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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Ruth 3

Introduction

RUTH’S APPEAL TO BOAZ TO REDEEM HER, Ruth 3:1-8.3.18.

To understand the incidents of this chapter we must have before us the ancient custom and laws of levirate marriage, so called from the Latin word levir, a brother in law. We meet the first instance of it in Genesis 38:8, where Judah calls upon his younger son Onan to marry Er’s widow, and thus preserve his brother’s name. The custom, however, was not peculiar to the Hebrews solely, but has been found to exist in several eastern countries. The Mosaic law on the subject is given in Deuteronomy 25:5-5.25.10, and is in substance as follows: If a man die and leave no children, his brother is under obligations to marry the widow, and she has a right to demand it of him. This obligation, however, is not absolutely binding. If the levir refuses to take her, he is brought before a council of the elders and publicly alleges his dislike to take her, and there his brother’s wife unlooses his shoe from off his foot, and spits in his face, and says, So shall it be done unto the man that will not build up his brother’s house. From this book of Ruth we see that the levirate law was so construed that in case the deceased husband had no surviving brother the obligation to marry his widow devolved upon his next nearest kinsman. The Hebrew word for this kinsman is גאל , goel, which means a redeemer. Its root is the exact equivalent of the Greek λυω , to loose, from which comes the New Testament λυτρον , a ransom. “The meaning of the word is profoundly set forth in the various grand historical unfoldings of its idea.

According to the social philosophy of the Mosaic law no member of the national organism was to perish, no branch of the tree was to wither; whatever had been dislocated by natural events was to be reset; whatever had been alienated must be redeemed. This applied to lands as well as to persons; and the duty of redemption rested, as within the nation, so within the families into which the nation branched out. No one could redeem any thing for a family who did not belong to it by blood relationship. The great Liberator of Israel is God. He frees from servitude. For that reason the Messiah, who delivers Israel is called Goel Redeemer. When he appears he will come as Israel’s blood-relation and brother, as Christ truly was.

“The dismal counterpart of the goel as redeemer and deliverer is the goel as blood-avenger. He owes his origin to the opinion, which slowly and painfully disappeared in Israel, but which is still partially prevalent in the East, and inspires many current superstitions, that the blood of the slain cannot be put to rest and liberated until his murderer has been killed. The duty of this blood-revenge rests upon the blood relatives, not only on the brother, strictly so called, but on the nearest relative whoever he may be. So far this terrible usage becomes instructive with reference to the beneficent national custom which made it the duty of the blood-relative not to let the house of his kinsman die out; for this also was a blood-redemption, not unto death, however, but unto happiness and peace. The goel was no judge, but a comforter, a dispenser of life and love.” Cassel.

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Verse 1

1. Naomi… said All through that memorable barley harvest, from the evening when Ruth showed her the results of her first day’s gleaning in the field of Boaz until the time of this utterance, had the now hopeful Naomi been planning that to which she here advises her daughter in law.

Seek rest See note on Ruth 1:9.

Verse 2

2. He winnoweth barley to-night The night was chosen for the purpose because of the breeze which usually set in with the cool of the day. “The winnowing was performed by throwing up the grain with a fork against the wind, by which the broken straw and chaff were dispersed, and the grain fell to the ground. The grain was afterwards passed through a sieve to separate the morsels of earth and other impurities, and it then underwent a final purification by being tossed up with wooden scoops or short-handled shovels, such as we see figured in the monuments of Egypt.” Kitto.

The threshingfloor This was a level plot of ground of a circular shape, generally about fifty feet in diameter, and beaten down to a hard, smooth surface. Upon this the sheaves of grain were thrown, and the threshing was usually performed by driving cattle over them: the Scriptural mode of “treading out the corn.”

Verse 3

3. Wash… anoint… raiment Arrange and prepare thy person in the most attractive form, as a bride for her nuptials.

Verse 4

4. Uncover his feet, and lay thee down Viewed in the light of our own age this act would be in the highest degree immodest and presumptuous, but not so according to the laws and manners of that ancient time. We have seen that according to the levirate law Ruth had a right to claim the favour of marriage from her deceased husband’s nearest unmarried kinsman, and therefore this act, instead of being a compromise of her virtue, was regarded by Boaz as prudent and worthy of praise. See Ruth 3:10-8.3.11. Doubtless the reason of Naomi’s advising this course to Ruth was, that she thought it would be more likely to succeed than any other form in which she could make known her desire to Boaz.

Verse 7

7. When Boaz had eaten This was the evening meal, taken after the labours of the day were over.

His heart was merry He was cheerful and happy over a bountiful harvest, and probably also with the drinking of wine.

