Posts Tagged sex
וַתֵּרֶד הַגֹּרֶן וַתַּעַשׂ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר־צִוַּתָּה חֲמוֹתָהּ׃
וַיֹּאכַל בֹּעַז וַיֵּשְׁתְּ וַיִּיטַב לִבּוֹ וַיָּבֹא לִשְׁכַּב בִּקְצֵה הָעֲרֵמָה וַתָּבֹא בַלָּט וַתְּגַל מַרְגְּלֹתָיו וַתִּשְׁכָּב׃
וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה וַיֶּחֱרַד הָאִישׁ וַיִּלָּפֵת וְהִנֵּה אִשָּׁה שֹׁכֶבֶת מַרְגְּלֹתָיו׃
וַיֹּאמֶר מִי־אָתּ וַתֹּאמֶר אָנֹכִי רוּת אֲמָתֶךָ וּפָרַשְׂתָּ כְנָפֶךָ עַל־אֲמָתְךָ כִּי גֹאֵל אָתָּה׃
וַיֹּאמֶר בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ לַיהוָה בִּתִּי הֵיטַבְתְּ חַסְדֵּךְ הָאַחֲרוֹן מִן־הָרִאשׁוֹן לְבִלְתִּי־לֶכֶת אַחֲרֵי הַבַּחוּרִים אִם־דַּל וְאִם־עָשִׁיר׃
וְעַתָּה בִּתִּי אַל־תִּירְאִי כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־תֹּאמְרִי אֶעֱשֶׂה־לָּךְ כִּי יוֹדֵעַ כָּל־שַׁעַר עַמִּי כִּי אֵשֶׁת חַיִל אָתְּ׃
וְעַתָּה כִּי אָמְנָם כִּי אם גֹאֵל אָנֹכִי וְגַם יֵשׁ גֹּאֵל קָרוֹב מִמֶּנִּי׃
לִינִי הַלַּיְלָה וְהָיָה בַבֹּקֶר אִם־יִגְאָלֵךְ טוֹב יִגְאָל וְאִם־לֹא יַחְפֹּץ לְגָאֳלֵךְ וּגְאַלְתִּיךְ אָנֹכִי חַי־יְהוָה שִׁכְבִי עַד־הַבֹּקֶר׃
וַתִּשְׁכַּב מַרְגְּלוֹתָיו עַד־הַבֹּקֶר וַתָּקָם בְּטֶרֶם יַכִּיר אִישׁ אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ וַיֹּאמֶר אַל־יִוָּדַע כִּי־בָאָה הָאִשָּׁה הַגֹּרֶן׃
וַיֹּאמֶר הָבִי הַמִּטְפַּחַת אֲשֶׁר־עָלַיִךְ וְאֶחֳזִי־בָהּ וַתֹּאחֶז בָּהּ וַיָּמָד שֵׁשׁ־שְׂעֹרִים וַיָּשֶׁת עָלֶיהָ וַיָּבֹא הָעִיר׃
So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”
So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” And he said, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city. (3:6-15, ESV)And he said, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the LORD lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” (3:6-13, ESV)
His heart was merry. Boaz’s household celebrated the barley harvest with gusto. They partied into the night. He laid down at the edge of a pile of grain and fell asleep. This is a fascinating image, isn’t it?
As I have mentioned before, this celebration was not the kind of pointless drinking party that we tend to think of in our modern context. It was certainly loud and raucous, but not out of control. Although it is only speculation on my part, I tend to believe that the ancients partied better than we do because they had far more work to do. By the end of the barley harvest, people would be physically exhausted. The celebration was the culmination of hard work, which served to balance the celebration somewhat.
The idiom וַיִּיטַב לִבּוֹ (wayēy-tab lēbō) includes the noun לֵב (leb) which is often translated as “heart” but more closely might mean “center of understanding.” There is little doubt that idiom is the similar to our own experience of relaxation and euphoria when we consume moderate amounts of alcohol. It represents a release of tension, but does not necessarily represent drunkenness.
Drunkenness is often used as an excuse for actions that are otherwise inexcusable. “I was drunk” is often treated as an explanation for playing the fool and behaving in ways that are dishonorable and often quite sinful. This is why the Scriptures speak so directly about the dangers of drunkenness. (Genesis 9:20-23, Proverbs 5:20, Proverbs 20:1, Ephesians 5:18)
But drunkenness and merriness of heart are two different things. One is a sinner seeking an excuse. The other is a righteous man in relaxation and celebration. Anyone with eyes can tell the difference. If you must make excuses or apologies for your actions, you were drunk. That’s simple.
