Ruth 3: What do you do when there is nothing you can do?
Ruth 3: 1-18.
What do you do when there is nothing you can do?
Here are the rules of the game that Ruth and Naomi are playing by...
Women have four options.
They marry and their husband and family look after them.
They become beggars.
They become prostitutes.
That is not a lot of options.
The trouble was that women couldn’t earn money; they are looked after by the men. The husbands could own fields and grow crops and sustain the family.
If they have daughters then their task as parents is to make sure they get a husband to look after them.
And they will do anything to make sure that their daughters have someone to look after them. If not a husband, maybe a brother would look after them, but if they have no brother, they definitely need a husband..
The sole point of women was to have children so that they could look after the generations above them when they got older.
So the families would get together at some point to arrange good marriages.
It would be the parents that arrange this because the experts here are the parents. They know how hard marriage is because they’re married.
Not only that they know their children, so they know who would be a good match for them. Never risk something as important as who you would spend the rest of your life with, with two people with no lives experience. Especially when one of them, the daughter, has probably never been out on her own.
Well, when I say the parents, I mean the husbands. The wife might get a say if the husband let her in on the meeting. But even then it would be on an advisory basis only.
How important is this? Well the Bible tells of a man called Laban. He has two daughters. Along comes a young man called Jacob. Who falls instantly in love with his younger daughter Rachel. Laban thinks that is fine but what to do for Leah, the older daughter?
Well when Jacob says that he wishes to marry Rachel but has no prospects then Laban says, ‘Look work for me for nothing for seven years, then you can get my daughter.’ Well Jacob does that and at the end of the seven years they go through some simple ritual. The bride arrives all covered up and they go into the marriage tent where Jacob is waiting, and the deal is sealed in the marriage bed. Only in the morning Jacob wakes up and realises that it wasn’t Rachel he slept with but Leah. So now he is married to Leah. When Jacob complains to Laban, all Laban says is, ‘The older daughter has to marry first. Work for me another seven years and I’ll give you Rachel.’
And so both his daughters will now be looked after. That’s all that matters. In anger Jacob might beat Leah up. Jacob might ignore her for the rest of her life. But he has to look after her....and in the end that’s all that matters
Notice how little say any of the women get in this.
The men make all the decisions.
Leah has no say in who she will marry.
Rachel has no say in being refused marriage.
Now what happens if a girl is married off to a young man and he dies? Who looks after her then? A big problem when mortality rates were high. Well it was expected that the brother of the deceased male would marry the widow so that she had someone to look after her.
So those are all the rules.
Now look at Naomi and Ruth’s situation.
Ruth is married to Naomi’s son. But he dies. So technically she would then be married to Naomi’s other son. But he is also dead.
Naomi has gone back to her family area, Bethlehem. Now it is obvious there is no brothers for Naomi to live with because if there was she would be. There are some extended family, maybe cousins or nephews. Enough to let them stay and not be harassed, but not enough to look after.
All is fine during the harvest. Ruth can go out and get enough of the scraps to be comfortable. But the harvest is coming to an end and then they will be in big trouble.
They need to marry Ruth off so that she will have someone to look after her.
But Naomi isn't a man, she can’t initiate a meeting with another family.
Not only that, Ruth is used property.
And not only that, she isn't even Jewish.
Ruth might be a sweet thing but you wouldn't want your young innocent son marrying a foreigner with weird ways. That has already had a husband and hasn't been able to have children. What if she can’t give children to your son? What if she has children but because she is a foreigner she takes those grandchildren away back to her home? Who looks after you then?
It’s just too risky.
Not that any of that matters because Naomi wouldn't be able to negotiate with any family because she is just a woman.
What do you do when there is nothing you can do?
To understand what Naomi does there is something that you need to understand. In this case when the Bible talks about ‘feet’, it doesn’t mean ‘feet’.
Here is what men in those days wore. Like a long dress that went to the feet.
And that might be all they wore. They don't need to wear anything else because it is hot and all their modesty is covered. And more cloths are expensive.
Most people might only have had one set of clothes.
Now if Boaz is working in the fields he will certainly only have this on as it is hot work and you don't want your best clothes getting dirty.
So when the Bible talks about uncovering the feet here. It means lifting the dress up beyond the waist, uncovering something else completely.
Ok so here is the plan.
