Aug 28 - The Wullerton Girl Proposes

The Wullerton Girl Proposes

August 28, 2016

Ruth 3

 

 

 

THE WULLERTON GIRL PROPOSES

Ruth 3

August 28th, 2016

 

Have any of you watched the TV sitcom “Corner Gas”?  It ran from 2004 to 2009 and was set in the fictional small town in Saskatchewan named Dog River.  And while the townsfolks were by and large laid back, they really disliked the neighbouring small town of Wullerton

 

My wife reminded me that the attitude of the Dog River folks was very much like the attitude of the Jewish people toward the Moabites.  What, date a girl from Wullerton? Even Hank, who is dating her, spits.

 

Ammonites or Moabites may never be included in the assembly of YHWH.  Their descendants, even to the tenth generation, may never enter the assembly of YHWH.  … As long as you exist you may never seek their peace or prosperity.                       Deuteronomy 23:3,6

 

The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighbouring people who have detestable practices, like … the Ammonites, Moabites ….  They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the people around them.                                                   Ezra 9:1-2

 

So how would a good Dog Riverian have responded to a girl from Wullerton proposing marriage to him?  What would need to happen for them to consider her a person of worth, a person of note?

 

Let me set the stage as we enter the third chapter of the book of Ruth.  The Jewish widow Naomi returned to Bethlehem with her Moabite daughter-in-law in tow, who also was a widow but who had committed herself to taking care of Naomi until her death.

 

The only way that Ruth could think of providing a meager existence for her and her mother-in-law was to glean, that is, to remove any grain left behind on the fields after it had been harvested. 

 

As it happened she ended up on a field owned by a man named Boaz, who was actually a relative to Naomi’s dead husband.  He allowed Ruth to glean his fields, making sure that she ended up picking up a lot more than was normally the case. 

 

1 One day Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, isn’t it time that I found a permanent home for you, so that we will be provided for?  2 Now, isn’t Boaz a relative of ours, and you have spent time among his young women workers?  Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor.  3 Now do as I tell you – take a bath, put on perfume, and dress in your clean clothes. 

 

So Naomi hatches a plan for her husband’s relative Boaz to marry Ruth.  In that day and age, an unmarried woman generally was condemned to a life of poverty since, besides gleaning, there wasn’t much else for her to do other than beg. 

 

The Hebrew word that Ruth uses to describe that Ruth would be provided for, literally means “security”, referring to the fact that a married woman is secure because she’s looked after. 

 

It is exactly the same term used in 1:9, where Naomi tells Ruth and Orpah to go back to Moab so that they could find security with a Moabite husband. 

 

The question Naomi asks now with regard to her ability to bring about that security is a complete reversal of her previous statement which stressed the impossibility of what she is now proposing.  These are her words in essence to Ruth and Orpah in chapter 1: “I will never be able to provide you with a husband … you’ll be single for the rest of your life … so go back to Moab” (1:11-13).

 

So we have a complete turnaround in Naomi’s attitude.  When she returned to Bethlehem, Naomi felt like a victim.  She was depressed and blamed God for having dealt harshly with her.  And as long as she saw herself this way, she made no plans or strategy for the future.

One of the terrible effects of depression is the inability to move purposefully and hopefully into the future.  

When Naomi awakens to the kindness of God, her hope comes alive and the overflow is strategic planning.  She is concerned about finding Ruth a place of care and security, and she makes a plan.  

The comment about Ruth spending time around Boaz’s female field workers is really a veiled way of commenting on the fact that Ruth and Boaz must have seen quite a bit of each other as the harvest went on.  They had seen each other daily in the fields, likely had lunch together many times, in other words, they had gotten to know each other.

 

Women can be deceived into thinking that a man is nice, when he’s dating her, but the only reason he’s nice is because he wants something.    A better gauge to measure a man or woman is to see how they act towards others - because that may be an indication of how they will treat you in the future.   

