My Sunday School class has been living in the story of Naomi and Ruth for the past few weeks in Sunday School. Naomi and her husband Elimilech left Bethlehem because there was a famine. This is ironic since Bethlehem means house of bread in Hebrew! They venture to Moab with their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Moab as you know is not part of the people of God, and in fact they worship some pretty disgusting gods. One god, Molech, is worshiped by placing an infant son or daughter onto white-hot iron arms that represent the arms of Molech. This is the culture Naomi, Elimilech, Mahlon, and Chilion find themselves in for 10 years! During this time though, Mahlon and Chilion marry Orpah and Ruth. We aren't sure who marries who, but it doesn't matter much since the next thing we know all the men have died. All that is left in the first chapter is Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. This is tragic for women in an ancient near eastern world. This is surely a death sentence.
Naomi hears that God has "visited" his people, which for the Hebrew ear means that God has acted on His covenant love to His people. The house of bread once again has bread! As the three women venture back to B-town, Naomi tells her two daughters-in-law to go back to Moab. Basically, Naomi sees herself as a bag of hurt and it would be far better for the two girls to go back to their families and their gods, that they might find "rest". Rest is a way of saying, get married. Orpah goes back, but Ruth refuses to go. Ruth, even though she will not be all that welcomed among Israelites, is going to be faithful to Naomi. Ruth even vows to God, showing that she is trusting in Yahweh rather than the gods she grew up with.
Ruth and Naomi arrive back at Bethlehem. Naomi, who's name means "pleasant," now calls herself Mara, which means "bitter." Naomi says that God's hand has gone out and attacked her, that she "left full" but has "returned empty." Isn't this often how we see difficulty in our lives? Stress, burdens, pain, loss, or hardships come our way and all we see is emptiness? We know the end of the story. We know that actually Naomi left with famine and returned with Ruth, who would further the lineage to Christ, who is the Bread of Life!! She came back far more full that she would ever realize! As believers, we hold that "ALL things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). Notice the verse says "all things work together," NOT "all things work in isolation." Isn't it true that we often want to know how each thing in our life is going to play out. Do we believe that the good and the ugly are leading to something greater than our individual lives, like perhaps the Kingdom of God??
So, Naomi returns to Bethlehem with nothing except the woman whose lineage will bring about the Savior of the world, and in chapter two Boaz bursts onto the scene. Boom! It just so happens that Ruth was gleaning in his field. What a crazy coincidence! Fields in this time were patchworked together. Only the owners really knew whose field ended where, so obviously Ruth, a foreigner, has no clue whose field she's in. Ruth and Naomi are hungry so Ruth is gleaning the grain left behind by the harvesters.
Boaz is a "man of valor" and takes notice of Ruth. Boaz is the type of boss that knows who's in his field, and he doesn't recognize Ruth! His workers tell him, "Oh, that's just Ruth, the Moabitess." Pretty hard and derogatory language for this place and time. But Boaz takes notice, allows her to eat at this table, lets her gather from the harvesters bundles, and sends her away with 30 pounds of barley!! Some might say he was trying to get them digits.
Why was Boaz so kind to this foreigner? Do you remember who Boaz' mother was? ....... Rahab, the prostitute in Jericho who hid the spies! She too was not an Israelite and was brought into the people of God. God has been preparing this scene since Genesis, and has prepared Boaz to welcome this foreign widow.
In chapter three Naomi hatches a plan, like any good mother-in-law would do. First, she tells Ruth to bathe, put on good fragrance, and put on nice clothes. I keep telling guys in the dorms to do this but to no avail. Why does she tell Ruth to do this? Is this because Ruth needs to entice and seduce Boaz? Is she "working with what she's got"? Since she's got it, she should flaunt it, right?? Wrong. What this means is that Ruth should exit her mourning! This entire time Ruth has probably been in mourning attire since her husband died. By putting on perfume and changing clothes she is telling Boaz that she is ready to reenter life and be married. If a woman's husband died in our culture and she was wearing all black and a black shrouded veil over her face, you wouldn't go up and ask her to go to Chili's with you on a date! You give space bro, and wait until she is ready and desiring a new marriage, which is exactly what righteous Boaz has done!
