We’ve been introduced to the mighty man, Boaz, the redeemer of Naomi and Ruth, and now we see more of Ruth and her might.
The Levirate Law
The salvation that Boaz brings to Elimelech’s family is based upon a specific provision in the Old Testament law called the “levirate law.” This provided for a family of brothers where one had died and left no heir. The episode of Judah and Tamar is an early example of this principle (Gen. 38:1-30). Later it is codified under Moses (Dt. 25:5-10). This action is for the preservation of the “name” of the dead brother, but the overarching point of the actions of Boaz is to “redeem” the family of Elimelech.
Covenant Kindness, Might, and Commitment
Notice that Ruth is called the daughter of Naomi and Boaz (3:1, cf. 2:2, 2:8, 2:22, 3:10, 11, 16, 18). The narrative suggests that Boaz is in the process of becoming Naomi’s husband, but this is also more broadly what it means to be part of the covenant people of God. The episode pays particular attention to the “feet” of Boaz (3:4, 7, 8, 14). Uncovering the feet of Boaz can have sexual overtones, but the point is a symbolic action of submission and marriage. Ruth asks Boaz for the very thing that Boaz has already noted about her. She asks him to take her under his wing (3:9, cf. 2:12). Ruth sees the close connection between covenant with God and her family. Boaz is impressed and says, “You have done better in your lovingkindness at the end than at the beginning” (3:10). It’s good to remember that Boaz was probably literally old enough to be her father, and therefore he praises her for her wisdom in not going after some younger fellow (3:10). A woman of wisdom is a KHAYIL woman (Pr. 12:4, 31:10, 31:29), and Boaz says that the “whole gate of the city” knows that Ruth is a KHAYIL woman. Previously, it was noted that this commonly refers to mighty warriors, and frequently, this word is also used to describe the army of some nation (e.g. Ex. 14, Jer. 35:11, Ez. 37:10, etc.), and this is why Ruth is better than seven sons (4:15). One use of this word in other contexts is a description of a woman in labor (Ps. 48:7, Jer. 50:43, Mic. 4:9). Ruth’s covenant oath to Naomi included the promise that where “you lodge, I will lodge…” (1:16). In the interview with Boaz, he instructs her to “lodge” with him (3:13). This is revealing in both directions: this is confirmation of the marriage-like commitment that Ruth was entering in her oath to Naomi as well as the covenant-like request that Ruth is making of Boaz.
Who are you, Israel?
This is the fifth time we’ve had a question of identification: 1:19 (Naomi), 2:5 (Ruth), 2:19 (Boaz), 3:9 (Ruth), and 3:16 (Ruth). Of those five, there are three that are specifically “who?” questions, and they all refer to Ruth (2:5, 3:9, 3:16), progressively revealing Ruth’s character. And this question applies more broadly to Israel as a whole. We already noted that Ruth is being filled by Boaz, and this filling is a reversal of Naomi’s emptiness. This becomes explicit when Ruth comes home to Naomi with barley because Boaz insists that she not return to Naomi “empty” (3:17). Naomi is being filled by Boaz through Ruth. Israel is a nation who will be blessed by their Redeemer through outsiders. Naomi says to wait until Ruth knows what will happen because Boaz will not rest until this proposal has been settled. This word for “rest” is the same used in Joshua and Judges to describe the “land having rest from war” during and after the conquest (Josh. 11:23, 14:15, Jdg. 3:11, 3:30, 5:31, 8:28, etc.). Boaz is acting like a judge to bring rest to the land of Israel through the care of Ruth and Naomi. Throughout the narrative Boaz is referred to as the “man” and Ruth is referred to as the “woman,” and this language suggests that Boaz and Ruth are a new Adam and Eve. Notice that this man, like Adam, goes to sleep and wakes up to find a woman.
Conclusions & Applications
This is a new creation story: the story goes from darkness to light, from death to life, from striving to Sabbath, from barrenness to the birth of a son, and in the center of the story is this reversal story. Ruth the Moabitess is a reversal of Noah’s sons (Gen. 9:20-24), a reversal of Lot’s daughters (Gen. 19:30-38), a more righteous Tamar (Gen. 38), a reversal of the Moabite harlotry (Num. 25:1ff), and in every story there is some sort of Adam made vulnerable in a scandalous situation. And Boaz and Ruth could easily be seen as scandalous, but this all points again to God the Redeemer who became a vulnerable Adam on a scandalous cross and gave a son to another “Mara” (Jn. 19:26). And this is the KHAYIL of God, the power of the cross, and the promise of the gospel that will overrun this world and set all to right.
And we are called to cultivate this excellence in our lives. One of the things that is obvious is how bold and courageous Ruth and Boaz are. They take chances, and they are fearless. Be fearless in uncovering sin: it is scandalous to point out sin or confront sin, and it’s embarrassing to confess it, but you are the army of God. Be fearless in facing hardship and danger: commit yourself to the care of your God, plead with him in prayer, and then worship him with thanksgiving. Be fearless as you face the world: God is saving this world through bringing prostitutes and Moabites into the kingdom. There’s something in the Trinity that loves the scandal of bringing worlds out of nothing, light out of darkness, life out of death. And we are called to follow in this and glory in it.
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