 

So Naomi tells Ruth had to gussy up.  Ahhh, get dolled up.  Spruced up?  Fancied up ... To make herself look and smell presentable. 

 

Naomi wasn’t telling Ruth to take off her mourning clothes or to put on a fancy dress.  Likely Ruth had neither.  Naomi simply mentioned regular clothes.

 

Ruth’s preparations were for a much, much more serious undertaking than getting oneself ready for a date. 

 

Then go to the threshing floor, but don’t let Boaz see you until he has finished eating and drinking.  4 Be sure to notice where he lies down.  Sometime later go in and uncover his feet and lie down.  He will tell you what to do.”  5 “I will do everything you say,” Ruth replied.  6 So she went down to the threshing floor that night and followed all of the instructions of her mother-in-law.

 

A threshing floor by its very nature didn’t have any solid walls or a roof, the wind needs to blow through for the winnowing.  For that reason it was often built on higher land where the wind tends to blow more than in the valley.[1]

 

First the stalks had to be broken down in order to loosen the grain.  This was often done using animals that would walk on and drag heavy objects over the stalks, like a wooden sled.  Of course threshing could also be done by hand.

 

The broken-down stalks then had to be tossed into the air, often with a wooden winnowing fork, in order to separate the chaff from the grain.  The idea was that the lighter chaff would be blown to the side by the wind, while the heavier grain would fall more directly to the ground. 

 

The problem is that while some wind is required to make the process work, it had to be the right amount. Too strong of a wind and the grain blew away right along with the chaff and the straw. Too little wind and everything that went up in the air came right back down and it didn’t separate.

 

The desert winds were always quite strong during the afternoon at that time of year. But as the sun moved downward toward the horizon, the breeze became gentle. By dark it became calm. Thus it wasn’t truly nighttime that Naomi was speaking of but rather dusk when Boaz was winnowing and that would have been the regular time that winnowing took place in the part of Judah where they were.

 

This is a modern threshing floor where the old way of doing things is still being practiced.  In Ruth’s day, it would have looked quite similar, a floor made of flat rocks or hardened dirt, lowered in the center so the grain tends to roll toward the middle rather than toward the edges.  Along the edge there may have been a low wall that kept the grain from rolling outside of the threshing floor.

 

When most of the harvest is in and brought to the threshing floor, it appeared that it was quite customary for the workers to sleep right on site, possibly to protect the grain from being stolen.   

 

The reference to Boaz drinking is an indication that he drank wine … if it had been water, it would not have been mentioned. 

 

Ruth was to notice where Boaz was sleeping before total darkness had set in and then she was to go and uncover his feet and lay down next to him. 

 

It must have been a moonless night so it was important for Ruth to be certain of Boaz’s location because there were other workers who also slept on or near the threshing floor, and the whole plan would end in disaster should Ruth lay down beside the wrong person.

 

So there is this huge discussion about what Ruth’s instructions to uncover Boaz’s feet actually meant.  It is not uncommon for feet to be used as an idiom in the Bible to refer to the male private parts (cf. Ex 4:25). 

This is one of the reasons why the scene at the threshing floor is often depicted in quite sensual ways.

 

By the way, this is still a very tame depiction compared to some others. 

 

But that would be so very forward, and some commentators consider this to be incongruous with the character of Ruth.[2] 

 

So as an alternative, some commentators argue that the Hebrew word used for “feet” is better translated as “legs”.[3]  In other words, by uncovering the legs, it would be more likely that Boaz would get cold during the night and wake up. 

 

However, it may very well be that Naomi hoped that simply uncovered Boaz’s literal feet would ensure that Boaz would wake up during the night.  So it is quite possible to understand the text literally. 

 

Regardless of how we understand this passage, we should realize that a woman placing oneself at night at the feet of a man would be considered a sexually charged atmosphere, and Boaz’s inebriation just added to the potential for something to take place. 

