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Friday, December 1, 2017

“The Promise of David”

Ruth 3:1-14

The Book of Ruth is one of the greatest love stories of all time. Ruth is a Moabite woman whose Israelite husband dies in the land of Moab. Her mother-in-law who has now suffered the death of both her sons plans to return to her native Bethlehem (this alone makes the story suitable for Advent). Ruth wants to accompany her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law, Naomi, tries to discourage her. In a famous response Ruth says, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16). These promises have been used as wedding vows on occasion.

Naomi accepts Ruth’s promise. However, Naomi knows something that Ruth doesn’t. This is the fact that Moabites were despised by the Israelites because Moabite women had seduced the Israelites into idolatry in the wilderness (Num. 25:1-5). As a result, the Moabites were not permitted to come into the assembly of God (Deut. 23:3). Naomi knows that Ruth will face prejudice in Bethlehem. Naomi also knows that there is a distant relative of theirs who is both prosperous and prominent in the community. Naomi is thinking of the same rule that we encountered yesterday in the story of Tamar. When a woman became a widow she was to be given in marriage to the brother of the deceased or, by extension, to the closest male relative. Naomi would love to see a marriage between Ruth and Boaz because, among other things, this would provide a secure future for her. Naomi, like Tamar before her comes up with a bold plan.

She instructs Ruth to go secretly, late at night, to the threshing room floor where the men, including Boaz, would be celebrating the harvest with eating and drinking (Ruth 3:7). We need to understand what is happening here. The only women who would be present at these celebrations would be prostitutes (Hosea 9:1). Naomi tells Ruth to uncover Boaz’s feet. However “feet” can be a euphemism for genitals. When David wants to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba he tells her husband, Uriah, to go home and “wash his feet.” (II Sam. 11:8).  David is telling him to go home and have sex with his wife to cover up David’s sin. Further Ruth would certainly have known of the Moabites’ belief (like that of many of the pagan nations) that women having open sex was a way of guaranteeing a successful harvest since the fertility of crops, animals and humans were all connected in this pagan view. This is presumably the situation we have in Numbers chapter 25.

The most reasonable scenario is that Ruth has in effect seduced Boaz while he slept. At midnight he turns over and encounters Ruth. In the words of the writer, there “was a woman!”  Ruth clearly is asking him to marry her, to “spread his cloak over her.”  Boaz actually commends her for choosing him to be her husband.  However, there is another relative closer to her husband who would have the first right to marry her. Boaz counsels Ruth to remain but adds that she must leave before it is light since “it must not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.”  As it turns out the other relative happily gives up his claim so Ruth and Boaz are married. They give birth to the future grandfather of David. The story has a happy ending.

Yet once again we see God working through what, by human standards, would be called scandalous. Ruth, like Tamar, is not condemned for her actions. God does not save in spite of the scandal. He saves through the scandal. The greatest scandal of all is the cross of Jesus Christ.

Loving and faithful God and Savior I thank and praise you that you continue to work in surprising, even shocking, ways. May I never take the shame of Jesus Christ for granted. I praise you that you have chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise (I Cor. 1:28). I thank you that you have chosen me. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.