There once was a woman named Ruth. She lived in the land of Moab, east of Israel, just across the Dead Sea. It was a barren, desert land – rocky, with lots of hills. Today we call it the Kingdom of Jordan.
We would know nothing of Ruth except for one thing – she married a young Israelite named Kilion. Her sister Orpah married his brother. Kilion’s family had moved from Israel to Moab in search of food. There was a famine in Israel. Today we’d say there was an economic downturn in Israel, and they had moved looking for work. Then and now people migrate for these reasons.
After her marriage, Ruth had a string of hard luck. Her husband died; his brother died, and her father-in-law died. That left the three women—Ruth, Orpah and their mother-in-law Naomi—without any means of support. They were destitute. They had to do something.
Orpah decided to stay in the land of Moab. She went back to her family to start over. But Ruth chose to go with Naomi back to the land of Israel. She loved her mother-in-law and was devoted to her. In going she said those words heard today at weddings: ‘Where you go, I will go; and were you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.’ That comes from the Book of Ruth.
After their journey on foot, Ruth and Naomi made it back to the land of Israel. Ruth went to work immediately, gleaning in the field. It was harvest time. The law allowed the poor to walk behind the harvesters and pick up any grain left behind. The good harvester would deliberately leave grain for the poor, like Ruth, to take home.
Ruth caught the attention of the owner of the field, Boaz, and he started to look out for her. He made sure she stayed safe.
Now there’s conjecture in what I’m going to say, but it’s probably true. Naomi was hoping Boaz would take more than a passing interest in Ruth. She hoped he’d marry her. But he didn’t pursue that with Ruth. So Naomi decided to help him figure it out. Like a lot of men, Boaz was slow to get what his role in the drama was to be. Naomi was going to help him.
Sometimes when I’m slow to figure something out, my wife says to me, ‘Here’s you [pointing to left] and here’s the point [pointing to right].’ In the same way, Boaz hadn’t gotten the point yet, and Naomi was going to help him figure it out.
She knew that the next afternoon, Boaz would be outside threshing the grain. He’d throw the grain up in the air, and let the breeze take away the bad parts. The good parts would fall back to the ground. He’d be tired afterward from all the work; he’d have a drink, and then he’d go to sleep next to his pile of grain. The next morning he’d cart it away. This was Naomi’s opportunity.
She told Ruth to take a bath. Good point… it’s always important to take a bath before you make a marriage proposal. Then she was supposed to perfume herself and put on nice clothes. After Boaz had fallen asleep next to his pile of grain, Ruth was to creep up to him quietly, uncover his feet, and lie down next to him. Then she was to wait. Boaz would know what to do when he woke.
So Ruth did just this. She uncovered his feet and lay down next to him.
People aren’t sure what the uncovering of the feet means. Whatever else, it was a provocative thing to do. I imagine Boaz wasn’t wearing any pajama bottoms. And how far did Ruth uncover him? We don’t know.
The action probably meant one of two things. Either Ruth was saying, ‘I want you to have sex with me.’ Or she was saying, ‘I want you to marry me.’
Once Boaz woke, Ruth immediately made it clear that it was the latter… she wanted him to marry her. Ruth was proposing marriage. Boaz was flattered. I imagine no woman had ever proposed marriage to him. Finally, he got the point… he needed to take care of Ruth. She would be faithful and loving to him, just as she had been to Naomi. Boaz accepted the proposal.
The movie The Proposal stars Sandra Bullock, playing Margaret, a high powered publishing executive. She’s known more for making deals than being kind or gracious.
One day Margaret faces a problem, an immigration problem. She’s about to be deported back to Canada, where she was born. On the spot, she comes up with a solution. She forces—blackmails, really—her assistant, a young man named Andrew, to marry her so that she can stay in the country.
In the scene you are about to see, Andrew and Margaret have just seen an immigration official, who immediately smelled something fishy about this quick marriage. Andrew has learned that he faces up to five years in prison and a big fine for marrying under false pretenses, which is what he’s doing. This scene happens next…
[19:29—21:54, Margaret proposing to Andrew on her knees on the sidewalk]
I commend the movie The Proposal to you. It has rich themes on the meaning of marriage and the importance of honesty. I don’t want to give the ending away, but I’ll just say that the Sandra Bullock character, Margaret, goes through a reeducation in the film. She learns what it is to be a human being, faithful and loving.
In our scripture, Ruth already knows what it is to be a faithful and loving human being. Her proposal is much different than Margaret’s in the movie clip. Ruth’s is genuine, honest and sincere. And Boaz knows it… he knows everything about Ruth, how kind and loyal and hardworking she is. He’s eager to make the match. He has some legal details to work out (we don’t need to go into the details), but once that’s done he marries Ruth.
In time, Boaz and Ruth have a child together. In time, that child grows up and has children. And eventually Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of King David. She takes her part in the family tree of Jesus himself. All because Ruth took Naomi’s advice and made her proposal.
The Book of Ruth is a lovely story. You can read it in about 15 minutes. It’s one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible.
What strikes me about Ruth, at least reading her story this time, is her character. Specifically how she blends together two opposite things. Ruth is humble and bold. Some people are humble, but not bold. Others are bold, but not humble. Ruth is both—it’s a rare thing and lovely to watch in action.
When Ruth uncovered Boaz’s feet, this was a bold thing to do. Took a lot of courage. It reminds me of that bumper sticker you see sometimes: ‘Well-behaved Women Don’t Make History.’ Exactly. Not that Ruth is behaving badly… but she is behaving boldly. But she seasons it with humility—she is gentle, quiet, faithful and kind. Boaz saw that, which is why he was so eager to make the match… after he got the point, that is.
I’m guessing there is someone here today listening to this message right now who is in a situation like Ruth’s. You need to make a proposal. You need to nudge someone so they get the point. You need to uncover someone’s feet.
It may be a spouse you need to nudge, or a friend, or an employer, or a potential employer, but you know who it is. You need to make a proposal to them. But you’re scared to do it. A big piece of you doesn’t want to do it. ‘What will they think of me?’ you say. ‘I’ve never done this before.’
If that’s you, I’d say let Ruth be your model. Be bold, but humble. Make your proposal. Nudge them. Uncover their feet. Then step back and wait and see what happens. Maybe nothing will happen—if so, that’s okay, nothing lost. But maybe something will happen, something astonishing… something you never expected to happen. Maybe people who haven’t even been born yet will benefit from your bold action now.
So do it. Make your proposal… and wait for what will happen. Amen.