Meditations in Ruth : 15. A Need Faced
Ruth 3:1 One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?
A little time has passed – but not much as circumstances will show it is still harvest – and wise Naomi faces a problem as she sees it. It is all very well for Ruth to go into the fields gleaning, but harvest will not carry on for ever, and when it comes to an end, Ruth will still be on her own, a widow. Yet she is still young enough to be remarried. In that culture a woman was settled when she was married and so marriage was both expected and desired.
You may find a note in your Bible that an alternative to “find a home” could be “find rest”. Back in the days before they had left Moab, Naomi had said to here two daughter-in-law, “May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” (1:9) Marriage was seen as completion for the woman, coming to rest in a role where she could become a mother and where there was no more wondering and speculation about her future. As much as many younger women today espouse a free lifestyle where they have freedom to go from partner to partner, yet hidden in most is that desire to settle with one. The uncertainties of godless, self-centred lifestyles of the twenty-first century in the West make many doubt whether there can ever be a settled permanent relationship, but that was not how it was in Israel. Divorce, although possible according to the Law, was relatively rare.
So Naomi recognizes that getting married would be the ideal for Ruth, but she is a foreigner and not every Israelite man would want a foreign wife as the Law generally did not look in favour on that. Then of course there was the law of the kinsman-redeemer and that, surely, should be the path to tread. But how to bring it about? Boaz has indeed shown kindness and favour to Ruth and he is a kinsman redeemer but would he want to do this? This needs treating carefully and gently. But there is still an opportunity because the harvest is still going on and Ruth can legitimately be in his presence.
Naomi thinks it through and then counsels her daughter-in-law: “Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on 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.” What is all this about?
Point One: “Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours?” That is the starting point. If you are to be redeemed according to the laws of our culture, it has to be by one who is in that position – and Boaz is in that position.
Point Two: “Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor.” i.e. we know where he will be and so all we have to do it arrange for a suitable meeting between the two of you where you can show him your intentions and he can respond accordingly. It’s got to be tonight down at the threshing floor.
Point Three: “Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes.” When you do meet him you’ve got to be presentable, sufficiently so that he thinks you are good enough to have for a wife.
Point Four: “Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking.” That is a public place and it is improper for you to push yourself on him so keep in the background until all the eating and drinking has been finished and he feels so tired he will sleep down there (which is probably what often happened).
Point Five: “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.” After he has gone to sleep – and it will probably be in a corner or behind a shelter with some privacy, go and slip under his cover. In this way you will be offering yourself to him but you will be doing it in private and that allows him to make whatever response he wants without pressure. If the thought of redeeming you is not favourable to him, then he will send you home. If, on the other hand, his heart is moved and he wants to redeem you and take you as his wife, he will tell you and will tell you what steps he will take to bring that about.
In what might appear to us as strange behaviour (no asking him outright but acting it out) it allows Boaz to respond as his heart is moved without creating any gossip and he can, if he wishes, back away, and this won’t have caused him embarrassment. It is a strategy of grace and it allows Boaz free choice without embarrassment. It reminds me of young Jonathan’s call to his servant, “Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” (1 Sam 14:6) He was basically saying to his servant, “let’s give this a try. Who knows what the Lord might bring out of it.” There’s a little of that in Naomi’s strategy: let’s try this approach. It doesn’t bring shame to either you or Boaz but it does let him know what you feel and it does give him opportunity to walk away or redeem you as his wife, and that out of the public gaze. As we said, it is a strategy of grace.
If we feel we need to move things ahead, do we do it with grace, in ways that don’t put pressure on others, that doesn’t force others to act? Do we seek God for His wisdom to do it in ways that leave doors open for others to act? May it be so.