Ms. Dora is a Certified Christian Counselor. Her views on singleness, premarital and marital issues are influenced by her Christian beliefs.
The Descriptive Account
In her book Is the Bible Good for Women, Wendy Alsup explains that some Scripture passages are “prescriptive” (giving instructions to be followed), and some are “descriptive” (reporting what happened).
The account of Naomi’s risky scheme to marry off Ruth (Ruth 3) is descriptive. It reports the plan of a godly older woman to acquire a husband for a younger woman whom she accepts as her responsibility. The account gives no instruction for women to do likewise.
Facts Leading Up to Naomi's Scheme
Following are the pertinent facts leading up to Naomi’s scheme. The entire story can be found in the four-chapter Book of Ruth.
- Naomi returned from Moab to her hometown of Bethlehem after her husband and two sons died in Moab. Ruth, the widow of one of her sons, returned with her. (Ruth 1: 14, 16-19).
- It was harvest time, and Ruth went to the field to pick up leftover grain. It so happened that the field in which she gleaned belonged to Boaz, who happened to be a relative of Naomi’s late husband. (Ruth 2:3)
- Boaz was gracious to Ruth and expressed admiration for her. Ruth was attracted to Boaz’s kindness. (Ruth 2: 5-17).
- Ruth informed Naomi of the courteous interaction between her and Boaz. Naomi instructed Ruth to continue gleaning in Boaz’s field so that, according to Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, “the servants of Boaz might not meet her, or see her in another field, and report it to their master, who would ... take it as a slight of his kindness to her.” (Compare Ruth 2:22)
The Risky Scheme
Naomi voiced the risky plan which had been hatching in her head, possibly from the time Ruth mentioned Boaz. She introduced it gradually. Her words are quoted from the New King James Version.
To Provide Security for Ruth
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? (Ruth 3:1)
Even before Naomi and Ruth left Moab, Naomi brought up the topic of a second marriage for Ruth and for Orpah, the other daughter-in-law who stayed behind. Now she wanted to pursue that for Ruth, who had settled in a strange land without any viable means of obtaining a satisfactory lifestyle. Naomi wanted to protect her from the moral temptations which often come to poor, single women. She wanted Ruth to have the companionship she lost when her first husband died. Boaz, who was spiritually, socially and financially dependable, seemed like a good fit for Ruth.
To Find an Eligible Husband
Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? (Ruth 3:2)
In the Hebrew culture, which did not allow women to inherit, the nearest male kin had first rights to the possession of the deceased (in this case, Naomi’s late husband, father of Ruth’s late husband). The next of kin was also responsible for marrying the widow and perpetuating the name of the dead. Boaz was a relative, but he was NOT next of kin. Didn’t Naomi know that?
To Seal the Deal
In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do. (Ruth 3: 2-4)
Activities on the threshing floors included “love for hire.” (Hosea 9:1 NKJV). What could have happened to Ruth’s reputation, even if nothing physical happened to her? What if Boaz did not go along with the plan?
Naomi insisted that Ruth lotioned herself, put on her best outfit and approach Boaz after he had dined. Well, a man is more likely to accept comfort after his stomach is full. As for “uncovering his feet,” whether it meant that Ruth was showing submission as a servant (as some interpret it) or expressing her availability for marriage (as others explain it), it was still a risky plan. The fact that nothing went awry is credited to the integrity of both Ruth and Boaz.
Still, it must be mentioned that the motive for connecting Ruth and Boaz was not solely for pleasure. The main issue at stake was the Jewish commitment to family continuity. Their marriage would provide the security that Ruth needed, and it would produce children to carry on Naomi’s family name.
The Outcome and the Lessons
Ruth did what Naomi instructed her to do—and more. Before Boaz could tell her what to do (as Naomi envisioned), Ruth told him what to do. “Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.” (Ruth 3:9) The act of taking her under his wing (covering her with his cloak) symbolized his pledge to marry her. (Compare Ezekiel 16:8)
Just as the plan was headed toward completion, Boaz mentioned a little snag. They needed the consent of the relative who was closer to Naomi than Boaz was. Boaz followed through by confronting the unnamed kinsman and positioned himself legally to marry Ruth. (Ruth 4:1-11)
Theologians point to the story of Boaz and Ruth as the perfect illustration of how God, symbolized by Boaz, made the sacrifice to redeem mankind when we had no way to redeem ourselves. That’s the primary lesson and the most awe-inspiring reason for believers to be grateful and loyal.
Specific Lessons for Women
Still, can women who are committed to godly womanhood find other appropriate applications? We can also learn that:
- Trying to help out God hand in the issue of marriage or any other matter is not a woman’s responsibility (not a man’s either).
God had already placed within Ruth’s heart her desire to belong to Him and to follow His plan (Ruth 1:16). Boaz had already affirmed that Ruth deserved God’s protection (Ruth 2:12), and he was willing to oblige. The marriage happened because both submitted to God’s plan—above the risk of Naomi’s plan.
- Ruth set a moral example of how women looking for marriage, can reveal their availability without becoming desperate; and confess their need for marriage alongside their discipline to be patient. (Ruth 3)
- Women do not have to carry the shame of Eve, who brought sin to humanity. They can rejoice that just as God’s redemptive love pulled the Gentile Ruth into the lineage of the Messiah, the Savior from sin (Ruth 4: 18-20; Matthew 1: 1-6), His love will elevate any woman who accepts His intervention in her life.
Bordow, Rev Todd: TheSeedInfo, Naomi's Scheme, (01/21/2004)
Ziegler, Dr. Yael: TorahEtzion, Naomi ... Continuity at All Cost (Copyright 1997-2022 by Yeshivat Har Etzion)
© 2022 Dora Weithers