John A. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The first time that Ruth met Boaz she made a striking and significant confession. Boaz had told her not to glean in another field of some other Israelite; that he had charged his young men not to touch her; and that she might drink of the water which his servants had drawn for themselves. Then Ruth not only confessed that she was a stranger unto him but also that she was “not like unto one of thy handmaidens.” Doing this she confessed being a Moabitess and a stranger in that sense. In other words she confessed being an outsider, a foreigner as far as her flesh was concerned. Doing this she was in no way boasting, but instead was making a very humble confession. She said that she was less than the Jewish women who were also reaping that which the gleaners had dropped. She did not then hesitate to tell Boaz that she was not an Israelite according to her flesh. She did this because it simply amazed her that he had dealt so favorably with her. And this humble confession was also an expression of thankfulness. For to thank one is to say that this one has done a good deed. An Israelite had dealt well with her, even though she was a Moabitess.
Many days later, through the instruction of Naomi, she approaches this Boaz and asks him to marry her. What a change! She had thanked him for a rich measure of blessings, and had told him that she did not deserve such kind treatment. She was a very honest woman. And now this same woman comes and asks for a tremendously great blessing. To use the words of Naomi, it was to bring her rest and cause all things to be well with her. She came to propose to him that he take her as his wife. She reminds him of the fact that he is a near kinsman who can redeem the land of Elimelech for Naomi, and for her as the former wife of Mahlon.
Although there is nothing in the whole book of Ruth that reveals that she had fallen in love with Boaz—although it may be conceded that such a thing was not at all impossible—yet there is nothing that undeniably speaks of such a fleshly love for this older, very rich man, who had befriended her so much. Naomi had to tell her to wash herself, anoint herself with a sweet-smelling perfume, and put on her most attractive raiment, and go to Boaz that way. She did not do this because her heart called for it. She did not ask Naomi whether it was wise to do so and whether she might go to him that way. The idea of it came from Naomi.
This does not mean that Ruth was not elated at the thought that she could again be married, and now married to this kind man. The idea of having a husband, bringing forth a child who could inherit the heritage of Elimelech, did not go against her flesh. And Naomi must have told her of the ordinance of God that a kinsman should marry a widow and strive to raise up seed. It is not impossible that Naomi even told the story of Genesis 38, how God killed Onan because he refused to take Tamar as his wife and raise up seed for his brother, who had died and left Tamar as a widow. Naomi had told Ruth, when she had informed her mother-in-law that it was Boaz who dealt so kindly with her and gave her such an abundance of food, that Boaz was near of kin. And Ruth certainly had a soft spot in her heart for him. She had very pleasant thoughts concerning him. She would surely consider it a blessing to have a man like that as her husband, if he would fulfill her request that Naomi gave her to present to him. She certainly had no objection to the thought of being his wife. To no degree and in no way did she present before Naomi any dislike of the idea. She did not speak one word of objection, or with her face manifest dislike of the idea. In fact Scripture tells us that to Naomi she said, “All that thou sayest unto me I will do.” And that wordall says a great deal. The rest and well-being of which Naomi spoke pleased her, and seemed very wonderful and valuable.
Then we read, “And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law bade her.” Note once again the word all. It is also interesting to read that all this is what her mother-in-law bade her. It all originated with Naomi. And what an obedient daughter-in-law this was! She was according to the flesh, and therefore outwardly, a Moabitess. But inwardly and according to her soul she was a Jewess in the spiritual sense of the word. She was a true child of God who loved God and showed this by keeping His fifth commandment. She honored her father and mother. She honored her mother-in-law by doing her bidding. She honored her father-in- law, though he were dead, by seeking to keep his name in the promised land, by bringing forth seed that would inherit his land.
There are several questions however, that do arise. Why must she go in the darkness of the night? Would she not by that sweet smelling ointment and those dress garments in place of her working clothes expose herself more clearly and quickly than in those working clothes wherein she and others had been seen so many days before this time? Was this something immoral that Naomi ordered her to perform? Was it not deceitful to wait until he had drunk and eaten and his heart was merry before proposing to him? Was it because Naomi knew of this nearer of kin, and wanted the new husband to be Boaz?
As far as the immoral act is concerned, we may state that this was not a sinful act of violating the seventh commandment that Naomi ordered Ruth to commit. Widows in that day had a God-given right to ask the nearest of kin to marry them and raise up seed for their husbands who died. That incident in Genesis 38, to which we already referred, indicates clearly that God demanded it. If that nearest of kin did not do what was his calling, the widow might certainly approach him, remind him of it, and ask him to keep that ordinance of God, even reminding him of what happened to Onan.
Because Ruth was not a Jew outwardly, there could be strong opposition by those in that region who snubbed Ruth and left her and Naomi to go hungry, and avoided them. They could approach Boaz and remind him of God’s law that no Israelite might marry a Moabite. Not seeing Ruth as a Jew inwardly (Romans 2:28, 29) they, who were only Jews outwardly, would do all that they could to prevent this marriage and brand it as evil. Ruth would be presented to Boaz as a whore, and one after his money. Boaz had his reason also for telling Ruth to leave before the sun arose, so that this would not happen, and it be reported that a woman came into the threshing floor. This was especially a serious matter because Boaz was not the nearest of kin.
