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3. Cutting Corners: Naomi’s Under Cover Operation (Ruth 3)

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1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 “Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 “Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 “It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.” 5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do.”

6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came secretly, and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled and bent forward; and behold, a woman was lying at his feet. 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.” 10 Then he said, “May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 “Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. 12 “Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 “Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives. Lie down until morning.” 14 So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 Again he said, “Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.” So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.

16 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did it go, my daughter?” And she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 She said, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said, ‘Do not go to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’ ” 18 Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today” (Ruth 3:1-18, NASB95).

Introduction

As I was thinking about shortcuts (a.k.a. cutting corners), I decided to do a search on the Internet to see what kind of shortcuts I could find. I read about an older (well, 69, which isn’t that much older than me) man in Europe, who tried to take a shortcut home by cutting across an estuary and finding himself up to his knees in mud. Then there was a young man who took a shortcut when hiking in the mountains of Alaska and had to be rescued from a precarious position on the side of a mountain. I also read about a number of people who have taken shortcuts when participating in a marathon race. And finally, I read about concerns that some may have been cutting corners in the construction of the world’s largest dam in China.

In my opinion, the plan which Naomi proposed to Ruth in our text was a shortcut, but by the grace of God, the two principle characters – Ruth and Boaz – remained sterling examples of godly conduct. You will find that some scholars and Bible teachers tap dance all around the threshing floor, fervently trying to sanctify Naomi’s actions. In my opinion, it is a futile effort. But it is not difficult to see the godly manner in which Ruth and Boaz handled the risky situation into which they had been placed.

You might rightly ask why I hold confidently to my position, when others (some of whom are highly respected) see the text quite differently. It all comes down to one’s hermeneutics (the science of interpreting Scripture). I can boil the essence of my hermeneutics down to a couple of points. First, I believe that the text is to be understood as it appears. Second, I believe that the Scriptures provide me with all the supporting information I need to understand what I find in any biblical text. I do not believe that the interpretation of any text hangs upon information (alleged or true) that has been discovered outside the Bible. External information may supplement and illustrate biblical truth, but the interpretation of a biblical text does not hang on something outside of Scripture.

When it comes to our text, some interpreters wish to persuade the reader that there was a common cultural practice underlying the actions which Naomi directed and Ruth carried out. But the reality is that we see no such practice in the Bible – anywhere! Thus, I take the text at face value. I do not believe that there is some unique cultural interpretation here. Folks, when a woman bathes, puts on perfume and dons her best dress, and then secretively climbs under the covers with a man who has had his fill of food and wine, I don’t think anyone in any culture would read this in any way but what we all assume.

Now I say this to forewarn you that I do not believe that Naomi’s proposition meets muster. It falls short of moral high ground. But having said this, I would hasten to say that when the chapter ends, neither Ruth nor Boaz have compromised their character. Naomi’s proposition is the backdrop against which the moral purity of Ruth and Boaz is contrasted.

Let me say one more thing by way of introduction. Let us remember that the events of the Book of Ruth take place in the days of the judges (1:1). If we would appreciate the piety of Ruth and Boaz, then let us reread the story of Samson. Samson’s relationship with Delilah is a far cry from Ruth’s relationship with Boaz. This story of Ruth is one of the most beautiful accounts in all of the Bible of a man’s relationship with a woman. So let us read on and rejoice.

Naomi’s Proposition
Ruth 3:1-5

1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.” 5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do” (Ruth 3:1-5, NASB95).

This episode begins with Naomi seeking to convince Ruth that, as her mother-in-law, she has the right to play matchmaker (that is, to meddle so as to bring Ruth and Boaz together as husband and wife). Naomi begins by asking two questions which are intended to persuade Ruth to take her advice and carry out her scheme. The first question, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you?” does several things. It reminds Ruth that she is her mother-in-law, no insignificant fact in those days, and perhaps in ours as well. In Naomi’s mind, at least, it gives her some basis for taking the lead here. More than this, Naomi’s question implies that what she is about to propose is intended for Ruth’s good. By this, Naomi claims to be intervening in order to bring about what is best for Ruth. We know what this means from what Naomi has already said to Ruth in chapter 1:

“May the Lord enable each of you to find security in the home of a new husband!” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept loudly (Ruth 1:9, NET Bible).

So far as Naomi is concerned, “seeking security” for Ruth’s well being means getting her a husband. Naomi’s second question makes it very clear that Boaz is the one she has determined to secure for Ruth as her husband: “Now is not Boaz our kinsman,3 with whose maids you were?” So, Naomi must have been satisfied that she had vindicated her efforts to bring Ruth and Boaz together as husband and wife. It is hard to believe that she did not also realize that she would gain from this arrangement as well.

Naomi supplies one more detail. This is not set forth as a question, but as a statement: “Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight” (verse 2). The two questions Naomi asked seemed to justify her intervention (meddling/matchmaking). This statement is meant to justify her specific proposal and the plot she seeks to set in motion this very night. So what is the point of calling attention to the fact that Boaz will be at the threshing floor that evening? I believe it is reasonable to infer from Deuteronomy 16:13-15 and Hosea 9:1-2 that there was a certain amount of celebration associated with the threshing floor, because this threshing took place at the end of the grain harvest. We see similar celebration at the time of the sheering of the sheep in Genesis 38, and this “celebration” had the potential for turning into an occasion for immorality:

12 After some time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. After Judah was consoled, he left for Timnah to visit his sheepshearers, along with his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 Tamar was told, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she removed her widow’s clothes and covered herself with a veil. She wrapped herself and sat at the entrance to Enaim which is on the way to Timnah. (She did this because she saw that she had not been given to Shelah as a wife, even though he had now grown up.) 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute because she had covered her face (Genesis 38:12-15, NET Bible).

