Ruth’s proposal
by Jack Wald | October 31st, 2010

Ruth 3:1-9

Marriage proposals can be quite elaborate. I read on the internet about one man who hired a production company to produce a movie trailer. He filled the movie theater with 160 close friends and came in late with his girlfriend so she would not recognize the others in the theater. There were a couple trailers and then came the one he had written which showed scenes of their life together and ended with a proposal on a beach. At the last moment it showed him on his knees, replacing the actor on the screen, facing the camera, asking his girlfriend if she would marry him. This was an expensive proposal and thus far, 450,000 people have watched this movie trailer proposal on youtube.

Sometimes marriage proposals go wrong.

One man put the engagement ring in a milkshake and as his girlfriend drank the milkshake, she swallowed the ring and they had to wait a couple days for the ring to emerge, have it cleaned and put on her finger.

Another man tied the engagement ring on a heart-shaped balloon, met his girlfriend in the park, handed her the balloon, got on one knee to propose and in her surprise she let go of the balloon which sailed up in the sky, taking the engagement ring with it.

And then I like the subtly of this proposal. A man slashed the car tires of his girlfriend so she could not leave and then proposed to her. Amazingly, she said yes, perhaps out of fear.

Overwhelmingly, men propose marriage to women, but that is not always the case. There was a Dutch chemist, Ed, who worked with me in business. When he first came to Canada, before coming to the US, he was living with his girlfriend, Elizabeth, who wanted to be married. They had many discussions about this and one night Elizabeth got so upset in the discussion that she dumped a bowl of spaghetti over Ed’s head. After that inspired proposal, they got married.

In Act 3 of the story of Ruth we come to a marriage proposal and this too was a proposal of a woman to a man.

Let me give a recap of the story thus far. Naomi is the star of Act 1. She and her husband leave Bethlehem to escape a famine and go to Moab. In this first act, Naomi’s husband dies, her two sons marry Moabite women and then both her sons die. Naomi decides to head back to Bethlehem and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth makes a magnificent declaration of sacrificial love and promises to go back with her and to stay with her, even through death. Act 1 is summarized by Ruth 1:21 when Naomi returns to Bethlehem and says:
I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty.

In Act 2 Ruth is now the star with Naomi playing a supportive role. Ruth takes things into her own hand and decides to set out to provide for Naomi and herself. She heads out to the fields to glean, trusting that she will find a field owner who will allow her to do so.

In setting out she exposes herself to risks. Because she is a foreign woman without husband or father or uncles or cousins to protect her, she is sexually vulnerable, easy pickings for any field worker who wants to take advantage of her. (Pun unintended)

Ruth is the star of Act 2 but God has a dominant role in this act as well. “As it happens” and “by chance” Ruth finds herself in the field of Boaz, a close relative of Naomi, and when Boaz visits the field, he takes her under his wing, taking care of her and protecting her from harm. A key verse in Act 2 is the blessing Boaz prays over Ruth. (Ruth 2:12)
The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”

This morning we come to Act 3 in the story of Ruth with Ruth the star in the first half and then Boaz in the second. I will focus on Ruth’s half this morning and then come to Boaz’s half next week.

As we saw a couple weeks ago, God is the great orchestrator of this relationship between Ruth and Boaz. God is directing behind the scene – but Naomi is his assistant director. Tracy mentioned last week that when Naomi heard that Ruth had been in the field of Boaz and that Boaz had shown such appreciation for her, Naomi began thinking about marriage.

Ruth mentioned that Boaz had told her
You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.
But Naomi responded
It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.

Naomi was already plotting and did not want Ruth to start a romance with one of the young men in the field so told her to stay with the young women, not the young men. She had selected the marriage partner for Ruth and was pushing distractions out of the way.

So we come to the opening line in Act 3 of the story of Ruth.
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?

Why did Naomi want rest for Ruth? Was it because she thought she was working too hard? This word rest has a different meaning than what we first think. It means to be in a place of security, to know where you belong. Up to now Ruth has been existing as a side attraction. She goes out to glean barley. She is appreciated for her hard work and devotion to Naomi. But she is still on the fringe of society. She is not really established in Bethlehem. It is time for her to be in the big tent, in her own show. It is time for Ruth to get married and find stability. It is time for Ruth to be at rest.

So Naomi lays out for Ruth what she needs to do.
Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 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. 4 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.”

