Boaz: a man of his word
by Jack Wald | November 7th, 2010

Ruth 3:7-18

Last week I talked about some elaborate marriage proposals. This week I found another one. A man arranged to be the bank mascot at a professional basketball game. His girlfriend thought she was randomly picked out of the crowd to be blindfolded and have to find the mascot on the basketball court in order to win a prize. She did this and then the man took off the mascot outfit and got down on his knees to propose to her. In front of 20,000 people, she gasped and ran out of the arena, leaving the man on his knees.

What makes that story so emotionally terrifying is that we (mostly men) can remember asking someone out on a date and how nerve-racking that was. You pick up the phone to ask someone out to a movie. The palms of your hands are sweating and your heart is beating loud enough for a rock band. You have rehearsed what you want to say over and over but now that the phone is ringing, the rehearsed dialog is fading into oblivion. The girl (since most of the time it is a guy who is asking) answers and what was going to be so easy becomes stammering and stuttering and barely coherent phrases.

Why is it so difficult to pick up the phone and ask someone out for a date? Why does this story of a man proposing marriage to a woman and then being turned down in front of all these people make us feel so uneasy? It is the fear of rejection. To ask is to make yourself vulnerable and in that unprotected state a rejection hurts.

Most times when marriage is proposed, the answer is known and it is not an uncomfortable experience. But when marriage is proposed and the response is uncertain, then it is a highly tense moment.

This was the case when Ruth proposed marriage to Boaz.

Each week Tracy and I have given a summary of what has happened in the story of Ruth up to now. Last week I presented this as a play with four acts. Today I will give a Twitter version. I am limited to 140 characters so here goes.
Naomi is hungry and goes to Moab
Husband and sons die
Returns to Bethlehem with Ruth who gleans and meets Boaz
Ruth proposes to Boaz in middle of night
What will Boaz do now

That is exactly 140 characters.

How about a haiku in which there are three lines of five syllables, seven syllables and then five syllables?
Naomi left hungry
Ruth gleaned, where she met Boaz
Ruth proposed, waited

We encourage you to read through Ruth each week. It is not a long book and is a well written story. As we preach week by week, when you once again read Ruth, you will read the story with new eyes and understanding and God can speak to you more powerfully through this book.

Last week we looked at the first half of Ruth 3 where Ruth went in the middle of the night to propose marriage to Boaz.
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.”

The law stated that under levirite marriage, the brother of a man who died had the responsibility to provide an heir by fathering a son with his brother’s widow. If there was no brother, then the closest relative had the responsibility to marry the widow and provide her with an heir.

As I mentioned last week, this is not a responsibility everyone wanted to take. Fathering a child with your relative’s widow meant that your own resources could be drained. Not everyone was willing to take that chance.

In the culture of the time and still today in some Arab cultures, when a man spreads his cloak over a woman, he marries her. So when Ruth asked Boaz to spread his wings over her, she was asking him to marry her. She reminded him that he was a redeemer, that it was his responsibility to marry her and provide an heir.

Actually, Ruth did more than ask. Naomi had instructed her to go, lie at Boaz’s feet and wait to be discovered. Naomi told her then to wait to see what Boaz would do. But Ruth went further than this. Being a woman of action, she proposed marriage in the form of an imperative. She said, “Spread your wings.” She did not ask him if he would marry her. She told him, “Marry me!”

This was a bold and presumptuous act on the part of Ruth. She was a woman of action who took risks but even bold women of action have a tender, vulnerable interior. Beneath her bold and confident exterior there must have been the same vulnerability we all feel when we expose ourselves to risks.

She came in the middle of the night to the threshing floor which was known as a place for illicit sex. She made herself vulnerable to Boaz who could have taken advantage of her. She could have ended up as a one-night conquest. She could have been rejected as a woman of loose morals. She let down her defenses and waited to see how Boaz would treat her. She spoke her line she had rehearsed
“I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”
And despite her apparent boldness, I would imagine her palms were sweating and her heart was beating loud enough for a rock band.

Her fate, her honor, and her reputation lay in Boaz’s hands and he did not leave her in doubt about how he would treat her.
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.

For what had seemed like hours she had lain at the feet of Boaz, listening to him snore as he slept. She had run through what she would say over and over again. She had run through the options of how he might respond. Would he reject her or accept her? And the first good sign for Ruth was that he called her “my daughter.” He continued to show respect for her. He was not going to dismiss her as an immoral woman.

Earlier in the field he had expressed his great admiration for her for the way she had sacrificed to love Naomi and come with Naomi to Bethlehem. Now in what must have been very welcome words, he told her that her proposal of marriage was an even greater act of kindness than her commitment to Naomi.

The inference here is that Naomi was an attractive woman, both in appearance and character. She could have sought a husband from among the younger men and been successful. She was not a woman without options. By not seeking a younger man for a husband she revealed an even greater depth of love for Naomi. She was not seeking a man to meet her needs. She was seeking a husband who would father a son who would continue the line of Elimelech, Naomi’s dead husband. She was seeking a man to meet Naomi’s needs.

