Ruth Chapters 3-4: God Works through Human Ingenuity


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To download a transcript of the Theology of Work Bible Commentary for this session, click here.


In the third chapter of the book of Ruth, Naomi comes up with an ingenious plan to save her family. She instructs Ruth on how to propose marriage to Boaz. 

Boaz is a man of noble character. He returns Ruth’s loyalty with a faithful promise of his own. 

In the last chapter, everything comes together. The tragedy that opened the book of Ruth is reversed with a wedding and a new baby.

Although God is not specifically mentioned in the book of Ruth, we can see God’s hand of blessing working throughout the entire story.

Before reading along to a dramatic recording Ruth Chapters 3 and 4, we will open with Psalm 121 in prayer.

Psalm 121

A Song of Ascents.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

Ruth 3

Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 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. 4 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.”

5 And she said to her, “All that you say to me I will do.”

6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law instructed her. 7 And after Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was cheerful, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.

8 Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet. 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.”

10 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. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman. 12 Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 Stay this night, and in the morning it shall be that if he will perform the duty of a close relative for you—good; let him do it. But if he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you, as the Lord lives! Lie down until morning.”

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.” 15 Also he said, “Bring the shawl that is on you and hold it.” And when she held it, he measured six ephahs of barley, and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.

16 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “Is that you, my daughter?”

Then she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 And she said, “These six ephahs of barley he gave me; for he said to me, ‘Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’ ”

18 Then she said, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day.”

Ruth 4

Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there; and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz had spoken came by. So Boaz said, “Come aside, friend, sit down here.” So he came aside and sat down. 2 And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the close relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, sold the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 And I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it back in the presence of the inhabitants and the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am next after you.’ ”

And he said, “I will redeem it.”

5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also buy it from Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance.”

6 And the close relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I ruin my own inheritance. You redeem my right of redemption for yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”

7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging, to confirm anything: one man took off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was a confirmation in Israel.

8 Therefore the close relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” So he took off his sandal. 9 And Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, from the hand of Naomi. 10 Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren and from his position at the gate. You are witnesses this day.”

11 And all the people who were at the gate, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. The Lord make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two who built the house of Israel; and may you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring which the Lord will give you from this young woman.”

13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! 15 And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him. 17 Also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “There is a son born to Naomi.” And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

18 Now this is the genealogy of Perez: Perez begot Hezron; 19 Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab; 20 Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon; 21 Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed; 22 Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David.

God Works Through Human Ingenuity

From the Theology of Work Bible Commentary on Ruth

The characters' ingenuity in the book of Ruth moves the story towards its happy conclusion. Boaz, Naomi, and Ruth each display ingenuity that honors God and furthers God’s purposes.

Boaz was a successful landowner who defied contemporary expectations by standing up for the vulnerable worker in his midst.

Indeed Boaz may have enacted the world’s earliest recorded anti-sexual harassment policy. Boaz made the terms of this policy clear to his workers. They were not to “bother” Ruth (Ruth 2:9). The word naga literally means not “to touch” her, but here it functions more generally to mean not “to harass, take advantage of, or mistreat.”

The regular employees were to make Ruth’s work environment as secure as possible and to go out of their way to assist her in achieving her tasks. In the workplace, prevention of harassment means not only creating a safe environment, but a productive one for those at risk. Barriers to productivity, advancement, and their attendant rewards must be eliminated. 

Boaz could have made Ruth safe by keeping her at a great distance from the male workers. But this would have denied her access to water and food, and may have caused loss of grain due to wind or animals before she could gather the sheaves. Boaz made sure that the safeguards he created enabled her to be fully productive.

Boaz’ workers seemed to catch his generous spirit. When their boss greeted them with a blessing, they blessed him in return. This atmosphere of blessing extended to the foreigner in their midst. Not only did they cut a lot of grain for Ruth, they also accepted this Moabite woman as a co-worker for the duration of the harvest.

It takes ingenuity to create an honest, successful business amidst a corrupt culture. Yet all leaders—indeed all workers—have the power to shape the culture in which they work. Boaz modeled fair treatment. The harvest supervisor enacted egalitarian practices despite living in a society shot through with misogyny and racism. Although we may think that we are constrained by our culture to conform to unfair, meaningless, or unproductive ways of working, in reality the way we work profoundly influences others. 

Naomi displayed ingenuity by instigating the courtship between Boaz and Ruth. She pushed the bounds of convention by sending Ruth to Boaz’s threshing floor in the middle of the night to “uncover his feet and lie down” (Ruth 3:4). Her plan was risky. The location of the encounter suggests the actions of a prostitute. A morally noble man like Boaz might be expected to send such a woman away. And yet Naomi’s plan worked.

Ruth’s request that Boaz marry her is similarly bold. She was a foreigner propositioning an Israelite; a woman propositioning a man; a young person propositioning an older person; and a destitute field worker propositioning a rich landowner. Ruth went against custom and displayed her own ingenuity.
Instead of taking offense at Ruth’s forwardness, Boaz blessed her, praised her for her commitment to the well-being of her family, and pronounced her a noble woman. 

The story ends happily with Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi all rewarded for their ingenuity and receiving God’s favor.

The book of Ruth presents a powerful story of God at work, directing events from all sides to take care of his people, and more importantly, to accomplish his purposes. Faithfulness—both God’s faithfulness to people and people’s faithfulness to God—is enacted through work and its resulting fruitfulness. The characters in the book of Ruth work diligently and with ingenuity. They recognize the image of God in their fellow human beings. Through their work, they accomplish God’s purposes.

We live out our faithfulness to God when we work diligently for the good of other people. Through our work, God can accomplish his purposes in the world. With our ingenuity at work, we can bring glory to God and serve the world in which we live. This gives dignity to our work, whatever that work may be.

How Does This Apply To Your Work?