As you have noticed, all three of our main characters are present in this chapter and in it we see the ‘worthy’ character of Ruth and Boaz on display here.
Up to this point in the narrative Naomi has only been only been concerned with herself. Her grief and her bitterness from losing a husband, both sons, and one daughter in law had hardened her heart and turned her inward. But it seems that over the course of the past two chapters, after witnessing and being a direct recipient of the covenant faithfulness of God that her heart has begun to soften. Through the hard work of Ruth gleaning in the fields and the gracious provision of Boaz Naomi has started to come out of her self-absorbed depression and realize that other people have needs and concerns too. Atop that list is Ruth: a young woman spending her days in hard labor is in need of a husband. Therefore, Naomi begins planning and plotting, getting strategic about how Ruth can gain a husband. But she knew Ruth was a Moabite, who would be willing to take a wife from such a wicked people group? The women of Moab were infamous for seducing the men of Israel in Numbers 25 and bringing a plague onto God’s people. To marry a Moabite would have been socially awkward and would’ve made the man who did it an outcast. Who was willing to take such a risk? Naomi zeroed in on one man – Boaz.
But to complicate things a bit more, Ruth as a woman, couldn’t just drop to one knee in the field while she was working and ask Boaz to marry her. Plus, as we leave chapter 2 and enter chapter 3 there has been about a large amount of time since the first meeting between Ruth and Boaz, and they haven’t had another her meaningful interaction that we know about. They ate together when they first met, he gave her plenty of food, a group of friends, and a job, and nothing has happened since. I’m sure you could imagine the thoughts swirling around in Ruth’s head about what was really going on between them. Well in the midst of this struggle, Naomi comes up with a plan, with a strategy, that is very risky.
This is the point in the sermon where I have to give a disclaimer: this plan Naomi gives Ruth is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Meaning that this story is only meant to tell us what happens, these events are not meant to tell us how a woman is to find a spouse.
So, what’s the strategy? Naomi walks up to Ruth and says, “Hey Ruth, I heard there’s gonna be a party tonight at the threshing floor, and you know who’s going to be there? Boaz. So, take a bathe, get all dolled up, put your face on, because every time Boaz has seen you you’re dirty and covered with barley, clean up and go to this party to see Boaz.” Some of you may be thinking that Naomi is telling Ruth to chase after Boaz and therefore also think that single women should do the same thing to the guy they like, don’t think that. Biblically speaking, a woman should never pursue a man – that’s a mans job/joy, BUT that doesn’t mean you can’t get in his way, or at least get in front of him so that he’ll notice you. That you should do, and that is exactly what Naomi is telling Ruth to do here. ‘Get in front of Boaz, look nice, smell like something other than grain, go see him, but don’t let him know you’re there until he’s done eating and drinking.’ Notice that Naomi doesn’t tell Ruth to walk up to Boaz and unload all of her emotional baggage and say, ‘We need to talk; I don’t know where we’re at in our relationship! I’m so confused! You’ve sent me mixed messages, we went on a date, we shared bread, and you don’t even call? Where are we?! Do you still like me?’ No, Ruth is going to just chill, and play it cool. She’s gonna let him be, let him eat, let him drink, let him hang with his friends, and go to him at night.
This is the risky part, Naomi says in v4, “When Boaz lies down to sleep, after he’s eaten and drank, go to him, uncover his feet and wait for him to tell you what to do.” WHAT! This is risky counsel. This is risky because remember this takes place in the days of the judges, a time when people did whatever they wanted to do. This means most folks weren’t real concerned about the morality of their actions. You can’t help but think that Naomi has lost her mind. ‘Go find Boaz after the party, he has a full stomach, he’s been drinking, it’s the middle of the night, uncover part of him, and wait for him to tell you what to do.’ It’s not hard to imagine some of things Boaz would want to do in such a situation here. What on earth is Naomi thinking? Did she really intend for Ruth to seduce Boaz? Did she intend to trap Boaz into marriage here by seeking to get Ruth pregnant? Or is Naomi simply seeking to let Boaz know Ruth is redeemable by reminding him he is one of their redeemers? Whatever Naomi is thinking here it’s incredibly risky for Ruth. Her reputation is on the line and she could be easily taken advantage of.
