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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ruth 3

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 3 Ruth Makes Her Plea To Boaz As Her Near Kinsman To Fulfil His Duties Towards Her.

Recognising that Boaz has revealed himself as well-disposed towards them, Naomi now determines to call on him to fulfil the responsibilities of a near kinsman. This would, as he would know (see Ruth 4:3-5), involve his buying the land that Naomi had inherited from her husband (which presumably at present lay waste), in order to prevent it going out of the family, and to bear children through Ruth so as to perpetuate the name of her dead husband. These responsibilities were not legally binding, nevertheless they were a firmly established custom, and to fail to fulfil them would bring a certain level of ignominy on the one who refused (Deuteronomy 25:10).

Responsibility towards family was an important concept in Israel (as indeed it was in the wider world o that day) and the Law of Moss laid down certain responsibilities which Israelites had towards family members who were in need, whether the need was financial or to do with the perpetuation of the name of a male family member who had died without sons.

With regard to family land ‘owned’, the theocratical position was that YHWH was seen as the actual owner of the land, and as having leased it to His people for their inheritance, with the consequence that the Israelites themselves merely had the recognised use of the land which they had received by lot for their inheritance. Because of this the present possessor could not part with the family portion perpetually or sell it at will. It was to remain for ever in his family. If therefore the situation arose that any one was obliged to sell his inheritance on account of finding himself in poverty, and actually did sell it (although all that he could sell was the use of the land), it was seen as the duty of the nearest relation to redeem it, by acting as goël (redeemer). However, even if it was not redeemed, it still returned to its original ‘owner’ at the next year of Yubile, without compensation, for what had been bought was merely the use of the land. Consequently, at least in theory, (land purchasers would often later find a way round it by absorbing the land into their own land, ‘adding field to field’), no actual perpetual sale could take place in the way in which we would understand it (it was different with houses owned within city walls), but simply a sale of the yearly produce till the year of Yubile (see Leviticus 25:10; Leviticus 25:13-16; Leviticus 25:24-28).

Furthermore there was also an old customary right, which had been confirmed to some extent by YHWH in the Law of Moses, for the widow of a family member to require that a near kinsman (in the Mosaic Law a natural brother) beget children through her in order to perpetuate the family name. This was the custom of Levirate marriage. Such a custom is evidenced in Genesis 38 where Judah was seen as responsible to see that the wife of his dead son was impregnated by one of his other sons, whether older or younger than the widow, so as to produce seed for the dead son. This would preserve his name in Israel and provide an heir for his inheritance. This son was then the legal heir of any landed property that the deceased father had had (compare Deuteronomy 25:5).

It would appear from the Book of Ruth that these two customs had become interconnected so that to ‘redeem’ the land was to take on responsibility for bearing children through the widow of the deceased man. Indeed, to fail to do the latter was seen as bringing a certain level of disgrace on the one who refused, for the widow would loose his shoe and spit in his face and he would for ever afterwards be known as ‘the one whose shoe had been loosed’ (Deuteronomy 25:8-10).

It is clear from what follows that Elimelech, and of course his sons on his death, had ‘owned’ land near Bethlehem, land which would now be offered to the near kinsman for him to ‘redeem it’ on behalf of the dead man, with it then being recognised that he would beget a son through Ruth in order to perpetuate the name of the dead. It was these customs which were the basis for Naomi’s actions in this chapter.

Once again the chapter is seen to be in chiastic form as follows:

a And Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1).

b “And now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maidens you were? See, he winnows barley to-night in the threshing-floor (Ruth 3:2).

c “Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself, and put your clothes on you, and get you down to the threshing-floor, but do not make yourself known to the man, until he has done eating and drinking” (Ruth 3:3).

d “And it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall mark the place where he shall lie, and you will go in, and uncover his feet, and lay yourself down, and he will tell you what you shall do.” And she said to her, “All that you say I will do.” And she went down to the threshing-floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law bade 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, and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid herself down (Ruth 3:4-7).

e And it came about at midnight, that the man was fearful, and turned himself, and, behold, a woman lay at his feet, and he said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your handmaid. Spread therefore your robe over your handmaid, for you are a near kinsman” (Ruth 3:8-9).

f And he said, “Blessed be you of YHWH, my daughter. You have shown more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as you did not follow young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do to you all that you say, for all the city of my people know that you are a worthy woman.” (Ruth 3:10-11).

e “And now it is true that I am a near kinsman. However, there is a kinsman nearer than I. Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform to you the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part; but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to you, then I will do the part of a kinsman to you, as YHWH lives. Lie down until the morning” (Ruth 3:12-13).

d ‘And she lay at his feet until the morning. And she rose up before one was able to discern another. For he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing-floor” (Ruth 3:14).

c And he said, “Bring the mantle that is on you, 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).

b And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “Who are you, my daughter?” And she told her all that the man had done to her. And she said, “He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said, “Do not go empty to your mother-in-law” (Ruth 3:16-17).

a Then said she, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will fall, for the man will not rest, until he has finished the thing this day (Ruth 3:18).

