Naomi’s Plan – Ruth 3:1-18

Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I find security for you, so that you will be taken care of? Now isn’t Boaz our relative? Haven’t you been working with his female servants? This evening he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfumed oil, and wear your best clothes. Go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let the man know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, notice the place where he’s lying, go in and uncover his feet, and lie down. Then he will explain to you what you should do.”

So Ruth said to her, “I will do everything you say.” She went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law had instructed her. After Boaz ate, drank, and was in good spirits, he went to lie down at the end of the pile of barley. Then she went in secretly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.

At midnight, Boaz was startled, turned over, and there lying at his feet was a woman! So he asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Ruth, your slave,” she replied. “Spread your cloak over me, for you are a family redeemer.”

10 Then he said, “May the Lord bless you, my daughter. You have shown more kindness now than before, because you have not pursued younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 Now don’t be afraid, my daughter. I will do for you whatever you say,  since all the people in my town know that you are a woman of noble character.  12 Yes, it is true that I am a family redeemer, but there is a redeemer closer than I am. 13 Stay here tonight, and in the morning, if he wants to redeem you, that’s good. Let him redeem you. But if he doesn’t want to redeem you, as the Lord lives, I will. Now lie down until morning.”

14 So she lay down at his feet until morning but got up while it was still dark. Then Boaz said, “Don’t let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 And he told Ruth, “Bring the shawl you’re wearing and hold it out.” When she held it out, he shoveled six measures of barley into her shawl, and she went into the town.

16 She went to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who asked her, “How did it go, my daughter?”

Then Ruth told her everything the man had done for her. 17 She said, “He gave me these six measures of barley, because he said, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’ ”

18 Naomi said, “My daughter, wait until you find out how things go, for he won’t rest unless he resolves this today.” (HCSB)

There are three sections to this passage.

  • Verses 1-5: Naomi’s plan.
  • Verses 6-15: The execution of the plan.
  • Verses 16-18: The results of the plan.

Naomi’s Plan

Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I find security for you, so that you will be taken care of? Now isn’t Boaz our relative? Haven’t you been working with his female servants? This evening he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfumed oil, and wear your best clothes. Go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let the man know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, notice the place where he’s lying, go in and uncover his feet, and lie down. Then he will explain to you what you should do.”

So Ruth said to her, “I will do everything you say.”

Although not explicit in the conclusion of chapter two, it is safe to infer that Naomi expected Boaz to pursue Ruth in a manner that was more than a landowner being kind to a foreigner. Naomi was expecting Boaz to pursue Ruth in a way that would lead to marriage and a secure future for both her and Ruth. For whatever reason, Boaz does not follow that path, and Naomi decides to take matters into her own hand.

Verse 1

Naomi’s question to Ruth contains two parts.

  • Shouldn’t Naomi do something to find security for Ruth?
  • Shouldn’t Naomi do something so that Ruth will be taken care of and not have to worry about her future?

From a historical contextual standpoint, this was a critically important point. Women in Israel longed for the security and tranquility in the home of a loving husband. Naomi’s single reason for doing this is the welfare of her daughter-in-law. Also, it was the duty of the mother-in-law to see to the security and welfare of the widowed daughter-in-law. In this case, there is added weight as Ruth has pledged her life to Naomi until death separates them. These two women display a covenant relationship with each other where they place the other’s welfare above their own.

Verse 2

Typically, barley was threshed after the wheat was harvested, usually late May to June. The best threshing floors were rock outcroppings on hilltops. This would take advantage of the open area and wind to separate the grain from the chaff. It is also likely that the threshing floor in question here was at least on the outskirts of town, if not farther away. The rationale for doing it at night would be gentler breezes.

Verse 3-5

Although on the surface, it appears simple enough, a lot going on in the first sentence of verse three.

  • Wash – This was a typical first step in preparing for a sexual encounter or marriage.
  • Put on perfumed oil – The Hebrew verb means to anoint and likely refers to perfumed olive oil. Due to the hot climate and lack of modern deodorants, this was necessary to combat body odors.
  • Wear your best clothes – This is likely not a correct translation of the Hebrew word. Likely, Ruth was still wearing some type of clothing to indicate mourning, and changing clothes would imply a shift from mourning to everyday life.

Another reason for Boaz, or anyone, to be there at night was to act as security to ensure the grain wasn’t stolen.

