In Ruth 2, we saw God's invisible grace in unseen ways, as well as visible favour revealing God's kindness in many different ways. In Ruth 3, we continue to see God at work, and we will see the theme of redemption unfolding a bit more. Chapter 3 tells us how God redeems in practical, day-to-day ways, and we experience His redeeming work daily. The book of Ruth helps us see and reminds us that God floods our seemingly mundane lives with grace. In Ruth 3:1-18, the various characters draw up plans and act on them. Perhaps one way to think of this passage is to ask the question:how do people touched by God's grace live their lives as part of God's redemptive plan? Let us first take a closer look at each character, the plans they came up with, and their motivations/reasoning.
|The Plan||Specific actions||Motivations|
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?
Naomi wanted to seek rest for Ruth, in order that it may be well with her. Notice how she did not state explicitly anything about marriage or marrying her off!
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. 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.
Naomi gives a set of specific instructions to Ruth, telling her to prepare herself not to seduce Boaz, as some commentators argue, but to persuade him to take on the role of a redeemer for their family. However, we must acknowledge the risque nature of her instructions, setting up an intimate encounter between an older man and a young woman. This leaves some ambiguity and dodgy-ness in the narrative, (however you'd like to approach it). However, at face value, it seems that her instructions were simply, practical.
|Naomi acted out of concern for Ruth. In her own words, she wanted it to "be well with her". It was an act of love of this older woman. |
This marks a change in Naomi. The Naomi that we saw before was bitter and concerned with her own circumstances. Yet, her plans are now about passing grace on to her daughter-in-law. As harvest and hope sprung in a land that was wrecked by famine, so it was that love began growing in a heart that was so cold.
But, she was also taking a risk. What if Boaz did not act as planned? Yes Naomi planned, but there was also uncertainty. This is normal -- to plan, but to not be overly confident and just acknowledge uncertainty and trust God. This is real life!
And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”
So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her.
Ruth planned to do as Naomi said and obey what she was told to do.
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. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet!
Ruth complies with Naomi's instructions. But she also goes further and gives her own little speech.
He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”
(Ruth 3:9)Ruth's words here may come across as strange to us, but basically, Ruth was proposing marriage. In Eze 16:8, a similar language and imagery was used by God to describe his covenant and faithfulness to Israel. But there are many layers of implication here. She could have been challenging Boaz to be the agent of God's providential care (c.f. Ruth 2:12) and induct her into God's Israel, the nation God had spread His wings over, as he himself had said earlier. John Piper suggests that this could also have been her response to his veiled romantic expression in Ch 2, and she was simply, responding. This is a beautiful reading, adding another suggested layer of interpretation.
|Ruth's acted in obedience to her mother-in-law. But her boldness also revealed a heart of love and concern for Naomi. In calling out Boaz's role as redeemer, she was speaking of the law and his obligation to help as a relative. Ruth wasn't merely seeking rest for herself in finding a husband, but also to secure the ancestral land of Naomi, to provide some security for her.|
... And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.
Boaz replied with blessing, complied with her request, and was ready to act as the redeemer. But he is also aware of the reality and the proper protocol of the Mosaic law, for there was another 'nearer' redeemer who would be entitled to the land and also, Ruth. Yet he assures her that he would act ("as the Lord lives").
So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” And he said, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city.
(Ruth 3:14-15 ESV)
Boaz cared for Ruth but also took steps to protect her reputation and name. Before departing the next day, he also gave her a huge gift of barley as a form of token of assurance.
|Boaz was moved by Ruth’s boldness and kindness (3:10). Not only did she stick with her mother-in-law (that is the "first" kindness), but Boaz was also amazed that this young woman did not go after other young men, who were rich or poor. He also recognizes the kindness she has shown him! |
Boaz's concern for her reputation and name, and the welfare of Naomi and Ruth was evident. This man of God was also clear about wanting to be blameless in the eyes of the law, as he went about fulfilling the role of the redeemer in the right way.
What can we learn from this passage?
A) This text teaches us the importance of being ‘above board’ or, utterly righteous
Boaz was a man of character, and took pains to ensure that the redemption process is according to the law. As we have seen, he pointed out that the nearer redeemer must first be consulted, in keeping with the law. This meant that there was a 'nearer relative' that should first have the opportunity to redeem the land and marry Ruth. Boaz was a man of integrity, and it is worth some for us to consider if we have the same integrity. Are our actions and lives "above board"?
