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? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.” So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. Ruth 3:1-6
In this scene, the older woman Naomi practiced the essence of Titus 2:3-5, providing Ruth with counsel that was wise but also quite risky. In Ruth 1:9, Naomi prayed that God would provide Ruth a husband, and here she takes action and is used of God to answer her own prayer when she helps arrange the marriage of Ruth to the great Boaz.
Naomi’s counsel is questionable. Knowing that Boaz had only seen Ruth dirty and sweaty at work in his fields, she counseled Ruth to get a full makeover, buy a new party dress, and put on some nice perfume. She was then instructed to attend the great party Boaz would be at and wait patiently for him to have fun celebrating his great success in business, eat well, and have a glass or two of wine before getting in front of him. Ruth was furthermore counseled to take the risk of actually approaching Boaz while he was asleep to invite him to propose marriage! Heeding Naomi’s counsel, Ruth went to the threshing floor, which would have been a packed plot of ground where the grain from the harvest was threshed by being hit with a sledge, trampled by animals (Micah 4:13), or crushed under the wheels of a cart (Isaiah 28:28). The goal was to separate the kernels from the husk, chaff, and stalk. It would all then be tossed in the air with a shovel or pitchfork, so that the breeze would blow away the chaff. The straw would be used for animals, the chaff for fuel, and the grain for food. The entire occasion was a time of great celebration and partying (Isaiah 9:3, 41:14-16), and this party would have been particularly enthusiastic because it was the first after many years of famine.
Boaz, along with the other men who had attended the harvest and accompanying party, slept on the threshing floor next to the grain to protect it from thieves. While Boaz slept, Ruth took the very daring and bold counsel of Naomi and uncovered his feet to lie at them. Startled, Boaz awoke and asked who was with him there in the dark. Boaz probably wondered if a prostitute was there to tempt him, as prostitution was common on the threshing floor where men had a few drinks, were in good spirits, and had money to spend (Hosea 9:1).
Ruth revealed herself as his humble servant, but there was likely a moment of uncertainty for Boaz about her intentions. She had recently converted, but Ruth was a Moabite whose entire race began when a young woman climbed into bed with her inebriated father and seduced him (Genesis 19)! Furthermore, the entire story happened in the dark days of the judges when there was great sexual immorality of every kind.
Ruth asked Boaz to answer his own prayer of 2:12 and be God’s wing of covering over her. In short, she didn’t propose marriage to Boaz, but rather declared her love for him and invited him to ask for her hand in marriage. The phrase spread your wings is also sometimes translated spread your garment/blanket and is elsewhere used as a symbol for engagement much like our current engagement ring (Ezekiel 16:8; Deuteronomy 23:1, 27:20; Malachi 2:16). In the act, a man demonstrated that he would both lovingly cover the woman for the entirety of her life and invite her into his bed as his beloved wife. In 1 Corinthians 7:39, Paul says that a widow, like Ruth, is free to marry any Christian whom she chooses to love, and here, Ruth took an enormous risk in declaring her heart to Boaz. Furthermore, while she didn’t break any clear command of Scripture, Ruth did indeed trample many cultural taboos as she was younger and Boaz was older; she was a servant and he was her boss; she was a Moabite and he was an Israelite; she was poor and he was rich; and she was a woman and he was a man.
Bible commentators vigorously debate whether Ruth’s actions were godly or good. While it doesn’t seem like her actions technically crossed a line, it does seem that they danced on it vigorously late at night after few glasses of wine. To say the least, it’s complicated!
- Looking back at your life, are there any situations where you put yourself in a potentially unsafe situation, but God was gracious to protect you from harm?
- Whether or not Naomi’s plan was wise, what can you surmise about Ruth being so vulnerable and forward with Boaz? Why him and not the other men?