The story of Ruth and Boaz is one of the greatest love stories ever written, not just because the plot, characters nd script are so wonderfully and Divinely crafted, but because the story as a whole gives us a real-life image of God's love for mankind.
A Midnight Proposal
It was Thanksgiving Day, 29 years ago, when I proposed marriage to my college sweetheart. I had the ring in my pocket and a plan to propose over Thanksgiving break.
A college break and a trip to her home for Thanksgiving was the perfect time to ask her parent’s permission and, Lord willing, hear my blue-eyed beauty agree to marry me.
I firmly believed in miracles.
In order to understand how I planned my proposal, let me give you a little background.
I grew up in a home where there was this unwritten rule for all four Davey boys, “Do not invite a girl home from college unless you are engaged . . . or hope to be.”
It was as simple as that. And none of us every violated that tradition.
For the 3 years we had been dating, while attending college in Tennessee, Marsha had never been to my home in Virginia. She knew why.
Of course, my parents had already met her and they agreed with me that she was a young lady of genuine character and, well, pretty. So I had already received that all-important blessing from my folks.
I had the diamond engagement ring tucked away as we drove several hours to her childhood home in Atlanta.
Her father with totally surprised by my request. I followed him into the basement where he’d gone to fix the furnace. That was the only chance I’d had to get him alone.
There’s another story – behind this story – which you might appreciate. Since I had dated his daughter and had broken up with her in the past, he was actually planning to ask me a few questions over Thanksgiving break. He wanted to know what my intentions were with his daughter. He figured I was going to keep beating around the bush. Instead, I beat him to the punch.
He said yes.
Later that day, when we were alone, I popped the question. “Marsha, I would really like to take you to my home this coming Christmas break.” I paused to let that sink in. Her expression told me the implications were fairly obvious. I continued, “That is . . . if I can introduce you to everyone as my fiancée.”
Another pause. Then the clincher, just in case it wasn’t already perfectly clear; “That is . . . if you will marry me.” She did a little bounce on her toes, wrung her hands and said, “I don’t know.”
What? That wasn’t part of the plan. And that’s certainly not how I imagined it!
If she were writing this story – which I haven’t agreed to a co-authorship – she would tell you an even longer story. She’d inform you that over the course of our dating history, I often did something significant to express my feelings – like write a love song or give her a promise ring – only to break up soon after.
It’s called cold feet. And mine were terribly cold.
Anyway, when I proposed, her first thought was fear that if she said yes, I’d probably break up in sometime in the near future.
For the next five minutes I gave her every good reason I could think of that I was serious and my mind was made up and, well, my feet had grown much warmer. After what seemed like eternity, she finally said yes.
I’ve been telling people ever since that I definitely talked Marsha into marrying me.
Isn’t it somewhat amazing to see the lengths at which young men will travel to convince the love of their life to marry them?
Most men struggle with the same thing – how to come up with the right timing, the right context, the right words, the right setting and then, hopefully, get the right answer.
Perhaps you’ve seen the online clip of a guy who proposed to his girlfriend during an NBA basketball game half-time. He’d worked out an elaborate plan, invited her to center court for reasons other than a proposal, and then as the cameras zoomed in and carried the scene to the jumbo screens and national television, he dropped to one knee and held out a ring. Her hands went to her mouth in shock. He had a microphone and the world heard, “Will you marry me?” Then the world held its breath and watched as she paused before shaking her head and running off the court in tears.
I did a little digging around on the subject of wedding proposals to see what kind of help there might be for guys; you know, who need help coaxing their beloved into matrimony.
There’s got to be a right way, and a wrong way.
I came across one web site promising information on, “How to Propose Marriage”. It started off by saying what not to do.
There were three no-no’s:
First, don’t propose to your girlfriend in front of her parents.
Okay, how obvious is that?
Secondly, don’t put the ring in anything that is set in front of her to eat. The article warned, “The last thing you want to do is have to propose to her while she is being wheeled into surgery.”
Most guys would agree with that!
The third no-no which I found especially insightful; don’t propose marriage two days after meeting her.
Do guys really need this kind of basic advice?
Don’t answer that.
