1 Now Boaz went up to the village gate and sat there. Then along came the guardian whom Boaz had mentioned to Ruth! Boaz said, “Come here and sit down, ‘John Doe’!” So he came and sat down. 2 Boaz chose ten of the village leaders and said, “Sit down here!” So they sat down. 3 Then Boaz said to the guardian, “Naomi, who has returned from the region of Moab, is selling the portion of land that belongs to our relative Elimelech. 4 So I am legally informing you: Acquire it before those sitting here and before the leaders of my people! If you want to exercise your right to redeem it, then do so. But if not, then tell me so I will know. For you possess the first option to redeem it; I am next in line after you.” He replied, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “When you acquire the field from Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the wife of our deceased relative, in order to preserve his family name by raising up a descendant who will inherit his property.” 6 The guardian said, “Then I am unable to redeem it, for I would ruin my own inheritance in that case. You may exercise my redemption option, for I am unable to redeem it.” 7 (Now this used to be the customary way to finalize a transaction involving redemption in Israel: A man would remove his sandal and give it to the other party. This was a legally binding act in Israel.) 8 So the guardian said to Boaz, “You may acquire it,” and he removed his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the leaders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have acquired from Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, as my wife to raise up a descendant who will inherit his property so the name of the deceased might not disappear from among his relatives and from his village. You are witnesses today.” 11 All the people who were at the gate and the elders replied, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is entering your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the house of Israel! May you prosper in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. 12 May your family become like the family of Perez – whom Tamar bore to Judah – through the descendants the Lord gives you by this young woman.” 13 So Boaz married Ruth and had sexual relations with her. The Lord enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son. 14 The village women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be praised because he has not left you without a guardian today! May he become famous in Israel! 15 He will encourage you and provide for you when you are old, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, has given him birth. She is better to you than seven sons!” 16 Naomi took the child and placed him on her lap; she became his caregiver. 17 The neighbor women named him, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. Now he became the father of Jesse – David’s father! 18 These are the descendants of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, 19 Hezron was the father of Ram, Ram was the father of Amminadab, 20 Amminadab was the father of Nachshon, Nachshon was the father of Salmah, 21 Salmon was the father of Boaz, Boaz was the father of Obed, 22 Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David (Ruth 4:1-22).1
As I prepare this lesson, in a week we will be celebrating Valentine’s Day. Already we’re seeing television commercials prompting men to buy their wives lovable little teddy bears or cozy pajamas, assuring us that the benefits we reap will outweigh the cost. Unlike some other cultures, Americans are predisposed to link romance with marriage. As the lyrics of one old song put it, “Love and marriage . . . go together like a horse and carriage.” Some might be disappointed because our text does not contain as much “romance” as we are used to finding in such circumstances. As we read in chapter 3 of Ruth, Naomi sought to orchestrate a marriage between Ruth and Boaz, based on “romance.” She convinced Ruth to bathe, put on perfume and her best dress, and then surreptitiously crawl under the covers with Boaz on the threshing floor once he had fallen asleep (after having his fill of food and wine until his heart was merry). A sexual union in these circumstances would have consummated a marriage, albeit not by the most honorable means. As we attempted to show in our last message, such a “marriage” would have been a “shortcut.”
Naomi’s scheme did not produce a “romantic evening,” nor did it result in a sexual union or a midnight marriage. However, it did give Ruth the opportunity to ask Boaz to become her husband so as to provide protection and security for her (and for Naomi), as well as to produce a child who would carry on the family line. Boaz regarded Ruth’s actions as honorable and merciful, and thus he assured Ruth that he would do as she asked if the nearest kin declined to assume this responsibility. They did spend the remainder of the night in close proximity, but it was far from a romantic interlude. Ruth slept at the feet of Boaz, and then she and Boaz arose before dawn so that no one would know she had been at the threshing floor during the night. Boaz loaded Ruth with grain to carry back to Naomi. When Ruth reported these things to Naomi, her mother-in-law assured her that Boaz would quickly bring this matter to a conclusion.
In stark contrast to the events of the previous night (as described in chapter 3), we come to the seemingly unromantic legal negotiations and commitments of chapter 4. Quite frankly, such “unromantic” dealings are a beautiful thing to behold, as we shall soon see. Chapter 4 is also a stark contrast to what we read in chapter 1. There, Naomi returned to Bethlehem accompanied by Ruth, refusing to be called “Naomi” (Pleasant), but insisting on being called “Mara” (Bitter) instead. She sought to justify this by claiming that God had dealt harshly with her. She claimed to have gone out to Moab “full,” while returning to Bethlehem “empty.” However, when chapter 4 draws to an end, Naomi’s arms are “filled” with the child that God has given her through Ruth and Boaz. Chapter 4 of the Book of Ruth puts all the previous events and responses into a proper perspective. Understanding this chapter as we should will enable us to understand the entire book, so we should listen well to what God has to say to us in this text.
