D. — Ruth the Suppliant at the Feet of Boaz

Ruth 3:1-18.

When David returned ignominiously from the land of the Philistines where he had unwisely sought refuge from Saul (1 Sam. 21:10-15), he wrote Psalm 34, possibly in the seclusion of the cave of Adullam where he recovered faith in his God. In this song of praise, he commemorates his deliverance and extols the graciousness of Jehovah to the needy and the afflicted, calling upon all those who were in distress and in debt (see 1 Sam. 22:2) to prove Him for themselves. David says, "Taste and see that Jehovah is good: blessed is the man that trusts in Him! Fear Jehovah, ye His saints; for there is no want to them that fear Him. The young lions are in need and suffer hunger; but they that seek Jehovah shall not want any good" (Ps. 34:8-10).

Like David returning from Gath, the city of Goliath, Naomi returning from Moab, the kingdom of Balak, had tasted and seen for her unworthy self that Jehovah is good, and that "none of them that trust in Him shall bear guilt," or "be desolate" (Ps. 34:22). In the abundant provision that Ruth brought home to Naomi from the fields of Boaz, she discerned the "loving-kindness and tender mercies" of the Lord Who had thus so promptly and richly rewarded the confidence of the two lonely widows in Himself. Therefore Naomi encouraged herself in Jehovah. For their present need He had satisfied their mouth with good things; would He not provide for the future also? Might not her faith advance a step further, and trust Him to provide a redeemer for her late husband's inheritance, which by the death of her two sons was forfeited through the lack of an heir?

Naomi Bids Ruth Seek a Redeemer

Naomi directed her daughter-in-law to make a personal appeal to Boaz, their "near" and wealthy kinsman. In this matter she was actuated by that unselfish spirit of grace, so perfectly manifested in Christ Who "pleased not Himself." She desired favour for Ruth the Moabitess rather than for herself, the wife of the late Elimelech. As she said, her object was to "seek rest" that it might be well with the stranger from Moab in the land of promise and that Ruth might rightfully share her family heritage in the tribe of Judah. Naomi was seeking not her own, but the spiritual interests of her daughter-in-law. So Paul's constant aim in his service was the spiritual well-being of his children in the faith. He wrote, "I do not seek yours but you; for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. Now I shall most gladly spend and be utterly spent for your souls" (2 Cor. 12:14, 15). Such examples of unselfish devotion demand our respect and our emulation.

No doubt the piety and kindness already shown by Boaz to Ruth fostered these fresh hopes in Naomi's heart, and she counselled the damsel to make her application to him forthwith. "And Naomi her mother-in-law said to 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 is winnowing barley in the threshing-floor tonight. Wash (bathe) thyself therefore, and anoint thyself, and put thy raiment upon thee, and go down to the floor; make not thyself known to the man until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lies down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall have lain down, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thyself down; and he will show thee what thou shalt do" (Ruth 3:1-4).

The process of winnowing, that is, of separating the grain from the chaff after the threshing, was usually undertaken in the evening because the necessary winds for carrying away the flimsy grain-husks (Ps. 1:4) sprang up at that time of the day. To guard the winnowed grain from the pilferers, who love darkness rather than light, it was customary for the owner himself to sleep in the open upon the threshing-floor in his usual raiment, with a mantle over his feet for extra covering. It seems to have been common knowledge in Bethlehem that Boaz would follow this practice that night. Naomi therefore advised Ruth to take advantage of this occasion and make a private personal appeal to "Boaz of our kindred", seeking his protection in her friendlessness, and his interest in the recovery of the inheritance of her deceased father-in-law and her husband. Ruth agreed to carry out Naomi's proposal. "And she said to her, All that thou sayest will I do" (Ruth 3:5).

