Beloved congregation of Christ: In the old days, a man proposes marriage to the woman he loves by just a simple kneel before her plus a beautiful ring on her finger. Today, men think of all kinds of creative ways to propose. Some make their proposal scuba diving, skydiving, on message boards during basketball games, or on top of Mount Everest.
Others do it by messages on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.
But no other proposal will outdo the marriage proposal in our text today in Chapter 3 of the Book of Ruth. And this was 3,000 years ago! Three features make this proposal unique. First, we know that all proposals are made by men, but in our lesson today, it was Ruth who proposed to Boaz. Second, her proposal was made, of all places, at a threshing floor at the end of harvest time. And third, she proposed not during the day or evening, but at midnight.
Chapter 3 evokes many questions, even from well-meaning pastors and teachers. What was Naomi really thinking when she sent Ruth out to Boaz late at night? What transpired between Ruth and Boaz from midnight till dawn? Did they violate the Seventh Commandment?
Most proposals today actually lead to marriage. However, in the Philippines, about 2.4 percent of marriages end in annulment. This is a tiny number compared with the United States, where about half of marriages end in divorce. Is the Philippines then much more conservative than the United States. Yes, it is, but not by much. Though divorce is not legal in the Philippines, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, 6 percent of married couples are separated. Because there is no legal divorce, 7.3 million unmarried couples are living together, compared to 19 million married couples. And the astonishing statistic is that over 50 percent of children born today are illegitimate.
This is the woefully sad state of affairs of Filipino marriages. Not so with Ruth and Boaz. The events here in Chapter 3 led to their marriage, and there are temporal and eternal results arising from this “midnight proposal” and subsequent marriage. Today, our theme is, “The Midnight Proposal at the Threshing Floor,” under three headings: first, Proposal Planned: Can’t Wait; second, Proposal Carried Out: Did They?; and third, Proposal Outcome: Can’t Wait.
Proposal Planned: Can’t Wait
The last verse of Chapter 1, where Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem just in time for the barley harvest, is a lead to what follows in Chapter 2. Ruth and Boaz meet in his barley field where Ruth was gleaning. So also the last verse of Chapter 2 is a segue to Chapter 3, “And [Ruth] lived with her mother-in-law.” The verse focuses on Ruth’s lack of a home with a husband. It also implies that Naomi’s main quest is about how she will have a child to perpetuate her husband’s line through Ruth.
So in the first four verses of Chapter 3, we find Naomi with a solution to these two problems. She says to Ruth, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” These are the same words she said to Ruth and Orpah to persuade them to go back to their homes in Moab, “The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” (Ruth 1:9). Verse 23 of Chapter 2 says that Ruth gleaned in Boaz’s field for about three months. This whole time, Naomi was hoping that Boaz and Ruth would get together, or at least Boaz would propose to be their kinsman-redeemer.
So Naomi waited and waited for Boaz to move, until she could not wait any longer. She hatched a plan, and told Ruth, “Bathe yourself, put on some perfume, and wear your most beautiful dress. Then go to the threshing floor where Boaz will be winnowing barley, and observe where Boaz lies down for the night. When he has finished eating and drinking with his workers, and is sleeping, lie down at his feet. Then he will tell you what to do next.” Why would Naomi tell Ruth to be her most alluring self and then go lie down at Boaz’s feet late at night? It is hard not to conclude what she has in mind. She wanted to force Boaz’s hand to assume his kinsman-redeemer’s responsibility. “Is not Boaz our relative?” she tells Ruth.
Perhaps Naomi did not notice that God was working out his plan for her and Ruth. She did not see his perfect timing when they arrived in Bethlehem during the barley harvest. She did not recognize that Ruth “happened” to glean in Boaz’s field. She did not grasp why Boaz showed great interest in and kindness to Ruth from the day they met. She couldn’t wait, so she will now make a shortcut and take matters into her own hands. Her plan has a few problems though. First, it is based on the darkness of night, when evil works are done in secret (Eph 5:11-12). Second, she does not include God in her plan. Instead, she presumes that Boaz will act according to the natural passion of a man for a beautiful woman. And third, she actually puts Ruth in physical danger, in addition to putting the couple in danger of committing sexual immorality.
How often do we also take shortcuts, or not wait, like Naomi? Sometimes, we cut corners in doing our job to make it easier on us, while sacrificing work quality. Parents leave the moral teaching of their children to the church or the school, instead of them teaching at home. Some drown themselves in alcohol and drugs, instead of tackling their problems head-on. Others depend on the lotto, instead of working diligently with their hands to earn a living.
