SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON

​​​Lesson for Sunday 

AUGUST 18, 2019

A COVENANT TO MARRY

Restoration & Praise

Christian Fellowship Center

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Devotional Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8

Background Scripture: Ruth 1:6–18; 3; 4; Matthew 19:1–12​
LESSON SCRIPTURES: Ruth 3:1–6, 8–12, 16–18 
Exerted from: Standard Lesson Commentary KJV (2019-2020).


1. Then Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?
2. And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor.
3. Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.
4. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.
5. And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do.
6. And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law bade her.
8. And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.
9. 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.
10. And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.
11. 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.
12. And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I.
16. And when she came to her mother in law, she said, Who art thou, my daughter? And she told her all that the man had done to her.
17. And she said, These six measures of barley gave he me; for he said to me, Go not empty unto thy mother in law.
18. Then said she, Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day.


Lesson Aims
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. State the purpose of Ruth’s visit to Boaz’s threshing floor.
2. Explain how, in light of cultural context, the actions of Ruth and Boaz were conducted with complete integrity.
3. Identify one way to show greater integrity in relationships, and make a plan to implement it personally.

Introduction

Manipulative Models

The movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days puts its romantic leads at the mercy of one another. The two meet and immediately begin manipulating one another to win secret bets with their friends. Though they enjoy being together, proving their friends wrong consistently trumps kindness and honesty. Both win their bets, but their self-serving tactics leave the couple deeply hurt. In real life, two people would walk away from this broken relationship.

Selfishness abounds in human affairs, and the pages of Scripture contain many examples. In the period of the judges, we find such examples as Abimelech, who sought the kingship for himself (Judges 9), and Samson, whose narcissistic encounters with the Philistines often served himself instead of Israel (Judges 14–16).

Fortunately, though, people are not always selfish. The book of Ruth portrays several characters who demonstrate selflessness and integrity in their relationships. These characters draw their integrity from the character of the God who works through their actions to advance His benevolent purposes.


LESSON CONTEXT
Because Ruth had left her home country out of loyalty to her mother-in-law (see Lesson 11), Naomi viewed Ruth’s future security as her own responsibility. Ordinarily, a woman’s father or other male relatives would arrange her marriage and protect her. This unusual state of affairs left the two women to provide for themselves.

Naomi gave her daughter-in-law her blessing to go into the neighbors’ fields and seek permission to glean there to provide for them both (Ruth 2; compare Leviticus 19:9, 10). Ruth ended up in the field of Boaz, a close relative of Naomi’s deceased husband, whom the text introduces as a man of standing in his town (Ruth 2:1). Spiritually sensitive readers recognize the providential hand of God in the events (2:3). In due course, Boaz met Ruth and praised her acts of kindness to Naomi. He invoked God’s blessing on her and made sure she was safe and provided for during the harvest.

Because this lesson focuses on Ruth’s proposal to Boaz, we must address the questionable legality of marriage between an Israelite and a Moabite. The law included certain restrictions about a Moabite not being part of “the congregation of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:3; compare Nehemiah 13:1). Such exclusion suggests a prohibition against intermarriage because the offspring of this union would never be included in the spiritual life of Israel.

Centuries later during the time of Ezra, intermarriages with non-Israelites were considered a threat to the purity of the covenant people. Following the Babylonian captivity, the returned exiles were especially aware of the importance of remaining separate from idolatrous influences. The leadership of the community took action to dissolve such marriages (Ezra 9:1, 2; 10:1–5; compare Nehemiah 13:23–27). This separation would help ensure that the Israelites would not become guilty (again) of the sins that had led to the captivity (see Deuteronomy 6:13–15; compare Jeremiah 19:4, 5).

Ruth had affirmed without reservation her allegiance to the God of Israel and severed ties with Moab (Ruth 1:16, 17). One might say she had been adopted into the covenant people. Thus, despite her Moabite nationality, there was no danger of her turning the family line of Elimelech (Naomi’s husband) to foreign and false gods.

Because she had embraced God alone, Ruth needed to follow His laws for His people. The need for Ruth to remarry stems from the directive to bear a child for her deceased husband (see Deuteronomy 25:5–10). This practice ensured that the dead man’s legacy did not die with him. The practice also provided for the widow. She gained both a husband and a child through the practice of levirate marriage (see Lesson 11 on Ruth 1:11).

