My in-laws came to town last weekend so my husband and I could get away for our 21st wedding anniversary! 21 years, that’s a long time. We actually met in the year 2000, and from the moment I first saw him - I knew that he was special, he was different - and I was determined to do whatever it took to make him mine. Now, I had to be bold, because I knew I had some competition. Jedediah, as many of you can imagine, was a popular guy. In fact, I knew that a friend of mine was also kinda into him, so I had to move quickly - had to beat her to the punch!
So I devised a plan… I know ya’ll wanna know what that plan was!
First, I found out which dorm room was his - that was the easy part - AND THEN… I had to get cute. Ok, I wanted to look nice, to get his attention. Now, back then, looking nice meant wearing my nicest pair of overalls… You have to understand, I was somewhat of a cross between a punk rocker, and a hippie. I braided my hair on each side, and tied it up in a little handkerchief, a little bandana - and then I put on my favorite body spray, which was actually called “Love Spell.” For real! I used to wear “Love Spell!” Some of ya’ll ladies may remember…the purple bottle.
And this was no little one spritz fancy perfume, this was a whole body spray, so you sprayed that stuff until you were walking in a cloud of Love Spell. I wanted him to be able to smell me approaching!
So now I’m looking cute. I’m smelling good. And I go to his dorm room, but only after I can tell that he’s fallen asleep. And as soon as I hear him turn off that NBA 2k video game, I know he’s about to call it a night.
So I waited a few more minutes, until I was certain that he was asleep. And then… I went in. Looking cute, smelling fresh, I went right up to his bed… and I UNCOVERED HIS FEET. And he was startled awake! The moment he realized it was me standing there, do you know what he said??
He said “Get out of my room before I call the police.”
Which is exactly what he would’ve said, if any part of that story were true! It’s not true. I made it up. Well, most of it anyway. I did have a mad crush on Jedediah, and some fierce competition in the beginning - Heather, if you’re watching… 21 years… I win…
Heather and I are still good friends, by the way.
And it is true that overalls and a classic bandanna were kind of my trademark fashion statement - Oh! AND, I DID drench myself in Lovespell in the early 2000’s.
But no, I did not sneak into his dorm and uncover his feet - because that would have been very bizarre - but as we’ll see in today’s text - that strategy worked out pretty well - for Ruth.
So turn with me in your Bibles to Ruth chapter 3, that’s page 226 if you’re using the house Bible. This is the 3rd week in our series all about the book of Ruth. And I have to admit, I’ve never taken as deep of a dive into this little book as I have over the past few weeks! I think for most of my life, I sort of assumed that I knew all that I needed to know about the story of Ruth.
As a kid growing up in church, the lesson was: “Be loyal. Be like Ruth.. Don’t cut and run when things get tough, be a real one, be like Ruth. And always be loyal to your mother-in-law. - And God will bless you.” And for a long time, that’s what I thought the story was about. Loyalty.
Later in life, I picked up on how the author describes Ruth’s work ethic. We read about that last week in chapter 2. Ruth was determined to make a life for herself and her mother-in-law Naomi. She worked hard all day, gathering grain in the fields. And she only took one break! A short break. So the moral of the story then became, ‘Be a hard worker. Be like Ruth. Work hard with determination - and God will bless you.”
But then, as I got older, the book of Ruth was often presented to me as a love story. This book, especially among women, became all about how to find God’s perfect match for you. I used to hear that alot, ladies would talk about ‘finding their Boaz.’ So the moral was “Be like Ruth, be loyal, work hard, and you’ll find your Boaz??”
I mean, it is a love story. But it’s not that kind of love story.
Because as we’ve seen over the past 2 weeks, the story of Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi is really about that unseen 4th character. It’s a story that points back to God. Yes, it IS a love story with themes of loyalty, hard work, and determination. But it’s God’s love story - that describes His loyalty to His people, His work - behind the scenes, and His love and kindness - love for the foreigner, the widow, and ultimately, for all of mankind.