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.

Ruth took a risk that she would be considered dishonorable and Boaz reassured her that she was honorable. She came to Bethlehem as a foreigner, as a lowly servant gleaning barley. She came to Boaz in the night and told him he was maidservant and now Boaz tells her that she is a worthy woman and that this is not only his view, it is the opinion of the whole town.

She has moved from a foreigner and a servant to a worthy woman, the same description that introduced Boaz in the story. (Ruth 2:1)
Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.

Ruth proposed, risking her honor, and Boaz affirmed that she was a worthy woman, viewed this way by all the important people in town. With his words, he elevated her to his own high standing in Bethlehem.

Ruth proposed, not being sure how Boaz would respond, and Boaz immediately set her at ease by speaking the words she wanted to hear.
And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask

And then he set before her his plan.
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.”

There was a closer relative. Why did Naomi send Ruth to Boaz when there was a closer relative? It was surely not ignorance on Naomi’s part. In a small town like Bethlehem, Naomi knew there was a relative closer than Boaz, but as she assessed the situation, she viewed Boaz as the one most likely to fulfill the responsibility of a redeemer. And perhaps she saw the hand of God at work in leading Ruth to the field of Boaz. Ruth did not “happen” to glean in the field of this other relative, she “happened” to glean in the field of Boaz. As God had led Ruth to the field of Boaz, Naomi saw God’s hand in leading Boaz to be the redeemer who would marry Ruth.

It is clear that Boaz had already thought about his being a possible redeemer. You don’t wake up in the middle of the night after having too much to drink with a clear head. Boaz did not wake up, hear the proposal of Ruth and then think quickly about what could be done. He had already thought this through. He already knew that he was not the closest redeemer. He knew there was one man closer than he was.

Why had he not acted on this before? Why had he not exercised his right and responsibility to marry Ruth? He clearly admired her and cared for her. He may have thought about marriage but he pushed away the possibility because he fully expected Ruth to seek a husband from one of the younger men in town. He did not think she would want to marry an older man.

As we read this story, it becomes clear that Boaz is a match for Ruth in terms of strength of character. These are two wonderful people.

When Ruth proposed, Boaz knew immediately what was going on. Men like to flatter themselves by thinking they are desirable to women, but Boaz did not fall victim to this. He knew it was not because of him that Ruth was coming to propose. He was not a desirable marriage partner for a young woman. He saw in what Ruth did her devotion to Naomi. This proposal of marriage was a deeper expression of how much Ruth was willing to sacrifice in order to serve Naomi.

So Boaz assured Ruth he would make this his top priority for the day.

At every step in this story, Boaz expressed his care and concern for Ruth. He understood fully all she was risking and all she probably was feeling. And he made sure he took care of all her concerns. She risked her honor and he affirmed her honor. She risked being rejected and he quickly assured her he was not going to reject her. She risked scandal and as we will see, he took care of that as well.

But before he protected her from scandal, he showed his concern for her emotional state.
Remain tonight … Lie down until the morning.

Why did he not tell her to go back to Naomi in the middle of the night? Why risk being seen together by spending any more time together? Why not go back when she would be less likely to be seen? I think Boaz understood how much courage it had taken for Ruth to come and propose marriage. And when you summon up your courage to do something brave, afterwards there is a letdown and you need to be cared for.

This is what happened with Elijah who summoned up his courage to confront the prophets of Bael on Mt. Carmel and then ran for his life when Jezebel threatened him. We can be brave but then we need to be cared for.

Ruth had summoned up her strength and determination to come and propose marriage. She had risked everything on this proposal and now that she had proposed and been accepted, she relaxed emotionally and felt the tiredness resulting from what she had done. Boaz understood how she was feeling and he encouraged her to stay with him, to rest, to sleep. Lie down until the morning.

As Ruth lay there, what was she feeling? She had risked and not been rejected. She had stuck out her neck and now she was being held and comforted. Naomi had told her it was time for her to find rest and now she was beginning her rest. She came to Bethlehem as a foreign widow, now she was being accepted as a wife. She would have a home. She would have her place of stability in Bethlehem. She was relieved, happy, thankful. Naomi’s God, her God, had been faithful to her. God was taking care of her. Ruth lay in Boaz’s arms and slept in peace.

So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 And he said, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city.

Boaz’s concern for Ruth continued to be expressed. He had not wanted her to go home in the middle of the night when it could be dangerous for a young woman to be out alone. He did not want her coming back in the early morning and being accused of having had a sexual liaison in the night. So he sent her back with an alibi and a sign.

He put on her back as much barley as she could carry, perhaps 35-40 kilos. This way people seeing her would see that she was working hard, bringing home food for Naomi. This provided Ruth with an alibi to explain why she was out so early in the morning. This protected her honor.

