We can’t control all the circumstances in our lives, but we can control how we respond to them. Ruth responded to her difficulties with humility, faithfulness, and a determination to do the right thing in the right way. And God led her to a man who shared her godly character.
When I proposed to my wife several decades ago, it was a pretty simple setting and really nothing all that elaborate. Frankly, I would love to be able to do it all over again so much more creatively.
I read about one guy who had his girlfriend picked up in a limousine, driven to a resort where candles lined the sidewalk and an orchestra he had hired was playing a love song he had written for the occasion. When she arrived, he got down on one knee and proposed to her. When she said yes, he stood up and sang the final stanza of his original love song, accompanied by the orchestra, while fireworks exploded overhead. That guy makes me sick—that’s just not fair!
I read about another guy who wasn’t quite as creative. He actually pretended to have died. He planned it all with his friends who worked at the funeral home. He was all dressed in his best suit, lying in the coffin; and when his girlfriend arrived and stood over the casket sobbing, he suddenly sat up and asked her to marry him. She screamed, and then said yes. I think they both need counseling.
One of the most remarkable proposals is found in the Old Testament love story known as the book of Ruth. And this time, Ruth will do the proposing.
Now we last saw Ruth gleaning in the fields of Boaz. But harvest season is almost over, and their lunch dates together are about to come to an end.
Here in chapter 3 and verse 1, Naomi says to Ruth: “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” What that means is, “Ruth, we have to do something about getting you and Boaz together.” And if there’s any doubt this is what’s on Naomi’s mind, the next verse settles it, as she says, “Is not Boaz our relative?”
According to the law in Deuteronomy 25, a Hebrew widow could ask the closest relative of her deceased husband to marry her and redeem the property of the late husband. Their firstborn son would inherit this property in the name of her first husband. This would continue the family name and keep the family property intact for another generation. So, Ruth has every right to propose to Naomi’s relative, Boaz, asking him to become her kinsman-redeemer.
Naomi tells Ruth, “He is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor” (verse 2). How does she know that? Well, she has been planning this for weeks.
The season of threshing the crops was hard work, but a time of rejoicing and feasting. And all this provides the perfect setting for Ruth’s proposal.
So, here in verse 3, Naomi tells Ruth to wash and anoint herself with perfume. Ruth evidently had some perfume from her past. J. Vernon McGee used to say that it was a bottle of perfume called Midnight in Moab.
Naomi tells Ruth to wait until Boaz lies down to sleep, and then she adds a strange detail in verse 4: “Observe the place where he lies [down]. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.”
Some say Naomi is telling Ruth to go down and proposition him sexually—that uncovering his feet was a euphemism for sexual relations. Frankly, that interpretation comes from a dirty mind. We happen to know that Boaz is a godly man; in fact, a few verses later, he is going to praise Ruth for her moral character.
“Uncover his feet” literally means—here it is—to uncover his feet. But why do it? This will wake him up without startling him out there in the open. And that’s exactly what Ruth does in verse 7.
Sure enough, sometime around midnight, Boaz wakes up because his feet are cold. He leans forward to cover them up, and he sees somebody down there by his feet. When he says in verse 9, “Who are you?” Ruth answers, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” That’s another way of asking, “Will you marry me?” She is saying, “Boaz, you’re a close relative; you have the legal right to marry me, so will you?”
Now why would Ruth do all this under the cover of darkness? Well, I believe Ruth is showing him great respect. She is not going to force him to make a decision in front of the town leaders.
I also believe she and Naomi already know there is another man who is a closer relative and has the first right of refusal to the hand of Ruth. So, Ruth is just coming here secretly to let Boaz know she loves him and wants him to redeem her rather than that other man.
Did you notice how Ruth asks him to spread his “wings” over her? She is actually using a word Boaz used when they first met out in the field. Back in Ruth 2:12, he said to her: “The Lord repay you for what you have done . . . under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” So here Ruth effectively asks Boaz to be the wings God uses to protect and love her.
Now the question is, Are Boaz’s cold feet going to stay cold? Well, he can hardly contain himself. He whispers back in verse 10, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter.” That’s the long way of saying, “Yes, I want to marry you!”
But then Boaz says in verse 12, “There is a redeemer nearer than I.” Boaz can play the part of the goel, the kinsman-redeemer, only if this closer relative is not interested.
Boaz’s next words in verse 13 are amazing to me:
“Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you.”
Let me tell you what this means: it means that Boaz is going to play by God’s rule book regarding the kinsman-redeemer. It means he is willing to lose the woman he obviously loves rather than disobey the Word of God.
But he also makes a promise to Ruth that if the other relative is unwilling, he will be honored to redeem her. Then early the next morning, Ruth heads for home, and Boaz heads for the city gate.
Now as soon as Ruth tells Naomi what happened, Naomi says to her, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today” (verse 18). “Wait” can be translated, “rest” or “sit still.” “Just let Boaz go to work on your behalf.” The truth is, there really isn’t anything Ruth can do now. If she’s going to be redeemed, it will be up to Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer.
What a wonderful picture of salvation this is. All we can do is tell Christ we love Him and want to be taken under His wings. Jesus Christ has done all the work of redemption on our behalf.
Only Jesus can pay the price of our redemption. Only Jesus can settle our debts and make us His bride and bring us into His family.
Ruth can rest, because Boaz is at work. Ruth can sit still because Boaz is doing anything but sitting still. He is racing off to the town hall to arrange for the redemption of his bride.
Let’s recapture today a fresh vision of our Redeemer. Let’s sing with David the psalmist, who wrote, “[Lord] in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge” (Psalm 57:1).