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3. Ruth

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A. The third appendix, a godly line established (Ruth 1:1—4:22).

After working through the book of Judges, one feels the need of a shower. This makes the little book of Ruth a shower most refreshing. It is an idyllic, godly respite in the midst of the canaanization of the Jewish people. The sordid story of the acquisition of wives for the Benjamites is in sharp contrast to the acquisition of a wife by Boaz. The mutual concern of Naomi and Ruth is radically different from the attitude of the Levite to his concubine wife.

1. Struggling in Bethlehem (1:1).

The existence of a famine is an oxymoron in an area known for its productivity. Bethlehem means “house of bread.” The story happened sometime during the period of the judges, but obviously, it is being produced in final form after the time of David. It, no doubt, is designed to help elevate the family of David, perhaps over the family of Saul. The famine caused a migration to a part of the world that was not under a famine.

In contrast to the book of Judges, everyone has a name: Elimelech (my God is King); Naomi (pleasant); Mahlon (sickly); and Chilion (puny). This whole family unit made the fairly long journey to Moab1 and settled there.2

2. Struggling in Moab (1:2-5).

Unfortunately, this major family move did not prove salutary. First, Elimelech died. Then her two sons married Moabite girls. Orpah, the meaning of whose name is uncertain, but some suggest that it is a variant of Oprah, a gazelle, and Ruth. BDB derives her name from רְעוּת Re‘uth meaning “friendship.” HALOT derives it from a different root, and so (refreshment.)3 Then the two boys died. We are told that the family lived there for ten years, but the intermediate time elements are not given, however, since there were no babies, the boys must have died shortly after marriage.4 So, Naomi was left with no blood kinsman.

3. Returning to Bethlehem (1:6-18).

Rumor has announced that Yahweh had returned prosperity to the house of bread.5 Consequently, Naomi packs up her meager belongings to go home. Her daughters-in-law are with her. 6 They started out on the arduous trek to Judah. Naomi turns to her two daughters-in-law and urges them to return to their parents’ home. The MT (ketib) says that Yahweh will show kindness to them as they have toward her but reads (qere) a form that makes it a prayer, “May Yahweh show you kindness…” Her prayer continues, asking Yahweh to make them find rest, each in the house of her husband. The women were still young, so, she prays that they will find a second husband. Then she kissed them, and they cried. In unison, they said, “let us return with you.” (1:6-11).

Naomi explains, logically, that she is incapable of providing more sons as husbands. Even if she could, they would not be willing to wait until they were grown. She does not want them to share in the bitterness she has received from the hand of Yahweh on their account. Here is the first mention of her bitterness (cf. 1:20). The meaning is not clear as to whom she compares her bitterness. Campbell says, “She makes her case against God stronger by comparing her condition to that of her daughters-in-law.”7 So, they both weep again, and Orpah leaves to return home, 8 but Ruth clings to Naomi (1:12-14).

We now turn to one of the most beautiful accounts in the Bible. Naomi urges Ruth to follow Orpah. Ruth begs Naomi to stop urging her to leave her. “Wherever you go, I go, and wherever you stay, I will stay; your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Wherever you die, I will die and be buried. Thus, may Yahweh do to me [the oath formula] and even more, if anything but death separate us.” Ruth is acknowledging her allegiance to Yahweh, not Chemosh the god of the Moabites. So, Naomi accepted the determination of Ruth to go with her and gave up urging her (1:15-18).

4. Coming home after a ten-year absence (1:19-22).

As they entered the village of Bethlehem, the women gathered around in astonishment. They had assumed they would never see her again. They ask, “Is this really Naomi.” However, Naomi replies bitterly, “Do not call me pleasant, but call me bitter, for Shadday (the Almighty) has treated me very bitterly.” Here she uses Shadday not Yahweh because she argues that God could have prevented her problems had he chosen to. She says that she went out full, but Yahweh has returned her empty. So, why should you call me pleasant. Yahweh has answered9 (in court) against me, and Shadday has mistreated me. Now she brings both names into the action. Whether the covenant keeping Yahweh or the powerful Shadday, she has been the brunt of bad treatment.

