Grace and Love as Problem Solvers; Ruth 3:1-18
Grace orientation and personal love for God are the foundation for handling problems. If we haven't assimilated those two doctrines as problem-solving devices and spiritual skills in our souls, then when we hit those speed bumps on the road of life what happens is we go off the road and crash. Naomi is a classic example of that. In chapter one we see when she comes back to Bethlehem that all of her friends gather around her and say, "This is great, Naomi is back." Naomi responds in a very bitter way, "Don't call me Naomi, call me Marah because God has caused my circumstances, my life, to be bitter." She has returned a bitter old woman. But God isn't through with her and the circumstances aren't done, and so often as soon as we hit negative circumstances in life and go through undeserved suffering we think this is the end. But if there is one thing we can count on in life it is that we are going to go through varying degrees of suffering in life, much of which is not going to be related to the bad decisions we make. It is going to be based on the fact that we are involved with fallen people living in a fallen world. We are married to a sinner and that sinner may deeply and tragically disappoint us at times. So how do we handle that life situation without destroying our own spiritual life or marriage or relationships as a whole? By using impersonal love.
We handle the problems in life by understanding that everything is due to grace and it is God's grace that is going to get us through. That is why the key concept in the book of Ruth is based on the Hebrew word chesed which is translated inadequately many times as simply "kindness." In the Psalms it is used over and over again and it is translated loyal love or steadfast love. This word can almost be summarized as a loyal love based on integrity. It is such a pregnant word in the Hebrew that it is almost impossible to use one word on the English to understand it. One thing we can say about chesed for sure is that it is not an emotional term. What happens is that as soon as we get hit with some level of undeserved suffering, especially if it involves people testing, the first thing that happens is that we start reacting from emotion. We have to stop that immediately, and the only thing that can do that is the Word of God. Often, especially in extreme cases, it just seems like someone has given us a tough punch to the solar plexus and we are left winded, and we immediately react. That is our knee-jerk sin nature response: some sort of mental attitude sin is immediately engaged which can quickly snowball and pick up other mental attitude sins, and before we know it we are making decisions from a position of anger, of hatred, of bitterness, of jealousy, of revenge. And we lose sight of that. We think we are being objective and often we manage to convince ourselves we are really making a good decision when in fact we are failing to use and understand impersonal love for all mankind, because we really haven't grappled with God's own impersonal love for us and what grace is all about, that we start making bad decisions and we may not see what the long-term consequences of those bad decisions are for maybe a decade or so. So we have to be careful.
As we get into this book of Ruth we see the principle that undeserved suffering is transformed by God into blessing. We don't see it when it first hits. All of a sudden we walk around the corner expecting everything to be wonderful and there is somebody or something there with a 2x4 to hit us right in the face. Our immediate response is to react to that kind of situation, and while we are sitting there in a pool of blood we just can't ever imagine that things are somehow going to work out and in five or ten years, if I stick with it and apply doctrine, this is going to reap rewards of incredible blessing. When we go through that difficult time, which is likened by the psalmist to walking through the valley of the shadow of death, we just think that nothing is ever going to recover, God is working behind the scenes to bring about recovery and blessing. But the test, and that is what it is, wouldn't be a test if we saw it coming. It is not so much of a test if it is deserved suffering. What makes it a test is that we don't think we deserve it, we think somehow someone or God is treating us unfairly or wrongly and we just want to get away from the situation entirely. The trouble is, when we get away from the test we postponed the test and, mark my words, we are going to have to come back and go through the test all over again. God has a remarkable way of designing these tests for us in such a way that they hit each of us directly in the area of our own sin nature where we have our own areas of weakness, because God is teaching us to apply doctrine and trust Him specifically in those areas. So the tests that hits us like that 2x4 right between the eyes is going to be a test that is specifically designed to hit us at our weakest area. And if we don't deal with it at that particular time then we are going to have to be going through that again and again, and each time we postpone dealing with that on the basis of doctrine it is going to become more and more difficult to handle.
So in this section of Ruth we are seeing how grace orientation and the love complex work together to help Ruth and Naomi solve the problem that they face. And that is the problem that they have been left destitute, impoverished, they don't know where their next meal is coming from, they have no one to provide protection or security for the family, and they are left on the welfare rolls of Israel so that Ruth has to go out into the fields to work like a field hand gleaning what is left over from the field hands once they have harvested the wheat and the barley.
