Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Painting by C. Hingham; found on Meeting God in the Margin.
And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.
— Ruth 3:8-9
The third chapter of Ruth describes how Naomi advises Ruth to seduce Boaz, in order that she may be married and both of them under his protection. But this is a gentle, innocent, almost mystical form of seduction. Ruth washes and dresses in her best clothes—which given the women's poverty could not be up to much. She waits on the threshing floor, in the shadows, until Boaz has eaten and drunk and lies down to sleep, then she lies beside him, uncovering his feet as Naomi had suggested. Boaz awakes in the night to find her there, and she asks that he spread his skirt over her, a metaphor for protection.
The Hebrew word for skirt is Kanaph, which also translates as 'wing'. Earlier in the story when Boaz first meets Ruth, and recognises her alien status he says ...a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.1 Here Boaz's skirt, his wings are the manifestation of the wings of God. Boaz, on understanding Ruth's request for marriage and protection behaves most honourably, withholding promise until he has determined whether another man, also a relative of Naomi's deceased husband, and first in line for a Levirate marriage2 to Ruth would like the privilege. (It turns out he does not). Remember, women were very much possessions at that time, but for Ruth—and for Naomi—being a possession of Boaz, a kind, Godly man, was preferable to a continued life of poverty and charity.
As with the rest of the book of Ruth the characters display a righteous kindness, acting with honour and compassion. Ruth and Naomi succeed in finding Ruth a husband, but this is no devious, self-centered scheme but rather a way of moving closer towards God, towards fulfilment. The theologian John Piper calls it strategic righteousness.3
All manner of sexual innuendo has been read into this story, but I choose to see it in the spirit of faith, purity and kindness that arises in the elegant, poetic language of the King James translation. And I recall my own wife seducing me on our first meeting, not by sexual wiles but by sheer vulnerability, by open, honest truth, being exactly who she is, with no defence, no cunning, and like Ruth, with an openly expressed need for sanctuary. It was a rare and beautiful seduction, and still today I marvel at my good fortune.
1 Ruth 2:12
2 Levirate marriage is a type of marriage in which the closest relative of a deceased man is obliged to marry his widow. See Levirate Marriage by Dvora E. Weisberg, Bible Odyssey, undated
3 Ruth: Strategic Righteousness by John Piper, July 15, 1984