Though the concept of kinship is important throughout the Bible, the book of Ruth explores extensively themes of covenantal loyalty within the family. Duties within the family include buying back land sold in times of emergency (Leviticus 25:25–27; Ruth 4:2–6), redeeming family members sold into debt slavery (Leviticus 25:47–49), and avenging murder (Numbers 35:19). For Ruth, the most important kinship obligation was that of levirate marriage (see commentary on Ruth 3:9b below).

LESSON

1. Then Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?
Naomi responds to Ruth’s expressions of loyalty toward her by answering in kind (see Ruth 1:14–17). She embraces her duty to help Ruth find rest, a figurative way of speaking about finding a secure home (see Deuteronomy 28:65; 1 Chronicles 6:31; Lamentations 1:3). Security for Ruth means finding a husband. Naomi chooses the harvest season (Ruth 2:2, 23)‌—‌a time of fertility, divine favor, and renewed hope‌—‌to move to help Ruth.

What Do You Think?
What should be the criteria in a church’s benevolence policy for deciding whom the church is and is not obligated to help?
Digging Deeper
In what ways, if at all, would that policy be different from one you would draw up for yourself personally? Why?


2a. And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast?
The text does not say exactly how Boaz is related to Naomi’s late husband (Ruth 2:1), but Naomi views Boaz’s kinship as fortuitous. The fact that he is a relative makes him a desirable candidate for marriage to Ruth (see comments on 3:9b).

2b. Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor.
The scene Naomi describes unfolds one night during the barley harvest. Boaz will be winnowing barley at the threshingfloor. Such a place is located in the open, outside the city (see Judges 6:37). The winnowing process involves tossing threshed grain into the air so that the wind can blow away the chaff (compare Judges 6:11; Isaiah 41:16; Jeremiah 4:11, 12; Luke 3:17).

3a. Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor.
Bathing is not an everyday practice in ancient Israel. Boaz and his fellow workers likely do not wash after their day’s work. To anoint oneself beyond bathing marks a special occasion. Naomi further tells Ruth to take care when dressing. Taken altogether, Naomi’s instructions signal to Ruth that tonight is the night to shed the attire of mourning (compare 2 Samuel 12:20; 14:2; Isaiah 61:3), put on regular garments, and present herself as an eligible bride (compare Ezekiel 16:8–12).

3b. But make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.
Naomi anticipates that Boaz will celebrate the harvest with food and drink (see Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:13–16; Isaiah 9:3). A woman approaching a man at night is highly suspect, so Naomi advises Ruth to be cautious, not letting Boaz or anyone else become aware of her presence too soon. Her visit to the threshing floor is only for Boaz to discover, no one else (see Ruth 3:14).

4. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.
After Boaz has a good meal and is in a good mood, he will fall asleep near the grain. Then the time will be right for Ruth to make her approach. But with what intent exactly? To seduce a drunken Boaz, in a fashion not unlike Lot’s daughters, from which Ruth’s people descended (Genesis 19:30–38)? Some opt for this interpretation, and not without reason. Besides the historical precedent, the narrative thus far contains several Hebrew words that are often imbued with sexual connotations: lieth/lay down and uncover. To lie down together is a common euphemism for sexual intercourse. Additionally, the Hebrew term feet is used as a euphemism for male genitalia (see 1 Samuel 24:3; Isaiah 7:20). The writer builds tension and highlights the risk involved in this nighttime scene without spelling out exactly what Naomi expects of Ruth.

The narrative as a whole speaks against the possibility that Naomi intends for an illicit encounter to occur. No doubt she uses Ruth’s youth and attractiveness to advantage, and the encounter includes an element of sexual allure. Even so, the narrative portrays the characters as exceptionally virtuous, with integrity and faithfulness to God. Nothing in Boaz’s actions thus far suggests that he will respond favorably to Ruth if she presents herself as a common prostitute (compare Genesis 38:15, 16).

The sexual overtones of the story notwithstanding, it is better to assume that Ruth presents herself to Boaz as a woman who has moved past her bereavement and is now available for remarriage. Naomi mitigates the risk of proposing the match to Boaz by sending Ruth herself to open his eyes to the possibility of marriage. Because of their common bond of faith in the God of Israel, Boaz and Ruth will not be, to use Paul’s language, “unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

What Do You Think?
What kinds of counseling cases call for direct advice vs. those that don’t?
Digging Deeper
How will you go about improving your ability to discern one situation from another?


