Seeking Rest in Marriage
February 12, 2012 / No. 3606
Dear Radio Friends,
Today, in our series of messages in the book of Ruth, we come to chapter 3. In chapter 2 Ruth, who had come from Moab with her mother-in-law Naomi as a widow, went out to glean for grain. The Lord led her to the fields of Boaz, a godly man who was very kind and generous to her and whom Ruth discovers is a kinsman or a near relative. Naomi’s advice to Ruth is to stay gleaning in the fields of Boaz, which she does all through the summer until the end of the fall harvest.
Because Boaz is a near relative, he is a potential husband for the widow Ruth. If Ruth would marry, that would mean several things. First, it would mean provision and care for Ruth and Naomi. Second, it would mean that the first child from this marriage would continue the family name of Elimelech, which at this point has come to an end. And, third, it would mean that the property that belonged to Elimelech would remain in the possession of that family. In His law, God had said that the nearest male relative should marry the widow if she had no children, so that this could take place. Boaz was a near relative, and threfore a potential husband for Ruth.
As the summer draws to an end, the question of whether Boaz will marry Ruth becomes quite urgent, especially in the mind of Naomi. Soon there will be no fields to glean. The interaction between Ruth and Boaz will cease, and Naomi will have to begin selling land in order to continue her existence as a widow. With this in mind, Naomi urges Ruth to pursue marriage with Boaz. And notice, her primary concern is not her own situation, but the future of the family name and the well-being of Ruth in this strange land.
In the first verses of Ruth chapter 3, we read that Naomi said to Ruth: “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee? And now is not Boaz of our kindred?” She wants Ruth to marry Boaz. She sees this as rest for Ruth. Rest. That is a beautiful description of what marriage is. It denotes that there is safety and security in marriage; that God has created marriage as a covenant relationship of companionship and satisfaction, of peace and fulfillment. Husbands and wives, do you seek rest in your marriage? Do you find your fulfillment in the spouse that God has given you? Is your marriage a place of rest? That is what God intends it to be.
And this is what Naomi seeks for Ruth. She sees Boaz as the ideal husband for Ruth. There is a closer relative who has the first right to marry Ruth. But Naomi wants Ruth to seek rest in marriage with Boaz. And that is because Boaz is a man of godliness who also loves the people of God.
So Naomi gives advice to Ruth. She reminds Ruth that Boaz is a near relative. And she has a plan for Ruth to follow. She knows where Boaz is (v. 2): “Behold, he winnoweth barley tonight in the threshingfloor.” In verse 3 she instructs Ruth to wash herself, to put on perfume and her best clothes. In this way it will be plain to Boaz that she has not come begging for food or to work, but that she has another purpose. And then Naomi also tells her what she is to do when she comes to where Boaz is. She is to wait till he is done working and eating, and go in and uncover his feet and lie down when he is sleeping. Verse 9 indicates that this is a symbolic gesture. When she uncovers his feet, she is to ask him, “Spread thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.” That gesture will make clear to Boaz that she is asking him to fulfill the role of a near relative, to protect her, and to provide a shelter for her, to give her a place of rest in marriage.
As we look at Naomi’s advice and plan, it is important that we ask: What are her motives? Is this because she wants the wealth and protection of Boaz for herself? Or is this out of love and concern for Ruth? If we look again at verse 1, we see that her interest is not herself but Ruth. She addresses Ruth as “My daughter,” which demonstrates a motherly concern. She is seeking rest or safety and security for Ruth in this marriage. And her purpose is, at the end of verse 1, “that it may be well with thee.”
And then, beyond this, as a believing woman, she wants her husband’s name to continue in Israel. That is not selfish, but rather shows her deep spirituality. In a day when it seems that no one really cares about such things, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, she respects the law of God and she has put her eye on the promise of the Messiah, which is tied in with the family name and her possession in the land of Canaan. These, for Israel, were symbolic of their name and place in the coming kingdom of the Messiah, and of their place in the heavenly Canaan. This is what motivates Naomi.
It is important that we identify these motives. Naomi was not a desperate parent pushing her daughter into marriage, by match-making and being a busybody. No, she was concerned for Ruth, and out of that concern she took seriously her responsibility as a parent in giving advice and direction to her unmarried daughter. Believing parents can learn from that. Parents, you have a responsibility when it comes to the marriage of your teenage and young adult children. What is it? Well, on the one hand, we do not have to arrange their marriages. But, on the other hand, we do not just let them go, so that they can figure it all out for themselves. No, we must take an active role, an involved role in this important part of their lives. If we do not, they are going to start learning things from the wrong sources, from the wicked world. So this is a responsibility for believing parents.
