The Darkness of Midnight
The book of Ruth has been aptly described as one of the greatest short stories ever written. But, as we have discovered, it is not merely a story of human devotion and romance. Much more than that, it is a story about God’s faithfulness, and ‘a cameo portrait of two women whose lives the great divine romance of God’s loving kindness and faithfulness has been painted,’ declares Sinclair Ferguson.
Chapter 1 traces the wonder of God’s providence in the way in which he brings people to trust in his covenant promise and grace. Ferguson notes that ‘It is a narrative of a surprising conversion.’ Chapter 2 develops the storyline further, and in the process portrays the faithfulness that God’s grace reproduces in his people. Again, Ferguson states, ‘Godliness is God-likeness.’ He writes further:
‘It may be commonplace to underline the importance of this – but it does need to be underlined: the only way most people we know will ever see the transforming grace of God is in our lives and characters. Ruth chapter 2 shows us how God’s loyal love, his steadfastness, his grace, his desire to bring blessings at whatever expense to himself, are all reflected in Boaz and Ruth.’
We are reminded that it is probably intentional on the part of the author of Ruth that we should see the romantic dimension of this story as ‘a replay of the first love-relationship in the Garden of Eden.’ For, as Ferguson continues, ‘God’s grace restores what his love first created for us but sin has marred.’
When we turn to Ruth 3, however, we come to a disturbing element in the story. Here Naomi urges Ruth to make herself as attractive as possible, go down to the threshing floor, and under cover of darkness ‘uncover his [Boaz’s] feet and lie down’. Naomi adds, ‘and he will tell you what to do’.
Over the years both Jewish and Christian scholars have wondered whether these words should be translated with more obvious sexual undertones. Ferguson writes, ‘But even as they read in our standard English translations this is hardly counsel we expect an older woman to give to an attractive young woman in her twenties. Can this be the same woman who has been restored by God’s grace?’
Join us this week as Chad leads us in thinking about Ruth 3. We will ask questions such as: Is Naomi really telling her daughter-in-law to perfume herself, put on her most attractive clothes, go down to the threshing floor in the middle of the night, lie beside a man to whom she is not married, and wait to see what happens? Or, is it conceivable that a sensible Christian would ever give counsel like this? Can it be divinely blessed?
Ferguson concludes his introduction to this situation as he writes:
‘These are the questions that come instinctively to mind, surely, as we read this passage. They can hardly be glossed over or sanitized by the notion that this was simply a traditional custom with nothing unusual about it at all. If we share this sense of anxiety, then the author of the book of Ruth has got us into precisely the frame of mind he wants to create! This is exactly what he intends us to feel. He wants us to feel our toes curling with anticipation: What is going on here? Is this story going to end in disaster?’
You don’t want to miss how this will end. We give thanks to God for Chad’s exposition to us of the book of Ruth, and encourage you to lift him up in prayer as he prepares. Furthermore, I urge you to be in prayer for us as we are trusting the Lord to work reformation in our communities. Bring a friend and let’s learn this week how we see the face of our Redeemer in Ruth 3. The grace of Christ be with you.
For Christ and His Kingdom,