Tamar knew that when Judah, her father-in-law, went to Timnah to “shear his sheep” this would be a similar time of celebration, a time when Judah might be expected to use the services of a prostitute, and thus she dressed as a prostitute and was “hired” by Judah in this capacity. I am convinced that the same temptations were often associated with the threshing floor. This explains why Boaz will later insist that no one know that “a woman came to the threshing floor” (Ruth 3:14). I think this was a “male celebration,” with no women present. If women were present, it would be assumed that something immoral took place.

I find it hard not to assume that since Naomi knew that Boaz would be at the threshing floor that evening, she anticipated that this would likely be a more vulnerable time for Boaz. Naomi’s plan seems to assume his vulnerability and seeks to take advantage of it. As she reveals her plan, this assumption seems even more likely to be the case.

The Plan

3 “Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 “It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do” (Ruth 3:3-4, NASB95).

The plan is really simple. Ruth is to bathe, put on perfume and a dress (presumably the best one she has), and then present herself to Boaz at just the right moment – that moment being after he has eaten and after he has had sufficient wine to be “cheerful” (for his heart to be merry), and after he has settled down in bed. Only then was Ruth to slip under the blanket at the feet of Boaz, waiting for him to tell her what to do next. As I read these words, I cannot help but think of these two texts in the Book of Esther:

10 On the seventh day, as King Ahasuerus was feeling the effects of the wine, he ordered Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, 11 to bring Queen Vashti into the king’s presence wearing her royal high turban. He wanted to show the people and the officials her beauty, for she was very attractive. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s bidding conveyed through the eunuchs. Then the king became extremely angry, and his rage consumed him (Esther 1:10-12, NET Bible; emphasis mine).

12 At the end of the twelve months that were required for the women, when the turn of each young woman arrived to go to King Ahasuerus – for in this way they had to fulfill their time of cosmetic treatment: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfume and various ointments used by women – 13 the woman would go to the king in the following way: Whatever she asked for would be provided for her to take with her from the harem to the royal palace. 14 In the evening she went, and in the morning she returned to a separate part of the harem, to the authority of Shaashgaz the king’s eunuch who was overseeing the concubines. She would not go back to the king unless the king was pleased with her and she was requested by name. 15 When it became the turn of Esther daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai (who had raised her as if she were his own daughter) to go to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who was overseer of the women, had recommended. Yet Esther met with the approval of all who saw her. 16 Then Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus at his royal residence in the tenth month (that is, the month of Tebeth) in the seventh year of his reign. 17 And the king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she met with his loving approval more than all the other young women. So he placed the royal high turban on her head and appointed her queen in place of Vashti (Esther 2:12-17, NET Bible).

Essentially, we find the same expression used in Esther 1:10 (“was feeling the effects of the wine”) that is also used in Ruth 3:7 (“and his heart was merry”). We cannot accept the “watered down” (pardon the pun) rendering of the NET Bible here: “When Boaz had finished his meal and was feeling satisfied.” It is just too obvious that Naomi was anticipating that the wine would have a dulling effect on Boaz’s judgment. Let us not forget Noah’s nakedness after his consumption of wine in Genesis 9, or the way in which Lot’s daughters employed wine to seduce their father so that he would impregnate them.4 Then there was Absalom’s use of wine in 2 Samuel 13:28 to dull Amnon’s senses so that he could be assassinated. No wonder King Lemuel was warned about the dangers of wine:

3 Do not give your strength to women,

nor your ways to that which ruins kings.

4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,

it is not for kings to drink wine,

or for rulers to crave strong drink,

5 lest they drink and forget what is decreed,

and remove from all the poor their legal rights.

6 Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,

and wine to those who are bitterly distressed;

7 let them drink and forget their poverty,

and remember their misery no more.

8 Open your mouth on behalf of those unable to speak,

for the legal rights of all the dying.

9 Open your mouth, judge in righteousness,

and plead the cause of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:3-9, NET Bible).5

Here is where the expository “tap dance” begins by some who would seek to convince us that what we assume is taking place here really isn’t. First, some seek to convince us that in that culture there was a commonly understood practice that made this a harmless symbolic request for marriage. The problem is that no one can demonstrate this from the Bible. Second, some students of Scripture try to convince us that all Naomi is asking is for Ruth to bathe and change her attire, replacing her garments of mourning with normal garments in order to indicate that her period of mourning has ended and that she is now ready to remarry.

