tagReviews & EssaysThe Bible Tells Me So

The Bible Tells Me So

byRev. Dave Springer©


Why Boaz Married Ruth

I remember my mother telling me that Grandma Coit had once said that the Bible was the dirtiest book she had ever read. At the time, when I was in high school, I took that to mean that my maternal grandmother had been conservative in her choice of literature. But later, as I studied the Good Book professionally, I came to realize that anyone who reads a great deal of Scripture will run into some very human people. Which means that the persons we come to know about through Bible study have the same kinds of thoughts and desires, weaknesses as well as strengths, as all of us.

In Sunday School they taught us about David and Goliath, but not about David and Bathsheba (to do so see the Addendum). We learned about how Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt, but not about the incest his daughters tricked him into. We all know the love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13, but some from that church were also living very sinful, even licentious lives, see 2 Cor. 12:21. Not all earthy details of biblical lives are of the sort which could be considered improper. King David in his old age had a "bed warmer", Abishag, but 1 Kings 1:4 makes it clear that it was an innocent relationship. Solomon had seven hundred wives of royal rank and three hundred concubines. We should remember biblical times were different lands and accepted different customs.

However, some things never change. Euphemisms were not unknown in ancient Israel. A modern one we use is when a gal goes to "powder her nose". Certainly ladies may repair their make-up in the "powder room", but undoubtedly they use "the facilities" on occasion too. In Hebrew, the genitals were not referred to directly very often, even though the ritual of circumcision is central to the Jewish faith. When one of the fellas in the Old Testament had to relieve himself he went and "covered his feet". So we read in 1 Samuel 24:3 that Saul went into a cave to "cover his feet". David and his men happen to be hiding in there from Saul, but David relented from doing the King any harm. In Judges, we also find this expression. Eglon the King of Moab who had conquered Israel wasn't so lucky. When he was in the cooler upper room of his palace, Ehud, the Benjaminite hero stabbed him to death. The servants of King Eglon thought he was delayed while "covering his feet".

So too, when in Isaiah 6:2 we read that the Seraphim have six wings; two for flying of course, two to cover their eyes (for one cannot look upon the glory of God's face and live (Exodus 33:20)), and two to cover their "feet". Modesty in the presence of the Deity is certainly required! It was important in Leviticus (18:6-20) that you not uncover the nakedness of an inappropriate person. Noah's sons had this issue to contend with after the flood was over. Daniel in 10:6 is the only other place that uses this particular word in Hebrew for feet as it is used in Ruth, in Daniel it is translated as legs. {see note 1} The word used in Ruth 3:7 for uncovering is the same as in Leviticus, which means to denude.

So, when Naomi advises Ruth to go and "uncover Boaz feet", she isn't
suggesting that Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, be simply a "bed warmer". Naomi tells Ruth to bathe, put on sweet smelling ointment and her best clothes. Doesn't that sound like she's going out on a date? The idea was to get Boaz's attention. {however see note 2} He was second in line to redeem Ruth. While he had been generous with the privilege of gleaming grain, Ruth was advised by her mother-in-law to get Boaz interested her romantically. A dog sleeps at his master's feet, a female foot warmer is not going to wake a guy up in the middle of the night and get such a positive reaction as Boaz had! {3}

His statement in verse 3:10 meant that she has sought out Boaz himself with this special deed, as much as that she has been concerned for Naomi's welfare. Her feminine charms could have attracted a younger man -- wealthy or poor, but she went with family ties and showed her willingness to be married to Boaz by a very intimate act. This gains her Boaz's promise to do what she wishes. She then requests what she was after (redemption), by coming to his resting spot and performing felatio, once he had wined and dined and gotten into a good mood. Boaz settles the technicalities difficulties in proper manner. Then he does marry Ruth, bringing this duel love story (Ruth's love for her mother-in-law, Boaz's love for Ruth) to a happy ending.