Note that in ‘a’ Naomi is seeking Ruth’s wellbeing and her security for the future, and in the parallel she is content that she has obtained it. In ‘b’ Boaz is their near kinsman and is winnowing barley, and in the parallel Boaz gives Ruth six measures of that barley, a sign that he has accepted his position as near kinsman. In ‘c’ Ruth is to make special preparations to offer herself to Boaz, and dresses, and in the parallel Boaz tells her to prepare her robe and indicates his acceptance of her by giving her six measures of barley. In ‘d’ Ruth is told to go to the threshingfloor and lay herself down at Boaz’s feet, and in the parallel she lies at his feet until morning. In ‘e’ Ruth calls on Boaz to act as a near kinsman, and in the parallel he agrees to do so. Centrally in ‘f’ Ruth receives her benefit because she is a kind and worthy woman, in other words one whom YHWH delights to bless.


Verse 1

And Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?”

Harvest being over Naomi now decided that it was time to act. She had no doubt observed with interest Boaz’s continued generosity towards Ruth, and it had encouraged her to think that he might not be averse to marrying her. So she approached Ruth informing her that her intention was to ‘seek rest’ for her so that her future might be secure. She then gave instructions to Ruth about what she ought to do.


Verse 2

And now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maidens you were? See, he winnows barley tonight in the threshing-floor.”

She reminds Ruth that the man who had been so kind to her was in fact their kinsman, knowing no doubt that Ruth would recognise the significance of that fact. Furthermore she knew where he would be that evening, for the harvest having been gathered in it would now be necessary for it to be threshed. Thus she knew that he would be in charge of the winnowing in the threshingfloor. The threshingfloor would be in an open area of ground where the ground had been beaten down and where it would be affected by the steady wind that blew at that time of year. The grain would be piled on the threshingfloor and would then be tossed up into the air by winnowing-forks so that the wind could blow away the chaff, leaving the ears of grain to fall again to the threshingfloor. Thus the ears of barley would be separated from the chaff. The winnowing would be followed by feasting in celebration of the gathering in of harvest.


Verse 3

Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself, and put your clothes on you, and get you down to the threshing-floor, but do not make yourself known to the man, until he has done eating and drinking.”

Ruth was therefore to wash herself, and anoint herself with oil, and then dress and go down to the threshingfloor. There she must wait patiently and unobserved until Boaz had finished eating and drinking. As mentioned above this eating and drinking would probably be part of the celebrations because the harvest had been safely gathered in. It was not to be interrupted. What Ruth was about to do must not be done publicly.


Verse 4

And it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall mark the place where he shall lie, and you will go in, and uncover his feet, and lay yourself down, and he will tell you what you shall do.”

But once he laid himself down to sleep Ruth was to mark where he lay down (darkness would be approaching), and when the time was right she should go onto the threshingfloor, lift up his robe where it covered his feet (Boaz would be using his robe as a kind of bedcovering) and should then lay herself down there and put that portion of the robe over herself. This was seemingly a recognised act by which she would be claiming the right of levirate marriage. It certainly indicated that she was seeking his protection. Boaz would then tell her what she should do. It would be in his hands how he responded to her plea.


Verse 5

And she said to her, “All that you say I will do.”

Obedient to here mother-in-law as always, Ruth consented to do what Naomi had asked.


Verse 6

And she went down to the threshing-floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law bade her.’

Once again it is emphasised that Ruth did as she was bidden. The writer wants it to be clear that Ruth was not self-seeking. She was obedient to the customs of her new people. So she went down to the threshingfloor.


Verse 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, and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid herself down.’

There would be a good number of people present for the threshing, and all these would join in the feasting, and then seek out a place to sleep on the threshingfloor, probably a little merry from the wine. Boaz in his turn, once he had eaten and drunk also sought out a place to sleep, and he chose to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Observing this, Ruth gave him time to settle and fall asleep, and then approached him softly, uncovered his feet, and laid herself down under that portion of his robe. It should be noted that she would remain fully clothed.


Verse 8

And it came about at midnight, that the man was fearful, and turned himself, and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.’

By this time it would be quite dark, and thus when Boaz awoke, and was conscious of someone lying at his feet he was a little apprehensive. Turning he noted that it was a woman. Not being able to tell who the woman was in the dimness it seemed to him quite out of place. Possibly the thought sprang though his mind that someone was trying to compromise him.


Verse 9

And he said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your handmaid. Spread therefore the edge of your robe over your handmaid, for you are a near kinsman.”

So he asked, quite startled, ‘Who are you?’ And Ruth replied ‘I am Ruth your handmaid.’ As we have seen previously to call herself his handmaid was not to be taken literally, but merely indicated her maidenly modesty. She then requested him, acting as a near kinsman, to cover her with the corner or ‘wing’ of his robe (see Deuteronomy 22:30; Deuteronomy 27:20; Ezekiel 16:8) as a sign that he was taking her under his protection. The word for ‘wing’ is the same as in Ruth 2:12 where it is in the plural and indicated the wings of YHWH, thinking of Him in terms of a protecting bird. Here then, symbolically, Boaz would be taking her under his wing.


