18). The Hebrew text reads "six of barley" the word "measures" having been supplied by the translators. What measure the writer meant is therefore unclear. If it was the ephah, Ruth would have had to carry three and three-fifths bushels (over200 pounds) in the cloak (shawl, NIV). This seems unlikely. Perhaps the measure was a seah (one-third of an ephah) in which case Ruth carried about one and one-fifth bushels, 60 to95 pounds of grain, "an amount that would certainly be possible for a strong young peasant woman, accustomed to such burdens, to carry." [Note: Bush, pp178-79.] Perhaps the measure was six scoops made with both hands with a utensil used at the threshing floor. [Note: Block, p698.] It seems that Boaz was even more generous on this occasion than he had been previously. As before, Boaz"s gift of barley was a token of God"s blessing on Ruth and on Naomi through Ruth.

"The seed to fill the stomach was promise of the seed to fill the womb." [Note: B. Porten, "The Scroll of Ruth: A Rhetorical Study," Gratz College Annual7 (1978):40.]

The theme of rest concludes this chapter ( Ruth 3:18) as it began it ( Ruth 3:1). Boaz would not rest until he had provided rest for Ruth , the rest Naomi had sought for her. Until then, Ruth could only wait. Her waiting was a demonstration of her faith and a foretaste of the rest she would enter into shortly.

Likewise, Christians wait now until our Redeemer brings our redemption to completion when we shall rest finally and fully in His presence. Many writers have noted the parallels between Ruth and the church, the bride of Christ, and Boaz and Christ. [Note: See, for example, McGee; and George E. Gardiner, The Romance of Ruth.]

Chapter3is all about how Ruth might find rest. The solution to her need was marriage to Boaz that we see planned in this chapter but realized in the next.

". . . taken as a whole, the chapter taught that God carries out his work through believers who seize unexpected opportunities as gifts from God." [Note: Hubbard, p230.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ruth 3:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/ruth-3.html. 2012.

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