Ruth 3 – “ A Decent Proposal”
By James Galbraith
First Baptist Church, Port Alberni
July 1, 2007
Ru 3:1 One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? 2 Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”
Ru 3:5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.
Ru 3:7 When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 In the middle of the night something startled the man, and he turned and discovered a woman lying at his feet.
Ru 3:9 “Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.”
Ru 3:10 “The LORD bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character. 12 Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. 13 Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the LORD lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.”
Ru 3:14 So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, “Don’t let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.”
Ru 3:15 He also said, “Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.” When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and put it on her. Then he went back to town.
Ru 3:16 When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?”
Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her 17 and added, “He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’ ”
Ru 3:18 Then Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”
Introduction – Popping the Question
Today’s message circles around that most romantic event, the proposal of marriage.
But what makes a marriage proposal so romantic, so special?
It could be the fact that it is the start of a life-long commitment.
It could be that it is such an expression of love.
It might be the drama that surrounds it.
But for the sake of our time here today,
I want to think about the uncertainty of it all.
For some, it may be a stab in the dark,
and for others it may seem a done deal,
but in almost all cases it is a question,
and a question that can go one of two ways – yes or no.
When the man asks, he is taking a chance that the woman may say no.
He hopes that she will say yes, but until it happens he can’t be 100% sure.
He is acting in faith.
Remember that – hold onto that thought.
Now, I have heard of some marriage proposals that are real humdingers. Some men propose with banners dragged behind airplanes, others post billboard on busy roads and a few go to even greater lengths to creatively ask for the hand of their bride-to-be.
A friend of mine just recently surprised his fiancé by flying her to New York for a show, and then a horse-drawn carriage ride in Central Park. The driver took them to a lake, where my friend knelt down on 1 knee and popped the question - and then my friend forgot his wallet to pay the driver
I think I kind of blew it. I proposed to Lori on Christmas morning, in the guest room of my parent’s house. You see, giving her the ring on Christmas day ensured that I didn’t have to but any other presents!
Now before you think too low of me for this, I will say in my defence that Lori must have been thinking the same thing, ‘cause she had my ring ready too! We both slipped them on as signs that we were each others, even though we were not officially married yet.
And really, that was a good enough present for each of us, that year anyway.
The marriage proposal we see before us today is a lesson in pursuing a goal despite many risks, and of God’s continuing blessing of those who will love and honour him.
It begins with the concern of a mother in law, a force to be reckoned with in any context.
Naomi is glad that her daughter in law Ruth has been able to bring home such a large amount of grain over the course of the harvest. It is a real treasure, and will sustain the two of them for some time to come.
She knows that Boaz, the owner of the fields Ruth has worked on, has been remarkably generous to Ruth. He’s let her work as hard as she can gleaning, or picking up scraps of grain, from dawn to dusk every day of the harvest.
In fact, his generosity has gone so far that it’s hard to not see some sort of love interest at the heart of his actions. Letting her work is one thing, but he’s actually given her gifts to take home, let her eat at his table and basically afforded her the same rights as family while she’s working in the fields.
If he treated all those who gleaned his fields this way, he’d be gleaned out of house and home!
However, if he is romantically inclined toward Ruth, he hasn’t made it publicly known. And now that the harvest is drawing to a close, Naomi decides it’s time to get proactive about getting this two married.
Remember that this is the best of all outcomes for Ruth, who otherwise would have to glean every harvest for years to come in order to just get by.
Naomi’s not just some meddling mother in law, she’s looking out for Ruth’s very best interests by doing this.
She conspires with Ruth to put together a plan to let Boaz know that Ruth is willing to be married to him.
The short of it is that Ruth is to do herself up as pretty as she can, get Boaz alone away from all the others and essentially offer herself to him - trusting that he will take the bait and move ahead with marriage.
However, the sense of the words used for all this just doesn’t make it through the process of translation. What we read is accurate, but we miss the nuances the readers would have caught instantly.
This really is harlequin romance language at its best. It starts off fairly tame - the dressing up is not only for attractiveness, it is also for warmth - she is going to be out all night on this engagement.
And putting on perfume would enhance her image, as only higher class people would usually be able to afford such an item.
