Into the Unknown, Pt. 6: Bold Obedience

If you are new with us, the story of Ruth takes place in Palestine around 1100 B.C. It is an ancient story with profound contemporary applications. What we will discover is that from generation to generation, cultural practices may differ, but the human condition remains the same. We share the same dreams and encounter the same fears and struggles. In chapter 2, we rejoiced as a struggling, broken woman Naomi receives a dose of good news that awakens a new dream in the very place where hope had died with a shattered dream. Now, in chapter 3, we see how a new dream births new life with restored hope and joy.

The J-Curve is bending upward!


My eldest child, who is now twenty-four, has a penchant for adventure. Three summers ago, she spent several weeks in India and one exploring Germany on the way home. During her senior year, she took an art history course in Florence, Italy, visiting Siena, Venice, and Rome. She is the Caston will likely accumulate the most frequent flyer miles.

However, at four years old, she was not quite as adventurous. One humid summer evening we were cooling off in a friend’s pool — a pool with a tall yellow slide. After I suggested she climb the steps and slide down, she sheepishly made her way over and began stepping on each rung, slowly and deliberately. After making it to the top, she froze. What probably was eight feet felt like eighty feet high in a little girl’s eye.

I promised her that if she would just sit on the slide and let go of the rail, I would catch her as she slid into the water.

In that moment, she had a huge decision to make.

Would she give in to fear and climb back down, or would she trust her daddy? In the face of fear and uncertainty, trusting me was going to require bold obedience for a four-year-old filled with an albeit temporary fear of heights.

Ruth chapter 3 is a portrait of bold obedience. It is a story of stepping out in faith to trust someone else’s plan.

Like Ann Ferris on the slide, Ruth had a decision to make — a life-altering decision. Would she trust her mother-in-law’s plan, what may have felt like a huge risk and out of her comfort zone, or would she play it safe?

Each of us will face these forks in the road, where one path is bold obedience and the other is the path of fear, playing it safe, and unbelief.

Ruth chapter 3 will give us the inspiration we need to take the faith steps that are before us. 

NAOMI’S CHALLENGE

1 One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? 2 Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight, he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash and perfume yourself and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

In view of a new dream being born in her heart, in verse 1 we see Naomi’s self-pity diminish and her capacity to love increase. Rather than merely look out for her own interests, she develops a deep desire to provide for Ruth. Not just food but a husband, who in that culture represented provision and protection. But Naomi wants more than just a pragmatic marriage for Ruth. She desires a rich life and a family legacy to be restored for her daughter-in-law. The husband Naomi picks is none other than the kinsman-redeemer — the goel — named Boaz.

But this choice was problematic.

Ruth is a Moabite and Boaz is an Israelite. She is a servant; he is a landowner. She is poor; he is wealthy. She is young; he is considerably older.

Furthermore, Ruth has no father or brother to act on her behalf in arranging the marriage, as was customary in ancient times. If a proposal is going to be made, Ruth is herself going to have to make it, which would have been uniquely unconventional, practically unheard of in a strongly patriarchal culture.

To complicate matters further, Boaz is always surrounded by people. How will she ever be able to speak to him in private?

In view of the challenges involved, Naomi hatches that plan which is laid out in verses 2–4.

It is the harvest season, which means that Boaz will be sleeping on the threshing floor, the place where the chaff was removed from the kernels of grain. Boaz and his men would sleep near their grain in order to protect it until it could be transported to a granary the next day. Under the cover of nightfall, Ruth will make her discreet approach.

Naomi instructs Ruth to lie at his feet and pull Boaz’s cloak off his feet, exposing them to the cool air, which was intended to wake him. Apparently, in that cultural context, lying at his feet would represent Ruth’s private proposal. Boaz would know what Ruth was saying by the gesture, which not only would spare Boaz public pressure, it would guard Ruth from public shame.

Naomi’s plan was genius, but it was not without risk.

For Ruth to obey Naomi’s instructions would place Ruth’s own reputation at risk. What if she is found out? What would the townspeople say? Perhaps Boaz would be offended and withdraw his generosity, placing Ruth’s and Naomi’s livelihood at risk.

Naomi’s plan is more than just a plan, it is a challenge. She is saying, “Ruth, trust me.”

What if we were able to see, not Naomi’s but God’s moral instructions for us not as a set of rules but as challenges, where the Father says, “Trust me.”

Looking at obedience as a challenge makes ever decision personal and theological. Will I trust the Father and follow his wisdom? Or will I go my own way?

Let me ask it this way. Where are you being challenged to bold obedience? What kind of step of faith would feel like a huge risk? The question is not merely whether I will “do the right thing,” but whether I will trust God’s plan, whether that plan involves the use of my finances, or whether it is a test of vocational integrity or sexual integrity in a dating relationship. It may be the bold obedience of confessing how you have hurt someone or forgiving someone who has hurt you.

