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“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel!’” — Ruth 4:14
An Odd Road to a Happy Ending
Has your life worked out exactly as you planned or hoped when you were younger? Most of us experience unexpected twists and turns in life. Divorce happens. Jobs are eliminated. Loved ones die. Times change. Love grows – or doesn’t. We may all have some concept of a dream life, but rarely does it work out as we had planned.
Sometimes life turns out to be less than we had hoped for, but often it becomes more. We learn that, though all things are not good, God is able to work with us to bring something good even from trials, and often in unexpected ways.
A daring plan for Ruth(3:1-18)
Such was the case for a woman named Naomi. After traveling to Moab during a time of famine, Naomi’s husband died. Her two sons married Moabite women but died childless, leaving Naomi bereft and fearful of a future with no family to support her.
Hope revived after she returned to Bethlehem along with Ruth, the widow of her son Mahlon. Ruth gleaned in the fields of a man named Boaz, who took a strong liking to her. Weeks of gleaning provided needed food, but Naomi still lacked descendants to ensure her social standing and future security.
How could that be rectified? Knowing that Boaz was related to her husband and having noticed the sparks between him and Ruth, Naomi hatched an audacious plan. As a kinsman, Boaz could buy the property that had belonged to her deceased husband Elimelech and provide financial security. If he also married Ruth, he could conceive children to preserve Elimelech’s posterity and Naomi’s future.
With the harvest season ended, farmers turned their thoughts to winnowing the barley and wheat that had been stacked up in their fields. During that hectic time, it was not unusual for the workers to camp out by the threshing floor, both for convenience and to protect the hard-won bounty of grain.
Naomi plotted to use this unusual sleeping situation to force Boaz’s hand. Naomi instructed her daughter-in-law to bathe, put on perfume, and dress in her best clothes (3:1-3a). She was not sending Ruth to a party, but to the pallet where Boaz was sleeping in the field. Flirtation and sexual tension had begun to emerge in the previous chapter. Now it comes front and center.
Naomi instructed Ruth to go to the place where Boaz and his workers were threshing barley, but remain hidden until she saw that Boaz had eaten and drunk his fill before turning in for the night. After observing where Boaz was sleeping, Naomi had told her: “Go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do” (3:4b).
What? Was Naomi really sending Ruth to sneak into bed with Boaz? Exactly – though just how far under the covers is unclear. Naomi told Ruth to “uncover his feet and lie down,” presumably beside his bare feet, while waiting for Boaz to awaken and tell her what to do next.
The erotic frisson grows with an awareness that the word translated “uncover” was typically used with regard to uncovering one’s nakedness, often in illicit situations. Moreover, in biblical Hebrew as well as the ancient Near East, “feet” was a common euphemism for genitalia (Exod. 4:25, Judg. 3:24, 1 Sam. 24:3).
Ruth followed Naomi’s plan, presumably waiting until all were asleep and then quietly cozying up to Boaz (3:6-7). Should we be surprised that Boaz was startled when he woke up around midnight to find a warm and sweet-smelling woman sharing his bedroll (3:8)?
In the darkness, he croaked: “Who are you?” Ruth replied, as Naomi had taught her: “I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin” (3:9).
The word translated “servant” (better, “handmaiden”) indicates a higher status than “maidservant,” which Ruth had called herself on their first meeting. A handmaiden was eligible for marriage: Ruth was in essence proposing that Boaz marry her and act as go’el, or “redeemer,” for Naomi.
In Israel, when a man died, his closest kin had the responsibility of being a “redeemer” by purchasing his land – and by accepting responsibility for the dead man’s family. To marry Ruth, Boaz must also act as go’el. In that way, Ruth could maintain her relationship with Naomi, whose future would be secured.
Boaz responded with relief and delight that Ruth had chosen him over one of the younger men who might have competed for her affections (3:10-11). Boaz knew, however, that one obstacle remained: Another man in town was closer kin to Elimelech than he, and he would have first right of refusal (3:12).