Oral sex is not mentioned in the Bible elsewhere, but other ancient texts do refer to a variety of sexual activities. Not surprising in a region where temple prostitution was a standard practice for centuries. In the holy writings of the Judeo-Christian tradition one can find rape (Genesis chapter 34), incest (2 Sam. chapter 13), and prostitution, and adultery (Proverbs 6:24-28, Luke 7:36-50, John 8:3-11). None of these activities are condoned, quite the contrary they are condemned. The important theological point made in the passages is that these immoral behaviors are to be avoided, and that the individuals who are involved in immorality can be saved from their sins by faith.

This in no way denies the blessing of sexuality, used responsively in loving relationships. Where it is appropriate the Scriptures bless and encourage the sexual union between married partners, even if it be polygamous relationships (for instance Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon). By the New Testament times we find the writers of the Gospels and Paul in agreement about the sanctity of monogamous marriage and the difficulties of divorce in terms of spiritual union. The concept of the Church as the Bride of Christ was in contrast to the polytheistic worship of a plethora of gods in Roman times. Strong cults such as found in Acts 19:23-41, made the monotheistic / monogamous message of Christianity a threat to the Dionysian culture that thrived in that period.

Maybe, if as we matured, the Christian education level of depth had increased also, we would all still be in Sunday School. Everything I've shared with you is there in the Scriptures, I didn't make anything up. The Bible has depths not plumbed by most people of faith. Greater knowledge of Holy Writ is not just for the theologians. It can be for the average person in the pew an exciting, stimulating adventure. It is the story of people like us confronted with the same questions we face and the same issues of morality and mortality, and if we have God's love with us and within us. I hope that you will find a start to new explorations into the Bible through this exercise in adult stimulation of curiosity about one of the most intimate moments recorded in the Scriptures. My Grandma must have known her Bible well!


{1} "feet", though a different root word in Deut. 28:57, is used to indicate the thighs of a woman; i.e. the afterbirth comes out from between her "feet". That same verse contains the word referred to in the next note.

{2} "softly", in verse 3:7, KJV and RSV read that Ruth "came softly" to where Boaz slept. This is an unusual word in Hebrew. It could come from two different sources words, even both, as Hebrew uses word play to broaden meaning and give context. The first source word develops this way; wrapped, muffled, silently, softly, secretly. The other progresses in meaning like this; covered, covert, secretly, stealthily, silently sneaking, quietly snuck. The Jerusalem Bible translates it as "crept up softly", and NEB as "quietly". But the word used here implies more than just not wishing to wake Boaz from a sound sleep.

The same word is used as mentioned above in the book of Deuteronomy as secretly, but even more to the point is in Judges 4:21 and in 1 Samuel 24:4(that same cave incident!). Where the stealth in killing an enemy, or as with David proving that you could have, has the same connotation of that exact word which was used in Ruth. For Ruth, I personally think "quietly snuck" fits best. After all, she wasn't out to harm Boaz, quite the contrary! But, she couldn't just boldly make advances toward him, with a brazen sexual act. That would have been unseemly and likely rejected by Boaz outright. So she needed to have him catch her in the act, so to speak.

Boaz for his part recognizes the need for propriety. He has Ruth return in the early part of the morning before dawn, while it is still dark. It would be scandalous for it to be know that they were alone together. This would wreck the plans made to have Ruth marry her dead husband's next of kin, either he, or if not, then Boaz himself. Thus, keeping Boaz from fulfilling his promise to Ruth to have her redeemed.

{3} "turned" In verse 3:8 Boaz was startled (to say the least!) and "turned himself" KJV or "turned over" is another rare word in Hebrew, from a root word for bend. So, rather than rolling over laterally, he bent forward, or sat up. A more sensible interpretation if Ruth's activities are concentrated at his 'feet', or even his middle.

Post script: There is a note in the exposition portion of the Interpreter's Bible, vol. 2 page 845, which acknowledges the sexual nature of Naomi's strategy to induce Boaz to wed Ruth. In the forty-five years since that commentary was written, modern sex mores have changed to view Ruth's act as a normal part of intimacy between partners. But whatever age we examine human behavior, be it now or thousands of years ago, it is still love that makes whatever we share with each other special and meaningful.


