Ruth chapter three represents a short -but pivotal- chapter within this narrative. Although Ruth's mother-in-law Naomi will only make a brief appearance at the beginning and end of this chapter, she will initiate a plan that will eventually go on to produce a significant and far-ranging effect that continues to this day...
"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).
There is little doubt that Ruth worked hard throughout the barley and wheat harvests to glean enough to sustain herself and her mother-in-law. But the work of harvesting grain only lasted for six to eight weeks and the prospects of finding enough to eat throughout the remainder of the year were quite remote. So it seems that Naomi had come to the conclusion that a long-term plan was necessary to help ensure their survival- and the time had come for her to implement such a plan on behalf of her daughter-in-law.
We're told that Naomi's motivation for taking this action involved her desire to provide security for Ruth. As a widow and resident alien in a foreign land, Ruth was in a highly vulnerable position- and if Naomi were to suddenly pass away, Ruth would be left with no one at all. In an age when the average life span might only reach fifty years, this was not an unrealistic concern for Naomi. But if Ruth could find the security and protection offered by a new marital relationship, things would be different.
Its interesting to note that a number of Biblical translations (such as the King James Version, American Standard Version, and English Standard Version) render this word "security" as "rest." This implies that Naomi had more than just a new marital partner in mind for Ruth- it means that Naomi sought to relieve Ruth from the anxieties and uncertainties associated with the status of single woman in that culture and provide her with the fulfillment, satisfaction, and protection associated with a husband and family of her own.
This responsibility fell to Naomi because pre-marital dating
relationships (as we know them today) didn't exist during the Biblical era. A
"dating relationship" was unknown during that time because young men
and women of marriageable age typically did not select their own marriage partners as
is often the case today.
In the days of the Old and New Testaments, it was customary for parents to arrange marriages for their children- and since Ruth had no other parental representatives available to fulfill that responsibility, Naomi took it upon herself to undertake that assignment on her behalf.
Although God had graciously provided for Ruth since her arrival in Bethlehem, the life she had been living was hardly sustainable on a long-term basis whether she realized it or not. So Ruth's mother-in-law Naomi took it upon herself to address this situation...
"Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? 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" (Ruth 3:2-3).
As mentioned earlier, Naomi had identified Boaz someone who was more than just a member of her extended family- he was a "ga'al" or "kinsman-redeemer." A kinsman-redeemer was someone who possessed the ability to redeem family property, liberate a relative who had fallen on hard times and thus been forced into slavery, or enforce the law upon someone who had killed or injured another family member.
While these were all important responsibilities, the role of a kinsman-redeemer also carried another obligation that was specific to Ruth's particular situation: if a man died without a son to carry on the family name during that time, it became the responsibility of the nearest male relative (typically a brother) to marry the deceased man's widow and raise up an heir on his behalf. The first-born son from that relationship would then be recognized as the heir of the man who passed away (see Deuteronomy 25:5).
This becomes important when we consider that Naomi may have possessed the
legal right to a marital relationship with Boaz herself. Since Naomi
was also a widow (as well as a member of Boaz' family), she might have prevailed upon
Boaz to act as her own kinsman-redeemer and thus obtain the security of a marital relationship
Even though Naomi may have felt that she was too old to have a husband (see Ruth 1:12), she might have welcomed the opportunity to secure the companionship of a life together with Boaz as they approached the end of their days.However, Naomi was likely beyond her child-bearing years at this point (see Ruth 1:11-13) and if she had sought to invoke any sort of prior claim upon Boaz, the family lineage of her late husband and sons would have perished as a result. If this was the case, then it means that Naomi selflessly waived any claim she may have had upon Boaz in favor of her daughter-in-law Ruth and the opportunity to continue her family's name.
"'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.' And she said to her, 'All that you say to me I will do'" (Ruth 3:4-5).