Well, Ruth shows her worthy character by obeying her mother-in-law. So, at the proper time Ruth freshened up and went to the threshing floor. Now, the threshing floor is where all the harvested grain is kept, and men often slept near their piles of grain so robbers wouldn’t break in and steal from them. The threshing floor was not a very clean or nice place to be. It was a common place for prostitution in Israel because the men often had large amounts of money in their pockets from the grain they’ve just sold. Boaz is there because he can’t leave his grain or someone will run off with it. So there was Boaz, asleep, and here Ruth comes, softly. She uncovers Boaz’s lower extremities and lays down.
At midnight Boaz woke up. We as readers immediately think, ‘What’s he going to say?’ Everything is now hanging on how Boaz responds to this! Will he take advantage of young Ruth? Or will he continue to show his own worthy character? Boaz turns over, notices someone lying close to him and says in v9, ‘Who are you?’ Boaz didn’t say this because he was drunk from the previous festivities; he said this because it was dark, remember light wasn’t as bright or as readily accessible as it is today. Ruth’s reponse to Boaz’s question is where Ruth diverts from Naomi’s plan. Recall, Naomi simply wants Ruth to follow his instructions at this point, but Ruth answers and says in v9b, “I am Ruth your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Asking Boaz to spread his wings over her is the same as a woman today asking a man to propose to her. Ruth is being very bold here by asking this: a woman asking a man, a Moabite asking an Israelite, an employee asking her employer, a young woman asking an older man! She’s basically saying, ‘Love me, protect me, hold me close, ask me to marry you, I’ll say yes!’ This reminds us of Boaz’s prayer in 2:12, because by coming under the wings of God for refuge, Ruth wants to be taken under the wings of Boaz. She’s asking Boaz to answer 2:12 in a deeper way now.
How does Boaz respond? What’s he going to do? No one would know if he did take advantage of her? Even if Ruth told someone what he did no one would believe the word of a Moabite over the word of an Israelite. Will Boaz think she’s trying to take advantage of him and ruin his own reputation? Boaz is a holy man, he could have her stoned, and killed, and than Naomi would have nothing left. This scene is just loaded with tension. But look at what Boaz does: he wakes up, turns over, asks who’s there, hears what Ruth is proposing and responds by saying, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” He stops the situation from escalating any higher than it already is and the first words out of his mouth are about God. This is a godly man. This is a man who doesn’t fit in with today’s modern ideas about sex and marriage. Oh how I want you men to be like Boaz here. Rather than giving in to a single night of passion he stops and directs the conversation Godward.
Notice also that in v10 Boaz makes it clear that he thinks Ruth is out of his league. He’s not the best looking man in town, his six-pack ab days are probably behind him. She could go after anyone else she wanted; yet she went after him. That Boaz calls her a worthy woman is important. In the Hebrew ordering of the Old Testament the small book of Ruth immediately follows the book of Proverbs. Anyone recall what’s at the end of Proverbs 31? Right, the description of the Proverbs 31 woman. The reason why the Hebrew order has Ruth following Proverbs is to give an example of the woman that was just described in chapter 31. So ladies and gentlemen behold the best example of the Proverbs 31 women in the young Moabite women named Ruth.
Now we reach the point in the story where the ‘oh no’ moment comes in. Boaz in v12 that there is a redeemer closer to Ruth than he is. Isn’t this a bummer? We were rooting for Boaz all this time and now another guy comes into the picture? This stinks! Boaz says, ‘It is not my job to redeem you, there’s another who’s legally obligated before me, I’m not supposed to be your guy.’ Under the OT law if a man dies, it’s his direct brother who is supposed to redeem his widowed wife. Boaz is not Mahlon’s brother. Legally, Boaz has no tie to Ruth at all. But Boaz loves Ruth and even though this is true he’ll try to fix things. Boaz tells Ruth, ‘I want to marry you, but we’re not going to break the law, you belong to someone else before me, stay here for the night next to me so no one else snatches you up in the middle of the night, leave in the morning when it’s safe, and I’ll work on this tomorrow.’ He told Ruth to stay there for the night because he knew what kind of men wandered the street at night. He then tells her to leave in the morning when everyone is sleeping to protect her reputation, so that no one would see her leaving and wonder, “What did they do last night?” Again, Boaz takes care of Ruth.
