4.40 Ruth -- Boaz
When the two women arrived in Bethlehem, Naomi complained aloud to the townspeople. She bitterly blamed God for her losses:
"Don't call me Naomi," she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me" (Ruth 1:20-21).
While she sulked, Ruth volunteered to go glean in the fields of Elimelech's kinsman. Boaz extended his protection to her. She was surprised at his kindness, and repeated the conventional opinion that she deserved nothing because she was a foreigner (Ruth 2:10). But Boaz praised her for her faithfulness to Naomi and her willingness to leave her home. He even blessed her:
"May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge" (Ruth 2:12).
This is a stunning statement. Boaz erased the wall of separation between Israelite and outsider. If she wished to join herself to Israel, he would put no barrier in her way.
This was a revolution in the attitude toward foreigners, or at least an alternative to the Mosaic "destroy or shun" policy. When applied to Gentiles in general, it offered full participation ("richly rewarded") for foreigners who wished to "take refuge" in the God of Israel. Ruth was not judged negatively on the basis of her ethnicity or nationality, but positively for her faith and loyalty.
Boaz continued to show generosity to her in the fields. This inspired hope in Naomi, and she thought: "in for a penny, in for a pound." Forget the gleaning, let's go for the whole estate. Since Boaz was a kinsman, she wondered if he might be willing to fulfill his obligations to provide an heir for a man who died childless. The rule for this is given in Deuteronomy:
If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel (Deut 25:5-6).
See also Mk 12:19. This law gave a childless widow some rights and protection. Interestingly, Boaz' ancestor Perez owed his own life to this law. His mother was Tamar (a Canaanite), the widowed daughter-in-law of Judah (Gen 38:25-30). Judah failed to find her a replacement husband, so she disguised herself as a roadside prostitute and tricked him into sleeping with her. Twin sons Perez and Zerah were born to her.
Now Naomi saw the chance to make use of this ancient custom. As we learned in the history of the Patriarchs, Israelite women were good at marital plotting -- gaining status through offspring, manipulating men to further their own family preferences. Now that the game was being played on the home field, Naomi perked up. Gone was her "God hates me" refrain. Nabbing a husband was a piece of cake for a determined mother-in-law. She came up with a very detailed plan: Ruth was to dress in fine clothes (wedding garments), go to Boaz at night on the threshing floor, and lie down at his feet. The rest was up to Boaz. Ruth "did everything her mother-in-law told her to do." When Boaz woke up in the night and found Ruth at his feet, she asked him to marry her: "spread the corner of your garment over me" (Ruth 3:9). The whole setup was tantamount to a chaste seduction. Poor sap, he never had a chance.