Boaz also made sure Ruth's reputation and security is not threatened. He made sure she left while it was still dark (Ruth 2:14-15). The gift of barley was meant to assure her and Naomi that he would keep his word, that he is a man of faithfulness. Boaz was written and lifted as a man of righteousness. This is what we should aspire to be like, to be utterly blameless and righteous in our lives, doing things right and also, caring for the reputation of others and their welfare. Are you that kind of person? Or are you willing to bend the rules for your own interest? Willing to cut corners, make exceptions, bend the rules? Boaz reminds us to live with integrity, a life worthy of the calling we have received and not present our members to sin.
B) But as sinners, we know this cannot be. It points us back to our nearest redeemer, Jesus Christ
We see the example of Boaz, but at the same time, we know this is impossible for us as sinners. Many of us will never live this way because of our sin. We cannot be Boaz, knowing that we are full of sin and failure, and that we have not lived up to our own standards, let alone the standards of the Bible. This is nothing new, and not surprising to God. Rom 3:23 clearly declared that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Don't forget that while this narrative contains Boaz, it also had Elimelech and Naomi – characters who remind us of sin and fallenness.
Ruth 3 is not merely an exhortation to strive to be like Boaz. This passage also reminds us that there we have a nearer redeemer – a savior who redeems us, who saves us from spiritual brokenness and poverty – Jesus Christ the nearest redeemer. He has come to redeem all that have sinned, who are so broken and cannot save themselves. Dear fellow Christian, this is the news that we need to continue to preach to ourselves! Passages like Ruth 3 that speak of a Redeemer points us back to our Savior who hasn't just saved us in the past, but He is saving us now as we navigate through life, and He will come again to save us completely at His second coming!
C) It describes for us, the web of ‘gracious planning, trusting and responding’ that our lives are wrapped up in. This is another manifestation of God’s sovereignty.
Ruth 3 is a record of many plans by the various characters. It actually teaches us about this ‘web of gracious planning, trusting and responding’. The plans of Boaz, Naomi and Ruth do not exist in isolation, nor do they stand independent of each other. Rather, a complicated web was spun as each of them made a plan that drew in and involved another. More than that, their plans are also part of God's sovereign plan! God used their plans of graciousness -- plans made out of love to help and prosper others -- to stream His grace into our lives. Do you realise that God hasn't just commanded His grace to be abstract, but also to be revealed and expressed in tangible human life?
All their plans, made out of God’s grace all carry elements of uncertainty. Yes, they had a plan with specific action points, but they had to trust something beyond themselves. Naomi had to trust God for Ruth’s obedience and Boaz’s response. Ruth needed to trust God for Boaz’s response. Boaz could not anticipate the redeemer's response, and had to trust God for that. None of them had total control over the situation, only God did. And this sovereign God that poured grace into their lives through the plans and actions of another, continued to pour His grace as they trusted him with their plans and their lives that hung in the balance.
What does this mean for us? We too must plan, trust and respond to God’s grace in our lives. Trusting God does not mean passivity, and these characters show us that God in His sovereignty works through our plans. Yet, in our planning, we realise that we are ultimately not in control. What have you planned? What do you need to trust God for? How have your plans and actions affected others, so that they have to respond to God’s grace? Or how have the plans of others affected you? Can you see how all this is part of God’s sovereignty in your life?
D) As we live our lives, its entirely acceptable to make plans and live with direction - but we must seek the good of others and rest in God’s sovereignty while doing so.
Yes, we learn to trust God with our plans, but what are our plans about? Who do they benefit ultimately? These characters teach us that right and proper planning must be for the good of others! Are we the only hero and character in our story, in our plans? Are all your prayers for yourself? How have you poured yourself for others? Have you lived for anyone else other than yourself this week? And when you make those plans, have you trusted and rested in God’s sovereignty?
As we consider these things, and before we resolve to live this way, let us remember that this is not merely a principle we see in Ruth 3. This is the way of the cross. There really is only one person who lived his way, who really sought the good of others and entrusted Himself to God's sovereignty even to the point of death on the cross. Jesus gave us more than barley -- the Bread of Life came down, and poured His life for others. As we remember the one to whom Boaz really points, we will see how far we are, how selfish we are, but though we feel far off, let us run to Him without hesitation, He will gladly receive us, poor and needy as we are. As we continue to think about His act of love daily and regularly, may it melt our selfish and cold hearts, that we may learn to trust Him, and seek the good of others.