This Kindness Is Greater Than That Which You Showed Earlier
Ruth 3:1-18 (K. V. 3:10)
“‘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.’”
We are at the peak of Ruth’s study. Last week, we learned how God knows our faith and rewards those who honestly seek him. We also learned how Boaz foreshadows Jesus, our ultimate guardian-redeemer. Today, we see God’s providence and guidance in everyone’s life. He first guides Naomi to make a plan, helps Ruth to carry it out and enables Boaz to accept Ruth’s act of faith with a pledge. In all, God accomplishes what He has designed for each of them. May God help us to have eyes to see what he has prepared for us and enables us to accomplish it in and through us.
1. Naomi’s Plan (1-6)
Verse 1 starts with Naomi’s concern for the well-being of her daughter-in-law. She said to Ruth that she must find a home for her. It meant finding a home of another husband (1:9). How could she find a new husband for Ruth? In those days, “love at first sight” was rare (except Jacob’s case). Customarily, it was done by the arranged marriage. Considering the situation, however, arranging a marriage for Ruth would be difficult. Even using the levirate law, the options were limited. The husband candidate would need to come from Elimelek’s line. And even if he would be eligible, his fulfilling the levirate duty for her by becoming her husband would not be guaranteed. He would not be bound by the duty (like the case in Ch 4). And outside the levirate law, it would be much harder: a foreigner and a widow.
Look at verse 2a. Naomi began to elaborate on finding a husband. “‘Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours.’” For some time, likely about three months, which was the duration of the harvest, Naomi quietly observed how Boaz showed his favor to Ruth. She knew that Boaz was a relative (though not the nearest (3:12)). Then, through the observation, she could have faith in Boaz. More precisely, she could have faith in God who guided Boaz to Ruth. She interpreted all the events happening as God’s divine guidance for Ruth’s marriage. Now that it was clear to her, she had to act quickly and decisively.
In verses 3, 4, we can see the details of Naomi’s daring plan. She instructed Ruth to put on perfume and get dressed in the best clothes before going to Boaz. Why perfume and the best clothes? Perfume is said to make strong men weak at their knees. Proverbs 27:9 says perfume brings joy to the heart. Surely perfume would help, but it was not just for physical attraction. Naomi and Ruth took this occasion as the solemn engagement ceremony. Boaz would see Ruth’s efforts beyond the outward beauty and his heart would be touched all the more.
In verse 4, we find that what Naomi instructed Ruth was unprecedented. It is because there was no previously recorded ritual similar to this. Going to a man in his sleep and uncovering his feet? That is something we never heard. Something only Naomi could improvise. It was one of a kind! And it would require bold faith from Ruth. Why? Historically, one’s feet are perceived as unclean and are expected to be washed (like Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet). In Arabs, displaying the sole of your feet is said to be the greatest insult (or throwing a show at you). Anything relating to feet was not desirable. Now by uncovering Boaz’s feet, Ruth possibly showed him her helplessness, lowliness and difficulties. It would be hard for any woman to show her low point. At the same time, it would be a marriage proposal. Even nowadays, future grooms usually propose to future brides, not vice-versa. So it was hard for Ruth to initiate the marriage proposal breaking the usual custom. And if Boaz somehow would not accept her proposal, her reputation might be tainted and she would be humiliated. Her future would be too much uncertain.
What did Ruth do? She said she would do whatever her mother-in-law said. Her trust in and devotion to Naomi were remarkable. She knew what kind of a risk she might have but she did not mind. Such great trust and risking faith perhaps ran in her blood. So, later, her great grandson, David, dared to challenge Goliath with the same kind of risking faith.
In our Friday meeting, we heard firsthand from Dr. Jason how he had bold faith in his marriage and even Mother Barry approved it. In this day and age, where many people care about security and guarantees, God may raise up more people like Ruth or Dr. Jason who has bold faith.
2. Boaz’s Pledge (7-15)
Look at verse 7. “When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down.” It was the most joyous time of the year because the harvest was finished. It was like students celebrating after their finals. So Boaz was in good spirits after finishing eating and drinking. And he went over his usual place to lie down, that is, the far end of the grain pile. He might be a hard-working and caring master who used to sleep in the fields.