The story ends in chapter 3 the same way the story ended in chapter 2; with Boaz sending Ruth home with a ton of food. Here in chapter 3 Ruth goes home with with six measures of barley, which is 80 lbs. of grain, and says that it is specifically for her mother-in-law. Boaz takes care of not only Ruth, but her mother-in-law. Boaz had said, “Do not return to your mother in law empty.” He is still being the answer to his own prayer from 2:12. Ruth returns to find Naomi awake at this early hour of the morning. Naomi was probably up all night wondering about what happened because she was well aware that her counsel to Ruth was risky. She sees the grain and hears all that happened, and than gave more advice in v18. Naomi encourages Ruth to let Boaz figure it out. So Ruth sits back and waits for Boaz to do just that. Ladies, see the Proverbs 31 woman waiting. This shows us that you may have to wait on a man one day to figure things out, and that it’s not a bad thing to have to do.
As the risky plan of Naomi in Ruth 3 ends we’re prompted to think about risk ourselves. ‘What am I willing to risk for?’ This is a good question to ask because all of us are willing to risk pain, reputation, rejection, suffering, and embarrassment for all sorts of things. People climb mountains, work long hours, and endure a large amount of pain for many reasons. But when a Christian, when you and I think about risk a new question rises to the surface, ‘What am I willing to risk for the gospel?’
For most of us the true answer is quick and clear, ‘Not very much.’ We’re not willing to risk our families, our jobs, our salaries, our reputations, or our lives for the sake of the gospel. The most obvious proof of our unwillingness to risk for the gospel is seen in our unwillingness to share the gospel with someone else. So let me ask you, when is the last time you shared the gospel with someone else? When is the last time you called someone to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? When is last time you mentioned the glory of the cross to an unbeliever over coffee and gotten an uncomfortable look from them? When is the last time you spoke to your neighbor of the benefits they could receive from resurrection of Christ? When is the last time we warned someone of hell?
If we don’t risk for the gospel, we have to ask ‘why?’ Why am I so unwilling to risk for Christ? What do I fear? Think about this: what if Ruth heard Naomi’s plan, understood the risk of obeying her mother-in-law and said, ‘Nope, I could never do that!’ Things would look a lot different that’s for sure. The love story between Ruth and Boaz that we love so much may have never taken place. But Ruth was willing to do the hard thing, and glorious results followed her robust faith.
You may think at this point that I’ll say God took a risk in sending Jesus to do the hard thing leaving us an example of how to live risky for the gospel, but that’s not true. Risk implies ignorance, and because God knows all things God can never take a risk. The incarnation of the Son of God wasn’t a risk on God’s part, rather the incarnation took place as part of the sovereign plan of God. Therefore, because God can never take a risk, and the incarnation is part of His sovereign plan, God has wisely ordained that risk be a natural part of our response to His gospel, and that taking risks be a way we show our love for the gospel.
You see, it is God’s gift to us in His Son, His Christmas gift of glory, that should move us to risk for the gospel. For in this gospel we see a love story that’s greater than Boaz and Ruth, a love story about a greater Redeemer who like Naomi and Ruth came Bethlehem with no home to lay His head, but unlike Naomi and Ruth this greater Redeemer Jesus Christ found no Boaz to care for His needs. No, this greater Redeemer came to His own but His own did not receive Him, He was despised and rejected by men, driven out and nailed to a cross to die for sins He never committed so His people could gain a righteousness they never earned.
In view of all the work Christ has done for us from His birth to His constant intercession right now at the right hand of the Father, how can we not risk for Him? How can we remain silent with our neighbors? How can we remain silent with our friends over coffee? When we risk for Christ, we tell God not only how much we trust Him, but how much we love Him more than anything else. Having been so loved by God ourselves we must declare the praises of Jesus Christ, our great and glorious Redeemer.