Naomi Instructs Ruth, 1-5

3:1 At that time, Naomi, her mother-in-law, said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you so you will be secure. 3:2 Now Boaz, with whose female servants you worked, is our close relative. Look, tonight he is winnowing barley at the threshing floor. 3:3 So bathe yourself, rub on some perfumed oil, and get dressed up. Then go down to the threshing floor. But don’t let the man know you’re there until he finishes his meal. 3:4 When he gets ready to go to sleep, take careful notice of the place where he lies down. Then go, uncover his legs, and lie down beside him. He will tell you what you should do.” 3:5 Ruth replied to Naomi, “I will do everything you have told me to do.”

“Winnowing barley on the threshing floor” – ‘In this process grain was separated from the husks by being trodden out by animals. Then the mixture was thrown into the air against a stiff breeze, so that the wind blew the chaff away while the heavier grain fell more or less straight down. Threshing-floors were usually situated in exposed positions, so that they could catch the breeze (it was the measure of Gideon’s fear and desperation that he chose to beat out his wheat in a winepress, a most unsuitable location, Jud 6:11). It seems curious that Boaz should engage in this work at night. Perhaps there were unusual weather conditions with a stiff night breeze. More probably we should understand “hallaylah” as “the evening” rather than “the night”…After work ceased the grain must be guarded. Perhaps Boaz did not do this in person every night, and this may be the force of Naomi’s “tonight”.’ (Leon Morris)

‘As a foreigner, Ruth may have thought that Naomi’s advice was odd. But Ruth followed the advice because she knew Naomi was kind, trustworthy, and filled with moral integrity. Each of us knows a parent, older friend, or relative who is always looking out for our best interests. Be willing to listen to the advice of those older and wiser than you are. The experience and knowledge of such a person can be invaluable. Imagine what Ruth’s life would have been like if she ignored her mother-in-law.’ (Life Application Bible)

Ruth Visits Boaz, 6-16a

3:6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law had instructed her to do. 3:7 When Boaz had finished his meal and was feeling satisfied, he lay down to sleep at the far end of the grain heap. Then Ruth crept up quietly, uncovered his legs, and lay down beside him. 3:8 In the middle of the night he was startled and turned over. Now he saw a woman lying beside him! 3:9 He said, “Who are you?” She replied, “I am Ruth, your servant. Marry your servant, for you are a guardian of the family interests.”

Under the Levirate law (referred to by Naomi in 1:11-13), when a man died childless his brother was bound to raise an heir to him by the widow. This law extended to the next of kin, hence Naomi’s plan. Ruth, by her action in verse 7, was claiming this right. It is complicated by the fact that Boaz is not in fact Elimelech’s closest kinsman, but he promises to take up her case.

Did Ruth seduce Boaz?

Ruth 3:6 [Ruth] went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law had instructed her to do. 3:7 When Boaz had finished his meal and was feeling satisfied, he lay down to sleep at the far end of the grain heap. Then Ruth crept up quietly, uncovered his legs, and lay down beside him. 3:8 In the middle of the night he was startled and turned over. Now he saw a woman lying beside him! 3:9 He said, “Who are you?” She replied, “I am Ruth, your servant. Marry your servant, for you are a guardian of the family interests.”

Modern readers (and commentators) often assume that Ruth seduced Boaz.  The line of reasoning might be:

  • It was harvest time – widely regarded as a time of fertility rites.
  • Boaz drunk so much wine that he was inebriated, or, at least, vulnerable to temptation.
  • Ruth took advantage of this to seduce him, and force him into marriage.
  • The reference to Boaz’ ‘feet’ is a euphemistic reference to his male reproductive organ.

Charles Halton advances the theory that Naomi’s plan was for Ruth to seduce Boaz:-

‘The setting is harvest season, the time when men leave their villages to camp beside piles of grain as they reap and thresh them. They worked all day and relaxed with wine and prostitutes at night (Hos 9:1). Naomi tells Ruth to wash, put on her best clothes, and wait for nightfall. Ruth is to seek Boaz, the field’s owner, uncover his “feet” in his intoxicated slumber, and then do whatever he tells her. In essence, Naomi tells Ruth to put her physical safety and reputation on the line in an attempt to sexually entrap an inebriated man. The logic was that if Ruth became pregnant with Boaz’s baby, he would then be forced to take them both in. Against all expectations, Ruth agrees.’

But then, according to Halton, Ruth decided to do use transparency, rather than trickery, and so her behaviour represents a marriage proposal, rather than an attempt at seduction.

Halton’s is a most peculiar theory, especially coming as it does from a web site that is devoted to presenting the results of modern biblical scholarship to a wider audience.  The text does not say that Naomi urged Ruth to seduce Boaz.  It does not say that Boaz was drunk (indeed, the conversation he has with Ruth strongly suggests that he was sober).  It does not say that Ruth did anything other than follow Naomi’s instructions.