Ruth wasn’t to let Boaz know she was there until he had finished eating and drinking. There is no indication that Boaz was drunk, either implicitly or explicitly. In addition, the idea of Boaz being drunk would conflict with the characteristics describing Boaz earlier in the book.

The situation gets even more complicated when Naomi tells Ruth to uncover his feet/legs and lie down with him. Understanding the cultural norms at that time make it even murkier.

  • At winnowing time, the threshing floors often became a place of illicit sex.
  • Since men often spent the night in the fields next to the collected grain, prostitutes would often visit them to offer their services.

Although Ruth’s actions could be interpreted as seductive, her actions so far and through this encounter suggest that was not the intent. Ruth is anything but a typical Moabite. Instead, Ruth possesses the characteristics of Israelite hesed, steadfast love, kindness, faithfulness, and loyalty within a relationship.

This is confirmed by Boaz’s words to her in verses 10 and 11.

  • May the Lord bless you.
  • You are a woman of noble character.

Boaz could interpret Ruth’s actions in one of three ways.

  • Boaz could wake up and interpret her actions as those of a prostitute and partake of the services offered.
  • Boaz could wake up and interpret her actions as those of a prostitute, but as a noble and virtuous Israelite chase her away.
  • Boaz could wake up and immediately recognize the true intentions of Ruth’s actions and respond favorably.

This is a reminder that sex is a wonderful gift from God to be enjoyed by a man and woman in a marriage relationship after the couple is married.

Verses 6-15

She went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law had instructed her. After Boaz ate, drank, and was in good spirits, he went to lie down at the end of the pile of barley. Then she went in secretly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.

At midnight, Boaz was startled, turned over, and there lying at his feet was a woman! So he asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Ruth, your slave,” she replied. “Spread your cloak over me, for you are a family redeemer.”

10 Then he said, “May the Lord bless you, my daughter. You have shown more kindness now than before, because you have not pursued younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 Now don’t be afraid, my daughter. I will do for you whatever you say,  since all the people in my town know that you are a woman of noble character.  12 Yes, it is true that I am a family redeemer, but there is a redeemer closer than I am. 13 Stay here tonight, and in the morning, if he wants to redeem you, that’s good. Let him redeem you. But if he doesn’t want to redeem you, as the Lord lives, I will. Now lie down until morning.”

14 So she lay down at his feet until morning but got up while it was still dark. Then Boaz said, “Don’t let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 And he told Ruth, “Bring the shawl you’re wearing and hold it out.” When she held it out, he shoveled six measures of barley into her shawl, and she went into the town.

The section is divided into two parts.

  • Verses 6-13 occurs at the threshing floor, likely between evening and midnight.
  • Verses 14-15 occur between midnight and morning and ends with Ruth returning to town with the grain.

The first subsection, verses 6-13, contains four points.

  • Ruth takes charge of the situation after Boaz wakes up and asks her who she is. This is remarkable for several reasons.
    • Ruth just described herself as a slave, and Boaz is her master.
    • Ruth is uninvited and on his turf.
    • Ruth is a woman, and Boaz is a man.
    • Ruth is a foreigner, and he is a native.
  • Because of the flipping of the roles, it begs the question, “Who is Boaz?”
  • With no warning, Ruth asks Boaz to marry her.
    • The Hebrew phrase that is translated as “Spread your cloak over me” actually means “to spread one’s wings over” and is a metaphor for the protection and provision that Yahweh provides.
      • Ruth is demanding that Boaz takes her under his wings and assume responsibility for her.
      • In Hebrew, the term “to spread one’s wings over someone” was a way to propose marriage.
      • It signified the husband’s declaration to provide for his future wife.
    • Boaz correctly interprets Ruth’s actions not as a request for sex but as a marriage proposal.
  • The basis for the proposal is that Boaz is the kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and Ruth.
    • Ruth fully understands this Israelite custom, likely from discussions with Naomi.
    • Ruth, although a Moabite, is aware and accepts the custom.

Boaz’s response is also remarkable. His response breaks down into four parts.

  • A blessing and eulogy for Ruth.
    • Asking Yahweh to bless her.
    • Acknowledgment of kindness towards Boaz.
    • Acknowledging that although Ruth could have pursued younger men, she didn’t.
  • A promise.
    • Remove any fear.
    • Boaz will pursue the marriage Ruth proposed.
    • The townspeople already recognize her noble character and would welcome the marriage.
  • A disclosure of a complication.
    • Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer.
    • However, there is a kinsman-redeemer with a closer blood tie than Boaz. That man, unnamed, will have to be given the first chance before Boaz can fulfill the promise.
  • Words of reassurance.
    • Boaz tells Ruth to rest as they can do nothing more about the situation until the morning when the issue of redemption can be brought up before the town and the man first in line to redeem Elimelech’s inheritance.
    • Boaz’s determination is expressed in the phrase “as the LORD lives,” which is an oath to make it happen.