Verse 10

And he said, “Blessed be you of YHWH, my daughter. You have shown more kindness (love) in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as you did not follow young men, whether poor or rich.”

Boaz was moved that such a presentable young woman should be willing to become his wife. It is apparent that he had to some extent fallen in love with her, for he felt only able to express his gratitude that she should have chosen him rather than a younger man, ‘whether rich or poor’. He for one clearly believed that she would have had good marriage prospects. Thus he blesses her in the Name of YHWH, for showing him even more kindness than she had before when she had gleaned in his fields and had spoken so graciously to him. He undoubtedly saw her being willing to marry him as a great kindness. It augured well for the future. Some see the ‘love -- at the beginning’ as referring to the previous love shown to her former husband, a young man, and her mother-in-law, compare Ruth 2:11.


Verse 11

And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do to you all that you say, for all the city (literally ‘the gate’) of my people know that you are a worthy woman.”

He then assured her that as far as it lay within his power he would do what she had requested, because she had a reputation among all the people of Bethlehem as being a worthy woman. ‘All the gate of my people.’ The gate was the place where people met and conversed, and where the elders made decisions and judged the rights and wrongs of people. Thus her reputation was good among the people, and equally among those most competent to judge.

There is a play on words here in that Boaz had been declared to be ‘a man of chayil (wealth)’, see Ruth 2:1, and now Ruth is declared to be ‘a woman of chayil (worthiness)’. Both were getting a good bargain.


Verse 12

And now it is true that I am a near kinsman. However, there is a kinsman nearer than I.”

Boaz, however, now drew attention to a problem There was a nearer kinsman than himself. In view of the fact that Ruth was seeking to produce children on behalf of her dead husband it had to be through the nearest kinsman who was willing. Furthermore, rights to property were involved, and that also gave precedence to the nearest kinsman.


Verse 13

Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform to you the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part; but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to you, then I will do the part of a kinsman to you, as YHWH lives. Lie down until the morning.”

Boaz then told her to wait there with him until the morning when he would discover whether the nearer kinsman would be willing to fulfil his duty as near kinsman. If he would, then well and good. (As with most ancient marriages love did not enter into it). On the other hand if he would not perform the duties of a kinsman, then Boaz himself would take up the role. ‘As YHWH lives’ was a regular oath, and a binding one. He wanted Ruth to be in no doubt about his good intentions. The request to remain the night was no doubt for Ruth’s own safety. That he saw nothing inappropriate in her doing so comes out in that he could have suggested that she found a place to sleep nearby.


Verse 14

And she lay at his feet until the morning. And she rose up before one was able to discern another. For he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing-floor.”

However, in view of the fact that she might be offered to another he clearly felt that it was necessary to be discreet. Nothing wrong had been done, but he would not want it known that she had offered herself to him when matters were not yet settled. And as always, there would be those who would try to make something out of an innocent situation, interpreting her presence in the wrong way. So no doubt following his advice, Ruth, having laid at his feet until morning, arose before it was yet quite light in order to make her way home. Meanwhile Boaz instructed any who may have observed Ruth’s presence not to let it be known that she had been there. He did not want her compromised in any way.


Verse 15

And he said, “Bring the mantle that is on you, 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.’

But before she went he told her to hold her mantle in such a way that she could receive a gift, and he measured out six measures of barley and put them in her mantle. And he then left and went into the city. It is probable that this gift was highly significant, indicating his acceptance of Ruth on the terms he had agreed. He probably knew that Naomi would recognise in this that he was happy with the situation. Note on Ruth 3:17.


Verse 16

And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “Who are you, my daughter?” And she told her all that the man had done to her.’

When she arrived home Naomi asked her, ‘Who are you my daughter?’ It was possibly intended to be an enquiry as to whether her status had changed. Was she still Ruth the widow, or was she now a prospective bride, betrothed to a wealthy man and enjoying the benefit of a kinsman redeemer (a goel)? Alternatively it might simply mean, ‘How did things go? What was the result of what you did’ Ruth then explained to her all that had happened.


Verse 17

And she said, “He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said, “Do not go empty to your mother-in-law.”

Ruth then produced the six measures of barley explaining that Boaz had said, “Do not go empty to your mother-in-law.” We must almost certainly see, in view of the next verse, that Naomi recognised in this gift an acceptance by Boaz of the proposal that had been made, a gift assuring her that he would do all that was necessary. Had Boaz been at all offended, or even neutral, he would not have offered such a gift. It may even be that it was intended to be a kid of firstfruits of what they could hope to enjoy in the future.


Verse 18

Then said she, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will fall, for the man will not rest, until he has finished the thing this day.’

So Naomi told Ruth to sit quietly and await the outcome, for she was now sure that Boaz would not rest until he had sorted mattes out one way or the other.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ruth 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ruth-3.html. 2013.

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