The Threshing Floor
I. Plan for Redemption (1-5)
We continue our study through the book of Ruth. We turn to chapter three, which follows a similar structure to the second chapter. It begins with a conversation between Naomi and Ruth, then moves to the fields where greetings and conversations occur between Boaz and Ruth, then finally returns to Ruth coming home and updating Naomi. The book of Ruth is short yet sweet. It is a literary masterpiece of writing. This week we come to the end of Barley Harvest. Ruth and Naomi have been in Bethlehem for about 6-7 weeks. Boaz has remained loyal to his word and looked after Ruth and Naomi. However, Naomi explains the plan to Ruth. Naomi in the opening chapter she blessed Ruth and Orpah and told them to return home to Moab on the way to Bethlehem. She said the LORD deal kindly (Hesed) with you… and that you may find rest… in the house of their husband (Ruth 1:8-9). Naomi still seeks this rest for Ruth. She sees the great sacrifice she has made for her loyalty to her, and she desires that God bless Ruth.
Naomi then explains to Ruth what she should do to get this rest. Rest is often used in the bible as the end of a long journey. The Old Testament rest, or the sabbath, was at the end of the week. The Ark of the covenant rested when placed in the temple. It was finally where it was planned to stay. They are in Jerusalem but not quite in their resting place for Ruth. Naomi explains again that Boaz is a close relative and will winnowing (separating) barley tonight at the threshing floor (Ruth 3:2). She then tells Ruth to do four things; Wash, anoint, put on and go down to the threshing floor. Some have suggested this is Naomi suggesting to Ruth to dress seductively. This begins with many suggestions that have been made about this chapter that hints at more than what is happening on the surface. We will need to take a step back and answer a couple of issues before addressing these particular interpretations.
Firstly, the bible does not seek to place people on a pedestal. This is more of a modern connotation that says Christians are hypocrites, or when we call someone a hero, we believe they are perfect. Christians believe that all mankind fell with Adam, the only man to ever live a perfect life is Jesus Christ. The bible is called truth (John 17:17). The bible does not hide sin to paint a picture of perfect righteousness. Noah was a drunkard, Abram was a polygamist, Jacob a deceiver, Moses had anger problems, David an adulterer and murderer, the list could go on. The bible does not hide this information but accurately records what happened in history.
Secondly, we live in a hyper-sexualized culture. We fail to see our culture’s failure and often expect all cultures to be the same. We assume things are done in secret or at night because it is bad or evil. However, we fail to understand what a culture built around honor and shame would look like. We know this part. However, your parents might disown you in other countries because you disgrace the family name. Naomi is honoring Boaz by sending Ruth to him at night, that he might be able to decline without shaming Ruth and shaming Boaz.
Thirdly, we need to understand this is a historical narrative. Just because this is what happens does not mean it is great advice to give people today. Just because God raised against Solomon through David and Bathsheba’s marriage does not mean I would suggest a man would have multiple wives and concubines. The bible teaches monogamy as the Biblical standard for marriage. The bible teaches us that man is sinful and does sinful things and that God is gracious and acts graciously towards his people even when they do sin.
Now to Naomi’s advice. Naomi does not suggest to Ruth to dress seductively, but to change out of her mourning clothes. The same words are used after David’s adultery with Bathsheba, and their son passes away. After the child dies, David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes” (2 Sam 12:20). We are unsure of the timeline between the death of Ruth’s husband, Mahlon, and the conversation between Ruth and Naomi. This, again, is cultural. We tend to have a funeral within a week, maybe two if relatives live interstate, have the wake, funeral, and burial within a short time frame. However, in other cultures, they seek to mourn the loss of life for some time. In Greece, mothers and widows wear black for 40 days, and the males do not shave their beards for 40 days. Ruth was still mourning the loss of her husband. This would explain why Boaz has not proposed marriage to her.
Naomi explains that Ruth is to go, uncover and then lie down once Ruth is at the threshing floor. Again, scholars have suggested a seductive move on Ruth’s part. To uncover can be used to mention uncovering the nakedness. However, the bible clearly explains this is sinful (Deut 22:30). The text clearly explains that Ruth is to uncover Boaz’s feet. Some have suggested this is an allusion to something else, yet with no biblical basis. Ruth has loyalty to Naomi’s command and replies, “All that you say I will do.”
