King of Hopelessness, pt 7 (2:11-13)

וַיַּעַן בֹּעַז וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ הֻגֵּד הֻגַּד לִי כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־עָשִׂית אֶת־חֲמוֹתֵךְ אַחֲרֵי מוֹת אִישֵׁךְ וַתַּעַזְבִי אָבִיךְ וְאִמֵּךְ וְאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתֵּךְ וַתֵּלְכִי אֶל־עַם אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יָדַעַתְּ תְּמוֹל שִׁלְשׁוֹם׃
יְשַׁלֵּם יְהוָה פָּעֳלֵךְ וּתְהִי מַשְׂכֻּרְתֵּךְ שְׁלֵמָה מֵ‍עִם יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר־בָּאת לַחֲסוֹת תַּחַת־כְּנָפָיו׃
וַתֹּאמֶר אֶמְצָא־חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ אֲדֹנִי כִּי נִחַמְתָּנִי וְכִי דִבַּרְתָּ עַל־לֵב שִׁפְחָתֶךָ וְאָנֹכִי לֹא אֶהְיֶה כְּ‍אַחַת שִׁפְחֹתֶיךָ׃

But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”

Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” (ESV)

A People You Did Not Know. There is a bit of significance here and something that we have hinted at before. In the ancient world, your identity was determined by family and not by nationality. In our modern world, we tend to think of our identity nationally. You are an American or you are French. Even within a larger category, we tend to specify like Italian-American or French-Canadian.

Certainly there was a sense of linguistic or religious identity that bound people together as Hebrews or Moabites, but there was also a sense in which one became a different people group by joining that people group. Thus, many of the people who made up Late Iron Age Judah might very well have been the descendants of the Canaanites living there before the Hebrews arrive. When the Hebrews arrived with their worship of YHWH and a slightly different language, they became Hebrews by joining with the Hebrew clans.

This accounts for the relative absence of conquest layers in the archaeology of the region. The conquest did not take place violently in many regions. In most areas, the Hebrews simply moved in and the region became a Hebrew region. By the same token, people from other people groups would migrate to the Hebrew areas, but the Hebrews absorbed them rather than the other way around.

Under His Wings. Take careful note of Boaz’s words to Ruth. They will appear again later in the story and have tremendous significance. This is a Hebrew metaphor, drawn from the image of a bird nestling her chicks under her wings. The metaphor extended both to God’s protection of those in need and the use of a man’s garments to cover someone under his protection. In the first place, this was a sense of adoption by YHWH. He gathered those who were not necessarily born as his own, and it is one of the earliest foreshadowings of the Church.

In the second sense, the metaphor was usually a potential spouse. For a man to place a woman “under his wings” was to wrap her in his garments. A woman who took warmth inside a man’s robes was “under his wings” and this therefore became a metaphor for the potentially sexual relationship of betrothal.

In a communal society, privacy is at a premium. Even in the houses of the Late Bronze Age, entire families and even clans would live in large house complexes. While there were often several rooms in these houses, everyone appears to have slept in large rooms around fire pits. (Nights in the highlands can be quite chilly.) Since there would be a number of married couples in these rooms, and they obviously produced children, we must ask what they did for sexual congress.

Public nudity was absolutely prohibited in Hebrew culture. Because the foundational story of their entire worldview was that of Adam and Eve, it is easy to see their shame with nudity. To commit an adulterous act was to לְגַלּוֹת עֶרְוָה (la-galōth ‘erawah), literally “expose nakedness.” Within the bounds of marriage, nakedness was celebrated because this was seen as a restoration of Eden, a glimmer of the original state of relationship; but outside of marriage, nudity was prohibited rather strongly. It was associated with sex, and sex was only for marriage.

The nakedness of marriage was usually a personal one, nakedness together – even among others. When a couple was alone, they would obviously not have worried about covering their nakedness from others; but often they were with others. How did that work? The husband would “cover” his wife with his robes, enfolding her “under his wings” as it were.

It is easy to see how multi-textured Boaz’s blessing was. We might even consider this flirtatious in the way that he phrases things.

Not One of Your Servants. Ruth responds cautiously, thanking Boaz for his kindness but also making clear that she is “not one of your servants.” We can’t be absolutely certain, but it appears that Ruth is cautious with Boaz because, as I mentioned yesterday, she doesn’t know who he is. Perhaps she is aware that a kinsman can marry her and thereby provide for Naomi. If so, then she is not about to give it up to someone else.

The term servant can be easily misunderstood, so let me just share some thoughts on that before closing. A servant is not a slave or even an employee. The term used here (שִׁפְחָה, shēpchah) literally means “female extended family” and implies all the females, married and unmarried, who were in Boaz’s clan. In a very real sense, to be one of Boaz’s servants was to be a part of his family.

Interestingly enough, the Romans also had this kind of relationship between clan leaders and their extended families. In Rome, a clan leader like Boaz was called pater familias – the family father. He had the power of life and death within his familia. The same may have been true in the Hebrew culture, although the Hebrews predate the Romans by at least five centuries.

While Ruth accepts Boaz’s hospitality, she also reminds him that she is not a part of his clan. Ironically, she actually is but she is unaware of it. Boaz, however, is completely aware. He knows who she is, even though she does not know who he is. The readiness with which she approaches him once Naomi tells her (in the coming chapter) makes you wonder if she found him attractive but valued her role as Naomi’s protector more highly than her own happiness. The way Boaz never reveals what he clearly already knows indicates that he was somehow testing Ruth, but from the beginning has every intention of marrying her.

This is one of the more amusing interchanges to read in the book of Ruth. One wonders if when it was being told if the listeners did not giggle at their flirtatious exchanges.

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