Thanks for joining me again today. We’re continuing in our new series on Ruth as we look at chapter 3. I’ve included resources (including a video sermon and script) which I hope will help you read, pray and sing as you worship at home.
Naomi returned to her hometown accompanied her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth. They were both widows and it seemed that all was lost. But God was already at work to restore Naomi and bring her blessing again. The young foreign woman at her side with remarkable loyalty would be the channel of God’s restoration in Naomi’s life. Ruth had come to seek shelter under the wings of God and she had lovingly committed herself to her mother-in-law. Ruth shows an example of the kind of love that God has for his people. It is a tenacious hardworking, faithful love that we see must perfectly displayed by God to his people. In my son’s “Jesus Story Book Bible”, the author Sally Lloyd-Jones describes God’s love as his “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love”. That’s the kind of love Ruth has for Naomi and we see in today’s passage that this love has inspired more of its kind. Boaz commits to loving Ruth. But let’s start at the beginning of this chapter and not get ahead of ourselves.
The sweetness has begun to creep back into Naomi’s life through the actions of Ruth and Boaz. She’s beginning to wake up a little. She was bitter in chapter 1, she saw no hope, no prospect. The suggestion that Ruth go out and glean in the fields to provide for them came from Ruth herself, not Naomi, who would have known the area better. Naomi was depressed, her husband and her sons had died, it’s understandable. But now, gradually, the light is beginning to dawn and Naomi is seeing possibilities where before she had seen only the bitterness of her life. She’s seeing hope.
She hatches a plan and tells it to her daughter-in-law:
One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, ‘My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing-floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in 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.’
There’s a tension here. What exactly is Naomi suggesting? She is telling Ruth to make herself look available. But how “available” are we talking here? She’s instructing her to go to the threshing floor and meet a man. She says “uncover his feet”? Wait, just his feet or more? What’s she planning exactly? The wording in Naomi’s plan is full of double entendres and potential interpretations that could go either way.
Imagine hearing this story told in ancient Israel. We know it’s set in a “dodgy” time in Israel’s past. Stories from that time are full of imperfect characters. You’re listening and you get to this bit and you think “Oh, I see where this is going.” or perhaps you might think, “Oh no, I thought this was going to be a sweeter, nicer story of genteel courtship and here they are on the threshing floor.” So, there’s a sense of suspense as we go into the next scene. What’s going to happen? Just when you’re thinking “What kind of story is this!? I brought my kids!” we get to what actually happens.
Ruth sneaks over to Boaz when he’s asleep after a long day of working hard, feasting and drinking. This is the best kind of sleep and he’s out like a log. She uncovers his feet and lies down. At this point the tension is still there. What does it actually mean by “uncovered his feet”? Because that was a double entendre sometimes. It could mean that she literally uncovered his feet, but sometimes in the Bible “feet” is used as a euphemism for the whole lower body from hips to feet.
But then we read that she just lies there. Boaz doesn’t even wake up until some time in the middle of the night. He’s surprised to see a woman there at his feet. So, she was just literally lying at his feet that whole time, nothing else. He asks who it is and it’s here that the tension truly dissolves, or perhaps the listener is surprised, because the quality of Ruth’s character shines even brighter here where we may have been expecting something dodgy to happen. Ruth surprises us by not waiting for Boaz to tell her what to do first. She tells him what to do, and she makes it absolutely clear what kind of a meeting this is.
‘Who are you?’ he asked.
‘I am your servant Ruth,’ she said. ‘Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.’
Ruth makes it absolutely clear why she’s there. This is not the illicit encounter under cover of darkness that we might have expected or feared. This is a marriage proposal. That phrase “Spread the corner of your garment over me,” can also be translated “spread your wings over me,” and harks back to the previous chapter where Boaz described Ruth as taking refuge under the wings of God (Ruth 2:12). She’s not come to seduce him. This young widow has come to ask him to shelter her, to be refuge for her. The phrase also occurs in Ezekiel, when God poetically describes how he entered into a covenant with the people of Israel, committing himself to them like husband to a wife:
Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.
And if there’s any doubt, Ruth also gives the reason “you are a guardian-redeemer of our family”. A guardian-redeemer could marry a widow and raise a family with her, and with that, the widow’s deceased husband’s line would continue on. Why mention Boaz being a guardian-redeemer if marriage is not what she’s talking about?