We saw in chapter two that there is a glimmer of hope. In chapter one at the end there is no hope. Naomi knows of no one who is a goel, which is a kinsman-redeemer under the concept of a levirate marriage, there was no one to come to their rescue. But Ruth, because she has chesed, she understands grace and has doctrine in her soul, has true loyalty toward Naomi. She has declared her loyalty to this angry, bitter, resentful old woman, and she sticks with her and makes it her responsibility to take care of the family. She relies upon the grace of God; she applies the principle of grace, that God provided a system and therefore God is going to provide a solution. She doesn't know who it is going to be or how it is going to function but she gets up in the morning and goes out trusting God because she is relying on His grace. This was the period of the judges and many were not applying doctrine, they didn't care about the poor or the widows or the orphans, and they were going to squeeze out everything they could get from the production in their fields. Then she comes to one field and it turns out "by chance" it is owned by Boaz. She will discover at the end of that chapter when she comes back and tells Naomi about the wonderful kindness and generosity and grace of Boaz. Boaz is handling the situation on the basis of grace and loyal love. When Boaz discovers her identity he gives Ruth an opportunity to glean in the fields and he is going to take care of her.
So Naomi has a glimpse of hope that there is someone there who can do something, and thinks maybe God was going to bless them after all, and maybe there is hope. But time goes by, and we are left at the end of chapter two hanging in suspense. Time goes by and Boaz doesn't seem to do anything. When we come to chapter three we realize that approximately three months has gone by and now it is the time of winnowing. It has gone from early April to probably sometime in early or mid-June, and Boaz has made no move. He has made no steps toward Ruth and hasn't indicated any interest in her, he has basically left her alone. What we will see in our study is that this is probably due to the fact that she is still dressed in her widow's clothing. She is still in mourning so he is respecting her privacy, he is giving her time to go through the mourning, and so he is not going to intrude on her. Once again, this is a function of grace orientation. He is not going to say or do anything until she gets to the place where she is going to go forward in life.
When we come to chapter three it is the beginning of the barley winnowing time. This would take place after both the barley and the wheat had all been cut and gathered to the threshing floor. In light of Naomi's comments in chapter three about Boaz being the near kinsman, the goel, we would expect that something would have happened by now. Three months have gone by. Every day Ruth is going out to Boaz's field and she is gleaning behind the harvesters, but nothing has happened, there is no indication that anything has happened, everything is at the same stage that it was after the first day. Unfortunately, she is disappointed at this time and, as is often true in life when we are frequently met with disappointments, nothing was going the way she expected. But rather than giving up to defeat what we need to do is search the Scriptures. We need to make sure we understand what the parameters of God's plan are for our life. We need to then develop solutions and plans that function within those parameters so that we can move forward in life, and that is exactly what we are going to see. We are going to see a tremendous example of how to face problems and develop a plan in this episode.
Ruth 3:1, "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?" Naomi is now going to take things into her hands. She has been thinking about this whole situation. Obviously she has been thinking about the law of Moses, she has been thinking about what the parameters are within the law as to what they can do and what they can't do, and she has come up with a plan to try to move things along. There is nothing wrong with that, she is staying within the law, and it is a fantastic example of planning and seeking God's will and executing the plan. "My daughter" is a term of endearment for Ruth. And she says, "Shall I not seek security for you?" Notice the difference. In chapter two it is Ruth dealing with this embittered old woman who is going to go our and provide security for the family by gleaning in the fields. But now it is Naomi. Naomi has got right with the Lord again, because Naomi has understood that God in His grace is going to deal with them, and she is not bitter anymore. So apparently between the beginning of chapter two and the end of the chapter, when she hears about God's provision of this kinsman-redeemer she goes through confession and applies the problem-solving device #1, and she is going to confess her sins and get oriented to doctrine again. That is why she is able to come up with the plan. She has restored some objectivity to her thinking. "Shall I not seek security for you" is a fairly good translation. The point here is expressed by the Hebrew word manoach which means a place of rest, and it means a place of financial and domestic security. She knows that Ruth is still a young woman and needs a place of financial and domestic security, and in Hebrew society the only place where a woman really had that was in a domestic situation with the husband as the source of protection. The other thing that we should note about this word manoach is that it is used earlier in 1:8, 9, "The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband." So the word manoach in 3:1 arrests our attention to think that maybe now God is going to answer the prayer for blessing that Naomi uttered back in 1:9. The other thing that we see here is that it picks up the imagery that is used in 2:12 where Boaz is also expressing a phrase of blessing, pronouncing a benediction upon Ruth: "May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to trust." It doesn't use the word manoach there but the concept of security and protection is clearly there. God spreads His wings to protect us, and in the same way a husband—and we will see that this is the idiom that is used—spreads his wings to protect the wife and the family. One of the primary roles of a husband is to function in the realm of leadership to provide protection and security for the family. Naomi is indicating all of this and we have seen the foreshadowing of it in these two other instances in 1:9 and 2:12, so now when we run across this statement, "Shall I not seek security for you," the writer wants us to begin to anticipate just how God is now going to solve their problem.