Two weeks ago, Barry kicked off this series by asking the question:
• WHERE IS GOD, WHEN IT SEEMS ALL HOPE IS LOST?
In chapter one, both Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi find themselves widowed and destitute. And since there were no children born to carry on the family name, these two women, Ruth and Naomi, were facing a dismal and uncertain future. That’s where chapter one ends, it ends in uncertainty:
WHERE IS GOD, WHEN IT SEEMS ALL HOPE IS LOST?
Barry invited us in that first week to really lean into those questions. To do what Naomi did and engage WITH God, to wrestle with God instead of walking away when it seems like things are falling apart.
He said to go ahead and “Shake your fist at God. Lean into that relationship. But as you do, be confident that He is working, even if you can’t see it.”
And last week, Tim gave us examples of exactly that! God working on behalf of his children, even when his children were unaware!
In chapter 2 we could see clearly that God, the 4th character in the story, had been busy at work all along, laying the groundwork that would ultimately take Ruth and Naomi’s tragic situation, and turn it around for good.
• Because it was God who demanded generosity toward foreigners and widows.
• It was God who made the rules for harvesting, that would provide for Ruth and Naomi in their poverty. Because God cares for foreigners and widows.
• And it was God who divinely led Ruth to the field of Boaz. Of all the fields she could’ve chosen - as it happened - she chose to work in the field of someone she didn’t even realize had the power to redeem her life.
And that’s where we left off in chapter 2. Ruth is working hard, gathering grain in Boaz’ field. And Boaz is showing her extraordinary favor! He admires her for her loyalty. He makes sure that both she and Naomi have plenty to eat. He even prays a prayer of blessing over Ruth! He says:
“ May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” Ruth 2:12
This is where we pick up the story in chapter 3. Things are going pretty good for Ruth. But Naomi desires something more permanent, for her beloved daughter-in-law.
So read along with me, in Ruth chapter 3, starting at verse one:
One day Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for. Ruth 3:1
Now, right away, let’s pause here. Because depending on what translation you have, Naomi’s words may read ‘so that it may be well with you.’ or ‘shall I not seek rest’ or ‘seek security’ for you?
I like the way the Message Bible translates this verse, it says:
“My dear daughter, isn’t it about time I arranged a good home for you so you can have a happy life? “
In the ancient world, it was customary for parents to arrange marriages for their children, and Naomi knew that she was all Ruth had. So she felt it was her duty to find a suitable husband for her widowed daughter-in-law.
Naomi wanted to see to it that Ruth was settled, provided for and protected. Because it was one thing for Ruth - the widowed Moabite foreigner - to be in Bethlehem alongside hometown girl Naomi. But if anything were to happen to Naomi, that would leave Ruth alone to fend for herself in a foreign land. And that would be a very dangerous situation for a vulnerable outsider like Ruth. Naomi knew that the only way to ensure that Ruth would be cared for, was to find her a husband who could ensure her safety and security.
----And she already had somebody in mind.
We read in verse 2:
2 Boaz is a close relative of ours, and he’s been very kind by letting you gather grain with his young women. Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor. 3 Now do as I tell you—take a bath and put on perfume and dress in your nicest clothes. Then go to the threshing floor, but don’t let Boaz see you until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 Be sure to notice where he lies down; then go and uncover his feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.”
And Ruth says:
5 “I will do everything you say.”
Now we gotta talk about Naomi for a minute. Naomi was a woman with a plan! She knew exactly where Boaz would be that night, and what he would be doing. She knew that he would be winnowing barley that evening.
So she tells her daughter-in-law, Ruth, to go take a bath, and put on perfume and wear her good clothes!
It is more than likely that, in addition to not looking or smelling good, from working in a field all day - in a pre-deoderant world, it’s likely that Ruth would’ve also still been wearing her mourning garments. In traditional Judaism, mourners wear clothing that indicates to others that they’ve suffered a deep loss and are grieving. It tells the world around them to give them space because they’re in mourning. And traditionally, this mourning period lasts for an entire year!