The narrator concludes with the statement that Naomi and the foreign girl Ruth returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley har-vest.10

5. The kinsman redeemer (goel) (2:1-3).11

The kinsman redeemer or goel has four usages in the Old Testament. The classic passage is Lev 25:23-28. 1) when a person sells land because of poverty, the next of kin is to buy it back so that it can stay in the family. If he has no kinsman, but he regained his prosperity, he may buy it back himself. He buys it back on a pro-rata basis. If he is unable to buy it back, it remains in the hand of the purchaser until the year of Jubilee (Lev 25:10). An example is found in Jeremiah 32, where Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, asked Jeremiah to buy property occupied by the Babylonian army. 2) Blood avenger (Numbers 35). The next of kin is to kill the one who killed a man. The cities of refuge were established to allow room for accidental killing. 3) An Israelite sells himself to a sojourner as a slave (Lev 25:47-5). A kinsman may redeem him on a prorated basis. 4) God as the goel of Israel appears 21 times in Isaiah alone. So, in the Book of Ruth, the redemption of Abimelech’s land by Boaz is clearly the enactment of the redeemer of land to keep it in the family.

A second set of laws is merged into the Ruth story: the levirate12 marriage. This practice is defined in Deut 25:5-10. If a man dies without a son, his brother is obligated to marry the widow. The first son born to this union belongs to the dead brother and inherits his property. The implementation of this practice is found in Genesis 38.

The story of Ruth and Boaz does not quite fit the regulation.13 Boaz is not Elimelech’s brother; even if so, he should not marry Ruth, but Naomi. Thus, we have a mixture of the practice of goel of property and partial levirate marriage. The implementation of this was probably lax and, therefore, allowed for flexibility.14

So, we meet Boaz. Note that he is a relative of Elimelech, not Mahlon, but it is through Ruth that he raises seed to Elimelech.

This Boaz is a אִישׁ גִּבּוֹר חַיִל ish gibbor ḥayil. This phrase appears some 15 times (plus אשׁת חיל ishet ḥayil of Ruth in 3:11, and of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31). In the plural (men of valor), it appears some 29 times. The vast majority of the times it refers to fighting men (especially in the plural). Here in Ruth, the translators struggle to know how to deal with it. KJV “mighty man of wealth”; NASB “great wealth”; ESV “a worthy man”; NIV “a man of standing.” I once read an article (now lost to me) where the author posited that Boaz was a member of the militia. This is more in keeping with the basic meaning. However, we also have Proverbs 31:10 where a good woman is referred to as a woman of valor. She is not a gibbor (man). In any event, Boaz is one who stands out.15 It is important to note that he is a kinsman of Elimelech.16

Ruth displays her diligence (see Proverbs 31) in setting out to provide food for her little family as only poor people can. Joüon cites Janssen regarding a scene where poor Arabs glean in modern times.17 It was “just her luck” to ask at a field owned by Boaz.18 The narrator, of course, is committed to the idea that Yahweh is engineering this whole process.

6. The kinsman redeemer notices (2:4-7).

And look! Says the narrator. Here comes the man himself. He called out a greeting (really a blessing) to the reapers. They respond in kind. All this sets the frame for the picture that Boaz is a good, godly man. He looks behind the reapers and sees a young woman. He turns to the man in charge and asks, “To whom does this girl belong?”19 His response is brief but clear, she is the Moabite girl who came back with Naomi from Moab. She asked permission to glean, and she has been at it all day except for a bit of rest in the house.20

7. The kinsman redeemer gives special attention (2:8-16).

Boaz begins the choreography by urging her to spend the rest of the harvest in his field.21 He tells her he has charged the young men to leave her alone (was this a common problem?). Furthermore, when she is thirsty, she is to come to the water station and drink. She fell on her face and expressed her thanksgiving, but Boaz said that he already knows her story. He calls on Yahweh to fully reward her; this Yahweh under whose wings she has taken refuge.22 She again expressed her appreciation (2:8-13).

He takes it one step further. He tells her to come to the place they eat and participate with them. The Hebrew is subtle, but it looks as though he, himself, dipped some parched corn for her in the vinegar, she ate it, was satisfied, and had some left over. After lunch, she went back to work, and he charges the servants to let her glean among the sheaves and not to insult her. Furthermore, he tells them to pull out some of the stalks and leave them for her and again tells them not to rebuke her (2:14-16).