Boaz had a very good opinion of Ruth. In his eyes she was no sexual pervert. He said to her, “Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter, for thou hast showed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followest not young men, whether poor or rich.” He did not to the slightest degree accuse her of immorality. In the next verse he even calls her a virtuous woman.
That Boaz called her his daughter could indicate a great age difference between them. But the Hebrew word here is often used and translated as young woman. Besides, Ruth had reminded him that he was near of kin, a blood relative to her dead husband. Therefore to call her daughter, that is, a relative, was not out of place. And here again, calling her his daughter clearly reveals that Boaz was not at all ashamed at what she had done there in the threshing floor, lying down next to him, removing the covering over his feet, and asking him to spread his skirt over her. Informing Ruth of one closer to her husband reveals that Boaz is not surprised that she came to him to request marriage and the raising up of seed for Mahlon and Elimelech. He is quite aware of the fact that Ruth was ignorant of this nearer kinsman. And there is nothing to indicate that Boaz knew that Naomi had ordered Ruth to do all this. No, she was a virtuous woman, and came to him for a good cause. In fact it all showed Boaz more clearly that she was a Jew inwardly, one interested in the things in the promised land, one interested in God’s ordinances, with her back turned completely upon Chemosh, the idol of the Moabites. She was a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, of which that land of Canaan was a type and shadow. She was interested in having a name and a place in God’s—Jehovah’s—kingdom.
That Boaz was willing to marry her and considered it a blessing cannot be denied. He did not tell her of this nearer kinsman in order to get out of the situation, and from marrying her. Unequivocally he told her thatin the morning he would contact this nearest of kin. He was not going to think it over for a few days or weeks, hoping that she would change her mind, since a younger kinsman could fulfill this task. He did not suggest to her that she go and ask this unnamed kinsman. In fact, we do not even read here in this book of Ruth that he even told her who this nearest of kin was. Plainly this man whom Boaz had in mind was a Jew outwardly, but not inwardly. And Boaz assures Ruth that he will marry her, if this nearest of kin refuses. Being a Jew inwardly as well as outwardly, Boaz wants to do what is right in God’s sight. He will keep God’s ordinance; and in no uncertain terms he tells Ruth that He will do that. And with that he sends her home to Naomi. Yes, he even sends her home with the gift of six measures of barley.
What is more, Boaz promises Ruth that he will take care of the matter. He wanted to serve God and wanted God’s ordinance kept. He did think highly of Ruth as a believer and was sure that she would make a devout, spiritual wife. If was far more than love of the flesh that moved him. It was love unto God and love for the church of God, of which Elimelech was a member. And he promised Ruth that if the nearest kinsman would not marry her, he most surely would do so. Marriage was definitely ahead for her. With that hope he sent her home.
Boaz did not know that their seed would bring forth David and the Christ of God. He was not trying to take away from the nearer kinsmen the honor of having Christ born in the line of his descendants. Boaz was interested in serving God and in keeping His ordinances. That really is what counts. And that is what lies ahead for every child of God when Christ does return to this earth. Everlasting life is far more than everlasting existence. Life is activity. And everlasting life is an endless activity of serving God in a perfect love. Much of the preaching today about everlasting life is merely an escape from the curse and an endless “good time” that even the devil, the fallen angels, and the unbelievers would like to have. No, everlasting life is everlasting activity of serving God in love. And both Ruth and Boaz were interested in doing that in this life. They were interested in more than self. They were interested in God’s church and in marrying and seeking children for the growth and well-being of that church.
This explains why Boaz tells Ruth not to be afraid. Literally he said, “And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people know that thou art a virtuous woman.” He tells her that marriage is sure, even though he cannot at the moment promise that he will be the one to marry her.
Naomi is also confident, after Ruth explained to her all that Boaz had said, that marriage for Ruth was sure. She said, “Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall; for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day.” Ruth very plainly now is eager to marry Boaz, and not this man about whom she knows nothing more than that he is the nearest of kin to her dead husband. And here is the first hint that we have in the whole story of Ruth that she manifested some agitation about remarriage. She is told to sit still, to be patient and to wait and see what God has in store for her.
The same truth is manifest here as far as Naomi is concerned. She expresses no disappointment that Boaz did not take Ruth. She commits it all to God, and would not complain if that nearest of kin would take Ruth and deny Boaz this privilege. A great change has been wrought by God’s grace also in Naomi. She who left the type and shadow of the kingdom of heaven for bread, not putting her trust in God to take care of His people, now having all her hardships and bereavements applied to her heart by God’s grace and Spirit, commits it all to Him, and instructs Ruth to sit still and wait and see what God has in store for her. Ruth is divinely assured of being a Jew inwardly and of having a definite place in God’s kingdom. Naomi has that same assurance about Ruth and about God’s grace keeping her husband’s name in the promised land.