II. Plea for Redemption (6-9)
Ruth does as Naomi had commanded her. She waits for Boaz to eat and drink, as Naomi had said. Boaz eats and drinks, and “his heart is merry.” What does this term mean? The word translated ‘merry’ (yitab) or cheerful in the NKJV was used in verse one when Naomi says, “that it may be well (yitab) with you.” It means to be good, or well or pleased. Some have suggested Boaz has drunk too much, and he is drunk, yet it explains his heart is merry. We also need to note that he ate and drunk. Why then assume the sin comes from drinking too much and not eating too much, gluttony? This phrase is common “heart and merry (yitab)” in the book of Judges. If you believe this was written by Samuel, which I do, I see the contrast Samuel is pointing out. In the book of Judges, it is used in chapters 18 and 19. In chapter 18, it is used of a priest who is glad that he can serve foreign gods and their idols (Judg 18:20). Chapter 19 used serval times to explain doing what they desired (Judg 19:6, 9, 22). These two chapters show the horrific sin that is found within Israel. They are like Sodom and Gomorrah. Doing what their hearts desire, pleasing their hearts. Judges end by saying, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
However, Boaz is set as a contrast. The men in judges are called worthless (Judg 19:22), yet Boaz is called worthy (Ruth 2:1). Boaz is clearly a man of character and integrity. Even in this situation, he shows his heart to protect and provide for Ruth. His merry heart is that he is content. He has worked a long hard day, eaten of his labors and drank the fruit, and is pleased. Ecclesiastes states, “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.” He most likely sleeps on the threshing floor because of his long hours but also to protect his harvest.
Ruth then does as Naomi commanded and uncovers Boaz’s feet and laid down. As Boaz turns during the night, he realizes that there was a woman at his feet. As anyone would ask in this situation, “who are you?” Ruth responds with, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9). This is one of the beautiful sections of writing in the structure of the book. At the beginning of this study, we noted the similarities between chapter 2 and chapter 3. One of the great similarities is right in the middle of each chapter. In Chapter 2, verse 12, Boaz turns to Ruth and says, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward is given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12). When Boaz asks who is at his feet, Ruth turns and repeats the similar blessing that Boaz said to her previously, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9).
III. The promise of redemption (10-15)
Boaz’s response is one of blessing. Previously Naomi blessed Boaz (Ruth 2:19-20). Boaz continues to point out Ruth’s kindness (hesed) or loyalty. We will look more at the line of Boaz when we look at the genealogy at the end of chapter 4. Boaz commends Ruth for not going after young men. Boaz knows of Ruth’s return to Bethlehem, and also that she is also a worthy woman like Boaz (Ruth 2:1, 3:11). The whole town knows of Ruth’s worth. Literally, the verse would translate, “All the gate of my people know that you are a woman of worth.” An excellent woman who can find, the author of Proverbs writes, he explains that her works would be praised at the gates (Prv 31:10, 31). Boaz again shows he is an upright person. He mentions another relative closer to Ruth who should redeem her, but if he refuses, Boaz will redeem Ruth. He says, “as the Lord lives.” This is a phrase used when people make an oath, as certain as God is living, I will fulfill my promise (Judg 8:19, Num 14:21, 1 Sam 14:39, 45, 19:6). The honest man will uphold his promise. A dishonest man will not do as he has said.
Even his command to lay down until the morning is one of protection of Ruth. Ruth was in danger when she was alone in broad day light (Ruth 2:8-9, 22). She would have been in more danger if she was alone in the middle of the night. Boaz not only protects Ruth but also provides for her. Again he gives her six measures of barley, which could be about 48-80 pounds of barley. He goes above what is required of him.
IV. Patience for redemption (16-18)
Ruth returns home to Naomi, and Naomi asks the same question that Boaz asked Ruth when he found her at his feet, literally, “Who are you? My daughter.” Scholars have discussed this in great detail, and I am not sure of the meaning. Maybe she is behind all the barley and is unable to see her, or her face has changed countenance. She then explains to Naomi what happened on the threshing floor and what Boaz had said. We are given more of what Boaz has said to Ruth. Ruth is to return with the barley because Ruth is not to go back empty-handed. The Hebrew just says, go back empty. This is the same word Naomi explained how she returned to Bethlehem (Ruth 1:21). Naomi tells Ruth to wait, or the KJV says, to ‘sit still.’ Boaz is a worthy man who will not rest until this issue is sorted.
We have mentioned before the cultural importance of the kinsman-redeemer. Boaz explains that there is one who is closer (Ruth 3:12). Boaz had promised to redeem Ruth if the closer relative refused to do so. The prophet Ezekiel explains that the Lord covers his people’s nakedness, he made a covenant with them, and they became his (Eze 16:8). We have a picture of Ruth and Boaz as an unlikely love story; however, Ruth is a woman of worth. However, Christ redeems his unworthy bride and covers our shame. He washes our sins away and gives us new robes. Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Tit 2:14). Christ is our kinsman-redeemer. There is no closer redeemer. No one can save us. However, Christ does not wait for us to redeem us, but while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. God has not forgotten Naomi, or Ruth or his people. One will come from Boaz’s line, who will redeem his people.
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.