As a relative stranger to that area, Ruth would have been familiar with the act of winnowing grain but perhaps not sot familiar with the local customs involved in that process. So in the best tradition of a spy movie or a mystery novel, Naomi was careful to brief Ruth on where she could find Boaz during this portion of the harvest and advise her of what his schedule was likely to be for that evening. She then presented Ruth with her covert mission: she was to approach Boaz after nightfall, uncover his feet, and wait for further instructions.
This reference to "uncovering his feet" is subject to some debate among commentators. The simplest and easiest explanation for this somewhat obscure passage is to understand it to refer to a technique that would serve to gently awaken Boaz from his slumber. The cool night air would be sure to induce a chill in anyone who happened to be asleep and as Boaz awoke to reposition his blanket, Ruth would be there to greet him.
A more complicated explanation involves the use of the term "feet" as a euphemism for the entire lower body area. At the risk of getting ahead in our narrative, it is thought that such an act would be construed as a marriage proposal in the culture of that time. In any event, we can say that the subsequent actions taken by Ruth and Boaz clearly indicate that there was no moral impropriety involved in this symbolic act. As one commentary goes on to explain...
"The full significance of these instructions is not
known to us. Commentators have offered many explanations; among them the
following are plausible: the exposure of his feet to the cold was to awaken
Boaz; her position at his feet was one of humility in preparation to present a
petition; or feet is a euphemism for sexual organs.
It is best to admit that we do not know the full implications of Ruth's actions. They reflect an ancient custom now lost to us. What is clear is that Boaz understood Ruth to be proposing marriage as a function of his kinsman's role..." (1)
(1) Arnold, Bill T. “A. Naomi's Instructions to Ruth (3:1-5)” In Asbury Bible Commentary. 353. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1992.
"So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law instructed her. And after Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was cheerful, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down" (Ruth 3:6-7).
One part of Naomi's directive involved Ruth's choice of appearance: "...take a bath and put on perfume and dress in your nicest clothes" (Ruth 3:3 NLT). So in much the same way as someone might dress up in preparing for dating relationship today, Ruth's outward appearance would serve to indicate that she was open to the possibility of a relationship with Boaz.
And so just as Naomi had predicted, Ruth arrived at the threshing area to find Boaz asleep alongside his harvest, for he "...had finished his meal and was feeling satisfied" (NET). While this might seem to constitute an unusual sleeping arrangement, it helps to remember that the end of the harvest season represented an occasion for rejoicing within that culture. It was a time when the weeks of strenuous labor involved in the work of harvesting grain were finally complete and one could find satisfaction in the fruit of his or her labors.
As we're told in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV). For Boaz, it was now time to rest and enjoy the fruit of his efforts and to quote another reference from the book of Ecclesiastes, "The best thing we can do is eat and drink and enjoy what we have earned. And yet, I realized that even this comes from God" (Ecclesiastes 2:24 GNB). This seems to be an apt description of Boaz' mindset as he enters our narrative here in Ruth chapter three.
However, Naomi knew where Boaz could be found that evening for another reason. Remember that the events of Ruth chapter three took place during the Biblical age of the Judges, a period of moral indifference and a time when "...there was no king in Israel (and) everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). If "what seemed right" to a person involved helping himself to the proceeds of someone else's hard labor, a man like Boaz might find himself with little or nothing left to eat.
Therefore it made good sense for Boaz to stay with his valuable grain until it could be transported to a secure location. This helps explain how and why Ruth found Boaz asleep near his harvest that evening.
"And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down" (Ruth 3:7 ESV).
The fact that Ruth approached Boaz quietly and alone under the cover of nightfall served a purpose that might be easily overlooked. You see, Naomi's plan (and Ruth's execution of that plan) tells us that she had no desire to force Boaz into doing anything that he might not wish to do.
If Boaz had chosen to decline the opportunity to serve as Ruth's kinsman-redeemer, this approach would allow him to do so with no external pressure. One commentator explains what this meant for Boaz in making the following observation...