 

In other words, Naomi purposefully placed Ruth and Boaz into a moral minefield and, as we will see, both come out unscathed, really no thanks to Naomi’s meddling.

 

I would doubt it very much that the solution to Ruth’s situation was best handled by approaching Boaz in the middle of the night.  More appropriate would have been something during the daytime. 

 

However we understand this scene, uncovering the feet was a way for Ruth to signal to Boaz that she wanted him to marry her.   

 

Naomi’s comment, that at that point Boaz will tell Ruth what to do, may seem odd, unless we consider that Ruth was not familiar with the Jewish customs surrounding land redemption and levirate marriage.  Naomi also puts the onus regarding proper conduct squarely on Boaz’s plate.  And there was significant risk involved. 

 

Boaz could tell Ruth to get lost, drive her away in moral indignation, or, if he wanted to, then he might give in to the temptation to sleep with her, even though he knew that he really couldn’t offer her marriage.

 

So let see what happens once Ruth snuck down to the threshing floor, making sure that she kept away from where Boaz could see here.

 

7 After Boaz ate and drank and felt good, he lay down at the edge of the heap of grain and went to sleep.  Then Ruth came in secret, uncovered his feet and lay down.  8 Around midnight, Boaz startled awake and looked all around.[4]  He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet.  9 “Who are you?” he asked.  “I am your maid Ruth,” she replied.  “Won’t you spread your covering over me, for you are a family redeemer?”

 

So Boaz felt good before he went to sleep.  This is not a comment on having a full stomach or feeling content, but that Boaz had a bit of a buzz on. 

 

A number of commentators mentioned that the end of the harvest when the grain was collected was a time of celebration and partying.  It would have made the situation even more precarious for Ruth and more tempting for Boaz as he might not have had all his faculties about him. 

 

What would have been best for Ruth between the time she lay at Boaz’s feet until he woke up?  If we were able to give her advice, we may tell her to rest as much as possible and worry as least as possible. 

 

But then, when we’re waiting for a response from the doctor about your test results, when we are waiting to see if you will get a reasonable place to rent, when we’re waiting to see whether or not a contract will materialize, when we’re wondering if our application is accepted … is that what we do?

 

Something startled the sleeping Boaz.  The Hebrew words imply that he may have frightened awake.  And so he sat up in order to look around so he could see what may have woken him (lit. twisted). 

 

In the dark he could see that a woman was lying at his feet, but he could not make out who this was. 

 

To be covered by someone’s garment was a sign of being protected by someone.  Here, Ruth’s request that Boaz spread out his garment over her is the sign that he would in fact agree to her proposal to become her husband, and thus her protector. 

 

Nowhere else in ancient literature we find that the exposing of the feet as an invitation to marry.  However there are Biblical passages other than Ruth that make reference to being covered by the corners of a garment (called wings) as a sign of marriage.[5] 

 

In the Mosaic Law, the Law of Land Redemption obligated a man to purchase back land that had been sold by a close male relative in order to keep land ownership within the family clan.  This man was known as the family redeemer, in Hebrew the go’el

 

A completely separate issue was the Law dealing with Levirate marriage.  Here a man was obligated to marry his brother’s widow if there was no male offspring, in order to perpetuate the brother’s lineage. 

 

Further, this law would not be applicable to Boaz because he wasn’t a brother to Ruth’s deceased husband, Machlon. 

 

However, in the story of Ruth we see these two institutions combined.  Only here do we find the custom that a redeemer, a go’el, may have been obligated to marry the widow of a deceased man who would, under normal circumstances, have been the owner of the land he was redeeming.

 

Perhaps at issue was the situation where the deceased husband of a widow had no surviving brothers, which was the case with Ruth.  It seemed that in Bethlehem at that time, the duty of the Levirate marriage then fell to the family go’el

 

If Boaz should commit himself to marrying Ruth, who was Machlon’s wife and redeeming the land that would have belonged to Machlon had he not died, then two birds would be killed with one stone.  Naomi would have her cake and eat it. 