5, 6. And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do. And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law bade her.
Though Ruth had earlier refused her mother-in-law’s advice and guidance (Ruth 1:8–17), here she consents to follow her instructions fully (see Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20). Both her disobedience and obedience result from her love for Naomi. Ruth recognizes Naomi’s rightful role as her matchmaker in this circumstance. Naomi, who earlier found herself at odds with the Almighty (Ruth 1:13, 20, 21), sees Him at work behind the scenes.

Trusting Wise Counsel
Mentor relationships are both enriching and, at times, challenging. In order to truly learn, the protégé must trust the guidance of the mentor. We see this in the strong-willed mentorship of Anne Sullivan and her deaf-blind student, Helen Keller. Their historic breakthrough came when Anne splashed water over one of Helen’s hands and then signed the word W-A-T-E-R into her other hand. Helen understood what Anne was trying to teach her! From that day, Helen trusted Anne, and her life was changed for the better.

Trusting the wise counsel of mentors is often essential in obedience to God. Naomi saw the bigger picture of Boaz’s being a well-suited match for her daughter-in-law. She directed Ruth to go to him even though Ruth was a foreigner. Ruth trusted Naomi’s directives and experienced God’s blessings as a result. Who do you trust to help you seek God’s ways in your daily life?—B. L.

8. And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.
Some hours later, Ruth approaches Boaz quietly and uncovers his feet or some portion of his lower body (Ruth 3:7, not in today’s text). Given his grogginess, the darkness, and the insecure situation of sleeping out in the open, Boaz is afraid. But soon he perceives a woman … at his feet, perhaps after catching the aroma of perfume. But how does Boaz know that his visitor is not a prostitute who has come from town to offer her services?

9a. And he said, Who art thou?
This is the natural question to determine the woman’s identity and, along with it, her intentions. That Boaz knows his visitor to be a woman is confirmed by his use of the word thou, since it is feminine in Hebrew.

9b. And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid.
Ruth gives her name, but does not refer to herself as a stranger (as in Ruth 2:10), nor does she call herself a Moabitess (compare 1:22; 2:2, 21; 4:5, 10). Her self-designation as thine handmaid is the position of a female servant (compare 2:13). This is the first signal to Boaz that Ruth desires marriage.

9c. Spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid.
This request presumably refers to the gathered portion of clothing that previously covered Boaz’s legs. The Hebrew metaphorically calls this garment Boaz’s “wing”; thus Ruth plays on his earlier comment that she has found security and refuge under the “wings” of the God of Israel (Ruth 2:12; compare Ezekiel 16:8). Ruth intimates that she has faith in God’s provision. Furthermore, she views Boaz as the instrument in the hands of God to protect and provide for her.

9d. For thou art a near kinsman.
This fact makes Boaz eligible for a levirate marriage with Ruth (see Genesis 38:8; Deuteronomy 25:5–10; commentary on Ruth 1:11 in Lesson 11). Since Ruth’s husband (an Israelite) died without heirs, a male relative is expected to step in and produce a son to preserve the family line of the deceased.

10. And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.
Boaz discerns Ruth’s intentions rightly, blessing her instead of cursing her. On her actions as a kindness, see comments on this term at Ruth 1:8 in last week’s lesson. He recalls Ruth’s kindness to Naomi (1:8; 2:11) and declares the present action an even greater kindness. Ruth could have ventured on her own and charmed a younger man. But in keeping with her character thus far, she honors her mother-in-law’s desires and, by extension, Israel’s law.

Because of the legal complications and some other differences between the present situation and the scenarios envisioned in Genesis 38 and Deuteronomy 25, some scholars are disinclined to view Boaz’s marriage to Ruth as a levirate marriage (see comments at Ruth 3:12 below). Their thoughts along these lines may be warranted. But even if not strictly of the law concerning levirate marriage, Boaz’s forthcoming marriage to Ruth certainly falls within the bounds of tradition, ethics, and cultural expectations of the day.

11. 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.
Just as Ruth has agreed to do all that Naomi instructed (Ruth 3:5), now Boaz agrees to do what Ruth seeks to be done. He recognizes both Ruth’s risk in approaching him at night and her honorable intentions. His description of her as a virtuous woman uses the same two Hebrew words as found in Proverbs 12:4; 31:3, 10. Thus does Boaz assure Ruth that he will vouch for her reputation in all the city.

