Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Ruth Seeks for Marriage with Boaz - Ruth 3
After the harvest Naomi advised Ruth to visit Boaz on a certain night, and ask him to marry her as redeemer (Rut 3:1-5). Ruth followed this advice, and Boaz promised to fulfil her request, provided the nearer redeemer who was still living would not perform this duty (Rut 3:6-13), and sent her away in the morning with a present of wheat, that she might not return empty to her mother-in-law (Rut 3:14-18). To understand the advice which Naomi gave to Ruth, and which Ruth carried out, and in fact to form a correct idea of the further course of the history generally, we must bear in mind the legal relations which came into consideration here. According to the theocratical rights, Jehovah was the actual owner of the land which He had given to His people for an inheritance; and the Israelites themselves had merely the usufruct of the land which they received by lot for their inheritance, so that the existing possessor could not part with the family portion or sell it at his will, but it was to remain for ever in his family. When any one therefore was obliged to sell his inheritance on account of poverty, and actually did sell it, it was the duty of the nearest relation to redeem it as gol. But if it should not be redeemed, it came back, in the next year of jubilee, to its original owner or his heirs without compensation. Consequently no actual sale took place in our sense of the word, but simply a sale of the yearly produce till the year of jubilee (see Lev 25:10, Lev 25:13-16, Lev 25:24-28). There was also an old customary right, which had received the sanction of God, with certain limitations, through the Mosaic law-namely, the custom of Levirate marriage, or the marriage of a brother-in-law, which we meet with as early as Gen 38, viz., that if an Israelite who had been married died without children, it was the duty of his brother to marry the widow, that is to say, his sister-in-law, that he might establish his brother's name in Israel, by begetting a son through his sister-in-law, who should take the name of the deceased brother, that his name might not become extinct in Israel. This son was then the legal heir of the landed property of the deceased uncle (cf. Deu 25:5.). These two institutions are not connected together in the Mosaic law; nevertheless it was a very natural thing to place the Levirate duty in connection with the right of redemption. And this had become the traditional custom. Whereas the law merely imposed the obligation of marrying the childless widow upon the brother, and even allowed him to renounce the obligation if he would take upon himself the disgrace connected with such a refusal (see Deu 25:7-10); according to Rut 4:5 of this book it had become a traditional custom to require the Levirate marriage of the redeemer of the portion of the deceased relative, not only that the landed possession might be permanently retained in the family, but also that the family itself might not be suffered to die out.
In the case before us Elimelech had possessed a portion at Bethlehem, which Naomi had sold from poverty (Rut 4:3); and Boaz, a relation of Elimelech, was the redeemer of whom Naomi hoped that he would fulfil the duty of a redeemer - namely, that he would not only ransom the purchased field, but marry her daughter-in-law Ruth, the widow of the rightful heir of the landed possession of Elimelech, and thus through this marriage establish the name of her deceased husband or son (Elimelech or Mahlon) upon his inheritance. Led on by this hope, she advised Ruth to visit Boaz, who had shown himself so kind and well-disposed towards her, during the night, and by a species of bold artifice, which she assumed that he would not resist, to induce him as redeemer to grant to Ruth this Levirate marriage. The reason why she adopted this plan for the accomplishment of her wishes, and did not appeal to Boaz directly, or ask him to perform this duty of affection to her deceased husband, was probably that she was afraid lest she should fail to attain her end in this way, partly because the duty of a Levirate marriage was not legally binding upon the redeemer, and partly because Boaz was not so closely related to her husband that she could justly require this of him, whilst there was actually a nearer redeemer than he (Rut 3:12). According to our customs, indeed, this act of Naomi and Ruth appears a very objectionable one from a moral point of view, but it was not so when judged by the customs of the people of Israel at that time. Boaz, who was an honourable man, and, according to Rut 3:10, no doubt somewhat advanced in years, praised Ruth for having taken refuge with him, and promised to fulfil her wishes when he had satisfied himself that the nearer redeemer would renounce his right and duty (Rut 3:10-11). As he acknowledge by this very declaration, that under certain circumstances it would be his duty as redeemer to marry Ruth, he took no offence at the manner in which she had approached him and proposed to become his wife. On the contrary, he regarded it as a proof of feminine virtue and modesty, that she had not gone after young men, but offered herself as a wife to an old man like him. This conduct on the part of Boaz is a sufficient proof that women might have confidence in him that he would do nothing unseemly. And he justified such confidence. "The modest man," as Bertheau observes, "even in the middle of the night did not hesitate for a moment what it was his duty to do with regard to the young maiden (or rather woman) towards whom he felt already so strongly attached; he made his own personal inclinations subordinate to the traditional custom, and only when this permitted him to marry Ruth was he ready to do so. And not knowing whether she might not have to become the wife of the nearer gol, he was careful for her and her reputation, in order that he might hand her over unblemished to the man who had the undoubted right to claim her as his wife."
