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Act Three - The Pivot

Verse 23 of chapter 2 presented the essential elements of the problem: Ruth gleaning in Boaz' fields, but living with her mother-in-law. This is where the storyline has got to so far. Ruth has met Boaz, but remains without husband. Naomi has Ruth, but no hope of a continuation for the "family-line".

If chapters one and two in some way present and dramatise the problem, and chapter four provides the solution, then in many ways chapter three must be the pivot on which the story hinges.

3:1-2 The RSV (like NIV) shows the style of the Hebrew with its two rhetorical questions both expecting a positive answer: 
"My daughter, should I not seek a home for you, that it may be well with you? 
Now is not Bo'az our kinsman, with whose maidens you were?"  
NRSV, by contrast, smoothes the English but in doing so disguises the form of the original.

Cf. 2:8-9 where Boaz addressed two rhetorical questions, also expecting the answer yes, to Ruth. There he, also, called her "My daughter". This echo, and their similar style, reminds us that Boaz is of Naomi's generation, old enough to be Ruth's father.

It seems unlikely that Boaz would really be working at night, rather one winnowed using the evening breezes, and in fact halaylah (the word rendered "at night") can be translated "evening" (cf. Josh 2:2).

3:3-4 "Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your...": 
the kethib reads singular = "coat", while 
the qere gives the plural form = "best clothes
the versions are divided: LXX gives plural the others singular. 
In any case it is clear that Ruth is to doll herself up for an important meeting. Note the use of perfume, which we can be sure was absent in the harvest fields!

When she is properly prepared Ruth is to "go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down". Ruth is not, this time, to approach Boaz in public but to wait. Wait also till, having eaten and drunk in celebration of the harvest, he is in a good mood.

At this point Naomi trusts Boaz to know what to do to ensure that the story has a happy ending: "he will tell you what to do." The telling here is thoroughly ambiguous
does Naomi expect Boaz to offer marriage, 
or does she confine her hopes to the giving of a child, a successor to Elimelek, Mahlon and Chilion? 
Neither we readers, nor more importantly Ruth, are told!
The very choice of words makes the Hebrew reader well aware of this:
"know" with its possible overtones of "carnal knowledge";
"lie" cf. Gen 19:32,33,35; 2 Sam 13:11; and many other cases where it is the man who "lies with" the woman; 
"go" (which is literally "go in" or "enter") cf. Judg 15:1; 16:1; Gen 6:4; 16:2; 30:3; 38:8-9; 39:14 etc.;
"uncover" cf. Lev 18:6-19; 20:11-21; Ez 22:10
and even "foot" as this word is sometimes used as a euphemism Ex 4:25; Judg 3:24; 1 Sam 24:4; 2 Kgs 18:27 = Is 36:12; 6:2?; 7:20 to refer to the male sexual organ.
However, despite this multiplication of words which might carry sexual innuendo, here they do not have such a sense overtly: 
Ruth not only does not "know" Boaz, she is told not to "make herself known to" the man
she is to notice where "he lies", will even "enter" there, but she is not told to, n or is she described as, lying "with" him cf. Gen 19:32; 2 Sam 13:11,
similarly she is not told to "uncover his nakedness" (the phrase where sexual activity is in view) but his "feet" (and the word is dual, "a pair of feet" - bizarre if the word is understood euphemistically).

All in all, it is clear that the sexual sense possible within the words which are used is not intended to convey this meaning, but equally the author has chosen a remarkable conglomeration of such words. Sexual overtones echo in the ears of the hearer, but never on the surface of the text. Thus the text underlines the risks inherent in the situation Naomi proposes. Boaz and the young woman, Ruth, will be alone together for the night. If they do not act with integrity and faithfulness, though the required baby may be born Ruth will be unmarriageable and the story broken.

If she obeys Naomi, Ruth will put her future on the line, betting on Boaz' integrity.

3:5 The transition between the introduction which sets the scene in vv.1-4 and the action of the chapter is made in verses 5 & 6 here Ruth tells Naomi (and us) that she will follow the plan: "All that you tell me I will do". The narrator will effectively repeat this in v.6 introducing the new scene.

© Dr Tim Bulkeley, 2004.

You may quote and use these study notes, subject to the usual provsions of fair use - like giving proper credit e.g.
Tim Bulkeley, "Ruth: Genre" in Study Notes on Ruth [downloaded today's date].

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Tim teaches Hebrew Bible (First or Old Testament) at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and at Carey Baptist College his other sites include:
Amos - Postmodern Bible commentary
Study Notes on Jonah
Images of Archaeological Sites in Israel (Focusing on the Iron Age)