They have some decisions to make and when Naomi begins to talk to Ruth in the next section, starting in verse 2 down through verse 6, she is going to start rehearsing the situation. What we find here is an example of an approach to problem-solving and decision-making in the will of God. Often the Word of God does not give us precise answers to different situations. We hit a problem and ask; "What's God's will for me?" First of all, most people really don't want to know God's will. Most of the time when people ask that question they know very well what God's will for them is, they have seen it spelled out but they just want somebody to come along and try to absolve them of that responsibility. But there are times when we get in circumstances and don't know exactly which way to go and how to solve a problem and God's Word doesn't address it specifically. And that is part of the test. It is for us to take the parameters that God has given us in His word (His boundaries) and create something skillful in the midst of those boundaries as a result of applying doctrine. The first example of this goes back to the garden when God gave Adam the responsibility to name the animals. God didn't name the animals. He gave Adam the opportunity to exercise creativity as being in the image of God. As part of our function we are to create but create within the boundaries of God's Word. Finally it dawned on Adam that he was to generate from within his own soul and using a creative process he was to name the animals on his own. It was not a matter of one name being right and another being wrong, it was the opportunity to look and to think and to interact with creation, and then to make a decision. That is another problem that a lot of people have, they just don't want to make a decision. They are afraid of the consequences, they don't want to take a chance. They are afraid that if they make certain decisions and step out in faith it is a gamble, and they are scared to death of what the consequences might be. One of things that we will see in this chapter is that one characteristic of functioning in chesed it is willing to take a gamble on the basis of the integrity of God by doing what God says to do, even though it is a risk and even though it makes us vulnerable to danger. That is exactly what will happen with Ruth in this circumstance.
How did Naomi approach this? First of all, she knew that there were three different laws in the Mosaic law that applied to their situation that provided the parameters. But they did not give a specific answer to their situation. The first principle in found in Leviticus 19:9, 10, the gleaning law. "Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, neither shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God." This is the divine viewpoint welfare system that operated in Israel. It was based on responsibility, that even though one was poor and needy he still had to get out and do something to earn support.
The second parameter is established in the law of levirate marriage that is given in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, "If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without to a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she bears shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband's brother refuses to raise up to his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother. Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her; then shall his brother's wife come to him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house. And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that has his shoe loosed."
