Does The End Truly Justify The Means?

Day 14 – Ruth 3:1–4

It is Naomi who raises the possibility of marriage for Ruth (Ruth 3:1). Jewish parents arranged marriages for their children (Genesis 24:3–4), which includes their daughters and widowed daughters-in-law. Naomi knows that there are guardian-redeemers in the extended family who can buy back Elimelek’s property, provide for the widows, and continue the family line. Since love has developed between Boaz and Ruth, Naomi plans to make that happen. She is opportunistic. The problem lies in her chosen method of bringing these two together. Perhaps Naomi believes that the ends justify the means.

Everything about Naomi’s plan has to do with Ruth’s physical attractiveness (Ruth 3:2–4). Some commentators are careful not to infer any impropriety from this passage. But Ruth dressing up and being near Boaz after he has finished “drinking and was in good spirits”(3:7)—in other words, when he is under the influence of wine (reminiscent of Genesis 19:30–33 and 1 Samuel 25:36)—on the dirty threshing floor in the dark of the night all hint that there is something amiss here. The threshing floor was notorious for illicit sexual rendezvous during harvest time (see Hosea 9:1).21

Naomi’s instruction, “Then go and uncover his feet and lie down” (Ruth 3:4), is an interpretative nightmare for Bible teachers. Some take this literally: Ruth is to remove Boaz’s blanket so that the cold of the night would awaken Boaz, and they could have a conversation about their future together. But each of the three Hebrew words used here (“uncover”, “feet”, and “lie down”) have overtly sexual connotations. In particular, “feet” is often used as a euphemism for genitalia in the Old Testament (Exodus 4:25; Isaiah 7:20; Ezekiel 16:25). It would appear that there is nothing good or pure about Naomi’s plan. Based on her instructions and the circumstance, location, and timing of this plan, some Bible scholars believe that Naomi is asking Ruth to seduce Boaz and commit sexual sin! We should not be surprised by this, as these are “the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1).

Even if Ruth doesn’t, Naomi knows that Boaz is not the one with the greatest responsibility to marry Ruth. The word Naomi uses in Ruth 3:2 to describe Boaz is not the term she would have used for the closest relative. But if they are sexually involved, Boaz is legally bound to marry her (Deuteronomy 22:28–29). Even if we have misread her intentions, Naomi is not being “careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone” (Romans 12:17). She does not “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22 KJV). This secretive night rendezvous, if discovered, would embarrass Boaz and Ruth, tarnishing both their reputations.

As we shall see, Ruth and Boaz are quite willing to be married. And that is God’s intention too. The question is, how? Will it be done God’s way or Naomi’s scheming way? In trying to seize opportunities, let us not manipulate people or circumstances. It does matter if our methods are unethical or biblically wrong. The ends do not justify the means.

Think Through:

What do you think of Naomi’s plan (Ruth 3:1–4)? Why would you agree or disagree with it?

If you were Naomi, how would you have approached this matter of marriage between Ruth and Boaz?

Taken from Journey Through Ruth: 30 Biblical Insights by Sim Kay Tee.