When you take an in-depth look at the events in the book of Ruth leading to Ruth and Boaz’s marriage, you come to believe that Boaz might have actually been a victim of sexual assault very similar to date rape. This is a rather harsh accusation to make blindly, so let’s take a look at the evidence. The argument begins in an unlikely place: the conflict between Saul and David.
When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.'” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. (1 Samuel 24:1-4 ESV)
Now, where it says, “and Saul went in to relieve himself,” the Hebrew is a bit more graphic. More literally translated, it would say, “and Saul went in to cover his feet.” What does that mean? Well, first of all, the word, “foot,” can be confusing. In Russian, we have the word, noga, which can mean the entire leg. There is much controversy about how they nailed Christ to the cross, because the Greek word for “hand” can also include the wrist and above. Hebrew has one word, kârâ‛, which apparently comes from a primitive root meaning “to bend.” This kârâ‛ is said to mean from the knee down. But, the body part that Saul covers is the regel.
The Aramaic word, regel, occurs in a passage in Daniel that can help us understand the Hebrew meaning more clearly. King Nebuchadnezzar had a terribly dream of a statue made of various elements (you can read about it more in Daniel 2, or see the graphic and video on this page).
The statue’s head was of gold, his breast and arms of silver, his belly and thighs were brass, his legs (below the thigh) were of iron and his regels (below the part below the thigh… that pretty much just leaves us with feet) were made of iron mixed with clay. So, what does it mean that Saul covered his feet? Well, he was going number two.
(image from here)
Technically, you can go number two with your feet uncovered, but if you try to do it with your butt covered, you’ll make a mess. So, in Hebrew, it would be polite to say, “cover the feet” instead of “uncover the butt.” It’s similar to how Americans would say, “I’m going to the restroom.” The purpose of the journey isn’t just to rest there; it’s to do something in there that probably isn’t too polite to talk about in graphic terms.
So, Ruth… Ruth the Moabitess…
And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then [Ruth] came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet!(Ruth 3:7-8 ESV)
It looks to me like after putting in some work with the barley crop, Boaz had gotten so intoxicated that he couldn’t even find his way back to his bed, so he crashed next to some grain there in his shop. Ruth had been watching him as he staggered off in a drunken stupor and snuck up on him while he was passed out. If the subtle way to talk about uncovering something is to talk about covering something else, then it makes sense that the author employs shock value when he writes that Ruth “uncovered his feet.” She didn’t just take his pants down, covering the knees, but pulled them off completely. And then she lay with him (Hebrew shâkab). He didn’t even realize what happened until later around midnight when he woke up and saw her there.
Now, the Book of Ruth repeatedly brings up a detail – that she is a Moabitess. Here’s the back story of where the Moabites came from:
Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose. The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day. (Genesis 19:30-38 ESV)
Sound familiar? A man got so drunk that a woman lay with him (same Hebrew word, shâkab) without him knowing. This time, the woman got pregnant and gave birth to Ruth’s great-great-great-someodd grandpappy. I think that Ruth got caught up in the same kind of scandal as Lot’s daughters.
But, God used Ruth. God repeatedly used corrupt people in Christ’s genealogy. There’s Tamar, who posed as a prostitute to get impregnated by her deceased husbands’ father, and Rahab, who was a prostitute, David who had an affair with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, Abraham, who tried to pander his wife for safety. God can use people with all sorts of crazy backgrounds. He’s using me. He can use anybody.
Update: While researching an unrelated topic I came across this quote that, if applicable, may contradict my understanding of what “uncover the feet” means, but may well lead to the same conclusion:
Social conventions rather than religious conceptions preside over the wide field of euphemism, where whords of unpleasant or obscene connotation are replaced by other terms that acquire a new meaning. Thus, e.g., the Hebrw noun regel and the Phoenician noun p’m, both meaning “foot”, are being used to designate the penis.
Edward Pipinski, Semitic Languages Outline of a Comparative Grammar 2nd ed. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 563.
I could be wrong. I’ll let you make the call.