As Naomi conjectured, from the favour which Boaz had shown to Ruth, that he might not be disinclined to marry her as gol, she said to her daughter-in-law, "My daughter, I must seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee." In the question אבקּשׁ הלא, the word הלא is here, as usual, an expression of general admission or of undoubted certainty, in the sense of "Is it not true, I seek for thee? it is my duty to seek for thee." מנוח = מנוּחה (Rut 1:9) signifies the condition of a peaceful life, a peaceful and well-secured condition, "a secure life under the guardian care of a husband" (Rosenmller). "And now is not Boaz our relation, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he is winnowing the barley floor (barley on the threshing-floor) to-night," i.e., till late in the night, to avail himself of the cool wind, which rises towards evening (Gen 3:8), for the purpose of cleansing the corn. The threshing-floors of the Israelites were, and are still in Palestine, made under the open heaven, and were nothing more than level places in the field stamped quite hard.
(Note: "A level spot is selected for the threshing-floors, which are then constructed near each other, of a circular form, perhaps fifty feet in diameter, merely by beating down the earth hard." - Robinson, Pal. ii. p. 277.)
"Wash and anoint thyself (סכתּ, from סוּך = נסך), and put on thy clothes (thy best clothes), and go down (from Bethlehem, which stood upon the ridge of a hill) to the threshing-floor; let not thyself be noticed by the man (Boaz) till he has finished eating and drinking. And when he lies down, mark the place where he will sleep, and go (when he has fallen asleep) and uncover the place of his feet, and lay thyself down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do."
Ruth promised to do this. The אלי, which the Masorites have added to the text as Keri non scriptum, is quite unnecessary. From the account which follows of the carrying out of the advice given to her, we learn that Naomi had instructed Ruth to ask Boaz to marry her as her redeemer (cf. Rut 3:9).
Ruth went accordingly to the threshing-floor and did as her mother-in-law had commanded; i.e., she noticed where Boaz went to lie down to sleep, and then, when he had eaten and drunken, and lay down cheerfully, at the end of the heap of sheaves or corn, and, as we may supply from the context, had fallen asleep, came to him quietly, uncovered the place of his feet, i.e., lifted up the covering over his feet, and lay down.
About midnight the man was startled, namely, because on awaking he observed that there was some one lying at his feet; and he "bent himself" forward, or on one side, to feel who was lying there, "and behold a woman was lying at his feet." מרגּלתיו is accus. loci.
In answer to his inquiry, "Who art thou?" she said, "I am Ruth, thine handmaid; spread thy wing over thine handmaid, for thou art a redeemer." כּנפך is a dual according to the Masoretic pointing, as we cannot look upon it as a pausal form on account of the position of the word, but it is most probably to be regarded as a singular; and the figurative expression is not taken from birds, which spread their wings over their young, i.e., to protect them, but refers, according to Deu 23:1; Deu 27:20, and Eze 16:8, to the wing, i.e., the corner of the counterpane, referring to the fact that a man spreads this over his wife as well as himself. Thus Ruth entreated Boaz to marry her because he was a redeemer. On this reason for the request, see the remarks in the introduction to the chapter.
