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“Waiting on Your Boaz”: Everything Wrong With How We Read Ruth

For those of you who have been around here for a long time, you know that I have a strong affinity for a biblical hero named Ruth.  She’s one of two women to have an entire book of the (canonically accepted, sorry Judith!) Bible dedicated to her story.  She’s one of the very few women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, and she’s awesome.  She’s in fact, very very awesome.

So how come this is how we’re taught to read Ruth?:

Seriously, what the hell?

Seriously, what the hell?


We should definitely be encouraging women to avoid partnering with neglectful or violent men, when they can be spotted (sometimes you just don’t know until it’s too late). We should moreso be encouraging men and women both to speak out against sexual violence, without constantly placing the blame collectively upon women’s shoulders, but I digress.  Having fallen victim to dangerous men in the past, sexual violence one of my biggest concerns.  I work with middle school girls at my church, and I’ve talked with them a few times about trusting your gut when it comes to guys (the gut–about as accurate as the Farmer’s Almanac).  But that’s not the heart of this message.  The heart of this message is shaming women into stasis regarding their love lives, with the promise of a fairytale reward for doing so long enough.

I’m sorry, that’s just not the Ruth I know.

The post starts out saying “To all the girls who are in a hurry to have a boyfriend or get married, a piece of Biblical advice: ‘Ruth patiently waited for her mate Boaz.'”  This is not true.  In the vast breadth of Ruth’s story, contained in a small, concise space in the Bible, Ruth never once patiently waits for anyone.

Ruth is not a long book to read.  It’s only four chapters long, and we’re talking Bible chapters, so they’re like three columns of text each.  I’ve read Ruth dozens of times, so many times that I feel like I know Ruth, much like how I know Zinny Taylor or Veralidaine Sarrasri.  Ruth has become a part of me, a constant reminder of who I am and how I want to be as a person.

A lot of people take Ruth to be at its heart a Boy-Meets-Girl love story.  Ruth waits for Boaz, Boaz redeems Ruth, Boaz and Ruth get to be together.  And again, no.  No, no, no, no, no.

The post above claims that Ruth waits for Boaz, and so young girls should also wait for the perfect man.  But Ruth didn’t wait for Boaz.  Ruth married Mahlon shortly after Mahlon’s father died.  They had been married for ten years when Mahlon and his brother died.  And you can bet that in all that time, Ruth was not waiting for Boaz.  In fact, she was probably a teenager when she got married to Mahlon in the first place, and she must have been happy with him–she must have been in love with him, because when he died, she dedicated herself to Naomi.

Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, the woman whose heart flooded with bitterness when faced with the loss of her sons, tried to send Ruth away.  She said to both of her daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” (ESV, 1:8-9).  But Ruth wouldn’t leave her.  Ruth was determined to take care Naomi, no matter what.

So Ruth embarks on a journey from her home country to Naomi’s home town, hundreds of miles away through famine-plagued desert.  She says to Naomi, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (ESV 1:16-17).

Phrases from this passage wind up in marriage vows a lot.  I understand why; it’s dedication and love, expressed simply and eloquently, and with a lot of passion.  Nothing but death will part me from you.  Where you go I will go, where you stay I will stay.  We also sing these same words in reference to a relationship with God (who, by the way, is not your boyfriend).  Taken out of context, Ruth’s statement to Naomi is pretty darn romantic…just like the Ruth/Boaz OTP, amirite?

But Ruth says that to Naomi, to another woman, to her mother-in-law.  How old is Ruth here?  Probably in her twenties.  Anywhere from 23 to 29, I’d say.  She’s still young, but she’s been married for a decade and is a widow, and her dedication goes to Naomi.  In fact, Ruth’s entire relationship with Boaz is about taking care of Naomi.