There are several Old Testament passages which provide us with the biblical background necessary to understand our text in chapter 4 of Ruth. The first is found in Genesis 38. When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, they broke their father’s heart.2 This may have been one of the reasons why Judah left his family to visit Hirah the Adullamite and then marry a Canaanite woman, who is introduced to us only as the “daughter of a man named Shua.”3 This woman bore Judah three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah acquired Tamar as a wife for his oldest son, but Er was wicked and the Lord took his life. Judah then instructed Onan to take Tamar as his wife, but he was not willing to make this sacrifice, and so he practiced a primitive form of birth control, resulting in his death:
8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Have sexual relations with your brother’s wife and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her so that you may raise up a descendant for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be considered his. So whenever he had sexual relations with his brother’s wife, he withdrew prematurely so as not to give his brother a descendant. 10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him too (Genesis 38:8-10).
As this chapter continues to unfold, we are told that Judah was reluctant to give his next (and final) son to Tamar, fearing that he, too, might die. This prompted Tamar to take more drastic measures to produce a son who would carry on the name of her husband. The importance of this will become even clearer to the reader when he or she gets to Genesis 49:8-12 and learns that it was Judah whom God chose to carry on the line from which Messiah would come. Dressed as a cult prostitute, Tamar stationed herself on the road to Timnah, and as she anticipated, Judah hired her for sex (without knowing who this woman was). Later, when it became known that Tamar had become pregnant, Judah self-righteously called for her to be stoned, until she produced undeniable evidence that he was the father of her twins. The firstborn was named Perez, and he is the son who will be referred to in Ruth 4.4
The point I am making here is that the obligation to raise up offspring to a deceased brother was a part of the culture of Judah’s day, long before the Law of Moses was given, and this became one’s duty under the Law. This is why Judah directed his second son to take Tamar as his wife, and why he should have done likewise with his third son, Shelah.
5 If brothers live together and one of them dies without having a son, the dead man’s wife must not remarry someone outside the family. Instead, her late husband’s brother must go to her, marry her, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law. 6 Then the first son she bears will continue the name of the dead brother, thus preventing his name from being blotted out of Israel. 7 But if the man does not want to marry his brother’s widow, then she must go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to preserve his brother’s name in Israel; he is unwilling to perform the duty of a brother-in-law to me!” 8 Then the elders of his city must summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, “I don’t want to marry her,” 9 then his sister-in-law must approach him in view of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, and spit in his face. She will then respond, “Thus may it be done to any man who does not maintain his brother’s family line!” 10 His family name will be referred to in Israel as “the family of the one whose sandal was removed” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).
What was assumed as normal practice in ancient Israel in Genesis 38 is now formalized in the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 25. You will quickly notice that the circumstances in Deuteronomy 25 are not identical with those in Genesis 38, or with those in the Book of Ruth for that matter. But they are close, close enough to give us helpful background information to better understand what Ruth requested in chapter 3 and what Boaz is doing in chapter 4.
In Deuteronomy 25, two brothers are living on the family inheritance when one of the brothers (not necessarily the oldest) dies. It is the duty of the other brother to marry the widow of his deceased brother and continue his name (lineage) by producing an heir on his behalf. We are not told whether this surviving brother is married or not, just that he is to marry his brother’s widow (his sister-in-law) and raise up offspring for him to continue his line.
In this text, it looks as though the widow (the sister-in-law) takes some (or perhaps much) of the initiative in producing an heir for her deceased husband. She may well have taken the initiative by asking her brother-in-law to marry her and thus to raise up seed for her husband. It is possible that the surviving brother may not be willing to perform this duty. If this is the case, the woman is to take the matter to the elders at the city gates and inform them that her brother-in-law is unwilling to fulfill his duty. It would appear that they do their best to persuade him to fulfill his duty. If he persists in refusing to perform his duty, then the widow is to remove the sandal (sandals?) of her brother-in-law and also spit in his face. This would serve as a stigma to the man and his family and would also be an example to anyone else who might be tempted to refuse their duty in this manner.
In these verses, God gives instructions regarding the redemption of land that has been sold due to the owner’s dire poverty. We should first note from verse 23 that the Israelites never really owned the Promised Land – it is God who owns the land. As the Land Owner, God could evict the Canaanites and bring in the Israelites to occupy the Promised Land. And if (and when) the Israelites became as corrupt as the Canaanites, God could (and would) evict His people from the land.5 God’s Law assured that the land He gave to each Israelite tribe and clan would remain the property of these families. One line of protection was the year of jubilee, when all lands that were sold would be returned to their original owners:
10 So you must consecrate the fiftieth year, and you must proclaim a release in the land for all its inhabitants. That year will be your jubilee; each one of you must return to his property and each one of you must return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year will be your jubilee; you must not sow the land, harvest its aftergrowth, or pick the grapes of its unpruned vines. 12 Because that year is a jubilee, it will be holy to you – you may eat its produce from the field. 13 “‘In this year of jubilee you must each return to your property. 14 If you make a sale to your fellow citizen or buy from your fellow citizen, no one is to wrong his brother. 15 You may buy it from your fellow citizen according to the number of years since the last jubilee; he may sell it to you according to the years of produce that are left. 16 The more years there are, the more you may make its purchase price, and the fewer years there are, the less you must make its purchase price, because he is only selling to you a number of years of produce. 17 No one is to oppress his fellow citizen, but you must fear your God, because I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 25:10-17).