8. The kinsman redeemer revealed (2:17-23).

Ruth kept working until the evening, then she beat out the grain and had about half an ephah of barley. This comes to approximately one-half bushel. She shows23 this, plus the extra parched grain, to Naomi who is amazed. She wants to know where she gleaned to get so much barley. She told Naomi everything, including the name Boaz. Naomi praised God and told her he was a near kinsman, one who could redeem them. Naomi agreed with Boaz that she should stick with his maidens so that no one could molest her in another field. Consequently, she stuck with Boaz’s maidens until the barley harvest and wheat harvest were over. During that time, she stayed with her mother-in-law.

9. Naomi’s plan of attack (3:1-5).24

Naomi, having come to know who Boaz was, as a potential husband for Ruth, sets out to create a situation in which he commits himself.25 She says to Ruth, should I not seek a pleasant rest26 for you? 27 “Rest” in this context means security and care from a husband (3:1).28

Now, she says, “Boaz, our acquaintance, with whose female servants you were—look, he is winnowing on the barley threshing floor tonight.” Winnowing consists of throwing the stalks into the air after beating them with a flail. The wind blows away the chaff (Psalm 1:4), and the grain falls to the ground.29 She then tells Ruth what to do.30 These are short commands: wash, anoint, put on your garment, and go down to the threshing floor.31 She is not to reveal herself until he has finished eating and drinking. Next, when he lies down, she is to mark the place, uncover his feet, and lie down. She tells her that Boaz will take it from there. Ruth agreed to do all this (3:2-5).

10. The encounter on the threshing floor (3:6-13).

She did as she was told, and when Boaz had eaten and drunk, he was tipsy (his heart was good), and he lay down by the heaps (of barley). She came quietly and uncovered his feet (literally, the place of his feet). This action would presumably awaken him when his feet became cold.32 In the middle of the night, Boaz awoke trembling and looked all around. Look, there was a woman lying at the place of his feet. He asked her who she was, and she replied, I am Ruth your servant, therefore,33 spread out your garment (wing) over your handmade, for you are a kinsman redeemer (3:6-9).

What is this strange request Ruth, makes? Ezek 16:8 spells it out explicitly as an action of Yahweh with Israel: “I crossed over to you and saw you, and look, your time for loving had come. So, I spread my garment (wing) over you, and covered your nakedness. I swore to you and entered a covenant with you, says Yahweh, and you became mine.” This makes it clear that Ruth was asking Boaz to marry her.

Boaz praised her for her kindness to him (latter kindness, ḥesed) in that she has chosen an older man rather than one of the young guys. So, he understood her actions to be a request of marriage, and he commits himself to it (3:10).

However, there is an impediment, she has a nearer kinsman than he. He tells her to spend the night, and, in the morning, the great shootout will begin (3:11-13).

11. The kinsman redeemer ensnared (3:14-18).

Ruth lay at his feet until the crack of dawn (did either of them sleep?), and Boaz said, “We do not want anyone to know that a woman has come to the threshing floor.” Boaz is concerned about the reputation of both of them. He told her to make a lap out of her robe.34 He measured six measures of barley.35 He put the barley on her, and she went36 to the village (4:14-15).

She came to her mother-in-law, who said (probably loudly), “who are you, my daughter?” This construction means “what is your situation?” Naomi had probably been up all night. Now she’s anxious to hear how it all came down. So, Ruth told her everything, as well as showed her the six measures of barley. Naomi told her to sit tight and wait to see how it would all fall out. She was sure that the man would not stay quiet until he had solved everything.

12. The kinsman redeemer checkmates the closer kinsman (4:1-6).

As Naomi suspected, Boaz wasted no time dealing with the issue.37 He was well prepared and rehearsed as to what to say and do. The gates of walled cities had seats installed where official business could take place. He went to the gate early and took a seat.38 He must have known the habits of the near kinsman. When he strolled by, Boaz invited him to take a seat. He does not name him, because the storyteller wants him out of the picture. Consequently, he calls him “Mr. so-and-so.”39 Then Boaz took ten men of the elders of the city and seated them in the gate (4:1-2).

Boaz then addressed the near kinsman. That piece of land belonging to our relative (literally, brother), Elimelech, Naomi, who returned from Moab is selling.40 “So, I said, I will tell you about it (literally uncover your ear), saying, acquire it before those sitting here and before the elders of my people. If you want to redeem it, redeem, but if you will not redeem it, tell me so that I might know, for you are the only one to redeem it, and I am after you.” The near kinsman almost nonchalantly says, “I will buy it.” The “I” is emphatic (4:3-4).