What, specifically, is the role of parents? First, we must model to them how they should live in marriage. That is something that starts from the day they are born. Children will expect from their marriage and live out in their marriage what they see in the marriage of their parents. So men, fathers, you have to be the husband that you want your daughter to have. If you want your daughter to find a man who will love her, who will be Christ-like and sacrificial, who will respect her, then that is how you need to live as a husband toward your wife, so that your daughter knows what to look for and so that your son knows who he should be as a husband. Mothers, you need to be the godly wife that you want your daughters to be and that you want your sons to marry. If you want rest for your son in marriage, you need to show him what a submissive, respectful wife looks like.
And then, besides modeling this to our children, we have to teach our children the things that they will need for a godly home. There needs to be a spiritual aspect to the life of our Christian homes. We need to have devotions as a family. We need to read the Word of God together with our children and pray with them. The church needs to be central in our lives. We need to teach our children specifics about living in marriage. They need to be able to see that we mean these things because we also live them. And, probably more important than anything else, we need to teach them the gospel and model the principles of the gospel in our relationships in the home. Jesus, as a husband, gave Himself for His bride. Jesus, in His love, humbled Himself and came to serve and not to be served.
Then, when it comes to the specifics of a relationship, we need to help our children just as Naomi helped Ruth. We need to help them identify godly characteristics in a potential spouse. They need to learn discernment from us by the restrictions that we put on their friendships, from the warnings and the advice that we give them, from the emphasis that we put, not on looks, but on godliness. You are all familiar with Proverbs 31: the virtuous woman. But did you realize that a godly mother wrote this not for her daughter but for her son, so that he would know what to look for in a wife? (Go back and look at the first verses of that Proverb.)
Our children need to learn also how to behave themselves toward the opposite sex. Some of this they will learn from their interaction, but they need parental direction so that young men learn to treat women respectfully; so that young women learn to be modest out of respect for a man. Parents should provide an environment for this kind of interaction between their children and other godly young people.
And then, besides all this, we should pray for our children in this regard. If we want for our children a godly husband or wife, we will pray for this for them and will teach them to pray for this. We will teach them the weightiness of the decision to marry a person—that this is not something to run into but it is a once-in-a-lifetime decision that will have more impact than any other decision on their earthly life.
And so parents need to be proactive in these areas. If they are not, their children will learn about sex and dating and marriage from the world, the television, the workplace, and so on. And the world has nothing to teach them. It is a mess out there. There is no rest in marriage in the culture of our day. The Word of God here urges us, as Naomi, to seek rest in marriage for our children.
Let us turn our attention now from Naomi to Ruth. The first thing to see in Ruth is her response to Naomi’s advice. Again, this is instructional, especially now, for young people. Verse 5 gives us her response. She said, “All that thou sayest unto me I will do.” She is respectful and submissive to her mother-in-law. These two women were the closest of friends. Their hearts were knit together. And that was primarily because Ruth, the younger, respected the older, godly Naomi. She was willing to learn from her. So she goes out and does everything just as Naomi advises.
You young people who are listening today, you too should listen to the advice of your godly parents in these things. Out of her love and concern for Ruth, Naomi gives her instruction. If you have godly parents, be assured that their heart is with you, that they love you, and that out of that they help you in your youth. Yes, they may put restrictions on you. They will give you advice. They are going to intervene. But in those things, remember, they are not trying to destroy your happiness. Your believing parents, when they follow God’s Word, want simply to guide you, to help you to avoid a life of heartache. Think about that.
Ruth goes out and does everything that Naomi advises. She washes, perfumes, puts on her best, goes out to the threshingfloor before it is dark, watches while the men eat and drink, marks out the place where Boaz lies down, waits till everyone is sleeping, tiptoes over to where Boaz is, lifts the blanket off his feet, and lies down there at his feet till he wakes up from the cold. And then, rather straightforwardly, she asks Boaz to marry her.
Now, you probably think that is a rather unusual way to seek a marriage partner. A lot of people, when they read this passage, have trouble with Ruth’s forwardness and see her conduct as quite inappropriate. But we should not read it that way. You see, our trouble is that we are looking at this through the eyes of our culture and times and we do not understand the cultural norms of the day in which this was written. The cultural norms of our day are sensual and perverted. We read about Boaz being merry and we immediately think he was drunk. We read about Ruth lying down with him and it seems like the stuff of Hollywood, does it not? But that is nonsense. That is not what is happening here. Instead, it was entirely appropriate that Ruth make this proposal to Boaz.