At the end of the heap of corn The winnowed grain was left over night lying in a heap, and this exposed the threshingfloors to the danger of being robbed. See 1 Samuel 23:1. “We have on various occasions,” says Thomson, “seen the summer threshingfloors in the open country, and the owners sleeping at them to prevent stealing.” And Captain Postans remarks: “Natives of the East [usually] care little for sleeping accommodations, but rest where weariness overcomes them, lying on the ground. They are, however, careful to cover the feet, and to do this they have a sheet of coarse cloth that they tuck under the feet, and, drawing it up over the body, suffer it to cover the face and head. An oriental seldom changes his position, and we are told that Boaz did so because he was afraid; the covering of the feet in ordinary cases is consequently not disturbed. I have frequently observed, when riding out in a native city before dawn, figures with their feet so covered, lying like monumental effigies in the pathway, and in the open verandahs of the houses.”

Verse 8

8. The man was afraid Finding the covering of his feet removed, he feared that robbers might have entered his floor; but not knowing what was the matter he turned himself, that is, bent over or forward, to see and feel who or what the intruder was.

Verse 9

9. Spread… thy skirt over thine handmaid Literally, spread thy wing. The meaning is, Take me into the protection and intimacy of the marriage relation. The figure, taken originally from birds that cover their young with their wings for protection, is appropriately used of the marriage state. Thus in Ezekiel 16:8, Jehovah represents himself as spreading his wing over Jerusalem in the time of love, and thus taking her to wife. Also in Deuteronomy 22:30; Deuteronomy 27:20, a man guilty of incest is represented as one that uncovereth his father’s wing, or skirt, because he meddles with that which is closed and legally sealed to all but the married pair.

Thou art a near kinsman A goel, from whom I have a legal right to claim this relation.

Verse 10

10. More kindness in the latter end חסד , kindness, is often used in the sense of piety, moral and religious goodness. Such is the meaning here, and the passage should be read, Thou hast made thy latter act of piety better than the former. Her former act of piety was her devotion to the memory of her deceased husband and to her mother in law, and her forsaking of father and mother and native land to become a proselyte to the Hebrew faith. Her latter piety was shown, as Boaz proceeds to state, in her not following after young men to seek to win a youthful husband; but, in strict observance of the laws and customs of the Hebrew people, by coming and claiming him as her kinsman.

Verse 11

11. A virtuous woman Literally, a woman of strength. It corresponds with the common expression, man of valour. Ruth was strong in all that constitutes female excellence and worth. She was not merely virtuous, in the sense of chaste, but she was full of virtues. “Boaz, no doubt, knew her general character, and knew also that in the present instance she acted in accordance with the advice of her mother in law, who had taught her that she not only had a right to claim Boaz for her husband, but that she was precluded by the law of God from forming any other reputable connexion. Boaz also remembered that he was old, and she young and attractive; and, though from the heathen Moabites, yet she preferred to walk in the sober path of honest married life rather than to associate with the young and the gay, by whom, it is intimated, she had been tempted. He was therefore fully justified in ascribing to this very act an honourable and virtuous principle, notwithstanding the apparent violation of modesty and propriety; and in this he judged correctly, for such was the fact.” Thomson.

Verse 12

12. There is a kinsman nearer than I From this it appears that Naomi had laboured under some mistake. Probably she was ignorant of the existence of a nearer kinsman than Boaz; or she may have known that nearer kinsman, and also that it would have marred his inheritance to have redeemed that of her husband, Elimelech. Compare Ruth 4:6.

Verse 13

13. Tarry this night For it would have been dangerous for her to return alone to the city in the darkness of midnight; but in the early morning, before one can readily recognise another, women may be seen in the East going forth on some errand or work.

Verse 14

14. Let it not be known Thus Boaz charged Ruth and whoever else might have known that she had been there, for both his reputation and hers would suffer if that fact at once became known.

Verse 15

15. Bring the veil The long loose wrapper in which the eastern women envelope themselves when out of doors. Among the poorer classes its material is strong and coarse enough not to be at all damaged by the use here made of it.

Six measures How large the measures were we have no means of ascertaining, and conjecture is vain. The Chaldee paraphrase has the following: “He measured six seahs (nearly two bushels!) of barley, and placed it upon her, and she received strength from the Lord to carry it, and immediately it was said in prophecy that there should come of her the six righteous ones of the world, each one of whom should be blessed with six benedictions David, and Daniel and his companions, and King Messiah.”

She went into the city Rather, He went, etc., for the form of the verb is masculine, and the meaning is, that he gave her the barley and sent her away, and then he also went into the city.

Verse 16

16. Who art thou, my daughter That is, In what character dost thou return as the espoused of Boaz, or only still a desolate widow?

Verse 18

18. Sit still Stay quietly at home.

How the matter will fall Whether that nearer kinsman will redeem thee, or yield his right to Boaz.

The man will not be in rest His actions and his oath (Ruth 3:13) show that he will quickly bring the matter to an issue.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ruth 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/ruth-3.html. 1874-1909.