The problems with this explanation are monumental. First, we are never told that she was still in mourning. We do not know how long it has been since her husband died, but it would appear to be long enough that her mourning had long since ended. Naomi had already encouraged Ruth to remain in Moab and to marry a Moabite. This may indicate that her mourning had already ended. Second, if her attire was that of a mourner, wouldn’t this have been evident as she worked in the field of Boaz? The subject of her being in mourning is not emphasized in the conversations that took place in chapter 2. Third, if her clothing symbolized that she was in mourning, I doubt that the danger of her being molested in some way would have been as great as Boaz feared. If she wore normal clothing (as I assume she did), then this would indicate her availability to marry, and that would have made her more vulnerable to sexual harassment. Fourth, if that was all her change of clothing was to indicate, why would Ruth’s change from a mourner to an available young woman not have been better conveyed in broad daylight? Why would her change of attire have been perceived more easily under a blanket and in the dark of night? Come on, that’s just trying too hard to avoid the obvious. Hollywood should be licking its chops to do this as a movie. But they would fail to appreciate the virtue of both Ruth and Boaz in their zeal to capitalize on the sexual nuances of Naomi’s plan.

Naomi’s arguments seem to have persuaded Ruth for she promised to do all that her mother-in-law had suggested. While she agreed to do all that Naomi said, she did not do everything exactly the way Naomi seems to have expected things to be done. Somehow Ruth and Boaz are able to navigate the moral minefields of this situation and come out unscathed. All of this takes place (in my opinion), no thanks to Naomi’s meddling.

Some will judge me unduly harsh here, and they may be right. But can you honestly read Naomi’s words to Ruth as the wise and principled counsel of a godly Israelite woman? When I think back on the origin of the Moabites in Genesis 19, the mother of Moab (Lot’s oldest daughter) sounds a lot like Naomi, and nothing like Ruth. I could say the same for Tamar in Genesis 38 and for Mordecai (Esther’s uncle) in the Book of Esther. Naomi’s proposition is pure pragmatism, and it is patently wrong for the following reasons:

(1) Naomi proposes to solve a problem in secret that should have been dealt with in public. Is the solution to Ruth’s situation best handled in the bed of Boaz in the middle of the night? Clearly not! Notice how the unwilling relative is dealt with at the gate of the city in Deuteronomy 25:7-10. No wonder Boaz will settle the matter of who will redeem Naomi’s property and become Ruth’s husband in broad daylight at the city gate in chapter 4.

(2) Naomi’s proposition is God-less. In her words of advice to Ruth, there is not one word of reference to God. This is not altogether shocking since Naomi’s first counsel on this matter was a recommendation to stay in Moab, marry a Moabite man, and continue to worship her Moabite gods.6 From Naomi’s words, we would conclude that Ruth’s “security” would be best attained by finding a husband, not by placing her trust in God. It would be best found in Moab, not in Israel.

(3) Naomi’s plan seeks to appeal to the baser instincts and impulses of Boaz, not his higher sense of duty. Why else would there need to be wine, the dark of night, and an “under cover” encounter? Naomi would have done well in modern day advertising, for she seeks to “sell” Ruth to Boaz the way Madison Avenue sells toothpaste or lingerie. That’s what the bathing, the perfume, and the clothing is all about, not to mention climbing into bed with Boaz after his heart has been made merry with wine.

Stated in a different way, Naomi’s proposition (as she coached Ruth to carry out her plan) did not appeal to one’s moral high ground. It did not encourage Boaz to do the right thing in the right way. It urged Ruth to seek a husband in a questionable and compromising manner. Fortunately, Boaz was committed to doing the right thing the right way. And this is why he refuses to become intimate with Ruth that night, and why he gave the nearest kin the opportunity to do the right thing the next day.

(4) Naomi’s plan does not call for thought and reflection, but rather for impulsive, irreversible action. I am reminded of these verses in Proverbs:

21 She persuaded him with persuasive words;

with her smooth talk she compelled him.

22 Suddenly he went after her like an ox that goes to the slaughter,

like a stag prancing into a trapper’s snare (Proverbs 7:21-22).

Remember that marriage was not consummated by the declaration of a preacher, or elder; marriage was consummated by the sexual union of a man and a woman. Once a marriage was consummated in the marriage bed, there was no easy way out. Ask Jacob about that.7 So, Naomi’s plan was to coax Boaz to become the family redeemer by having sex with Ruth (under the influence of wine). And once that union was consummated, there was no turning back.

(5) Naomi’s plan seems to deliberately bypass and exclude the nearest kin, giving preference to Boaz instead. It is inconceivable that Naomi would not have known who the nearest kin was.8 In addition to this, the word Naomi used in Ruth 3:2 to describe Boaz as a relative was not the term she should have used for the closest relative. I have no doubt that Naomi knew who the nearest kin was. Not surprisingly, Naomi preferred Boaz, and after all he was at the threshing floor, soon to be merry with good food and wine.

(6) Naomi’s scheme needlessly put the reputation of two godly people at risk. The words of Boaz in verse 14 indicate that had anyone seen him and Ruth together that night, they would have assumed the worst. Two godly people would have been the subject of gossip, as though they had acted improperly. It was Naomi’s plan that put Ruth and Boaz in the same place (even the same bed) in the middle of the night, with workers nearby.

(7) Naomi’s plan wrongly implied that Ruth needed to take the initiative in this matter of redemption and levirate marriage, as though Boaz would not have done so on his own. It seems clear to me that Boaz should have been granted the freedom to assume the leadership role in this matter, as he will do the next morning. Naomi’s plan strongly suggests that apart from her meddling and Ruth’s feminine wiles, this redemption would never have happened. If Boaz is a prototype of Christ, our Redeemer, then should he not have been trusted to assume a leadership role in redeeming the family property and marrying Ruth?

