Then, when he lies down you are to note the place where he is lying, and you are to go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you are to do.” Bible

“note the place where he is lying.” How exactly to note where Boaz had laid down would take some planning. Ruth could not just go and stand somewhere close to the threshing floor without being noticed. The grain harvest was very valuable and was always the target of thieves who were looking for an opportunity to swoop in and grab some grain and run off, so grain owners had a sharp eye out for people who were just “hanging around” the threshing floor. The Bible does not tell us how Ruth did it, but it would not have been easy.

“go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you are to do.” This is an amazing sentence describing boldness yet tact and humility, and it also leaves unspoken that which everyone knows had to be, and was, spoken. To begin with, we wonder why Naomi did not follow the ancient custom of advocating for Ruth? Although the Bible does not say why, it is likely that Boaz was very old, close to 90 anyway, and perhaps older, and Ruth was almost certainly in her early 20s (see commentary on Ruth 1:8 and 4:18). Given that, it may be that Boaz did not think it appropriate to ask Ruth to marry him, and also may have felt Ruth would have rejected him. The obvious solution was to have Ruth ask Boaz herself. Also, obviously, there had to be more to what happened than just Ruth lying at Boaz’s feet and then him telling her what to do. What is graciously left unspoken is that Ruth would have to ask Boaz to marry her. This was likely discussed in some detail between Naomi and Ruth, but is left out of the text, perhaps because that it happened was so obvious.

“Uncover his feet.” That Naomi told Ruth to uncover Boaz’s feet is an interesting tactic. It was not that Ruth was to uncover Boaz’s feet, lie down, and then cover the feet and herself again. Ruth was to uncover Boaz’s feet and lie down next to them. Naomi likely gambled—correctly in this case—that the cool night air would eventually make Boaz uncomfortable and he would wake up and find Ruth lying there, which is exactly what happened. About midnight Boaz trembled, ostensibly because of the cold, and woke up to find Ruth at his feet. Ruth’s lying at Boaz’s feet shows proper humility and tact, but still gets the point across that Ruth was desirous to serve Boaz, which was more or less the way women were thought of in that culture—not as equals but as servants; often beloved and honored servants, but as servants nevertheless.

Some of the vocabulary that is used in Ruth 3 to describe Naomi’s plan and Ruth’s actions can be used idiomatically and in some contexts have a sexual meaning, and this has led some commentators to assert that Naomi and Ruth plotted to have Ruth go to the threshing floor to seduce Boaz. For example, that Ruth would bathe herself and put on special clothes can be confused with the way a prostitute dressed, the verb “lie” and the phrase “lie down” can refer to sex (similar to the English word “sleep”), the word “feet” is sometimes used in the biblical culture for the genital organs, etc. For example, Jeremy Schipper (The Anchor Yale Bible: Ruth) suggests that Ruth did not uncover Boaz’s feet, but rather he applies the word “uncover” to Ruth and translates the phrase such that Naomi instructs Ruth to “undress at his feet and lie down” (Ruth 3:4). Schipper writes, “Naomi is probably instructing Ruth to undress and lie at Boaz’s feet, as Ruth does in the following verses (3:7, 8, 14). Nevertheless, exactly what type of activity Naomi implies and Ruth carries out remains unclear because in some of the references above, uncovering the body is used with the various forms of the root skb (“to lie down”) as a euphemism for sexual activity...Moreover, other verbs that Naomi uses in this verse (“know” and “enter”) derive from roots that are often used as euphemisms for sexual intercourse.” Many scholars admit that that vocabulary does not have to be taken to mean that Ruth went to the threshing floor to have sex with Boaz, but say that the way it is written, “the storyteller meant to be ambiguous and hence provocative” (Jack Sasson, Ruth (commentary on Ruth 3:4)).

Frankly, suggesting that Naomi counseled Ruth to go to the threshing floor to try to seduce Boaz, and that Ruth would agree to that scheme casts a dark cloud of doubt and worldliness over Naomi, Ruth, and even Boaz, that is against their character as it is generally portrayed in Ruth and against the social norms of how godly people live. However, such an overtly sexual portrayal of the three characters is very much in vogue with the modern and worldly outlook on life that tosses aside the value of genuine godliness and obedience to God (and even the existence of God itself) and makes almost everything about sex and related activities that the Bible would deem immoral and ungodly. Thankfully, many conservative scholars see that Ruth 3 is not about Ruth seducing Boaz. For example, Daniel Block agrees that in certain contexts some of the vocabulary used in Ruth can be euphemistic of sex, but notes that the words also have a non-sexual meaning. In his commentary, Block first defends the non-sexual meaning of the vocabulary in Ruth 3, and then writes, “Finally, rather than noting the restraint with which Naomi chooses her words, the overtly sexual interpretation exaggerates the significance of her instructions in v. 3, and disregards the narrator’s characterization of both her and Ruth in the story. How could he have Boaz, also a virtuous person, bless Ruth for her action (v. 10) and characterize her as supremely noble (v. 11) if she was acting like a prostitute? Neither Naomi nor Ruth expresses interest in sex or even progeny at this point. Naomi’s concern was to provide more security for Ruth than she, as mother-in-law, could offer. Only a husband could give the long range protection and support she needed. Furthermore, an attempt at seduction would undermine the entire enterprise” (D. Block, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament: Ruth, [Ruth 3:3b-4g]).

Although the readers of the Book of Ruth are not told all the “whys and wherefores” in the record, we can see that Naomi is genuinely interested in Ruth’s welfare and Ruth is bold enough to carry out Naomi’s plan, which of course would also mean Ruth herself would be cared for.

Commentary for: Ruth 3:4