In fact, according to the law, that was her duty. You can look that up in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. If the kinsman were not doing anything to initiate marriage with the widow, then the widow was to initiate this relationship. And Ruth and Naomi, understand, were living in a day when God’s law was largely ignored. The man who was supposed to seek Ruth in marriage was not doing it. But Ruth and Naomi honored God’s law. They understood the spiritual significance of the land and of the name.
Then think also of how Ruth would have been dressed. Either she would have had on widow garments, which was a black covering from head to toe, or she would have had on modest clothing, which included an extra veil of covering as verse 16 indicates. This was not a day of low necklines and seductive clothing. That is not what Naomi was proposing at all. And Ruth does not go out to arouse a man. In fact, this was the most professional and business-like marriage proposal you have ever heard of.
Boaz’s response, too, shows that this was entirely appropriate. He was a man of godliness. He responds to Ruth by saying, “Blessed be thou of the Lord”—something he would never have said if Ruth’s behavior was inappropriate. He realized, too, that Ruth’s proposal was another act of kindness toward Naomi and the family of Elimelech. He praises her for not going after other young men but instead following God’s Word and seeking to fulfill her proper role as a widow. There was no indiscretion in this midnight meeting. It was simply for the purpose of immediacy and privacy that Ruth goes to Boaz at night.
There are, again, things for us to learn from this. Ruth’s proposal to Boaz tells us where the emphasis should fall in seeking a spouse. Yes, Ruth’s appearance and cleanliness were a part of this. She washes herself and puts on her best. We learn from this that the Bible does not ignore physical appearance and beauty, and we should not either. We should care for our bodies. Cleanliness and dress do matter. They are a part of stewardship. If you read Proverbs 31 you see that part of the virtue of the woman described there is that she clothes her entire house well. How a person dresses and smells communicates something to others. If it is overdone, it can tell others that you are vain. But it can also say that you are lazy. What it should be saying is that we are neat and orderly, that we are good stewards of what God has given us in every area of life.
But even though Ruth dressed well, that was not the primary thing here. That was not what attracted Boaz to her. That was not why he said, “Blessed be thou of the Lord.” Rather, the emphasis falls on godliness. The same thing that we see in chapter 2 in the initial meeting of Boaz and Ruth is here. This is why Naomi sees Boaz as the best candidate for marriage for Ruth. And Boaz appreciates Ruth’s kindness toward the family of Elimelech.
If you are looking for a husband or a wife, that is where the emphasis ought to fall in your relationship—not on physical beauty, popularity, education, wealth, social status, intelligence, and so on. But on godliness. The big questions that you face when you date and enter marriage are not: Where are we going to live? What are we going to drive? How much money will we have? But the big questions are spiritual ones: Where will we go to church? Can we pray together? Is God’s Word important to both of us? Are we one in the Lord? And, young people, if you want rest in marriage, if you want a life of peace and joy, then you must marry in the Lord. Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. Too often people do not talk about those things before they are married. Then they have much turmoil in their marriage because they are on different pages spiritually. Do not do that. Sort out these things first in your relationship. Do not let passion get in the way of priorities.
As we finish today, let us talk about the other marriage relationship, not the earthly one but the heavenly one. Spiritually, all believers, as members of the body of Christ are married to the Lord. There we should and will find our true rest. Ruth here stands as a type or figure of the believer who seeks rest in Christ Jesus. In sin we are without rest. Our souls are restless, till we rest in God. But the safety, the security, the rest of our souls comes when we, by faith, trust in Jesus Christ, His cross, and His righteousness for us. Everyone who experiences the unrest of sin (maybe that is you today) is called to believe on Jesus Christ.
In Boaz’s praise of Ruth we learn something of the character of true faith in Jesus Christ. Boaz praised Ruth for her single-heartedness. She does not go after other young men. Everyone who believes in Jesus and seeks rest in Him will live that way, too—not loving the world, not living for self, but living for Christ—loving God with all his being.
May God grant it to you and to me.
Let us pray.
Father, our souls are restless until we rest in Thee. Draw us by Thy Word to Thyself. Help us to see our sin, to forsake it, and to find all our joy in Jesus our Redeemer. Bless Christian marriages and homes, and Christian young people who seek rest in marriage by seeking Thee. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.