 

So Ruth again took the position and title of a servant.  The location at the feet indicates humility, as does the self-designation as Boaz’s maid, which can also be translated as female slave. 

In the marriage relationship, many husbands wish they had a wife who submitted to them the way Ruth is being told to here.  But do they provide the kind of godly leadership, care, and concern that Boaz showed towards Ruth and others?

In the marriage relationship, many wives wish they had a husband who loved, cared, and treated them the way Boaz did Ruth. But do they show the same kind of humble submission and respect Ruth showed to Boaz?

Ruth was a model of how someone, anyone, was to approach God.  We don’t like considering ourselves to be servants or slaves.  But when it comes to approaching the creator of the universe that is really all that is appropriate. 

Maybe for you it may mean coming to God and acknowledging that you have been a failure as a Christian, a failure as a spouse, or a failure as a parent.  When God makes a ‘somebody’, He always starts with nobodies!  That is, we cannot come to God with pride, but with laying ourselves down in humility at His feet.

Ruth took a big risk and the real question is how Boaz would respond. 

 

10 “YHWH bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed.  “You are showing more steadfast kindness and love (chesed) now than at first because you did not run after young men, neither rich nor poor.  11 Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter.  I will do everything you requested of me, for everyone at the city gate knows that you are an able woman.  12 But there is one problem.  While it is true that I am one of the family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related (to Eli-melech) than I am. 

 

The response was very good.  It seems that Boaz accepted both the responsibility of land redemption and the responsibility of levirate marriage, figuring that the one also included the other.

 

Again Boaz states that Ruth demonstrated God’s chesed, this time toward himself rather than Naomi.  It seems that Boaz wasn’t a spring chicken, at least he was a fair bit older than Ruth.  Perhaps Boaz considered himself unattractive to Ruth and had therefore ruled out any idea of a romance between them.

 

In his eyes, it would have been much more understandable if Ruth had approached out a younger Jewish man as a potential spouse, whether poor or rich (a weird statement that may imply that Ruth wasn’t courting Baoz because of his wealth). 

 

Ruth based her attraction to Boaz more on respect than on image or appearance.   

 

Boaz responded to Ruth based on character rather than on appearance – even though we are never told whether or not she was physically attractive. 

 

Tragically, many people fall in love with an image or an appearance, rather than with a person who they can really respect.

 

Boaz’ response to Ruth were the same words that Jesus said to his followers – ‘do not fear!’  Now what about you and I when we approach God with a request? 

 

What if we’ve been taking a beating, wondering how circumstances will turn out for us?  Have we laid it at God’s feet and allowed Got to speak ‘Do not fear!’ into our lives?  Or do we take matters into our own hands and compromise.

 

Boas’ comment that everyone at the city gate, that is, the elders of the city who presided over disputes or legal matters, have a high view of Ruth, was also significant, given her background. 

 

The Hebrew word translated as “able woman” could signify either a woman of excellent character or a woman who is hard-working – or likely both. 

 

In effect it reminds me of the description of the perfect wife in Proverbs 31, who is industrious, charitable and kind, and therefore is said to be praised in the village gates.

 

Ruth was no longer looked down upon because she was from Moab.  She had earned the respect even of those who were considered the most important people in the village. 

 

However, there was this problem when it came to Boaz redeeming Eli-melech’s land and marrying Ruth.  There is another man even more closely related to Naomi’s deceased husband who would have the first chance at redemption.

 

So according to custom Boaz responds, “Ruth, there is another who has prior claim to you and I won't be able to proceed until all things are duly settled with him."  The stars are beautiful overhead, it is midnight, he loves her, she loves him, she is under his cloak . . . and he stops it and does not touch her.  As provocative as the situation may be, nothing happened!

 

Listen, the principle in our society is that if it feels good, do it, and forget about a guilt-producing, puritanical principles of chastity and faithfulness. 