But Naomi was adamant that it was time for her daughter-in-law to move forward.
She instructed Ruth to go down to the threshing floor, where Boaz was working - but not to let him see her! She was to wait until he had finished eating and drinking, and then, to take careful notice of where he lay down to sleep.
The annual harvest was a joyful, celebratory time. It represented God’s abundant provision for His people. Folks down at the threshing floor weren’t just working, they were celebrating the abundant harvest. But celebrating and grieving don’t go hand in hand in Jewish tradition. It was customary back then, (and still is in many places) for Jewish mourners to abstain from outward displays of celebration during their year of mourning. That means avoiding any kind of celebration altogether.
That may also have been why Naomi told Ruth to put on her nicest clothes. If you’re attempting to sneak into a celebration, you can’t be wearing your grieving clothes! You’ll stick out like a sore thumb! People will notice you! Naomi insisted that Ruth fly under the radar, and watch from a distance until she saw Boaz lie down.
All she had to do was uncover his feet and lay down.
Now, it isn’t clear where this idea came from. This wasn’t a known custom of the time - to just go lay down at some guy’s feet. But I have to admire Ruth’s unflinching response:
“I’ll do everything you say.”
This woman LOVES her mother-in-law! And apparently she trusts her with her life.
Let’s keep reading in verse 6:
6 So she went down to the threshing floor that night and followed the instructions of her mother-in-law.
7 After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. 8 Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! 9 “Who are you?” he asked.
Now watch what happens next. Ruth just executed the plan perfectly! She did everything Naomi told her to do. The next thing Naomi said would happen, was that Boaz would just ‘tell her what to do.’ But it seems that not everything went exactly according to Naomi’s plan. Because Boaz doesn’t wake up and immediately tell Ruth what to do. Instead, he asks her a question - who are you? This question wasn’t part of the plan, so Ruth goes off script a little. But what she says is profound. She answers in verse 9:
“I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.” Ruth 3:9
Boaz would have recognized immediately what she meant by ‘spread the corner of your covering over me.’ For a man to ‘spread the corner of his garment ’ over a woman meant to claim her as a wife.
There’s a prophecy in Ezekiel 16 that uses this same phrase. This prophecy depicts God as a loving, compassionate, and protective husband, who says of Himself in Ezekiel
“... I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.” Ezek. 16:8 NIV
This is what it meant for Ruth to ask Boaz to spread the corner of his covering over her.
This was essentially a marriage proposal. But she was using Boaz’ own words in her appeal.
Remember how in chapter 2, Boaz prayed that prayer of blessing over Ruth -
“ May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” Ruth 2:12
Ruth uses the same word here in her proposal - that word for wings. The word is Kan-naf, and in it’s singular form, it does mean garment or coat or covering, but in the plural form it means ‘WINGS.’
Ruth is echoing Boaz’ prayer back to him - asking him if he will allow her to take refuge under HIS wings. She identifies him as her ‘kinsman redeemer’ or ‘family redeemer,’ meaning he legally has the power to save her from destitution, and rescue her from a bitter life of poverty. She wants him to ‘cover her’ - to save her - to redeem her.
Take a look at the way Boaz responds to Ruth’s request. He answers her in verse 10:
10 “The LORD bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed. “You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor.
Now I want to pause here, because Boaz says something significant. He tells Ruth that she is showing even more ‘family loyalty’ now than before. Other translations use the word ‘kindness’ here. The Hebrew word Boaz used is Hesed. It’s another way of describing love - more specifically the concept of ‘Loyal Love.’
This word “Hesed” can be difficult to translate because it combines the ideas of generosity, mercy, promise keeping, kindness, loyalty, and deep personal care all into one incredibly powerful word!
I put a video link in the app notes for those of you who are interested in taking a deeper dive into this concept of Hesed. It’s a cool video, you should check it out.
