Over the course of time I have heard several studies on the book of Ruth. I’ve heard of how Ruth and Boaz are the quintessence of a good couple. I’ve heard a lot of different lessons on Ruth to show how to show yourself as a potential spouse. I’ve also been told that what Ruth did by uncovering Boaz’s feet was the cultural proposal of that time. However, after a classmate of mine posted an interesting blog on swearing by putting your hand under someone’s thigh, I decided that it might be advantageous to look more closely at what exactly Ruth did in proposing to Boaz. Therefore, what I’m going to look at is what exactly the specific details of Ruth’s proposal are, and how Boaz being the “redeemer” (ESV) plays a part in that situation.
To make the context known, the proposal scene is in Ruth 3 where it says in Ruth 3:6-14 “So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. (7) And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. (8) At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! (9) He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (10) And he said, “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 worthy woman. (12) And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. (13) Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the LORD lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning. (14) So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.””(ESV)
Due to my classmate’s blog explaining the process of “Swearing by putting your hand under one’s thigh” as a man grabbing another one by the genitalia, the primary question on the proposal scene is, “Was it sexual?” Growing up in the church it’s portrayed that Ruth and Boaz are this outstanding couple who are seemingly flawless, but when the idea is presented to you that when Ruth “uncovered his feet and lay down,” it may have been sexual, you’re really thrown a huge curve ball. However, one thing about the possibility of this being true that makes this pill easier to swallow is the fact that nowhere in the Bible— except for the case of Jesus— do we find the Bible describing someone as perfect. If you’ve read the Bible up to the point of Ruth, Ruth is a foil of the preceding books. In all the books before it all you see is an Israelite nation failing over and over again to keep God’s will. However, in Ruth it seems that you find a couple that does everything right. Therefore, if it was sexual, it is somewhat easier to swallow if you bear in mind that maybe the story is just not quite the extreme contrast to the preceding books as you previously thought.
Before you get all gun-hoe on the idea of the story swaying either way, let’s take a look at what some outside sources say about the situation. The side for the argument being sexual is very simple: uncovering one’s feet is a euphemism for uncovering the private areas. “—the statement that Ruth “uncovered his feet” is a euphemism meaning that she had sexual relations with Boaz. There is an idiom in Hebrew using the verb “uncover” that describes sexual relations, but it’s to uncover a person’s “nakedness,” not their “feet.” For example, the general law against incest in Leviticus, which the NIV translates “No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations,” says more literally, “None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness” (ESV; the NRSV is similar). The specific incest laws that follow use this same idiom.” (http://understandingbooksbible.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/0215/) The same view is given by the Skeptics Annotated Bible where it says, “(3:3-4) Naomi (Ruth’s mother-in-law) advises Ruth as to how to best seduce Boaz. She tells her to wait until he is a bit drunk and has fallen asleep. Then “go in and uncover his feet [a biblical euphemism for male genitals], and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what to do.”( http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/ru/3.html) So we can plainly see this side of the argument saying that “feet” is used as a euphemism. However, whether or not it’s true that “feet” is a euphemism for the male genitalia is really not the argument to be made when discussing this. The reason it’s not is because “feet” is a word that is used quite often in the Bible. The real question is if in this instance specifically it was used as a euphemism because it certainly couldn’t have always been used as a euphemism. For instance, if we are to say that “feet” is always used as a euphemism, then we are to suspect that Yahweh told Moses to take some sort of shoe off his genitalia because he was on holy ground……….. Yeah, right. Therefore, whether or not the euphemism is true is really not of huge importance, what is important is if the usage of the word “feet” as a euphemism works for this context.
In the previous comment on this passage we can see that the inquirer is saying that Ruth waited for Boaz to get a little tipsy, and then seduced him. If that truly was the context, then yes, we might consider “feet” used as a euphemism. However, there’s a lot more in context to be viewed than Boaz doing a little drinking. One of the strongest arguments I read was looking at the setting where this took place. “What happened, whatever it was, happened in PUBLIC (3:3) and in the open air (threshing floors by their nature could not be covered, since the wind was used to thresh/separate husk from kernel).” and “There were all kinds of folks around at the time the event occurred who could have awakened and discovered them making love (3:4 records Naomi’s directions to Ruth that include “Take note of where he lies down,” so that she didn’t lie down beside the wrong person due to the dark; also, Boaz was a man of means whose servants would have been doing the actual hands-on work of winnowing/threshing and sleeping near the harvested grain to guard it–this is alluded to in 3:14), which would have gotten them both stoned “( http://www.isitinthebible.com/ot/ruth&boaz.htm) The argument here is that it is very unlikely that it was sexual in nature due to the fact that the proposal setting was in the open and anybody could have caught them. Furthermore, if they would have been caught then it would have been very bad news for the two of them. Therefore, due to the public setting, it is very unlikely that this would have been a sexual occurrence. Another rebuttal, and perhaps my favorite, deals with the time frame of the occurrence. “Another consideration is that whatever Ruth did to him, Boaz didn’t wake up until about 4 hours later (in the middle of the night, 3:8), and no male could sleep through that kind of attention.” (http://www.isitinthebible.com/ot/ruth&boaz.htm) I think this is a really strong argument to be made. The context shows that there was a certain time frame between the uncovering of Boaz’s feet and him waking up. If Ruth really did uncover Boaz in a sexual fashion, then I really doubt that Boaz would have stayed asleep during that time. It just doesn’t seem plausible that if Boaz would have been willing for sexual relations so easily, that he would have slept through someone uncovering him sexually. Moreover, if Ruth was so lusty, she wouldn’t have waited so long. Some further arguments against the idea is the fact that Ruth and Boaz are both displayed throughout the book to have very high moral integrity, so it would be unlikely that they would commit sexual acts in such a manner.
