Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. This week I take a look at a covenant to marry. The lesson comes from Ruth 3:1-6, 8-12, 16-18. In this lesson we see Naomi’s specific instructions to Ruth, Ruth’s marriage proposal to Boaz, Boaz’s covenant to marry Ruth and ultimately the redemption of Naomi through Boaz as the kinsman-redeemer. What I found particularly interesting about this lesson is how in its Hebrew form it is replete with puns and innuendo of a sexual nature. The writer is definitely telling us something, but it’s up to us to figure out what it is. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
This week’s lesson is the second from the book of Ruth. As noted last week, Nelson’s Bible Handbook records that the author of Ruth is unknown although some scholars credit it to the prophet Samuel. In these four chapters and eighty-five verses seated between Judges and 1 Samuel we find the story of a woman whose name means pleasant but her life has been bitter. Although this book is named Ruth because of her undying love for her mother-in-law, it tells the story of Naomi.
After hearing that the famine in her homeland has ended Naomi and Ruth return to Judah. When they arrive Naomi’s homeland Naomi is broken, bitter, and no doubt destitute. Ruth asks Naomi if she can glean grain “behind someone in whose sight she might find favor” (2:2). “As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech” (2:3). Ruth gleans from Boaz’s field and as Boaz comes from Bethlehem he notices Ruth. Boaz treats her with kindness telling Ruth to glean in his field and to stay alongside his servants. Boaz knows how faithful Ruth has been to Naomi and now he has seen for himself how diligent she works in the field. After Boaz shares a meal with Ruth and after a full day gleaning in the field she returns to Naomi and explains how kind Boaz has been. “Naomi said to Ruth, “It is better, my daughter that you go out with his young women otherwise you might be bothered in another field”. So Ruth stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests” (2:22-23).
That brings us to the scripture text for this lesson. But first I should note the puns and innuendos excursus recorded in the New Interpreter’s Study Bible.
“In chapter three, the narrator uses a series of puns that can have either innocent or sexually suggestive meanings. The Hebrew word shakab, “lie down” is used eight times in 3:3-14. Shakab can simply mean “sleep” but the word is also frequently used in biblical texts to imply sexual intercourse (e.g. Gen 19:33-35; 30:15-16; 38:26). Similarly, the word galah (“uncover”) is frequently found in texts that prohibit incest (Lev. 18:6-19); regalim (“feet” or “lower body”) is a common euphemism for the genitals (Deut 28:57; Isa 7:20; Ezek 16:25); and “threshing floors” were traditionally associated with sex for hire (Hos 9:1). The verb yada (“make known” in 3:3 “observe” in 3:4; “know” in 3:11 and “known” in 3;14) is also used in OT texts as a euphemism for sexual activity. When Ruth asks Boaz to “spread your cloak over your servant” (3:9), she uses a phrase that has sexual overtones in Deut. 27:20 and Ezek. 16:8. Thus, while the narrator does not spell out for us what happened between midnight and morning, the language used throughout the chapter is both ambiguous and playfully suggestive.
So these numerous puns and innuendoes may be a simple case of the writer being playful with words. Or it may be the writer telling us a lot without saying it in so many words. At any rate, we can be sure that the people spoken of in Holy Scripture are recorded as real people with hopes, ambitions, and desires, as well as faults and failures just like people today.
Additionally, I should note that Boaz becomes Naomi’s redeemer. Ruth alone has no claim to Elimelech’s property. The NISB notes that “The redeemer is the designated family member who is expected to recover that which has been (or is in danger of being) removed from family control”. Boaz is the kinsman redeemer for Naomi.
Our lesson this week is entitled A Covenant To Marry. After Ruth’s marriage proposal, Boaz makes a covenant saying “don’t’ be afraid, I will do for you all you ask” (3:11). From this marriage, Obed would be born. Obed is the father of Jesse and grandfather of King David. Also, Matthew 1 records the genealogy of Jesus. In this genealogy only four women are named and Ruth is one of them. Some important words to consider from this text include:
Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:
Last week our lesson was taken from Ruth chapter 1. I noted that leading up to verse six, the timeframe of Naomi’s story was when the Judges ruled. During this time there was a famine in Judah and Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons left their home country and crossed into Moab. I noted how “Bethlehem means “House of Bread / Food”. Yet during Naomi’s time there was no food due to the famine. I also noted the meaning of the names of Naomi, Elimelech her husband, and Mahlon and Chilion her two sons. You may remember that after living in Moab for some time Elimelech dies and so do Naomi’s two sons. I quoted Dr. Wil Gafney from the Africana Bible writing that “Naomi is a postmenopausal widow bereft of her childless sons. Naomi has no (male) family left. But she has a home. She returned to her people, the land of her ancestors”.