"There is nothing in the text of Ruth that indicates any moral impropriety on the part of either Boaz or Ruth. First, Ruth did not come at night to hide an immoral relationship with Boaz. Rather, she came in the night so that Boaz would not feel the pressure of public scrutiny. Boaz would have the opportunity to decline the proposal to redeem Naomi and marry Ruth without facing any public embarrassment." (1)
So Ruth's approach would enable Boaz to freely decide how he wished to proceed in responding to any request that she might make of him. In fact, it appears that Naomi's plan reflected her complete trust in Boaz's ability to respond appropriately to Ruth's visit for after providing Ruth with her instructions, she finished by saying, "He will make it clear what you must do" (Ruth 3:4 GW).
So Ruth followed Naomi's instructions implicitly and as you might expect, it wasn't long before Boaz awoke from his slumber to find that he was not alone...
"Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet" (Ruth 3:8).
While Boaz might have been prepared to defend his agricultural production from the advances of a potential thief, he was surely unprepared for the appearance of a young woman lying quietly at his feet in the darkness of the threshing floor. Its likely that Boaz simply rolled over to readjust the blanket that was no longer covering him only to find that someone else was there with him- a reality that would be sure to startle anyone.
In his semi-conscious state, Boaz was not aware of who was there with him or what that person's intent might be- but those questions would be answered soon enough.
(1) When Critics Ask A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, Victor Books, a division of Scripture Press Publications Inc.
"Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet. And he said, 'Who are you?' So she answered, "I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative'" (Ruth 3:8-9).
In the days before electrical power, the only means of illumination available after the sunset came through the use of a fiery torch, a candle, or an oil filled lamp. So unless Boaz had a small lamp nearby, there was little or no ambient lighting available to help him identify the person who was now beside him in the dark of night.
Because of this, its easy to imagine that Boaz quickly assumed a defensive position in order to protect his inventory of grain while challenging this potential hostile to provide his or her identity. Fortunately, Boaz received a response that immediately served to put him at ease: "'I am your servant Ruth,' she said. 'Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family'" (NIV).
Although Ruth had repeatedly been identified as "Ruth the Moabitess" throughout the first two chapters of this book, its interesting to note that she did not refer to herself in this manner in responding to Boaz' challenge. Instead, Ruth's self-identification as a "member of our family" tells us that her allegiance to the family she had married into was even greater than that of her own national origin.
Ruth also responded to Boaz with a phrase that he would be quick to recognize: "Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer" (ESV). If this sounds familiar, then it may be due to the fact that Boaz used much the same phraseology in his initial meeting with Ruth when he said, "May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge" (Ruth 2:12).
So just as Boaz utilized the imagery of bird protecting its young under the sheltering presence of its wings, Ruth now used much the same language in presenting her request to him. As noted in the New International Version (NIV) quoted above, a number of Biblical versions translate this verse using the imagery of a covering skirt (KJV), robe (CJB), or cloak (HCSB), to communicate the symbolism of Boaz' position as a protector or redeemer.
If Boaz was willing to step forward and assume the role of a kinsman-redeemer on Ruth's behalf, then she would be certain to enjoy the rest and security that Noami sought for her. The question was, how would he respond?
When Boaz said to Ruth, "May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge" (Ruth 2:12), he surely had no idea that Ruth would eventually turn to him as the means by which God would provide that refuge. Nevertheless, this was a responsibility that Boaz readily accepted...
"Then he said, 'Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich.'" (Ruth 3:10).
Boaz' response tells us that he clearly understood the implication of Ruth's request: she had initiated a marriage proposal under the parameters of the Old Testament Law. Nevertheless, we might question why Ruth approached Boaz with this proposal instead of the other way around. Well, a closer look at Boaz' response provides us with one potential answer to that question.
Even if Boaz had been interested in Ruth as a potential marriage partner, his response indicates that he must have immediately dismissed the prospect of a marital relationship with her under the assumption that she would prefer to marry a man that was closer to herself in age. In addition, there was a second obstacle standing in the way of a marriage between Boaz and Ruth that we'll examine a little later in this chapter.