(8) Naomi’s plan seems to assume that the end justifies the means. The goal was a good one. Indeed, what Naomi hoped to achieve is what will ultimately happen in chapter 4. But her way of bringing this to pass is vastly different than the way Boaz chooses to accomplish this.

(9) Naomi’s plan only dealt with the matter of finding a husband for Ruth, and yet we shall see in chapter 4 that another pressing issue was the redemption of her property. Why is it that Boaz felt it was necessary to address the redemption of Naomi’s property first, and yet Naomi did not address this matter at all? Naomi seems to “pick and choose” the issues she will seek to address by orchestrating a solution. If Naomi had addressed the property purchase first, it would have eliminated the need for this “midnight madness.”

(10) The “transaction” for which Naomi wanted no witnesses (3:3-4) was set aside by Boaz for a “transaction” that had numerous witnesses (4:9-11).

(11) If the purpose of Naomi’s plot was not merely to see Ruth married to Boaz, but also the birth of a child, one has to wonder if this could have been achieved in a way that did not honor God. We are told in Ruth 4:13 that God enabled Ruth to conceive. This indicates that up until this point God had closed her womb. It would be foolish to assume that God would open Ruth’s womb if her marriage was brought about in a dishonorable way. Thus, it is very possible that even if Ruth and Boaz had consummated a physical union, no child would have resulted.

(12) Nowhere in the Book of Ruth is Naomi praised. Ruth is praised several times, and Boaz likewise is praised. The older women do not praise Naomi; they praise God for the way He has blessed Naomi, and thus corrected her distorted perspective that God was unduly harsh toward her in chapter 1.

(13) Naomi is “doing what seems right in her own eyes,” while Boaz and Ruth are committed to doing what is right in God’s eyes.

Godly Conduct in a Compromising Situation
Ruth 3:6-15

6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came secretly, and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled and bent forward; and behold, a woman was lying at his feet. 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.” 10 Then he said, “May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 “Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. 12 “Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 “Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives. Lie down until morning.” 14 So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 Again he said, “Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.” So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city (Ruth 3:6-15, NASB95).

We should begin by noting the author’s choice of words in verse 6. Here, he tells the reader that when Ruth went down to the threshing floor, she did all that her mother-in-law had commanded” her. Did Naomi present her plan to Ruth as the well-meaning advice of a concerned mother-in-law? We now see it for what it was – Naomi’s request was really a command. That is the way she perceived it.

I like the way the NASB, KJV, and NKJV translate verse 6, when it says that Ruth “did according to all that her mother-in-law commanded her.” The way I read these words, Ruth did not do everything exactly as Naomi had instructed, but she acted consistently with what she was commanded. When we get to Ruth’s actions and choice of words, we find that she obeyed Naomi’s command in a way that was completely honorable and consistent with her noble character.9 We should add that because Ruth responded in a godly and honorable way, Boaz could immediately recognize her piety and respond accordingly.

We are not told about Ruth’s compliance with the first part of Naomi’s instructions – the bathing, putting on of perfume, and a nice dress. The author lets the reader assume these things took place. One reason why I think the author does not call attention to these beautification efforts is because they were inconsequential. Naomi may have thought these things would tip the scales in Ruth’s favor, but Boaz was a man of principle. A little perfume and a nice dress (and, of course, the wine) were not going to influence his decision. He agreed to her request for marriage10 because Ruth was a woman of character, and his duty (under the law) was also his delight.

The author takes up his account at the point that Boaz lies down for the night after eating and drinking and being merry in heart. Providentially, Boaz lays down at “the end of the heap of grain.” In other words, Boaz lays down some distance removed from the workers, providing the kind of privacy that enabled Ruth to slip under the covers at his feet, unnoticed by anyone (even Boaz, for the time being). But sometime in the middle of the night, Boaz was suddenly startled out of his sleep. Someone else was there with him, lying at the end of his blanket (or covering). Sitting up and leaning forward, he asked who was there. Now it was up to Ruth to carry out her mission.

I’m not sure that things are going exactly the way Naomi planned. Boaz has not told Ruth to do anything; he has asked who she is. And so Ruth’s next move is not to do whatever Boaz would tell her, but to humbly and modestly ask him to fulfill his role as the family redeemer. Her response to the inquiry of Boaz is a masterpiece:

He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings11 over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9, ESV).

These are very carefully chosen words. When Ruth identifies herself as the servant or maid of Boaz, she chooses a different term than the one she employed in verse 13 of chapter 2. In chapter 2, the term for maid (or handmaid or maidservant) is one that speaks of a very lowly maid, which is exactly Ruth’s point. She considered herself totally unworthy of the kind of treatment she was receiving from Boaz. But now she uses a term which speaks of a maid who is higher in the social strata, a class of maid who would be considered eligible for marriage.12

Yes, in a general sense, she is asking Boaz to marry her, but more specifically she is asking him to be her kinsman redeemer (go’el). So why did she choose the words that she spoke to Boaz? Where do they come from? I believe she chooses these exact words because of what Boaz had recently said to her in chapter 2:

“The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12, ESV)

I must admit that I am puzzled why so many of the translations would render the same Hebrew word “wings” in Ruth 2:12 and something different in 3:9. I believe that when Boaz commended Ruth for seeking God’s protection (under His wings) in chapter 2, Ruth seized on his words when seeking his protection in chapter 3. In other words, Ruth is asking Boaz to be God’s answer to her prayers by redeeming her. I believe this was the noblest request ever made of Boaz, and he immediately regarded it as such.

