Rest For the Weary.

Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”

So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “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. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” – Ruth 3:1-13 ESV

Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, have been through a lot. They have both recently suffered the loss of their husbands, leaving them widows in a culture where women had little to no means of caring for themselves. Their move back to Bethelehem from Moab, while a sort of homecoming for Naomi, was a shock to the system to Ruth, a Moabite. There is a sense in which both women are tired and exhausted – Naomi, mentally and spiritually so, while Ruth also bears the effects of physical exhaustion from her tireless efforts to provide food for the two of them by gleaning grain from the fields. The mental and physical weariness of the two women is understandable and an important feature to the story. As chapter three opens, Naomi recognizes that her daughter-in-law cannot maintain the pace she has been keeping.

Chapter two reveals Ruth’s work ethic and commitment to care for Naomi. The supervisor of Boaz’s fields informed him, “Since she arrived she has been working hard from this morning until now—except for sitting in the resting hut a short time” (Ruth 2:7 NLT). Boaz himself, after meeting Ruth for the first time, informed her:

I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband—how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” – Ruth 2:11-12 NLT

Protection, refuge, rest. These three words reflect the central motif of the rest of the book of Esther. And the role of kinsman-redeemer, played by Boaz, will factor heavily into how  Ruth, helpless and weary, will find the rest and refuge she is seeking.

In the opening verse of this chapter, Naomi reveals the responsibility she feels for Ruth when she asks her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1 ESV). The Hebrew word, translated “rest”, is manowach which refers to a resting place or a state or condition of rest. The New English Translation reads, “My daughter, I must find a home for you so you will be secure.” This sense of responsibility that Naomi felt goes all the way back to chapter one, when she attempted to get her two widowed daughter-in-laws to return home and remarry.

Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” – Ruth 1:8-9 ESV

Orpah had eventually returned home, but Ruth had refused to do so, committing herself to Naomi’s care and to the worship of her God. But Naomi knew that Ruth needed a long-term solution to her problem. She was still young and had a long life ahead of her. She could have children and carry on her deceased husband’s name. Ruth was a hard worker, but it was going to be nearly impossible for her to provide for the needs of herself and Naomi long-term. So Naomi turns to the God-ordained option of the kinsman-redeemer provision. It has already been well-established that Boaz was a close relative and, as such, he was a candidate to act as the kinsman-redeemer, providing protection and taking responsibility for the care of these two women. And Naomi gives Ruth detailed instructions as to what to do.

“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. 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.” – Ruth 3:3-4 NLT

There is no indication that what Naomi was telling Ruth to do was immoral or out-of-the-ordinary. Whether this was an established protocol for soliciting the aid of one’s kinsman-redeemer is not clear. But it is clear that Naomi was having Ruth appeal to Boaz for his help, in order that he might provide her with protection, refuge and rest. While he lay asleep out in the field, Ruth was to uncover his feet and legs, exposing them to the cold. Then she was to lay at his feet in a display of submission. When his exposed extremities became cold from the night air, he awoke with a start, only to find a young woman lying at his feet. When he asks who she is, Ruth responds, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9 ESV). According to her mother-in-law’s instructions, Ruth pleads for Boaz to be her kinsman-redeemer and become her provider and protector.

Boaz is flattered, but informs Ruth that there is another, more viable, candidate. As the widow of Naomi’s son, Chilion, she had closer relative who must first be given the opportunity to act as kinsman-redeemer. If he should refuse, Boaz pledges to redeem her himself.

This entire scene, while strange to our western sensibilities, should remind us of another kinsman-redeemer who made a similar offer. Jesus, as the son of David, spoke to His weary and worn out Hebrew brothers and sisters, telling them, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT). He would go on to tell them that the rest He offered was “rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29 NLT). Jesus was offering them rest from the weariness produced by a life of self-righteousness – attempting to gain favor with God through good deeds, religious rituals and law-keeping. Like Ruth, they were worn out from trying to provide for themselves. But their weariness was spiritual in nature. Paul would later clarify the problem when he wrote: “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). But there was good news: “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law” (Galatians 2:16 NLT). 

Ruth was weary and Boaz, as her kinsman-redeemer, could provide her with rest. He stands as a foreshadowing of the One who would be his own descendant and provide spiritual rest and redemption for all those who are weary from carrying the heavy burden of sin and the condemnation is brings. And Ruth, as a non-Jews, stands as a reminder that Jesus’ offer of rest was available to any and all, Jew and Gentile, who would simply come to Him in faith, placing their trust in Him for protection, refuge and rest.