In the middle of the night, however, Boaz suddenly woke up. Some say it was because his feet became so cold when they were uncovered. Then, he found a woman lying at his feet. He must have been very much surprised. So he questioned, “Who are you?” Ruth identified herself as his “servant” Ruth. Before she identified herself as a “foreigner.” Now she became confident to be called as his servant. Then she asked him to spread the corner of his “garment” over her since he was a guardian-redeemer. Here note the expression, “spreading the corner of one’s garment.” As Ezekiel used the same phrase to symbolize the marital relation (Eze 16:8a), it was the marriage proposal. But it was not a one-way street proposal. It was a two-way street or a reciprocal one because Ruth remembered how Boaz first blessed her when he said that she came under God’s wings to take refuge (2:11). Based on what she heard, she quietly reminded him of what he said and asked him to extend his garment as if it were God’s wings.
How did Boaz respond to Ruth’s words? Look at verse 10. “‘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.’” He well received Ruth and complemented her by pointing out that her kindness was greater than that which she showed earlier. Here, the kindness Boaz alluded is “hesed love” in Hebrew, which was Ruth’s loyal love to dedicate (or sacrifice) herself to follow her mother-in-law no matter what. Boaz was being impressed by her hesed love. Now he said the kindness she showed him at that moment was greater. How so? Some say it was because Boaz was old (too old to have children), unattractive and even bald. Perhaps, he missed the best time frame of marriage when he focused on establishing and maintaining his family agriculture business that he inherited from early age on. Or since his mother Rahab was of the Canaanite descent, so he never had any chance to be popular as a good husband candidate among pure Hebrew girls. Now a beautiful and vivacious (and even attractive) young woman of faith first came and proposed to him instead of pursuing other young men but wanted to remain faithful to him just like she did to her mother-in-law. How would you feel about that if you were an old man who lost the hope of getting married?
Look at verse 11. Again, Boaz assured Ruth of his acceptance of the marriage proposal. “I will do for you all you ask.” This expression echoes what Jesus told his disciples in his Upper Room Discourse (Jn 14:3) when he said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” And it was his pledge to keep his promise to her at any cost. Note how Boaz also pointed out that she was a woman of noble character. Such a woman is worth far more than rubies (Pr 31:10). Some say this expression is the feminine equivalent of the Hebrew phrase in 2:1, which says, “a man of standing.” So we men coworkers strive to be “men of standing,” while our women coworkers strive to be “women of noble character.”
But there was a barrier for Boaz to keep his pledge for Ruth. Look at verse 12. There was a nearer guardian-redeemer than Boaz was. Perhaps, the reason why Naomi sent Ruth ahead of him was that she had more confidence in Boaz than the nearer relative and somehow wanted to circumvent the levirate law a little bit. Yet Boaz was truly a man of standing. He did not want to deviate from the word of God. He wanted to do things in a right way even if it meant he might not be able to help. Look at the expression, “Good; let him redeem you.” But he immediately added that he would keep his promise when he said, “But if he is not willing, as surely as the LORD lives I will do it.”
Look at verses 15, 16. Here we can see Boaz’s thoughtfulness, protection and provision. He asked Ruth to stay at his place until early morning so that no one would harm her or taint her reputation. In ancient times, the threshing floor was the place of promiscuity. If she would be seen and she being a Moabite, people might misunderstand her. Note how Boaz poured into Ruth’s shawl six measures of barley and placed the bundle on her. It was very generous amount of gift. It may be considered as the modern day “Ham” or “Dowry Chest” that the future son-in-law sends to his future mother-in-law as a gift. And it was an emblem of her future fruitfulness. No wonder he was Naomi’s first choice.
May God bless our DuPage coworkers with six measures of blessings in this coming Fall semester.
3. Ruth’s Returning to Naomi (16-18)
Look at verse 16. As soon as Ruth returned to her mother-in-law, Naomi was dying to ask her of a question: “How did it go, my daughter?” Probably Naomi could not sleep.
So Ruth told her everything Boaz had done for her. And she added that he gave six measures of barley with the note that she could not go to her mother-in-law empty-handed. Surely, Naomi’s empty days would be over.
When Naomi heard all that Boaz did for Ruth, she was convinced that Boaz would do what he said. She showed her trust in him in this way; Then Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”
In conclusion, we learned that God’s providence and guidance are beyond human comprehension and behind the scenes. He helps us to plan something big, empowers us to carry it out and strengthen us to keep our pledge. In all, God is the master designer and customized designer for each of us. May God restore our hope as He did Naomi’s and bless us our bold faith as He did Ruth’s. May God raise many men of standing like Boaz.