A second provision was made, whereby land sold by an impoverished Israelite could be redeemed at any time, either by the original owner, or by a near relative.
23 The land must not be sold without reclaim because the land belongs to me, for you are foreigners and residents with me. 24 In all your landed property you must provide for the right of redemption of the land. 25 “‘If your brother becomes impoverished and sells some of his property, his near redeemer is to come to you and redeem what his brother sold. 26 If a man has no redeemer, but he prospers and gains enough for its redemption, 27 he is to calculate the value of the years it was sold, refund the balance to the man to whom he had sold it, and return to his property. 28 If he has not prospered enough to refund a balance to him, then what he sold will belong to the one who bought it until the jubilee year, but it must revert in the jubilee and the original owner may return to his property (Leviticus 25:23-28).6
The Law also provided for the redemption of an Israelite who found it necessary to sell himself as a slave:
47 “‘If a resident foreigner who is with you prospers and your brother becomes impoverished with regard to him so that he sells himself to a resident foreigner who is with you or to a member of a foreigner’s family, 48 after he has sold himself he retains a right of redemption. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or anyone of the rest of his blood relatives – his family – may redeem him, or if he prospers he may redeem himself. 50 He must calculate with the one who bought him the number of years from the year he sold himself to him until the jubilee year, and the cost of his sale must correspond to the number of years, according to the rate of wages a hired worker would have earned while with him. 51 If there are still many years, in keeping with them he must refund most of the cost of his purchase for his redemption, 52 but if only a few years remain until the jubilee, he must calculate for himself in keeping with the remaining years and refund it for his redemption. 53 He must be with the one who bought him like a yearly hired worker. The one who bought him must not rule over him harshly in your sight. 54 If, however, he is not redeemed in these ways, he must go free in the jubilee year, he and his children with him, 55 because the Israelites are my own servants; they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God’” (Leviticus 25:47-55).
I realize that this text does not directly relate to what we find in the Book of Ruth. The thing I find particularly interesting in this text is a more specific definition of just who the near kinsman might be. It appears to me that there is an order of priority indicated as well. One could redeem himself, followed by one of his brothers (I’m assuming the order would be from the oldest to the youngest.) After that would be one’s uncle, then a cousin, and then more distant blood relatives. This does not tell us who the nearest kin of Elimelech was, but it at least suggests some options. Clearly the author did not wish to disclose such details, thereby keeping this man as anonymous as possible.
1 Now Boaz went up to the village gate and sat there. Then along came the guardian whom Boaz had mentioned to Ruth! Boaz said, “Come here and sit down, ‘John Doe’!” So he came and sat down. 2 Boaz chose ten of the village leaders and said, “Sit down here!” So they sat down. 3 Then Boaz said to the guardian, “Naomi, who has returned from the region of Moab, is selling the portion of land that belongs to our relative Elimelech. 4 So I am legally informing you: Acquire it before those sitting here and before the leaders of my people! If you want to exercise your right to redeem it, then do so. But if not, then tell me so I will know. For you possess the first option to redeem it; I am next in line after you.” He replied, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “When you acquire the field from Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the wife of our deceased relative, in order to preserve his family name by raising up a descendant who will inherit his property.” 6 The guardian said, “Then I am unable to redeem it, for I would ruin my own inheritance in that case. You may exercise my redemption option, for I am unable to redeem it.” 7 (Now this used to be the customary way to finalize a transaction involving redemption in Israel: A man would remove his sandal and give it to the other party. This was a legally binding act in Israel.) 8 So the guardian said to Boaz, “You may acquire it,” and he removed his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the leaders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have acquired from Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, as my wife to raise up a descendant who will inherit his property so the name of the deceased might not disappear from among his relatives and from his village. You are witnesses today” (Ruth 4:1-10).
As Naomi predicted, Boaz promptly set out to settle the issue of the redemption of Elimelech’s land as well as arranging a marriage to Ruth in order to raise up a descendant of the deceased to possess this land. Boaz went to the gate at the entrance of Bethlehem, and there (quite suddenly and unexpectedly, it would seem) he encountered the nearest kin. Boaz had the man sit down at the gate and then he gathered ten of the elders of Bethlehem to deal with this matter in a forthright, biblical, way. Boaz is clearly taking the leadership in this matter. (One can only wonder why the nearest kin had not done what Boaz is now doing at an earlier time.)
Boaz now brings up the matter of the land which belonged to Elimelech. It is almost impossible to believe that this is the first time the nearest kin has heard of Naomi’s plight, of her return to Bethlehem from Moab, or of the sale of her husband’s property. Perhaps Boaz is giving the nearest kin the benefit of the doubt here. If this kinsman had chosen to merely ignore Naomi’s plight, he no longer has that option. Boaz puts the matter of redeeming Elimelech’s property to this nearer kin in a way that requires him to redeem the property or publicly renounce his right to do so. Boaz makes it clear that if this fellow refuses to redeem the property he will do so.