In my research, if you can call it that, I came across some marriage proposals that were examples of how to do it the wrong way.
One lawyer made a deal with several policemen to arrest his girlfriend on totally bogus charges. They worked out the plan to stop her car, arrest her and drive her to the city jail, which they did. Once incarcerated, they informed her that she could make one phone call. She called her lawyer boyfriend (of course) who came down, was let into her cell where he told her that the only way they would let her go was if she agreed to marry him.
Another man was so shy he didn’t quite know what to say when the moment arrived. He got all tongue tied after he pulled out the ring box. He just froze. Then he tossed the box to his girlfriend and began to run away. When she caught the box, saw what was inside, she had to chase him down to say yes.
Now that’s cold feet.
I read about another young man who pretended to have died. He’d planned the entire funeral home visitation with his funeral home buddies – all dressed in his best suit, lying in his coffin. When his girlfriend arrived and stood by the casket sobbing, he suddenly sat up and asked her to marry him. After she finally stopped screaming, she slapped him . . . and then said yes.
They both need serious counseling.
Then I came across a couple of illustrations where several men got it right. And they pulled out all the stops.
One guy lived in a different state than his girlfriend and he surprised her with a plane ticket to come visit him. When she arrived, a limo was waiting for her as planned and the music in the limo was actually a compilation of their favorite songs. She was taken to a high-end store where a rack of dresses and shoes were waiting for her, personally handpicked by him. She was able to choose her favorite, get dressed, and was then driven to a salon for a 3 hour treatment – massage, pedicure, manicure, hair styling and makeup. Following that pampering pit stop, she was then driven to the entrance of a resort hotel where a horse and buggy awaited her. As she was driven around a small lake to the entrance, more than 100 candles lit the path to red carpet where violinists began to play a song this guy had actually composed. As she walked up the red carpet, he appeared at the top of the stairs and began to sing to her. When she arrived at the top stair, he knelt down on one knee and a huge light board behind him lit up with the words, “Will you marry me?” Before she could answer, he stood to his feet and sang the finale to his original love song, backed up by a 45 piece orchestra. When she said, “Yes” fireworks exploded in the sky above them.
This guy makes me sick!
It’s not fair to the rest of us who can hardly afford the ring box, much less fireworks.
I hope my bride never reads this account because she just might ask, “And what were you thinking?”
I stumbled across one more proposal worth mentioning. This couple had bought an old repossessed home understanding they were going to be married and this would be their first home. They didn’t have much money and they did all the repair work themselves. Since they spent so much time working on their little house, they had often walked the aisles Home Depot together.
In fact, there were times they were too tired to work, so they’d stroll around the local Home Depot and dream out loud of what they wanted to do next.
When it came time for a marriage proposal, this young man arranged it all – at Home Depot. He phoned his girlfriend and told her to meet him there that night. When she got to store the manager directed her to the Home and Garden Section where a table had been all set up with candlelight and a take-out dinner. After he seated her, he got down on one knee and proposed with a potted plant they could use later on; as she gushed out a “yes”, Home Depot employees nearby applauded.
Now that’s my kind of proposal.
One of the most remarkable marriage proposals you will ever read about actually took place in this Old Testament love story.
Only on this occasion it was the girl who did the proposing . . . and the planning. Ruth chose the right setting and just the right timing.
It would take place at midnight.
In chapter 2 and verse 23 we’re told that Ruth stayed close by the maids of Boaz in order to glean until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
By now, Ruth and Boaz are definitely in love. Folks had stopped counting the lunch dates they’d enjoyed at the harvest field.
Boaz’s field hands probably noticed that he’d never been more interested in these particular fields before.
But a problem is brewing.
When you arrive at chapter 3, harvest time is over. Boaz and Ruth have actually parted, perhaps wondering if they will see each other again.
Ruth has only recently settled back in with her mother-in-law, Naomi.
And Naomi is not about to let grass grow under anybody’s feet.
- Naomi’s Resolve
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?” (3:1)
That’s the long way of saying, “Ruth, we need to get you a husband.”
It was not unusual in these times for wedding plans to be worked out between the mother and daughter in what was referred to as simply “the mother’s chamber.”