But the idea of “meeting on the threshing floor” was pretty loaded - it’s a lot like parking in Lover’s Lane or sneaking into the hayloft - a setting for a romantic encounter. It would have raised a few eyebrows as people heard this story unfold.
“Uncovering a man’s feet”, in this type of setting, was often a sign that you were ready for sexual intercourse. This doesn’t mean that Ruth was prepared to go that far on this encounter, but she is definitely making the statement that she is ready to marry him and be his partner.
It is also a gesture of trust , that she knows that she can make herself vulnerable to him and not be taken advantage of. Before we read on though, we must see that the original readers would have seen that as a real possibility, and how this tension adds suspense to the story.
Ruth proceeds with the plan, ending up waiting on the threshing floor for Boaz, who’s at dinner with the others. The fact that he leaves the dinner “in good spirits” can mean that he’s enjoyed some good wine, especially since the sentence mentions food and drink.
But it can also mean he’s feeling satisfied inside at how everything’s gone. The harvest is in, the returns are good, and there’s this new girl on the field that he’s really taken a shining too.
I remember that feeling. The first flush of love when you know that the girl you’re after is a good one, and there’s a good chance you’re gonna get her.
I can even relate feeling that way after leaving a good meal - Lori and I had just left a wedding reception the night I asked her to be my girlfriend!
After leaving the reception I drove to a Safeway Superstore which was open to midnight. I left her in the car half sleep as I bought 8 roses - two of each colour - pink for happiness, white for purity, yellow for friendship and red for love. I drove out to a secluded spot on the ocean and the rest is history.
And by the way, we didn’t even kiss for a month after we “went steady”
ANYWAY, Boaz ends up sleeping on the other end of threshing floor that Ruth has hid herself close to.
She sneaks up to him, pulls the end of the blanket off his feet and lies down.
It doesn’t actually say that she pulls the blanket over herself - and she probably hasn’t, since she asks Boaz to do so once he wakes up.
And there they lay. In the dark night passers-by would have seen nothing but two figures sleeping on the floor. This was to be expected - men slept with the harvest to guard against theft by bandits.
Furthermore, Ruth dressed for warmth, so she’s bundled up in blankets and unrecognisable as a woman from any significant distance.
We read that something startled Boaz out of his sleep - I’m betting the air got cold enough that his feet started to feel the cold.
He looks down to find a woman sleeping at his feet.
That he didn’t recognize her as Ruth right away is understandable, considering he’s just been woken in the middle of the night –
I used to confuse the kids for Lori at three in the morning,
when they were young enough to climb into our bed!
Ruth is ready to respond - which may mean she hasn’t fallen to sleep yet. She comes right out and proposes marriage.
Her invitation to “spread the garment over her” was a common invitation to marriage from brides-to-be to their suitors.
And she is smart enough to add a reason for him to accept her proposal - the fact that he is a kinsmen redeemer.
This is a relative of a deceased husband who can marry the widow so that she can bear a child to carry on the family name of the dead husband.
This seems a little barbaric to our view, but in the time of writing it was very common and usually that best thing that could happen for the widow.
It was also the only way to carry on the family name if the man had no sons. Again, we may not relate - but to lose your family name forever was a tremendous fear of the Israelis.
Boaz has probably realized by now that he could be a “kinsman-redeemer” for Ruth. People in small town Israel knew everything about everyone else’s families – genealogy was central to Jewish life.
I’m betting that he was aware of his status and was waiting for a sign from Ruth that she was interested in him, because in his reply he is both excited and cautious.
There must be some age gap, for he calls her daughter and refers to her age in responding. Her invitation stirs his heart, because he had been thinking that she would want some other strapping young man.
But he’s so excited about the possibility of marriage that he considers this invitation a kinder deed than Ruth’s care for Naomi - this is the “earlier kindness” he refers to in verse 10.
He affirms that he’s ready, willing and able - but with one caution.
He’s aware of another relative of Ruth’s deceased husband who is a closer relative that he.
For him to already know this is why I think that he has already been thinking about marrying Ruth.
If he was to push ahead any marry Ruth without consulting the other man he would be breaking the law. If they married and the other man made a fuss, the marriage could be cancelled and worse.
Boaz will not jeopardise their future by getting off to a bad start,
so he warns her to be patient.
He will find a way to confront this relative peaceably and win her hand.