Boaz told Ruth to stay with him through the night but move to a different place before dawn, lest anyone see them in a compromising position (3:13). Before Ruth departed the next morning, Boaz filled her cloak with six measures of barley for Naomi, who assured Ruth that Boaz would settle the matter by day’s end (3:14-18).
A bold gamble for Boaz(4:1-12)
Boaz went without apparent delay to the gate, where elders gathered and business was transacted before witnesses. To no one’s surprise, the narrator says the nearer kinsman just happened to be walking by as Boaz arrived.
Boaz invited the unnamed kinsman to have a seat, called together the 10 elders necessary to witness legal matters, and explained that the late Elimelech’s land was available for purchase (4:1-3).
Boaz reminded the man that he had first option to buy the land, and could do so by declaring his intent before the witnesses. When the other kinsman expressed a desire to do so, Boaz reminded him that Ruth came with the property: He would also be expected to marry her and produce a son who would later inherit the same land in the name of his deceased father, Elimelech’s son Mahlon (4:5).
Boaz was gambling that the man would not want to add another wife and divide his inheritance, and he wagered wisely. When the man declined to exercise his option – making it official through the custom of giving Boaz one of his sandals in the presence of witnesses – the way was clear for Boaz to declare his intention to acquire the land and to marry Ruth before the same witnesses (4:6-10).
This proved to be a most popular move, as “all the people who were at the gate, along with the elders” affirmed the decision and spoke words of blessing to Boaz, expressing their hopes that the union would be fruitful in producing children, so that his house would be like the house of Perez (4:11-12 – see “The Hardest Question” online for more about Perez).
A new son for Naomi(4:13-22)
Now we’re ready for the happy ending, and the narrator relates it in short order. In the space of one verse we learn that Boaz and Ruth were married, she conceived, and a son was born (4:13). That is no surprise, but what comes next may catch the reader off guard:
“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him’” (4:14-15).
The women did not congratulate Ruth, but Naomi. What is more, the storyteller says “Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse” (4:16). This does not necessarily mean that the aging Naomi became his wet nurse, but that she cared for the boy faithfully.
Note that Ruth has faded into the background, a reminder that Naomi is the central protagonist of the story: The women declared “A son has been born to Naomi” (4:17). And it was the joyful women of the town, the narrator says, not Ruth or Boaz or even Naomi, who named the child Obed, meaning “one who serves” – a sign that the child would serve to preserve her status in the community and care for her in old age, so she might live happily ever after.
With v. 17 we discover the primary reason this charming story was included in the scriptures: Ruth’s son Obed would become the father of Jesse, who would become the father of David, Israel’s most significant and memorable king.
While the story concludes with the requisite happy ending, it also bears an important reminder that God is able to use unlikely people to accomplish great things. Elimelech’s ancestor Perez had also been born under unlikely circumstances to a non-Israelite – a woman of Canaanite origin. Now we learn that Ruth, a Moabite woman, was David’s great-grandmother.
While the story itself emphasizes Naomi as the central character, it is the foreigner Ruth who does the work of adopting and then adapting to a new family, a new culture, and a new religion. As Ruth succeeds in proving her faithfulness and her value at every step, it is a story that could have had a very strong message in a setting – such as postexilic Israel – in which the Hebrews had become antagonistic toward immigrant peoples, refusing to welcome or integrate them into the community.
Given the less-than-welcoming attitude of many Americans toward immigrants in these difficult times, there might be a message here for us as well. BT
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for November 8, 2015 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: Ruth 3:1-4:21
Teacher Prep | Youth & This Session
There is a reason that when we speak of the moods of a teenage we use the analogy of a rollercoaster. There is a lot going on in the lives of our students and these events affect mood. It might not be possible to even out their moods but you can remind them to remain faithful. If they remain faithful and hold onto their faith when things get rocky, they will have the bigger picture in mind and it can make the difficult times a little easier. Sometimes, you have to be the one they put their faith in, but always remember to point beyond yourself.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
Read Scripture online: Ruth 3:1-4:21