Many Christians do not go to worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings, or other church events, cutting corners towards Christian maturity. They think they can be spiritually nourished by just worshiping or studying alone at home or in a coffee shop. Churches are also guilty of taking shortcuts when they perform gimmicks instead of true preaching. Pastors as well tell anecdotes and jokes to fill up their 20 minutes of “preaching.” Even some couples who profess to be Christians do not wait till they are married before they become intimate. But Ruth and Boaz did not take this shortcut.
Proposal Carried Out: Did They?
So Ruth goes to the threshing floor and does all that Naomi had told her. Her mission is a dangerous one. The end of harvest is celebrated with a feast of food and drink. The men will usually
sleep in the field where the grain is heaped. So Boaz, after his heart was “merry” from wine, lay down at the end of the heap of grain, perhaps to keep away from the merriment around him. The Bible says that wine “gladdens the heart of man” (Psa 104:15). But it can also induce evil and immoral thoughts, and also make a man lower his guard (2 Sam 13:28). So it is not surprising that these evening feasts at the end of the harvest season are well-known not only drunkenness, but also for sexual encounters (Hos 9:1). This is the reason why Boaz told Ruth that night to remain where she was until dawn before anyone would know that she was there that night (verse 14).
Boaz, being a worthy man, a “man of excellence,” honored and respected Ruth. Ruth quietly lay down at the feet of Boaz. So at midnight, Boaz awoke and was startled to find a woman lying down at his feet. After Ruth introduced herself, she said, “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Ruth was being honest and forthright about her “proposal.”
What did Ruth mean by “spread your wings over your servant,” or “spread the corner of your garment over me” (NIV), or “spread your skirt over your handmaid” (NKJV). Some people suggest that “uncovering one’s feet” is a metaphor for an intimate contact, but there is no evidence of this in the Bible. The best interpretation is that this is a marriage proposal from Ruth. In Ezekiel 16, the LORD tells Israel how he found her as an abandoned child, and how the Lord nurtured her to become a beautiful girl. In fact, Ezekiel 16:8 uses the same words we find in Ruth 3:9, “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine.” Thus, these words by Ruth are actually the opposite of an intimate relationship.
God tells Israel that she was like an abandoned girl who became a beautiful woman, and whom he married and made a queen. So there was nothing else to Ruth’s words except her bold and honest marriage proposal to Boaz. This proposal also evokes Boaz’s praise of Ruth as a Moabite who trusted God as her refuge in her difficult situation, “under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12) In this proposal, Ruth now calls herself a “servant”—not as a slave (Ruth 2:13)—a “handmaid” who has some rights and privileges, even in bearing an heir (Gen 30:3-4; Exo 20:10).
After he heard this proposal, Boaz again prays that the LORD will bless Ruth. She showed kindness to Naomi in supporting her (2:11). And her marriage proposal is “this last kindness,” which is greater than the first. She was seeking not only Boaz’s material support, but redemption for Naomi’s property, and for a husband who would give her a child. Boaz also praised her for desiring to marry him, an older man, instead of going after younger men. Ruth was still young and beautiful, and she could have easily found a younger, more good-looking man.
And because of this, Boaz says that Ruth is a “worthy woman,” or “a woman of noble character,” or “a woman of excellence.” All of Bethlehem knew her virtues and excellence. The word for “worthy” is the same word used for the “excellent wife” or the “virtuous wife” of Proverbs 31:10. And this is the same excellency that Boaz saw in Ruth that night at the threshing floor. Therefore, why would Boaz praise Ruth if she offered her body to Boaz to do as he pleases? Boaz instructed Ruth to “remain tonight” until the morning. Does this mean they were sexually intimate? No, because the
same word “remain” in this verse is also used by Ruth when she committed to stay with Naomi, “where you lodge I will lodge” (Ruth 1:16), or “where you remain I will remain.” This word means nothing else than to stay in a lodging place for the night, its plain meaning in more than 80 instances in the Old Testament. Did they violate the Seventh Commandment? Absolutely not, because if they did, both Ruth and Boaz will not be called worthy and excellent.