Naomi tells Ruth to get all dolled up. Wear perfume. Best cloths possible.
But don’t go to Boaz.
Wait till he has finished the harvesting for the day. He’s tired and exhausted.
But still don’t go to Boaz.
Then wait till Boaz has had his meal and drunk a bit. Drunk enough till he is, quote ‘in a good mood’.
So there is Boaz. Shattered, exhausted, slightly drunk and now asleep.
Then Ruth goes to Boaz...lifts up the dress until his ‘feet’ are well on show, then lies down on top of him.
Boaz at some point wakes up, looks at the situation and thinks, ‘What have I done? My reputation is down the tubes. What can I do?’
Here’s the question, ‘Is what Naomi planned morally right?’
You see this book of Ruth starts off as a simple book, and innocent book. Nothing really here to teach us. But here is a moral bomb shell right in the middle of it.
Naomi and Ruth have survived the harvest but they might not survive till the next harvest. Their lives are on the line.
You could argue that a modern equivalent of this is that your son comes back with some hussy that says she is pregnant and now your son has to marry her. You suspect that she is using your son to get to the family inheritance.
‘Is what Naomi planned morally right?’
You see the truth of the matter is that these are real people struggling in real situations and desperate.
‘Is what Naomi planned morally right?’
Let me look at this from another angle.
Boaz is a good guy. He has proven in the past by his actions that he is a good guy. He is obviously a reasonably wealthy guy. So why isn’t he already married.
In that culture, in that society, at that time, homosexuality would never be an option. Even in you were homosexual you would still get married to make sure there was a generation to follow you.
So two options.
One. He was married before and his wife died and he has never had the courage to go into marriage again.
Two. He is painfully shy and never gotten the courage to go through with marriage.
Now the thing is, that the way he treats Ruth he is obviously interested. But he is never going to do anything about it. That is what Naomi sees.
Boaz has a choice to make, he just doesn’t know it yet. Naomi creates the situation that forces Boaz to make the choice.
So this whole thing is not to seduce Boaz. Ruth never tricks Boaz.
Boaz wakes up, sees the situation and thinks the worst. But then Ruth says, ‘Nothing happened. But the choice is yours to decide if it should happen.’
Boaz decides that she should stay the rest of the night.
It is all kind of messy.
But so is life.
Here’s the point...
I don't know if it is the point that the Bible wants to make, but I am making it anyway.
For many people out there life is really messy and desperate.
And when life is messy and desperate people do desperate things.
Who are we to judge?
We regard Naomi and Ruth as the good guys. We see the end results of what happened and think it was OK.
Yet if someone tricked one of our family, the way they tricked Boaz, we might be freaking out with anger.
Yet maybe they were just trying to survive.
So here are my conclusions, for what they are worth.
I realise that I should be very thankful for what I have that I don't have to make the choices that they had to make. Maybe I take for granted how good my life is that I don't have those kind of difficult decisions to make. Maybe I could be more thankful for what I have rather than be resentful for what I don’t have.
Maybe I, we, should be mentoring more. One thing I try desperately to tell my children is that the best way not to make such bad choices, is to live your life in such a way that you don't have to make such desperate decisions. But people with little experience need people who have lived life more to teach them. That’s why I take Zones so seriously. I get 20 minutes story time. 20 minutes to hopefully show them a better choice. That's why we are trying so hard to create something for teenagers. Because at a time when they are at their most vulnerable...who gives them better options. And if we don’t give them better options, why should we judge the options they take?
I should be more merciful and forgiving to people that live a far harder life than I live. The truth is that Naomi looked at the rules she had to live by and saw that by those rules there was nothing she could do...so she changed the rules. What do you do when you have no choice? The truth is there is always a choice, the problem is you may not see what the best choice is.
Maybe the real point of this is the clever way the Bible has written this.
You see if you just read this passage you wouldn't have even thought about judging or condemning Naomi or Ruth. You only had to think about it when I pointed out the possible moral ambiguity of it all.
As we read this story our natural inclination is to want them to succeed. To help them. Because they have had such a hard life, and they could do so much if they got some help.
And maybe that is the point of it all.
That as we move from this story of long ago, to the stories we are faced with every day, our natural inclination should not be to judge what other people do. Our natural inclination should be just to help, because life is hard and what could people achieve if they got just a wee bit help...maybe a wee bit help from us?