Harry Whittaker
Judges And Ruth

29. Proposal of Marriage (Ruth 3)

It was the night of the winnowing of the barley, after the threshing during the day. Winnowing was customarily left for a moonlit night because about sunset there is in Palestine a brisk breeze from the sea such as is needed to facilitate separation of the chaff.

The winnowing was done this way. Using a large shovel called a fan (Mt. 3:12), the threshed mixture of corn and chaff was thrown up into the air straight into the wind. The lighter chaff was caught by the breeze and deposited some distance away, but the heavier barley kernels fell straight to the ground. Thus chaff and grain were sorted out into two well-defined heaps.

This done, both custom and self-interest required that the owner of the grain should sleep on the threshing floor to guard from theft the heap of grain, now more valuable than ever.

So when the winnowing was done and the harvest celebration concluded, Boaz wrapped himself in his thick cloak, and with a blanket across his legs lay down to sleep by the heap of corn.

It was after this that Ruth, anointed and arrayed as for a festive occasion, came quietly to the place where Boaz lay, and uncovering his feet she lay down under the rug as though in the position of a supplicant. Thus she preferred her claim to right of marriage.

For a while Boaz slept on but not so Ruth, who must have realized with an excitement difficult to control that her destiny hung on the outcome of the next few hours.

Startled from sleep

About midnight Boaz, moving in his sleep, became aware that he was not alone. Startled into wakefulness, he bent forward and drew back the rug and there crouched Ruth the Moabitess. It calls for little effort of the imagination to picture the staid bachelor’s embarrassed surprise as he identified the recumbent form close to his feet. Ruth hastened to explain:

An unconventional proposal

‘I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid: for thou art a go’el, thou art my redeemer.’

She now used the word “handmaid” unashamedly and, in contrast to the former occasion, free from all qualification, for she was now inviting Boaz to marry her. It was a kind of leap-year proposal. Such is the meaning of the idiom she now made use of.

In the light of her experiences in the harvest field Ruth surely knew the kind of reception she would meet with. Once again Boaz gave her the cordial harvest greeting: “Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter”, this time with the implied assurance that ‘God will give you a good harvest, for I intend to marry you.’

Far from behaving in any condescending or patronizing way towards her, he proceeded to thank her sincerely for honouring him in this way:

“Thou hast showed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.” Ruth’s kindness in remaining loyal to the aged Naomi was now matched by that which Boaz chose to think she was bestowing on himself, in ignoring the disparity in age and seeking him as a husband in preference to some other near kinsman.

He therefore promised with a solemn oath — ‘As the Lord liveth’ — that he would certainly take her for his wife if the go’el with prior claim was willing to waive his right. From the fact that Boaz knew himself to be not the first with the right to redeem, it may be inferred that, eager to marry Ruth, he had already made enquiry who might have a prior claim to this charming stranger. But evidently he had been deterred from further action by the disparity in their ages.

“And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.” That word “city” is really (as AVm) ‘gate’, and must mean either that the city elders who sat in the gate were already aware of Ruth’s situation and were satisfied regarding her character; or, since the city gate was where so much local gossip was exchanged, Boaz meant: ‘Even Bethlehem’s gossiping women have nothing against you!’


It should be observed here that the primary reason for Boaz’s complete willingness to marry Ruth was not the she had a pretty face or a roguish smile or beautiful hair or a comely figure, nor that she was a first-rate housekeeper or had a talented brain; and certainly not that she had a good bank balance. It was her good character, her fidelity, her soberness, her kindness, her industry, and her faith in the God of Israel, which gave her beauty in his eyes. Yet how many marriages have either come to grief or have resolved themselves into banality destitute of the idealism which makes true marriage, because founded in the first instance on superficial personal attraction, rather than on the really worthwhile qualities of good character and spiritual outlook.

Circumspect behaviour

It would not have been wise either for Ruth to find her way home then at midnight, nor for Boaz to accompany her. There was too great a risk either to Ruth’s person or to the reputation of both. So she slept, serene and content, at his feet until the first sign of dawn, when she prepared to return to Naomi.

But Boaz would not allow her to go away empty. Converting her cloak into an improvised form of sack, he loaded her with six measures of barley, almost more than she could carry. There was a double purpose in this. First, to disarm the suspicion of anyone who might see Ruth coming away from the threshing floor. He sought to shield her from the calumny of slanderous tongues. And, secondly, the six measures were to indicate both to Ruth and Naomi that the “rest” Naomi had promised was night at hand — for rest is always associated in Scripture with the number seven.


Rest for thee. Explained by 1:9.
When he lieth down. There is no other sign in Scripture of this custom of guarding the winnowed grain.
Afraid — of what? The Hebrew word means this.

Turned himself. Better: he reached out.
There is. Fairly emphatic. It means that Boaz quite definitely knew.
Lie down. Ruth was about to go away. But Boaz knew it would be safer to stay till first dawn.
She went should read: he went. Here is resolution. He meant to lose no time.
Who art thou? There is a problem here. Was the light so dim that Ruth could not be recognized? But surely Naomi was expecting her.

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