The nearest kin agrees to redeem the land, and when he does, Boaz gets to the more difficult issue – marriage to Ruth in order to raise up descendants to her husband, Mahlon,7 and thus also to Elimelech and Naomi. This was a much more difficult matter for the nearest kin, because raising up descendants to Mahlon would appear to interfere with his own inheritance. Knowing that Boaz will marry Ruth if he declines to marry her, the nearest kin backs away from his obligations entirely. To make this matter legally binding, a sandal (or perhaps both sandals) was handed over. It would appear that the nearest kin handed one or two of his sandals over to Boaz, giving Boaz the legal authority to take his place with regard to the property of Elimelech and to Ruth, Mahlon’s widow.
If the passing of the sandal(s) was a symbol of what was taking place, the words of Boaz – spoken before the nearest kin, the ten elders, and those who stood by – declared the substance of this transaction. This was the equivalent of the signing and notarizing of a contract. That day Boaz redeemed all that belonged to Elimelech (primarily the land, I assume), and thus all that belonged to his heirs, Chilion and Mahlon.8
Marriage to Ruth was a closely related matter. Boaz publicly acquired Ruth as his wife with the express purpose of raising up a descendant who would grow up on the inheritance he was to possess. In this way, the name of Elimelech and also of Mahlon would not be forgotten, but would live on through the offspring of this marriage. All who looked on were witnesses to these legal proceedings.
Having reviewed the highlights of this legal transaction, let us pause to make a few observations regarding some of the details of what we have read in verses 1-10.
(1) Note the providence of God in the appearance of the nearest kin at the gate. I like the way the NASB renders verse 1:
Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, . . . (emphasis mine).
The author is signaling the reader that this was not the norm. Boaz might have waited for some time for this near kin to arrive, but here he suddenly and unexpectedly appears, preparing the way for what will follow. This is surely a “divine appointment” arranged by God to facilitate what is about to transpire. God is in this transaction!
(2) Note the public nature of this legal process, and how it contrasts with the “moonlight madness” which Naomi had sought to orchestrate the night before. Naomi’s plan was conducted in secrecy, under the covers, and under cover of darkness. Boaz handled the matter in broad daylight, in the town gate, before ten elders and numerous witnesses.
(3) The author carefully avoids naming the nearest kin or even giving us any significant details about him. While I don’t prefer the NET Bible’s choice of words (“John Doe” – this often designates the body of an unnamed corpse lying in a morgue), I do appreciate the attempt to convey the meaning of the original text (for which I would prefer something like “old so and so”). Here is a man who was worried about his inheritance, and yet we don’t even know his name.9 He simply (and by divine design) falls through the cracks of history.
(4) Boaz dealt honorably and kindly with the nearest kin. He presented the situation in a way that encouraged this fellow to do the right thing. He separated the two issues (redeeming the land and taking Ruth as a wife), dealing with the simplest matter first. While he made it easy for the nearest kin to do the right thing, he also made it clear that he would gladly handle this matter if the other fellow declined. How easy (and tempting) it would have been to have “soured” this deal, predisposing the nearest kin to back away from his responsibilities so that Boaz could marry Ruth.
(5) The nearest kin was willing to redeem the land when that would be to his advantage, but he was not willing to marry Ruth because it appeared to require a significant sacrifice on his part. If Elimelech and Naomi had no heirs, then the closest kin would inherit the property. But if old “so and so” married Ruth and produced a son, that son would inherit the land. The nearest kin would not gain the property permanently and he would assume whatever expenses were associated with raising the son he produced. (Would this son also inherit some of this man’s property? I’m not sure.) The nearest kin had quickly calculated a “profit and loss statement,” and marrying Ruth seemed to promise a loss, and so he declined.
(6) Boaz was careful to link the redemption of the land with marriage to Ruth. Twice in verses 1-10 the raising up of a son is for the purpose of him living “on his inheritance.”
Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance” (Ruth 4:5, NASB95; emphasis mine).
“Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today” (Ruth 4:10, NASB95; emphasis mine).10
Boaz understood that it was necessary to preserve the land for the house of Elimelech, but that also necessitated the preservation of a seed (an heir) for Elimelech. Boaz wanted to preserve the property of Elimelech so that his heir could grow up on that land. He understood that there was to be a strong connection between the Israelites and their inheritance in the land.
Strangely, Naomi’s plan seems to have focused only on the marriage of Ruth and Boaz. One can only speculate as to why this was the case. Did she assume that if she could orchestrate the consummation of a marriage at the threshing floor that everything else would, of necessity, fall into place? All I can say is that in her pragmatism, Naomi did not give sufficient attention to matters that the law had clearly addressed, matters of great importance to any true Israelite. Boaz was careful to attend to every aspect of need in the manner the law prescribed. This included giving the nearest kin the first chance at fulfilling his obligation.
(7) The author contrasts the character and actions of the nearest kin with that of Boaz. The nearest kin seemed to avoid his obligations to Naomi in her plight; Boaz was well informed of her plight and most eager to be of help to her, and to Ruth. The nearest kin was simply looking out for himself, while Boaz was seeking to serve Naomi and Ruth at his expense. All this started in his fields, but it comes to full bloom in the city gate.