We know that Boaz still has his wits about him, even in the merriness of his heart because of the exchange that follows. A drunken man would not have the restraint or wherewithal to handle himself as he does with Ruth.
She came softly. I have previously written about the possible sexual connotations of the exchange that comes next. Ruth slips under Boaz’s robe (“your wings”) and lies beside him. Sleeping, he does not immediately wake up but when he does, it is unavoidable that someone is with him. One can almost imagine him thinking, oh please let this be Ruth! And it is.
Ruth’s request for Boaz to “spread your wings over your servant” is an invitation to accept her presence as permission to join with her and make her his wife. The language is unclear here. There are clearly sexual overtones, but it is not plain if there is actual sexual contact involved at this point. It is important, however, that I remind you that such contact was not strictly forbidden in Torah at this time. Boaz could claim her in this way and then compensate the “closer” relative he mentions. Whether he did or not is simply not stated.
Redeemer. It is here that we are introduced to the idea of the גָּאַל (ga’al), which is often translated as “redeemer.” This is a difficult term to render into another language, and it has much more to it than the theological definition of redemption. As a result, just reading the English translation makes it easy to miss what Ruth is saying.
In the Greek translation of this book, ga’al is rendered as ἀγχιστεὺς (ag-chēst-EFS) or “next of kin.” Latin similarly translates it as propinquus, which has the same meaning. In both languages, the term is missing any kind of idea of redemption as we might understand it.
The concept of redemption comes not from the word ga’al but from the role granted to the ga’al in the Torah. Being the next of kin or closest family to a widow carried a weight that appears even in the Christian testament. In Leviticus 25-27 and Numbers 35, there are several scenarios in which the word appears as both a noun and as a verb. Because the word is extremely ancient, we cannot be sure if the idea of a next of kin comes from the redeemer or vice versa. Either way, close family was intrically tied with the idea of perpetuating life, which is at the core of redemption.
And it is here in this passage that we see the linchpin, the keystone of interpreting this word. Ruth is the very essence of the redeemer motif. It illuminates the entire concept for the reader of any age.
What is Ruth asking for? She is not asking for her own redemption. Boaz is not her close relative. He is not even Naomi’s close relative. He is Elimelech’s relative. He is a dead man’s relative, and Ruth is not asking for her own redemption but rather for Elimelech’s. She is asking for a resurrection and reconstitution of Elimelech’s legacy, through Ruth. Boaz would redeem from death and give new life.
This is the key of all the Hebrew Scriptures and the reason why Ruth is such a significant book. Redemption through the ga’al is new life for old, and the book of Ruth takes place in the midst of the barley harvest which represented life from the dead seed and ground. The themes and motifs of the book all come together in this single idea of a redeemer.
I am a redeemer. Boaz speaks with absolute certainty that he will stand as the redeemer, but he points out the technicality of a closer blood relative. He states it matter-of-fact, but it is plain that Boaz intends to find a way around this technicality so Ruth can be his.
There is a two-fold dynamic going on here. It is pretty clear that Boaz is smitten by Ruth, and the feeling is mutual. This takes second place to the advantage of bringing Elimelech and Boaz’s holdings together. The redemption of Elimelech’s legacy might cause complications for a man with children, and it would be a boon to a young man who would receive only a portion of his father’s lands and not a broad inheritance. But if Ruth and Boaz had only one eligible son, they could pass all of the property on to him and he would have the influence of two landholders instead of one.
Lie down until morning. What happened that night is beyond our ability to know. It would appear that Boaz literally covered Ruth with his robe, keeping her with him until the morning. She could slip away unnoticed before the rest of the men woke up.
It was common for the women of a household to rise before the men, so Boaz seems to indicate that Ruth should just slip out with the rest of the women so no one notices her. He is very specific when he says, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshingfloor.” What is interesting is that he uses the word אִשָּׁה (ēshah) that indicates a married woman. Perhaps Boaz makes it clear that something happened that night?
Either way, he gives Ruth six measures of barley, literally “six barleys” and sends her away.
וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ נָעֳמִי חֲמוֹתָהּ בִּתִּי הֲלֹא אֲבַקֶּשׁ־לָךְ מָנוֹחַ אֲשֶׁר יִיטַב־לָךְ׃
וְעַתָּה הֲלֹא בֹעַז מֹדַעְתָּנוּ אֲשֶׁר הָיִית אֶת־נַעֲרוֹתָיו הִנֵּה־הוּא זֹרֶה אֶת־גֹּרֶן הַשְּׂעֹרִים הַלָּיְלָה׃
וְרָחַצְתְּ וָסַכְתְּ וְשַׂמְתְּ שִׂמְלֹתַיִךְ עָלַיִךְ וְיָרַדְתְּ הַגֹּרֶן אַל־תִּוָּדְעִי לָאִישׁ עַד כַּלֹּתוֹ לֶאֱכֹל וְלִשְׁתּוֹת׃
וִיהִי בְשָׁכְבוֹ וְיָדַעַתְּ אֶת־הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁכַּב־שָׁם וּבָאת וְגִלִּית מַרְגְּלֹתָיו וְשָׁכָבְתְּ וְהוּא יַגִּיד לָךְ אֵת אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשִׂין׃
וַתֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־תֹּאמְרִי ֵ ַ אֶעֱשֶׂה׃
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor.
Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and 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, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.” (3:1-5)
Rest for you. Earlier, Naomi had encouraged Ruth and Orpah to return to their mother’s houses so they could find a new husband and rest. (1:9) The idea is a place of comfort, implying the healthy relationship of a man and woman resting together in completeness. It does not in any way indicate an end of work because the work of a wife was often much harder than that of a young woman, but rather the sense of a “right place”.
Naomi recognizes that Ruth’s “right place” is with a husband and she judges that the time is right for Ruth to declare this to Boaz. As I’ve already noted, Ruth and Boaz clearly fancy one another, but they have restrained from acting on the relationship – or Ruth has anyway.
The Threshing Floor. Because the grain harvest were so important in the Late Bronze Age, we actually know quite a bit about threshing floors and the like. The barley harvest was an important celebration, and the threshing floor was essentially the place where everyone made public the relationships that had been formed during the harvest. Young men and women would pair off as they had in the fields and, we assume, contracts would be made for their official marriages.
A threshing floor usually was a hill with flat land around it. On the flat land, the men would winnow the grain with whip-like sticks, breaking the stalks and loosening the husks around the grain. Then the women would gather the winnowed grain in baskets, take it to the top of the hill and carefully throw it up into the wind. The husks and stalks would blow away and the kernels of barley would fall back into the baskets.
After the daylight waned, the gathered group would celebrate, drinking the dregs of the previous seasons beer and the first bits of the current seasons. After eating and drinking, people would lie down on the threshing floor to sleep because they would be doing the same thing the following day.
Wash therefore and anoint yourself. A lot of commentators make it sound as if Naomi has some kind of nefarious plan to seduce Boaz here. I don’t think that is the case at all, and I think it demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the context. Clearly the views of sexuality and marriage in this context are different from our own modern views, which are often tainted by Puritanical and Victorian prudishness to a fault.
Naomi is instructing Ruth to prepare herself Boaz. Since Boaz was flirting with her in the fields while she was working, dirty and nasty, I doubt seriously that it mattered to him whether she was washed or not. The preparations Ruth needs to take are more to announce that she is now ready to accept him as her husband and she has cleansed herself for exactly that purpose.
Even the way that Naomi instructs Ruth to put on her cloak (שִׂמְלָה, sēmlah) implies something of a signal that Ruth is ready for Boaz. Of course, the language is poetic and somewhat obscure but this might have been some kind of special garment, meant to conceal the clean and perfumed body beneath.
Uncover his feet. The phrase uncover his feet is a sexual metaphor. This is difficult for most Christian readers to accept, but Naomi is instructing Ruth to uncover her own body, wrap herself in Boaz’s robe against his own naked body and then wait for him to notice. This is a totally sexual act, and as a result it makes a lot of us uncomfortable because we have an unhealthy separation of sexual contact and marriage.
As pointed out earlier, there is nothing immoral or even immodest in what Naomi tells Ruth to do. This is simply how marriage worked in this context, and in many ways it is far more moral than the way we do things today. The Hebrews would have had no understanding of the distinctions of “living together” and “common law” marriage that we have today.
Thus, we have Ruth clean and anointed with perfumed oils, wrapped in her cloak and waiting for Boaz to finally rest on the ground. Her willingness to do this can be understood as duty to Naomi, but it also seems that Ruth is more than willing to take this step. She has now labored in Boaz’s fields, eaten at his table and accepted his hospitality. She is a woman of child-bearing years, clearly active and vigorous and ready to be married again.