In any event, Boaz' response also serves to demonstrate his appreciation for Ruth's God-honoring character. In saying, "You have shown more kindness now than before..." (HCSB), Boaz was clearly referring to the loyalty, dedication, and love that Ruth had shown in accompanying Naomi to Bethlehem and abandoning the life she had formerly lived in Moab.
But Ruth's expression of faithfulness went beyond simply helping to meet her mother-in-law's material needs. You see, Boaz' acceptance of Ruth's proposal might produce an heir who would continue the family lineage of Naomi's late husband and son. So instead of attempting to select a potential marriage partner from among the members of her peer group, Ruth set aside any such personal desire in favor of what was best for for everyone involved. In the words of one commentator...
"Ruth showed that she possessed an unusual understanding of what really mattered in life first in her devotion to Naomi, then in choosing the God of Israel, which culminated in her choosing to trust and love Boaz even though he was older than she was." (1)
(1) NKJV Study Notes by Stan Kelly, Edited by Bob Caldwell, Ruth 3:1-18 http://www.ccboise.org/resources/study-materials/guides/ruth-chapter-3
"Boaz replied: 'The LORD bless you! This shows how truly loyal you are to your family. You could have looked for a younger man, either rich or poor, but you didn't"' (Ruth 3:10 CEV).
While Ruth 3:10 may initially seem to be little more than a positive
appraisal of Ruth's character, this short passage actually provides us
insight that we can use in making good relationship choices
You see, Boaz likely assumed that Ruth would prefer to choose a younger (and presumably more physically attractive) marriage partner. However, it appears that Ruth understood that these qualities alone were not the most important factors involved in choosing a potential life partner.
While everyone surely desires to have an attractive marriage partner, the New Testament book of 1 Peter provides us with some guidance regarding the qualities that are most important in making good relationship choices...
"Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God" (1 Peter 3:3-4 NLT).
These verses serve to remind us that genuine attractiveness starts from the inside out. Boaz was a man whose strength of character identified him as a person who was attractive on the inside. This was something that clearly caught Naomi's attention and made Boaz a natural match for a woman of like-minded character like Ruth.
Some other important elements of God-honoring character can be found within the Bible's definition of true love...
"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails..." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).
So it seems that Boaz recognized that Ruth was not interested in pursuing a relationship primarily based on physical appearance alone. If that had been Ruth's intent, then she might have sought to pursue other relationship opportunities. Instead, Ruth chose to follow a template that God later established within the book that follows Ruth in our modern-day Bibles...
"Don't judge by a man's face or height... I don't make decisions the way you do! Men judge by outward appearance, but I look at a man's thoughts and intentions" (1 Samuel 16:7 TLB).
"And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman" (Ruth 3:11).
A look at the language used to author this portion of Scripture yields an interesting facet to Boaz' description of Ruth as a "worthy woman" (ASV) or "a woman of noble character" (HCSB). As it turns out, the word that Boaz used to describe Ruth's virtue is precisely the same work that was used to identify Boaz himself in Ruth 2:1 where he is described as "...a prominent man of noble character from Elimelech's family" (HCSB).
So we might say that Ruth and Boaz were made for one another in the sense that they both possessed the positive character traits of a God-honoring man or woman. In addition, the only other Old Testament appearance of the word that describes Ruth character can be found in Proverbs chapter 31 where we're told, "Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain" (Proverbs 31:10-11).
These were the factors that apparently caused Boaz to agree to act as Ruth's kinsman-redeemer without hesitation. In fact, it appears that Boaz was not alone in his appraisal of Ruth's character for he went on to say, "All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character" (NIV).
Ruth's good standing in the "court of public opinion" brings to mind a Biblical admonition from 1 Peter 2:12 where we read, "Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when He judges the world" (NLT).
The Apostle Paul echoed a similar sentiment in the New Testament book of Ephesians where he wrote, "...I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (Ephesians 4:1 NIV). These passages remind us that others are constantly evaluating our choices and forming opinions based on those choices. If we follow the examples provided by Ruth and Boaz and seek conduct ourselves in a manner that honors God, others will take notice and have the right example to follow.