But for now, it’s important for us to recognize that the kind of ‘Loyal Love’ that Boaz is identifying in Ruth, is the same kind of Loyal Love that God uses to describe himself! In Exodus 34, God says of himself:
Exodus 34:6 & 7
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
He says, “I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love - hesed.
I lavish hesed to a thousand generations.”
And here in Ruth chapter 3, Boaz tells Ruth that she has shown even more Hesed now, by choosing him, one of Naomi’s family members, to carry on her family name, than she did by leaving her entire country behind to follow Naomi to a foreign land! Boaz is essentially saying to Ruth, ‘I see the character of God in you!’ That’s powerful!!
And it’s interesting, because in the chapter before this one, Naomi praises Boaz for his kindness, his Hesed. She sees the character of God in him! And this week Boaz has the same praise for Ruth, praising her for her family loyalty, her Hesed. He sees the character of God in her.
Reading on in verse 11, there’s another clever play on words here! Boaz comforts Ruth with these words, saying:
11 Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman.
That word ‘virtuous,’ used to describe Ruth, is the same word used to describe Boaz in chapter 2. It’s a word that means “wealth, or substance. Strength - and virtue.”
Both Boaz the Israelite, and Ruth the Moabite were people of substance! Virtuous people! Their backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. Their circumstances couldn’t have been more different. But their inward character was the same. It was like that of God - full of loyal love. Ruth AND Boaz were virtuous people.
Now, this is important, because I’ve heard some people try to suggest that this whole scene between Ruth and Boaz on the threshing floor was something covertly sexual, or inappropriate.
But I’m convinced that those who want to see this as some kind of scandalous sexual thing, are just projecting their 21st century ideas of modern romance onto a story that took place in an ancient honor based society. And it doesn’t fit.
There’s nothing in the text that indicates that anything improper took place that night between the two. Boaz was a man of virtue, and throughout the story we never see him take advantage of Ruth, or treat her improperly. In fact, we see him go out of his way to honor Ruth, and to protect her honor.
And I’ll tell you what - if something inappropriate did take place that night - I think the writer would’ve told us! The Bible is brutally honest. It doesn’t shy away from the truth. And there are plenty of examples in the Bible, of people doing the wrong thing, plenty of unflattering stories - even about some of its greatest heroes! Hello? King David? Alright, the Bible is gonna tell your business! It’s gonna let everybody know.
And it doesn’t indicate that anything improper took place here. And that’s why, I believe, that when the author tells us that Ruth and Boaz were both virtuous people - we can let go of our frivolous desire to try to turn this beautiful story into some sort of salacious scandal.
The next verse will show what I mean. If Boaz wanted to, he could’ve taken advantage of Ruth who was literally throwing herself at his feet, in the middle of the night, with no one around. He could have skirted the system, and claimed her as his wife in a moment of passion! But, Boaz is so upright, look what he says in verse 12, he says:
12 …While it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. 13 Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you. But if he is not willing, then as surely as the LORD lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.”
14 So Ruth lay at Boaz’s feet until the morning, but she got up before it was light enough for people to recognize each other. For Boaz had said, “No one must know that a woman was here at the threshing floor.” 15 Then Boaz said to her, “Bring your cloak and spread it out.” He measured six scoops[a] of barley into the cloak and placed it on her back. Then he[b] returned to the town.
Boaz is a virtuous man of great character. Even though it’s clear that he wants to marry Ruth, and he WANTS to be her family redeemer - he knows that there’s another guy in front of him. There’s a closer relative - and by law, it would be THAT GUY’S responsibility to marry Ruth. Boaz knows that despite his desires for Ruth, he has to do the right thing and go through the proper channels.
16 When Ruth went back to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “What happened, my daughter?”
Ruth told Naomi everything Boaz had done for her, 17 and she added, “He gave me these six scoops of barley and said, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’”
18 Then Naomi said to her, “Just be patient, my daughter, until we hear what happens. The man won’t rest until he has settled things today.”
