This is the third in a four-part series. I am much happier with this and feel I addresse the text well but also read between the lines properly. Got positive feedback for it also. Would like to know peoples thoughts if they have a moment. I gave this sermon last Sunday.
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”
So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings[a] over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.”
On May 17th, 2008, I took a young lady to the football in Sydney. We watched St George play Melbourne at Homebush stadium. We stood amongst what is called the Dragon Army, which is the most diehard of all Saints fans. She wore one of my jerseys and cheered on the team as they eventually triumphed over the opposition. As we exited the stadium, we walked into one of the tunnels where they direct people out of the stadium.
Overjoyed at the win and how well the date had been going, I began a chant with the hundreds of fans exiting with us; with an already hoarse voice from cheering, I launched into a full rendition of ‘Oh when the Saints’, and the tunnel reverberated as all the fans around me joined in.
I drove her home and walked her to her door. She invited me in and we talked in her lounge room for a few hours. Well past midnight, we decided to commence dating. She walked me out to the car, and I kissed her goodbye. As I drove home, I made a mental note to remember the night well. Six months late I proposed to her, and on February 27th, 2010, we married.
That is a very brief recount of the story that led to Hannah and I coming together. It is a story of love, for sure, but it is also more than that. It is the story of how two became one. There is purpose and meaning behind why we chose to get married. Marriage isn’t just an act of love. It is a powerful and primary reason for it, but there’s more to marriage than just love. There’s a joining of families, the integration of lives, the creation of a future together. It’s something bigger than just two people.
Within the story of Ruth there are a number of very carefully crafted themes that each highlights different aspects of God, humanity and salvation. Ruth at the Threshing Floor deals with a story of love and marriage. But we also get to see something a little than just what marriage is to two people; rather, we get a broader look at the purpose of marriage. So when we take a look at it in detail we find three things: The purpose of marriage, the strength of marriage and the power of love. If we look into these three things on marriage, they will give us a sharp insight into the relationship between God and humanity.
The Purpose of Marriage
Let’s have a look at how marriage is portrayed in this passage. We know that Naomi is concerned about her daughter-in-laws future, and so suggests Ruth court Boaz. Ruth’s agreement to this means she values her mother-in-laws input, but also that she respects the positive impact a marriage would have to their family. In fact, Ruth’s acknowledgement to Boaz that he is a redeemer makes this clear.
But it goes a bit deeper than this. In v10, Boaz tells Ruth that this kindness is greater than the last. What does he mean here? Firstly, he’s referencing the kindness Ruth showed to Naomi by remaining with her mother-in-law and leaving her own country and family. But how is what Ruth doing a greater kindness than before? I was confused by this myself until one commentator I read highlighted the fact that ‘She preferred to keep to family connections… [rather than] simply let her own personal inclinations rule her.’
This highlights something for us. It shows that there is more than one reason to get married; that marriage isn’t just about love. I’m not saying love is absent in marriage; in fact, love is a very important aspect of marriage. But marriage isn’t just about love. So what is it then? What are the reasons for marriage? As Ruth points to us, one of them is family.
Within the ancient societies, family was one of the most important aspects of life. Two very important aspects that marriage provided the family were children and a basis for land ownership. Children were incredibly valued within society. They represented a continuance of the family; a lineage through which land, family assets and history could be passed down to. Within the society of the time, children were seen as the ongoing of life, as they carried the family through to the future.
Children, then, were granted an inheritance. Fathers would pass to their children various things, but one of the most important was land. This was incredibly important to agrarian societies; but for the Israelites, it held additional significance. As part of the covenant between God and the people of Israel, your land was linked to your family. A family possessing land represented a visible fulfilment of the covenant promise by God on Sinai. We cannot underestimate the importance of this. It was a daily reminder of God’s love for them. And with this in mind, we cannot downplay the role marriage played in society.
What Ruth was doing when she asked Boaz to spread his wings over her was request marriage, and in this society, marriage was a big deal. Her request was a bold one, not just because she was the one asking, but because of what it implied. For most women in Ruth’s situation would seek remarriage to a rich, young man. If she was to go down that path, it would be marriage for the sake of her own happiness.
But instead, she chooses Boaz because he is a redeemer. She doesn’t just want marriage for the sake of her own happiness; she wants to respect her family connections. Ruth wants to complete what she began when she married Naomi’s son. When we look at marriage in this light, we begin to understand why Boaz said this was a greater kindness than the first. It meant Ruth was putting Naomi’s and Boaz’s family and the law before her own interests.
This may seem strange to us now. There’s quite a cultural disconnect here, as we aren’t under the law nor are there kinsmen redeemers for widows. But the point the author of Ruth wants to get across here is that marriage has within it a weight of responsibility on it. It’s highlighting that we should consider who we get married to and for what reasons. Ruth was seeking to have God at the centre of her marriage and showed us this by using the law to guide her decision making process.