 

Yes, the stars are shining in their beauty and your blood is thudding like a hammer and you are safe in the privacy of your place, stop . . . for the sake of righteousness.  Let the morning dawn on your purity.  Don't be like the world. Be powerful in self-control.  Committed to righteousness.

 

13 Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him.  If he is willing to do the redemption for you,[6] then he will do it.  But if he is not willing, then as surely as YHWH lives, I will do the redemption for you.  Now lie down until morning.”  14 So Ruth lay at Boaz’s feet until the morning, but she got up before it was light enough for people to recognize each other.  For Boaz had said, “No one must know that a woman was here at the threshing floor.”

 

Boaz’ plan was to approach the other relative and give him the chance to redeem the land and marry Ruth.  If the man agreed, then a possible marriage to Boaz wasn’t in the cards and Ruth would have to marry the other man.  The wording seems to imply that Boaz was quite prepared for that possibility and he wanted Ruth to be as well.

 

Boaz was also concerned for Ruth’s reputation.  He did not want his field workers, who were also sleeping at or on the threshing floor to become aware that Ruth had stayed at Boaz’s side during the night, especially because she may have to get married to another man. 

 

Boaz therefore wanted her to move somewhere else, likely away from the threshing floor altogether before dusk would potentially reveal her to the others.  It was only after daybreak that Boaz encounters her again:

 

15 Boaz said to her, “Bring your cloak and hold on to it.”  She held on to it and he measured out six measures of barley into the cloak and then placed it on her.  Then he returned to town. 

16 When Ruth went back to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “Who are you, my daughter?”  Ruth told Naomi everything that Boaz had done for her, 17 and she added, “He gave me these six measures of barley and said, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’”

 

We have no idea how much 6 measures of grain were.  However, it must have been a significant amount because it seems that Boaz had to help to put it either on Ruth’s back or head. 

 

Whatever the amount, it was a clear message from Baoz to Naomi that his intentions were serious.

 

Naomi’s question, “Who are you” makes sense given that Ruth potentially could have come back as Mrs. Boaz.  And, given the fact that Naomi likely didn’t know about the one who was even closer related to Eli-melech and had the prior right to redemption. 

 

18 Then Naomi said to her, “Sit here my daughter until we hear how the matter turns out, because the man won’t rest until he has settled the matter today.”

 

Naomi was certain that whatever Boaz would do he would do so immediately.  It would be a short enough time that it would not be worth going about one’s daily business, so that taking a seat and waiting was the only logical thing to do. 

 

So what, in this story, can we apply to our own lives today?

 

The central statement in chapter 3 are Boaz’s words to Ruth:  You are showing more steadfast kindness and love (chesed) now than at first.  And the real point is that such chesed is transformational – it brings about positive change in one’s own life – as well as in the lives it touches.

 

Maybe this is a lesson worth learning again and again.  The problem is that we often think that transformation has to do with something external, not something that really comes from the inside out.

 

The most important action is the way that Boaz reacted and replied when he found a woman at his feet and it was in his power to take advantage of the situation.

 

What do we do when we are alone, or where no one sees us, that we do not want everyone else to know?  When we face temptations do we give in because no one will know?  Boaz could have slept with Ruth without having to worry too much if Ruth left him before others would see her.  Who would take her word over his own that he had slept with her?  Yet he remained a person of integrity, despite being placed in a most compromising situation when he was at this weakest. 

 

For me, that was THE message of chapter 3 - the way that Boaz handled himself with utmost integrity and honour, when he could have done otherwise. 

The good news about integrity is that we're not born with it—or without it—which means that it's a behavior-based virtue we can cultivate over time.  We can set a goal to show more integrity in everyday life and we can reach that goal by practicing how we respond to the daily pressures and temptations of life. 

The root of integrity is about doing the right thing even when it’s not acknowledged by others, or convenient for ourselves.  An individual with integrity is the antidote to self-interest.  So how can we practice integrity?

 

How can I practice integrity?

