Why Would She Uncover His Feet!? The Love Story of Ruth and Boaz

In the book of Ruth, Naomi tells her daughter-in-law to bath herself, put of scented oils, dress in her best clothes, go to Boaz at night, hide until after he has eaten, lie down beside him when he is asleep and uncover his feet as a way of getting him to marry her. While all of the instructions Naomi gave Ruth were to ensure that Boaz would marry Ruth, the reader wonders why his feet? The Bible is not a shy a book and The Old Testament has no problem informing it’s readers of exactly what it means, regardless of how personal the information may be. Still, the question of what Ruth uncovered and why is highly debated in the world of Biblical scholars.

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The Torah Class gives the reader the most sensual explanations of this scene. The source explains, ““feet” is often used as a Biblical idiom that is referring to genitals. “Covering one’s feet” is also at times used to describe going to the bathroom. Thus some scholars (primarily those who specialize in literary criticism techniques) believe that what Ruth did was to expose Boaz’s genitals as an expression of her desire for him to marry her.” Well… that’s one way to get a proposal!

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This view of scene would show that Naomi had an intimate knowledge of men. If the reader accepts that Naomi meant for her daughter-in-law to uncover Boaz’s private areas then Naomi had to be banking on Boaz having a high integrity and would agree to marry Ruth ASAP! Had the two been caught in sexually compromising position, death would have been the outcome. Another source says  “Naomi suggests that Ruth appear that night on the threshing floor, where all of the workers including Boaz would be sleeping, in order to be as close as possible to the fields at a critical time in the harvest. She instructs Ruth to uncover Boaz’s feet so as to wake him and set the process of “yibum” in motion. From Ruth’s point of view, the plan is problematic, not only because it is unconventional, but because the marriage of a Moabite to a Jew is unlikely (as explained above). What’s more, such a brash approach runs counter to Ruth’s innate modesty, which is what so impressed Boaz in the first place. While Ruth’s conduct would be for all the right reasons, she is concerned that he may view her behavior as inappropriate and then be unwilling to marry her. This would leave Ruth without a way to bring a child into the world for the sake of her deceased husband.” So not only is Ruth doing something that she considers risky, she’s in a room full of people! Is It In The Bible informs the reader of the risky associated with getting caught in this position with Boaz “There were all kinds of folks around at the time the event occurred who could have awakened and discovered them making love (3:4 records Naomi’s directions to Ruth that include “Take note of where he lies down,” so that she didn’t lie down beside the wrong person due to the dark; also, Boaz was a man of means whose servants would have been doing the actual hands-on work of winnowing/threshing and sleeping near the harvested grain to guard it–this is alluded to in 3:14), which would have gotten them both stoned (Boaz was already married=adultery>execution by stoning).” With all the risk, it’s hard for the reader to accept that Naomi would put Ruth in such a position, even if it would lead to Ruth’s marriage to her dream man. Is it worth it? Ruth apparently thinks it is. Recognizing these risks, would Boaz think less of her because of this bold uncovering act, would they both be stoned for it, leads the reader to wonder if Naomi really wanted Ruth to sexual in giving herself to Boaz. Was Ruth told to be sexual in the act of uncovering Boaz’s feet (aka his unmentionables!) or if the text is to be read literally. Could feet be feet?

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Another opinion comes from Enduring Word and recognizes the sexual innuendo implied when Ruth uncovers Boaz’s feet. However, the source also recognizes that what may be considered sexual today was not sexual when the scene played out. When speaking of why Ruth was told to uncover Boaz’s feet, the source says “Some might think this was a provocative gesture, as if Ruth was told to provocatively offer herself sexually to Boaz. This was not how this gesture was understood in that day. In the culture of that day, this was understood as an act of total submission.” If the reader accepts the literal meaning for the story, the source explains that Ruth was to uncover and lay by Boaz’s feet, just his feet, in an act of submission, lying at the foot of his bed as a servant would lay at a masters feet. The source also says that Ruth is able to be confident that Boaz will marry her, because he is her kinsman-redeemer so he has the responsibility of caring for her and giving her offspring. “Ruth came to claim a right. Boaz was her goel, her kinsman-redeemer, and she had the right to expect him to marry her and raise up a family to perpetuate the name of Elimelech. But Naomi wisely counseled Ruth to not come as a victim demanding her rights, but as a humble servant, trusting in the goodness of her kinsman-redeemer. She said to Boaz, “I respect you, I trust you, and I put my fate in your hands.””

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The source describes that the plan fully relies on the knowledge and integrity of all who are involved to work in Ruth’s favor; “On the whole, we must say, had not Boaz been a person of extraordinary piety, prudence, and continence, this experiment might have been fatal to Ruth. We cannot easily account for this transaction; probably Naomi knew more than she revealed to her daughter-in-law. The experiment however was dangerous, and should in no sense be imitated.” The source is saying that even though the things that will take place are symbolic, the plan would not have worked without the people in it. There is one final source that pulls all of the information together and describes the symbolism of the scenario, without the sexual concepts, but only the literal reading of the text. The source says: “Boaz woke up and discovered Ruth “lying at his feet.”  This clearly refers to a location, and it suggests strongly that “feet” means literally feet throughout the passage.  Ruth “uncovered” Boaz’s feet, pulling back his garment, specifically so that she then could ask him to “spread his garment” over her, meaning to assume the responsibility for her care, as her husband.  In other words, this is a symbolic act.”

Ruth goes to Boaz as she is supposed to. Uncovers his feet, lies beside him, identifies herself, and asks Boaz to take her under his wing, in order to become his wife. Ruth offers herself to Boaz to take as his wife the same way that is described in the earlier scenario. The difference is, in this scene feet means feet!

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