(8) I must admit that I am still puzzling about the “sandal exchange” as presented in verses 7 and 8. If this was the only “sandal” text, I would simply read this as a parenthetical explanation of how legal transactions were formalized. But I cannot get these verses from Deuteronomy 25 out of my mind.
7 But if the man does not want to marry his brother’s widow, then she must go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to preserve his brother’s name in Israel; he is unwilling to perform the duty of a brother-in-law to me!” 8 Then the elders of his city must summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, “I don’t want to marry her,” 9 then his sister-in-law must approach him in view of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, and spit in his face. She will then respond, “Thus may it be done to any man who does not maintain his brother’s family line!” 10 His family name will be referred to in Israel as “the family of the one whose sandal was removed” (Deuteronomy 25:7-10, emphasis mine).
If I am reading Deuteronomy 25 correctly, to be referred to as “the family of the one whose sandal was removed” is to be publicly shamed. This text does not appear to say that every “transaction involving redemption” (see Ruth 4:7) was formalized by the removal of a sandal, but only in the case of a near kin who refused to fulfill his duty as a brother-in-law to his deceased brother.
My question is this: “Are we to understand Ruth 4:7-10 in the light of Deuteronomy 25:7-10, and if so, how?” Perhaps the two texts are related, but are not to be confused. I’m not sure how many would attempt to show any relationship between the two texts. Perhaps both texts are rooted in a common tradition – the sandal exchange. I see two possible ways to understand our text in Ruth 4. The first is to see the sandal exchange as the legal process of the time, and in this case, Boaz and the nearest kin are carrying out this legal matter “by the book.”
The second explanation is to see our text in Ruth as a commentary on the times, and especially a commentary regarding the nearest kin. In the light of Deuteronomy 25, if the nearest kin’s sandal was removed, shouldn’t someone (namely Ruth or Naomi) have spit in this fellow’s face? Some might excuse this nearest kin by pointing out that the circumstances in Ruth 4 are not the same as those described in Deuteronomy 25 – two brothers living together on their inheritance. Perhaps so, but this kin does not fulfill his responsibility, which if not a command was surely an obligation of some kind. Should there not be a measure of disgrace, something like what we see in Deuteronomy 25?
Here is what I am tempted to make of the reference to the sandal exchange in Ruth 4. The period of the judges was a time when men did what was right in their own eyes, meaning they did not living according to what was right in God’s eyes – as declared in the law.11 The law indicated that when a near kinsman (granted, a brother, living on the same inheritance in Deuteronomy 25) refused to carry out his obligation in levirate marriage, his sandal was exchanged, his face was spit upon, and his reputation was destroyed from that point on. But we are now in the days of the judges, and the nearest kin seems to be a product of his times. He exchanges his sandal(s), and thus feels relieved of all his responsibilities (and perhaps of his guilt). His exchange of sandal(s), when compared with the passage in Deuteronomy 25, should be seen as an indictment of his character and an indication that he did not really grasp the heart of the law. Thankfully, Boaz loved the law and acted accordingly.
11 All the people who were at the gate and the elders replied, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is entering your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the house of Israel! May you prosper in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. 12 May your family become like the family of Perez – whom Tamar bore to Judah – through the descendants the Lord gives you by this young woman.” 13 So Boaz married Ruth and had sexual relations with her. The Lord enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son. 14 The village women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be praised because he has not left you without a guardian today! May he become famous in Israel! 15 He will encourage you and provide for you when you are old, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, has given him birth. She is better to you than seven sons!” 16 Naomi took the child and placed him on her lap; she became his caregiver. 17 The neighbor women named him, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. Now he became the father of Jesse – David’s father! (Ruth 4:11-17)
Notice how the pronouncement of blessings dominates this portion of chapter 4. Verses 11-12 begin with the pronouncement of blessings by those who witnessed the legal transaction which took place at the town gate – which would include both the onlookers and the ten elders. They first bless Ruth in verse 12: “May the Lord make the woman who is entering your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the house of Israel!” In what way were the people of Bethlehem thinking God would bless Ruth “like Rachel and Leah”? The most obvious way is plainly stated. God’s blessing on Ruth would “build up the house of Israel.” But I believe that they see more than just the continuation of Elimelech’s family line. I believe they see God’s blessings on Ruth as building up the entire nation of Israel. We know that this will result in the Davidic dynasty and also the line from which the Messiah will come. That, my friend, is truly “building up the nation of Israel”!
Why do the townspeople pronounce a blessing on Ruth that would make her like Rachel and Leah? There is the sense which we have just noted – namely that these two women (with their handmaids) produced the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. But I believe that there is also a more subtle blessing here – that of being enabled to conceive. First Rachel (Genesis 30:1), and then Leah (Genesis 30:9-13), were unable to conceive. In both instances, God (see Genesis 30:14-24) opened their wombs and enabled them to conceive. We know from the earlier chapters of Ruth that she had borne no children, and in Ruth 4:13, we are told that God “enabled her to conceive.” Thus, this blessing may have assumed that God would open Ruth’s womb so that she could bear children and thus build up the house of Israel.