The other part to Naomi's plan is to go to the threshing floor at night after Boaz has had food and drink and is asleep. She should take notice of where he lay, go uncover his feet, and lay down at his feet. Do what!?!?! If you are like me, you have been taught that this is a euphemism for sex. I don't believe this is what happened at all. Let me give you a bullet point list as to why Ruth and Boaz did not have sex that night:
1. Boaz was not drunk. Yes, he drank alcoholic wine but was not drunk. It was against God's law to be drunk (and still is FYI!), but the biggest reason was because he was guarding grain. The winnowing was the final step to get completely processed wheat. Bad guys love to steal threshed wheat! In fact, it was one of the first things invaders during this period would go for.
2. Boaz was not alone. Since stealing grain was all the rage, multiple men would sleep in the threshing building. Sleeping next to Boaz would be about 8-14 men, which is why in Ruth 3:4 Naomi tells her to observe where he lays. You don't wanna be uncovering the wrong feet! If they had sex it was a show for many, but they DIDN'T have sex.
3. If they had sex there would be no reason for chapter 4. The narrative would completely break down. In this culture, if you had unmarried sex you could then get married. However, the father of the woman would still have what's called "the right of refusal," which means he could say no to the dude who's been with his daughter; however, that dude would still be on the hook for the entire bride price! Expensive to the point of even having to sell himself into slavery to pay it off (ancient Citi card). Ruth, not having a father nearby, would have had sex with Boaz and they would have gotten married. End of story.
4. It would be contrary to both characters. By character I mean Ruth and Boaz's integrity. These are both people "of valor." To have unmarried sex with each other would completely tarnish the righteousness they have displayed throughout this beautiful narrative.
5. Boaz is alert at midnight. When Ruth uncovers Boaz' feet he wakes up in the middle of the night and asks who she is and carries on an intense conversation with her. This shows that he is not drunk, and based on his conversation he is willing to be a redeemer, but there is someone in line before him. He could just have sex and take her as his wife, but he's too stinkin' righteous to do that, and so is Ruth!!
6. It's far more likely that uncovering his feet was so that she would cover herself with the corner of his cloak. This is why Ruth 3:9 says, "He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” She was most likely already symbolically pulling the wing of his garment over her. Just as the woman who was bleeding touched the hem of Christ's garment and was healed (Matthew 9:20-22) because there is "healing in his wings" (Malachi 4:2)." Ruth will find "rest" and healing in the wings of Boaz, but not just yet. There is a near-kinsman that has to say yay or nay.
7. I will end with 7 b/c is a number of completion :-), though there are a few smaller reasons they didn't have sex. God inspired the author to record this narrative in a way that shows Ruth is trusting in Yahweh's way and not her own. Ruth is a Moabite, and where do the Moabites come from? Right!, Lot and his two virgin daughters in Genesis 19! God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and it seemed all that was left of humanity was Lot and his two daughters. Out of fear that their lineage would end, Lot's daughters get their father drunk, sleep with him, and get pregnant. They do not trust in Yahweh like the parallel passage of Abraham in Genesis 18! They take matters into their own hands! Ruth is not going to fall in the same line as her ancestors. She is completely trusting in Yahweh. She doesn't get Boaz drunk and doesn't get pregnant by him like the daughters of Lot did. She and Boaz are righteous. The only thing Ruth makes herself vulnerable to is Boaz' rejection of her. Any guy who has asked a girl out knows that feeling! Ruth is in essence asking him to marry her. Boaz, seeing she's smellin' right and not in mourning, wants to so bad! In this passage we see that he's already inquired about her! He's already gone to Ruth's Facebook page to see if she's dating someone, which is why Boaz knows there is someone in line first. Boaz has been waiting for Ruth to leave mourning and be ready to marry. God has a little more narrative to work out first.
This is a beautiful story of trust and righteousness. It's a story of God working things out even when we don't see his mighty hand as evidently as we do in the Exodus account. Everything just happens to be coming together. *winky face*