Ruth's Personal Petition to the Kinsman-Redeemer

Naomi's plan, founded upon divine ordinances (Lev. 25:23-28; Deut. 25:5-10), was made in all good faith, believing that Boaz was the kinsman whose bounden duty it was, according to the law, to undertake the recovery of the lapsed inheritance, and to marry her daughter-in-law, Ruth. She had confidence that Boaz, having shown himself to be a God-fearing man, would not hesitate to accept this responsibility, and also that he would, as she said to Ruth, "show thee what thou shalt do" (3:4). "And she went down to the floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law had bidden her. And Boaz ate and drank, and his heart was merry, and he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn. Then she went softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid herself down. And it came to pass at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and behold, a woman lay at his feet. And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth, thy handmaid; spread thy skirt (wing) over thy handmaid; for thou hast the right of redemption" (Ruth 3:6-9).

At the close of the day, Boaz ate his food with a "merry" heart, that is, with the "joy in harvest" (Isa. 9:3) that came to him because God had so blessed his ploughing and sowing. "Merry" does not, either here or in Luke 15:24, imply an excess of conviviality. At midnight Boaz was startled to find a woman lying under the mantle covering his feet. This was the moment for Ruth to present her plea. She owned herself to be the unworthy gleaner to whom Boaz had been so kind. She was now seeking his protection as a poor widow and the daughter-in-law of a poor widow. She had come to him because he was their family relative, and had the right of redemption. She cast herself unreservedly upon his mercy and his favour. She knew he had the power to redeem; was not his name Boaz, the strong and wealthy one? She trusted that he was willing as well as able to redeem.

"Spread thy skirt (wing) over thy handmaid" is to be understood not literally but figuratively. Ruth desired his protection. When danger threatens the defenceless brood, the hen gathers her chickens under her wings (Matt. 23:37). When David was fleeing from Saul, he took refuge in the shadow of the wings of his God (Ps. 57:1; see also Ps. 36:7; Ps. 61:4; Ps. 91:4). It may also be recalled that in the harvest field, Boaz had used this very metaphor in welcoming Ruth as a gleaner, saying, "Jehovah recompense thy work, and let thy reward be full from Jehovah the God of Israel, under Whose wings thou art come to take refuge" (2:12). Did Ruth allude especially to these words of Boaz, when she pleaded, "Spread thy wing over thy handmaid"? It might well have been so, for the words of her lips expressed the faith of her heart that the "wing" of Boaz might be the agent of the sheltering "wings" of Jehovah.

Ruth Receives the Promise of Redemption

Boaz, with the fear of Jehovah before his eyes, listened attentively to the piteous plea of the destitute woman at his feet. Surely God Who had brought her from Moab to Bethlehem had now led her from Naomi's home to his threshing-floor. Regarding her request as a reasonable and righteous one, Boaz granted what she desired, though he knew what was involved in her petition better perhaps than either she or Naomi did, the fact being that another man had a nearer right than himself to redeem the inheritance. Boaz, however, undertook to see that justice should be done in the matter, and that the inheritance should be redeemed and established upon the firm basis of equity and truth according to the law of Jehovah. If the nearer kinsman should fail to do this he himself would do it. He meant, in any case, to spread his wing of protection over the forlorn damsel, and do for her whatever justice and generosity might require.

The reply of Boaz to the request of Ruth was as follows: "And he said, Blessed be thou of Jehovah, my daughter! Thou hast shown more kindness at the end than at the first, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not; all that thou sayest will I do to thee; for all the gate of my people knows that thou art a woman of worth. And now, truly I am one that has the right of redemption, yet there is one that has the right of redemption who is nearer than I. Stay over tonight, and it shall be in the morning, if he will redeem thee, well — let him redeem; but if he like not to redeem thee, then will I redeem thee, as Jehovah lives. Lie down until the morning" (Ruth 3:10-13).

So Ruth who was by birth a stranger from "the covenants of promise" received the promise of inheritance in Immanuel's land, the glory of all lands, the land from which the bounteous blessings of God will eventually flow to the whole earth. By the fulfilment of this promise she would be, as Boaz himself desired for her (ver. 10), blessed of Jehovah and accepted as a daughter of Israel.

