Suspicious circumstances

I remember working in the fields in Tennessee. The entire summer was filled with back-breaking labor, especially during harvest season. One year, there was a new girl from out of town who was helping in the fields. News travels fast in a small town, so I had heard about her; it turns out she had moved to care for one of the widows in town. It was obvious that she had a kind heart. After all, it’s not every day you hear of someone moving to a totally new area to care for someone else. I saw her from time to time and, if I’m honest, I thought she was pretty. She was also an incredibly hard worker, which I couldn’t help but respect.

Fast forward a few months: the harvest is over and I’m having a celebratory camp out with the guys. It’s a bit of a tradition for us to cook over the fire and have a couple beers (nothing too crazy because we still have to load all the bales into the barn, but enough to make you feel good). As the night began to wind down, we all headed to our separate tents to get some rest before the harvest was moved off the field. I drifted off to sleep, happy that the harvest season had been a success.

Then in the middle of the night, I was startled awake by someone in my sleeping bag! The first thing I noticed was the alluring smell of a woman’s perfume. I asked the obvious question “Who are you?” Then she responded, and I knew it was the woman from the fields, the one who had moved to town to care for a widow, the pretty one. There I was, after having a few drinks, and this young, beautiful woman crawled into my sleeping bag in the middle of the night.

Oh wait…

That’s not my story…

This story belongs to Boaz!

You see, there’s a very highly debated portion of the story of Boaz and Ruth. Earlier in the story, Naomi gives the following instructions to Ruth: 3 “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. (Ruth 3:3-4)” Ruth obeys and, after Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry (Ruth 3:7), Ruth wakes him up (Ruth 3:8).

Perhaps I’m the product of a hyper-sexual culture, but I can’t help myself: I find this situation to be a little suspicious. For example, if I told Connie that something like this happened to me last week—that a pleasant smelling woman had crawled into my sleeping bag—she would probably be a little concerned. It seems as though a lot of evangelical scholars want to say that Ruth’s intentions were completely innocent, but I just find that hard to believe. Let’s look at what we know.

  • Ruth is a widow living with a widow, which means they don’t have anyone to provide for them.
  • Ruth has been picking grains in the summer, but the harvest season is over. This means her primary means of provision is about to end.
  • Boaz is single, and from the story it sounds like he is successful. (If I had to guess, I’d say he was probably a widower, but it doesn’t say that so I’m just guessing.)
  • Ruth was previously married, so she knows how a man might respond to a washed and anointed woman laying down next to him at night.

Ruth asks him to spread his wings over her because he is a redeemer. So how does Boaz respond? He says to her “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter.” And Boaz’s response is, for me, what makes all the difference in the world. In this story, I think Boaz is the good guy. The fact that Boaz mentioned The LORD and calls Ruth “my daughter” lead me to believe that he is the only virtuous person in an otherwise shady situation. Ruth is anointed, wearing perfume, and sneaking up on Boaz in the middle of the night after he’s had a few drinks. However, if Boaz intended to take advantage of a vulnerable widow, it’s unlikely he would have called her “my daughter.” If Boaz intended on sinning against the Lord, it’s unlikely that he would have mentioned God, and even more unlikely he would have used the Tetragrammaton, which is the most sacred name the Jews have for God. In fact, it’s so sacred that modern Jews won’t even say it! Instead, they say Adonai, which means “my God.” Would Boaz have used the most sacred name possible for His God in a moment of trespass? Would Boaz have called Ruth “my daughter,” a term that highlighted their age difference and subtly highlighted Boaz’s role as potential provider in her life? To quote LL Cool J: I don’t think so.

Also, the fact that their conversation centered on the Boaz being a kinsman redeemer makes me pretty certain nothing shady happened. Ruth said, “Spread your wings over me, for you are a redeemer,” not “shut up and kiss me, you big hunk of man!” Later, Boaz tells everyone not to mention that “the woman” had been there (Ruth 3:14). The fact that he says “the woman” instead of “a woman” could mean that everyone knew Ruth had been there to talk to Boaz. It doesn’t seem to have been a secret, midnight rendezvous so much as a late-night meeting. Ruth was desperate and needed to know ASAP if Boaz intended on redeeming her, because the other guy hadn’t made a move and Ruth had been living there for months by that time. For these reasons, I think that Boaz did not take advantage of Ruth. While we’ll never know Naomi or Ruth’s motives, we can trust that Boaz responded in a way that honored God.