Verses six and seven told us that Naomi with her daughters-in-law start the return home because she has heard that the Lord has given Judah food.
Verses eight and nine told us how Naomi pleaded with her daughters-in-law to go back to your mother’s house. I noted how the term “mother’s house” is an indication that Naomi is urging them to look for new husbands”.
In verse nine she wished that they would find security in the homes of new husbands. The NISB notes that “In their world, marriage was assumed to be the only respectable way for a woman to achieve social and economic security”. In a male dominated, patriarchal society, these husbandless women and this sonless mother would have a hard time just to survive.
Verses ten and eleven told us again that Naomi wants them to look for other husbands. Naomi told them “do I still have sons in my womb that that they may become your husbands”? She knows how hard it is to survive without a husband and she believes it would be best for them to find other husbands. I noted how this is really Naomi looking out for their best interest. This is Naomi showing them love. She knows she can do little to nothing to make life better for her daughters-in-law.
The lesson then skipped to verse fourteen where again they wept aloud. Naomi is heartbroken, distressed, and probably destitute and by her own words bitter. She has set her mind to return to her home and she knows that she has nothing to offer her daughters-in-law. Orpah is convinced of her mother-in-law’s argument. It’s logical, it makes sense, and she knows Naomi is speaking from a place of love. Orpah departs from Naomi and returns to her people, to her culture, and to her gods. But Ruth clings to Naomi. She knows Naomi is speaking the truth. She knows she has nothing really to look forward to. She knows that she is a Moabite and Israelites look down on and almost always have nothing to do with Moabites. But still, she clings to her mother-in-law. She clings because there is something more powerful than the pain of living among people who don’t like you because of your ancestry. She clings because there is something more powerful than suffering because there is no man in your home. She clings because there is something more powerful than the sorrow she has already faced and the hardships she is likely to face. She clings because she loves this woman. She loves her mother-in-law more than the comfort of living with her own people. She clings because she loves this woman more than the familiarity of her own customs and her own gods. She clings because Naomi is a woman who has no doubt shown Ruth the kind of love that transcends customs. Naomi has shown her a love that transcends culture. And for Ruth, Naomi’s love transcends familiarity.
In verses sixteen and seventeen Ruth speaks the words that are so often repeated in marriage ceremonies. These words are Ruth’s unequivocal love for her mother-in-law. Ruth is going to cling to Naomi regardless of what may come. Where ever she goes, where ever she lives, whatever God she serves, and where ever she dies, Ruth declares that the same will be to her.
I also highlighted the fact that this sentiment of love is certainly appreciated, respected, and esteemed; yet we should be mindful of the context. The NISB notes that “these words spoken by one woman to another woman must be taken out of context in order to be used as a pledge of love between a man and a woman”. Yet it is this sentiment and the deep meaning of this kind of love that we all ought to strive for in our marriage relationships. This is Ruth’s covenant with Naomi.
Verse eighteen closed last week’s lesson with Naomi resigned to Ruth’s commitment. Naomi realizes that Ruth is determined and committed; not just to go with her but to demonstrate her love toward her.
That should be our goal. To demonstrate our love for one another in ways that leaves no doubt about our care and concern.
This week’s lesson deals with a covenant of marriage. Ruth proposes marriage to Boaz. Boaz understanding the character of Ruth, her faithfulness to her mother-in-law, and her work ethic makes a covenant to marry Ruth. This marriage would redeem Naomi, provide a home for Ruth and Naomi, give Boaz access to Elimelech’s property, and produce the grandfather of King David. Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentary title the lesson A Covenant To Marry. The scripture text comes from Ruth 3:1-6, 8-12, and 16-18.
What Takes Place in This Passage:
Verses one and two begin with Naomi’s concern for Ruth’s security. Naomi’s care and concern for Ruth underscores her love for her daughter-in-law. After realizing Boaz has shown interest in Ruth, Naomi knows exactly what to do. Naomi knows the customs of the barley harvest and as the reaping season draws to a close she gives her daughter-in-law specific instructions on how to conduct herself.
In verse three Naomi tells Ruth to wash, anoint herself with perfume, and to put on her best clothes. Naomi tells her to go to the threshing floor but to not make herself known to Boaz until after he has finished eating and drinking. Naomi knows what she is doing. With these specific instructions she hopes to ensure Ruth’s success with convincing Boaz to marry her.
The instructions continue in verse four. Naomi tells Ruth “when he lies down, observe the place then go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do”. In verse five Ruth demonstrates her obedience to Naomi telling her “all that you tell me I will do”. The NISB notes that the Hebrew word for “lie down” is used eight times in 3:4-14. “Lie down” can simply mean “sleep” but this word is also frequently used in biblical texts to imply sexual intercourse.
