King of Hopelessness, pt 11 (3:6-15)

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.

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