Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?(1) Rest.—Although Naomi had already (Ruth 1:12) repudiated any thought of marriage for herself, still she felt it her duty to do what she could to provide a home for the daughter-in-law who had so loyally followed her, lest her own death should leave her young companion specially unprotected and friendless. But there is clearly a second thought. The marriage of Boaz and Ruth will not only ensure rest for the latter, but will also raise up the seed of her dead son and preserve the family name.
That it may be well with thee.—The object of the marriage is for Ruth’s good, and thus should it be with every marriage; it must be for the good, and comfort, and abiding peace, not of the body only, but of the soul.
Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.(3-5) The plan suggested by Naomi seems peculiar, yet some thoughts may give a certain colouring to it. (1) Naomi seems to have believed that Boaz was the nearest kinsman, being ignorant of the yet nearer one (Ruth 3:12). Consequently, according to Israelite law (Deuteronomy 25:5 sqq.), it would be the duty of Boaz to marry Ruth to raise up seed to the dead. (2) The general tone of Naomi’s character is clearly shown in this book to be that of a God-fearing woman, so that it is certain that, however curious in its external form, there can be nothing counselled here which really is repugnant to God’s law, or shocking to a virtuous man such as Boaz, otherwise Naomi would simply have been most completely frustrating her own purpose. (3) Her knowledge by long intimacy of Ruth’s character, and doubtless also of that of Boaz by report, would enable her to feel sure that no ill effects could accrue.
And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.(4) Uncover his feet.—More literally, as the margin, lift up the clothes that are on his feet; so LXX. and the Vulgate. We are told that the custom still prevails in Palestine of owners of crops sleeping on their threshing-floors, lying with their clothes on, but with their feet covered with a mantle.
And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do.(5) I will do.—Ruth’s obedience here is an intelligent obedience. She knew in what relation Boaz stood for her family, and the duties attaching to the relationship (Ruth 2:20; Ruth 3:9). Thus with obedient trust, implicitly but not blindly, she follows her mother-in-law’s orders; strong in conscious innocence she risks the obloquy that may attend her duty.
And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.(8) Was afraid.—Was startled. See the use of the word in Genesis 27:33.
Turned.—Literally, bent himself. (Comp. Judges 16:29.) He wakes with a start, and in turning sees a woman at his feet.
And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.(9) Skirt.—Literally wing; Heb. canaph, as in Ruth 2:12. The Targum treats this as in itself the claim to espousal on her part. The metaphor may be illustrated from Ezekiel 16:8, and more generally from Matthew 23:37.
And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.(10) Blessed be thou of the Lord.—This answer of Boaz’s is in itself a sufficient proof of the view he took of her conduct, and of the integrity of his own. We note, too, that this blessing follows immediately on the avowal of her name. His own feelings had already been attuned to due honour and respect for Ruth; he is prepared not only to discharge the duty of next of kin, but to do it in no perfunctory spirit, but with a sincere loyal affection. The Targum on Ruth 3:15 supposes that to Ruth, the distant ancestress of the Saviour, was vouchsafed the knowledge, as in its fulness to the Virgin hereafter, of the birth of the Messiah through her. Origen compares Ruth to the Gentile Church, the engrafted wild olive.
Thou hast shewed . . . .—Literally, thou hast done well thy latter kindness above the former.
And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.(11) City.—Literally, gate: the constant meeting-place of persons going in and out. (See Genesis 19:1; Genesis 34:20; Genesis 34:24; Deuteronomy 16:18; Deuteronomy 21:19, &c.)
Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman's part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the LORD liveth: lie down until the morning.(13) Until the morning.—You have made clear the object of your plea, and I fully assent to it; but do not run the risk of going now, in the dead of night, back to your home.
And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could know another. And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor.(14) One could know another.—Literally, a man could recognise his friend; i.e., before daylight, in the early dusk.
A woman.—Literally, the woman—i.e., this woman. Thus it is of Ruth, not of himself, that Boaz is here thinking. A sensible man like Boaz knows “that we must not only keep a good conscience, but keep a good name; we must avoid not only sin but scandal.” (Henry.)
Also he said, Bring the vail that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city.(15) Vail—Rather a mantle, so in Isaiah 3:22.
She went.—This should be, if we follow the current Hebrew text, he went. The verb is masculine (yabho), and the distinction is shewn in the Targum, which inserts the name Boaz as the nominative. It must be allowed that a fair number of Hebrew MSS., as well as the Peshito and Vulgate, take the verb in the feminine. The LXX. is from the nature of the Greek language unable to mark the distinction. The clause. if we accept the current reading, will mean that Boaz went to the city to find the kinsman whose claim lay before his own, while Ruth, laden with six measures of barley, goes to her mother-in-law.
And when she came to her mother in law, she said, Who art thou, my daughter? And she told her all that the man had done to her.(16) who art thou?—We can hardly view this as a simple question as to Ruth’s identity, but rather as meaning, how hast thou fared?
Then said she, Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day.(18) Will not be in rest.—i.e., will not keep quiet.