Sometimes it’s the little things that make the most impact. It’s the thing you least expect that touches you in a way you never imagined.
I’ve been home on break for just over a week. It has been a great time of reconnection, relaxation and reflection. In October, an old friend of mine and his wife came to Israel on a tour. While they were in Jerusalem, we were able to get together one evening. He asked me, “What was the most faith-challenging thing you have encountered during your time in Israel and what was the most amazing thing?” I’ve found myself thinking about that a lot over the past week. The most challenging thing was easy to identify. I plan to write a post about that in a few weeks. The most amazing thing was a little more difficult to pin down. Nevertheless, there is one place that keeps coming back to me.
We had spent the day studying the approaches to Jerusalem. We saw some amazing vistas. We visited Bethlehem and the church of the Nativity. We visited Herod the Great’s massive desert palace, Herodium. Both are sites on the must-see list of any tour to Israel. But, in what almost seemed like an after-thought, we made a stop along the side of a road near a hillside village not far from Bethlehem. We exited the bus and crossed over the country road to an area enclosed with a low stone fence. Honestly, it didn’t look like much. It was a threshing floor.
It’s funny how our minds often don’t connect the dots between certain facts that we know or take for granted. I knew, conceptually, how threshing was done. You pick an area of exposed hard rock at a higher elevation—preferably a bit rough. A sled with stone or metal rails underneath is pulled by a donkey across the grains in order to break up the kernels from the husks. The mixture is tossed it into the air with a winnowing fork, where the wind carries away the chaff and the heavier kernels of grain fall back to the threshing floor. Do this for long enough and you end up with the desired grains and little to none of the chaff. I’d read about it and even knowingly conversed about it.
Yet, sitting on that threshing floor outside of Bethlehem on a windy hillside connected dots for me that I had not fully appreciated before. Seeing this threshing floor made me realize something incredibly important in the story of Ruth. The book of Ruth is a story of steadfast love (in Hebrew: חֶסֶד chesed ). It’s the story two women who are devoted to one another and seeking the best for each other. I don’t have time to recap the whole story. If you don’t know it, I’d encourage you to sit down and read it. The book of Ruth is only 4 chapters long. In my Bible it takes up a whopping four pages.
The climax of the story is Ruth visiting Boaz on a threshing floor just outside Bethlehem. The scene starts with Naomi (the mother of Ruth’s dead husband) giving Ruth instructions on what to do:
Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash 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. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do. (Ruth 3:2-4)
Ruth followed Naomi’s instructions. The details in the Text are very clear: “When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down. At midnight the man was startled, and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman! (Ruth 3:7-7)”
The details (in the context of the threshing floor) provided additional veracity to the story. First, Boaz was winnowing in the evening. The winds here are strongest in the evening—making for more efficient threshing. Also, with the winds come cooler temperatures which makes the work a little less difficult. Thirdly, sleeping on that hard surface would not have been comfortable. The Text says he lied down at the end of the heap of grain. I wonder if he actually used the grain to provide some cushion/support on the hard Cenomanian limestone surface.
One small clarification is in order. Hebrew can sometimes be a bit prudish when it comes to nudity and sexuality. Euphemisms are often utilized when things become sexual in nature. “Uncovering his feet” is one such example. To put it simply, Ruth probably uncovered more than just his feet in a clear solicitation of sex from Boaz—all at the direction of her mother-in-law. I know, some of you are probably thinking (in horror) about all the times you have told this story to children in Sunday school. Well, now you have the adult version. You’re welcome.
What really struck home with me was that this entire incident happened outside, in the open! Was there any sort of moon that night? What if someone had walked by and seen what was happening? Clearly there was sufficient light from some source for Ruth to find Boaz on the threshing floor after he fell asleep. Yet it also says that she got up to leave before “one person could recognize another.” So, I wonder if there were others on the threshing floor with Boaz too?
For some reason—maybe my own childhood Sunday school teachers were to blame—I had always envisioned this encounter between Ruth and Boaz taking place in an enclosed storage barn: a private encounter away from where others could see. That’s clearly not the case. Ruth’s act was made even more daring by the fact that it took place outside in an open space where others could have seen what was going on. I have read in other sources that Boaz was probably married and may have had children already. In an honor/shame culture, Ruth was putting both of their honors at risk—and quite possible much more.
Of course, the book of Ruth is more than just a story about two women. It’s a story that demonstrates what steadfast love (chesed) is all about—the love that God has for His people Israel and all mankind. It’s the kind of love that stops at nothing and risks everything in order to fulfill the promises made to them.
The threshing floor seemed like more of a “by-the-way” stop on our journey that day. Yet, for me, it added color and depth to a Bible story that is one of my favorites. It also taught me something about God and the audacity of His love for us.