This seems like a fairly bizarre type of situation to us in our culture because in western culture since the late Middle Ages we have adopted the concept of marriage to be based on something called romantic love. But it may surprise us to know that the Bible does not know anything about building a marriage on romantic love. That is a concept completely foreign to the Bible. In fact, in biblical times marriages were arranged. Romantic love only developed subsequent to the marriage as the couple began to know each other and grew together over time. They didn't have the option of leaving each other, and often the argument is made that the reason that they were more successful in their marriages was because parents really knew their kids and they could do a better job of picking out a spouse than the kids could. The emphasis in this is on family loyalty and responsibility. This is the divine viewpoint provision to maintain property and freedom for the family when they have gone through harsh circumstances. God set up this system and it is not based on love, it is based on loyalty and responsibility. It is not based on some sort of emotional concept of romance, it is based on a system of integrity that understands what family responsibility and family loyalty is. The Bible looks at these decisions on the basis that we are to handle these situations on doctrinal principle and on the basis of integrity. Once you operate on principle and integrity and do the right thing then the emotions are going to swing back in line with the mentality. And that is the biblical approach. That is what happens here, there is no situation here of romantic love. God can't force love or responsibility so He sets forth this issue, making sure that the real issue of loyalty and responsibility are clear. So of the man is not willing to accept the challenge and take on the responsibility then he is going to be publicly humiliated because he refuses to accept the family responsibility. Therefore the issue before us is, Who are we going to follow? the cultural concept of romantic love and marriage, and trying to get whatever we thought we should have got and live up to our dreams, or are we going to follow divine viewpoint concepts of loyalty to the principle and using the principles of grace orientation and unconditional love to handle the situation so that we can see that suffering be transformed ultimately into blessing? That isn't going to take a day or two, it may take decades before it is transformed to blessing.
This was the background, and this was the second principle that Naomi was functioning in, the principle of levirate marriage. But the problem is there is no brother to Mahlon, the husband of Ruth. Boaz is a distant cousin. They don't know it yet but there is someone else who is even closer but still not a brother. The levirate marriage law only applied to a brother so it simply provides one boundary, it doesn't give them a precise solution.
Then the third area of solution is found in Leviticus 25:10-13, the law of the redemption of property. "And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants: it shall be a jubilee to you; and you shall return every man to his possession, and you shall return every man to his family. A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of your vine undressed. For it is the jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat the increase thereof out of the field. In the year of this jubilee you shall return every man to his possession." The Bible clearly recognizes the importance of ownership of property and that is the basis for freedom. As long as personal ownership of property is preserved there will be freedom in the nation. That is why God established these laws.
Naomi is motivated to solve the problem and she has got these three absolutes that she is working with, these three laws, but none of them tells her exactly what the solution to her problem is. But they provide they provide the parameter and within that parameter she is going to come up with a somewhat unique solution to the problem. She has been giving this some thought and she finally comes up with this solution and we see her plan beginning in Ruth 3:2, "And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens you were? Behold, he winnows barley tonight in the threshing floor." Naomi is beginning to lay out this plan, and Boaz is going to be up spending the night at the threshing floor. This starts to introduce a little tension. If you understand the culture, immediately you think, What in the world is she going to have Ruth do? Because in that culture at harvest time the field workers would stay out there to winnow at night, away from home, in order to protect their investment against animals coming in and eating the grain and so that robbers wouldn't come in and steal it. They were out there away from their families and this was typical. Remember we are dealing with the period of the judges where prostitutes would go out there to offer their services to the field workers. So now Naomi is presenting this plan for Ruth where she was to go out to see Boaz at night, to go out to the threshing floor. So this whole situation is fraught with some sexual tension here and some moral tension. What is going to happen? This is a situation where Ruth is going to be in an extremely vulnerable position. This whole situation seems very strange to us but it was very typical of their culture and what was going on. Ruth is going to be asked to become very vulnerable and to take a chance, but because she understands integrity and is comfortable with her own integrity, and has come to understand Boaz, she is willing to take that risk.
Ruth 3:3, "Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself, and put your raiment upon you, and get down to the floor: but make not yourself known unto the man, until he has done eating and drinking." At the end of the day when these men are out there after working on the threshing floor all day they are going to kick back and eat some of the bread they have been baking from the grain and they are going to drink some barley beer. So there is a hint here by the use of this terminology that Boaz might be a little vulnerable if he has had a little too much beer that night, and maybe he will take advantage of Ruth. So the author is building some tension for us. And the use of the terminology also builds this sexual tension. For example there is the word rachats for "wash." It means to wash and take a bath, and in some contexts this was an activity that preceded a sexual encounter, as we see in Ezekiel 16:8-12. Then she is told to anoint herself. This would take some olive oil which had some perfume in it in order to mask the body odors—it is June, it is hot, it is in Israel. Then she is told to put on her best clothes. This is the Hebrew word simlah, and it refers to a garment, a cloak or a coat. This was an outer garment that was also used by the poor as a blanket at night. So she is to wash herself, anoint herself—it sounds like she is preparing for a real hot time tonight—and to put on this outer garment, and go down to the threshing floor and wait until Boaz retires for the evening and curls up on his mat to go to sleep. Cf. 2 Samuel 12:20. This is exactly what we see with Ruth. When we look at the verbiage in Ruth 3:3 what Naomi is really telling Ruth to do is to get rid of her widow's rags and all the trappings of bereavement and get on with her life. She needs a husband! Now is the time to let Boaz know that she is ready to get on with her life—So dress like it! It is not an opportunity to go out and seduce him on the threshing floor.