Not only does Boaz commend Ruth for this request, I believe that God commends her as well, for He will use this same expression in Ezekiel 16 to describe His care and protection of the nation Israel:

1 Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, 3 and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: “Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born. 6 “And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ 7 I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare. 8 “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 16:1-8, NKJV; emphasis mine).

I’m not sure that Ruth fully grasped the implications of what she was saying here, but then neither did the Old Testament prophets when they wrote under inspiration.13 When God delivered Israel from her Egyptian bondage, His actions are described as His spreading His wings over them in salvation and protection. And so we find that the imagery of finding shelter under God’s wings is common in the Old Testament:

4 “‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself’” (Exodus 19:4, NASB95).

11 “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,

That hovers over its young,

He spread His wings and caught them,

He carried them on His pinions” (Deuteronomy 32:11, NASB95).

8 Keep me as the apple of the eye;

Hide me in the shadow of Your wings (Psalm 17:8, NASB95).

7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!

And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings (Psalm 36:7, NASB95).

1 For the choir director; set to Mikhtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave. Be gracious to me

O God, be gracious to me,

For my soul takes refuge in You;

And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge

Until destruction passes by (Psalm 57:1, NASB95).

4 Let me dwell in Your tent forever;

Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Selah (Psalm 61:4, NASB95).

4 He will cover you with His pinions,

And under His wings you may seek refuge;

His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark (Psalm 91:4, NASB95).

I believe that just as Boaz had declared in chapter 2, Ruth had sought refuge under God’s wings, just as any true Israelite should do. I further believe Ruth understood that the provisions in the law for the poor, and for the widows (including redemption/levirate marriage), were a part of the protection God provided for those who sought protection under His wings. And so it seems natural for Ruth to look to Boaz for redemption and protection. He was (both in fact and in her mind) God’s provision, and thus she phrased her request with these most appropriate words.

Boaz seems to have immediately perceived this to be the case, as we see from his response to Ruth:

10 Then he said, “May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 “Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence” (Ruth 3:10-11, NASB95).

In the midst of such easily misunderstood actions, how was it that Boaz could so quickly conclude that Ruth was acting in a praiseworthy manner? Allow me to suggest several factors that may have influenced Boaz. First, we should not overlook what Boaz knew of Ruth from previous experience. Boaz had already indicated that he was well aware of Ruth’s conduct and character in the past, and he pronounced God’s blessings upon her (Ruth 2:11-12). Second, what Boaz personally observed of Ruth’s actions and words that night did not change his opinion of her. In spite of Naomi’s scheme, Boaz sees nothing in Ruth’s words or deeds which change his opinion of her. Indeed, he commends her as a “woman of excellence,” – the highest praise that could be awarded any woman. It is, in fact, the very same expression used to describe the noble woman in Proverbs 31:10.

Whatever it is that some might think Ruth did that night under the covers, Boaz does not see it that way, and we had better esteem her highly, as he did. He recognized that had she sought to merely satisfy her physical desires, she would have looked elsewhere – to someone younger. No, Ruth was not seeking her own interests; she was seeking the interests of her mother-in-law and her deceased husband (and father-in-law). Because of this, Boaz vowed to do everything in his power to honorably fulfill her request.

Third, I believe that Boaz acted in genuine (non-romantic, at this point in time) love. I am reminded of Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:7:

[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7, NET Bible; emphasis mine).

Fourth, the response of Boaz was a reflection of his personal purity.

All is pure to those who are pure. But to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their minds and consciences are corrupted (Titus 1:15, NET Bible; emphasis mine).

Impure people expect others to think and act as impurely as they do. They project their impurity onto others. Boaz was a “pure” man, and thus he was not predisposed to assume impurity on the part of Ruth. He believed the best of Ruth because he was pure in heart, and he and Ruth were kindred spirits.

Fifth, I believe that Boaz was a humble man, and that his humility enabled him to see things more clearly than others might. I believe there is a very close link between humility and wisdom.14 Arrogance clouds one’s ability to see things clearly, while humility enables one to see things as they are. Humility is, in fact, seeing things as they are. Boaz does not flatter himself. He is fully aware that he is (in my words) “an old coot.” He knows that young men would be far more attractive to a young widow like Ruth, and thus her request is but another evidence of her godliness.

As much as Boaz wanted to comply with Ruth’s petition, there was something that he could not overlook as a man of principle, as a man who was intent on obeying God’s law. The law specified the order in which the levirate marriage duty was to be fulfilled,15 and he was not the first in line:

12 “Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 “Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives” (Ruth 3:12-13, NASB95).

Boaz would do everything he could for Ruth, but he would do so as God’s law prescribed. Thus, he would not become intimate with Ruth until this matter was resolved properly, in broad daylight, in the city gates, in the presence of the nearest kin and the elders of the city. How, then, would Boaz deal with his present circumstances?

