She knew that typically the man would make the first move. She knew that what she was doing would appear at least suspicious, perhaps scandalous. She knew what other people might say. She knew just how much she might lose (after all she had already lost). And yet there Ruth lay, in the dark — vulnerable, hopeful, trusting, courageous — waiting quietly at the feet of a man who might wake up at any moment.
Even in a more egalitarian age, the strange and brave step Ruth took that night can make many of us uncomfortable:
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. (Ruth 3:7)
Such was Ruth’s way of asking Boaz to take her as his wife. But why did she ask like that? Wasn’t there another way? Couldn’t her mother-in-law have put out some feelers with Boaz’s servants?
Maybe. But God, in his wisdom, decided to join this man and this woman in this unusual way. And when we stop to look closer, the strangeness of the scene actually enhances the beauty of their love. This potentially embarrassing moment highlights what makes Boaz a worthy husband — and what makes Ruth a worthy wife.
As scandalous as it may seem for Ruth to lie down next to Boaz while he was sleeping, it seems that, in God’s eyes, she acted honorably and in purity. For all the beautiful glimpses we get of Ruth in these four chapters, she is called a “worthy woman” just once, and it’s right here, at this most vulnerable moment. Boaz, recognizing her in the dark and receiving her humble and submissive initiative, says to her,
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. (Ruth 3:11)
“A truly worthy woman is as worthy in secret as she is when others are watching.”
Worthy when her husband died, worthy when her mother-in-law was left alone, worthy in a foreign land, worthy while working long days in the fields, worthy even here, in the darkness, on the threshing-room floor, waiting at the feet of the man she desired. A truly worthy woman is as worthy in secret as she is when others are watching — and Ruth was just such a woman.
So, what sets Ruth apart as a worthy wife-to-be — yes, in the eyes of Boaz, but all the more in the eyes of God?
The story of Ruth’s worthiness begins with her surprising loyalty.
Her mother-in-law, Naomi, had lost her husband as well as her two sons, including Ruth’s husband. Naomi saw how bleak their future had become and tried to convince her two daughters-in-law to go back to their families. In response, “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (Ruth 1:14). When Ruth had great reasons to leave and save herself, she stayed and cared for her mother-in-law instead. Listen to the intensity of her loyalty:
Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. (Ruth 1:16–17)
Ruth could have walked away, but faith and love had bound her to Naomi. Staying meant suffering. Staying meant sacrifice and risk. Staying could have even meant death — especially in a period when the judges in Israel, though charged to care for the widow, “did what was right in [their] own eyes” (Judges 17:6). But nothing would make Ruth leave now.
As news spread, her future husband was especially drawn to this loyalty in her: “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before” (Ruth 2:11).
Ruth could not have been loyal in these circumstances without also being courageous. You hear and feel her fearlessness in the vows she makes to Naomi:
Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. (Ruth 1:17)
She was not naive about what they might suffer. Remember, she had already buried her husband and her brother-in-law (and likely had never even met her father-in-law). Death had become an intimate part of their family. She left with no guarantee that a widowed life in Israel would be any better than the trials they had known. And yet, when love met fear — real, serious, life-threatening fear — her love prevailed.
In this way, Ruth was a daughter of Sarah, that worthy wife before her, who hoped in God and clothed herself with the beauty of obedience. For, despite how fragile and daunting her life had become, Ruth “[did] good and [did] not fear anything that [was] frightening” (1 Peter 3:5–6) — because Sarah’s great God had become her God (Ruth 1:16). Women like Ruth are not easily deterred, because they have experienced a wise and sovereign love bigger than all they might fear.
Ruth was not just fearless but determined, and her mother-in-law knew so. “When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more” (Ruth 1:18). Her love was a fierce, durable, stubborn love.
It’s not that Ruth wouldn’t hear and consider counsel (Ruth 2:22–23; 3:3–5), but she also wouldn’t retreat or give up easily. She kept loving when lesser women would have walked away. She kept working when lesser women would have quit. For instance, when she came to Boaz’s field, his servant reported, “She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest” (Ruth 2:7). Even the servants were surprised by this woman’s effort and endurance in the field.
Ruth did what she could (even straining her capacity at times) to care for those God had given to her, even when the risks were great, even when her strength ran low, even when others would have understood if she stopped, because Ruth was a worthy woman.
Lastly, Ruth was a worthy woman because she was a Godward woman.
Though Ruth had been a foreigner, a Moabite by blood, she was now also a God-fearer by heart. “Your people shall be my people,” she said to Naomi, “and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). She sounds like the apostle Peter when Jesus asked if the disciples wanted to leave with the others: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, and her fearlessness in leaving home, and her tireless determination, surely all blossomed from the garden of her newfound faith in God.
Faith tied Ruth to Naomi, and it also drew Boaz to Ruth. On the day he met her, he said,
All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me. . . . The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge! (Ruth 2:11–12)
“Do not be mistaken: worthy women are not proudly independent women.”
Yes, he admired how she cared for her mother-in-law, but he also saw how she had hidden herself in God, taking refuge under his wide and strong wings. She was not only a faithful woman, but a faith-filled woman. Do not be mistaken: worthy women are not proudly independent women. They know themselves to be needy, dependent, and vulnerable, and entrust themselves to the grace of God. They serve and sacrifice and risk with their eyes lifted above this earth to where their true hope lives.
When Boaz awoke and saw his future wife lying at his feet, he did not see the simple, fleeting beauty of a younger woman (though she was much younger); he saw the deeper, more complex, more durable beauty of a truly worthy wife.
Should She Move First?
What about single women today wondering if they should take a step toward their own Boaz? Should the man always act first, as the counsel so often goes? Was Ruth wrong to make the move and let her interest be known? Could she still be a model for women today who want to honor the man’s calling to take initiative? For my part, I believe Ruth is one wonderful example for single women today, and not just despite the unusual step she took, but even in it. I suspect some potential godly relationships may be prevented by an excessive fear that any initiative by women would undermine a man’s call to lead.
I do believe that God calls the man to bear a special burden of responsibility and take the greater initiative toward the woman. I believe the man should generally be the one risking rejection, protecting the woman by consistently putting himself forward in ways that require courage, great and small. I also believe that, should the couple marry, the man will uniquely bear the responsibility to lead, protect, provide, and shepherd her and their family — and I believe the tracks for that kind of healthy leadership are laid from (and even before) the first date. A godly woman should want a boyfriend, and eventually a husband, who consistently initiates and leads in their relationship.
Ruth, however, was in an unusual situation. Perhaps you are too. Boaz, being a worthy man (and a considerably older man, Ruth 3:10), might never have considered approaching Ruth. He also knew that he was not the next “redeemer” in line (Ruth 3:12), and so he may have not wanted to dishonor the other man by making the first move toward Ruth. Perhaps Ruth and Boaz never would have married if Ruth had not been willing to communicate her interest.
And as strange, even suggestive, as the scene may seem to us today, it very well may have been the most honorable way for Ruth to communicate that interest in her day. Even her bold step was discrete, and left the ultimate initiative in his hands, not hers. She found a way to communicate interest that upheld and encouraged his honor and leadership as a man.
So, yes, God calls men to take the initiative in Christian dating, but that doesn’t mean a godly woman never takes any steps of faith to communicate interest, especially in the context of a Christian community that can help her express that interest while shielding her from some of the pain of rejection. If there is a particular godly man you would like to pursue you, ask God if there are creative, humble, open-handed ways you might invite his initiative.
And as you do, it may not hurt, following that worthy example of Ruth, to ask an older woman in your life for counsel and help.