If we have God at the centre of our marriage, then we open the door to the strength marriage brings a couple.
The Strength of Marriage
Since being married, I’ve discovered a little of what it Genesis means when it says a man cleaves to his wife and the two become one. Even though I thought I knew Hannah, when we got married our personalities were exposed on a much more intimate level than before. In fact, it exposes you to your spouse in a way you never imagined. All my bad habits and peculiarities were seen by Hannah. My weaknesses are all on show with her; when I fail at something, when I can’t do something without her help, Hannah sees it all. With the exception of God, she is the person that knows the most about me in the entire world.
We see something of this with Ruth and Boaz. Part of the courting ritual saw Ruth creep in at night and uncover Boaz’s feet. This little point has gone unnoticed by the commentators I read but I think I know why. I think it’s because it exposed him in a way he had never been exposed before. I’m not talking the physical aspect of it, but more the symbolic element. In ancient societies like Israel, the feet were the lowest part of the body. For Ruth to see this is for her to see something very few, if any other person, had seen before. It was a revealing act.
What is also amazing is she startled him in the night. The text goes to great length to give the impression that Boaz awoke with fright and was afraid of who was at his feet. She then asks for Boaz to cover her with his wings. For a widow to ask a man to cover her with his wings was the equivalent of requesting marriage. How amazing; Ruth saw one of the most unclean parts of Boaz’s body, and also saw him at a time of weakness, yet asks him to marry her because he is a redeemer.
We see here one of the keys to marriage; weakness. Ruth doesn’t sit there and say ‘Ha ha, you’re scared of the dark.’ Instead, she says ‘Let us be joined in marriage.’ Boaz knows Ruth’s weaknesses; she is a widow and a foreigner. Ruth has seen Boaz in his weakness and exposed. She accepts Boaz despite what happened. It is in the weakness that we can find strength. This might seem like a contradiction, so let me explain.
Marriage provides one of the only forms of relationship where a person can truly be themselves to their spouse and know that they are completely safe. I’m not talking about two people sharing an intimate few hours talking on emotional topics; I’m talking an entire life where you see each other at their very best and very worst. You see your spouse naked, you see them sick, you see them when they fail at tasks, and you see them when they’re grumpy. And yet, despite this, you are there and you accept them.
This is important to understand. It is only when we are at our weakest that we can then learn how marriage is strength. Strong marriages have the same things in common. One of them is accountability between spouses; you need to communicate what is going on and what you’re doing to each other. Lying or breach of trust undermines the strength of marriage. But if you tell the truth about what is going on in your life, it allows interaction and discussion on each other’s lives. Accountability provides honest feedback to the other and sometimes honest feedback, although hard to take, is exactly what you need.
It also allows emotional nakedness; you have the chance to bare yourself to your spouse in challenging times. You need to be able to tell your spouse how you feel, what you feel and why. You have to be able to communicate this even though it may feel embarrassing. If you can’t express yourself to another, if you’re emotionally vacant, then marriage is less of a union of two and more of a roommate agreement. You need to be able to tell the other your deepest feelings so you can truly be yourself around them. When we’re emotionally bare, we are able to truly be ourselves.
And marriage provides you with someone who can support you when you are in the low points of your life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relied on Hannah for help and support during my own periods of struggle but I can tell you that her support has made all the difference to how I get through it. In Galatians, Paul tells us to bear one another’s burdens, and marriage is a way to do this.
The strength of marriage comes from your weakest moments because your spouse is cleaving to you. An image that comes to mind is marriage is like two trees that are intertwined in their growth; even at the weakest points, you have another that is bound to you in support. The tighter you are bound together, the harder it is for the other to fall away.
What this breeds is intimacy. The more two people are accountable to each other, are emotionally bare, and support each other, the closer you become. So when we view marriage in this way, we see that its strength will help you to overcome even the most difficult of situations. Yet many people in today’s society would view this as archaic, or outdated. There’s no love in this, it’s simply a marriage of opportunity. But I’d like to argue here that Ruth’s marriage is not opportunistic. In fact, it is one where love is very much present within, and we see it in Boaz’s final words to Ruth.
The Power of Love
We learn in verse 12 that there is another redeemer present for Naomi’s family. In fact, Boaz isn’t allowed by the law to redeem Ruth. Another family member is supposed to do that act. No good love story is complete without a twist, and this is most definitely a twist. But this is telling. See, Naomi must have known that this other redeemer existed; most commentators agree that on this. So why would Naomi send Ruth to Boaz? Shouldn’t she have sent Ruth to the other redeemer?
