We are studying Ruth 3 (selected verses) for Sunday, August 18. This is the episode where Ruth follows Naomi’s instructions to meet Boaz on the threshing floor and, in effect, boldly propositions marriage. [Study notes on the text are here.] Here are some questions we might want to consider before class, or discuss in class:
Naomi’s plan for Ruth’s “rest” or “security” seems to hinge on Ruth’s cultivating a relationship with Boaz. How does this feature of the plot make the story “ancient”? How does it make the story “contemporary”? Why do we say this?
What do these events reveal about Naomi’s character? About Ruth’s character? About Boaz’s character?
The events of this part of the story take place at winnowing time – that is, at the end of the barley harvest, when the grain is being separated from chaff. Does this natural, physical process symbolize anything going on in the human relationships in the story? What is that? Does it symbolize anything going on in the spiritual events of the story? What is that?
Is this a story about food? About sex? About love? About family? About … what? Why do we say this? What difference does it make how we describe the subject matter of this story?
[What difference does it make how we think of stories we ourselves are involved in? That is, what we think our stories are “about”?]
Ruth is, technically, a “foreign woman,” which makes her a suspicious character. [See, e.g., Proverbs 2:16-19; Proverbs 5:3; 1 Kings 11:1-8.] On the other hand, Naomi and Boaz both call Ruth “my daughter,” and Boaz describes Ruth as “a worthy woman” (v11), which indicates that she is an accepted and admirable character. What determines Ruth’s identity in this story?
Overall, it seems to me we might be able to read this part of the story in light of Psalm 1, which is a wisdom psalm about “the two ways,” the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. Ruth exemplifies someone who chooses the way known by YHWH; not like the chaff driven away by the wind, but like a fruitful tree planted by streams of water. Ruth is an example of someone who cannot possibly assume, because of her ethnicity, that she is included in “the assembly of the righteous.” She obviously has to choose to follow that way, more than once. It’s worth considering whether there is a lesson in that for everyone who thinks they do not, in fact, always face that same choice.