Ruth, Matthew, and #MeToo

If you’re looking for a good love story, I’m sorry to tell you that the Bible is the wrong place to search. In a world where women were treated as property and marriages were pre-arranged as a business transaction, there was not a lot of room for romance.

Unfortunately, the story of Ruth is often chalked-up as a sweet love story. If you’re not familiar with the basic premise, here’s a synopsis of how the story of Ruth is often generalized:

Ruth’s first husband dies, she meets Boaz, and he saves her like a damsel in distress. Therefore, Ruth and Boaz get married and live happily-ever-after.

Unfortunately, I have heard married women tell young, unmarried women, that they are praying she “will find her Boaz.”

Ugh.

If that’s not bad enough, let me tell you the other, non-Disney princess version of the story.

Ruth

The Book of Ruth begins with a backstory about a man named Elimelech and his family. Due to a famine in Israel, Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and two sons, Mahon and Chilion, move to the land of Moab.

While in Moab, Mahon and Chilion marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth.  But eventually Elimelech and his two sons die, leaving Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth as widows.

Like Tamar (check out my last post “Matthew’s #MeToo”), Ruth is childless, and her deceased husband has no living brothers to marry and reproduce on his behalf.

When the famine ends, Naomi prepares to go back to Israel, and Ruth insists on going with her. But it is obvious that Naomi, who is also a widow, will not be able to financially support herself and her daughter-in-law; therefore, they have to come up with a plan.

Although Ruth’s strategy for security is more subtle than Tamar’s, her story also involves the art of seduction.

When Ruth arrives in the land of Israel, she begins gleaning wheat from a field, and that is where she meets Boaz; in fact, Boaz is the owner of the field. While gathering wheat in Boaz’s field, Ruth learns that he is a close enough relative that he can “redeem” her.

In this particular situation, redemption would mean purchasing a piece of land that belongs to Naomi—and in addition to the land, the owner would get Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, as a wife. (Ugh again)

Naomi tells Ruth to get freshened up in order to spend the evening with Boaz. Naomi instructs Ruth to “uncover his feet, and lie down.”Whether we like it or not, in the Old Testament, the term “feet” was used as a euphemism for sexual organs.

The Bible says, “Boaz ate and drank, and he was in a good mood. He went over to lie down by the edge of the grain pile. Then she [Ruth] quietly approached, uncovered his legs, and lay down. During the middle of the night, the man shuddered and turned over—and there was a woman lying at his feet. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. She replied, ‘I’m Ruth your servant. Spread out your robe over your servant, because you are a redeemer.”[1]

One biblical scholar writes,

Ruth is to uncover his ‘lower limbs’ and go and lie down herself. Few texts in the book have generated as much discussion as this command. There is a line of interpretation that treats it as a command to engage in risqué and seductive behavior. It seems that in this cultural context, at winnowing time the threshing floor often became a place of illicit sexual behavior. Realizing that men would spend the night in the fields next to the piles of grain, prostitutes would go out to them and offer their services. As a Moabite Ruth might not have had the scruples about feigning the role of a prostitute to secure a sexual favor from a ‘near relative’ any more than Tamar did in Genesis.[2]

Needless to say, Boaz seems to be quite receptive to her offer, but he does inform Ruth that there is another relative that has the right to redeem her first. Therefore, after their night of passion, Boaz approaches the closest relative and tells him about Naomi’s field.

At first the relative wants to purchase the field, until he learns that it also comes with a wife. The closest relative says, “Then I can’t redeem it for myself, without risking damage to my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself. You can have my right of the redemption, because I’m unable to act as redeemer.”[3]

Therefore, Boaz “redeems” Ruth.

As far as I can tell, this is the only way for Ruth to survive without having a son.

In order to understand how this fits into Matthew’s portrait of Jesus, we have to keep reading.

I hope you’ll stay tuned.

[1] Ruth 3:7-9, CEB

[2] Block, Judges and Ruth, 685

[3] Ruth 4:6, CEB

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Photo by Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

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