6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 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. 8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” 10 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. 11 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. 12 And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. 13 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 3:6-13 ESV
As strange as Naomi’s counsel must have sounded to Ruth, she did exactly what her mother-in-law had told her to do. That night, when Boaz had fallen asleep, Ruth crept over to him, gently pulled back his cloak, and exposed his feet and legs to the cold night air. Then she lay down at his side and waited for him to wake up. And it wasn’t long before the uncomfortable sensation of having his limbs exposed caused Boaz to stir from his sleep, only to find a strange woman lying at his feet.
While the actions of Ruth may seem strange to us, there is nothing immoral or unethical about her behavior. In fact, it is likely that she was not the only woman sleeping at the threshing floor that evening. This was the peak of the harvest season and all the male and female servants of Boaz would have been working around the clock to harvest and thresh the wheat. Rather than go home, they would have slept on the site, ready to begin their work with the rising of the sun.
But Boaz was shocked to find this young woman sleeping in such close proximity. It was awkward at best and could easily be misconstrued by others. But the author reveals that this encounter between Ruth and Boaz took place at midnight, while everyone else remained asleep.
Boaz’s initial question had to do with the woman’s identity. While he had seen Ruth before, this was all taking place in the dark and he had no way of seeing who it was that was sleeping at his feet. So, he asked, ““Who are you?” And Ruth wasted no time in answering his question. “I am Ruth, your servant” she replied. But she didn’t stop there. Ruth immediately added, “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9 ESV).
What in the world did she mean by this somewhat cryptic statement? And what possessed Ruth to use such a strange metaphor? We are not given any direct answers to these questions in the passage. But if we look at the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, we find a similar description used by God when speaking of His marriage to the people of Israel.
“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.” – Ezekiel 8 ESV
It would appear that Naomi has brought Ruth up to speed regarding the responsibilities of the kinsman-redeemer. Which may explain Ruth’s rather bold confrontation of Boaz. It is readily apparent that Ruth is looking for a lot more from Boaz than a cash loan or the guarantee of long-term employment as one of his maidservants. The NET Bible chose to translate verse 9 in such a way that Ruth’s intentions are quite clear.
“Marry your servant, for you are a guardian of the family interests.” (NET)
The NET Bible study notes add: “Ruth’s words can be taken, in effect, as a marriage proposal.”
This young widow is asking for a long-term and costly commitment from Boaz. By making Ruth his wife, Boaz would not only be taking on her care but he would be making a binding covenant to be her husband. And all the way back in the garden, God expressed His intentions for a marriage to be a permanent union.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 24 ESV
It’s interesting to note that nowhere in the Old Testament is marriage listed as an obligation of a kinsman-redeemer. So, it would seem that Ruth is asking more of Boaz than the law required. She must have sensed that Boaz had an interest in her. For some reason, she interpreted his treatment of her as much more than an act of kindness. And she seems fully prepared to call his bluff. In essence, Ruth is telling Boaz to fish or cut bait. She and Naomi needed help. They were widows without a reliable source of income and no means of meeting their long-term needs. Boaz was the go’el, the kinsman-redeemer, and Ruth was demanding that he step up to the plate and do what needs to be done.
And Boaz has an interesting response to what he obviously understood as a marriage proposal from Ruth.
“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.” – Ruth 3:10 ESV
Rather than expressing surprise or shock at Ruth’s bold demand, Boaz lets Ruth know that he is flattered. He describes Ruth’s proposal of marriage as an act of kindness. He knew full well that she needed a husband, but probably thought she would prefer a much younger man. But Ruth had continued coming back to Boaz’s fields and was now expressing her desire to be his wife. That blew Boaz away. And this latest interaction with Ruth, on top of all that she had done to care for Naomi, further endeared her to Boaz. And he assures Ruth that he will do all that she has requested of him.
“Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman.” – Ruth 3:11 NLT
But first, they would have to do things the right way. Unbeknownst to Ruth or Naomi, there was someone else in Bethlehem who was a closer relative of Elimelech than was Boaz. In an effort to do the right thing and not rob this man of his right to fulfill his kinsman-redeemer responsibility, Boaz recommended to Ruth that this man be given the first right of refusal.
“…while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you.” – Ruth 3:12-13 NLT
But Boaz assured Ruth that, should this other relative fail to marry Ruth, he was ready, willing, and able.
“But if he is not willing, then as surely as the Lord lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.” – Ruth 3:13 NLT
There is an unstated part of this whole transaction that will eventually come to light and provide much-needed clarification as to what is really going on. This is a far more complicated issue than a marriage agreement between Boaz and Ruth. As we will see, in the very next chapter, there are land rights involved. According to the Mosaic Law, land, which was apportioned by God to the various tribes, was to remain in the family at all costs. This required that a kinsman-redeemer purchase land that was up for sale or in risk of foreclosure due to unpaid debts.
In the case of Elimeleich, he had land that would have passed down to his sons, but they too were deceased. And as a woman, Naomi was legally prohibited from owning land. So, it was essential that a kinsman-redeemer step in and purchase the land. And it would come with the added responsibility of marrying Ruth, the widowed wife of one of Elimelech’s sons. All of this will be made perfectly clear as Boaz presents the full facts surrounding the case.
Eventually, Boaz and the other relative will appear before the elders of the city and determine which of them will take on the role of the kinsman-redeemer. But we have already seen how God has operating behind the scenes, orchestrating all the events so that the union of Ruth and Boaz might come to full fruition. He is not done yet. But, even without having read the story before, we can almost sense how all of this is going to turn out.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.