Therefore, my thoughts on the matter are that the uncovering of Boaz’s feet was not a sexual episode; moreover, my world has not been shaken. However, a last and final interesting view on the matter has a literary viewpoint. “The notion that this speaks of his private parts is unlikely for this reason: both Ruth and Boaz are described by the narrator as people of incredible integrity, and both are presented as people who do what is proper and moral. That said, it is possible that the narrator (who does use playful language) uses that expression which could have two different meanings in order to hook his audience, but then imply, “Got your attention, but that’s not what I mean!”” (http://www.isitinthebible.com/ot/ruth&boaz.htm) This viewpoint is very reminiscent of Chaucer’s Canterbury tales. It is supposed that when Chaucer gives his disclaimer for his raunchy material coming up, he is also using it as a hook to get his audience’s attention that like that sort of thing. Therefore, it is possible that the use of that phrase was used ambiguously as a hook for the audience’s attention, but I am skeptical of that view.
My next question that I had was about the process of the proposal itself. If the process wasn’t sexual, then what exactly was it? The first point to make is that Boaz, as Ruth’s “redeemer”(ESV) was the next kin responsible for taking the land of Ruth’s deceased husband and marrying Ruth. However, there was someone else who was closer kin than Boaz, but we know that Boaz took care of that situation. Therefore, as Ruth’s redeemer, Boaz had a right to take Ruth as his wife, and Ruth had a right to choose Boaz as her husband.
The second thing to analyze is the uncovering of Boaz’s feet from a non-sexual outlook. “At the appropriate time, Naomi instructs Ruth to go in, uncover his feet, and lie down. Some might think this was a provocative gesture, as if Ruth was told to provocatively offer herself sexually to Boaz. This was not how this gesture was understood in that day. In the culture of that day, this was understood as an act of total submission. i. In that day, this was understood to be the role of a servant – to lay at their master’s feet and be ready for any command of the master. So, when Naomi told Ruth to lie down at Boaz’s feet, she told her to come to him in a totally humble, submissive way. ii. Don’t lose sight of the larger picture: Ruth came to claim a right. Boaz was her goel, her kinsman-redeemer, and she had the right to expect him to marry her and raise up a family to perpetuate the name of Elimelech. But Naomi wisely counseled Ruth to not come as a victim demanding her rights, but as a humble servant, trusting in the goodness of her kinsman-redeemer. She said to Boaz, “I respect you, I trust you, and I put my fate in your hands.”” (http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0803.htm) The inquirer here makes a point that seems completely in character for Ruth as we know her. When Ruth was uncovering Boaz’s feet and lying down by his feet, she was portraying herself as a humble servant. Ruth didn’t go in there with a haughty attitude and demanding his hand in marriage by extortion, Ruth went in there with humility and humbly asked for his hand in marriage. Personally, I find this view very likable and realistic given what we know about Ruth’s character, but some may disagree.
The third part that is also taken sexually, but has a contrasting view to it is when Ruth asked Boaz to “spread [his] wings” (ESV) or “spread [his] skirt” (KJV) over her. The commentaries that fit the context best (in my opinion) point to this being the actual proposal. “After Ruth identified herself in the darkness, she then made the proposal of marriage to Boaz: “Spread the corner of your garment over your maidservant.” That idiom means “marry me.” The gesture of a man covering a woman with his garment was a “symbolic act of a new relationship and the symbolic declaration of the husband to provide for the sustenance of his future wife.” ( http://discovertheword.org/2010/09/21/look-at-an-old-testament-marriage-proposal-with-a-twist/) Here we find that the spreading of his garment over her was an idiom or a metaphorical way of saying “marry me”, but a better fit to this visual would probably be “shelter me”. Ruth asking Boaz to spread his wing over her was essentially asking him to provide for her as a husband and as her redeemer. Therefore, this is the occurrence of our modern-day drop to one knee and ask, “Will you marry me?” Here’s another corroborating view: “The phrase can also be translated as “spread the corner of your garment over me.” This was a culturally relevant way to say, “I am a widow, take me as your wife.” i. “The spreading of a skirt over a widow as a way of claiming her as a wife is attested among Arabs of early days, and Jouon says it still exists among some modern Arabs.” (Morris) ii. “Even to the present day, when a Jew marries a woman, he throws the skirt or end of his talith over her, to signify that he has taken her under his protection.” (Clarke) iii. In Ezekiel 16:8, God uses the same terminology in relation to Israel: I spread my wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you and you became Mine, says the LORD God.”( http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0803.htm) This person makes mention of another Bible verse that has similar wording with God speaking to the Israelites, so once again we can find some conclusive evidence that this occurrence was not necessarily sexual. Moreover, the verse in Ezekiel mentioned gives more evidence towards the idea that the Ruth asking Boaz to spread his wing over her was indeed an idiom for sheltering her.
My conclusion on the matter is probably obvious to any reader: there was no sexual occurrence in this scene. Moreover, I believe that when Ruth lied down at the feet of Boaz that it was indeed a show of submission and humility to Boaz. This sort of character is consistent with what we see in her during her story, and it fits the context of the situation as well. I also conclude that when she asked Boaz to spread his wing over her that she was not asking him to allow her to come up inside his garment. I conclude that she was using and idiom referring to shelter, and that she was asking Boaz to fulfill his rights as her redeemer by accepting her proposal. As for any of those that still seek to see this as a sexual occurrence, I leave you with a quote from the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible Answered website, “Only a mind obsessed with sex can read sex everywhere.”(http://www.berenddeboer.net/sab/ru/3.html)