Boaz praised her conduct: "Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter (see Rut 2:20); thou hast made thy later love better than the earlier, that thou hast not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. " Ruth's earlier or first love was the love she had shown to her deceased husband and her mother-in-law (comp. Rut 2:11, where Boaz praises this love); the later love she had shown in the fact, that as a young widow she had not sought to win the affections of young men, as young women generally do, that she might have a youthful husband, but had turned trustfully to the older man, that he might find a successor to her deceased husband, through a marriage with him, in accordance with family custom (vid., Rut 4:10). "And now," added Boaz (Rut 3:11), "my daughter, fear not; for all that thou sayest I will do to thee: for the whole gate of my people (i.e., all my city, the whole population of Bethlehem, who go in and out at the gate: see Gen 34:24; Deu 17:2) knoweth that thou art a virtuous woman." Consequently Boaz saw nothing wrong in the fact that Ruth had come to him, but regarded her request that he would marry her as redeemer as perfectly natural and right, and was ready to carry out her wish as soon as the circumstances would legally allow it. He promised her this (vv. 12, 13), saying, "And now truly I am a redeemer; but there is a nearer redeemer than I. Stay here this night (or as it reads at the end of v. 13, 'lie till the morning'), and in the morning, if he will redeem thee, well, let him redeem; but if it does not please him to redeem thee, I will redeem thee, as truly as Jehovah liveth." אם כּי (Kethibh, v. 12), after a strong assurance, as after the formula used in an oath, "God do so to me," etc., Sa2 3:35; Sa2 15:21 (Kethibh), and Kg2 5:20, is to be explained from the use of this particle in the sense of nisi, except that, = only: "only I am redeemer," equivalent to, assuredly I am redeemer (cf. Ewald, 356, b.). Consequently there is no reason whatever for removing the אם from the text, as the Masorites have done (in the Keri).
(Note: What the ל maju sc., in ליני signifies, is uncertain. According to the smaller Masora, it was only found among the eastern (i.e., Palestinian) Jews. Consequently Hiller (in his Arcanum Keri et Ctibh, p. 163) conjectures that they used it to point out a various reading, viz., that לנּי should be the reading here. But this is hardly correct.)
Ruth was to lie till morning, because she could not easily return to the city in the dark at midnight; but, as is shown in Rut 3:14, she did not stay till actual daybreak, but "before one could know another, she rose up, and he said (i.e., as Boaz had said), It must not be known that the woman came to the threshing-floor." For this would have injured the reputation not only of Ruth, but also of Boaz himself.
He then said, "Bring the cloak that thou hast on, and lay hold of it" (to hold it open), and measured for her six measures of barley into it as a present, that she might not to back empty to her mother-in-law (Rut 3:17). מטפּחת, here and Isa 3:22, is a broad upper garment, pallium, possibly only a large shawl. "As the cloaks worn by the ancients were so full, that one part was thrown upon the shoulder, and another gathered up under the arm, Ruth, by holding a certain part, could receive into her bosom the corn which Boaz gave her" (Schrder, De vestit. mul. p. 264). Six (measures of) barley: the measure is not given. According to the Targum and the Rabbins, it was six seahs = two ephahs. This is certainly incorrect; for Ruth would not have been able to carry that quantity of barley home. When Boaz had given her the barley he measured out, and had sent here away, he also went into the city. This is the correct rendering, as given by the Chaldee, to the words העיר ויּבא; though Jerome referred the words to Ruth, but certainly without any reason, as יבא cannot stand for תּבא. This reading is no doubt found in some of the MSS, but it merely owes its origin to a mistaken interpretation of the words.
When Ruth returned home, her mother-in-law asked her, "Who art thou?" i.e., as what person, in what circumstances dost thou come? The real meaning is, What hast thou accomplished? Whereupon she related all that the man had done (cf. Rut 3:10-14), and that he had given her six measures of barley for her mother. The Masorites have supplied אלי after אמר, as at Rut 3:5, but without any necessity. The mother-in-law drew from this the hope that Boaz would now certainly carry out the matter to the desired end. "Sit still," i.e., remain quietly at home (see Gen 38:11), "till thou hearest how the affair turn out," namely, whether the nearer redeemer mentioned by Boaz, or Boaz himself, would grant her the Levirate marriage. The expression "fall," in this sense, is founded upon the idea of the falling of the lot to the ground; it is different in Ezr 7:20. "For the man will not rest unless he has carried the affair to an end this day." כּי־אם, except that, as in Lev 22:6, etc. (see Ewald, 356, b).