So Boaz' opinion of Ruth's character was one that was shared among the other members of his community. For this reason, Boaz showed no hesitation at the prospect of entering a marriage relationship with her. Unfortunately, there was a problem that might yet derail Naomi's carefully considered plan...
"And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman. Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I" (Ruth 3:11-12).
While Boaz welcomed the opportunity to enter a relationship with Ruth, there was one potential problem: "...while it's true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am" (NLT).
So now, a previously unknown person enters our narrative. Its not known exactly how this unnamed individual was related to Ruth and Naomi's family but there seems to be little debate regarding his place in the family lineage, at least as far as Boaz was concerned. With this in mind, we might ask why Naomi chose to bypass this family member (along with his prior legal claim) in favor of Boaz.
Well, its possible that Naomi mistakenly assumed that Boaz was simply "first in line" to act as a kinsman-redeemer. Since Naomi had only recently returned home after an extended residence in a foreign country, it's possible that she lost track of all the limbs on the family tree, so to speak. Although it seems unlikely that Naomi could have made such an error in a culture that valued family relationships so highly, we can't discount the possibility that she simply made an honest mistake.
Another possibility is that Naomi preferred Boaz as the choice for her daughter-in-law and was willing to "bend the rules" in order to establish that relationship. Naomi may have recognized that the kindness and favor that Boaz had already shown towards Ruth made him ideally suited to serve as her husband and kinsman-redeemer despite the fact that someone else was legally ahead of him.
Finally, Naomi may have recognized that Boaz was not Ruth's closest redeemer but wisely instructed Ruth to approach him anyway as a means of forcing the issue and thereby acquiring the marital security she sought for her daughter-in-law either through Boaz or this unnamed relative.
Regardless of Naomi's motive, this situation tells us something important about Boaz. You see, it appears that Boaz never considered the possibility of entering a marital relationship with Ruth unless the issue of prior legal right could be resolved. And as we'll see, Boaz was also willing to walk away from a relationship with Ruth (a relationship he clearly desired) if it meant doing something inappropriate.
In this manner, Boaz clearly lived up to his reputation as "a man of outstanding character" (Ruth 2:1 GW).
"Stay this night, and in the morning it shall be that if he will perform the duty of a close relative for you—good; let him do it. But if he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you, as the LORD lives! Lie down until morning" (Ruth 3:13).
As mentioned previously, Boaz was prepared to abandon the possibility of a relationship with Ruth if it meant doing something legally inappropriate. But if given the opportunity, Boaz was willing to demonstrate his commitment to Ruth by solemnizing his vow to her with the strongest oath a man of Israel could make: "...if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the LORD lives, I will redeem you" (ESV).
This meant that Boaz would place himself in violation of the Bible's seventh commandment if he failed to follow through on his commitment: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain" (Exodus 20:7).
In light of these things, it may be difficult to understand why Boaz invited Ruth to "Sleep here until morning..."(NET), a seemingly indiscriminate choice for two people of such supposedly high character. To answer that question, we should first consider the fact that Ruth's night-time visit had placed Boaz in a delicate position.
Although Boaz could have immediately dismissed Ruth, this would have forced her to return home alone along the dark, unlit streets in the middle of the night. It was clearly dangerous for a young woman to be walking alone at night and it appears that Boaz never even considered that option.
Boaz could have also chosen to accompany Ruth back home but that choice presented it's own problems. If anyone were to observe Boaz and Ruth walking alone together in the middle of the night, a number of questions regarding the propriety of their relationship were sure to develop.
Since women of ill-repute were the only ones known to be out at night, such an appearance would not reflect well upon either of them. In a relatively small town such as Bethlehem, news of such a discovery would be sure to spread throughout the entire town before day's end.
Given these realities, the best choice involved allowing Ruth to stay were she was, at least until the pre-dawn hours. That would best ensure that Boaz and his potential bride could "Abstain from every appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22 MKJV).