In response:

  • We can infer from the text that Boaz was drunk, only that he was in a good mood and feeling drowsy at the end of feasting.
  • There are no sexual overtone to Ruth lying at Boaz’ feet; rather he was startled to find her there during the night.  This is not the reaction of a man who has just had sexual intercourse with a woman!
  • The biblical writers are not shy of saying when such seduction does take place (such as in the case of David and Bathsheba).
  • Ruth’s request to ‘spread the corner of your garment over me’ is idiomatic for a request for marriage.  Similar imagery is seen in Deut 27:20; Eze 16:8; Mal 2:16. See also Ruth 2:12.
  • Some Arabs, to this very day, have the practice of a man throwing a garment over a woman he has decided to take as his wife.  The gesture symbolises protectiveness, as well as a willingness to enter into sexual intimacy with the woman.
  • ‘Boaz had prayed in Ruth 2:12 that Ruth might be rewarded by the Lord under whose wings she had taken refuge. Ruth now essentially asked Boaz to answer his own prayer, for “garmentcover” and “wing” are from a similar root in Hebrew.’ (HSB)
  • ‘Ruth’s reason for this action is expressed in her appeal to Boaz as a “kinsman-redeemer.” That is a legal status. Under Jewish law, then, her request was not particularly unusual.’ (HSB)
  • The honourable behaviour of Boaz ‘can be seen in his revelation that there was someone who actually had prior claim over Ruth and her inheritance, since he was a closer relative. However, if he should prove unwilling to take responsibility in the matter (and he was), then Boaz would marry Ruth.’ (HSB)
  • ‘Remarkably, Ruth seems willing to marry even this other relative sight unseen, again subordinating her own happiness to her duty of raising up an heir to her deceased husband and to Naomi. In doing so she demonstrates again why this book singles her out as a most worthy example of what Proverbs 31 refers to as a “virtuous woman” or a person “of noble character.”’ (HSB)
  • Finally, the integrity of both Ruth (v10) and Boaz (v12) is attested.  Indeed, Ruth 4:13 affirms that their first sexual encounter was not until after they were married.

To summarise:

‘Naomi’s advice seems strange, but she was not suggesting a seductive act. In reality, Naomi was telling Ruth to act in accordance with Israelite custom and law. It was common for a servant to lie at the feet of his master and even share a part of his covering. By observing this custom, Ruth would inform Boaz that he could be her kinsman-redeemer – that he could find someone to marry her or marry her himself. It was family business, nothing romantic. But the story later became beautifully romantic as Ruth and Boaz developed an unselfish love and deep respect for each other.’ (Life Application Bible)
3:10 He said, “May you be rewarded by the LORD, my dear! This act of devotion is greater than what you did before. For you have not sought to marry one of the young men, whether rich or poor. 3:11 Now, my dear, don’t worry! I intend to do for you everything you propose, for everyone in the village knows that you are a worthy woman. 3:12 Now yes, it is true that I am a guardian, but there is another guardian who is a closer relative than I am. 3:13 Remain here tonight. Then in the morning, if he agrees to marry you, fine, let him do so. But if he does not want to do so, I promise, as surely as the LORD lives, to marry you. Sleep here until morning.”

The ‘kindness’ Boaz refers to contains the notion of ‘faithfulness’. She could have married one of the younger men, but instead is demonstrating loyalty to her family by seeking her ‘one-who-acts-as-a-kinsman’ as her marriage partner.

’Noble character’ covers a wide range of attributes, a ‘comprehensive excellence’ (Leon Morris). Cf Pr 12:4 31:10.

‘Much more than is recorded had clearly happened during the months the two widows had been at Bethlehem.’ (Leon Morris)

’Fellow townsmen’ = lit. ‘all the gate’. The gate in Palestinian towns was the usual place of assembly. ‘Boaz may have had in mind the legal proceedings he was about to initiate.’ (Leon Morris)

‘It is implied, but not actually said, that in the case of a childless widow the next of kin had the prior right to marry the woman and raise up seed to the deceased…and only if he declined was it possible (and necessary) for another member of the family to take his place.’ (Leon Morris)

3:14 So she slept beside him until morning. She woke up while it was still dark. Boaz thought, “No one must know that a woman visited the threshing floor.” 3:15 Then he said, “Hold out the shawl you are wearing and grip it tightly.” As she held it tightly, he measured out about sixty pounds of barley into the shawl and put it on her shoulders. Then he went into town, 3:16 and she returned to her mother-in-law.

Ruth Returns to Naomi, 14b-18

When Ruth returned to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “How did things turn out for you, my daughter?” Ruth told her about all the man had done for her. 3:17 She said, “He gave me these sixty pounds of barley, for he said to me, ‘Do not go to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’ ” 3:18 Then Naomi said, “Stay put, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out. For the man will not rest until he has taken care of the matter today.”

‘Naomi implied that Boaz would follow through with his promise at once. He obviously had a reputation for keeping his word and would not rest until his task was completed. Such reliable people stand out in any age and culture. Do others regard you as one who will do what you say? Keeping your word and following through on commitments should be high on anyone’s priority list. Building a reputation for integrity, however, must be done one brick, one act, at a time.’ (Life Application Bible)