What does Ruth 3 mean?
Naomi and Ruth have lived in Bethlehem for the two months of the barley and wheat harvests. During that time, a wealthy, well-respected landowner, Boaz, made extraordinary considerations to ensure Ruth was able to glean enough grain for the women to live on for a year. Naomi's goal for Ruth, however, was always that she find a good husband to give her "rest" (Ruth 1:9). Now, Naomi makes her move. The format of Ruth 3 is like chapter 2: the women plan what they're going to do, Ruth interacts with Boaz, and the women live in peace confident that Boaz will continue working on their behalf.
The first section can be titled "Naomi's Plan." As the harvest ends, Naomi decides that Boaz would make a good husband for Ruth. She gives bold instructions to her daughter-in-law: Ruth is to go to the threshing floor and wait until Boaz has celebrated the harvest and fallen asleep. When he awakens, he will be in a good mood, and they will have chaste privacy amidst the other threshers who sleep nearby to protect the grain. Ruth will then challenge Boaz to act. Ruth agrees to the plan (Ruth 3:1–6).
The next section is "Ruth's Plan." Ruth does as Naomi says but adds her own spin. Naomi briefly mentioned that Boaz is a "redeemer" of her husband's (Ruth 2:20). He can buy Naomi's husband's land as a kinsman-redeemer, thus giving Naomi an inheritance to live from and keeping the land in the clan. Ruth presents her marriage proposal in that context. Boaz knows what she's really asking for (Ruth 3:6–9).
Finally, "Boaz's Plan." Boaz recognizes that Ruth is willing to marry him for Naomi's sake, not her own. That doesn't just mean buying Naomi's husband's land, it also means providing her with an heir to re-inherit the land when the boy comes of age. Boaz is overwhelmed by Ruth's selflessness and agrees to her plan. There's only one problem: Naomi's husband has a closer relative with a stronger claim (Ruth 3:10–13).
Early in the morning, before anyone else awakens, Boaz sends Ruth back to Naomi. He does not send her empty-handed; he provides twelve gallons of barley, as a sort of bride price or as a last gesture of his respect should she marry the other man. Ruth returns to her mother-in-law and gives her a report. Naomi is pleased and assures Ruth that Boaz will resolve the issue with the closer heir quickly (Ruth 3:14–18).
Naomi is right. Later that day, Boaz tells the nearer relative that Naomi has a field to redeem. The man agrees. Then Boaz tells him he will also marry Ruth and provide Naomi an heir. The man knows Boaz is asking him to buy the field and then give it away to a son he will have in another man's name. He politely refuses, and Boaz marries Ruth. The townspeople praise Boaz for his honorable choice, then praise God when Ruth gives birth to a son and lays him in Naomi's lap. The book ends with the revelation that Ruth and Boaz's son will be the grandfather of King David (Ruth 4).
Ruth 3:1–5 highlights Naomi's plan. Ruth has been gleaning Boaz's fields throughout the barley and wheat harvests. She has more than enough to feed the two women for a year. But Naomi always wanted Ruth to find rest with a new husband (Ruth 1:9). She thinks Boaz will do nicely. She tells Ruth how to approach Boaz in a way that protects both their reputations. But Naomi doesn't quite understand that Ruth has other priorities.
In Ruth 3:6–9, Ruth takes Naomi's plan and tweaks it. Naomi has developed an elaborate scheme whereby Ruth can carefully approach Boaz and present herself as marriage material. Ruth follows the plan but adds that she expects Boaz, as Naomi's relative, to generously provide for Naomi. Boaz is overwhelmed by Ruth's selflessness and quickly agrees. He just has one problem: he is not the next legal option in line to care for Naomi.
In Ruth 3:10–15, Boaz presents his plan to make Ruth's plan come to fruition. She has asked him to be Naomi's kinsman-redeemer, to buy Naomi's land and provide for her needs. Ruth has also proposed marriage and asked Boaz to give Naomi an heir who will inherit the land. Boaz is humbled by Ruth's dedication to her mother-in-law, but there's a problem—he is not the closest relative. He has to offer the plan to another man. If that man refuses, he will do everything Ruth says.
In 3:16–18, Ruth returns to Naomi with a load of grain and an unsure future. Ruth has followed Naomi's instructions and proposed to Boaz. Ruth doesn't want a simple marriage; she wants Boaz to help her fulfill family obligations. Because there is a nearer relative who better fits Ruth's requirements, he can't say yes immediately; he must confer with the other man. As one more act of good faith, he has sent Ruth with even more grain for Naomi (Ruth 3:1–5). Now, the women wait.
In Ruth 3, Naomi schemes to find Ruth a good husband, as was always her hope (Ruth 1:9). She tells Ruth how to propose to Boaz. When Boaz has fallen asleep after a long and joyful day of winnowing grain, Ruth is to gently awaken him and make her proposal. Ruth goes beyond Naomi's instruction, however. Boaz understands that Ruth expects him to buy Naomi's land and give her an heir to re-inherit it. He praises Ruth for her devotion to her mother-in-law, but there is another relative who is closer. In the next chapter, Boaz dispenses with his rival and marries Ruth.
Ruth 3 is the wind-up to the climax of the story. Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem from Moab two months prior. Boaz, a relative of Naomi's late husband, has allowed Ruth to harvest enough grain to last the women a year (Ruth 1—2). Now that their physical needs are addressed, Naomi wants Ruth married to Boaz. Ruth wants Boaz to provide an heir for Naomi. Boaz is again impressed with Ruth's self-sacrifice and agrees (Ruth 3). After negotiating with a closer relative, Boaz marries Ruth and gives Naomi a son. That son becomes King David's grandfather (Ruth 4).
Though set in a time of violence and tragedy, the book of Ruth tells one of Scripture’s most uplifting stories. Naomi, an Israelite, leaves her home during a famine. While away, in Moab, her husband and sons die. Naomi convinces one of her Moabite daughters-in-law to leave her and seek a new life. The other, Ruth, refuses, declaring her love and loyalty to Naomi. When the pair return to Israel, they encounter Boaz. This man is both kind and moral; his treatment of Ruth secures Naomi’s future and becomes part of king David’s ancestry.
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