What does Ruth 3:4 mean?
ESV: 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.”
NIV: When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.'
NASB: And it shall be when he lies down, that you shall take notice of the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you should do.'
CSB: When he lies down, notice the place where he's lying, go in and uncover his feet, and lie down. Then he will explain to you what you should do."
NLT: Be sure to notice where he lies down; then go and uncover his feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.'
KJV: And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.
NKJV: Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.”
Verse Commentary:
Naomi is giving Ruth instructions. She wants her young Moabite daughter-in-law to marry Boaz, a wealthy, well-respected landowner, but they must act delicately. Ruth needs to approach Boaz near other people, for propriety's sake, but away from listening ears, since her proposal is culturally inappropriate. Naomi's solution is that Ruth will find him when he is asleep on the threshing floor, surrounded by other sleeping harvesters. It's interesting that Naomi's plan puts no pressure on Boaz, but Boaz puts the full-court press on Ruth's other potential suitor (Ruth 4:1–9).

As with "drinking" in Ruth 3:3, "uncover his feet" has been erroneously interpreted to infer a sexual act. "Uncover" was often used in the context of "uncovering one's nakedness" which meant shameful sex (Leviticus 20:11). The Hebrew for "feet" was associated with a man's private parts. To "cover one's feet" was a euphemism referring to when a man's robes covered his feet as he squatted to go to the bathroom, thereby uncovering his privates. This phrase is the original Hebrew in 1 Samuel 24:3 when King Saul "relieved himself" in the cave where David was hiding.

That is not what Naomi is saying. The "feet" used to refer to sexual organs is the Hebrew regel (Judges 3:24; 1 Samuel 24:3). Naomi uses margelōṯ, which is better defined as "extremities." The only other passage where the word is used is Daniel 10:6 when it describes the arms and legs (margelōṯ) of an angel. Naomi is not telling Ruth to have sex with Boaz; she's telling her to uncover his feet to expose them to the night air so he will gently wake up without being too startled.

Even more problematically, Naomi tells Ruth to "lie down" after she's uncovered Boaz's feet. Despite what some critics say, Naomi was telling Ruth to lie down on the ground and wait for Boaz to wake up. Ruth would look like any other sleeper on the threshing floor, and when Boaz woke up, she wouldn't appear as a threat. Naomi wasn't telling Ruth to lie on top of Boaz. Naomi wants Ruth married first, not impregnated.

Boaz has always been protective of Ruth and recognizes her integrity. Naomi's comment about how Ruth had worked with Boaz's female servants (Ruth 3:2) refers to when Ruth first started working in his fields. He insisted she stay with the women who could protect her from the men (Ruth 2:8–9). When he awakens, Boaz asks who she is and then immediately blesses Ruth, saying, "May you be blessed by the LORD" (Ruth 3:10), precluding her from having any untoward intentions. And Boaz wouldn't have had sex with her and then offer her to the nearer redeemer (Ruth 4:5).

Naomi's plan doesn't proceed exactly as she anticipates. She tells Ruth to do whatever Boaz tells her—and Ruth does, including waiting until morning to leave and taking the grain Boaz gives her (Ruth 3:13–15). But before that, Boaz agrees to do what she wants him to do (Ruth 3:9, 11). What Ruth wants is for Boaz to buy Naomi's field, give her a son in the name of her late husband, and return the land to that son. Boaz agrees readily. Naomi has no idea that Ruth is doing all of this for her.
Verse Context:
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.
Chapter Summary:
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.
Chapter Context:
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).
Book Summary:
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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