The blessings of the people at the gate now focus upon Boaz: “May you prosper in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. May your family become like the family of Perez – whom Tamar bore to Judah – through the descendants the Lord gives you by this young woman” (Ruth 4:11b-12). The people perceive that Boaz has done what is honorable and praiseworthy. I believe they also are well aware of the sacrifices Boaz is making to fulfill his obligations. And so it is that they pronounce blessings on him. May (even greater) prosperity and fame come upon Boaz through Ruth and the offspring God will produce through her.
The townspeople likened the blessings on and through Ruth to God’s blessings on Rachel and Leah. They now liken God’s blessings on and through Boaz to those which came to Judah through Tamar. Through Tamar (a Gentile, like Ruth), God produced Perez,12 and through him, Judah’s line would be preserved until it results in the house of David, and ultimately in the birth of Messiah. This blessing assumed that God would produce an offspring to Boaz and Ruth.
Verse 13 is significant for it very briefly mentions the consummation of the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, and then informs us of Ruth’s divinely-enabled conception. Let us keep in mind the sequence of events described: the legal process of formalizing the marriage, their physical union, and finally Ruth’s childbearing. Somehow in our day and time, this sequence is all too quickly set aside, and some elements may simply be ignored.
The second set of blessings is recorded in verses 14-17. The women of the town who speak these words are a different group than those witnesses to the legal formalities described earlier. I believe these are likely the same women who are found in chapter 1:
19 So the two of them journeyed together until they arrived in Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole village was excited about their arrival. The women of the village said, “Can this be Naomi?” 20 But she replied to them, “Don’t call me ‘Naomi’! Call me ‘Mara’ because the Sovereign One has treated me very harshly. 21 I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed. Why do you call me ‘Naomi,’ seeing that the Lord has opposed me, and the Sovereign One has caused me to suffer?” (Ruth 1:19-21, emphasis mine)
I am impressed with the spiritual perception of these “village women.” They have summed things up very well. They do not praise Naomi; instead, they praise God for what He has done. Now remember that Naomi’s attitudes and actions have not really been praiseworthy. She had blamed God for bringing her back to Bethlehem “empty-handed.” She refused to be called “Naomi” (pleasant) because she viewed her circumstances (dealt her by God) to be bitter. As these women praise God, they are also gently correcting Naomi. She was not “empty-handed,” for God “had not left her without a guardian.” They now pronounce a blessing on the child God has given to Ruth: “May he become famous in Israel!” It is this child who will encourage, protect, and provide for Naomi in her old age. They also lavished praise on Ruth, for her loyal love, for giving birth to this child, and for being better to Naomi than seven sons. How could Naomi possibly see herself as abandoned by God and empty-handed? She has been greatly blessed.
Verse 16 is particularly interesting to me. It appears that her actions here are in response to what the women have just spoken. She was blessed by God. This child was, in one sense, her child, her chance to preserve the line of her husband, her future. And so she takes the child and lays him on her lap (he was no doubt handed to her by Ruth). From that point on, Naomi maintained a very close relationship with this boy, a sort of blend of “grandmother,” “nurse maid,” and “nanny.”
This child is not only welcomed and embraced as Naomi’s child, this child is also embraced (adopted) by the women of the town. They are the ones who give this child his name – Obed (servant). He is the father of Jesse and of David, and thus ultimately of Him who is the “Servant of Israel” – the Messiah.
The book closes with a genealogy, beginning with Perez (one of the sons of Judah and Tamar – the one through whom Judah’s line will be traced). Perez had a son named Hezron,13 and Hezron’s offspring was Ram. Ram bore Amminadab; Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon was the father of Salmon, the father of Boaz. Boaz, as we know, was the father of Obed, Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David, Israel’s great king. The genealogy we find in Ruth spans from Judah to David, and in the New Testament, the genealogies will span all the way to Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah.
As we conclude this message, we also conclude our study of both Judges and Ruth. Thus, the conclusions and applications which follow will flow not only from chapter 4, but from our entire study of Judges and Ruth.
Our study should enhance our love for the law of God. The term “law” can be used in several ways in the New Testament. Here, I am not referring to the law as that legalistic system of rules which men strive (always unsuccessfully) to keep in order to merit God’s favor. I am speaking of the Old Testament law which sets forth God’s standard of righteousness. It is, of course, a standard which we cannot keep, which should turn us to Christ, the only One who has ever fully satisfied the requirements of the law.
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:19-26).
But as Paul said in Romans 7, the law is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12). Here, Paul is speaking of the law as the psalmist saw it in Psalm 119. I believe that Boaz saw the law in the same way, and thus he was not content to merely meet the bare requirements of the law; he chose to go beyond the law in his generosity to the poor, particularly in his care for Naomi and Ruth. Viewed in this manner, the Old Testament law was not opposed to grace, but was a means of grace, if men delighted to do it and relied upon God to empower them to keep it. For us, as for Boaz and for the psalmist, our duty should be our delight. All that we read in the Book of Ruth was happening at a time when the Israelites (in general) were living in disregard for the law, doing what was right in their own eyes. We should not only do what the law requires; we should delight in doing it. And this we can do when we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, who writes the law on our hearts:
2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4, emphasis mine).