וַתִּשָּׂא וַתָּבוֹא הָעִיר וַתֵּרֶא חֲמוֹתָהּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־לִקֵּטָה וַתּוֹצֵא וַתִּתֶּן־לָהּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־הוֹתִרָה מִשָּׂבְעָהּ׃
וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ חֲמוֹתָהּ אֵיפֹה לִקַּטְתְּ הַיּוֹם וְאָנָה עָשִׂית יְהִי מַכִּירֵךְ בָּרוּךְ וַתַּגֵּד לַחֲמוֹתָהּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־עָשְׂתָה עִמּוֹ וַתֹּאמֶר שֵׁם הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי עִמּוֹ הַיּוֹם בֹּעַז׃
וַתֹּאמֶר נָעֳמִי לְכַלָּתָהּ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לַיהוָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא־עָזַב חַסְדּוֹ אֶת־הַחַיִּים וְאֶת־הַמֵּתִים וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ נָעֳמִי קָרוֹב לָנוּ הָאִישׁ מִגֹּאֲלֵנוּ הוּא׃
וַתֹּאמֶר רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה גַּם כִּי־אָמַר אֵלַי עִם־הַנְּעָרִים אֲשֶׁר־לִי תִּדְבָּקִין עַד אִם־כִּלּוּ אֵת כָּל־הַקָּצִיר אֲשֶׁר־לִי׃
וַתֹּאמֶר נָעֳמִי אֶל־רוּת כַּלָּתָהּ טוֹב בִּתִּי כִּי תֵצְאִי עִם־נַעֲרוֹתָיו וְלֹא יִפְגְּעוּ־בָךְ בְּשָׂדֶה אַחֵר׃
וַתִּדְבַּק בְּנַעֲרוֹת בֹּעַז לְלַקֵּט עַד־כְּלוֹת קְצִיר־הַשְּׂעֹרִים וּקְצִיר הַחִטִּים וַתֵּשֶׁב אֶת־חֲמוֹתָהּ׃
And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.”
And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.”
And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’ ” And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law. (2:18-23)
The man who took notice of you. When Ruth returns from the fields with an ephah of barley, Naomi is surprised. And why wouldn’t she be surprised? Ruth gleaned the equivalent of a day’s work for someone who was supposed to be harvesting in the field. It is clear that someone noticed her and provided for her.
“The man who took notice” is actually just one Hebrew word - נָכַר, nakar. Nakar is distinct from the Hebrew word that indicates intimate knowledge (יָדַע , yada’) of marriage. This is purely a recognition or a shift of focus. In other words, Naomi is excited that someone is interested in Ruth but not pursuing her. I am not sure that Naomi was fully aware of the situation until Ruth mentions that the man’s name was Boaz.
Blessed by the LORD. As soon as Naomi hears the name Boaz, she realizes that YHWH has not forsaken her. This is an important turning point in the story because until this point, Naomi believes that she is under some kind of curse. She was bitter and broken, but here she sees the hand of Providence that has guided her to this point.
It is good, my daughter. Ruth’s revelation that Boaz commanded her to stay close to his own young women is a signal to Naomi. She realizes that not only has Boaz chosen to protect her but that he has singled her out as a potential wife. The young men have been assigned the task of protecting Ruth from other young men, a sort of informal bodyguard for her. Ruth is not oblivious to this, as we saw in the way she responded to Boaz’s flirtatious statements to her; but Naomi confirms it.
I question the English translation of פָּגַע (paga’) as “assaulted”. While the context is certainly that young men could meet young women in the field and have sex with them, thus claiming them as their own, there is no indication here that this was an “assault” or rape, which the translation clearly implies. The word is used much more in the sense of meeting or encountering, and the concept seems to be a more consensual thing. Clearly, Naomi is concerned that Ruth remain focused on Boaz, but I think her concern is more that Ruth might find a young man that she prefers over the most likely older (3:10) Boaz.
Until the end of the harvest. Now, here is an interesting paradox because in the next chapter we will discover that Ruth goes to Boaz and they make their marriage covenant during the barley threshing, which would have occurred before shavuot, meaning within seven weeks of paschal. The wheat harvest, however, extends until succoth in the autumn. How could Ruth remain with Naomi until autumn but also enter into her marriage covenant with Boaz?
We will wrestle with the nature of the marriage covenant in a subsequent post, but it is important to remember that actual marriage ceremonies, which the Hebrews seem to have really enjoyed, took place long after the covenant was made between the bride and groom. Boaz could take Ruth has his wife but she remain with Naomi until the ceremony; and there really would be no time for such a ceremony during the barley harvest and the wheat growing season.