And he (Boaz) said, Who art thou? and she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman. And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter . . . Fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requivest . . . .”
It was the season for the threshing of grain in Israel, one of the most joyful of the year. It marked the climax of the harvest festivities. All of the grain had been gathered from the field and was safely held in storage. All that remained was for the kernel to be separated from the straw and chaff, and another year’s supply of food would be secured. To the faithful of Israel, there were definite spiritual overtones to all of these labors. They lived in the constant realization that all that they had and all they received was from the hand of the Lord. It was the gift of His grace and the assurance of His covenant. In their labors of harvest, they gave expression to this. Psalms and hymns were sung by them as they labored together at the harvest. Numerous festivities of thanksgiving were held with prayers of appreciation to their God. Every day they lifted their voices together in praise unto Jehovah who blessed them with His grace.
This was particularly true at the time of threshing. The greater part of the work, the actual winnowing of the grain, took place in the evening when the night breezes would blow in from the sea. During the day the grain would be laid out on the threshing floor, and the oxen would be driven over it again and again to break loose the kernels from the chaff. Finally, toward evening, all of the laborers would gather together to the threshing floor, many of them bringing their families to share in the festive occasion. No sooner would the evening breezes spring up than the labor would begin. Slowly the grain would be tossed into the air, the chaff blowing away in the breeze while the heavier kernels of grain settled to the floor again. Again and again this would be repeated until all that remained was the pure grain to be gathered into sacks and stored away. When at last, toward midnight, the evening breezes would die, a great feast would be spread for all the laborers with songs and dances of praise to God. Only then would the people settle down among the sheaves and sacks of grain to sleep until morning. Then the process would begin once again.
Aware that this was happening, Naomi gave to Ruth the instructions that she did. She said, “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee? And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshing floor. Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.”
Naomi could allow the matter to rest no longer. It was of vital importance to them that the name of her husband and sons might not be blotted out from Israel. They had waited long enough for Boaz to take the initiative; and, in spite of his great kindness, he had not. Now it was necessary for them to press the matter themselves. Naomi was determined to do so, although in the most reserved and unpretentious way possible. Where the law of God allowed for the childless widow to make a public demand for marriage by a kinsman, they would press the matter privately, lest Boaz should be publicly shamed. But the matter could wait no longer; it was to be pressed immediately and without delay.
Following the instructions of Naomi, Ruth for the first time laid aside her widow’s weeds and dressed herself in the customary clothing of a young woman in Israel. This in itself was a public declaration of her intentions to seek another husband. Thereupon she proceeded to join the crowd that was gathered at the threshing floor of Boaz.
There were many there beside Ruth, many more than were actually needed to perform the labor of the evening. This was a festive occasion. All friends and neighbors were invited to join the celebration at one or another of the threshing floors about the community. Particularly at the floor of Boaz were there to be found those who still held most closely to the true faith of Israel. Boaz was a God-fearing man, and the religious elements were always kept on the fore at the celebration which he prepared. Such was no longer common in Israel, and his hospitality attracted those who were still of serious spiritual intent within the community.
The fact that Ruth appeared at these threshing festivities was perhaps not too surprising to any. Her reputation as a God-fearing young woman was already well established in Bethlehem, and the threshing floor of Boaz was the most natural place for her to join the harvest celebrations, especially because it was known and rumored about how that she had gleaned the fields of Boaz all through the harvest already. Neither did many fail to notice the absence of her widow’s weeds for the first time that night, and perhaps many suspected her intentions toward Boaz, many except Boaz himself. His feeling may well have been that she was seeking to attract the eyes of some of the younger men.
When at last the midnight threshing meal was finished and the festivities ended, the crowd began to disperse. Some returned to their homes, while others merely settled down to sleep among the sacks and sheaves, particularly those who in the morning were to prepare the floor for another day of threshing. In the darkness and confusion, none noticed Ruth still lurking among the shadows. Her eyes were upon Boaz as he finished the duties of the evening. When at last he lay down to sleep by the freshly winnowed grain, she marked the place.
It was not until everything was quiet on the threshing floor that Ruth crept forth to the place where Boaz was lying. There she lay herself down at his feet and taking the covering from off his feet began to pull it over her body. With a start, Boaz awoke and asked, “Who art thou?”
Quietly and simply Ruth answered, “I am thine handmaid Ruth: spread therefore thy skirt over thy handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.”
The gesture and the request of Ruth were extremely touching. It was not a demand, although she might have made such according to the law. It was a plea, a plaintive prayer that he would look unto her in her need and provide that which only he as a kinsman could. It was expressed in as gentle and unpretentious a way as was possible.
Boaz was amazed. To him the whole matter had appeared quite the opposite. He did desire to have Ruth for a wife; he had almost from the moment that he had first met her. But it had always appeared to him an impossible dream. In the first place, he was not the nearest kinsman, as Ruth apparently thought. There was another closer than he upon whom the responsibility or privilege of a kinsman (however one looked at it) fell. In the second place, it did not seem possible to him that Ruth should actually desire to have him for a husband. He was extremely conscious of the age difference between them. If one as desirable as Ruth wished for a husband, it seemed only natural to him that she would seek him in her own age group. The only thing that would seem to suggest otherwise was the spiritual considerations; and in that day one did not expect such to be determinative.
Thus he replied to her, “Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou has shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter: fear not, I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman. And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I. Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the LORD liveth; lie down until the morning.”
This answer of Boaz reflected the fact that he had given very much thought to the whole situation. Boaz loved Ruth, and he had wanted to do the duty of a kinsman to her for a long time. But there were other considerations under the law which he could not ignore. There was yet living in Bethlehem a closer relative to Ruth than he. As long as that man had not refused to do the duty of a kinsman to Ruth, he was the only one who could raise up a legal heir to the name and family of Ruth’s first husband. It was up to Ruth to take the initiative in obtaining a decision from him one way or the other. For Boaz to have done anything on his awn without her would have been impossibly presumptuous. But now Ruth had acted. She had, in effect, requested Boaz to act in her cause, to see that her rights under the law should be observed. And Boaz knew just exactly how this should be done. He would not take Ruth to wife without consideration of this closer kinsman; that would endanger the rights and name of Elimelech and Chilion in Israel, and he would not do that. But he could present the case before this relative for a decision one way or the other that the matter might be finally resolved. This he promised to Ruth.
For the rest of the night, Ruth slept upon the threshing floor as Boaz instructed her. He would not send her out alone and unprotected into the night. Nevertheless, he called her early in the morning before anyone else was up and around. As he said to her, “Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor.” He was jealous that her reputation should be preserved.
Before Ruth left, however, he said to her, “Bring the veil that thou hast upon thee, and hold it.” Into this large, outer garment, he poured a full six measures of fresh barley. It was a testimony on his part that he had received Ruth and her request with favor. As he said to her, “Go not empty unto thy mother in law.”
When Ruth returned to her home, still very early in the morning, Naomi was waiting. Quickly she asked Ruth, “Who art thou, my daughter?” It was not that Naomi did not recognize Ruth, she could have been expecting no one else at that hour of the morning. What she meant was that Ruth should tell her if in the night she had become the betrothed of Boaz.
Patiently Ruth explained to Naomi all that had happened, laying before her the six measures of barley which Boaz had given her. For Naomi it was enough. As she said to Ruth, “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.”