If, however, the relative claimed his right, he could have Ruth and Boaz would lose her forever. That is the chance they will have to take to make sure that things are done right.
So the two have confirmed their love, but the outcome is not assured by any means. They stay together the night on the threshing floor, but there is nothing in the text to suggest that they did anything but sleep closely to each other. If anything, the language suggests that they didn’t.
Biblical writers do not hesitate to explain when a sexual encounter takes place between people, and there is no sign of that here.
Also, what we are told of Boaz’s character shows that he was a man of integrity, and could wait until he and Ruth were legally married.
They awake at the earliest light, when the shadows are longest and it’s almost harder to see than in the night. Boaz gives her a large amount a grain to take home.
This gift does two things: it sends a signal to Naomi that Ruth’s venture has gone well and Boaz will pursue redeeming her daughter-in-law through marriage.
Boaz has been very aware of Naomi through all this and constantly caring for her through caring for Ruth.
How’s THAT for a potential son-in-law?
He’s sending presents home before the wedding!
It is also a device to guard Ruth in case she comes across any one on her walk home. Carrying a load of grain would lead people to think that she had been working all late, fell asleep on the fields, and was now coming home.
The size of the load would add weight to this - it was easily 50 pounds and probably more. Such a bounty would have taken all night to thresh and prepare!
Making it home, Ruth tells all to Naomi. It is easily the best news she’s heard in a long, long time.
She understands the risk of the other kinsman redeemer - she probably already knew of him too. But she’s confident that all will go well.
They will all soon find out.
This is an exciting chapter of the story of Ruth and Naomi,
but does it gives us anything to live by?
Imagine what would have happened if Naomi had remained in the depression she expressed at the end of chapter one.
She was in such bitter states that she wanted her friends to call her “Mara” - which refers to bitterness. She thought God was against her and she was ready to just sit and rot.
By this point in the story, however, she’s a new woman.
Wanting the best for Ruth, she puts together a risky plan to get Boaz’s attention and hopefully his pledge of marriage.
This plan could have blown up in their faces.
Ruth could have refused to go,
but instead she follows out her instructions to the letter.
Boaz could have been outraged at Ruth’s forwardness,
but instead he’s delighted.
Ruth could have been sighted and accused of seducing an older man,
but she travels un-accosted to the field and home again.
And now they both await the outcome of the coming day - a day where Boaz will do his very best to win the hand of Ruth in marriage.
Making it this far was a combination of many things.
Ruth’s hard work, faithfulness to Naomi though hard times and her strong character which impressed Boaz so deeply.
Naomi’s knowledge and wisdom, and her ability to put the past behinds her when the hope ahead was so much brighter.
Boaz’s kindness and willingness to be so generous to two women that the world saw as poor, helpless widows but that he saw so differently.
All of the plans lead up to the main event, the encounter on the threshing floor.
Imagine what would have happened if Ruth had backed out,
or if Naomi would have not risked making the plan,
or if Boaz had been unwilling to take a chance with this other relative.
It could have all fizzled out.
All because someone wasn’t willing to take a chance, make a step of faith or do something risky.
Imagine that indeed, what we all would have lost.
Now look around here and imagine what can happen if we’re not willing to take a chance as a church.
Or if we sit here and wait for others to take a chance.
Or if we assume we’ve done enough and expect others to take chances.
If we want to see things happen we have to step out in faith.
And THAT MEANS TAKING A CHANCE.
We take them at work, we take them in relationships,
we take them everyday we drive a car or walk out the front door,
and if want to see our church do well and thrive we have to take them here too.
And to those who have taken many chances already,
I remind you that the sum of all the chances taken already is zero if we sit back and do nothing now.
The work done before us is a mighty work,
but God didn’t build a “coast” gear into any church’s transmission.
There are so many people to reach out to with God’s love,
Who’s going to take a chance and call them or invite them or simply share with them?
There are so many things that can happen when we place ourselves in a position where we need faith, so who’s going to take that chance?
Naomi and Ruth acted in faith, taking a chance and trusting God.
Boaz acted in faith, taking a chance and trusting God.
Where in our lives can we take a chance, act in faith and trust God?
Faith does nothing if you don’t put it to work it.
Faith can do amazing things if you let it.