If Ruth waited patiently for Boaz, as the post suggests, then why did she 1) go harvest barley specifically in his field? 2) eat with him and his (male) friends (so much taboo, guys)? 3) go to the threshing floor at all?  Why?  Because Boaz, while he’s clearly interested in Ruth, isn’t making any real moves on her.  In most of their interactions, Ruth is the initiator.  Ruth goes to the field to harvest.  And then she tells Naomi, and Naomi concocts the scheme to get Boaz and Ruth together.  Ruth goes to the threshing floor for Naomi’s sake as much as for her own.  Ruth’s ultimate goal in marrying Boaz is not love; it’s stability.  It’s security for herself and for Naomi.

Guess what, dumb post, Ruth settled for Boaz.

Maybe they were a match made in heaven, maybe they were super compatible.  I know that Boaz was protective of Ruth, and that he must have been attracted to her.  I also know that Boaz was much older than Ruth, and that Ruth was already a widow with a mother-in-law to take care of.  I do believe that Boaz and Ruth loved each other, but I also see that this is a marriage of convenience for everyone involved.  Boaz gains property.  Naomi gains security.  Ruth gains both security and a son, which is like double security (#thepatriarchy), and something Mahlon never gave her, in ten years of marriage.

Ruth is active in her life, despite the passive role that her society expects her to play.  She pursues Naomi, she pursues Boaz, she pursues a standard of respect for others and herself that is above and beyond the norm.  The post, however, just reinforces to girls that their roll in life is passive.  You wait for your Boaz, it says.  You wait for him like your life depends on it, because there’s only that one perfect man and every other man you meet is going to be a scumbag.  All men, except your one perfect Boaz, are lazy, poor abusers, so you must wait for that one perfect Boaz to scramble out of the woodwork, and then he will take care of everything for you.

The only sentiment that the post and Ruth have in common is respect, but even that gets cut short in the post by its accusatory nature.  After running through a list of awful men-types (including “Beatinyoaz”) the post says, “Wait on your Boaz and make sure he respects Yoaz.”  You know what that sounds like to me?  It sounds like the speaker of the post blames women who end up with abusers for the abuse that they endure.  Maybe I’m reading into it a little too much, a little too defensively, but all I see here is victim blaming.  If only you wait, the post warns, then you won’t end up in a bad relationship.  It’s up to you to wait for the perfect man, and if you don’t, then it’s your fault.  Even if you wait, if you end up in a bad relationship, then you just didn’t wait long enough.

(Also, the post treats domestic violence as funny.  Repeat after me: Domestic violence is not funny.  It is a serious crime.)

Seriously, did they even read Ruth?

The heart of Ruth is dedication and love between women.  It’s not a just a love story, it’s not just an allegory for God (embodied in Ruth and Boaz, of course, the way most study guides make it out to be).  It’s about two women who live under a patriarchal oppression that requires them to have men to take care of them financially, but who band together through tragedy and heartache to find a way to survive in the system.  It’s not about a match made in heaven, unless that match is Naomi and Ruth.

You know what Ruth should teach young girls who are anxious to fall in love and get married?  That’s okay, but there will be heartache.  Your first relationships, no matter how strong and loving, may not last.  Maybe it’s extreme, like in Ruth’s case when Mahlon died.  Or maybe you’re in high school when you date and then you go to college and things just change (or you’re in college and you go to graduate school, or you get jobs in different places, etc).  Or maybe you truly love someone and they betray your trust in such a way that even if you forgive them, you never want to speak their name again.  And that’s all okay.  Heartache can be survived when we form strong bonds with other women.  Date, don’t date, whatever, just be true to yourself and careful with your mind and body.  True love is not once in a life time, and it’s not just a romantic partnership.

Ruth is about love, but it ain’t no love story.

36 thoughts on ““Waiting on Your Boaz”: Everything Wrong With How We Read Ruth

  1. I find this to be directly related to why we love the Lizzie Bennet Diaries: It takes a tale traditionally viewed as a romantic love story and shifts the focus to what the story actually spends most of its time discussing–powerful bonds of platonic love between ladies and how treating other people well is so important.

  2. Interesting point of view. I can take something meaningful away from your point a view and the other persons “az” examples. Thank you.

