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Author:Rev. David Stares
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Masterton
 New Zealand
Title:What Happens on the Threshing Floor...
Text:Ruth 3:1-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Rev. David Stares (transcription credit - Seth and Esther de Reus)

Ruth 3: “What happens on the threshing floor...”


Well, brothers and sisters, so far the book of Ruth has been a bit of a roller-coaster,

In the first chapter this family goes through an immense trial, one so deep and painful that Naomi says “I have been left empty by the Lord. He has sent me home empty; his hand is heavy on me. He is punishing me. The Lord is against me.”

And when Naomi comes back to the land of Israel, she says to Orpah and Ruth, even though they were interested in coming with her, to join God’s people, Naomi says “Don’t come. Stay here with your own gods. Stay with your own people”. And yet, as we read, Ruth clings to Naomi. She leaves all hope of a family and husband and clings to this old woman.

And in Chapter 2 we find Naomi is continuing in the depths of despair, and so she sends this Moabitess to do the dangerous work of getting grain in the fields, not knowing she would be safe in the fields. But yet, as the text tells us, in God’s providence it happened that Ruth came to the field of Boaz. And he lavishes his generosity on her. And he says “I am doing this because you have sheltered under the wings of the Almighty.

Because she has become one of God’s people. Because they are united by faith, Boaz has special care for her. This Moabitess, that the rest of Israel would have rejected.

And so, despite the fact that she was an outsider she was welcomed with open arms by the man who had himself taken shelter under the wings of the Almighty.

And at the end of Chapter 2 Naomi begins to understand that the Lord is not against her, and she begins to have faith that God is in fact for her, is caring for her, and we see that Naomi has come a long way.

But what we are going to see in Chapter 3 is that Naomi hasn’t come all the way. She still has some way to go. And she is going to put Ruth and Boaz in a position that tests whether they are faithful, whether their faith is genuine. And she is going to show that she continues to need the grace of God.  

As we all do.

Today we will see that Because our worthy man is righteous, we can have confidence in his redemption, and we will look at this first through Naomi’s Curious Instructions (1-7) and then through Boaz’ Faithful Reaction (8-18)

1) Naomi’s Curious Instructions

At the end of Chapter 2, we read that Ruth was to remain with Boaz until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. And so she did.  And last time we learned that Israel at the barley harvest was a good time for the poor. God had made provision for the poor through the gleaning laws. But now the harvest ended, and it was the end of the harvest that motivated Naomi as she realised this is not a sustainable lifestyle, that something needs to change.

Naomi wants Ruth to have a home, a resting place and a husband. In chapter 1 Naomi told Ruth “I can’t have a son for you to take the place of the son that died. I can’t provide you a husband from myself.” And Ruth said she was okay with that. She abandoned all earthly hopes for a husband, and a family and a future. She abandoned that all to cling to Naomi, to cling to Naomi’s God. 

But Naomi is not happy with that. She wants to find a future for Ruth. And she has found the perfect target, and his name is Boaz. A man who has shown them kindness in abundance, in overwhelming generosity to Ruth and Naomi. Who has kept Ruth safe, and has fed them, making sure that they always had enough.

And Naomi wants Ruth to go after him.

It is worth noting that even though in later verses and also earlier in the story she has mentioned that Boaz is their redeemer, she is not specifically thinking about that in this instance.

You see, a redeemer had three responsibilities: settling blood vengeance, buying someone back from slavery and buying back a poor relative’s land if that land was sold (see Lev. 25:25): “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.”

Now if Naomi had purely wanted Boaz to be the redeemer, she could have just walked up to Boaz in the street, she could have sent Ruth to talk to him, to say to him “you are the redeemer, God’s law says you need to fulfil this responsibility. I want you to redeem the land that I am about to sell” as we see in Ruth chapter 4 – she is going to sell the land. But Naomi doesn’t have financial security in mind, here in Chapter 3. No, she wants a home for Ruth, she wants Ruth to have a family. And a future. And she comes up with this plan. Verse 3-4 “Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 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.”

Because it’s the end of the harvest Naomi knows that Boaz will be on the threshing floor. This was probably on a hilltop, a broad flat area where they would crush the heads of the grain and they would throw it up into the air and the wind would carry the light chaff off leaving the heavier heads that could be eaten behind. And Boaz will be there late into the night, finishing off the wheat harvest.

And the instructions Naomi gives to Ruth ask more questions than they answer. You see, Boaz has already seen Ruth before. He knows what she looks like, and he has seen her working in the field when she hasn’t been dressed up, and yet he thought she was special.

There was something about her that caused her to lavish his generosity on her and on Naomi. And yet Naomi gives these instructions: I want you to wash yourself, which seems natural enough. Then she tells her anoint herself, which would have been an expensive aromatic perfume, so that she would smell intoxicating. Ruth is to put on her best cloak, not her her work clothes, Naomi want Ruth to wear her nicest clothes. Naomi is saying “I want you to make yourself outwardly appealing to Boaz”.

