This is a tricky passage for several reasons. Firstly, it is obvious that Naomi sends Ruth to Boaz in an enticing manner. “Put on perfume and you best clothes” she tells Ruth and go and “uncover his feet” which is surely a euphemism for more than that. So we should ask if Naomi intended that some sexual encounter would lead Boaz and Ruth to marry.
On the other hand, Ruth was known to be an upright woman and Boaz was a God fearing family man. Perhaps Naomi believed they could be trusted not to go too far. It was risky, we can see that as Ruth had to leave in the morning without being seen.
The third thing is, that Ruth did not just up and throw herself at Boaz of her own accord. Naomi had a careful plan, she directed Ruth to carry it out and Ruth trusted her completely to follow the plan. It could well be that Boaz was smart enough to know that if he had sexual relations with Ruth, or even if he offered marriage it could all go wrong because he was not the first in succession by Jewish law. Perhaps he loved Ruth enough to realise that if he did things properly, he had a much better chance of having Ruth as his bride free and clear of any taint. That is the way it worked out, but we still do not know how certain Naomi could be of this. It’s tricky.
There is some hint here that Boaz knew that Naomi was behind this when he says “Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty handed.”
We should not conclude that it is OK to launch ourselves into morally risky situations because God will look after us and it will all work out. The history of Christian people is littered with instances of people entering into unholy alliances on the excuse that it was God’s will. The best guidance we can take here when faced with a dilemma is to take small steps, and wait on God’s answer before we take the next step. After all, Naomi’s final advice about Boaz to Ruth was “He will tell you what to do.” If you are wrestling with a problem, and one of the solutions seems morally risky or dubious, do you have a mature Christian mentor like Naomi from whom you could ask for direction?
Another tricky passage. We are not to judge other Christians for minor differences in belief. You can be vegetarian or not, it does not matter. You can observe holy days to a greater or lesser extent, it does not matter. What is tricky is how far we can extend this moratorium on religious practices. Sing or pray standing up or sitting down? Appoint ministers for a fixed term or tenure for life? Baptise infants or only adults? Sprinkle or full immersion? Unfortunately there are many different denominations of Christian churches that separate themselves on these sorts of differences.
What this passage does seem to say here is that it is the person who insists on the rule whose faith is weak. If your faith is strong you will tend to be eclectic in attitude towards rules and traditions. I attended a service at a conservative church recently where the music was played on an organ and the songs were drawn from the Anglican hymnbook. The passage in Romans would suggest that the person of strong faith should not have any problem if that is the way that the particular congregation chooses to worship. Not all congregations have to be progressive in their choice of worship style. The tricky part is how far can we extend this. Does it matter if we ordain women or not? Is it anyone’s business if an individual or the church for that matter invests in companies that own breweries, poker machines or tobacco products, or does it not matter? We could go further into moral dilemmas facing our communities.
Both passages raise situations where we cannot take away a clear rule for how to behave in similar circumstances. The fact is that life is a risky business and sometimes we will have to take risks. Pay attention to God’s word and focus on keeping our own behavior righteous, and do not be judgmental of our fellow Christians if they do not adopt the same lifestyle as we do.