  3. Lovely post , I like your view on ruth and I totally understand were you comin from in the sense of her wanting him for stability and him wanting her for property/land .

    While reading Ruth there was nothing to indicate she was waiting for him , but im happy that in the end they were all happy with each other

  4. I read your blog doing some of my own research for my own devotionals and blogs. I really like how you share your take on the Ruth story. As women we will have heartache in our search for love, but I too think our female friends are so important. Thanks!!

  5. love love love your interpretation and i agree with you. people need to really read Ruth and not “parts” of it. love your ending – Ruth is about love But isnt a love story!

  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. While appreciate your heart in response to the “Az” blog post and it’s lazy handling of domestic violence against women, I do not agree with your interpretation of the biblical text of the book of Ruth. I’ve studied this book in detail. You share “the heart of the book is a dedication and love between women and that heartache can be survived when we form strong bonds with other women.” I counter the heart of the book is about Jesus, foreshadowing the role he plays as our kinsman redeemer, illustrated in the role Boaz plays as Ruth’s literal kinsman redeemer, according to Jewish customs of that day. It is a weighty and significant role, and like everything in the Bible, that story is there because God wants us to learn more about his character and nature. I love that you have a deep appreciation for the book of Ruth. I encourage you to study the text in context inductively, which includes observation of the historical context the book was written in, interpretation of what the text meant for readers at the time it was created and then application of the text for us in modern times. I don’t agree that your interpretation of the text is accurate. There’s so much more to this story and I believe you can see it if you’re willing to take a complete look at what God is telling us about himself in the lives of all the people included in this real story. As additional resources, I encourage you to take a look at Crossway’s English Standard Version Study Bible as a tool to give historical context for this story and the role of the kinsman redeemer. Also read Carolyn Custis James’ book, “The Gospel of Ruth,” where she does an exceptional job laying out the powerful ezer Ruth is in this book and unpacking the Hebrew word hesed and what this means in Ruth’s relationship with Naomi and what this means in God’s relationship with us. Please also read Francine River’s book, “Unspoken” which brings the biblical story of Ruth to incredible life as you see the people in this story come alive from the pages of the Bible. This book is one of five focusing on women in the Old and New Testament who are in the lineage of Jesus Christ. Feel free to respond to my comment with any questions you have. I really want to encourage you in your love for this book to dig deeper and see the story that God has written.

    • One quick edit: the Francine River’s book I referenced, “Unspoken” is actually the story of Bathsheba. That’s a really, really good read too. But meant to reference “Unshaken,” which is the story of Ruth. Both books are in the Lineage of Grace series by Rivers. Unshaken is book three. The stories before it are about Tamar and Raab and the stories following it are about Bathsheba and Mary, the mother of Jesus.

    • well spoken. to the blog writer, please always Include the Holy-Spirit whenever you’re interpreting a story of the Bible. only him can bring revelation to a mind.

      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. We can agree to disagree. What’s most important is the truth of the gospel and the truth that God chose Ruth to be in the lineage of Jesus. He picked her. He had a purpose for her life. Her faith and her heart for God encourage me deeply.

      • I did want to also share that I rely upon God’s Holy Spirit to illuminate scripture and reveal God’s truth as I read his Word. I invite him to give me clarity to interpret what I read and study. I’m grateful he speaks to me and humbled to grow in new areas he leads me into. Thank you sister for your words about interpretation. I appreciate them.

    • Sorry but in Biblical times women of child bearing age didn’t wait around for husbands. Since women were often financially dependent on men they would have been a financial burden for the family so the goal would be to marry them off as soon as possible. Therefore, this interpretation of Ruth is valid. Also, given the fact that you are using ‘outside’ material to justify your views on the book of Ruth rather than the Word by itself, it would seem as though your interpretation is no more Biblically clear than the authors.

      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. We can agree to disagree. What’s most important is the truth of the gospel and the truth that God chose Ruth to be in the lineage of Jesus. He picked her. He had a purpose for her life. Her faith and her heart for God encourage me deeply.