Tripping over some more "feet" with Ruth's great-grandson.
(or, How Solomon's mother's first husband ignored
the advice of King David and changed history.)

Perhaps some readers may know that Ruth's great-grandson was King David, and likely also know that David was the father of Solomon. Perhaps a few also know that Solomon's mother was the beautiful Bathsheba, she of the famous affair recorded in 2 Samuel, chapter 11. Solomon was their second child however. The first, which was conceived through David's lustful bedding of Bathsheba, died only days after being born.

Those familiar with the story (or wisely having paused and read the 11th chapter of 2nd Samuel a moment ago) know that David not only committed adultery with Bathsheba, but arranged for her husband, Uriah, to die in battle. Closer examination of the story reveals that the killing of Uriah was not so much as to possessed Bathsheba for himself, as to cover up the sin of adultery, which according to the Jewish Law was punishable by death (Lev. 20:10)

The plot is straight forward. David, from the Palace roof, spys a beautiful woman bathing. He inquires as to who she is, and even though the woman is identified as the wife of a senior officer in his army, named Uriah, King David sends for her. He beds her, subsequently some time later she informs him she is pregnant with his child. His, as her husband is away with the troops in a campaign against the Ammonites. David sends for Uriah, but a few days later sends him back into battle (unwittingly) carrying instructions to the commander of the troops that Uriah the Hittite be placed in such a precarious situation that he would surly die in battle. He is so betrayed and after receiving word of his death David marries Bathsheba.

The details flesh out the story and make it one of human fallibility and more interesting than just a sordid tale of infidelity. While some of the behavior of David and his off-spring seem to be less than mindful of the sexual prohibitions found in the 20th chapter of Leviticus (compare Amnion's behavior to Tamar his half-sister in 2 Sam. 13:14 to Lev. 20:19; and also Absalom's sign of rebelliousness and power-grabbing as symbolized in 2 Sam. 16:22 compared to Lev. 20:11) yet Bathsheba waits the allotted time until she has been purified from having her period before she comes to King David, thus following the injunction set by Lev. 20:18 against having sex during a time of impurity. (Ritual impurity with either male or female curtailed or proscribed any number of activities until a cleansing act was accomplished and/or length of time had passed.

Whether Bathsheba knew or not, or might have guessed David's intentions are not made clear. If she did have any objections at the time it would have been hard to deny the request of so popular and powerful a man, not to mention that it has been well noted by previous scriptures as to David's attractiveness. This may well be a precursor to the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, power and good looks are a potent combination for sexual desirability to a woman in any age. It would be difficult to say no. We know she didn't for whatever reason.

Even Kings (and Presidents) must at least not seem to flaunt the law. She is with child and the king is in a pickle. He can't marry her outright, she is already married. So was David, but since he had several wives and concubines one more was not something extra special. Yet he could possibly have the matter settled by a cover-up. The timing of a child's conception to the moment of birth was not so exact a science back in those days and it was conceivable that a gestation length could vary some weeks plus or minus the normal expectations of nine months.

Accordingly, as soon as David learns from Bathsheba that she is with child, he sends for Uriah. The loyal Hittite warrior arrives and is given an audience with the King. David inquires how the war against the Ammonites is going, how's the commander of the army Joab etc.; listened to, one imagines, with only half an ear. His real purpose in summoning Uriah is in his next words. David tells Bathsheba's husband to go home and "wash his feet". To make this time of R&R an easy and happy occasion the King sends a banquet worth of goodies over to the house so that Uriah can eat, drink and make merry, and make Bathsheba too.

Thus, if Uriah had followed the King's advice and gone home and gone to bed with his wife and "washed his feet", the pregnancy might be considered Uriah's doing. But Uriah is too loyal a soldier to take time off when things are in such a turmoil and the Ark and the Kingdom are in peril. This he explains to the King (2 Sam, 11:11) the next day when David asks why the Hittite slept with the Palace guard rather than returning to his home and wife.