"So she lay at his feet until morning, and she arose before one could recognize another. Then he said, 'Do not let it be known that the woman came to the threshing floor'" (Ruth 3:14).
If Boaz had allowed Ruth's visit to be discovered, her overnight presence on the threshing floor would have surely resulted in unwarranted gossip and rumor. So knowing that Ruth was recognized to be a person of virtuous character within the Bethlehem community (Ruth 3:11), Boaz took the steps that were necessary to protect her reputation by insisting, "No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor" (NIV).
But while Ruth had a reputation to protect, we should also remember that Boaz had a reputation to protect as well. For example, Boaz was known to be "a prominent man of noble character" (Ruth 2:1 HCSB) within his community and judging from the manner in which he had earlier greeted his employees, he presented himself as someone who (at the very minimum) recognized and followed God (see Ruth 2:4).
With this in mind, the decision to keep Ruth's visit quiet would help eliminate the potential for idle speculation and the kind of situation that the Apostle Paul described in the New Testament book of Romans...
"You say it is wrong to commit adultery-- do you do it? You say 'Don't pray to idols' and then make money your god instead. You are so proud of knowing God's laws, but you dishonor him by breaking them. No wonder the Scriptures say that the world speaks evil of God because of you" (Romans 2:22-24 TLB).
While Ruth's pre-dawn departure would serve to protect her from the gossip
that was sure to ensue as a result of such a discovery, its likely that there
was a second agenda at work as well.
You see, Boaz was a prominent and wealthy businessman in that area- and one does not generally achieve such business success unless he or she is a skilled negotiator. Because of this, it's likely that Boaz was already beginning to formulate a strategy that would enable him to successfully deal with the obstacle that was standing in the way of a potential relationship with Ruth.
We'll see Boaz unveil that plan in chapter four but for now, we can say that it would not suit his purpose if it became known that Ruth had visited him there at the threshing floor. So a decision to leave in the pre-dawn darkness would help keep Ruth safe, protect both their reputations, and allow Boaz to engineer a strategy that would enable him to win Ruth as a bride.XIII
"Also he said, 'Bring the shawl that is on you and hold it.' And when she held it, he measured six ephahs of barley, and laid it on her. Then she went into the city" (Ruth 3:15).
Earlier in Ruth chapter three, Naomi instructed her daughter-in-law to, "...take a bath and put on perfume and dress in your nicest clothes" (Ruth 3: 3 NIV) prior to her visit to Boaz' threshing floor. As was customary in that culture, Ruth 3:15 tells us that Ruth's best clothing included a veil (MKJV), cloak (GNB), or cape (CEV). Although this article of clothing was intended as little more than an accessory, Boaz elected to turn it into a object of blessing and provision for both Ruth and Naomi.
In a manner reminiscent of Jesus' experience with a poor widow who offered two small coins as an offering (Mark 12:41-44), this passage reminds us that God is able to take those things that are seemingly insignificant or of little value and turn them into vehicles of blessing for others. Such was the case here as Boaz used a simple article of clothing to generously provide for Ruth and Naomi's material needs.
However, the actual degree of Boaz generosity is a subject that is open to some debate. For example, the New King James Version (NKJV) of this passage identifies the amount of grain that was provided for Ruth as "six ephahs of barley." As mentioned earlier, an "ephah" was an ancient measure of dry volume that was roughly equivalent to two-thirds of a bushel or about thirty to forty pounds (14-18kg). Since six ephahs of barley would equate to approximately 200 lbs (91 kg), it seems highly unlikely that a simple shawl (or Ruth herself) could have successfully handled such a large amount.
The original language used to author the book of Ruth simply tells us that Boaz "measured six of barley." Since the text does not specify a particular unit of measurement, many translations elect to identify this amount as six "measures."
Commentators speculate that the measure involved may have been a "seah," another ancient unit of measurement that was equivalent to one-third of an ephah. This estimate would have resulted in an approximate weight of 60-80 lbs (about 27-36 kg), a much more reasonable amount for Ruth to carry.