Since Naomi was more like a mother to Ruth, she takes on that matchmaking responsibility.
I can imagine Naomi sitting Ruth down and saying something like, “Ruth, I’m not going to be around forever to help you through life in this strange new land you’ve chosen for your own. It’s obvious that Boaz is interested in you – he’s been dumping grain in your path for weeks now; he’s invited you to lunch time and again and he’s even had his staff bring you water whenever you want it. He’s obviously in love with you.”
Naomi removes any doubt from the reader’s mind when Samuel records her asking Ruth a rhetorical question, “Is not Boaz our kinsman?”
According to Old Testament law, a widow could demand that the next closest relative who was willing and available, marry her.
Shepherd’s Notes: Ruth, Esther (Broadman & Holman, 1998), p. 26
According to God’s plan, this marriage would provide her with financial security. Further, any children born to them would be given the name of her first husband. That would secure his name for another generation and his family farm or estate would remain in his particular family. This wonderful provision allowed for the widow to be cared for, according to Deuteronomy 25:5-10.
So, according to this provision, Ruth was actually free to take the initiative. Her condition was not the same as that of an unmarried woman. In that case, the man was to take the initiative. As a widow, it was her right to let her intentions be known to the kinsman. It was her move.
J. Vernon McGee, Ruth: The Romance of Redemption (Thomas Nelson, 1981), p. 89
Naomi urges, “Ruth, harvest season is over . . . you may never have another chance like this again . . . you might not even see Boaz until next year. He can redeem you if he wants. It’s time to let him know you want him to become your husband.”
Ruth is obviously a stranger to these customs. She’s a Moabitess, not a Jew. These laws were still foreign to her and she probably asked Naomi, “Well then, what do you want me to do?”
Naomi, the matchmaker says, “I’m glad you asked!”
“[Naomi said] Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight.” (verse 2b)
How did she know that?!
Well, she just knows. She’s been planning this proposal for weeks.
Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight.
I was raised in the city. My father was raised on a farm – in fact, he can talk about baling and planting and threshing. Had he not been led by God into the ministry before getting married, I would have grown up on a farm in Minnesota . . . milking cows at 4 am.
I asked my Dad a couple of months ago, “How did you and your siblings endure sub-zero weather in a barn, milking cows in the dead of winter?” He said, “Well, your hands stayed warm as you milked the cows there in the barn but you also made sure you sat real close to the cow.”
I’m so glad that God called my father into the ministry!
Growing up, we’d travel back to Minnesota each summer for a family reunion. And every summer, among other events, we’d drive out to attend the Threshing Bee there in the small farming community of Butterfield, Minnesota. It seemed like the entire town of 900 would show up. All the farmers would bring out their threshing equipment from generations past and display them. A few farmers would even operate some of their old threshing machinery out in the field.
These were some of the most boring days of my life – the Threshing Bee in Butterfield.
But not for these farmers – and my aunts, uncles and parents. They loved it. The reasons weren’t as obvious to my young mind as they are now. This machinery had changed everything for their families – many of whom had been farming for generations.
The Threshing Bee was nothing less than a thanksgiving celebration for the creativity and ingenuity of inventive minds. The development of threshing machinery had helped them provide for their families . . . and their nation.
Threshing floors in Old Testament times were constructed out in the open fields . . . it was nothing more than a patch of ground usually selected at a high spot on a ridge where they could catch the night breeze.
Warren W. Wiersbe, Ruth & Esther: Be Committed (Victor Books, 1993), p. 44
They simply raked off a large, flat open area and swept the ground clean, then lightly sprinkled water on the surface. They also piled rocks around the perimeter, creating a round, smooth area – a threshing floor.
The sheaves of grain were brought in on the backs of the workers, donkeys, camels, oxen, whatever the owner could use to carry them. The sheaves would be heaped in this circular threshing floor and then 2 or 3 animals would be harnessed shoulder to shoulder and simply driven around and around the floor as their hooves separated the husks from the kernels. Then winnowers took a shovel or a pitchfork and tossed the sheaves into the air allowing the breeze to carry the chaff/empty husks away while the heavier grain fell to the threshing floor.