Uriah's next words after this (still v. 11) asks, "Am I to go to my house then, and eat and drink and lie with my wife?" (Well, that is exactly what David had hoped and intended that Uriah should do.) If Uriah had partaken of the feast sent over from the King's larder, gotten into a relaxed and romantic mood and taken his wife to bed and taken his wife that evening, the King's predicament would have gone away. But Uriah declares (still v. 11) that he will do no such thing, but will continue in a protective mode for the king, Ark, and Israel. Thereby, he seals his fate to be killed in battle on orders of the King who will them marry his widow (after a suitable short period of mourning).

"Wet your feet" as seen in light of our understanding of Ruth, David's sparing of Saul in the cave when Saul went in to "cover his feet", and the need for King David to cover his indiscretion with Bathsheba can only be interpreted as another euphemism. The term used by Uriah "to lie with my wife" is the one used both in the 20th chapter of Leviticus and many other places in the Old Testament to indicate not just the laying down in prone position or for going to sleep, but also for sexual union. "To bed", "to sleep with", "to lie with", are, both then and now, ways to say that intimate and sexual relations are being had between partners, married or not. Indeed in our vernacular, "to get laid " (i.e. "to be laid down") means to have sex.

As noted above, the first child of David and Bathsheba died just a few days after being born. We are told that it was a result of God's anger over David's misconduct. Personally, I reject a theology where a God who sacrificed his own Son, would have a baby die for the sins of the parents. The sins of the Father's being visited upon the children is not necessarily the work of the Almighty, a loving and redemptive God. However, the Lord, as often in the Scriptures particularly the Old Testament, can use the sins of humans to still fulfill His plans.

Thus if Uriah the Hittite had followed the advise of his King there might never have been a Solomon. The first Temple may not have been built. The power of Judah and Israel not become what was a glorious age under Solomon's reign. And who knows what else might have never been or what other turns may have been taken in the history which lead to Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the anointed Savior.

The moral of this story? Certainly it becomes a tangled web when we give into licentiousness and practice deceit. And perhaps paying a little more attention to our spouse, can save our marriages, perhaps even ourselves from going off to get into more trouble than we may be able to handle. But certainly it makes clear the point that our loving Heavenly Father can utilize not just the righteous behavior of people but that even their flaws may be instruments which advance the Holy purposes to which only the Lord can foresee the ends.


Third chapter of Ruth

The blessing of sexuality ... Gen. 1:28

Noah and his sons ... Gen. 9:20-23

Lot and his daughters ... Gen. 19:17, 20 & 30 - 36

Death to look upon the Lord ... Exodus 33:20

Rule against conjugal consanguinity ... Leviticus (18:6-20)

Cult prostitution ... Duet. 23:17 & Hosea 4:14

Yet another euphemism ... Duet. 25:11 compare KJV to RSV

Death of Eglon ... Judg. 3:15-25

"Stealthily" ... Judges 4:21

David and Goliath ... 1 Sam . 17:40 - 51

David and Saul in the cave ... 1 Samuel 24:3-4

David and Bathsheba ... 2 Sam. 11:2-5

David and Abishag ... 1 Kings 1:1-4

Solomon and his wives and concubines ... 1 Kings 11:3

Seraphim ... Isaiah 6:2

Feet = legs ... Daniel 10:6

Feet = thigh ... Deut. 28:57

Very graphic language ... Ezek. 23:3 & 18-21

Rape ... Genesis chapter 34

Incest ... 2 Sam. chapter 13

Prostitution and adultery ... Proverbs 6:24-28, Luke 7:36-50, John 8:3-11

The sins of some Corinthians ... 2 Cor. 12:21

Jesus' views on marriage and divorce ... Matt. 19:3-6

Paul's views on marriage and divorce ... 1 Cor. 6:15 - 7:11

The Church as bride of Christ ... Matt. 9:15 & 2 Cor. 11:2

The cult of Diana ... Acts 19:23-41

Copyright 1997 & 1999 by Rev. Dave Springer
Exodus 20:15 Luke 16:10

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