Lie down until morning.” 14 So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 Again he said, “Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.” So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city (Ruth 3:13b-15, NASB95).

It was surely not safe to send Ruth back into the city unescorted in the middle of the night. He could not escort her home without raising all kinds of questions, nor could it be known that any woman was there on the threshing floor that night. It would have been assumed that immorality was the reason for such a liaison. And so Boaz instructed Ruth to lie down once again at his feet until morning. Before dawn and before anyone else was awake, Boaz warned Ruth not to let anyone know that a woman had been there. He then sent her away with all the grain she could carry.16 Anyone who works hard at finding some indication of “romance” in chapter 3 has a lot of explaining to do regarding this hefty load of grain. It was, indeed, a symbolic gesture, but it was hardly an engagement ring or even a bouquet of flowers. And so Ruth managed to return to the home of her mother-in-law undetected.

Upon her arrival, Ruth was met by her matchmaker mother-in-law, who questioned her about the events of the evening:

16 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did it go, my daughter?”17 And she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 She said, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said, ‘Do not go to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’” 18 Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today” (Ruth 3:16-18, NASB95).

Ruth told her all that had transpired throughout the night and what Boaz had done for her. She made a point of calling attention to the barley that Boaz had sent with her, indicating that these were a gift from Boaz to Naomi. I’m probably stretching things here, but just as an engagement ring symbolizes a man’s intention to marry a woman, this barley seems to symbolize Boaz’s commitment to care for Naomi.

Naomi is now confident that Boaz will follow up on his commitment and see the matter through to the end. She knows Boaz well enough to assure Ruth that the matter will be settled before the day is over. And she is right, as we will soon see from chapter 4.

Conclusion

We come to the end of chapter 3 with a sigh of relief. Things might have ended differently, and that would not have been good. Both Ruth and Boaz were placed in compromising situations, but both responded in a godly way so that their character was evident, and the goal which Naomi sought to reach could be gained by a much higher road. There are many lessons to learn from our text, and I will conclude this message by pointing out a few of them.

(1) Godly character is evident in ungodly settings. The godly character of both Ruth and Boaz is dramatically displayed against the backdrop of chapter 3. Circumstances were far from ideal here, but that did not prevent these two people from living in a way that should command our respect. I think of the Corinthian church and the ungodliness of the culture in which those saints were called to live. Paul set a high standard for these early believers because he was confident that God is able to make His people stand.18 We often bemoan the fact that we live in dark days, but it is during such times that the light of the gospel should shine ever more brightly.19

(2) Men are called to be moral leaders in their relationship with the opposite sex. In our culture, it is sometimes assumed that men will be the aggressors and that it is the woman’s role to “put on the brakes.” This is often the case in dating. Many young men seem all too willing to go as far as the young woman will permit. This is not the way it happened in our story. In effect, Naomi instructed Ruth that she was to do whatever Boaz said (3:4). Had Boaz not been a man of character, things might have gone in a very different direction at this midnight meeting under the covers and in the cover of darkness. But it was Boaz who took the moral leadership so as to protect the purity and reputation of Ruth.

Young men, this is the standard for you. You (and I, and every man) should be the kind of moral leader who takes the moral high ground, protecting the purity and reputation of those women with whom we associate. This is what real manhood is about. Remember, Boaz was a “mighty man of valor.” He showed that not only on the battlefield, and in the barley field, but at the threshing floor as well.

(3) Beware of ungodly counsel that comes from people who appear to be pious and to have our best interest at heart. Naomi appears to be intent on seeking what is best for Ruth. Her counsel sets forth a plan which would seemingly provide Ruth with the security and blessings of a husband, a home, and an heir. In spite of how this counsel was presented, the reader should see through this and realize how wrong it was.

We should readily see that it is important for every Christian to discern the difference between sound counsel and ungodly counsel. But just how is one to discern the difference? I can think of several important clues from our text. First, one should evaluate the counsel given by another by considering their personal relationship with God. The indications we are given regarding Naomi’s spiritual condition in chapter 1 are far from encouraging. Naomi is not a woman who is walking close to God. By her own confession, she is bitter, accusing God of being unduly harsh with her. That should cause us to see all kinds of red flags (warnings).

We would do well in evaluating the counsel of others if we asked this question: Is the counsel I am being given coming directly from the Words of Scripture, or is it the opinion of the counselor? Is the counsel we are given a “Thus saith the Lord” that is found in the Bible, or is it a personal opinion? Finally, we can learn a great deal from the answer to this question: “Is the counsel being given challenging me to do the difficult (even humanly impossible) thing that is right, or is it justifying me doing the easy thing that I (in my sinful flesh) really want to do?” God’s will is almost never the “path of least resistance.” God’s will was expressed in the law, but we know from Romans 7 that we cannot do it by mere will power or fleshly effort. God’s will can only be accomplished when His Spirit gives life to our flesh which is dead with respect to righteousness.20

False teachers appeal to our fleshly desires to prompt us to act.21 Teachers of the truth hold forth God’s Word which commands us to mortify the flesh, not indulge it.22 When we are counseled to do that which appeals to our flesh, we can be reasonably sure that it is bad counsel. Our task as believers who are part of the body of Christ is to challenge our fellow believers to take the high ground and to do the hard (even impossible) things which God requires of us, through the power of His Spirit.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend,

but the kisses of an enemy are excessive (Proverbs 27:6, NET Bible).