Regardless of how much grain was actually provided to Ruth, its clear that Boaz continued to demonstrate an overwhelming degree of generosity towards Ruth (and Naomi by extension as well).
"When (Ruth) came to her mother-in-law, she said, 'Is that you, my daughter?' Then she told her all that the man had done for her" (Ruth 3:16).
Anyone who has experienced the suspense involved in waiting for some highly anticipated news can surely appreciate Naomi's position as we approach the end of Ruth chapter three.
Perhaps Naomi slept well after Ruth departed from their home that evening. Perhaps Naomi quickly fell asleep with the confidant assurance that her matchmaking skills would enable Ruth to enter the kind of marriage relationship that she desired for her beloved daughter-in-law. Its also possible (perhaps even likely) that Naomi slept very little as she spent those long, anxious hours waiting for Ruth's return from the threshing floor.
Its not difficult to imagine that Naomi ran through any number of potential scenarios in her mind as the time passed- "...two hours; three hours; four hours have now gone by and Ruth has still not returned. Was that a good sign? How did Boaz respond? Did Ruth remember to do everything I instructed her to do? What was happening there at the threshing floor?!?"
One subtle clue to indicate that Naomi may have been preoccupied with the events that were (or were not) taking place between Ruth and Boaz can be found in her response to Ruth's pre-dawn return. At a hour when we might reasonably expect most people to be asleep, it appears that Naomi was already anticipating her daughter-in-law's return and ready to ask the all important question: "How did things turn out for you, my daughter?" (NET).
But while Naomi was surely anxious to hear about the events that had transpired, many commentators view Naomi's question not as a request for information but as a request for identity. In other words, Naomi may not have been asking Ruth for a report on the events of the previous evening but asking if Boaz had immediately accepted her marriage proposal. If this was the case, then Naomi's question sought to determine if she was now speaking to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, or Ruth, Boaz' wife.
This aspect is made clearer in translations such as the Revised Version which renders Ruth 3:16 as, "Who art thou, my daughter?" This was obviously a question that Ruth was happy to answer in great detail for as this verse goes on to tell us, "...she told her everything Boaz had done for her" (NIV).XV
"And she said, "These six ephahs of barley he gave me; for he said to me, 'Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law.' Then she said, "Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day" (Ruth 3:17-18).
After Boaz informed Ruth that a closer relative held the first right of redemption as a kinsman-redeemer, he graciously followed by saying, "Remain here tonight. Then in the morning, if he agrees to marry you, fine, let him do so. But if he does not want to do so, I promise, as surely as the LORD lives, to marry you" (NET). Boaz then chose to back up his promise by providing Ruth with something of great value: "She added, 'He told me I must not come back to you empty-handed, so he gave me all this barley'" (GNB).
In making this gesture, Boaz demonstrated that his interests were not exclusively focused upon Ruth and the opportunity to secure a relationship with her. As one commentary observes, "In addition to being a further gesture of kindness on Boaz’s part, the gift of barley served as a token of his intention to fulfill his responsibility as family guardian." (1)
For Naomi, the idea that Boaz did not want Ruth to return empty-handed to her stands in sharp contrast to the attitude that she herself expressed upon her return to Bethlehem: "I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?" (Ruth 1:21 ESV). In this, we are reminded of God's promise from Psalm 84:11: "No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly."
So while Naomi spent the previous night alone in anticipation of the news that the morning would bring, she now had company in the person of Ruth who joined her in waiting to discover what her own future held. Fortunately, it seems that Naomi had some insight into Boaz' character and personality, an awareness that enabled her to reassure her daughter-in-law that her wait would not be a long one: "Just be patient and don't worry about what will happen. He won't rest until everything is settled today!" (CEV).
As for Boaz, we will soon see him begin to demonstrate the kind of negotiating skills that surely helped him to attain the position of "...a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem" (Ruth 2:1 NLT).
(1) Net Bible Notes On Ruth 3:17 https://net.bible.org/#!bible/Ruth+3Next