Moreover, her faith in Jehovah was exhibited unmistakably by her godly living and general demeanour; so much so that, as Boaz testified, the wise and upright men that sat in the gate of Bethlehem knew that she was "a woman of worth" (ver. 11). Already she had been recognised by the ruling elders as one who excelled in those womanly qualities which imparted worthiness or "virtue" to a housewife in Israel. This term is used elsewhere. Such a one is described by Solomon as "a crown to her husband" (Prov. 12:4). And the final twenty-two verses of this book of moral wisdom are an acrostic eulogy of "a woman of worth" (Prov. 31:10-31).

Such then was the domestic character of Ruth before she entered the home of Boaz. By her comely behaviour the humble-minded handmaiden had in the eyes of the elders of the city shown herself worthy to share an inheritance in the midst of Jehovah's people. So the elders of the Jews in Capernaum said to the Lord concerning the Gentile centurion who sought His aid for the healing of his servant, that he was "worthy" (Luke 7:4). The centurion himself said, "I am not worthy." But the Lord showed the people that his good deeds towards the Jews sprang from "great faith" such as He had not found in Israel (Matt. 8:8, 10). In like manner, Ruth was justified before man by her works of "worth" because they sprang from her faith in Jehovah, as also did Abraham's and Rahab's (James 2:21-25).

Ruth Carries the Good News to Naomi

Boaz requested Ruth to remain where she was until the morning, and not to brave the dangers of a midnight journey to her home. The proved piety of the elderly man and the younger woman was an adequate defence of the decorum of this private and peculiar interview Ruth, however, departed from the threshing-floor at the break of day that she might "give no occasion to the adversary in respect of reproach" (1 Tim. 5:14). "And she lay at his feet until the morning; and she rose up before one could know another. And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the threshing-floor" (Ruth 3:14).

But before leaving, Ruth was again made a recipient of the munificence of Boaz, her redeemer by promise. He filled her cloak or overall with six measures of the winnowed barley grain and laid it upon her head to carry home. Thus Boaz crowned her, as it were, with a mark of his goodness and favour, a figure too, we may say, of Jehovah's favour which rests upon the head of those who "keep His covenant" and "remember also His precepts to do them." Such He crowns "with loving-kindness and tender mercies" (Ps. 103:4).

"And he said, Bring the cloak that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And she held it, and he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and he went into the city" (Ruth 3:15). The "six measures" of barley which Ruth was carrying to Naomi were equal to two ephahs; this amount was twice that of her own gleaning (2:17). It was a "double portion," a sign from Boaz of special favour (Deut. 21:17; 1 Sam. 1:5).

The concluding words of verse 15 in the A.V. are, "and she went into the city." But most revised versions, like the one quoted, change the pronoun to "he," showing that the reference is to Boaz and his departure for Bethlehem and its gate (thus connecting 3:15, with 4:1, verses 16 to 18 being parenthetical. This reading, "he" instead of "she," is undoubtedly correct.

Ruth reached Naomi's house in the dim light of early dawn. "And she came to her mother-in-law; and she said, Who art thou, my daughter? And she told her all that the man had done to her. And she said, These six measures of barley gave he me; for he said to me, Go not empty to thy mother-in-law. Then she said, Be still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall; for the man will not rest until he have completed the matter this day" (Ruth 3:16-18). Naomi's first words do not necessarily imply a lack of recognition. The patriarch Isaac addressed both his sons similarly (Gen. 27:18, 32). Also, the term, "my daughter," denoted a friendly greeting rather than actual relationship. It will be noted that Boaz used the same mode of address to Ruth (2:8; 3:10). Ruth quickly unfolded to her mother-in-law the good news that Boaz had given her his promise of redemption, and she also displayed his gift of a double portion of corn, an earnest of that fruitful inheritance which was to come, as well as a mark of his present favour.

Naomi's comment (ver. 18) on this good news is full of faith and hope. She herself had complete confidence in the pious and active beneficence of Boaz. She was sure that what he had promised he would perform without delay — "this day," she said. Ruth, therefore, need not be anxious. Let her "sit still," or "be still." The matter was now entirely in the hands of Boaz, and the strength of the Lord was in him.

Let our readers mark the trust of these women, and take heed to the exhortation of Heb. 6:11, 12; "We desire earnestly that each one of you skew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end; that ye be not sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience have been inheritors of the promises."