And that is slightly be disconcerting, but then it gets worse. She’s not just sending Ruth to a convenient location where she knows Boaz will be. No, she says “Go out to the threshing floor, wait until he is completely satisfied with food and wine in the celebration, wait until he lies down, wait until he falls asleep, and then go, pull his clothes back, and lie next to him. And then she says “he will tell you what to do?”

Whatever pops into his head, go with it. And if you think that what Ruth was doing was fine and totally normal, check out verse 14 So she lay at his feet until morning, and she arose before one could recognize another. Then he said, “Do not let it be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.”

This was not normal. I think the fathers here would say they would never instruct their daughter to do something like this. One commentator says that in verse 4, virtually each word can have a double meaning, either innocent or suggestive. It sounds like Naomi has planned a seduction, that this is the way that Ruth is supposed to trap a man for herself.

And at the very least, if you don’t think that Naomi’s instructions are risqué, they are at the very least risky. Naomi has told this Moabite woman, who can’t expect any love from the Israelites, to go out at night, when people could potentially harm her, to go to a secluded area full of men who are eating and drinking, and put herself at the mercy of Boaz. This is not a safe plan that Naomi has come up with! And why has Naomi come up with this plan? Because she is convinced Ruth needs to be married.

Naomi is a perfect example of someone for whom something good has become a god. She has a good desire: she wants to provide for Ruth, to give her a home and a future in the land of Israel. But these things have become a god for Naomi. They have replaced the God who has been giving her all the things that she has. They have caused Naomi to transgress the law of God by putting Ruth in danger, by making her vulnerable unnecessarily.

In the circles of biblical counselling there is a saying “good goods make bad gods”. There are many good things in this life, things that we get to enjoy: security, love, and entertainment and all these things are good things that God gives. And yet if we set our hearts on these things, if they become our first priorities, they become idols. And when you have an idol, then you will serve its commandments, rather than God. If you serve the things God gives you, if you are seeking earthly, temporal things, then you will serve the commandments of that thing, rather than God. You are going to disobey God’s commandments in order to get the thing you want most of all. Because the idol commands you “give up everything for my sake.”

And here Naomi is leading Ruth down this dangerous path, because giving Ruth a home has become an idol, and Naomi will give up everything to serve that end.

What’s clear in this first section is that Naomi is a sinner, and what she needs is for God to turn this situation around, and give her something better than what she has earned for herself. She needs God to give her a daughter in law and a son in law who are better than what she deserves. She needs a redeemer who is better than her. She needs God to provide a man who is better than her efforts have earned her.

The point of this section is not that Naomi has unequivocally told Ruth to seduce Boaz, but rather to make us think about what is going on here. It’s supposed to create a tension in the story: when Ruth does what Naomi says, what will Boaz do? Will he do something he shouldn’t? Will this be the downfall of this seemingly honorable, faithful, godly man? Is he going to show himself to be the redeemer Naomi and Ruth need? Will his response be godly?

2) Boaz’ Faithful Response

And we may be concerned that Ruth is going to walk right into this dangerous situation! She says “All that you say I will do” We ask ourselves, why doesn’t she say no? Why doesn’t she act like the faithful woman that we know she is?

Ruth goes up, and she waits. When Boaz has finished threshing, and eating and drinking, Ruth uncovers his feet and lays down next to them and waits. Now, Boaz remains asleep for a while, but probably the cold night air on his legs makes him wake up, and he is shocked to find someone next to him. And he says “who are you?” In the dim light he knows it’s a woman but he doesn’t know who it is.

Naomi had said to Ruth, “do whatever he tells you.” Do whatever seems good to him. And we find here that Ruth is not a blind follower. She shows respect to her mother in law and she follows Naomi’s instructions in going up to the threshing floor and meeting Boaz. But, while Naomi told her to be passive, to do what Boaz wants, we see that Ruth instead gets in the drivers seat. She’s not there to seduce Boaz, and she tells Boaz exactly why she is there. Verse 9 “And he said, “Who are you?” So she answered, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.”

Now, in this one request there are two separate but related issues. First of all, Ruth asks him “spread your wings over your maidservant” And this is Naomi’s desire. With those words Ruth is asking Boaz to marry her. And we see that because she is speaking uniquely of herself. There is no mention here of Naomi, she isn’t saying maidservants in the plural, she saying “do something special for me”. And Boaz recognizes this is a marriage proposal, for he says “Then he said, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich.”

Boaz says ‘you could have gone after anyone, you could have chosen any man, rich or poor for this honor” which incidentally is not true of being a kinsman redeemer, who had to be a relative. Boaz says you could have chosen to marry man in Israel, and yet you chose me”. And she does it in a way that recalls what Boaz said in Chapter 2. Boaz says she is blessed because she took refuge under the wings of the Almighty. Ruth takes up this language and says “I want you to be the refuge from me that you wished I would receive from God. I want to take refuge under your wing – give me the blessings you blessed me with”.

So firstly, Ruth is asking Boaz to marry her. But Ruth has a reason that she gives for why this makes sense, because he is a close relative, or redeemer.