The books of Judges and Ruth teach us a great deal about men, and most of what we learn is not good. There are always those who are overly optimistic about the goodness of man, but the Bible consistently denies this:
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;
10 as it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,
17 And the path of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9-18).
It is times like the days of the judges that dramatically portray the fallenness of man. In the Book of Judges, we find example after example of fallen humanity. In the Book of Ruth, it is Naomi who exemplifies those who do what is right in their own eyes. And in so doing, Naomi serves as the backdrop against which the faithfulness of Boaz and Ruth are displayed. But it should be clear to the reader that they are the exception, and even godly people like these two are godly because God has written His law on their hearts, and not because of their efforts to keep the law in their own strength. The Book of Ruth gives us cause for hope, not because men are good, but because God is setting the stage for the coming of His king – David (and ultimately the Son of David, the Messiah).
Even in the worst of times, God always preserves a remnant. The Book of Ruth also illustrates the marvelous truth that God assures the fulfillment of His purposes and promises by preserving a righteous remnant:
27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah” (Romans 9:27-29).
There was much wickedness in Israel during the dark days of the judges, but the Book of Ruth reminds us that God’s covenant promises are assured by the fact that He always preserves a remnant through which He will bring about His purposes and promises. Ruth and Boaz are a significant part of that remnant, because this remnant assures the preservation of the Messianic line.
The books of Judges and Ruth teach us much about God, and all of this is good. The books of Judges and Ruth are not written so that we can glory in the goodness of man. They are written to reveal the glories of our righteous God. The fulfillment of God’s purposes and promises depends upon the goodness and greatness of our God, not on the goodness of men. God is able to cause all things to work together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Even in the darkest of times, God is providentially at work, preparing the way for the fulfillment of His promises. Naomi does not see this through much of the Book of Ruth but the reader is prompted to see the unseen hand of God at work, even when it appears to Naomi that all hope is lost. What a wonderfully comforting and assuring truth this is: our eternal well being is dependent upon the perfections of our God, and not on our performance.
The Book of Ruth reveals the importance of our attitudes and actions. As I read the Book of Ruth, I am not only impressed with the godliness and faith of Boaz and Ruth, I am also struck by the impact their faith and godliness have upon those who knew them. The relationship between Boaz and his workers (see 2:4, for example) indicates that not only is Boaz a man who trusts in God, but also his workers have a similar spirit. In their pronouncements of blessing, the people of Bethlehem (see 4:11-17) speak as those who see what God is doing, and who trust Him to continue to bless His people. I believe that the city of Bethlehem stands out among all those cities named in Judges and Ruth as a city where its people trust God. It is my assumption that Boaz (and later Ruth) had much to do with this. On the other hand, one can only imagine the impact of a woman like Naomi, had she persisted in her bitterness (see 1:20-21).
The godliness of Boaz and Ruth resulted not only in the marriage of these two, and in the birth of Obed; their godliness resulted in the praise of the people of Bethlehem. That praise seems to come naturally after what Boaz does in the first half of chapter 4. One cannot envision the same kind of response had Ruth and Boaz consummated a kind of “midnight marriage” as Naomi seemed to be facilitating. Had the union of Boaz and Ruth happened as planned in chapter 3, the townspeople would have been whispering about it to one another. But when Boaz redeemed Elimelech’s land and took Ruth as his wife, the people of the town praised God and pronounced His blessings on those involved.
The crises we find in the books of Judges and Ruth are the same kinds of crises which we face today. The events in Judges and Ruth took place a very long time ago, and in a far away land, but the difficulties and challenges they faced are the same things which we face today. The ancient author of Ecclesiastes said this:
9 That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
The Apostle Paul put it this way:
13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Famines and economic times of distress are not unique to the ancient Israelites. These things are taking place before our very eyes. The threat of war and of enemy oppression is something that looms before us, just as it did before the people of God in Judges (and Ruth). Just as Naomi and her family chose to live among the Moabites, Christians are tempted to compromise by blending in with the godlessness of our pagan culture today. And just as God kept a remnant pure in those days, He is doing the same today. Death and childlessness were experienced by the ancients, and they are still being experienced today. Our trials and temptations are not unique. They are the same tests which men have faced throughout human history. And these tests and trials are the means God uses to strengthen His saints and to bring glory to Himself. Thus, while the events of Judges and Ruth are long ago and far away, they are instructive for Christians today.
Christians may either joyfully participate in the fulfillment of God’s purposes and promises, or we can protest the working of His hand in our lives, leading to bitterness in our souls. I believe that both Ruth and Boaz took great pleasure in doing God’s will, even in those times when this appeared to be contrary to their own best interests. Naomi, on the other hand, could only sit back and complain, and propose actions which were contrary to God’s will.
In our times, as in the days of the judges, God is at work providentially. That is, God’s hand is at work, but not in ways that are readily apparent to us. Circumstances (if viewed as Naomi saw them) would even appear to be the cruel hand of God in our lives. We have a choice to make. Either we can confidently trust that God is at work behind the scenes – even in the adversities we are experiencing – or we can protest and complain, doubting His goodness and power. The choice we make has everything to do with the joy we will experience in the midst of our trials and tribulations. Those who choose to joyfully participate in what God is doing find life a privilege and a pleasure.14 Those who choose to resist God’s hand and to become bitter will find life a very painful process. Let us choose joyful trust and obedience.