    • I might also add that nowhere do we see in the book of Ruth that Ruth aligned herself with Naomi out of love. I mean, seriously, we know the age old tale of friction between a mother in law and a daughter in law and the text says that Naomi was a bitter woman. And later, the text makes it clear that Naomi was a little controlling as well – not that this might be unusual given the time and culture, but it still couldn’t have been easy. These are two women from two entirely different cultures and worlds. Perhaps Ruth was moved by compassion. Or, an innate need to go. I propose that Ruth was compelled to follow Naomi against her better judgment – by the Holy Spirit so that His purposes in the Davidic line would be fulfilled. The story makes it clear that Ruth’s choice to follow Naomi was highly unusual. One of my favorite books on Ruth is a Biblical fiction piece called Ruth by Ellen Gunderson Traylor. It makes a lot of assumptions, of course, but one possible reason Ruth left was to flee the darkness of the Moabite pagan practices, including child sacrifice. Ruth may have followed Naomi because she was following the God of Abraham and Naomi was her opportunity to know Him more.

      Thank you for the book recommendations!

  7. I’ve read the book of Ruth and even did a study on it, but this was the first time anyone has been so realistic about Ruth and her circumstances. Society’s view of weak women is discouraging and I found it encouraging to hear a different take on such an influential Book and woman of the Bible.

    Thank you for writing this and sharing your thoughts so honestly.

  8. 1.) I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one. Ruth was not the first to initiate a relationship with Boaz. Ruth was just picking grain to feed her and Naomi and it happened to be in Boazes field. She had no knowledge of whose field it was. Go back and read it.
    It was Boaz who first initiated something when He told Ruth not to go to anyone’s else’s field (for her safety) and he secretly told his workers to drop extra grain for her.
    I am still in favor of the whole waiting for Boaz.

    2.) IDK where you get the idea that this picture (victim bashes) blames women for everything that happens to them… I think you kind of overshot on that one. It’s just a silly meme telling girls to wait for Gods best, don’t overthink it.

    3.)I believe it is a love story because Boaz might not have even cared about Ruth if he hadn’t know all she had done for Naomi. (Ruth 2:10-11) Boaz didn’t marry Ruth because it was convenient for him, he truly loved her!

    I’m all in favor of waiting for Boaz!

    • Hannah, I agree with your thoughts. I also think it’s great so many are expressing different findings of the story and what they feel the book of Ruth is about. My prayer is God would lead us all to himself through this text and our understanding of his character would deepen.

  9. Thanx–in a political group we were
    “waiting for Boaz” the builder to show up. Really. Half the audience laughed and the other half didn’t get it at all.

    Me so I actually learned something from the Bible–and how many still read it.

  10. I never looked at the story of Ruth as a love story. It did in fact seem like a woman who did what she needed to do to survive. I always said I was waiting for my “Joseph” a man who was truly in love with his woman and even signed on to raising her son when he found out the details. He just seemed like more of a love story to me.

  11. Thank you. I love how you showed that she wasn’t twiddling her thumbs. She was going after what she wanted and it was all fueled by love and passion for her mother in law.

  12. I think your wrong in your suggestion of what this story is all about which is the sovereignty of God and how the story foreshadows the future kinsmen redeemer….go and read it again!

  13. ola Maggie!!! what an awesome revelation..i am sooo much overwhelmed, you know what your article are the thoughts that God really revealed me 4 months ago and its affirm yesterday when i started reading your post and for all those times i thought that i just thinking all over then now really strikes me and affirm its really true to pray hard while waiting!!..im really crying while reading your post even on facebook.!! Did well maggie,, i pray that God will inspire you each day to write more and that you will have countless of modern day ruth waiting to hear it.! im waiting for your more publications..thank you!

  14. A lot of people arguing with the author about what Ruth means. Some people are arguing because they are so caught up in the “waiting for Boaz” fantasy that’s been created by church culture for the last couple of decades. I have a few things to say in response.