Ruth 3:4, "And it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall mark the place where he shall lie, and you shall go in, and uncover his feet, and lay down; and he will tell you what you shall do." The word for "feet" isn't simply his feet as we would say it in English but involved the lower leg as well. The terms here have sexual overtones. We talk about a man lying down with a woman, and the term "uncovering his feet" sometimes was used as a euphemism for uncovering the genitals. Some people have made too much of that here, but that is not what is going on here. This is not an immoral situation, she is just going to get his attention so that the cool night air is going to wake him up and he is going to discover that this young woman is now lying at his feet. Ruth 3:5, "And she said to her, All that you say to me I will do."
Ruth 3:6, "And she went down to the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down. And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. And he said, Who are you? And she answered, I am Ruth your maid: spread therefore your skirt over your handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman. And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for you have shown more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as you followed not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that you require: for all the city of my people know that you are virtuous woman. And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I. Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform to you the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman's part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to you, as the LORD lives: lie down until the morning."
In her answer Ruth uses a different word for "maid." She doesn't use the word she had used in chapter two where she was describing herself as a shiphchah, which was the lowest order of domestic servant and there would be no possibility of a shiphchah maid ever marrying the boss. But now she uses the word amah and there are many examples where this would be a higher order of domestic servant where the maid married the master. She is very bold in what she says here.
"Spread your covering" is literally "spread your wings." We have just seen this same idiom. God is the one who spreads His wings over us, and this was a Hebrew idiom for protection. She is proposing marriage to him. Then she says, "Because [not 'for'] you are a close relative." You have a responsibility. She is calling him to this level of responsibility and informs him of the fact that he can function as a goel. Then we see his response, the response of a man of integrity. "You have shown more kindness"—chesed. She is not concerned about her own security here. The function of the goel was to provide protection to the family of the dead husband and to raise up progeny to his name so that the inheritance of the family can continue. She is thinking in terms of a future for the family line of Elimelech and Naomi. She is not going out after the young men or their money she is focused on the ultimate values in life which have to do with the preservation of family and loyalty and integrity and the values that are expressed in the Mosaic code. He recognizes his responsibility.
Now he is gong to protect her reputation. Ruth 3:14, "And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could know another. And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor." He is talking to others who were there and telling them to keep this quiet.
Ruth 3:15, "Also he said, Give me the cloak that is on you, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city." He is going beyond simple obligation here. That is what impersonal love does. He is generous. That is why grace orientation must precede impersonal love, because impersonal love is based on an understanding of grace, which means that we understand true humility. So he takes care of her; he provides for her. The words "and she went into the city" is mistranslated. It should read, "and he." He went into the city and that indicates his enthusiasm to solve the problem. He immediately goes into the city to start handling the problem right away.
Ruth goes on home and in verses 17-18 we see her trip home to see Naomi. "And when she came to her mother in law, she said, How did it go, my daughter? And she told her all that the man had done to her. And she said, These six measures of barley gave he me; for he said to me, Go not empty to your mother in law." He gives that to her as a sign that he is going to fulfill his obligation. "Then said she, Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out: for the man will not be in rest, until he has settled it today."
Four points of application
1) Chesed (loyal love, integrity) puts the emphasis away from personal hurts and self-absorbed reaction and puts the emphasis on objectivity, doctrinal principles and absolutes.
2) Chesed removes emotion and emotional sins from the picture. As soon as we operate on emotion we are going to make bad decisions.
3) Chesed focuses on God and His grace as the ultimate provision and the example of the solution.
4) Chesed means that integrity is the standard for conducting the life in the midst of trials.