Our text helps us to put sex and marriage in their proper place. In our day and time, there are many who are unwilling to pay the price of marriage. They seek to enjoy the benefits and privileges of marriage without the “legal process” of marriage. They tell us that a marriage license is only a piece of paper, and they avoid making the covenant commitment that a biblical marriage requires.15 In our culture, marriage is about personal pleasure, rather than servanthood. Marriage is about me, about finding a mate who makes me feel good, who fulfills my desires and expectations.
Not so with Boaz, or with Ruth. Boaz rightly recognized that Ruth could have found a younger husband who would have been more desirable, but she chose him for all the right reasons. Boaz, too, knew that marrying Ruth would involve sacrifice (which is why the nearest kin backed out of his obligations). Each entered into marriage as their service to God and as a way of serving the other. The motivation for marriage should be more about sacrificial service than self-fulfillment.16
The Book of Ruth also teaches us some important truths about the bearing of children. On the one hand, the Book of Ruth exposes Naomi’s self-centered obsession with child bearing. I do not get the feeling that she is like Tamar before her, who saw the importance of bearing a child to preserve the name of her husband (and the Messianic line). Naomi seems to have concluded that her life was meaningless without children. There is a shallowness in Naomi’s feeling of emptiness. The essence of a woman’s life is not in the bearing of children, though this is a wonderful privilege given to many.
On the other side of the spectrum, we see the nearest kin looking upon the bearing of children (particularly a child born to Ruth) as a sacrifice at a price he was unwilling to pay. Frankly, I fear that there are some Christians who limit their child bearing for reasons similar to that of the nearest kin – selfishness. No wonder the birthrate of Christians is so low that we are being marginalized by groups who do value the bearing of children. I know that I’m treading on thin ice here, but I challenge the reader to think hard about their reasons for not having children. Likewise, I challenge those who seem obsessed with having children to consider their motivation as well. Naomi and the nearest kin may have something to teach us.
Judges and Ruth teach us that doing what is right in God’s eyes requires living by faith. The law was given to encourage faith, not to oppose it. A farmer had to exercise faith when he left a portion of his field for the poor. Likewise, he had to exercise faith by leaving the land fallow every seven years, and by refusing to labor on the Sabbath (even if a storm was coming). Ruth exercised great faith in leaving her family and homeland to dwell in Israel and placing herself under the protective wings of God.17 Boaz exercised faith when he gave the nearest kin the first option to carry out his obligations. He exercised faith by fathering a son who would be the heir of a kinsman. Doing what is right in our own eyes is living by sight. Doing what is right in God’s eyes requires faith, for we often cannot see how doing the right thing will produce what God has promised.
So let me end by asking you these questions, my friend: “Who do you trust?” “Are you living your life by doing what is right in your own eyes?” That is the spirit of our Postmodern world, and it is dead wrong. We must see things as God does, and it is only God’s Word that presents God’s perspective on man, on right and wrong, and on man’s eternal destiny. You will never get into God’s heaven by doing what is right in your own eyes. From Judges and Ruth, we should see ourselves as unworthy sinners who need salvation from a source outside of ourselves – from God. That salvation has been provided by God in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is only by acknowledging your sin, and recognizing that you deserve God’s eternal wrath, and then by trusting in the death of Jesus Christ in bearing your eternal punishment that you will ever get to heaven. He bore the penalty of our sin, and He alone provides the righteousness which God requires to enter into heaven. Do not trust yourself when it comes to your eternal destiny. Trust in Him, who alone can save.
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
8 We should not forget that both of Elimelech’s sons died. Together, these two sons would have inherited what had belonged to their father, Elimelech. Boaz did not redeem only Mahlon’s portion, but also Chilion’s portion of the inheritance, thus redeeming all of the possessions of Elimelech.
9 The Hebrew term usually rendered “name” is found seven times in this chapter of Ruth (“name” is found six times in the English translation), but the “name” of the nearest kin is never revealed to the reader. As important as prolonging one’s name was, this man’s name was lost for all of recorded history.
10 I prefer the more literal translation of the NASB here, which emphasizes the link between Elimelech’s heir and Elimelech’s inheritance (land). Contrary to the rendering of the NET Bible, I do not think that the emphasis is merely on the fact that this son will someday inherit this land, but that he will grow up on the land he is to inherit. As a “country boy” at heart, I can appreciate what the author is saying. From the earliest days of his life, this heir should feel a bond with the land God is giving him.
13 As we know, biblical genealogies sometimes list key links in a genetic line, but not necessarily every link. Thus, a “son” may well be a grandson, or even a great grandson. For example, in Ruth 4:19 Ram is listed as the “father” of Amminadab, yet in Luke 3:33, Ram’s son is said to be Admin, and Admin’s son is Amminadab. Admin is thus an extra link in the chain, a link not mentioned in either Ruth or Matthew 1:4.
14 See Paul’s response to adversity in the Book of Philippians.