Adapted from McGee, p. 91
Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. The Book of Ruth (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 200
The men, women and children would work late into the night. It was always a time of celebration simply because the harvest was being brought in.
And remember, Ruth chapter 1 and verse 1 informs us that the land of Israel had experienced a terrible famine. By comparing other passages we know that this famine lasted seven years.
Later in verse 6 of chapter 1, Naomi returned to Bethlehem because she’d heard that the famine had lifted.
We have every reason to believe that this is the first crop Israel has experienced in seven years. Good times had returned to Bethlehem. Although threshing was a time of hard work, the mood would have been one of laughter and joy and feasting.
Godly Israelites, like Boaz, would have been celebrating the goodness of God.
We also know from other passages of scripture that during these days of the judges, Midianites had made a habit of invading the land and stealing the crops that had been threshed.
Stanley Collins, Ruth & Esther: Courage and Submission (Regal Books, 1975), p. 27
Boaz is here at this scene, no doubt, to help protect his bumper crop from theft.
All of this sets the stage for Ruth’s proposal . . . this is her last chance before Boaz will leave the fields for many months.
If there ever was a perfect time to make her desires known to Boaz, this would have been her last – and best – opportunity.
There are a few more details in Naomi’s plan; she tells Ruth in verse 3, Wash yourself. This Hebrew verb signifies the full treatment. She got a pedicure and a manicure – the Mary Kay lady came out to the house and Ruth was dressed according to her color chart.
Next, Naomi commanded, Anoint yourself. Literally, put on perfume.
There was plenty to choose from, even among the poorest of people. Fifteen hundred years before the birth of Christ, the queen of Egypt was sending scouting parties all around the known world to bring her the latest perfumes for her collection.
Ruth must have kept a bottle or two from her old life back home. J. Vernon McGee used to say that her favorite perfume was probably called, Midnight in Moab.
Naomi then said, “Ruth, put on your best clothes.” In other words, get all dolled up . . . it might be dark out there, but you never know, Boaz might call for a lantern.
Naomi has even thought through the timing issue. In the latter part of verse 3, Naomi carefully instructs Ruth; Go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.
What a wise woman. Wait until the man’s had his dinner before you try something major.
That’s timeless advice, isn’t it? Before you show your husband the dent in the car, junior’s report card or ask him to paint the house a different color, feed him.
Naomi says even further for Ruth to wait until they lie down to sleep. In other words, you don’t want to interrupt Boaz while he’s working in his ledger.
There’s a strange detail in verse 4 that’s worth a closer look; you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.
Some would suggest that Ruth is told to go down and proposition him sexually; that uncovering his feet must be some sort of euphemism for sexual relations.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We already know by now that Boaz is a godly man. And in a few verses he will praise Ruth for her moral character – hardly fitting if she’s just ask him to violate God’s moral standard.
Boaz will refuse to touch Ruth until he has the legal right of kinsman redeemer. In fact, he asks her to leave the threshing floor before at the break of dawn so that both of their reputations can be above suspicion.
We also learn from the Mishna, a commentary on Jewish customs and laws that a man was forbidden to act as kinsman redeemer toward a Gentile woman he had already been sexually involved with outside of marriage.
A. Boyd Luter & Barry C. Davis, Exposition of the Books of Ruth & Esther (Baker Books, 1005), p. 57
This would obviously protect a vulnerable widow from being abused or taken advantage of by a man who should have redeemed her first. And according to Jewish custom and law, if a potential kinsman redeemer didn’t redeem the widow, he also forfeited the right to her former husband’s property.
All that to say, he’s gotta marry her first!
Like the old rhyme,
First comes love,
Then comes marriage,
Then comes baby in the baby carriage.
That’s pretty good theology. And it also happens to remain the progression God designed to protect both women and men.
Ruth is not making some kind of lurid proposition to Boaz.
She is told by Naomi to go down where he’s sleeping and uncover his feet.
There’s no secret meaning to that phrase. Ruth was to literally take the blanket off his feet; which would wake Boaz up – slowly – without startling him.