Before moving on to the next section of the passage, let’s consider the nature of the marriage that Naomi and Ruth likely discussed and which Boaz agreed to enter.

  • So far, there has been no discussion of children.
    • The family preservation idea present in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 has not been a part of the discussion.
    • The primary reason for the marriage was not preserving Mahlon’s family name. It was to provide a secure and stable home for Ruth.
  • There are no specific instructions in the Law to cover these circumstances. Naomi’s idea is based solely on confidence that Boaz will do the right thing out of a sense of moral obligation to the family.

Boaz now senses the delicate nature of their circumstances as the sun begins to rise. Not only does Boaz need to protect Ruth’s reputation, but Boaz also has a reputation to protect as well.

  • If the workers discovered Ruth with Boaz, it would undermine his reputation and maybe his ability to effectively interact with them in the future.
  • Before allowing Ruth to leave, Boaz gives her additional grain to take back home.

Verses 16-18

16 She went to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who asked her, “How did it go, my daughter?”

Then Ruth told her everything the man had done for her. 17 She said, “He gave me these six measures of barley, because he said, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’ ”

18 Naomi said, “My daughter, wait until you find out how things go, for he won’t rest unless he resolves this today.”

One can imagine that, just as Ruth and Boaz likely had a restless night, that Naomi was in the same state as she waited for Ruth to come home. Once Ruth makes it home, Naomi wants to know what happened and if her plan to join the two in marriage was a success.

The conversation then quickly shifts to the grain that Ruth brought home. In the previous section, the reader can only speculate about the reason for the gift of grain. In this section, more information is given as to the reason, and we can draw some conclusions as to why Boaz gave the grain.

  • It is possible that Boaz’s interpretation of the kinsman-redeemer principle means that he views Naomi as the true beneficiary, and his obligation is to Naomi rather than Ruth.
  • The grain could be viewed as a gift for the plan that Naomi devised.
    • Naomi encouraged Ruth to end her mourning and put on normal clothes.
    • Naomi devised the plan on how Ruth was to meet Boaz.
    • Naomi advised Ruth to present the issue of Boaz being their kinsman-redeemer.
    • Naomi was the brain behind the entire plan, and the grain is a gift in recognition of her plan.
  • It could’ve been a gift to Naomi as an indication of Boaz’s promise to redeem Ruth. Either directly or through the man who had the first chance to redeem her. In addition, since Naomi was Ruth’s legal guardian, Boaz may have intended the grain as a down payment on the bride dowry given at the time of engagement.

Naomi’s response in verse 18 indicates it is the third possibility that is the correct interpretation.

Chapter 3 continues the illustration that Boaz is a typology of Christ.

  • Redemption through a kinsman-redeemer.
    • Ruth asked Boaz to redeem her.
    • Each of us can come humbly before Jesus and ask Him for redemption from the consequences of sin, eternal condemnation, and separation from God in hell.
  • Protection.
    • Ruth sought the protection of a husband and a loving home.
    • We should daily ask for protection. This is a humble act acknowledging our reliance on God.
      • We need protection from the desires of our sinful nature.
      • From the pressures of the world.
      • From the devil, who prowls like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
  • Responsibility.
    • Boaz accepted the responsibility to act as the kinsman-redeemer.
    • Jesus accepted the responsibility of going to the cross, demonstrating obedience to God’s plan, and accepting the responsibility of all of our sins to set us free from the condemnation we deserved.

Applications

  • Do we accept responsibility for what’s right when opportunities present themselves to us?
  • Do we act with a noble character when temptation presents itself? While Ruth was not tempting Boaz in a sexual manner, if Boaz had interpreted it that way, the situation would have had a radically different ending.
  • As we interact with our spiritual brothers and sisters, do we accept the biblical responsibility to encourage and care for each other, serve one another, sympathize with their hurts or struggles, speak the truth in love, teach and correct one another?
  • As we interact with non-Christians, do we accept the biblical responsibility to live before them in a way that shines the light of Jesus, makes the Gospel attractive to them, and share the Gospel with them?

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