Wait for the Lord
Waiting for God’s Wonderful Plan to Unfold
I am sure we have all heard the Christian adage, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” The same adage is a good summary of Ruth Chapter 3, if we change the subject to Naomi, the object to Ruth, and make the verbs past tense. “Naomi loved Ruth and had a wonderful plan for her life.”
Ruth had been a cause of embarrassment and shame to Naomi, a living reminder of Naomi’s sins in forsaking the Promised Land and allowing her sons to marry Moabite women, but because of Ruth’s steadfast love and faithfulness, Naomi’s heart began to soften towards her Gentile daughter-in-law. In Chapter 2, Naomi begins to call Ruth “my daughter.” In Chapter 3 this trend continues. Naomi says, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you” (vs. 1). Naomi was no longer thinking about me, myself, and I. Her softened heart was beginning to think of the welfare of others, of Ruth’s welfare in particular.
As a result, Naomi hatches a plan to ensure Ruth’s security and well-being. “‘My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing-floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing-floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do’” (vs. 1b-4).
The plan was rather daring and risky, particularly for Ruth. Ruth was to bathe, put on some perfume, and dress in her best clothes. Then she was to sneak down to the threshing floor, hide herself from sight, carefully watch Boaz until he lay down to sleep, sneak into the camp undetected, uncover his feet, lie down next to them, and await the man’s instructions. Ruth’s honor in the community and her personal integrity were on the line, but she promised Naomi to follow her guidance. “All that you tell me I will do” (vs. 5).
Ruth executed Naomi’s plan perfectly, with one exception. Boaz woke up at midnight and was startled to find a woman lying at his feet. Boaz asked, “Who are you?” Ruth was supposed to await his instructions, but instead she proposed marriage to Boaz! “She answered, ‘I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin’” (vs. 9). “Spread your cloak over your servant” was a euphemism in ancient Israel for “Marry me.” Furthermore, Ruth identified Boaz as her “next-of-kin.” Boaz was Ruth and Naomi’s goel, the Hebrew word for “redeemer.” A goel was a close male relative who was obligated under Israelite law to redeem his kin who had fallen onto hard times.
Leviticus 25:25, 35-38, and 47-49 describes the obligations of the goel. “If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next-of-kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God. If resident aliens among you prosper, and if any of your kin fall into difficulty with one of them and sell themselves to an alien, or to a branch of the alien’s family, after they have sold themselves they shall have the right of redemption; one of their brothers may redeem them, or their uncle or their uncle’s son may redeem them, or anyone of their family who is of their own flesh may redeem them; or if they prosper they may redeem themselves.”
Boaz accepted Ruth’s marriage proposal! This was highly unconventional. Women never proposed to men in ancient Israel, much less a gleaner proposing to the owner of the field, or a female Gentile proposing to a Jewish man.
Some modern commentators have read this account as a story of sexual immorality, seduction, and the misuse of power. Naomi’s plan in general is a little sketchy. It is true that “feet” can sometimes be a euphemism for male anatomy in the Bible (I know this is a little earthy for a Sunday morning sermon!), but “feet” are sometimes just feet.
There really is no hint of sexual impropriety in the story. Quite to the contrary, Ruth and Boaz are depicted as people of integrity. In Chapter 2 verse 1, Boaz is described as a “powerful man of integrity.” His words and deeds embody God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Similarly, Ruth is described as a person of steadfast love and faithfulness. Binding herself to Naomi with an oath, her industry in working hard to provide food for them, and her own words, all testify to Ruth’s honor. Boaz himself testified to Ruth’s uprightness when he said to her after her proposal: “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter, this last instance of loyalty (The Hebrew word is hesed, steadfast love.) is better than the first” (vs. 10). Furthermore, Ruth was respected in the community. Boaz adds, “All the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman” (vs. 11b). The Hebrew word “worthy” is the same one used to describe the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31:10-31. Naomi’s daring and risky plan was unconventional, but it did not include an indecent proposal. In fact, Boaz is keen to avoid any hint of impropriety, and so he sends Ruth home while it is still dark.
However, there was an unexpected hitch. There was another kinsman more closely related to Ruth and Naomi than Boaz, but if the other man declined to exercise the right of redemption, Boaz promised he would act swiftly.
Boaz sent Ruth back to Naomi with some eighty pounds of barley on her back wrapped in her cloak. When Ruth arrived home, Naomi asked her the same question Boaz had posed: “Who are you, my daughter?” In other words, are you still single or are you betrothed to Boaz? Ruth recounted the events of the night to Naomi, and Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest, but will settle the matter today” (vs. 18). The chapter ends on an unresolved note. When we return to Ruth Chapter 4, we will learn the conclusion of the matter.
Naomi loved Ruth and had a wonderful plan for her life. This is a good place to remind us that God also loved Ruth and had an even more wonderful plan for her life. God does not act directly in the Book of Ruth. God works through circumstances and human agency in the narrative, but there are no coincidences in the story, no “as luck would have it.” God was working his purpose out through ordinary human beings who were persons of faithfulness and steadfast love. God’s plan for Ruth was not only to provide security and well-being. God’s plan was that Ruth would be a link in the genealogy of the Messiah. Only three women are mentioned in Jesus’ list of antecedents: Tamar, Bathsheba, and Ruth (Mt. 1). Ruth is the only Gentile, and her inclusion prefigures the inclusion of non-Jews in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Book of Ruth, God’s plan of salvation was unfolding in very subtle and wonderful ways.
It struck me that Naomi and Ruth’s concerns are similar to our own. We too want security and well-being. Our concerns are different in their specifics, but at their root, they are the same. We worry about the cost of gas and groceries, the stock market and our income, wars and rumors of wars, the evil leadership of China, Russia, North Korea, Afghanistan, and Iran. We are concerned about the questionable leadership of our own elected officials. We worry about violent criminals on our streets. We worry about sickness, suffering, and an untimely or lingering death.
I would remind you today that God loves us too and has a wonderful plan for our lives. In the present we will endure hardship, sin, evil, and grief, but we are assured that God is at work for good in our circumstances and through the steadfast love and faithfulness of the people God brings into our lives.
Yet just as God’s plan for Ruth was much greater than marriage, security, and well-being, God’s plan for us is much greater than present help in time of trouble. God plans for Jesus Christ to return to Earth. God plans to resurrect our lifeless bodies from the grave. God plans to pronounce us innocent on the Day of Judgment because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God plans to transform us into the likeness of his son so that we may truly become like God. God plans to create new heavens and a new earth for us to inhabit where evil has been banished. Death, mourning, and pain will have no place in God’s renewed creation.
Like Ruth and Naomi, we must wait until we learn how the matter turns out, but unlike Naomi and Ruth, we have the sure promises of God to stand on as we wait. So let us wait together to see the salvation of our God in the little victories of this life that provide security and well-being and let us look forward to God’s great victory that is yet to come.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All glory be to God. Alleluia! Amen.