Will I go my own way, following the human wisdom of what feels right, or will I follow the path of God’s wisdom, which honestly, often looks scarier than the worldly path, because following the narrow way of Jesus requires trust.

In verses 5–9, we see Ruth’s response to Naomi’s challenge.

RUTH’S RESPONSE

5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do. 7 When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. 8 In the middle of the night something startled the man, and he turned and discovered a woman lying at his feet. 9 “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant, Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.”

Verse 5 is an expression of total trust. “I will do whatever you say.” Ruth is “all in” with the challenge to bold obedience.

But why? How could she so quickly assert such confidence in Naomi’s plan? Because this is Naomi’s hometown. It is her culture, not Ruth’s. Ruth believed Naomi knew what she was doing–that the plan was the path of wisdom and blessing.

Ruth was “all in” with the plan because she believed that Naomi was “all in” for Ruth. In verse 1, Naomi made it clear that she was working to bless Ruth with life, and hope, and joy.

In response, Ruth responds, “I will do whatever you say.”

What will it take for you to respond to Jesus like that? What will it take for me to say, “I will do whatever you say?” 

In the same way that knowing Naomi was all-in for Ruth empowered Ruth’s bold obedience, it is knowing that Jesus is all-in for me that motivates me to bold obedience to him, where I trust that his ways are the ways of wisdom and blessing and I consciously walk in those ways.

But we don’t walk in those ways, following Jesus, to be saved or even sustain our salvation. Bold obedience is not a duty. It is a response to grace.

I want to be clear here. The cross tells me that I am not saved by my bold obedience but by the bold obedience of Jesus for me, where he became a substitutionary sacrifice for all the ways in which I have rejected the Father’s wisdom. He was cursed with judgment so that I could be blessed with mercy.

It is not my love for Jesus that compels God to love me. As the apostle John says, “We love him because he first loved us.” And one way that love is manifested is in bold obedience. Because obedience is an expression of trust.

In verses 6–9, as Naomi takes her first steps of trusting, bold obedience, I think it is worth noting that when she makes the decision to obey, she moves out. She doesn’t just talk about it. She takes action.

As we consider our own obedience, it is one thing to talk about what we plan to do. It is something else to do it. What have you been talking about that needs action? Where is the Lord leading you to take the next step?

For Ruth, it was meeting Boaz at the threshing floor. After she uncovers his feet, Boaz wakes and inquires who she is. Remember, it is dark. Ruth replies, “I am your servant, Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.”

While some commentators see impropriety here, the plan actually is designed to avoid impropriety. Ruth has proved herself to be a woman of integrity and virtue. In proposing marriage, the last thing she wants to do is give the impression that she has a habit of casually offering herself to men on the threshing floor.

The Hebrew text tips us off to the fact that Ruth is not proposing a casual sexual liaison but is proposing the covenantal commitment of marriage.

In chapter 2, when Ruth first meets Boaz, Ruth called herself a shipkhah, which is the Hebrew word for a lower-level servant. But now, in chapter 3, she calls herself his amah, the Hebrew word for maidservant, a term used to describe someone who is eligible for marriage.

Additionally, in the phrase “spread the corner of your garment,” the word “corner” is the Hebrew word ḵānāp, which in other places is translated “wing.” For example, in chapter 2:12 Boaz says to Ruth, “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

By using the word “wing” for garment, Ruth, in proposing marriage, is asking for Boaz to be a living demonstration of the covenant love and protection of the LORD.

While we know the rest of the story, I wonder what was going through her mind as she quietly left Naomi’s house in the dark and started walking toward the threshing floor. Did she ever consider turning back? We don’t know.

I wouldn’t be surprised if she thought about it, because we have all turned back. We’ve all played it safe when the decision to step out in faith with bold obedience was before us.

We all have held back the gift, held on to bitterness, laughed at the demeaning joke, and clicked the link that led to the darkness of sin and shame.

Whatever fears stirred in her mind and heart, in her bold approach of Boaz at the threshing floor, Ruth puts all her chips on the table, demonstrating that she is wholeheartedly willing to entrust her entire future — her life, hope, and joy — to Naomi’s plan. She is willing to face her fears and step out of her comfort zone in order to walk in the way of wisdom, obedience, and blessing.

The same will be true for us. In many ways, these decisions that require so much trust are like forks in the road where the challenge is bold obedience. One path plays it safe, following the apparent comfort of human wisdom. The other is the path of wholehearted trust. Ruth decided to take the road less traveled and it made all the difference.

We see this in Boaz’s commitment.

BOAZ’S COMMITMENT

10 “The LORD bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character. 12 Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer [a goel] nearer than I. 13 Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the LORD lives, I will do it. Lie here until morning.”

14 So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, “Don’t let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 He also said, “Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.” When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and put it on her. Then he went back to town.

