Do you remember your marriage proposal? Or if you aren’t married or engaged, do you have a hope or dream for what your proposal will be like? In our culture proposals have become more and more elaborate. Today we learn about a very unusual one!
The ancient Hebrew story of Ruth has been unfolding, moving from tragedy to hope. If you want to catch up, read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. At the end of Part 3, we learned that Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, has gotten over her bitterness at losing her husband and two sons when she observes the Lord’s blessing on her life through Ruth, who not only stuck with Naomi, but also goes to work for their relative Boaz and he cares for them with food. So Naomi concocts a plan. It might sound bizarre. Look at Ruth chapter 3, verses 1-4 where you can read Naomi’s plan.
What Naomi suggests amounts to a marriage proposal, but it sounds totally unfamiliar to what we would consider a marriage proposal. Naomi says Ruth should go to Boaz’ barn at nighttime, because it was harvest and Boaz and his workers would be working late to bring in the harvest, so they wouldn’t go home but would sleep in the barn. Naomi instructs Ruth to find Boaz asleep, uncover his feet and lay down there!
Are you thinking, “Huh? How is that a marriage proposal?”
Imagine people a couple thousand years from now trying to explain the significance of our engagement rituals. Men spend lots of money buying a rock, usually a very shiny one, and they pay to have that rock fastened to a ring, and then they super nervously get down one knee and ask a woman to accept the rock. She starts crying tears of joy. Assuming she says yes, he then puts the rock on her finger, and that starts a process whereby they will be together for the rest of their lives. Totally normal and romantic and even emotionally joyful to us, right? But imagine people from another culture looking at that. They might think our ritual is weird. That’s very similar to what we just felt reading what Naomi says Ruth should do. Uncover his feet while he is sleeping!
And yet we need to know that what Noami suggests is not totally normal for their culture. In their culture, Naomi and Ruth are being forward.
Even here in the USA in previous generations, a girl never approached a guy to ask him out. You would be considered a floozy. Parents would be very suspicious about a girl who just called a guy on the phone to talk.
What about a Sadie Hawkins Dance? That is a dance, usually once/year, where the girl asks a guy to be her date to the dance. But it is the exception that proves the rule.
In America, however, things have been changing to the point where little by little women are taking the initiative to ask men out. Though it is still most common, in my observation, that males make the first move.
Back to our story. What is going on here? Like I said above, the harvest has to get in, so Boaz is up late into the night working, and he crashes in the barn for a few hours. Like sleeping in your the office when things are so jammed up at work, you can’t come home.
If any of you noticed a sexual connotation to what happens next, you are right! Ruth is very daring. She doesn’t actually do anything sexual, but when she finds him there sleeping in the barn, and she uncovers his feet, this is a proposal for marriage.
The imagery is fascinating. Look at verse 7. This uncovering of the feet essentially says, “Open your bed for me to come in.”
It could go very wrong, and she could be shamed if he wakes up to a woman sleeping next to him and says, “What the heck are you doing…get out of here you inappropriate women.”
But Ruth is not inappropriate at all. Instead I want you to notice a beautiful wordplay that Ruth uses. Look at verse 9. As Boaz groggily rubs the sleep out of his eyes, not even sure who this is and what is happening, Ruth says to him, “I am your servant Ruth, spread the corner of your garment over me.” In the original language, Hebrew, this is literally the phrase “spread your wings” over me.
If you’ve been following along with the story, do you remember where we have heard that phrase before? Look at Ruth chapter 2, verse 12. There Boaz had said the same thing to Ruth when he first met her. It was essentially a prayer of blessing: “May God bless you as you have taken refuge under his wings.”
It very well could be, and I would say likely, that Ruth is remembering these words that Boaz said to her, and basically is saying to him, “You are a kinsman-redeemer (which we talked about in Part 3), you are part of Naomi’s husband’s extended family, and you could be the means by which God provides refuge for us.”
In no uncertain terms, Ruth is saying, “You desire God’s blessing for me? Will you be that blessing, and thus will you marry me?” Do you see the boldness in that? It’s so risky.
Though contemporary America is far more egalitarian than ancient Israel, it is still in our culture very uncommon for a woman to propose marriage to a man. How much more in her culture, then, was Ruth making a bold, rare move! Because of that, the gap between verse 9 and 10 is interesting. I wonder how long it took Boaz to answer Ruth. Maybe it was quick. Sometimes the answer is obvious. Perhaps he had been thinking about this for some time and just didn’t know how to go about it. But as in our culture when people get engaged, the guy is usually a nervous wreck, wondering “What is she going to say when I pop the question?” Ruth was probably very nervous.
How long did Boaz wait to answer? What will Boaz say? Check back in to the next post!