Controversy equalizes fools and wise men – and the fools know it.
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, via Brainy Quote
We now come to the most controversial part of the Book of Ruth. If you have not yet read Part 1 and Part 2, then not much of this will make sense, so I urge you to become familiar with the material in them first. In particular, Part 1 goes a bit into the idea of the Kinsman-Redeemer.
The question to ask yourself is: Why is it controversial?
Here are a couple of general reasons for what causes controversy from the Bible itself:
28 A deceitful person stirs up strife,
and a slanderer can separate even close friends.
10 Pride leads to conflict;
those who take advice are wise.
However, more to the point, controversy, like so many other negative things in life, comes from some type of wrongful attitude, i.e., sin. Adam and Eve partook of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and mankind has ever since been deciding between right and wrong and usually without God’s help. It is appropriate to talk about this in the context of Ruth, actually, since it occurs in the days of the judges when everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes.
Right In Own Eyes – Ditch to the Right
Pervasive in much of Western religious thought is the idea that somehow sex is shameful and sinful by definition. It is considered “dirty”. Some religions that claim to based their beliefs upon the Bible teach that sex must be used within a marriage solely for the purpose of procreation. IOW, sex isn’t there for enjoyment, ever.
Furthermore, most of this religious traditions treat sexual sins as being worse than any other sin one can think of. Yet, in reality the only sin that cannot be forgiven is a stubborn rebelliousness that has at its core an unrepentant heart. It is compared to blatant idolatry.
22 And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
Notice that it was Saul’s rejection of God that led to God rejecting Him! If Saul had instead maintained his initial humility, he would not have found himself in this position. Instead, it is interesting to note that Saul became so convinced of his own greatness that he set up monuments to himself.
12 Samuel got up early in the morning to meet Saul, and was told, “Saul went to Carmel, where he is setting up a monument for himself. Then he left and went down to Gilgal.”
Does God give us taste buds to enjoy food? Does God give us nerve endings to enjoy the warm touch of another? Does God give us ears only for communication, or is the Bible filled with poetry and music? Why do we see colors when many live creatures get along fine without them?
God created Adam and Eve, and He created them naked. He commanded them to become “glued” together, which definitely included a physical component. God created sex!
31 God saw everything [including sex] that he had made, and indeed it was very good. So there was evening, and there was morning, a sixth day.
9 Enjoy life with the wife you have loved throughout your meaningless life that he has given you under the sun, all the days of your futility; for that is your allotted portion in life and in your labor that you work at under the sun.
Does this sound like sex within a monogamous relationship was not meant to be enjoyed?
Right In Own Eyes – Ditch to the Left
Human beings seems to swing between extremes most of the time. The repressiveness of those who would believe that going through life with a frown on your face all the time had its inevitable backlashes in history, but perhaps none more severe than that of the sixties and seventies. It was the “sexual revolution”, the “new morality” and other names than just plain mean lawlessness.
Leviticus 18 is filled with several “thou shalt nots” in regards to sexual sins. People do their best to twist their way around these Scriptures or outright reject God and His message because of them, but they say what they say.
In addition, it contains a warning for those who would oppose God:
24 Do not make yourselves unclean in any of these ways because that is how the nations that I am throwing out before you became unclean. 25 That is also how the land became unclean, and I held it liable for punishment, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But all of you must keep my rules and my regulations. You must not do any of these detestable things, neither citizen nor immigrant who lives with you (27 because the people who had the land before you did all of these detestable things and the land became unclean), 28 so that the land does not vomit you out because you have made it unclean, just as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 Anyone who does any of these detestable things will be cut off from their people. 30 You must keep my requirement of not doing any of the detestable practices that were done before you arrived so that you don’t make yourselves unclean by them; I am the LORD your God.
When confronted with the issue of divorce, Jesus transcended the current arguments of the day by pointing back to what was intended from the beginning when God created mankind.
3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
There is a lot to what Jesus said, and there isn’t space for that here. I suggest reading “Book Review: Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible by David Instone-Brewer” for more information.
What is relevant is that Jesus made it quite clear that marriage was intended to be between one man and one woman. It wasn’t five men and one woman, five women and one man, a man and his horse, a man and a man, a woman and a woman, or any number of other possibilities that have been tried from time to time. Jesus not only made it clear that the boundaries still existed, but He also made it clear that the actual boundary was narrower than how people were interpreting the Law!
In the end, the truth was in the middle of two extremes.
The Levirate Marriage
I referred to this once or twice, but let’s look at this a little closer. First of all, is it an obligation or a right?
Levirate marriage is a type of marriage in which the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother’s widow, and the widow is obliged to marry her deceased husband’s brother.
~ “Levirate marriage”, Wikipedia
They describe it as an obligation. However, the obligation is upon the man involved, the near kinsman. However, whenever one is obligated, then by definition that means another party has a right to something. In effect, levirate marriages were not supposed to be so much about the obligation of the husband’s brother, but it was intended to be the right of the widow!