Dear sisters in Christ, are you an excellent woman? Do you keep yourself sexually pure in your relationships, whether single or married? Are you seeking beauty in appearance, instead of dignity and strength of faith? Do you “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4)? Do you take good and loving care of your husband and children? Do you raise your children up in the nurture and discipline of God? Are you wise in keeping your family’s finances, or in your work or business transactions? These are only a few evidences of being an excellent woman like Ruth.
And dear brothers in Christ, as you look at a woman as a prospective wife, is her outward appearance foremost, and not her inner beauty, excellent and noble character? A woman whose wisdom and standard is not of the world, but of heaven, whose priorities in life are heavenly things? Boaz did not pursue Ruth—even after seeing her beauty—but only gave his promise to Ruth after he saw her godliness, excellence, honor, chastity and inner strength.
Proposal Outcome: Waiting
So after praising Ruth for her worthiness, Boaz promised her, “I will do for you all that you ask.” These are the two things that he said he will do. One, he will first ask the other man, who is Naomi’s closer relative or kinsman-redeemer. If he was not willing to take his responsibility to be Naomi’s redeemer, then Boaz will, according to the law (Lev 25:48–49; Num 27:11; Deu 25:7-8).
Two, he gave Ruth a token of his promise, a sort of an engagement ring. What was this token? He asked Ruth to hold out her garment, and he poured into it six measures of barley grain. Six measures of barley weighs about 80 pounds! Who among you women can carry an 80-pound load over a considerable distance, from the threshing floor to the city? Ruth was not only beautiful, strong in character, but she was also strong physically. Boaz’s promise came with a solemn oath, “As the Lord lives, I will redeem you.” Whether it is the closer relative, or himself, who becomes the kinsman- redeemer, Boaz was making sure the two widows will be taken care of, a true man of excellence.
Note also that the author of the book intentionally wrote that Boaz gave Ruth six, not seven, measures of grain. This was probably to point out that this amount of grain is not complete, as the number seven signifies. Ruth’s redemption will not be complete until she was finally married to a kinsman-redeemer. As well, the six measures of barley points forward to her greater need and great rest: that of a seed, an offspring, that she does not have thus far.
This is why when Ruth came back to Naomi’s house, Naomi said that Boaz “will not rest but will settle the matter today.” Ruth then told Naomi that Boaz gave her the huge amount of barley grain so she would not “go back empty-handed” to her mother-in-law. Naomi’s emptiness and bitterness will soon be reversed. But Naomi told Ruth, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out.”
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord: Previously, Naomi could not wait for God to provide for her family, so she allowed her husband to take them outside the Promised
Land. After going back to Bethlehem, she again could not wait for God to work out their redemption by Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer. She made a plan to take a shortcut, to force the hands of Boaz to take action, even if she was putting Ruth’s honor and purity in danger.
Behind the scenes, our providential God worked to fulfill Ruth’s midnight proposal to Boaz at the threshing floor. The Lord’s eternal plan was for Boaz and Ruth to produce a Descendant who knew how to wait for his Father in hope. When our Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil, he did not take a shortcut by turning stones into bread or jumping off a cliff and commanding the angels save him. He waited for the right time to reveal himself as the Messiah. Whenever he was tempted to make a shortcut in his mission of redeeming his people from sin, he always said, “My hour has not yet come.”
Instead, he willingly suffered for three years during his earthly ministry as his own people rejected and despised him. As he hung on the cross, he did not take matters into his own hands by destroying his enemies, which he could have done with a word. He can save all his people without dying on the cross with one little word, but at the expense of his Father’s righteous justice against sin. He waited upon the Lord, because he knew that his Father would reward him with all glory, honor and power; that his inheritance is a people from all nations who would believe in him. And on the last day, his waiting will be consummated when he will be the Kinsman-Redeemer of his Bride, the church, all beautiful, pure, and unblemished (Rev 19:7-8).
When things in your life look bleak, do you say with the psalmist, “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” (Psa 130:5)? God’s promises never fail, and they are worth waiting for. Whether it is for a wife or a husband, for a much-needed job, for a precious child, or for relief from pain, for restoration of health, we are to pray, “But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer” (Psa 38:15). Boaz had wisdom to wait, so she told Ruth, “Wait!” The Lord answered Naomi’s impatience with, “Wait!” Waiting for the Lord is rewarded by his faithful answer. And so will God reward you for your patience and faithfulness.
Rev. Nollie Malabuyo is currently pastor of Big Springs Community Church (URCNA) in Montague, California. He is the founding pastor of Zion Cornerstone Reformed Churches in Pasig (Metro Mania) and Imus, Cavite.