Then Boaz pulls the string on the trap. As soon as you get the field from Naomi,41 you also get Ruth, the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, so as to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance.42 The near kinsman immediately demurred because of his fear of what it might do to his inheritance.43 “You go ahead and redeem my redemption rights” (4:5-6).

13. The kinsman redeemer’s triumph (4:7-12).

The narrator, who is some distance in time from the events, explains what is about to happen. Any kind of redemption or exchange was accompanied by the removal of a sandal and giving it to the other party. This became a testimony in Israel. The near kinsman did just that. This practice is different from the original goel legislation in Deut 25:5-10. There, the woman pulls off the man’s sandal and spits in his face. Time apparently has affected the tradition.

Now, Boaz was free to turn to the people gathered, and to the ten elders, “You are witnesses that I have acquired all that was Elimelech’s and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s from Naomi. And also, Ruth the Moabitess, wife of Mahlon, I have acquired as a wife to establish the name of the dead on his inheritance, so that the name of the dead would not be cut off from his brothers and the gate of his place—you are witnesses this day.” Everyone happily agreed, raised their hands as witnesses, and prayed a prayer: “May Yahweh make this woman who has come into your house like Rachel and Leah, the two of whom built the house of Israel. And may he acquire wealth in Ephrathah, and may people call out his name in Bethlehem. Furthermore, may your house be like the house of Perez44 whom Tamar birthed to Judah. All this from the seed which Yahweh will give you from this woman.”

14. The marriage made in heaven (4:13-17).

Marriages were made when a man took the woman to the bridal chamber and consummated the relationship. Soon Ruth was pregnant and produced a son. Naomi plays a different role. Under ordinary circumstances, Boaz would marry Naomi and raise up seed to Elimelech. Since Naomi was beyond childbearing age, it is Ruth who has the child, but he belongs to Naomi. So, the women said to Naomi, “You are blessed of Yahweh who did not allow a redeemer this day to cease, and his name will be called out in Israel. This child shall restore your life and sustain you when you get old, because your daughter-in-law who loves you, has given birth to him. She is better to you than ten sons.” Naomi then took the baby, placed him in her bosom and became his nurse. The neighbors called out a name for the baby saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” So, they called him Obed (he is the father of Jesse, the father of David).

15. The main purpose of the book of Ruth (4:18-22).

Suddenly, there is an insert into the story that takes us back to Genesis, “these are the generations of . . .” A genealogical list of ten names, culminating with David is given. Ten is an important number in genealogies. One has to ask whether the ten names provided are in any sense related to the prohibition of the Moabites from entering the assembly of the Lord (Deut 23:3). I suspect Jack Deere has it right, “The treatment of Ruth, however, by Boaz along with other Israelites of Bethlehem demonstrates that this law was never meant to exclude one who said, ‘your people will be my people and your God, my God’ (Ruth 1:16).” 45 It is astounding that this foreign woman, and a Moabitess at that, is now placed on a par with the matriarchs of Israel and included by Matthew in the genealogy of Jesus.

1The theological implications of Elimelech’s action are discussed by Block, Judges, Ruth, pp. 626-27.

2Language would not have been a problem (see the Moabite stone). There would have been dialectical differences.

3Koehler-Baumgarten, Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, op. cit.

4Joüon, Ruth, says, “The text does not say that Orpah and Ruth lived ten years in marriage, but that the two sons (and Naomi) resided ten years in Moab,” p. 33.

5Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 631, “The ‘house of bread’ is being restocked.”

6Joüon, Ruth, says, “To be loved so deeply by her daughters-in-law, Naomi would probably be the most loving of mothers-in-law. The unselfish nature of her affection is shown in her efforts to dissuade her daughters-in-law from sharing her sad life and her concern to find a husband for Ruth,” p. 9.

7Campbell, Ruth, p. 70.

8Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 606 argues that Naomi may not be a “confessional mono-theist.” Still when she urges the girls to go back, she appeals to Yahweh to bring his blessing upon them.

9Greek has “afflicted me.” The consonants are the same for both meanings. Joüon suggests a different reading, “He has acted against me,” p. 43.

10Generally, in April.

11See Boling, Ruth, p. 109, for a discussion of the literary structure of this chapter.

12Levir, means “brother-in-law” in Latin.

13Boling, Ruth, p. 109, uses “covenant brother” to indicate relationship entered into voluntarily rather than the accident of blood relationship.

14See Joüon, Ruth, p. 16, “In the book of Ruth, we are not really dealing with a levirate marriage, but only a marriage of the levirate type.” See his discussion for more details, pp. 14-17.

15Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 651, says, “Boaz is not an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Israelite. This will be confirmed by the following episode, where he is presented as a man with land and servants. On the other hand, as in Prov 31:10, which employs the feminine equivalent, the name can also mean ‘noble with respect to character’ a genuine Mensch.”

16Joüon, Ruth, p. 45, “literally mighty of power, has here (and in 1 Sam. 9:1) the sense of very rich. חיל ḥayil has also the sense of riches in 4:11 (but 3:11: virtue).”

17Ibid., p. 48.

18This stress on “luck” is designed to draw attention to God’s sovereignty at work. It is similar to Esther 4:14: “another place” and “you have attained royalty for such a time as this.”

19The lamed in לְמִי lemi indicates that she belongs to someone. Joüon, Ruth, p. 47.

20This is a difficult phrase. See Joüon, Ruth, p. 49, who translates, “she has not taken even a little rest.”

21Some are cynical about Ruth’s motives, but Boling, Ruth, says, “His characters are to be taken at face value and without devious motives. This is important to realize here in chapter 2, and all the more important for understanding chapter 3 correctly. What is at issue here is men and women, old and young, living out publicly the sort of lives the storyteller commends,” p. 112.

22Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 219, says, “In the man who speaks to this Moabite field worker biblical ḥesed becomes flesh and dwells among mankind.”

23The Hebrew has either, “she showed her mother-in-law (as here) or “her mother-in-law saw.” I have followed the former with a few MSS, Syriac, and Vulgate.

24Boling, Ruth, pp. 130-33 has an excellent discussion of the literary skill of the narrator.

25Ibid., p. 124, “Ruth’s action has put Boaz on the spot, and that is what it was intended to do. Boaz must now act, and, of course he will do so in accordance with what righteous human behavior calls for.”

26In 1:9 she prays that Yahweh will make it possible for the girls to find מְנוּחָה menuḥah (“rest”) each in the house of her husband. Now Naomi sets out to assist Yahweh in the fulfillment by seeking מָנוֹחַ manoaḥ “rest.” Joüon, Ruth, says this is a different form but with the same sense, p. 63.

27Hebrew: “which will be good for you.”

28“The verbal link [with 1:9] invites the reader to consider whether subsequent events are to be viewed not only as the consequence of Naomi’s scheming, but also the result of her prayer in 1:8-9,” Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 681.

29See Joüon, Ruth, pp. 64-65 for a fuller discussion of winnowing.

30Hebrew uses the waw consecutive perfect as an imperative.

31Block argues that these actions indicate an end of her mourning for husband. This is attractive, but there is no way to know how long her mourning period was, Judges, Ruth, p. 684.

32Joüon, Ruth, p. 68.

33Waw consecutive perfect again as an imperative or a request.

34The only occurrence of this word. It is probably the same as the garment in 3:3, Boling, Ruth, p. 127.

35We are not sure of the amount, but it was a lot! He did not want to send her to her mother-in-law empty, the same word Naomi used of herself in 1:21, Boling, Ruth, p. 128.

36Hebrew: “He went,” but a lot of MSS have “She went.”

37Block, Judges, Ruth, says that the lack of the usual waw consecutive imperfect to show sequence, “by front-loading Boaz, the reader’s attention is drawn to this character. Admittedly Ruth’s fate will be a key issue in the court proceedings, but the narrator hereby forces the reader to focus on Boaz,” p. 704.

38See Block, Judges, Ruth, for a discussion of God’s hidden hand in the events, p. 705

39Of course, these are the narrator’s words. Boaz would have used his name, Joüon, Ruth p. 76, but see Boling’s long discussion, Ruth, pp. 142-43.

40Ibid., for a discussion of the time of selling, but see Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 710, for an entirely different discussion of the meaning of this word.

41The KJV translates “Thou must buy it also of Ruth . . .” They are following the MT, but most now treat the מ “m” from as an enclitic “m,” used for emphasis.

42Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 715, says, “Because the personal story of these characters must lead inexorably and ultimately to David, this sentence is one of the most significant in the book.”

43See Joüon, Ruth, pp. 80-81, for a discussion of the nearer kinsman’s situation relative to the property.

44This was another story of levirate marriage. Judah refused his third son to Tamar, who then tricked Judah into fathering her child.

45Deere, Deuteronomy, p. 303.

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