The story of Ruth is for all women because it speaks of the essence of true femininity. Marital status does not matter in this story. In fact, through the course of this narrative, Ruth’s status changes from daughter to daughter-in-law, wife to widow, and married to mother – all in four short chapters. So, whatever your current situation (single, divorced, widow, married happily or even unhappily), the story of Ruth speaks to you, revealing what it means to be a woman in a variety of relationships.
Every culture has it definition of what defines masculinity and femininity, but that definition often clashes with the perspective given in Scripture. And in Ruth 3, we’ll discover that our two love birds provide us with the true portrait of manhood and womanhood – what the Bible defines as truly masculine and truly feminine.
But the story of Ruth is more than the tale of a “Match Made in Heaven.” It is a story of God’s love for His people – and how He works in their lives. The story of Ruth is the story a Providential Love in which God preserves His people by orchestrating the events in their lives, with their cooperation, for His perfect purposes. God can use anyone to bring about the good end He has planned for all creation, but those who keep their hearts turned Him will receive special joy and blessing. And part of that honor comes in participating in God’s plan for biblical womanhood.
THE LACK OF REST
The concept of rest brackets scene 4 (chapter 3). It is a type of rest that is rooted squarely in marriage – the sole place that a woman in the Ancient Near East would find provision, protection, and preservation. In 1:9, Naomi sought rest for her daughters-in-law, bidding them to return to Moab to remarry. And while the quest for rest continues throughout the remainder of the story, the solution to the problem is not simply to remarry. Naomi specifically understands “rest” will only be accomplished for Ruth through marriage to a specific man – a go’el – a kinsman redeemer.
NAOMI’S PLAN FOR REST
For about 6-7 weeks, God’s providential kept Ruth gleaning barley and wheat in the field of one such go’el – a man named Boaz. And perhaps fearing that Boaz would not make the first move, Naomi hatches a plan to bring the two together.
Moving beyond mourning?
And because Naomi is a practical gal, we are not surprised to find her plan to be equally as practical and specific. She urges Ruth to wash, anoint, and change her clothing. And at nightfall, Ruth is to find Boaz and reveal herself to him. Many scholars and much of secular literature portray Naomi as advising Ruth to act in the manner of a local prostitute, but I believe the text is subtly conveying another matter. I believe Naomi is advising Ruth to put off her period of mourning for her husband, making herself known to Boaz has a potential match for marriage.
Consider a parallel example in 2 Sam. 12:20 in which David puts off his period of mourning over his son: “So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped…” In mourning, Ruth would have worn a specific type of clothing, and she would have presented herself in a specific manner in public. This could be one reason why Boaz never made the first move. If he is indeed the man of virtue that the story has repeatedly insinuated, then he wouldn’t have proposed marriage to Ruth while she was still mourning her husband.
Moving beyond the providence of God?
Ruth was to follow Naomi’s specific directions and then wait for further instruction from Boaz. Naomi is banking on Boaz’s affirmative response. But with the overall theme of the book pointing to the providence of God in life circumstances, one cannot help but question the role faith actually played in Naomi’s matchmaking scheme. Does Naomi’s plan undermine God’s providential activity in the book of Ruth or support it? For although Naomi crafted a plan, the details were only successful to the degree that God providentially worked in Boaz’s heart.
We often fall prey to one of two theological blunders when considering God’s providence – deism (God created the world but is not active in it) or fatalism (God created the world and rules it as a tyrant). Deism places too much emphasis on human agency and fatalism says human agency is futile. But a biblical understanding of God’s providence takes into account human agency. Theologians call this concurrence – the idea that man plays a role in God’s good plan for creation. We see this in several practical ways. First, how God ordered and sustains creation (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 104). Second, how God authored with Scriptures through the Spirit and man (2 Pet. 1:21). Third, how God ordered salvation through the birth of his Son (Gen. 3:15; Luke 1:30-35) and through the death of his Son (Acts 2:23). And fourth, how God ordered and sustains the church through the Spirit (Rom. 12:4-6), through prayer (John 15:7), and through discipleship (Matt. 28:16-20).
The author does not comment on the role faith played in Naomi’s plan. But whatever Naomi’s intentions, we can clearly state that Naomi avoided falling into the roadside ditches of deism and fatalism. Naomi trusted God to move Boaz’s heart in the right direction, and she didn’t force Boaz into a position in public. Likewise, Naomi didn’t allow her bitter heart to paralyze her from acting in Ruth’s best interests either. God clearly allowed the plan of this woman to guide His providential hand on their behalf.
Not only does God work through Naomi in this scene, but we see that He works through Ruth as well. Ruth approaches Boaz with a certain demeanor – in great humility. She reveals her identity and intentions in a subtle way without reference to entitlement or eager expectation. First, Ruth identifies herself as his maidservant (‘amah) – the type of servant that could became a wife or concubine to her master. Second, Ruth identifies her intention to propose marriage by stating: “take your maidservant under your wing” (3:9).
We’ve seen this imagery before haven’t we? Boaz used these same words to Ruth in chapter 2:11 as a blessing: “The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” The wings of Yahweh became a place of provision, protection, rest. But notice how the word is used in this scene – the word for wing is kanaph, which can also mean the edge of a garment or covering. And so Ruth is creating a word picture of Boaz covering her with his garment much like a mother bird would cover her young with her wing. Ruth could be asking Boaz to fulfill the very words of blessing he uttered over her in the fields by marrying her!
