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Writing Discussions in the Book of Ruth, Chapter 3

  • August 31, 2019
  • By Ben van Noort
Writing Discussions in the Book of Ruth, Chapter 3

Writing Discussions in the Book of Ruth, Chapter 3

How strange that Jews and Christians never searched for the question: How did direct speech in the Hebrew Bible come to us, as a truly once spoken word?

Naomi and Ruth
During the barley harvest Naomi decided to tell Ruth that Boaz stood in a very special position towards her. She not only informed Ruth, but also connected to it action towards Boaz. She took a wax tablet, that nothing could go wrong, and writing she said:

“My daughter, should I not seek a home for you, that it may be well with you? Now is not Bo′az our kinsman [redeemer], with whose maidens you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” (Ruth 3:1-4 RSV, etc.)

Of course Ruth was not unaware of the redeeming custom that a widow could be married by a relative of the passed away husband. Naomi uncovered that Boaz was such a relative to her, and Naomi wanted her to take the initiative to remind him to this custom, and marry her. Ruth received Noami’s wax tablet and answering, she wrote: “All that you say I will do.” (v. 5)

Documentation: Writing Discussion
Motive: Private Instruction

Boaz and Ruth
When Ruth had prepared all things as Naomi had told her, she went to the threshing floor. She knew the place by heart as she had been there so many times. She could see everything that happened there from a safe distance and then she saw Boaz preparing his sleeping place at the end of the heap of grain. She took enough time for him to fall asleep. Then she approached and laid herself down at his feet. At midnight, Boaz woke up and discovered someone at his feet, and asked: “Who are you?” (v. 9a)

Of course Ruth expected this question. Certainly she had written the answer on her wax tablet and learned it by heart. She whispered, loud enough to be heard: “I am Ruth, your maidservant; spread your skirt [wing] over your maidservant, for you are next of kin.” (v. 9b)

She uttered her name and directly also her goal that Boaz was the one to redeem her, to marry her. As she said in the metaphor “to spread his skirt [or wing] over her.” And she gave him her wax tablet, still closed. What would be his reply?

Documentation: Opening Writing Discussion
Motive: Proposal of Marriage

At first Boaz needed light to read and write. As most threshing floors there must have been a lean-to, or small barn, for farmer materials and also a possibility to make light at night. Maybe an oil pit was burning at night inside an earthen vessel. Compare: jars are used to hide torches in the night (Judges 7:16); in darkness, believers have the light of God in their hearts, as in earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:6-7). Anyweay, h
aving got light, Boaz looked to Ruth and to the tablet; and writing he began to speak to her:

“May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; you have made this last kindness greater than the first, in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear, I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of worth. 12 And now it is true that I am a near kinsman [redeemer], yet there is a kinsman nearer than I. 13 Remain this night, and in the morning, if he will do the part of the next of kin for you, well; let him do it; but if he is not willing to do the part of the next of kin for you, then, as the Lord lives, I will do the part of the next of kin for you [redeem you]. Lie down until the morning.”

Documentation: Writing Discussion
Motive: Acceptance Proposal of Marriage

Last Instructions
Boaz could not be more clear in his statements. His sleep was over, and he prepared to leave the threshing floor to give way to his promise to Ruth. He only gave her some last instructions, he wrote under the arrangement: “Let it not be known that the woman [you] came to the threshing floor.” (v. 14) And: “Bring the mantle [shawl] you are wearing and hold it out.” (v. 15) And: “You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law,” (v. 17) and he gave her six measures of barley.

Documentation: Finishing Writing Discussion
Motive: Last Instructions

Then Boaz returned the writing tablet to Ruth and went to the village to be in time for the first workers who came out to the fields. It was his intention to pick up the other relative [redeemer] who was nearer than he. He did not want to miss him.

State of Affairs Evaluated by Naomi and Ruth
At dawn, Ruth arose from the sleeping place and returned to Naomi, in the women house, and told her what had occurred that night. She had to whisper to keep things silent. Ruth certainly showed her writing tablet and that was enough for Naomi to write her reaction underneath: “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest, but will settle the matter today.” (v. 18)

Documentation: Writing Discussion
Motive: Strict Private Affairs

Black Spot of Theology
Our theologians, in general, only seem to be interested in the details of a biblical text to sustain their own doctrines, liberals as well as conservatives. In both cases they disregard the personal interests of the original writers, who did not produce novels, poems, thrillers, and all sort of modern genres (all of which I like by the way). These writers wrote prophetical texts, as they were very aware of the intrinsic power of the spoken word, especially of prophetic words. They expected God to be at work through their words. That and their personal interests made their words so important for them.   

Ruth and Boaz appeared to have the same prophetic interests, and from the outset they became soulmates. That all happened between them in daily life. How strange that our theologians often seem to be interested only in the ‘historical explanation’ of a biblical text? Did they ever search for the answer to the question: How did this direct speech come to us, as a truly once spoken word? And that is what we are doing here, coloring again and again the black spot of theology since old times.

Editor: As always, I enjoyed the read, and love the question regarding how this word came to us. 


By Ben van Noort, August 31, 2019