The Unlikely Marriage of Boaz and Ruth
THE threshing floor near Bethlehem is alive with springtime activity. It has been a long day. The aroma of freshly roasted grain lets the hungry workers know that it is time to eat. Each one will enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Boaz, a wealthy landowner, eats and drinks his fill and relaxes by a large heap of grain. Later, the harvest day comes to an end, and each man seeks a cozy place to rest. Boaz, satisfied, now covers himself and drifts off to sleep.
A Stealthy Encounter
At midnight, Boaz wakes up cold and trembling. Why, his feet have deliberately been uncovered, and someone is lying right there! Not recognizing who it is in the dark, he asks: “Who are you?” A woman’s voice replies: “I am Ruth your slave girl, and you must spread out your skirt over your slave girl, for you are a repurchaser.”—Ruth 3:1-9.
Alone in the dark they talk. Women are not found like this at a threshing floor. (Ruth 3:14) Nevertheless, at Boaz’ bidding, Ruth keeps lying at his feet until just before dawn when she gets up and leaves, thus avoiding any unfounded criticism.
Was this a romantic rendezvous? Was this rich, older man cleverly seduced by Ruth—a poor, young widow from a pagan country? Or was Boaz taking advantage of Ruth’s circumstances and loneliness that night? The answer to those questions is all about loyalty and love of God. And the facts are also very touching.
But who is Ruth? What is her motive? And who is this rich man, Boaz?
“An Excellent Woman”
Years before this episode, famine struck Judah. An Israelite family of four—Elimelech; his wife, Naomi; and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion—immigrated to the fertile land of Moab. The sons married two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Following the death of the three men in Moab, the three women heard that the conditions in Israel had improved. So Naomi—now widowed, embittered, without children or grandchildren—decided to return to her homeland.—Ruth 1:1-14.
On their way to Israel, Naomi convinced Orpah to return to her people. Naomi then told Ruth: “Look! Your widowed sister-in-law has returned to her people and her gods. Return with your widowed sister-in-law.” But Ruth said: “Do not plead with me to abandon you, . . . for where you go I shall go . . . Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I shall die, and there is where I shall be buried.” (Ruth 1:15-17) So the two destitute widows returned to Bethlehem. There Ruth’s love and care for her mother-in-law impressed the neighbors, so much so that they considered her to be “better to [Naomi] than seven sons.” Others described her as “an excellent woman.”—Ruth 3:11; 4:15.
In Bethlehem at the commencement of the barley harvest, Ruth said to Naomi: “Let me go, please, to the field and glean among the ears of grain following after whoever it is in whose eyes I may find favor.”—Ruth 2:2.
By chance she comes to the field belonging to Boaz, a relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. She asks the overseer for permission to glean. Her diligence in gleaning is outstanding, and the overseer commends her work to Boaz.—Ruth 1:22–2:7.
A Protector and Benefactor
Boaz is a devout worshiper of Jehovah. Each morning, Boaz greeted his harvesters with the words: “Jehovah be with you,” and they replied: “Jehovah bless you.” (Ruth 2:4) After observing Ruth’s diligence at work and learning of her loyalty to Naomi, Boaz gives Ruth special gleaning status. In short, he tells her: ‘Stay in my fields; there is no need for you to go to others. Keep close to my young women; you will be safe with them. I have commanded the young men not to touch you. When you are thirsty, they will draw fresh water for you.’—Ruth 2:8, 9.
Ruth bows down to the earth and says: ‘How is it I have found favor in your eyes, when I am a foreigner?’ Boaz answers: ‘I received a full report of all you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband—how you left your father, mother, relatives, and your homeland to be among a people whom you have not formerly known. May Jehovah reward the way you act. May he give you a perfect wage.’—Ruth 2:10-12.
Boaz is not trying to win her affections. The commendation he offers is sincere. Ruth is graciously humble, thanking him for his reassuring comfort. She considers it undeserved and continues working even harder. Later, at mealtime, Boaz calls Ruth: ‘Approach, eat some of the bread and dip your piece in the vinegar.’ She eats to satisfaction and saves food to take home for Naomi.—Ruth 2:14.
By day’s end, Ruth has gleaned about 20 quarts [22 L] of barley. She takes it and the leftover food back home to Naomi. (Ruth 2:15-18) Pleased with the abundance, Naomi asks: “Where did you glean today? . . . May the one who took notice of you become blessed.” Learning it was Boaz, Naomi says: “Blessed be he of Jehovah, who has not left his loving-kindness toward the living and the dead. . . . The man is related to us. He is one of our repurchasers.”—Ruth 2:19, 20.