Choosing Integrity
When she was 18 years old, Princess Elizabeth convinced her father, King George VI, to accept her bold choice to join Great Britain’s military service. The future Queen of England thus left behind royal regalia for overalls in order to train as a mechanic and truck driver. In becoming a member of her country’s armed forces, Elizabeth modeled integrity as she shared the burdens of so many others during World War II.

Ruth also modeled noble character that was noticed by everyone around her. She remained with Naomi and worked hard in the fields to sustain them both. She followed her mother-in-law’s directives and approached Boaz with patience. Ruth was loyal and selfless in how she honored Naomi and Boaz. In everything, she demonstrated integrity in her commitment to Naomi’s God—the only God there is. How are the choices you make today witnessing to your reputation for integrity, or lack thereof?—B. L.

12. And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I.
Boaz accepts Ruth as his Israelite kin even though she is a Moabitess by birth (see Ruth 2:20). He also acknowledges the issues of legality and social custom involved with Ruth’s use of the term kinsman. Boaz’s own integrity will not allow him to proceed until one hurdle is cleared. The duties of the kinsman must fall first to the nearest male relative, and there is someone more closely related to Elimelech than Boaz (see 4:1). Boaz must therefore defer to that man. Because land inheritance is also at stake, the nearest kin has right of first refusal. He must be given the opportunity to act as the kinsman or decline to do so.

What Do You Think?
How should we handle situations in which doing the proper thing may appear to others that we’re just shifting an obligation onto someone else’s shoulders?
Digging Deeper
Consider 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12; 1 Timothy 3:7; 5:21, 24, 25; and Hebrews 4:13 in light of doing right in God’s eyes vs. doing right according to people.


16, 17. And when she came to her mother in law, she said, Who art thou, my daughter? And she told her all that the man had done to her. And she said, These six measures of barley gave he me; for he said to me, Go not empty unto thy mother in law.
In Ruth 3:13, 14 (not in today’s text), Boaz pledges to redeem Ruth if the nearer kinsman cannot or will not do so. Ruth remains with Boaz until just before daybreak. Then she quietly takes her leave, carrying with her the six measures of barley that Boaz has given her. Exactly how much barley this is is uncertain. But the context makes apparent that it is a generous amount.

The gift serves at least two purposes: it confirms Boaz’s intention to marry Ruth if he can, and it expresses his appreciation to Naomi. He does not want Ruth to return to Naomi empty. The word being translated that way is the same one Naomi used to describe herself when she returned to Judah (Ruth 1:21). The implication is that Naomi’s empty days are behind her. God thus works through Boaz on behalf of both women (see Psalm 37:3–5).

What Do You Think?
To whom should you express appreciation in the coming week for a help he or she extended to you recently?
Digging Deeper
What are good criteria for deciding whether expressions of appreciation should or should not be in the form of a material gift?


18. Then said she, Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day.
Naomi bids Ruth to sit tight and be patient, for the final resolution of the marriage possibility will not take long. Within a few hours she expects Boaz will have the matter resolved (see Ruth 4).

What Do You Think?
What are some ways to offer encouragement in life-changing situations that clearly call for “wait and see” inaction?

Digging Deeper
How would you tailor your response for someone who just has to “do something” vs. someone of a “what will be, will be” mind-set?


Conclusion

Good Models are Hard to Find
Marriage is one of the most sacred covenants that human beings can enter into. Sadly, integrity in this hallowed relationship is all too rare. Some cite “irreconcilable differences” after growing apart for years. Others find, too late, that they were not well-suited to each other from the very beginning of their relationship.

Infidelity abounds in all segments of society. Spouses cheat through social media, visiting illicit websites, concealing text messages, hiding money, etc. Abuses of many kinds contribute to broken marriages.

Scripture does not downplay the lack of good role models, whether in the arena of marriage or elsewhere. The actions of biblical characters are not always noble or exemplary. Even the one described as “a man after [God’s] own heart”‌—‌David son of Jesse (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22)‌—‌failed miserably (2 Samuel 11). The account in today’s lesson, however, presents a shining example of integrity and determination to follow God’s principles. There was no manipulation to obtain selfish goals. Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz acted as people of God in the best sense. What models they continue to be!

Prayer
Father, form in us an upright character that works to advance Your purposes in the world. We pray for this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Thought to Remember
God blesses and uses those who show integrity in relationships.