She points out that he is already responsible to take care of their financial wellbeing, that he has a legal responsibility (or so she thinks) to restore the property of Elimelech and so she says “it makes good sense that you would marry me, because you are financially responsible for the line that would be produced through me. You should be the father of the line that will inherit that land that he redeems for this family. Because you have a vested interest, you are a redeemer, please marry me as well”.

So, she has brought up two different but related issues. And how does Boaz respond to this proposal?  Well, he begins with the marriage proposal, and he responds with gratitude!

He tells her that she could have picked someone younger, someone wealthier, someone better. But he says that she has done him a kindness by asking me. And in the same way that she did a kindness to Naomi by cleaving to her, she has done him a second and greater kindness by cleaving to him.

Why is this a kindness? Because as he says in verse 11 “or all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman” In the first sermon in this series, we noted that in our English Bibles, Judges is the book immediately before Ruth, and that makes sense. But in the Hebrew bible, the book immediately before Ruth is Proverbs, and at the end of that book, in Chapter 31, we have the description of the Woman of Excellence. And that word, from verse 10 is the exact work Boaz uses for Ruth. In proverbs 31 we read this description of the Woman of Excellence “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, And let her own works praise her in the gates”.

Boaz is saying all the people of the town that you are a worthy woman, and all your works praise you in the gates of the city. That their knowledge of the deeds she has done prove who she is, that she is a woman who fears the Lord! And Boaz is overjoyed at her proposal!

Secondly, he has brought up this issue that he is a redeemer. That as we will read in Chapter 4, Naomi is going to sell the piece of land that belonged to Elimelech, but there is a problem. Because Boaz realizes that he is not actually the closest relative, that the closest relative gets priority when redeeming the land. Some commentators suggest Boaz was maybe a nephew of Elimelech, or maybe a second cousin to the family, and the closer one was perhaps a brother of Elimelech, or a cousin, but regardless Boaz was not the one legally responsible to be the redeemer of the land. But he says “I want to be that.”

Again, we see the generosity and love of Boaz. He will force the issue. If the other man is not delighted to be the redeemer, I will sort it out. If this man is not happy to redeem them, then, Boaz assures her, you will not go homeless in Israel.

And he seals this promise both by word and by deed. He swears with God as his witness, he says “as the Lord lives I will redeem you”, and in the morning we read that he gives Ruth six measures of barley. Interestingly, this adds up to double what he gave to Ruth on the first day that they met, showing how gracious he is to her, but don’t forget that numbers are important in the Bible, and often they have meaning. While seven is the number of completeness, six is the number of incompleteness. Six measures of barley is an expression of his overflowing generosity, but it also points out that his generosity is not complete. Boaz has more to do, and the barley is a tangible promise to Ruth and Naomi is that he will do it. And Naomi trusts that pledge, as she says in the verse 18 “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.”

So what we find in Chapter 3 is that Naomi has set up this problematic situation, this scary situation for Ruth. But Boaz, instead of messing up, instead of falling into sin, instead of failing to be the honorable man that Ruth and Naomi need, what we get from Boaz is faith. What we get from Boaz is obedience, and generosity.  

And what that means is the trajectory of the book of Ruth can continue. That God loves his daughters. That He has begun a good work on their behalf, and he is going to bring it to completion. Even though Naomi makes a false step, makes a mistake, God will not lead Ruth to a man like Elimelech, or a man like a man like Mahlon, or Killion. No, God in his providence has put this man Boaz in their path so that he can bless them, body and soul.

And we need that same grace of God. Especially when we see we are a lot more like Naomi than like Boaz. That we look at the things of this world, the good things given us, and we make those things our first priority. That we look at our spouse and treat them as the idol we serve rather than God. Or we treat finding a spouse as the first priority in our lives. That we are hesitant to sacrifice what our kids want for what they really need according to God’s word. That we let television and video games and sports and vacations rise above our need to be a follower of Christ and to be active in God’s church.

And if you can say about yourself that you are so often led astray by idols, by things that compete for first priority with God – if that is you then you need to look at this story, to see the grace of God, a God who loves his daughters and provides what they need, even though they point themselves in the wrong direction. And know that He loves you, even when you sin, even when you fail, that he gave you us a worthy and righteous redeemer who you did not earn. He gave us Jesus Christ, the Savior who paid the penalty for your sin even though you in yourself did not desire it. Even though you didn’t feel the need for him, he loved you and gave himself for you anyway. Christ, who never succumbed to temptation but who lived the perfect life, who died so that he could pour out his grace on us. He was the redeemer to paid for every debt we owe.

And yes, day after day we will continue to fall into sin. We will continue to be sinners and continue to be led astray by idols. And Christ willingly paid for that too.

Remember Naomi. She has made a turn, she has come back to God, she trusts in his providence, but she’s not there yet. And none of us are there yet. None of us can say that we keep God’s commandments daily, none of us can say that we have kept God’s priorities as our priorities. But does God cast us off? No, instead he loved us and redeems us anyway. We get better than we deserve.  Christ’s death justifies us so that by faith we receive his righteousness rather than our own, and then he works in us through his Holy Spirit, to make us more like himself, to give him the priority he deserves.   Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. David Stares

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