Ruth 3:1-18 – Sleepless in Bethlehem! (part 1)

Ruth 3:1-18 [part1]

Sleepless in Bethlehem!!!


So Far …      … this is a story about a family that ran into major difficulties. Chapter 1 tells us that a man, Elimelech, and his wife, Naomi left Israel during a famine to make a new life in a foreign land. They had two sons – in Moab the two sons married local women and then one after another Elimelech and this two sons died leaving three widows. They returned to Bethlehem – Naomi and one faithful daughter-in-law, Ruth.


Back in Bethlehem we have these two widows – one old and one young – one a native Israelite and one an alien – both poor – both with faith in God in spite of Naomi’s feelings of bitterness she still believed


The God of Israel was a family God – He portrays himself to his people as both father and husband. One who cares and provides. These characteristics were to be reflected in the community of Israel who was the people of God. ……

BUT because God is concerned for the poor, the widows, the orphans and the foreigners he gave instructions to treat the poor with equality and generosity.


Naomi & Ruth know they can glean in the harvest fields because farmers were ordered by God to leave the edges of the field & the dropped grain for the poor.

Ruth happens to come to a field that is owned by a man named Boaz. Boaz notices Ruth – love at first-sight it seems – instructs his workers to be good to her, gives her lunch and sends her home with extra food.

When Ruth reports what happened to Naomi – this is her response….

Ruth 2:20   20 “The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” (NIV)


Boaz also happens to be a relative of Ruth’s late father-in-law. The Family tie means that he has a responsibility to Naomi and Ruth. We will see later in the story that there was a closer relative who is not esp. inclined to fulfil his responsibility. Boaz is not just concerned with the letter of the law but he goes beyond duty to generosity.


Ruth has trusted God and God has arranged things so that Boaz becomes the means by which God provides for Ruth and Naomi.


  • Why is Naomi so excited about the fact that Boaz is a relative?
  • What is the significance of this?


BACKGROUND – Ruth meets Boaz in the middle of the night – thus the title / From movie ‘Sleepless in Seattle’


In order to grasp the significance of what is happening in this chapter we need to know some background.

Two customs / laws in the life of ancient Israel that are crucial to understanding this passage but are strange to our modern thinking.

  • 1st – ‘levir’ – loosely meaning ‘brother-in-law’. The levirate regulates marriage customs when the man of the house dies.
  • 2nd – ‘goel’ – is a near kinsman / relative who acts as redeemer of persons or property. The word means to ‘buy back’ or ‘redeem’ – or basically to ‘protect’


LEVIR – this refers to the practice and the law about what was to happen when a man died leaving his wife a widow with no children.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10

5 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 fulfil the duty of a brother-in-law to her. 6 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.

7 However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfil the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” 8 Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” 9 his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” 10 That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandalled. (NIV)


This is strange to us but in the OT where the family name is important a dead man’s name and inheritance could continue in this way. It was also a way of protecting and providing for widows.


GOEL – seen in previous messages on Ruth the strong family ties amongst the people of God. A strong sense of duty to care for and protect and provide for each other. This was to reflect God’s care, protection and provision.

The ‘goel’ was a protector and the nearest kinsman / relative was to fulfil that role.

Leviticus 25:25  25 ” ‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold. (NIV)

The ‘goel’ was also required to redeem the person who he had sold himself as a slave because he had fallen on hard times.

The ‘goel’ was to be an avenger of blood if one of his kinsman was unlawfully killed.

The ‘goel’ was to make restitution for the wrong caused by a kinsman.


The whole purpose was to show family solidarity and was a reminder of collective responsibility.

These duties must be seen against the background of the unique covenant that God / Yahweh had made with his people Israel.

The people belonged to God. The land belonged to God and was not to be sold in perpetuity. An impoverished Israelite who had sold himself as a slave was to be rescued because God had rescued his people from slavery in Egypt.

The ‘goel’s’ redemptive actions were a reflection of God rescuing / redeeming Israel from slavery in Egypt. They were also a foreshadowing / an illustration in advance of what Jesus Christ was to be 100’s of years later.


Let’s look at the story of Ruth and how this will give further insight into God as Redeemer.


  1. 1.     Advising [v.1-5]

Naomi desires to see her faithful and loving daughter-in-law safely settled and provided for. Her despair and despondency when she arrived back in Bethlehem has changed into new hope. Boaz is a near relative / a kinsman-redeemer / a goel.

Did Naomi know there was a kinsman nearer than Boaz? We can’t be sure. BUT Boaz certainly knew. So it seems that the author of this little book of Ruth wants us to understand that from this point on whatever action Boaz takes from now on is NOT done as a legal requirement but purely voluntarily and with generosity.


Farmers often used a common threshing place – high on a hill to catch the evening breeze – they would toss the wheat/barley into the air and the husks would blow away and the grain fall to the ground. They would stay over night to guard their crop.


Naomi knowing that Boaz will be at the threshing floor advises Ruth to prepare herself – (as a bride would prepare – Ezekiel 16) – and present herself to him that night. It was parental responsibility to arrange marriage so Naomi is simply fulfilling her role.

The purpose of all this is for Ruth to make clear to Boaz that she wants to marry him.

If a young widow in our time presented herself to an older, eligible man in this way we would question her morals and her motives – no doubt we would see her as pursuing a rich sugar Daddy.

There is no such idea in Ruth’s mind – She is concerned for Naomi. She is following a culturally acceptable practice that has been instituted in Israel by God.

Look at her response in – Ruth 3:5  “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered.

If Ruth had decided not to follow Naomi’s instruction – Why all this rigmarole? “I can approach Boaz in my own way!”