Verse six tells us Ruth followed Naomi’s instructions. Verse seven in not in the lesson, but it tells us how after Boaz was content with eating and drinking he lies down at the end of a heap of grain and how Ruth “came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down”. The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary notes that “The Hebrew of this scene is filled with words that may have either ordinary meanings or sexual overtones, especially the words “feet” (used euphemistically for genitals) and “lie down” (for sleeping or sexual relations). Both in content and choice of vocabulary, the storyteller establishes the possibility for a sexual tryst outside of marriage, yet draws back from saying exactly what took place”.
Verse eight tells us that at midnight Boaz is startled discovering a woman laying at his feet. It’s easy to understand how he might be startled having gone to sleep alone only to wake in the middle of the night with a woman lying next to him. Boaz is likely a pious man given his greeting in chapter two verse four.
In verse nine Ruth explains “I am your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin”. This is Ruth’s marriage proposal. The NIBOVC notes that “spread your cloak over your servant” is in effect elevated language for a marriage proposal. Verse ten helps us understand just how wise Naomi was. Naomi had given Ruth specific instructions and now Boaz says “may you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first”. Here Boaz recognizes Ruth’s actions toward him as better than her actions toward her mother-in-law. He knows how loving and faithful Ruth has been toward Naomi. Now he sees that same kind of love and faithfulness toward him by Ruth.
Verse eleven is the covenant to marry that Boaz makes toward Ruth. In verse nine Ruth proposes marriage. In verse eleven Boaz makes the covenant to marry Ruth. He promises her “do not be afraid, I will do for you all that you ask”.
Verse twelve introduces a twist. Boaz tells Ruth there is another kinsman more closely related than he is. Yet, Boaz will be determined to see this matter through successfully.
In verse sixteen Ruth returns to her mother-in-law who asks “how did things go with you, my daughter”. Ruth tells Naomi all that happed and in verse seventeen she says “He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said; do not go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed”. Naomi’s plan has worked. Boaz sends Ruth home with six measures of barley to show his appreciation. And in verse eighteen Naomi tells Ruth to simply wait. She knows Boaz will not rest until this marriage is settled.
“I am redeemed. I’ve been bought with a price. Jesus has changed my whole life”. The words of this song, written by Jessy Dixon, seem appropriate to express the gratefulness of being restored into God’s family. Naomi was redeemed. Where her life had been bitter and empty; after Ruth’s marriage and the birth of Obed, Naomi is restored, renewed, and redeemed. Many of us have experienced a season (if not seasons) of bitterness in life. It’s my hope and prayer that we all come through those seasons better. Filled with better love, better hope for tomorrow and better grace for today.
Key Characters in the text:
Naomi – The mother-in-law of Ruth and wife of Elimelech. Her name means “sweet” or “pleasant” but she becomes bitter toward God after the death of her husband and two sons. She is later redeemed and the sweetness of her life restored.
Ruth – A Moabite woman who becomes the grandmother of King David and in the bloodline of Jesus Christ. Ruth demonstrates her undying love for her mother-in-law Naomi and through her she becomes Naomi’s redemption.
Boaz – A rich farmer from the City of Bethlehem and a kinsman to Elimelech. He was made the kinsman-redeemer when he agreed to marry Ruth, and he therefore became the great grandfather to King David and direct ancestor of Jesus Christ (Townsend).
Redeemer – God as the rescuer and recoverer of Israel. A designation for Jesus Christ, who brings salvation and the redemptive relationship God, intends to have with those who believe.
Widows – Women who remained unmarried after the death of their husbands were of special concern in ancient Israel as powerless persons (Ex 22:22). They were recipients of Christian care by churches in Acts 6:1-3 and 1 Tim 5:3-16.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
1. I am redeemed. (Song written by Jessy Dixon)
2. Teamwork makes the dream work.
1. A marriage between Naomi and Boaz would not have kept the “name” of Elimelech alive. Naomi was past childbearing age. Discuss what a marriage between Ruth and Boaz accomplishes.
2. Naomi instructed Ruth to approach Boaz in an intimate way to propose marriage (Townsend). Why do you think this was necessary?
“It takes a village to raise a child” is an Igbo and Yoruba proverb that exists in many different African languages. It reflects the emphasis African cultures place on family and community and may have its origins in a biblical worldview (Reference.com). Marriage, family, and community are foundations of society. When our marriages, our families, and our communities are rooted in love all of our lives are made better. After their husband’s death, Ruth willingly remained with Naomi. She later willingly married Boaz, a kinsman-redeemer. As a result their family grew, the community was made better, and the result was Naomi’s redemption. Working together, makes the dream work.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:
Next week we move back to the New Testament but remain on the idea of love and marriage in the context of a covenant. Next week the lesson text is taken from Ephesians 5:21-33. The lesson is entitled Marriage: A Covenant of Mutual Love.