So far in the series we’ve been introduced to the history of the book and the dark times in which this story took place. We’ve looked at the character of Ruth and Naomi in chapter 1, and the Ruth’s gleaning in chapter 2. As we continue in chapter 2, we will be introduced to the theme of the kinsman redeemer.
Chapter 2 continued
Chapter 2 ends with Ruth returning to Naomi, and sharing about the day’s events. Like a good Jewish mother, Naomi discovers that Ruth found favour in the eyes of Boaz – a kinsman redeemer! The rest of Ruth is concerned with this idea of a kinsman redeemer so let’s see what it was about.
The root Hebrew word is gâ’al (gaw-al’), which means to redeem: to purchase, or ransom (Strong; 1989)*. In Hebrew law, it is a term which is used to place close relatives, such as siblings or cousins, under certain obligations to another family member.
There were laws for the redemption of:
- A poor brother who sold himself into slavery,
- For property sold by a poor brother,
- To punish the killer of a family member (avenger of blood), and
- (The one we are interested in) for the nearest relative of the deceased to marry a childless widow.
What was the point of these laws? Why were they in the Torah? They were how the Israelites were to carry on inheritance. They were how they were to ensure land remained in the tribe it was allotted to under Joshua when they first entered into the Promised Land. In regards to the avenger of blood, it was to stop matters escalating into family blood feuds.
You may have heard the phrase “the law of the levirate marriage” in reference to the kinsman redeemer of a widow. Please note that we’re not talking about the Levites, the tribe of Levi (as in the priestly tribe), here. The term levirate is from a Latin root “levir” being Latin for “a husband’s brother”.
This law is found in Deuteronomy 25:5-6**:
If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.
This brings us into Chapter 3, when Naomi hatches a plan for Ruth’s future.
Naomi, again showing herself to be a true Jewish mother, starts this chapter by approaching Ruth and declaring that she wants to find rest for Ruth. The rest talked of here is the rest of a home – it’s the rest that comes for a woman in. Naomi the proceeds to lay out some instructions for Ruth to bring about the marriage:
Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” (Ruth 3:2-4)**.
Now, question for you, since we are looking at character in this series:
If Ruth and Naomi are of godly character, why did Naomi send Ruth to approach Boaz at night? That doesn’t sound like a very wise idea! I mean, scandalous!
Remember that Ruth was a Moabitess. The people of Moab were not allowed in to the congregation of Israel. They were enemies of Israel. As a childless widow of Boaz’s kinsman, Ruth had the right to approach Boaz publicly and shame him publicly, too, if he did not accept to become a kinsman redeemer. In a lot of ways, it was an act of respect by Ruth to go at night and not address Boaz publicly where he would be open to criticism if he chose not to fulfill the role of kinsman redeemer. This again shows up their character: Ruth and Naomi chose to approach Boaz with humility.
Now Boaz awakes, probably from cold air, and asks who she is and Ruth makes a strange request:
“Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” (Ruth 3:9)**.
We need to understand the culture of the day to understand what is happening here. Asking someone to spread their garment over us is not something we would think to do today! Other texts translate the phrase to be “spread your wings over me”. It is the same word used in Ruth 2:12 when Boaz praises Ruth for taking refuge under the wings of the God of Israel.
So what is the significance of putting his garment over her? Think of how we wear symbols of authority, today. We wear theses symbols, such as military rank, on the shoulder or on the wrist. But in ancient times, the key part of a person’s garment was the hem of their gown. Essentially, Ruth is proposing marriage to Boaz by asking him to spread his coat over her – or cover her with his authority, his protection.
And how does Boaz respond to her request?
“The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. (Ruth 3:10-11)**
I love this paragraph as we consider character in our study of Ruth. I think of Boaz as the rich, godly land owner. He is good marriage material. And yet he is humble. He says that Ruth is blessing him by considering him worthy of her – because she is young and of noble character. We don’t know why Boaz was unmarried. One possibility for his humble bachelor status could come from his questionable lineage – chapter 4 shows us that he descends from Tamar, whose child was a bastard, and from Rahab, who was a foreigner and former prostitute – although it is difficult to believe that this would have been considered an issue in the dark days of the Judges!
Boaz continued: “Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.” (Ruth 3:12-13)**
This shows us that Boaz was both faithful to her request, but also to the redeemer closer to her husband. Again we see that Boaz is a man of obedience to God’s Law. As much as he had come to respect Ruth, he would honour the nearer kinsman before taking her as wife. We also see that he has God’s heart for the law. He isn’t going to allow Ruth to wait and wonder – he is going to go to the nearer kinsman the very next day!
But what happened overnight? This question is often raised. Some people even arguing that in “uncovering his feet” she, in fact, took off his pants. Then, in staying until morning, they must have had sex.
Let’s remember a few things:
- Ruth is a story of faithfulness amidst unfaithfulness.
- Ruth is called, in this very chapter, “a woman of noble character”.
- Boaz declares that he cannot promise to redeem her yet, because there is a kinsman closer to her late husband than him.
Ruth wasn’t betrothed yet, but what was the point of going to the nearer kinsman if Boaz had already had sex with her? In a story of godly character, it is nonsensical to then question their character!
Back to Boaz
We see through the end of the chapter in Ruth 3:15-18 that Boaz was also a considerate man and sends Ruth home with grain as a sort of token, or promise, to Naomi that she can rely on him to do as has been requested.
What we see of Boaz’s character in this chapter reminds me of what Samuel says to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:
And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)**
It is in the quiet hours and the lonely, private places that obedience counts. King Saul chose to appear godly in front of his people by offering sacrifices, but by doing so he disobeyed a command from God to wait for Samuel to complete those same sacrifices. On the other hand, here we see Boaz being faithful to God at night, in a quiet place, when he could have turned Ruth aside. And also his obedience to the law of the kinsman redeemer to first approach the one closer to Ruth’s husband.
Are we obedient to God? Does obedience define us? Is part of our core character obedience to God and His ways?
What has God asked of you that you need to walk in obedience to?
Up next: Ruth 4
*Strong, James, S.T.D., LL.D., (1989). Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, e-Sword, Ver. 9.7.2, Dictionary, G4176.
**I normally quote Scripture from the ESV, so please note that all Scriptures in this post are quoted from the NIV. New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
***Image by Lucky Gumbo, curtsey of The Inductive Bible Study Companion; Unlock the Word ©2015