A Noble Character
The Book of Ruth
The Ruth narrative is unusual in its historical Hebrew context, with Elimelech leaving the Promised Land, due to famine, when the normal ceaseless Israelite aspiration led to it, and what is more, the focus of the story is a Moabite widow, symbolized as faithful and loyal to her Jewish mother-in-law, yet ethnically one of Israel’s relentless foes. In a patrilineal society, the prologue paints a depressingly bleak picture of an aged widow struggling to make sense of her bereavements in the deaths of her husband and two sons, and burdened with two Moabite daughters-in-law (Ruth 1:11-13).
Orpah, the other daughter-in-law decides to return to her mother’s family in Moab, whereas Ruth chooses to ‘cling’ to Naomi (the word normally used in a marital context, signifying a kinship spirit; Ruth 1:16-17). This is where we first become aware of Ruth’s admirable rectitude: (1) as a Moabitess, she burnt her own bridges in returning with her mother-in-law to a culturally hostile environment; (2) she chooses to suffer with Naomi whatever came their way – impoverished and hopeless; and (3) she sacrificially cares for the aging Naomi as her own mother.
Boaz, a man of hayil (connoting a person of high social standing and influence or a noble character), was a distant kinsman of Elimelech, and unbeknown to Ruth, she was foraging for grain in one of his harvested fields (Ruth 2:1-4). I wonder – I see Naomi’s hand in this move to glean from Boaz’s fields. When Boaz came to know her identity, he personally instructed her to only glean from the farm closest to his residence, where she would be spared the dangers of prejudice, physical and sexual harassment from other owners and their servants, especially as an alien (Ruth 2:5-16; 22). His favourable treatment of Ruth resulted in a daring plot by Naomi to expedite a kinsman redeemer status through Ruth.
This craftily thought out conspiracy involved some precise intelligence gathering on Naomi’s part in discovering Boaz’s routine and habits (Ruth 3:1-4). What followed subsequently between Boaz and Ruth and the descriptive language used, reads like a tale fraught with the seductive dangers of undisguised entrapment. Boaz was drunk after an evening of feasting, and eventually lays down in an area of his home that was easily accessible by anyone. Ruth, beautifully dressed and perfumed, watches his movements at a distance. At the dead of night, when everyone else had retired, she crept up beside him, exposed his feet, and lay down at the bottom of his bed, waiting. Some commentaries alluded to the uncovering of Boaz’s feet as euphemistic sexual language; implying that Ruth made herself available to Boaz. As the temperature dropped, Boaz was awakened literally having cold feet, and in the darkness, discovered to his shock, Ruth beside him. A whispered conversation ensued, where their mutual attraction led to an understanding of a potential spousal commitment, integral to Jewish cultural kinsman redeemer norm (Ruth 3:9-14). Sin could simply have crept into this scenario; however, it did not, largely due to the integrity of both parties. But the embarrassment would have destroyed their integrity if they were exposed by any of Boaz’s household. Boaz’s decision was not sudden but was based on his own background checks on Ruth, when he called her a woman of hayil (“a woman of noble character;” Ruth 2:11; 3:10-11).
The hayil of Boaz and Ruth has monumental repercussions in God’s eternal economy, for through their betrothal, the bloodline descended to Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords – our Saviour and God.