Now this is where the story gets a little steamy. Every language has euphemisms for sexual terms, words that substitute for the more graphic terms, and Hebrew is no exception. In this description of what Naomi is telling Ruth to do there are three euphemisms. Feet is a euphemism for the male sexual organ. Uncover your nakedness is a way of saying sexual intercourse. Lie down is another metaphor for sexual intercourse. Furthermore, the threshing floor was know as a place where illicit sex took place. If they had used English, they might have made the pun that it was really a thrashing floor.

What Naomi is telling Ruth to do is to make herself look good. Wash up and put on some perfume. Wait until Boaz is asleep. Uncover his feet, anatomically above the knees and below the waist. Lie down and wait to see what he will do. Naomi is basically asking Ruth to go to Boaz, uncover him, take off her clothes and then wait for his response.

But it is important to note that Naomi is protecting Ruth, even in what seems to us to be a highly improper plan. Naomi tells Ruth to go secretly to the threshing floor, not letting people see her. And then she makes sure Ruth sees where it is Boaz lies down to sleep so Ruth will not embarrass herself by going to the wrong man.

This is a high-risk plan but Naomi took the precautions she could to protect Ruth. Naomi was putting Ruth into Boaz’s hands and was trusting Boaz would have a noble response.

But even with these precautions, I have to tell you that if my daughter or any of you came to me and suggested this course of action, I would sit you down and talk and pray with you and help you to see this is not the way to begin a healthy relationship. In my best pastoral tone I would ask you, “Are you out of your cotton-picking mind? Who put this crazy plan in your head? Naomi? Well then, tell her to do it if she thinks it is such a great idea.”

But Ruth doesn’t seem to blink.
And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”
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.

Ruth was a risk taker. She left her country, her home and her family to go with Naomi to an uncertain future. She risked being abused in the fields when she set out to try to glean some barley. And she takes risks here as well.

Ruth washed and put on perfume and then set out when it was dark. She made her way to the threshing floor. The men were eating and drinking and she kept in the shadows, watching. When Boaz had enough and made his way to the threshing floor, she watched to see where he was going to sleep.

What was the state of Boaz at the time? It does not seem that he was walking in a straight line. Boaz ate and drank and then, when his heart was merry, he went to lie down. In the spirit of euphemisms, Boaz was feeling no pain and Ruth waited until he was drunk before she went to him.

Do you remember from the first sermon on Ruth the joke that was made about Moab? In Hebrew, Moab sounds like Hebrew for what or who, and father and carries the meaning “Who is your father?” This is a mocking question because everyone knew that the father of Moab was Lot and Moab was conceived when Lot’s daughters got him drunk in a cave after escaping from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

This is the national joke about Moab and here Ruth exposes herself to the same accusation, waiting until Boaz is drunk before she goes in and lies down with him. “Did you hear what Ruth did? What do you expect from a Moabitess.”

Up to now she has been respected for the love she had shown Naomi. Now she could become the town joke.

Despite the risks, Ruth came to Boaz in the threshing floor and made herself completely vulnerable to him. She put herself in his hands and what happened to her would be completely up to him. She could be treated as a one-night conquest. She could be rejected as a woman of loose morals. She let down her defenses and waited to see how Boaz would treat her.

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.”

This is how Ruth proposed marriage to Boaz. As you will remember, Boaz was a man old enough to be her father and perhaps older. When Boaz has looked at Ruth, he has admired her for the love she has shown Naomi. He has taken her under his protection as a father would protect his daughter. He has admired her as an older man admires a young woman.

But now Ruth comes to him, exposes herself and announces, “You have treated me as a daughter, now I want you to think about me as a woman. Marry me.”

When Boaz prayed for Ruth on the first day they met, he prayed, (Ruth 2:12)
The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”

Now Ruth tells him he should be the answer to his own prayer.
Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.

We will come to Boaz’s response next week. But this morning I want to help us understand Ruth’s actions.

When we read this passage, what we see is the sexual side of things. If I stopped now and asked if you had any questions, I am certain the first question would be “Did Boaz and Ruth have sex?” That is where our minds are focused. And the answer to that question seems to be that they did not have sex on the threshing floor. There are some hints in the text that lead in this direction. Paul Miller, whose notes Tracy and I have been using in our preaching for this series, told me that there are four Hebrew words for sex and they are not used in the text.

However, the euphemisms are there, so it is clear that this is a sexually charged situation. But it seems Boaz waited until they were married to have sex with Ruth. In chapter 4 the text says (Ruth 4:13)
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son.