Finding “a Resting-Place”
Desiring to find “a resting-place,” or home, for her daughter-in-law, Naomi seizes the moment to arrange for the request of repurchasing, in harmony with God’s Law. (Leviticus 25:25; Deuteronomy 25:5, 6) Now Naomi coaches Ruth in a most effective, even somewhat dramatic, plan of action—a way of arresting the attention of Boaz. Prepared and well instructed, under the cover of darkness, Ruth goes down to the threshing floor that belongs to Boaz. She finds him asleep. She uncovers his feet and waits for him to wake up.—Ruth 3:1-7.
When Boaz does wake up, Ruth’s symbolic action no doubt helps him to appreciate the significance of her request that he ‘spread out his skirt over his slave girl.’ Ruth’s action makes the elderly Judean aware of his obligation as a repurchaser, since he was a kinsman of Ruth’s late husband, Mahlon.—Ruth 3:9.
Ruth’s night visit was not looked for. Yet, Boaz’ reaction suggests that Ruth’s claim for repurchasing was not wholly unexpected. Boaz was willing to act on Ruth’s request.
Ruth’s voice must have reflected some anxiety, prompting Boaz to reassure her: “Now, my daughter, do not be afraid. All that you say I shall do for you, for everyone in the gate of my people is aware that you are an excellent woman.”—Ruth 3:11.
That Boaz viewed Ruth’s actions as being completely virtuous is evident by his words: “Blessed may you be of Jehovah, my daughter. You have expressed your loving-kindness better in the last instance than in the first instance.” (Ruth 3:10) In the first instance, Ruth displayed loving-kindness, or loyal love, for Naomi. The last instance was that she unselfishly identified herself to Boaz, a much older man, because he was a repurchaser. She was willing to raise up offspring in the name of Mahlon, her deceased husband, and for Naomi.
A Repurchaser Retracts
The next morning, Boaz summons a kinsman, referred to as “So-and-so,” who is more closely related to Naomi than is Boaz. In front of the inhabitants and the older men of the city, Boaz says: ‘I thought that I should disclose to you your right to repurchase from Naomi the tract of land that belonged to her husband Elimelech, for she must sell it.’ Boaz continues: ‘Will you repurchase it? If not, then I will do the repurchasing.’ At that So-and-so indicates that he will do the repurchasing.—Ruth 4:1-4.
But So-and-so is in for a surprise! Boaz now states before all the witnesses: “On the day that you buy the field from Naomi’s hand, it is also from Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead man, that you must buy it so as to cause the name of the dead man to rise upon his inheritance.” Fearing that he might ruin his own inheritance, the next of kin forfeits his right of repurchase saying: “I am not able to do the repurchasing.”—Ruth 4:5, 6.
According to custom, the man refusing to repurchase had to draw his sandal off and give it to his fellow. So when the repurchaser says to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he proceeds to draw his sandal off. Then Boaz says to the older men and all the people: “You are witnesses today that I do buy all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon from the hand of Naomi. And also Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, I do buy for myself as a wife to cause the name of the dead man to rise upon his inheritance . . . You are witnesses today.”—Ruth 4:7-10.
All the people who were in the gate say to Boaz: “May Jehovah grant the wife who is coming into your house to be like Rachel and like Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and you prove your worth in Ephrathah and make a notable name in Bethlehem.”—Ruth 4:11, 12.
With the blessing of the people, Boaz takes Ruth as his wife. She bears him a son named Obed, and thus Ruth and Boaz became ancestors of King David and consequently of Jesus Christ.—Ruth 4:13-17; Matthew 1:5, 6, 16.
“A Perfect Wage”
Throughout the account, from his first kind greeting to the workers to his accepting the responsibility of preserving the family name of Elimelech, Boaz proves to be an outstanding man—a man of action and authority. At the same time, he was a man of self-control, faith, and integrity. Boaz was also generous, kind, morally chaste, and fully obedient to Jehovah’s commandments.
Ruth stands out for her love for Jehovah, for her loyal love toward Naomi, and for her industriousness and humility. It is no wonder that people viewed her as “an excellent woman.” She did not eat “the bread of laziness,” and because of her hard work, she had something to share with her needy mother-in-law. (Proverbs 31:27, 31) In assuming responsibility for Naomi, Ruth must have felt the happiness that results from giving.—Acts 20:35; 1 Timothy 5:4, 8.
What fine examples we find in the book of Ruth! Naomi is remembered by Jehovah. Ruth receives “a perfect wage” as an ancestress of Jesus Christ. Boaz is blessed with “an excellent woman.” As for us, in such individuals we find examples of faith.
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A Ray of Hope
If you ever feel that you are living in unhappy times, the story of Ruth can provide a spark of hope. It stands out as an important epilogue to the book of Judges. The book of Ruth tells how Jehovah used a humble widow from the foreign nation of Moab in producing a king for his people. Against the backdrop of the book of Judges, Ruth’s faith shines like a light of that era.
From reading Ruth’s story, you can have assurance that no matter how terrible the times may be, God always cares for his people and carries out his purposes.