The Word Made Fresh
1Some time passed, and Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, I want you to establish your own home so that you can have a better life. 2You have been working alongside the young women employed by Boaz, who is our relative. I have learned that he will be at the threshing floor tonight, winnowing the barley. 3Bathe and anoint yourself, and put on your finest clothes, and go down there. Don’t tell him you’re there, but make sure he has finished eating and drinking, 4then watch where he goes to lie down. Then go to him and uncover his feet and lie down with him. He will tell you what to do.”
5Ruth answered, “Alright. I will do as you say.”
6So, she did as her mother-in-law had suggested, and went down to the threshing floor. Boaz finished eating and drinking. Then, full and contented, he went to the end of the grain heap and lay down. Ruth quietly came to him, uncovered his feet, and lay down with him. At midnight, Boaz stirred and awoke, and when he turned over discovered a woman lying at his feet.
9“Who are you?” he said, and she answered, “I am your servant, Ruth. Spread your coat over me. You are next of kin and have the right to redeem me.”
10“The LORD bless you, daughter,” he said. “You have shown greater trust in me than you did before, and you could have gone after younger men, whether poor or rich. 11Now, daughter, don’t worry. I will do what you ask. Everybody here knows you are an honorable woman. 12However, though I am a relative, there is another man who is more closely related. 13Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will find out if he is willing to redeem you. If he is not, I certainly am willing. So lie down until morning.”
14Ruth stayed with him until dawn, then got up before it was light enough for people to recognize each other because he had told her that no one should know that she had come to the threshing floor. 15He said to her, “Hold out the wrap you are wearing,” and he filled it with barley and helped her balance it on her back. Then he returned to the town 16and Ruth went back to her mother-in-law.
Naomi said, “Tell me how it went, my daughter.”
Ruth told her everything, 17and said, “He gave me six scoops of this barley, because he said I shouldn’t come back to you empty-handed.”
18Naomi said, “Stay here until you’ve heard what has been decided, because he will not rest today until everything is settled.”
1-5: The harvest season is ended, and now the threshing begins. Boaz doesn’t know it yet, but he has been harvested by Naomi for Ruth. Naomi knows enough about his whereabouts to know that he will be at the threshing floor on a particular night. She tells Ruth to bathe, put on perfume and her most fetching outfit, and go to the threshing floor. There she is to watch and wait until Boaz lies down, and she is to go lie down with him. Basically, she is to throw herself at him with unmistakable intentions.
6-13: Boaz works at his threshing, then has his dinner and lies down and goes to sleep. Ruth “uncovers his feet” and lies down beside him. He awakens at midnight and is startled by her being there. She tells him to “spread his cloak” (literally his ‘wing’) over her for he is next-of-kin. In that culture, if a married man dies before having children, his brother or next-of-kin is to marry his widow and produce children who will be his heirs. The entire episode is filled with sexual double entendres that don’t come across in English translation. In Hebrew, “feet” can be a euphemism for “private parts,” for example. Boaz appreciates her situation but plays the gentleman and informs her that another man is more closely related to Mahlon (Ruth’s deceased husband). He will pursue the matter the very next morning, he says, and if the other kinsman passes on the opportunity, he will marry her.
14-18: Morning comes, and Ruth prepares to go home before it is light enough to be recognized. Boaz insists on giving her a gift of the barley he has threshed. Naomi’s question in verse 16 (“How did things go with you, my daughter?”) can be variously understood. Literally she asks, “Who are you, my daughter?” It is still quite dark, and she may not have recognized Ruth. Or, she may be asking, “Who are you now?” meaning, “Has your status changed?” Naomi is certain that the matter will be settled that very day.
Ah, love. Customs change from society to society, culture to culture, and generation to generation, but the rules under which Ruth and Boaz play out the scene are recognizable in any culture as courtship rituals. We already knew that Boaz and Ruth are attracted to each other. His reticence in this scene is maddening but shows us a man with character and honor. The best things in life are worth the wait and must be properly obtained.