Ruth Goes to Boaz
Thursday, May 23, 2013 -- Week of Proper 2, Year One
Nicolaus Coperinicus and Johannes Kepler, Astronomers, 1543
[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/ for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]
Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 966)
Psalms 18:1-20 (morning) // 18:21-50 (evening)
1 Timothy 4:1-16
I might mention a couple of things that make the first reading more interesting. It is the story of Naomi's instruction to her daughter-in-law Ruth. Naomi tells her to go to the threshing floor where the men would be winnowing the grain in the evening breeze. Ruth is to wait until the men have eaten and drunk. Naomi tells her to watch where Boaz goes to lie down to sleep, "then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do." (Ruth 3:4)
It helps to know that in the Bible the word "feet" is often used as a reference to sexual organs. The passage is a bit ambiguous here, but it is not unlikely that there was some nakedness involved with Ruth's joining Boaz as he lay on the threshing floor.
Ruth's answer to Boaz's question, "Who are you?" is also full of meaning. "I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin." The request that Boaz "spread his cloak" over her implies an offering of marriage. In Ezekiel 16, the prophet speaks of Jerusalem as an unwanted, cast-off baby whom God saves and intends to marry. "I spread the edge of my cloak over you, and covered your nakedness: I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord GOD, and you became mine."
Ruth tells Boaz that he is "next-of-kin", literally "one with the right to redeem." Ruth is telling Boaz that he is the relative closest in kinship to her late husband's family. In the levirate marriage laws of Biblical tradition, a brother is charged with the duty to marry a widow of his brother if there are no male offspring so that his line and his property will continue. That's not quite the case here, since Boaz was not a brother to Ruth's husband. Boaz also informs her there is someone with a closer claim of kinship. There is also property involved belonging to Ruth's father-in-law. Boaz gives her grain and tells her to leave his bed early enough so as not to be seen. He needs to negotiate with the other relative in order to claim (or redeem) the land and make the marriage.
One last note. It is likely that this book was written during the time of the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah when intermarriages between Israelites and foreigners were outlawed. The reformers also required some existing families to be broken up and the foreign spouse sent away in the name of purity.
Ruth is a Moabite who was married to an Israelite. She is a paragon of loyalty and virtue in her behavior toward Naomi, choosing to remain steadfast to her mother-in-law rather than seek a new husband among her own Moabite kin. When Ruth and Boaz marry, their offspring will be ancestors of the great King David. Some have called the book of Ruth a short-story of "protest literature" against the ethnic cleansing pursued by Ezra and Nehemiah -- one portion of the Bible written to challenge another portion of the Bible. I think that's interesting.