    1) It was Naomi’s plan to bless Ruth with another husband and it was she who orchestrated and directed Ruth’s actions. One could interpret this as allowing an elder who loves you to choose a match for you. Not that I have ever done this but this is essentially what I believe happened. Ruth obeyed Naomi and a marriage to Boaz was the result. Others receive other facets via the Holy Spirit and I will never argue with the Holy Spirit as He reveals Himself to others – which brings me to my second point.

    2) no one should be admonishing anyone about what they receive from scripture. The Word of God is a living Word of so many dimensions and God chooses to reveal each of those in different ways to different people by way of the Holy Spirit. Just because you did not receive this revelation for you personally doesn’t mean she is wrong or that she didn’t receive it for herself. God is not going to necessarily reveal every facet of a scripture to you personally and make your interpretation the whole complete definitive answer on scripture and not reveal anything different to anyone else ever and you are the only one who is right. Some of you think this way and I encourage you to pray regarding pride. I have fallen into such traps before which is why I encourage you all to consider it a dangerous path – pride. I have had to repent of this many times and I see it in some of your responses.

    3) my personal experience is: I didn’t wait for my first husband. I actively sought the first man who would marry me. He was an abuser and a cheater (not known until after we married) and he was also a Christian. My earthly father was against me divorcing him and I held off a long time making a decision and continued to be mistreated because I wanted to please my Dad – also a Christian. Finally, the Holy Sporit spoke to me about grace and His vision for my life – a good life of grace and filled with love and children. So I filed for divorce.

    I met another man shortly after and he was raised in a Christian home but not practicing or even claiming to be Christian but I knew he was a good man and I loved him. And so I prayed for him. I asked the Lord to do whatever it took to bring this man I to relationship with God even if it meant I would loose him. I prayed this often. Over the next 8 years God brought him to live near me (he was several states away) we married, had two beautiful children and went through a horrible business partnership that ended in a bankruptcy and lawsuit – but now after all of this, my wonderful husband was brought to his knees in surrender to the Lord. He seeks the face of God – He trusts Him and we pray together as a family every day.

    There is no formula for how you will find the man God has for your life partner and the father of your children. But if we all seek the face of God?m, the Bert of God – God will honor us.

  15. Thank you for this blog, it was timely for this sister in Christ, (with a disabled husband) who longs for a kinsmen redeemer and is now finding it completely in the LORD.

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  17. Wow! as a man, a husband, a father, and a Pastor, I’m blessed to read and offer an opinion of what I’ve read in this article. First, I was blessed to read the writer’s interpretation of the book of Ruth, because I believe it offered a realistic and practical viewpoint of what really took place in the events described by the book (Ruth) itself. Next, I was blessed to read the varying opinion of others who agreed, but was most encouraged in reading Melody Copenny’s first response to the original blog. To place things in there proper perspective, I only have this to say: the use of holy scriptures always has its “first” intent and purpose directed towards understanding the roll of Jesus Christ in the plan of salvation. In this case, it is relative to Jesus as our kinsman redeemer.

    Now this is not me saying this, but Jesus himself, who in John 5:39 states, “search the scriptures: for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” After receiving the revelation of Christ through the scriptures, I have learned that they can, and often are, used appropriately as practical teaching about life in general. While this is acceptable, as long as the scriptures are not taken out of context (a whole other lesson) they (the scriptures) must “first and foremost” “testify of Jesus!”

    My thoughts here are to “interpretive priority!” If we miss, either purposely or accidentally, what is being said about Jesus, nothing else really matters: EVEN IF YOU MARRY YOUR BOAZ! Now, someone may say, that “we’ve already agreed that the book speaks of Jesus as kinsman redeemer, so why are you restating this? I’m doing this as a precaution to anyone who would pick up the Bible, whether to find their Boaz or their Ruth (which I think is not talked about enough, by the way) without understanding that the whole Bible is about JESUS!!!

    The great discovery of the Bible is the discovery of Jesus, from Genesis to Revelation!!! HE IS OUR BOAZ! Whether you get married or not!!!

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