Let’s look at the actual passage that prescribes the “levirate marriage”.
5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her.
6 And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.
Women were assumed to be homemakers. In general Jewish society believed it was the responsibility of a married couple to have children. Barrenness was often seen as a grounds for divorce. Without the mechanization and electrical and electronic slaves we have today, being a homemaker was hard work. The woman was normally the one to stay at home for several reasons, including the fact they are the ones with the ability to breast feed the young. For better or worse, people in general have been freed from the restrictions that nature has placed upon us. However, that is now, and that was then.
That means that, while women usually did help out in the fields and such, the main job of bringing in food into the house was on the shoulders of the man. If they had children, it was assumed they will help out as they grew up. Therefore, without a husband and without a son, women would be left to fend for themselves with few prospects of any future.
A levirate marriage ensured that the woman would be cared for until her son was of age. While the responsibilities outlined in the Bible are mostly about having children, culture would have demanded more than just fathering children. Children were seen as blessings, but they were also responsibilities.
A levirate marriage was not a sin. It was an obligation by the nearest kinsman. It was the right of the widow.
7 And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the LORD slew him.
8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.
9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.
10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.
You ever ask yourself, “What’s the big deal? Why did he care it wasn’t his?” He cared because he had to care for the resulting children as though they were his own! However, once the child was of age, he would act on his own behalf, and he would inherit whatever the first husband left behind. This would have required Onan to put forth a lot of effort for a child that legally was not his for inheritance purposes but legally was his in present obligations!
Naomi Tells Ruth What?
3 Then Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?
2 And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor.
3 Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.
4 And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.
5 And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do.
~ Ru 3:1-5
Some believe Naomi is telling Ruth to sleep with Boaz. On its surface, that is laughable. Boaz is not alone!
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.
~ Ru 3:14
The only way anyone would know is if someone else was there! Therefore, everything Ruth does is highly symbolic. Still, what if they were alone, and what if she really were asking for him physically? Then, by levirate law, she is pursuing her right to have a son by her kinsman-redeemer!
Either way, there is nothing “wrong” or “dirty” about this. It would actually be expected! However, on the threshing floor during harvest season? When people are probably coming and going during the daylight hours?
So, she uncovers his feet, lies down at his feet and waits. He turns over in the middle of the night, still sleepy, and there is someone there! If you’ve ever been awakened by a pet or a child in the middle of the night, you can understand the phrase “the main was afraid”!
Boaz asks who is there, and Ruth answers.
8 And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.
9 And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.
~ Ru 3:8-9
Here is where people get all sorts of ideas, but let’s be careful to not read more into it than what it says.
Remember how I made a big deal out of Ru 2:12? The word for “wings” is kanaph, Strong’s H3671. The word for “skirt” in 3:9 is also kanaph! However, the translators chose to use the word skirt! She is placing herself under Boaz’s care, even as she placed herself under the protective wings of YHWH!
Again, this seems to be highly symbolic. She placed herself under her kinsman-redeemer’s feet, which is the lowest part of the body. It is sometimes a euphemism, but because it can be a euphemism it also is likely to be symbolic. Is Ruth offering herself to him? You bet! Does she believe it will happen right then and there? Probably not! However, you have to admit it is a unique way to ask!
One part of being below one’s feet that seems to get lost in translation because of silly debates is that it also means she is humbly offering herself in a servant status. She is placing herself totally and completely into the care and whims of here kinsman-redeemer. She is showing great trust, another word for “faith”, that he will care for her and not harm her.
It should be evident by now that Boaz likes to do things the correct way. He does things intentionally and with purpose. His subsequent actions prove this beyond all doubt. Once again, he is displaying the qualities of The Kinsman-Redeemer, who wants to do things “right”, that is, within the will of the Father.
Oh, Oh! Houston, We Have a Problem
It turns out that there is another kinsman that is nearer to Naomi than he is. Yet, we see once again that he is probably much older than she. He is genuinely flattered that she would approach him.
10 And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.
~ v 10
Note that he thought Ruth could have had the pick of anyone, but instead she had her priorities straight. She was pursuing things the right way, even as he is fond to do.
Boaz promises to confront the other relative, and if that man turns down the role of kinsman-redeemer, then Boaz states he will do the part. He generously gives her grain for her and Naomi as she leaves, which is proof of his desire to take care of her.
Naomi counsels Ruth to “sit still” to see how things play out. She realizes Boaz will vigorously pursue his responsibilities and his desire for Ruth.
In the next chapter, we will see if Boaz is a good enough salesman to talk his way into fulfilling the role or not. We will also briefly meet this other relative. Who is he? Would he be interested? More importantly, who or what does he symbolize?
The answer might have to do more with Passover than you have previously considered!