A Study By Reverend Christopher Cooke


Katharine Doob Sakenfeld takes a look at the community as depicted in the Book of Ruth. This she calls “The Peaceable Community”.

Theological Themes
1. The Peaceable Community – “The portrait of the community may be regarded as a microcosm of the peaceable kingdom envisioned by the prophetic tradition”. The story is not so idyllic that it is without problems. But we must not throw the baby out with the bath water. The Bible is a very masculine set of documents but here women find a way forward.
2. Examples of Loyal Living (more of this next week).
3. The Place of God in the Story – “A key feature of the book is its effort to relate human care and concern to divine care and concern in the working out of human difficulties and pain along the road to a peaceable community.” God is mentioned repeatedly by the various characters in the story. The action of God does not take the form of direct intervention but happens through the actions of the human characters. Thus within the broad parameters of the gifts of daily bread and of human life itself, the book of Ruth presents God’s working as hidden and mysterious. This is like yeast in bread making.

Why the Peaceable Community?
1. No one is left destitute. The community is responsible for feeding the hungry.
2. Loneliness and despair must not be ignored. They are part of the broken human condition and call for acts of healing.
3. Children are valued and so are old people. They are to be cared for.
4. The marginalized outsider may appropriately be “pushy” towards being included and those in the centre are called to move towards the margins and the marginalized.

By their actions, Ruth and Boaz give us a glimpse not just of how we should live, but also of what the loyal kindness of God may me like. “For Christians that glimpse expands to fullness in Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, son of David, descendent of Ruth, Messiah, who fed the hungry, succoured the grieving, entered into unlikely friendships, and confounded traditional categories of centre and margin.”



Naomi and Ruth

What do you think of Naomi’s advice about dating Boaz?
Why didn’t Naomi go herself to talk to Boaz?
Why did Ruth agree to go along with it?

Ruth and Boaz

Initiating Contact (3:6-9a)

How does Boaz winnow?
What do you think of Ruth’s risky venture?
• Was it a true romance?
• Was Ruth sacrificing herself to an older unattractive man?
• Was this an entrapment of Boaz?

[Katharine Sakenfeld says all these have come up in discussions]
Ruth puts her reputation on the line. Is this what God wants?

Ruth’s Words (3:9b)

What do you make of Ruth’s words?

Boaz’s Reply (3:10-13)

What do you make of Boaz’s reply?
How does that impact on Naomi’s advice to stick with the female reapers?
Ruth shows hesed towards Naomi, but is she showing hesed here?
Is this a personal story or is God there behind the scenes?
What about the complication in the plot?

Departure (3:14-15)

Why was Boaz so generous with the barley?

Naomi and Ruth

What about Naomi’s advice now?

Patricia Tull = “Needless to say, Naomi’s instructions to Ruth have not been passed down through the ages as a model of dating protocol for young women of faith”.
Katharine Sakenfeld = “The determination of Naomi, the daring of Ruth, and the uprightness of Boaz that have already been exhibited are further illustrated in the behaviour of the key characters in these scenes”.
Katharine Sakenfeld = “If God’s providential guidance lies behind the scene in chapter 2, perhaps it is equally appropriate to think of God’s redemptive activity behind this scene in chapter 3”.

Comments from Reverend Christopher


Katharine Sakenfeld notes that the structural outline of Chapter 3 is rather like Chapter 2: Naomi and Ruth; Ruth and Boaz; Naomi and Ruth. Patricia Tull points out whereas Chapter 2’s action takes place in public during the day, the action of Chapter 3 takes place in secret in the course of the night.
Whereas Ruth 2’s action comes about through Ruth’s initiative whilst Naomi is inactive, Chapter 3’s action follows Naomi’s initiative and plan.

Traditional farmers today have techniques for sealing the early harvest against weather etc. So the winnowing of the barley may have waited until the wheat harvest was in. However, there may have been some overlap with the wheat harvest as the events take place in the evening. The evening may have been appropriate because it was cooler and there may have been the necessary breeze. Anyway, some weeks have passed since the events recounted in Chapter 2 because the barley harvest is now in.

Naomi and Ruth

Whereas Ruth is often described as “daughter-in-law”, this is the only time that Naomi is described as “mother-in-law”.
Naomi has already made one attempt to provide for Ruth’s security by urging her to return to Moab. Now she has a daring plan. This would also bring an end to the stopgap survival represented by gleaning.
Boaz will be winnowing but he will probably be doing this with his workers. Naomi urges Ruth to take extra care with her dress, her bathing and put on expensive scent. Frederic Bush suggests that Ruth may be putting off her widowhood and he widow clothes.
Ruth is to approach Boaz at night after he has finished eating and drinking. She is to lie down beside him! It will be vitally important that Ruth is not detected lying with a man in a public area during the night! Katharine Sakenfeld: “Never is there any indication of the consummation of sexual relations” but it is a highly charged environment with sexual overtones. Why didn’t Ruth object? Ruth responds to this new and quite bizarre proposal with a simple sentence of agreement to the plan!
Why didn’t Naomi go and speak with Boaz or why didn’t she send Ruth in less compromising circumstances? Sakenfeld suggests:
1. This is good narrative art.
2. The elements of attractiveness that we have seen in chapter 2 have not resulted in any further action by Boaz in the successive weeks.
3. Naomi could have been expected to be rebuffed if she approached Boaz herself.