So she went down to the threshing floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7. When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain.
Still others suggest that Boaz was drunk and Ruth took advantage of his incoherent state and talked him into marrying her.
Again, the text answers such sordid commentary which evidently can’t stand the sight of a godly man or woman bonding their hearts in purity and love.
The text says he had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry.
The Hebrew idiom, yatab leb simply means he was “in good spirits.”
Hubbard, p. 208
We would say, he was in a great mood.
And why not! This is a bumper crop. The famine is over. There’s a huge pile of grain on the threshing floor. Is this a perfect night or what?
Boaz, you have no idea!
- Ruth’s Request
Now notice verse 8. It happened in the middle of the night – the Hebrew text literally reads, “in the half of the night” which means, it was midnight.
Luter & Davis, p. 56
Around midnight, the man was awakened as he realized his feet were cold and as he bent forward to recover them, he was startled to see the form of woman lying at his feet.
The word translated startled can also be translated better, I believe, shivered.
C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: Volume 2 (Eerdmans, Reprint, 1991), p. 484
You can almost see the scene unfolding. Sometime around midnight, Boaz’s uncovered feet are cold. He wakes up shivering, sits up and bends forward to put the blanket back over his feet and discovers he’s not alone.
He said “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative – literally, you are a redeemer (verse 9).
This is tantamount to the widow Ruth asking Boaz, “Will you marry me?”
Can you imagine?
Boaz’s hair is all messed up . . . he’s been snoring away, he’s in his pajamas . . . is this love or what?
He wakes up to cover his feet back up and there’s the woman he’s fallen in love with.
She leans toward his stubbled face and whispers, “Boaz, I’m here to remind you that you have a legal right to marry me – will you accept that right and make me your wife?”
Before we note Boaz’s answer, we need to understand why all the secrecy. Why has Ruth come at midnight with her proposal?
It’s likely that she has come out of respect for his character – not wanting to demand her rights publically – not wanting to force him to have to make a decision before the elders at the city gate.
I believe it’s more likely that Naomi and Ruth already know there is another man first in line, as we’ll discover later, with the first right of refusal to the hand of Ruth.
Ruth has come secretly to let Boaz know her heart’s desire is for him to redeem her rather than the other potential suitor. She has slipped into the field to let him know that her heart belongs to him.
Notice how carefully she’s worded her proposal with two significant word choices.
A symbolic custom:
Back in verse 9 Ruth asked Boaz to spread his covering over her.
She’s not asking for his blanket because it’s cold out there; she’s referring to the Jewish custom of the Bridegroom, placing a talith upon his Bride on their wedding day. A talith was a fringed garment belonging to him that now covers her, signifying that he will take on the responsibilities of care and authority.
Collins, p. 29
Ruth is effectively saying, “Will you cover me with your care and authority?” In simpler terms, “Will you marry me?”
A significant word:
There’s something else to notice; Ruth not only refers to a symbolic custom, she uses a significant word in her proposal – spread your covering over your maid.
Ruth actually uses a derivative of the word Boaz used when they first met.
When Boaz first met Ruth out in the field in chapter 2 and verse 12 he said to her, “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 see refuge.”
That word translated wings is the same word Ruth now uses as she asked Boaz to spread over her his covering – his wings.
In other words, Ruth is actually asking Boaz to become the answer to his own prayer.
Hubbard, p. 212
She is asking Boaz to become the application of his own intercession.
Ruth effectively was whispering to Boaz there on the threshing floor at midnight, “Do you remember that prayer you made on my behalf a few months ago? Would you like to be the answer to your own prayer and become the wings under which I find refuge?”
- Boaz’s Response
Now the question remains, will Boaz’s feet stay cold?
Not in a million years.
He can hardly contain himself. Boaz whispers back, “May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter.” (verse 10)
In the Hebrew manuscripts that’s one word – “Yeeeha!” Well, maybe not.
Actually, Boaz’s immediate praise is to God for this remarkable woman. His willing answer is yes!
He will actually give a longer answer as well as raise a serious problem with her midnight proposal.
But that’s for our next study . . . and whatever you do . . . don’t read ahead.