Summary: Ruth has given up everything from her pagan past and has cast herself completely on the God of Israel. She is truly, in the words of verse 11, a “woman of noble character.”
“Pain is inevitable; misery is optional.” We learn from the Book of Ruth how to overcome bitterness and emptiness through a steadfast faith. Ruth chose a pathway that changed her life and the course of history.
We’re not sure how much time has transpired between chapters 2 & 3, but Naomi has begun to shake off some of her bitterness from the first chapter. Rather than focus only on her needs, she’s concerned for Ruth’s future. She wants Ruth to have a “home” (1), literally a “place of security and rest” provided by marriage and the hope of an heir. Naomi realizes there’s little future in gathering grain behind harvesters, living on the leftovers of others. It would be a long time before the next harvest...but Naomi has a plan, what John Piper calls “strategic righteousness.”
Naomi and Ruth’s hope rests in their “kinsman-redeemer.” When a Jewish widow was forced to sell her inherited property, it became the duty of her nearest relative to “redeem” or buy back the land. This kinsman was obligated to marry the widow and, if she was childless, have children who would be regarded as children of the deceased. These children would then gain his inheritance, and carry on his name. Boaz was a cousin of Mahlon, Ruth’s deceased husband, which made him an eligible kinsman. Plus, he’s shown interest in Ruth. She puts on her best outfit, no longer attired as a widow, so Boaz would see that she is eligible and serious.
Naomi instructs Ruth to approach Boaz privately at his threshing floor, next to his fields. Threshing floors were level areas of smooth rock or pounded earth, where harvested grain could be separated from the chaff (or husks) by being beaten, and then tossed into the air against the wind, so that the breeze blew the chaff away, leaving the heavier grain to fall straight down. Naomi’s plan is a risky one that could place Ruth in jeopardy of a potential scandal.
As the owner of the field, Boaz could have had others guard his harvested crop…but he likely enjoyed all aspects of farm life. Ruth finds Boaz, sees that he is asleep, and uncovers his feet so that he would wake up, shivering from the chill, and notice her. We know enough of Boaz’s character to know he will not take advantage of Ruth’s vulnerability.
When Boaz awakens, Ruth asks him to spread the corner of his garment over her. This was a common expression of the day, referring to the protection of marriage. To throw a garment over a woman was to claim her as one’s wife. The same word translated “garment” here is translated “wings” in 2:12, referring to the provision of God. In Ezekiel 16:8, God says to the nation of Israel, “I spread the corner of my garment over you...I gave you My solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine.”
Ruth is asking Boaz to be her kinsman-redeemer. Our kinsman-redeemer is Jesus, Who has redeemed us by sacrificially taking the penalty for our sin upon the cross. Like Boaz, He has the right to redeem, He is able to redeem, and He is willing to redeem. Jesus has purchased us with His blood, has made us His bride, and is now preparing a home for us in Heaven. He provides the security we need for this life and the next. In order to receive the covenant benefits of redemption--like Ruth--we fall at the feet of our Redeemer.
In chapter 2, Boaz assured Ruth that God will provide for her; he now becomes the answer to his own prayer. This was no accident; God was carefully directing these events. Eugene Peterson says that “this is not a love story into which two people accidentally fell, but a redemption story that God has been writing for a long time, and will continue writing.”
By her late-night request on the threshing floor, Ruth is proposing marriage (I wonder if we have any wives here who proposed to their husbands?). Naomi said to Ruth, “he will tell you what to do,” but when the time came, Ruth took the initiative and told Boaz what she wanted him to do. This may seem rather bold, yet Boaz isn’t startled or offended--in fact, he calls Ruth’s action virtuous. Ruth could have sought a younger husband (in 2:8 Boaz calls Ruth “my daughter”, suggesting that she is much younger than him). Ruth the foreigner follows Jewish custom by seeking out a kinsman as her husband. Boaz then tells her, “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier” (10). Ruth’s first kindness was leaving her homeland with Naomi. Her greater kindness was contracting a marriage within the family of Elimelech. She was under no obligation to become the wife of Mahlon’s relative.