And just as the potential dodginess of this night-time scene highlights the purity of Ruth’s character, Boaz also shines in the darkness as a thoroughly decent man. Boaz responds not with lustful, physical action, but with the longest speech in this book:
‘The Lord bless you, my daughter,’ he replied. ‘This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: you have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.’
He calls her daughter. He’s older than her, but also wants to her to know that he’s not going to take advantage of her now, and he displays a proper protective affection towards her. He knows what she’s asking. Ruth’s asking him, and not one of the younger men, to be her husband. He readily agrees and praises Ruth’s noble character. You can see in verse 10 that Boaz in fact sees Ruth’s daring proposal as a continuation of the kindness that she showed earlier. This is another display of Ruth’s astonishing faithful love. She could have gone after younger men, but she chose Boaz, a guardian redeemer in the family of her late husband, and in doing so she ensures that the line of Naomi’s husband and her son will not die out. Her faithful love inspires his own faithful love in return, he will do everything she asks.
it’s interesting that it seems Boaz has been thinking about this. He’s worked out exactly who is most closely related to Ruth’s deceased husband, perhaps making enquiries, discussing family trees. I think Boaz had been thinking about this. Daydreaming maybe. This is a man in love, he’s fallen for this strong, loyal, woman of noble character. And it looks like he’s woken up to see his dreams are coming true!
After saying all that, he doesn’t want Ruth to walk home in the dark on her own, so she stays there until morning.
In the morning (Ruth 3:15) Boaz sends Ruth off with 6 measures of grain bound up in her shawl. It was heavy enough that Boaz had to place the bundle on Ruth. Again, God’s kindness flows to Naomi through Ruth and through Boaz. Leaving Ruth, Boaz heads straight into town.
Naomi, when Ruth comes home and reports back to her, knows that Boaz is not going to rest until he’s sorted this matter out (Ruth 3:16-17).
Ruth’s committed, faithful love has inpired the same kind of commitment in Boaz. Really Ruth shows us a little bit of what God is like. That’s part of what human beings are made for you know? To reflect the glory of God. You see, this kind of faithful love that Ruth shows in keeping the promise that she made to Naomi is a big feature of the book of Ruth. I mentioned it at the beginning of this sermon. This kind of love is called chesed which is a word which doesn’t really have a good direct translation into English. It’s love, but not romantic flighty love — it’s a faithful, loyal, hardworking love, a love that does, a love that works, a love that will not give up or let go. This is the love that Ruth showed Naomi and it shows us what God’s love is like. God loves His people with a chesed love. A love that will not let them go. A love that doesn’t depend on mood. A faithful love.
Ruth’s faithful love points the way to Jesus, the Rescuer, who be born many years later in that same town of Bethlehem, Jesus is the living flesh-and-blood proof of God’s chesed love. A love that would not let his people go but came to rescue us from sin and death and bring us back to God. Jesus died in our place because God loves us with a love that will not give up on us. On your worst day, the promises of God to love his people and not give up on us, still apply.
May we who follow Jesus have this kind of love for each other. As we grow in our faith that this is how God loves us, we will love like he loves. God’s love is not fickle, God’s love does not give up. God’s love does not waver based on emotions or circumstance. May we reflect God and his love. May we show, in the lives that we live and the way we treat one another, that the faithful God, the God of Ruth, the God of Naomi, the God of Jesus, is our God.
Lord God we pray that you would help us to be committed to one another. To our brother and sister Christians, to our families, to our friends, to our neighbours. Help us to work for the good of each other, and may we always be guided and empowered by the faithful love you have for us in Christ.
As we look forward to the easing of some restrictions tomorrow in the fight against Coronavirus, help us to still be careful for the sake of each other, especially our most vulnerable.
Help us, Lord, to have hope that there is light at the end of this tunnel, there will be sweetness after these bitter days.
We pray for your comfort for all those who mourn the death of their loved-ones.
We pray for healing for the sick. For strength for those in recovery. For protection, energy and great skill for those fighting to cure, treat and care for people and for those who continue to keep us going providing essential services.
We pray especially for those who are struggling financially, emotionally or physically in these dark times. Help them Lord.
We have learned how important community is. How much we can miss one another. How fragile normal life is. May we come out the other side of this thing with greater kindness and love for one another.
In Jesus’ name we pray,
Here are some videos I hope will help you in singing praise to God.