But the barley he sent back was also a sign. He sent back to Naomi seed to eat but this was also a sign of the seed he promised that would provide a son to carry on the line of Elimelech. This seed was down payment on his promise to not rest until the matter of who would be the redeemer was resolved.

he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city. 16 And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her, 17 saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’ ” 18 She replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”

Ruth returned home, told Naomi what had happened and then Naomi leaned back and relaxed, confident that everything now was ok.

Naomi had grieved. Naomi had despaired. When Ruth met Boaz she began to hope. Naomi plotted and now that Boaz had given his word, Naomi relaxed and was at peace.
“Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”

Why did Naomi lean back and relax? Boaz was a man of his word. If he said he would take care of the matter, so he would.

We have talked over the weeks of this series of sermons from the book of Ruth about Ruth as a model for us. She was a wonderful woman and we can learn much from her. Today we will look to Boaz as a model.

Boaz was first of all a man of honor and I want to challenge particularly the men here today with his example.

Ruth came to Boaz and made herself vulnerable. Boaz could easily have taken advantage of her sexually and no one would have blamed him. Ruth came to him in the middle of the night to the threshing floor. Anyone who heard the story would have said Ruth had been a willing participant in a one night stand.

But Boaz did not see Ruth as a prospective conquest; he saw her as a woman who was demonstrating sacrificial love for Naomi. Boaz saw Ruth as a person and he cared for her needs.

There are times when a woman may be more vulnerable than other times. She may be lonely and need affection. She may be away from home and looking for security. She may be short of money and appreciative of little gifts that help her have an easier life. A man can come to a woman who is vulnerable and use his charm and gifts to secure a sexual partner. But this is not the way of honor. This is not the way of Boaz.

You can justify your sexual relationship by saying that the woman is a willing participant but you are called by God to view women as more than potential sexual partners. Boaz looked further than the fact that a woman was at his feet in the middle of the night at the threshing floor. Boaz looked deeper and understood the wonderful sacrificial love Ruth was expressing.

I challenge you men to look deeper into the lives of the women you know, to understand who they are and what needs they have. I challenge you to be honorable men. I challenge you to view women as people, not as sexual objects created for your self-satisfaction.

I knew a couple who had dated for several years and were intending one day to be married. But then the man began pressuring the woman to have sex. He told her they would be married anyway so why not begin having sex now. He pressured her and made the threat that if she did not have sex with him, he would break off the relationship. She came to me for counsel and I encouraged her to resist. I told her that a man who pressured her in this way would not be a good husband. This man was not a man of honor. He was brutal and insisted on using this woman for his own purposes, ignoring her feelings and her desire to be obedient to the Biblical teaching about sex.

The Bible teaches us that sex is to be reserved for the marital bed. That should be enough for us. But in addition, we need to respect women, especially women who are followers of Jesus, as God’s daughters, our sisters-in-Christ. Honorable men seek the well-being of women in the Body of Christ. They do not use women for their own selfish, sexual satisfaction. They protect women, not use women. They encourage women to grow in their faith, not manipulate them for their own purposes.

The second way Boaz is a model for us is that he was a man of his word.

Because Boaz was a man of his word, the story of Ruth really ends at the end of chapter 3 when Ruth came back from the threshing floor and reported to Naomi how Boaz had responded. As far as Naomi was concerned, everything was now going to be ok. She was at peace because she knew the character of Boaz. Chapter 4 is an epilogue, giving details of how the story worked out, but the tensions of the story are all resolved when Boaz gives his word that he will not rest until the matter is resolved.

How many times has someone said they will do something for you and then nothing happens? This is a very common experience for me. The hammock at our house was broken during a party and a man said he would fix it. He took measurements and more than a year later nothing has happened. The case for my cell phone was coming apart and a friend said he would take it and get it fixed. He took it and after a few months I bought a new case. People will commit to helping to get ready for a party and then never show up.

How many people do you know that when they say they will do something, you can relax and not worry because you know they will do what they promised?

I struggle with this myself. My problem is that I forget. An email comes and then gets buried. Someone tells me something and I don’t write it down and then forget about it. I start off a day knowing there is something happening but I can’t remember what.

I have started carrying around a little notebook in which I write down the things I need to do so I do not forget. I want to be a man of my word. I want to be someone who can be trusted to do what I say I will do. We need to be people who when we say we will do something, the person asking can relax because they know we are men and women of our word.

In this way we model not only Boaz but Jesus. I sometimes read the benediction from I Thessalonians 5:23-24
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

We can sometimes be anxious and worried but when we sit down and remember who it is who has promised to be present with us and protect us until we come before him at the end of time, we are able to relax and be at peace. God is faithful and he will surely do what he has promised.

Men, I call you this morning to be honorable men in your relationship with women. Women, I call you to hold on to honor and not allow yourselves to be taken advantage of by men who seek to use you for their own satisfaction.

I call you to be men and women of your word. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Let people rely on you as someone who is trustworthy.