In his book, Sweet and Bitter Providence, John Piper points out that the only other place in Scripture where you see this phrase “spread your wings/garment” over me as an indication of marriage is in Ezek. 16:8. Listen to this: “’Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.” It speaks of marriage between God and His People. It speaks of a marriage covenant. And so, Ruth’s intention bears much more significance than just a one-night stand on the threshing floor. Ruth desired Boaz to enter into a covenant relationship with her. Ruth desired for Boaz to serve as her go’el, her kinsman redeemer.
We’ve talked much concerning the roles of a go’el – one of which is in view in this story. Levirate Marriage is the “legal provision requiring a dead man’s brother (levirate) to marry his childless widow and father a son who would assume the dead man’s name and inherit his portion of the Promised Land.” Some commentators do not believe Levirate Marriage is in view in this book, primarily because Mosaic Law identified the levirate as a brother (Deut. 25:5-10). And we know that Boaz is a distant relative, as Naomi has no more sons. However, it is my opinion that Levirate Marriage is in view here for two reasons:
The overall context of the chapter. Naomi’s desire to find rest/security for Ruth in the context of marriage frames this chapter
The overall context of the book. We know the book purposes to resolve the potential break in the royal lineage of Israel’s greatest King. And so in the marriage (or at least
Levirate Marriage) of Ruth and Boaz, we see the situation resolved beautifully within the Old Testament context of the kingship of David and the New Testament fulfillment of eternal kingship of Jesus Christ.
BIBLICAL MANHOOD & WOMANHOOD
Boaz’s response is no surprise. He acts and speaks toward Ruth with the same measure of hesed and favor that we’ve grown accustomed to. In fact, I venture to say, that Boaz is a REAL man, not because he’s strong, or wealthy, or ________ (you fill-in the blank), but because Boaz measures up to God’s definition of true masculinity. Consider the following:
Boaz takes on a leadership role – He willingly accepts the responsibility to take Ruth under his wing, not in a bossy, chauvinistic, superior manner, but in the capacity of a servant leader. Eph. 5:23 says: “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.”
Boaz treats Ruth with respect – He speaks to her respectfully and does not take advantage to her nighttime appearance on the threshing floor. Eph. 5:25 says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Boaz tries to reflect the gracious hesed of his God – His actions toward Ruth are not self-motivated, but rather reflections of the sacrificial love of his God). Eph. 5:25-27 says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
So we see that the biblical portrait of manhood is not solely found in physical anatomy, brute strength, or simple virtue – although obviously those are all components to manhood. Listen to the definition of manhood given by Piper: “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s different relationships.” We see that in Boaz, do we not? The desire to benevolently lead, provide, and protect Ruth even if it means he might be the one to serve as her go’el (Ruth 3:12-13).
Likewise, we see in Ruth a portrait of true biblical womanhood. Boaz says so himself! In 3:11, he calls Ruth “a virtuous woman,” a fact that not only he noticed, but the whole city has noticed! Listen to Piper’s definition of true biblical womanhood: “at the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.” Doesn’t that sound like Ruth? Yes, she took the initiative to pop the question, but she did so with integrity, faith, humility, discretion. And so, Boaz calls her a “virtuous woman.”
For those of you who are single, widowed, divorced – you might be wondering if femininity can be reflected outside of marriage. And the answer is a giant, bold, underscored, yellow highlighted, 72-point-font “YES!” If God created you a woman – then His Word on this issue is for you! Biblical womanhood is not something left for marriage – true femininity speaks of a demeanor that can be expressed in a variety of life relationships (1 Peter. 3:4). Particularly at church, we see Paul give similar prescriptives for women in the body of believers – and so this issue of biblical womanhood is not just for those us who are married.
NO REST FOR BOAZ
And look at how the chapter ends. Naomi’s words echo the same sentiment that began the chapter – rest. Boaz will not rest until Naomi’s plan for rest has been accomplished. Yet unbeknownst to Naomi, it would be through the marriage of Boaz and Ruth that true, permanent rest would be offered to all. Centuries later, it will be the “seed” of Ruth and Boaz that will utter these words in Matt. 11: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Aren’t these words are all the more beautiful now that you know the story behind them? The story of the pain of Naomi and Ruth, the intrigue of Naomi’s plan to make a match made in heaven, and the tension on the threshing floor that night? Ruth 3 is a turning point behind God’s plan to offer rest and peace to all men through the virtue of a pagan woman. Ruth receives the promise of great rest/joy at the end of this scene. And part of that honor comes in participating in God’s plan for biblical womanhood. And so, the story of Ruth truly is for all women whether widowed, divorced, single, or married.
All of us, no matter our martial status – find refuge in the shadow of Yahweh’s wings
All of us no matter our marital status – find knowledge in how Ruth conducted herself, as a wife, widow, single, and mother.
All of us no matter our marital status – find our purpose in exuding our God-given femininity.
God created you a woman, and He has given you a distinct, yet equal role to play in his providential plan for your life.
 Daniel Block, New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 684.
 David Nelson, “The Providence of God,” in A Theology for the Church, edited by Daniel Akin, 280.
 John Piper, Bitter & Sweet Providence, (Crossway Books), 86.
 Charles Brand, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Holman Reference: Nashville, 2003), 1028
 John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Crossway Books: Wheaton), 35.
 Ibid., 36.
 See 1 Cor. 14:33-36; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Tim. 2:11-15 and Titus 2.