And that is how chapter 3 ends. “Just be patient, my daughter, until we hear what happens.”
Don’t you love a good cliff hanger?!
The chapter ends in uncertainty. Boaz is uncertain if he will be able to take Ruth as his wife. And Ruth is uncertain of which man will become her family redeemer. Things are in limbo. But Naomi is certain of one thing: Boaz will not rest until he has settled the matter by the end of the day!
So where do we find ourselves in this 3rd chapter? Where do we find ourselves this week, in the middle of the story? What’s the takeaway?
Well, as I was sitting in this chapter, and putting myself in the story, I kept going back to the moment where Ruth lays herself at the feet of Boaz. Boaz is very much a Christ figure in this story. He provides, generously and abundantly. He protects. So much so that Ruth knew she could seek refuge under his wings, under his covering.
I was struck by Tim’s message last week, when he described the picture of what it meant to come under someone’s ‘wings.’
He said the image is that of a tiny bird, who takes refuge under the wings of a very large mother bird, who is of another breed. Right now, this is what I find myself longing for. Covering.
How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings…
That’s where I find myself. I am Ruth at Boaz’ feet. I’m the little bird seeking shelter. And Jesus is my covering - that much larger bird, calling back to me “I will cover you with my feathers, I will shelter you with my wings.”
Psalm 91 says
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty...
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings. Psalm 91:1 & 4
He will cover you.
He will shelter you.
These are promises, and our God, in his Loyal Love, in His Hesed, keeps his promises.
There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on in our world right now. Both in our own little world, and in the world at large.
• Many of us, like Ruth and Naomi, have suffered devastating loss. Many of us are still in our ‘year of mourning’ even if that loss happened many years ago.
• Many of us are facing uncertainty in a rapidly changing world.
o Financial uncertainty
o Unsure of what the future will look like
• Many of us feel helpless as we desperately pray for peace in our world, and for wars to cease
• Many of us are in our own season of waiting - waiting for answers, waiting for outcomes, waiting for justice to prevail. Waiting to know how this will all end…
And in my mind, I can hear Naomi’s final charge to Ruth echoing loudly,
“Just be patient, my daughter, until we hear what happens.”
Just be patient my child. Literally translated, it says “Sit still.”
Many of us are familiar with that scripture in Psalm 46
“Be still and know that I am God.”
Well let me read that reference for you, with a few scriptures around it for context:
The nations are in chaos,
and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders,
and the earth melts!
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.
Come, see the glorious works of the LORD:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.
Just be patient, my daughter, until we see what happens.
Be still, and know that I am God.
Our God keeps his promises! Just be patient.
In the same way that Boaz poured out his abundant blessings of grain over Ruth and Naomi, our God, our Redeemer pours out His abundant blessings of kindness and grace over our lives.
And in the same way that Ruth could boldly approach the feet of Boaz, and make her request known, so we can boldly approach our God - in our season of waiting - in our uncertainty - in our pain - in our desperation -
Hebrews 4:16 tells us to
…Come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. NLT
Because our God is a God of deep compassion and generosity, His Loyal Love, His Hesed is forever! He is who He says He is! He is slow to anger, and full of unfailing love and faithfulness, and we WILL find rest beneath the shelter of His wings. And oh how he longs to gather his children there, as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings…
Be still. Be still and know that He is God!
As we place ourselves in the middle of this story - as we wait, in the uncertainty, as we face the unknown - We can wait, with the confidence of Naomi! She knew - Boaz was going to work it out, and he would not rest until he did.
Our God, who watches over us, does not slumber or sleep. He lavishes unfailing love to a thousand generations.
His loyal love, His Hesed, endures forever - because it is who He is!! And He endures forever!
Oh that we would put our trust in the Lord, and speak with confidence the words of
I praise your name for your (Hesed)! Your unfailing love and faithfulness;
for your promises are backed
by all the honor of your name.
The LORD will work out his plans for my life—
for your (Hesed) Your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever.