The Story of Ruth begins in agony, and ends in ecstasy. The darkest chapter has past, but faith lays hold on the promise through sorrow and sunshine, and does not relent until faith has been made sight. Ruth, by faith, lays hold and doesn’t relinquish her hold. The Saint is one who lays hold on God, for God has first laid hold of them. God’s hand has been behind all these events, and now Ruth lays hold of God’s promise. This is the true life of faith.
Then Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee? And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor. Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do. And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do. […]Ruth 3
Summary of the Text
Naomi puts into action a plan to fulfill her duty (Cf. 1:9, 12-14) to bring rest to Ruth by appealing to Boaz to fulfill his duty as kinsman redeemer (vv1-2). That very night Boaz was holding a celebratory harvest feast (v2); Naomi instructs Ruth to wash, anoint, and adorn herself, then go in secret to Boaz’s threshing floor, mark where he would lay down to sleep, uncover his feet, and lay down at them (vv3-4). Naomi assures her that Boaz would take it from there (v4b), and Ruth assents to obeying these instruction (v5).
At the threshing floor, Boaz––after all the merry-making––lies down behind a pile of corn, and Ruth discretely makes her way to lay down at his feet (v6-7). Boaz is startled at midnight by her presence (v8). He asks who she is, and she replies that she is Ruth, and petitions him to spread his skirt over her, for he is the goel––the kinsman redeemer (v9). He blesses her and praises her for her kindness to him by seeking him out as the kinsman; instead of sporting with the young bucks, she came in unto him (v10). Boaz agrees to do what Ruth requires, and declares her a virtuous woman (v11).
Then he gives her bad news. There is one who is a closer kinsman (v12); nevertheless, Boaz vows to settle the matter first thing in the morning, and permits Ruth to lay with him until the morning (v13), she does so, but at his feet. In the early dawn, Ruth sets out to depart, Boaz requests (either in prayer or instruction to his stewards) that it not be known that a woman had been with him that night at the threshing floor (v14). Then he fills Ruth’s veil with six measures of barley; a symbolic impregnation (v15). Upon arriving at Naomi’s lodging, Ruth reports the evening’s events, and Naomi predicts that Boaz will not rest until he has brought Ruth the rest which Naomi promised at the beginning of this chapter (vv16-18).
The Strange or Virtuous Woman
Every ounce of tension in this section must be felt. This episode is laden with euphemisms and “callbacks” to other events in Scripture. We are meant to grab our hair and say, “Oh no, not again.” Ruth goes in to Boaz in a way that clearly has sexual connotations. Uncovering his feet and laying at them as if she was the grain that he would grind is a Hebrew euphemism (Cf. Deut 25:4). He is merry with wine and asleep. Ruth coming in unto him conjures up some of the worst episodes of the Bible. Ham coming in and seeing Noah’s nakedness. Lot’s daughters sleeping with their father to conceive children. There’s even a reminiscence of Potiphar’s wife grabbing hold of Joseph’s garment when Ruth asks for Boaz to spread his garment over her.
The difference here is that Ruth comes lawfully. She comes to petition her redeemer to grant salvation, to give her the rightful Seed. God had promised Abraham a Seed; a Seed that would bless the entire world. God had promised Judah a Scepter. Ruth comes in faith to Boaz in the light of that promise.
In the Hebrew ordering of the OT, Ruth comes right after Proverbs (with its many warnings about the strange woman, and its closing praise of the virtuous woman) and it leads into the Song of Solomon (with its portrait of the glory of sexual union between the Shulamite and her Beloved). Solomon asks “Who can find a virtuous woman (אֵֽשֶׁת־חַיִל) (Pro. 31:10)?” and then in the story of Ruth, Boaz answers the question, “all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman (אֵֽשֶׁת־חַיִל) (3:11).
We’re led to think Ruth is an Eve offering forbidden fruit to Boaz’s Adam. Or Noah’s son. Or Lot’s daughter. Or Balaam’s whores. But Boaz, the kinsman redeemer, surprises us: he pronounces blessing upon her, and proclaims her a virtuous woman, whose price is far above rubies. This woman is like Rahab. She is like Tamar (Gen. 38:26). She is like Sarah. She hides herself in faith under Jehovah’s wings, and then faithfully obeys all that Jehovah requires of her. She believes and she obeys.
The Threshing Floor
It shouldn’t escape our notice that this episode takes place on a threshing floor. This is where the grain would be gathered and then the ox would tread out the grain. This is the place of fertility. It would be a favorite trysting place, and in paganism a place for sexual immorality & wicked fertility rituals.
The Beloved in Solomon’s song likens the Shulamite’s belly to a heap of grain. In one of Job’s speeches, he states that if he’s sinned may his wife become another’s, and uses imagery of a threshing floor to express that curse (Job 31:10). Gideon was called to deliver Israel at a threshing floor. Later on, the destroying angel would cease at Ornan the Jebusite’s threshing floor, and that would be the place where God would tell David that the temple should be built, not by him, but by Solomon his son.
Which should lead us to see that later moment in light of this one. Why would God select a Gentile’s threshing floor for the spot to call a ceasefire on His just judgement, and then command that as the place where His name & temple should dwell? Because that is the place where righteous faith took hold of the promise that God would raise up a Conquering Seed. God indeed would come to dwell in all His glory in the midst of His people, in the incarnate Seed.
Under the wings of Boaz
In the previous chapter we saw that Ruth had come to rest under Jehovah’s wings. This is Boaz’s way of saying that by the blood of the Mercy Seat, under the cherubims’ wings, Ruth was welcomed into God’s covenant, with all its attendant promises of blessing. But now Ruth asks for Boaz to spread his skirts (the word here is the same: wings) over her.
Put simply, this is a story of covenant mercies above and below, within and without. She had come to hide under Jehovah’s wings by faith, but this covenant of grace always insisted on being incarnated. Boaz was to be a foreshadow of the incarnation of Christ. Here he’s the incarnation of Jehovah’s covenantal promises to Ruth. By vowing to be her kinsman redeemer, Boaz became the incarnation of the Lord’s redemption for Ruth. He foreshadows Christ in this vow to redeem the barren widow, and grant her the fruit she desires. As one commentator put it, “This whole scene is not about eros, but about hesed.”
Naomi’s plan was intended to bring Ruth rest. Boaz is then restless until he procures that rest. The Gospel is on display here. We are that barren and fruitless widow. The first husband could not bring about fruit, and now he was dead, utterly powerless.
But from the fall in Eden until the Resurrection, God set about to redeem His chosen people. The Lord was restless, as it were, until He secured our eternal Rest. The Lord vowed and would not relent until He secured our salvation. We come to Christ alone. We cling to Him alone. He is our rest. Would you be fruitful? Would you find rest? You must come to Christ, the mighty man, the goel, and He will raise you up. After all, He rose from the grave on the first day of the barley harvest.