Q. What was really going on between Ruth and Boaz that night on the threshing floor? I’ve heard the interpretation that she seduced him in order to get him to marry her. Is that right?
In my first post in response to this question, I answered the claim most commonly advanced in support of this interpretation. I showed that the phrase “she uncovered his feet” is not a euphemism for sexual activity. Rather, this action, which occurred literally, was a prelude to her request to Boaz, “Spread the corner of your garment over me,” a symbolic action promising that he would care for her as her husband.
Let me now address another claim that is made in favor of a sexual interpretation of this episode. Boaz speaks of a “kindness” that Ruth has done by showing attention to him rather than “running after the younger men.” It is sometimes argued that he is referring to a sexual favor that Ruth has just granted. However, to know what Boaz really means by this, we need to consider his entire statement.
Boaz says, “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier.” Since he clearly expects Ruth to know what he means, he must be referring to something that the two of them have talked about before. And since readers are expected to understand as well, this conversation must have been recorded in the book. They have only had limited dialogue to this point, so the reference is not hard to identify. When they first meet, Boaz explains why he is showing her such favor. He says, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.”
In other words, when Ruth and Boaz meet again on the threshing floor, he’s not speaking at all about a “kindness” that she has just done for him, sexual or otherwise. Rather, he’s speaking about second and greater kindness that Ruth is now doing for Naomi. By being willing to marry an older, well-established man, she is ensuring that Naomi will be provided for into the future. But this also means that as young widow, Ruth is sacrificing the opportunity for a new love match with a man closer to her own age. This, Boaz recognizes, is a “greater kindness,” an even more significant personal sacrifice than the one she’s already made by leaving her homeland.
So Ruth is not using sex to catch a new husband. Far from it. If anything, she’s making other values and commitments a priority as she approaches a new marriage.
In my next post I’ll consider some further claims that are made in support of a sexual interpretation of the threshing floor episode in the book of Ruth.
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