Many approach God in that way – “Surely I can come to God on my own terms.”  Salvation / Redemption is not a smorgasbord from which can pick and choose – God doesn’t want those who simply pay lip-service to him but rather those who do as he says. In our very individualistic / independent culture we are not very good at obedience! We pride ourselves on being independent thinkers and doers.

Jesus tells us:-Luke 6:46          46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? John 14:21 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. … (NIV)


Ruth is an example of one who not only hears but obeys also.


  1. 2.     Asking [v. 6-9]

We are not sure what motivated Ruth beyond her loyalty to Naomi. From What Boaz says in v.10 we know that Ruth could have run after younger men. However she has become part of God’s covenant people and has learned the importance of preserving her late husband’s name and inheritance through an heir – Naomi is too old to produce an heir.

Ruth has come to understand that the good of the family name is important and is willing to play her part.


This is difficult for us to grasp – we are so individualistic – Easterners understand family honour far more than we do.

Spiritually speaking while it is true that God deals with us individually it is also and equally true that he deals with us in community.

We are his people – the church is the bride of Christ. The question is, “To what extend are we a community / body OR to what extent are we simply a collection of individual Christians?”


A part of the Covenant community of Yahweh Ruth is willing to play her part.


Harvest time was also time for a party – – after the party Ruth watched to see where Boaz slept and went and lay at his feet.

In the middle of the night Boaz wakes with a start –


ILLUS.: As Snoopy the dog in the PEANUTS cartoon once said “Life in full of rude awakening!”

This is not the first time a biblical character had a surprise awakening.

Adam woke to discover that he had been through surgery and acquired a wife while he slept!

Jacob woke up to discover that he had married the wrong woman!


You can imagine Boaz’s surprise – the tense whisperings as he tries to find out who she is and what she wants.

Ruth 3:9  “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.” (NIV)

Ruth 3:9 9 …: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman. (KJV)


Maybe it was leap year because she was asking him to marry her.

The Lord uses this same expression of “spreading the skirt over” with reference to Jerusalem – representing His people.

Ezekiel 16:8          8 ” ‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment [my skirt] over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine. (NIV)


To spread your skirt / garment over someone was to claim the person for yourself – esp. in marriage.


Word for skirt similar [though not identical] to wings – Ruth 2:12  BOAZ SPEAKING TO RUTH _ 12 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.” (NIV)


Jesus uses similar imagery, also about Jerusalem -Luke 13:34

34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (NIV)


What Ruth has a need to ask for Boaz desires to give and much more! As the story continues we will see that he is not simply concerned with fulfilling his minimum legal obligation. In fact he is not obliged to act as ‘Levir’ or ‘goel’ because he is not the nearest kinsman-redeemer.

It is clear that Boaz loves Ruth and wishes to provide for her and protect her. Her asking is based purely on grace she has no right.

Ruth protection under the wings of the God of Israel finds fulfilment under the garment of Boaz.


… ‘wings of refuge’ – The Bible gives this wonderful picture of God as an eagle caring for and protecting her young – Song of Moses – Deuteronomy 32:11 like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.

Psalmist – Psalm 17:8 …. hide me in the shadow of your wings (NIV)

Psalm 36:7-8 7 How priceless is your unfailing love!

Both high and low among men       find refuge in the shadow of your wings.


David the Psalmist learned that ultimately it is only God to whom we can look for provision and protection. No matter how much we have in terms of this world’s goods // or how many friends we may have there will come a time, even if it is only on our death bed, where we have to look to God alone. If we seek refuge only in people and things we will always eventually be disappointed BECAUSE even with the best will in the world our friends and resources cannot provide all we need.


How comforting was this for Ruth – a foreigner and a poor widow being assured that God cares; God provides!


In Ruth 2:12 12……… May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (NIV)


Now it is through Boaz himself that God is beginning to answer that prayer.

Boaz was one of God’s covenant people and it is incumbent upon the people of God to both experience the refuge of God’s wings and to be ready to be the means by which others may experience it also.

If God has blessed us and we selfishly hoard those blessings for ourselves we are betraying our name CHRISTIAN.


Ruth entrusted herself to the grace of God –– God always meets our needs, whatever they are, as we take refuge under his wings. Boaz is a poor illustration of Jesus would late be – Our redeemer / one who is able to and willing to rescue and provide for all who come to him by faith.      [next time!!]


Jesus, Lover of my soul,

let me to your presence fly,

while the gathering waters roll,

while the tempest still is high.

Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,

till the storm of life is past;

safe into the haven, guide

and receive my soul at last.

2 Other refuge have I none,

all my hope in you I see:

leave, O leave me, not alone;

still support and strengthen me.

All my trust on you is stayed,

all my help from you I bring:

cover my defenceless head

with the shadow of your wing.


3 You, O Christ, are all I want,

more than all in you I find:

raise the fallen, cheer the faint,

heal the sick and lead the blind.

Just and holy is your name,

I am all unworthiness;

false and full of sin I am,

you are full of truth and grace.

4 Boundless grace with you is found,

grace to cover all my sin:

let the healing streams abound;

make and keep me clean within.

Living Fountain, now impart

all your life and purity;

spring for ever in my heart,

rise to all eternity!

Charles Wesley (1707-88)

  1. 3.     Accepting [v.10-15]
  2. 4.     Awaiting [v. 16-18]



Ruth 3:1-18


Sleepless in Bethlehem!!!


  • ‘levir’ – loosely meaning ‘brother-in-law’. The levirate regulates marriage customs when the man of the house dies.
  • ‘goel’ – is a near kinsman / relative who acts as redeemer of persons or property. The word means to ‘buy back’ or ‘redeem’


1. Advising [v.1-5]


2. Asking [v. 6-9]


3. Accepting [v.10-15]


4. Awaiting [v. 16-18]


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