Ruth and Boaz
Initiating Contact (3:6-9a)

The narrator notes that Boaz was in a contented mood. Ruth acts according to Naomi’s instructions.
What a shock for this upright man to stir in the night and find a young woman lying beside him! Up to now, Boaz has given orders but now he asks a rather startled question. He is off his guard. It is also a departure from Naomi’s expected scenario.
Ruth’s Words (3:9b)
“Spread your cloak over your servant” = Ruth’s language is symbolic and veiled.
1. The Hebrew listener/reader would understand that Ruth is referring to marriage.
2. The word translated “cloak” is literally “wing” and refers back to Boaz’s words of 2:12 that Ruth has sought refuge under God’s wings.
Ruth challenges Boaz to provide, to embody, the divine refuge he had wished upon her earlier. Human action is the vehicle for divine blessing.
Why should Boaz marry her? Not because she has entrapped him because no-one knows as yet. Ruth suggests it is because he is next of kin. But this does not usually extend to marriage! Frederic Bush suggests that Ruth is using the term only in general terms. Boaz is one of the group of kinsmen who has a responsibility for the well-being of Naomi. Bush: “Redeemers are to take responsibility for the unfortunate and stand as their supporters and advocates. They are to embody the basic principle of caring responsibility for those who may not have justice done for them by the unscrupulous or even by the person who lives by the letter of the law”. It is the redemptive act of God which should be our model. As Patricia Tull points out, the social law as outlined in the Pentateuch is suggestive rather than comprehensive.

Boaz’s Reply (3:10-13)
Remarkably, Boaz is appreciative of what Ruth has done! He addresses her as “my daughter” once again. He asks for her blessing again.
1. The first instance of hesed/loyalty is surely Ruth accompanying Naomi from Moab.
2. But how can her proposal of marriage be an even better act of loyalty? Boaz makes reference to the young men she could have attracted and some of them may have been wealthy. Is this why Boaz has been reticent? He acknowledges that there was no legal reason why Ruth should marry within the family. The only beneficiary of such an action is Naomi.
Then Boaz speaks words of comfort. Boaz could have taken advantage of her or he could have exposed her. Ruth has taken the initiative and Boaz pledges to do as she asks. Phyllis Trible describes the encounter as “salvation by courage alone”.
Boaz describes Ruth as a “worthy” woman even though she has no wealth or children (the signs of being wealthy). Literally, this is “a woman of strength”. This seems to reflect Proverbs chapter 31. It is a counterpart to way the narrator describes Boaz. The use of this term “collapses the social distance between them” (Sakenfeld).
Boaz is however concerned about the rank ordering of kinsmen. As in many things, Boaz is scrupulous. His next order again steers well clear of sexual activity. He may well enjoy her presence but who knows what the nearer next-of-kin will decide tomorrow! This brings in another intriguing twist to the narrative. Kirsten Nielsen also notes that “God acts in spite of the hardships that arise, be they hunger, childlessness or local custom”.

Departure (3:14-15)
Ruth’s departure occurs at dawn when once she is a little way from the scene of action, other people would be beginning to stir but not be fully identified in the half-light.
Boaz loads Ruth’s cloak with barley. There is a division here amongst Hebrew manuscripts. Most say “he” went into the city but some say “she”.

Naomi and Ruth

Naomi’s reply indicates a full understanding of the situation. Ruth’s words suggest Boaz still has great concern for Naomi. Naomi expresses her trust in the prompt and appropriate action that Boaz will undertake. Things are better than they were but they are far from settled.
From now on, we do not hear the voices of Ruth and Naomi again. Their future lies in the hands of Boaz (and his oath verse 13).

Patricia Tull = “Needless to say, Naomi’s instructions to Ruth have not been passed down through the ages as a model of dating protocol for young women of faith”.
Katharine Sakenfeld = “The determination of Naomi, the daring of Ruth, and the uprightness of Boaz that have already been exhibited are further illustrated in the behaviour of the key characters in these scenes”.
Katharine Sakenfeld = “If God’s providential guidance lies behind the scene in chapter 2, perhaps it is equally appropriate to think of God’s redemptive activity behind this scene in chapter 3”.
Patricia Tull = “God works throughout the Biblical account, and throughout our own histories, to redeem the ones broken, disgraced, ignored or harmed”.

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