15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. 18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven. 19 Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:15-20, NET Bible).

14 But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another (Romans 15:14, NET Bible).

1 Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too (Galatians 6:1, NET Bible).

11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing. 12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all (1 Thessalonians 5:11-14, NET Bible).

23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25, NET Bible).

We are no friend when we encourage others to do “what feels right;” we are only a friend when we encourage them to trust and obey God. We live in a time like that of the judges, when everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes. Let us encourage others to do what is right in God’s eyes by obeying His Word and encouraging others to do likewise.

(4) Be alert to the reality of the providence of God in the lives of His people. This text, though well known and often cited, is surely true:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28, NASB95).

The providence of God is often unseen until God chooses to lift the veil, so to speak, and reveal what He has been about. God was providentially preparing Naomi for the blessings He was about to bestow on her, and this at a time when she wrongly concluded that He was dealing harshly with her. In chapter 3, I believe that God providentially protected both Boaz and Ruth from rumors and accusations by preventing anyone from seeing the two of them together that night. More evidences of providential care are yet to come in the Book of Ruth.

(5) Our text should teach us to beware of taking shortcuts. It is my contention that Naomi is attempting to take a shortcut in her efforts to get Ruth married to Boaz. I believe that shortcuts are both unbiblical and unwise. But first let me define what I mean by a shortcut. A shortcut is an ungodly, faithless action that we take to avoid pain and suffering, hard work, trusting God, or waiting. In other words, we take shortcuts in order to solve a problem the easy way, as opposed to God’s way.

Let me give some examples of shortcuts that were taken by people in the Bible. Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as a shortcut to that knowledge that would make them “like God.”23 Abram and Sarai grew weary of waiting for God to give them a son as He had promised, and so, at the prompting of Sarai, Abram slept with Hagar, resulting in the birth of Ishmael24 – a shortcut for which we are still paying the price. Judah was afraid to give his third son to Tamar, and so Tamar took the shortcut of dressing like a harlot and having sex with Judah.25 Fearing that they would not be able to marry and produce offspring, Lot’s two daughters got him drunk and had sexual relations with him, resulting in the births of Moab and Ammon.26 Seeing his fighting men scatter, Saul went ahead and offered the sacrifices himself, rather than to wait for Samuel as he had been instructed.27 Fearing that they would suffer persecution from the Jews, some who claimed to trust in Christ began to insist that Gentile converts must be circumcised.28 Wishing to appear more generous than they were, Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and gave some of the proceeds to the church, secretly keeping some for themselves, but declaring that they had given the entire purchase price.29

Thankfully, we also have examples of those in the Bible who refused to take a shortcut. When David sinned by numbering the Israelites, God brought a plague of pestilence on the people. In His mercy, God stopped short of destroying all. The prophet Gad instructed David to erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah. When David sought to purchase the property on which the threshing floor was located, Araunah offered to give it to David. David refused this shortcut, insisting that he could not offer a sacrifice that cost him nothing.30

The greatest example of refusing to take a shortcut is found in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the outset of his public ministry, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to fast and to be tested by the devil. On three occasions, the devil presented our Lord with three shortcuts, all of which our Lord refused, basing His decision on the Word of God. The essence of these shortcuts was for Jesus to satisfy, or please Himself, by acting independently of the Father (much as Adam and Eve had done in the Garden of Eden).

All of this was leading up to Satan’s effort to turn the Lord Jesus from the cross (whether or not Satan grasped it at the time). If Jesus would simply bow down and worship him, the devil offered to give Him authority over all the kingdoms of the world. Here was the biggest shortcut of all time, a shortcut around the cross. But our Lord refused the easy path and chose the path of shedding His blood as the payment for our sins. Every Christian can rejoice over the choice He made, and the price He paid.

My friend, because our Lord refused to take a shortcut around the cross of Calvary, there is no way that God will accept any shortcut to salvation that you may choose to avoid the cross. Jesus Christ is the only way to God,31 and the cross is the only basis for our salvation. Do not think that your sincere efforts at pleasing Him will suffice as the payment for your sins. Only Christ’s death in your behalf can pay the price for your sins, and only His righteousness bestowed upon you as a gift will meet God’s standards. Please, no shortcuts when it comes to your eternal destiny.

For the Christian, shortcuts deprive us of the opportunity of seeing the hand of God at work in our lives. There was no shortcut around the Red Sea. While the Israelites were terrified because the sea was before them and the Egyptian army was behind, they were blessed to see God’s hand at work in a powerful way, bringing about their salvation and the destruction of the entire Egyptian army. Had Naomi’s scheme produced the physical union of Ruth and Boaz, neither they nor we would be able to rejoice over the hand of God at work in Ruth 4. We seek to find shortcuts because of the level of difficulty we perceive, but it is God who raises the level of difficulty in order to demonstrate His power and His grace. Shortcuts are a way to bypass the blessing of seeing God powerfully at work in our lives.