16 When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?” Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her 17 and added, “He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’” 18 Then Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”

We can’t always guarantee that people will react favorably to our obedience, Ruth’s trust in Naomi’s challenge is met by Boaz with a joyful commitment to bless! However, Israelite law concerning levirate marriage demanded that the closest relative have first dibs at being the kinsman-redeemer. The closest would be a brother, then an uncle, then a cousin, going down the line.

Even though Boaz isn’t the closest relative to Naomi, he promises that Ruth would find rest, protection, and provision in a kinsman-redeemer. Either the closest relative or himself. She will be redeemed. Her life will be restored with ever greater hope and joy than before.

Of course, Ruth hopes it is Boaz, and I think Boaz hopes that it is Boaz. But they will have to wait until later in the day to discover who will get the opportunity to marry Ruth. That is the cliff-hanger until next week’s series conclusion. 

Nevertheless, as an outward sign of Boaz’s commitment, he gives Ruth a gift of “six measures of barley” for her to take back to Naomi. This was about 60 pounds of grain (twice as much as she had gleaned on her own the first day in Boaz’s field). What required a day of grueling labor for Ruth to gather, Boaz is able to double and pour out in a moment, so great are his resources.

As we noted last week, in the same way that Boaz is able to heap an abundance of grain upon Ruth, Jesus lavishes grace upon us. In the gospel, Jesus pours out far more than just six measures, but as the greater kinsman-redeemer, as the Bridegroom of the church, we read in Romans 5:5, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

The love of God is poured out to overflowing. We don’t’ work for it or earn it. Like Boaz’ grain, Jesus’ grace is given.

While moralistic, man-made religion says that we have to work for God’s favor and blessing, the gospel says that we can’t earn the love of God. We can only receive the love that is given to us — a love that flows from the cross of Jesus where he demonstrated his complete and unreserved commitment to bless us — just like Boaz for Ruth.

What may be most amazing in this story is that, in Hebrew, Boaz calls Ruth a hayil issa, which when translated is “an honorable, noble, virtuous, excellent woman.” The term hayil is the same word used of Boaz in chapter 2 when the author of the story described him as “an excellent man.” Hayil also is the Hebrew word used in Proverbs 31:10, “A wife of noble (or excellent) character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” In that Proverb, the word translated “noble character” or in some translations, “excellent,” is hayil, the same word used to describe Boaz and now to describe Ruth.

Here is the point. Boaz no longer sees Ruth as a poor, foreign servant girl, but as his equal! By covering her with the corner of his garment, not only does he commit to marry her but to give her his own status.

Amazingly, in the gospel, Jesus does the same thing for us. Yet he doesn’t cover us with the corner of a wool blanket, he covers us with the entirety of his perfect righteousness! We, who were unrighteous sinners, are now counted as righteous, virtuous, noble, and excellent in the eyes of heaven — covered in his garment of moral perfection.

For, as we have noted, it was the bold obedience of Jesus — the bold love of Jesus — that has saved us. Love that was most perfectly demonstrated at the cross, where like Boaz, Jesus wouldn’t rest until our redemption was secure and complete, fulfilling not Naomi’s but the God the Father’s plan to unite us to our kinsman-redeemer, Jesus, as our beloved Bridegroom.

When we become recipients of the bold love of Jesus, seeing the extent to which he would go to make us his own, we find ourselves motivated and empowered to say yes when challenged with bold obedience, knowing that whatever challenge he places before us, we know that it is for our ultimate blessing and good.

But there will be times — many times — when we will follow the flesh and go our own way. Instead of bold obedience, we will give into the shameful disobedience of sin. What do we do then?

We confess. We don’t do penance. We don’t make promises. We don’t grovel and beat ourselves up. Jesus has already been beaten for that sin!

We boldly confess the sin and boldly believe the promise of Isaiah 53:5–6, which reminds us that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Remember, we are not saved by our bold obedience but by the bold obedience of Jesus for us.

“I’ve Got You”

In the movie, Despicable Me, three children have been kidnapped by a villain named Vector. The main character in the story is another “villain in recovery” named Gru. Gru has adopted the three little girls and has come to love them very much and attempts a daring rescue of the girls from Vector’s clutches. The rescue requires the children to trust Gru — to put their lives in his hands by stepping out in bold obedience.

In the scene, Gru is on the deck of an aircraft that is connected by a wire to Vector’s spaceship. With the cargo ramp lowered, the girls are in the doorway when Gru calls out, “Jump, I’ll catch you!” One of the girls yells back, “Are you crazy?” They are thousands of feet in the air. How can they know, really know, that Gru will catch them? They only have his word.

The first two girls jump and are caught. With one more to go, Gru pleads, “Please jump, I will catch you!” In an edge of your seat, dramatic manuver, Gru grasps his beloved daughter in his hands and with a smile, says, “I’ve got you.”

“I’ve got you!”

While there is some doubt whether Gru can fulfill his promise, there is no doubt with Boaz. And there is no doubt with Jesus, who with nail-scarred hands, says, “You can let go of your fears. You can step out in bold obedience. You can jump, because I’ve got you.”

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