There is a progression here that indicates Boaz did not take sexual advantage of Ruth until they were married. She became his wife and then he went in to her and she conceived and bore a son.

That question addressed, what I want to point out is that this is what we focus on when we read the story. It is all about sex. Did they or didn’t they?

The readers of the story and the participants in the story had a much different perspective.

When Boaz announces that he and Ruth are to be married, the elders and all those at the gate give their blessing. They say, in part, (Ruth 4:12)
and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.”

Who is Perez? At the end of the story, when the genealogy is given that leads from Boaz to Obed to Jesse to David, who starts off the genealogy? Perez.

Who is Perez? Abraham was the father of Isaac who was the father of Jacob who had twelve sons. The fourth son of Jacob and Leah was Judah. Judah’s oldest son, Er, married Tamar but then Er died. (Genesis 38:8–10)
Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.

If a man died, it was the responsibility of the man’s brothers to father children for him. This way his widow would be cared for and the property of the man who died would be passed along to his descendants. The children of the brother who fathered them were not his, they belonged to his dead brother. To father children for your brother meant that your own estate was threatened as you picked up expenses for another household. And all that you spent would be lost to you and your descendants. Your brother’s descendants took the benefit of your expenditures.

So Onan sinned by not fulfilling his responsibility in fathering a child for Tamar and then he died. Judah then told Tamar to live as a widow in his household. He had lost two sons and did not want to risk his third son.

Tamar then took matters into her own hand. When she heard that Judah was coming to shear sheep, she disguised herself as a shrine prostitute, had sex with Judah, took his ring, cord and staff as collateral until he could come back to pay her, and then put her widow’s clothes back on and waited. She became pregnant and when this was discovered, Judah wanted to have her put to death. (Genesis 38:25–26)
As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” 26 Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.”

When we read this story we think of a tabloid story, a shameful story of a woman having sex with her father-in-law. But the people of Bethlehem viewed her as a heroine because of all that she sacrificed in order to provide sons for her dead husband. Tamar risked humiliation and death in order to continue the family line of her dead husband and Judah saw in her actions her righteousness because she did for herself what he had failed to do for her.

It is in this light that we need to read the story of Ruth. Ruth took an action we would never recommend but it was an heroic act because of the sacrifice Ruth was willing to make for Naomi. Just as Tamar risked her honor and her life in order to preserve her dead husband’s line, so did Ruth risk her honor in order to preserve her dead husband’s line – and Naomi’s dead husband’s line.

Ruth risked but she also sacrificed. Ruth did not seek a young husband for herself, she went to Boaz which meant she would experience being a widow a second time in the not too distant future. She did not seek a young husband who would be her life partner. She did not pick a young husband where she would be the matriarch. Because she married Boaz, a close relative of Naomi, the son she bore would not belong to her. Biologically, this would be her child, but in the eyes of the community, this would be the son of Naomi. And in fact, when Ruth gave birth, the women said, “Naomi has a son.”

Ruth, like Tamar before her, was an heroic woman.

How do we apply this passage to our lives? If you are thinking of using Ruth’s proposal as a model for yourself, come see me after the service so I can yell at you and knock some sense in your head. Ruth’s proposal of marriage to Boaz is not an appropriate model for any of us. But the principle behind Ruth’s actions is worth modeling.

Ruth sacrificed the ideal for the greater good. Ruth sacrificed what would be best for her in order to take care of her family, namely Naomi.

I have a friend in the Air Force who flew jets before he was posted here in Rabat. When he left he had a few options. The most exciting and the best option for his military career was to return to flying jets. But he rejected this option, gave up the glory of flying jets to take a position in a flight school so he could have more time with his wife and children.

I have another friend who works in banking. His wife had an affair and left him. He took a position in a bank in a smaller community where he had less job security and where his prospects of advancement were not as likely. He did this in order to spend more time with his sons.

These men are heros in my book. They sacrificed what would be best for them in order to be better fathers and in one case a better husband.

I know a woman who stayed with her husband, even though he was not meeting her needs, so that her daughter could have a father. This was an heroic action on her part.

I know many people who have given up the opportunity to earn good incomes in order to come to this country to care for people in need. There are teachers, businessmen and women, therapists, all of whom could earn more back in their home countries than they do here. They could live an easier life but they have sacrificed their own acquisition of wealth and a more comfortable lifestyle in order to love people in the name of Jesus.

These people are heros.

In what way are you being challenged to love in a way that will cause you to sacrifice for the good of someone else?

Ruth was an amazing woman. May we be inspired by her to live more loving lives.