Defining the Relationship
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” Ruth 3:1
At this point in the story, Ruth and Boaz have taken center stage. Their relationship commenced with great hope as Boaz spoke kindly to Ruth, prayed for her, protected her, and provided for her all as one would expect from a man ready to be a godly husband. Furthermore, by now Ruth has been laboring in Boaz’s field for perhaps six to seven weeks during the time of harvest. Time is running out since Boaz and Ruth won’t be seeing one another anymore when the seasonal work comes to an end and they go their proverbial separate ways. The author is a wonderfully gifted storyteller who has led us to a place of crisis and urgency where, as in every good tale, we want the main characters who are friends to fall in love and live happily ever! But how could this happen given the culture Ruth and Boaz lived in?
Back then, people got married much younger than they do today, with many couples getting married by their mid to late teens. The men were to pursue a wife (Genesis 2:24; Proverbs 18:22), and women were to be given in marriage (Jeremiah 29:6; Psalms 78:63; Matthew 24:38; Luke 20:34).
This required that the woman’s father play a prominent role in keeping the wrong men from his daughter and overseeing her courtship (Exodus 22:16-17; Numbers 30:1-5; Deuteronomy 22:13-22). Sometimes this included an arranged marriage (Genesis 24, 34, 38; Exodus 2:21; Judges 14:2-3, 14:10). But Ruth’s family, including her father, were not worshippers of God, involved in her life, or likely a source of godly counsel since they were Moabites, who were a very sexually confused and sinful people.
As a Moabite, it may have been common for a woman like Ruth to date, sleep with, or even live with a man as the route to marriage. Ruth needed the sort of courtship detailed in Scripture. But she lacked the kind of family to help in that process.
- Ruth doesn’t have a father, but she does have Naomi. How has Naomi acted to protect and guide Ruth so far?