Just what kind of shortcuts might I be talking about that you and I might face today? Let me suggest a few. Pragmatism is a lifestyle of taking shortcuts. Doing things in a way that seems to get the job done, but which falls short of the means God requires. Suicide is a shortcut, especially for the Christian. I have participated in the funeral service of at least one Christian who committed suicide as a shortcut. In this particular funeral, the fellow was reading the last chapters of the Book of Revelation as he killed himself. I know what he was thinking. He was thinking how wonderful heaven is, and how terrible his life on earth had become. Why not hasten the process and gain heaven now? As a believer in Jesus, I am convinced that he went to heaven, but he had a whole lot of explaining to do when he got there. And he lost the opportunity to see God work in his life to lead him through the dark valley in which he found himself. Suicide is a shortcut, my friend, and shortcuts are wrong.

Medication (both illegal drugs and prescription drugs) can be a shortcut. Listen very carefully to what I am saying. I am not saying that all prescription drugs are wrong. I said that drugs can be misused as a shortcut. We know that some people who need pain medication can become addicted to it. It can become a shortcut to avoid the emotional pains of life. We know that some people suffer from depression and need psychiatric drugs, at least for a time. But there are also those who would rather dull emotional pain than deal with it. Such people need to carefully consider whether their medication is truly a solution to their problems or a shortcut around them.

All right, I’m already in trouble with some people, so let me go a bit further. There are some children who suffer from conditions that may require medication to help them control their behavior. But there are also some children who just need parents who will insist that they sit down and behave. Some children need discipline more than they need a prescription. Others may need both. Medication should not be a substitute for discipline.

Illegal drugs are just a step removed. These are drugs that cannot be obtained legally, but may produce the same end result – taking away the pain in one’s life so that there is a momentary relief from it. While the cross of Christ may not be the solution to a broken arm, and it may not dull the pain of a dentist’s drill, no drug will solve the problem of man’s sin and guilt, for only the blood of Jesus can remedy sin.

Let me mention one final shortcut. It is not a shortcut for all, but it can be for some – the spiritual study of others. No generation has had as many opportunities to read good books and commentaries, or to listen to sermons on the radio, television, or your MP3 player. These are good things, but they should never be a shortcut for your own serious study of God’s Word.

1 My son, if you will receive my words

And treasure my commandments within you,

2 Make your ear attentive to wisdom,

Incline your heart to understanding;

3 For if you cry for discernment,

Lift your voice for understanding;

4 If you seek her as silver

And search for her as for hidden treasures;

5 Then you will discern the fear of the Lord

And discover the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:1-5).

We must study the Word of God for ourselves and not rely merely on the work of others. As these words from Proverbs tell us, we must seek for God’s wisdom as for hidden treasure. That means that we must do some mining on our own. No wonder we “do what is right in our own eyes.” I would suggest that you begin to do that by turning in your Bible to the Book of Ruth and seeking God’s wisdom for you there.


1 Copyright © 2010 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the series, Ruth: A Story of Redemption, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on January 31, 2010. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 I confess. I chose to use the expression, “cutting corners,” because it is a word play. On the one hand, it refers to a shortcut. On the other hand, Boaz showed compassion toward the poor by not cutting the corners of his field.

3 I believe it is significant that the word Naomi uses here is not the word (gaal) that is used in verses 9 and 12. It is a word that refers to a more distant relative. This suggests to me that Naomi, like Boaz (3:12), knew there was a closer relative.

4 See Genesis 19:32.

5 This is not an attempt to categorically condemn wine; it is merely an effort to show that wine can be misused to take advantage of another, or to dull one’s judgment or skills. See also Habakkuk 2:15.

6 See Ruth 1:8-15.

7 See Genesis 29.

8 See Leviticus 25:27-49.

9 Some scholars and translations leave us with the impression that Ruth uncovered more than the feet of Boaz, and that she lay beside him, rather than at his feet. This may be what Naomi had in mind, but I am convinced that it is not what Ruth did. She consistently took the moral high ground, as Boaz bears witness in 3:10-11.

10 This is assuming that the nearest kin declined his responsibility.

11 Other translations render this word differently (“covering,” “cloak,” “skirt,” “garment”). And yet, the vast majority of times it is translated, it pertains to “wings.” Thus, I prefer the rendering of the ESV here.

12 See the translator’s note in the NET Bible at verse 9.

13 1 Peter 1:10-12.

14 There are at least hints of this in the Book of Proverbs (see 15:33; 18:12; 22:4).

15 See, for example, Leviticus 25:47-49.

16 There is a good bit of discussion as to just what the quantity of grain was, but it seems fair to say that it was a generous gift, which would be as much as a woman could carry.

17 It is interesting that the Hebrew text literally reads, “Who are you, my daughter?” It is as though she was asking, “Are you Mrs. Boaz?” See the note in the NET Bible.

18 See Corinthians 10:13; Romans 14:4; Jude 1:24.

19 See Matthew 5:16; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 6:14; Ephesians 5:1-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; 1 Peter 2:9.

20 See Romans 8:1-11.

21 See 2 Peter 2; Jude.

22 See Romans 8:13; 1 Corinthians 10; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 3:5.

23 Genesis 3.

24 Genesis 16.

25 Genesis 38.

26 Genesis 19.

27 1 Samuel 13.

28 Galatians 6:12.

29 Acts 5:1-11.

30 2 Samuel 24.

31 John 1:12; 14:6; Acts 4:8-12.