1. Am I quick to apologize when Ive done something wrong even to my kids?

Small children make easy targets. They’re physically vulnerable by size and stature, and they’re emotionally Vulnerable because they don’t yet have the cognitive capacity to understand the complexities of life.

When parents feel overwhelmed, it often follows that they snap at their children or issue a too-harsh punishment.  As a parent myself, I known how hard it can be, but at the same time, I also know that delivering an apology to your child when you’ve gone too far is something he or she deserves—and that it's an absolute sign of integrity.  Parents should set aside their pride and learn to apologize more frequently.

2. Am I quick to highlight the accomplishments of others rather than our own?

The percentage of managers or bosses who are narcissistic, sadistic, or even sociopathic appears to be off the charts. The boss with integrity is a boss not because she or he wants to have power over others, but because they are natural leaders who are good at keeping things organized and who handles challenging situations with dexterity.

Simply put, bosses with integrity have no need for power because they know they're good at what they do. The good boss makes a constant effort to appreciate a staff’s contribution and to give them credit for a job well done.

3. Am I completely adverse to name-calling or other vicious behaviors?

Let’s admit it: There are infinite ways we can treat someone badly.  Every day, in couples old and new, wealthy and poor, men and women get nasty with each other.  It could be abusive or passive aggressive. 

No psychological study will ever reveal the percentage of relationships that include nasty, below-the-belt behavior. Yet there are couples out there who fight, but never unfairly, who argue but stop short of calling each other names.  Those couples, which may have problems with each other but still manage to show a level of humanity and kindness show integrity in everyday life.

4. Do I drive considerately?

We all have to share the roads, no matter how annoying that reality might be.  How you drive says a lot about us — how we treat people we don’t know; how we handle anger; and the extent to which we suffer from a sense of entitlement.

Perhaps we’d like to believe that someone who drives slowly or non-aggressively is simply less busy than us, but driving in a cooperative manner that is mindful of your fellow commuters is actually a sign of integrity.

5. Do I volunteer?

As a society, we don't volunteer hardly enough. Yet a handful of men and women make volunteering a built-in part of their weekly life, whether at a church, food pantry, animal shelter, or other non-profit operation.  It shows a certain level of integrity to volunteer for a one-day stint here or there, but the steadier integrity is shown by those who commit to ongoing volunteer positions that require a real sacrifice of time.  

Our integrity can be seen in the way that we deal with our business, our work, our family, our dates, our spouses, our studies … in just about every aspect of our lives.

Hey diddle, diddle,

I’ve got a bulge in my the middle

And hope to whittle it soon.

 

But eating’s such fun

That I won’t get it done

Till my dish runs away with my spoon.

 

WHAT IS GOD SAYING TO ME TODAY?

 

Prayer:  Heavenly father.  Thank you for the examples of chesed, steadfast love and kindness, and integrity that Ruth and Boaz display.  They are demonstrating to us what it means to be your children. 

We ask that you would forgive us when we fail.  Help us to become greater in the kindness we show and the integrity we display.  Bring out the best in us, even during times of crisis and temptation.

Perhaps there are some here this morning who have not even had a start with you.  I pray that even now they would ask for the new life that you give through Jesus.  I pray that even now they would ask to be forgiven for the past failures and mistakes.  I pray that they would seek to start over in their lives and know it is possible because of Jesus’ death on the cross.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] It is therefore odd that Ruth “went down” to the threshing floor.  The LXX reads “went up”.

[2] If other workers slept close by, then a sexual encounter may have woken them.

[3] Hebrew margeloth used only in Ruth 3:4,7,8,14 and Daniel 10:6, where the figure in Daniel’s vision is said to have arms and feet (legs?) that looked like polished bronze.

[4]

[5] Ezek 16:8 – God covers Israel’s nakedness with his garment and entered into a covenant with her. 

[6] Lit.  If he is willing to redeem you (again, the redemption of land and levirate marriage is lumped into one).