If all Naomi was interested in was redemption, then yes – she should have sent Ruth to the other redeemer. But Naomi was interested in more than just redemption. She knew Boaz liked Ruth, and she knew Ruth liked Boaz. How do I know this? Because Boaz is willing to pay the cost to redeem her.
One thing about love is there is always a cost of some sort. Within a relationship there you find that you need to compromise on things. I learnt early in my relationship with Hannah that St George was no longer my mistress; all my affections would need to be passed on to Hannah. For me, that was a fairly easy cost to pay. In fact, I was happy to pay it. Sure, we both enjoy watching them play, but my emotions towards the football team needed to be moderated; Hannah deserves to know I love her much more than I love St George.
What I’m getting at is the power of my love for Hannah means I’m willing to do things for her I would be unwilling to do for St George. I’m willing to change my bad habits, I’m willing to romance her, and I’m willing to alter certain behaviours for the benefit of our marriage. That’s the power of love.
We see the power of Boaz’s love a little further on. In chapter 4, Boaz asks the other redeemer if he will redeem Naomi’s land. This redeemer agrees, and says he will. Then Boaz reminds the redeemer that is he redeems Naomi’s land, he must marry Ruth. Once learning this, the redeemer gets cold feet as it will threaten his own inheritance. The redeemer wasn’t willing to pay the cost of redeeming the land and marry Ruth. But Boaz is, and we learn this is exactly what he does. He does it because he loves Ruth.
By marrying Ruth, Boaz sought to perpetuate the line of Elimelech. This is important to note here, as the children Boaz and Ruth would create would be not be in Boaz’s name. This is a big deal in those times, and hefty cost to be paid. Yet Boaz paid the cost because he loved Ruth.
Love is like the glue in marriage. It keeps things together even when they look like they’re about to fall apart. When you aren’t accountable to each other, love prompts you to forgive the other. When you aren’t emotionally transparent, love gives you a reason to open up. And when supporting each other becomes too heavy to continue, love provides the strength to keep propping each other up.
What Ruth and Boaz expose to us is a truly incredible story. They encourage us by showing us to keep God in the purpose of marriage. They guide us by identifying how marriage provides us with strength through our weaknesses. And it allows us to see how love is the glue which holds us together.
But it does one more thing; it points forward to the great marriage of the future – the marriage of the Lamb to His bride. What we see in the marriage of Boaz and Ruth is an image of the relationship we have with Christ. In Ephesians 5 Paul writes for husbands to serve their wives like Christ served the church. How did Christ serve the church?
As Ruth courted Boaz by coming to the threshing room floor, Jesus came to earth to court us in our own home. As Ruth intended to marry Boaz to keep within the law, so Christ determined to fulfil the law so we could be joined with Him. And just as Boaz paid the cost to redeem Ruth out of love, so too did Jesus pay the price of redemption with His life out of a deep love for us. That’s how Jesus served the church.
Jesus wants a relationship with us that is as intimate and strong as a married couple. He wants us to come to Him and be accountable so He can guide us in our actions. He wants us to be emotionally bare to Him so we can truly be ourselves in Christ. He wants us to come and lean on Him for support so He can keep us standing during the hardest of times. And He’s shown us this by willingly paying the price to redeem us into His family. That is the power of His love for us. He is the glue that keeps our relationship with Him together and the more we see that, the more we too will allow ourselves to be changed by Him.
He knows our weaknesses and He realises we can’t do it alone which is why He came to accomplish us for it. That’s the type of relationship He wants with us; one where we know we can rely on Him, where we can see the purpose of His relationship, and we can see the strength He offers.
So what do we do now? How do we tap into this relationship with Him? There’s three small points.
Firstly, like any good spouse, we need to be willing to change. We need to realise that if He loved us like that, then our love of Him will come with a cost. We will change, we will alter. We need to realise that loving Him, being intimate with Him, will see us change in ways we don’t always realise. We need to realise that change is often hard and scary, but never without reason.
The second is we need to be emotionally bare. We need to come to Him with an open heart. We need to cry with Him, sing with Him, and enquire of Him. We need to open ourselves in such a way that He can come into our hearts. If we truly love Him, then we must let our hearts be truly open to Him.
Thirdly, we need to look to where we’re going. In Revelation 19 it speaks of the marriage supper of the Lamb. We’ve entered into a marriage where the phrase ‘Til death do us part’ isn’t part of the vows. This is a marriage for eternity, so let’s rejoice for that is what awaits us.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, thank you for the story of Ruth and Boaz. It is a story that shows us that marriage is more than just a union of two people in love, but an image of your love for us. Let us look to you as our most intimate partner in life, and seek to let your love change us. Amen.
 Arthur E. Cundall and Leon Morris, vol. 7, Judges and Ruth: An Introduction and Commentary (, Tyndale Old Testament CommentariesDowners Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1968), 281.