Ruth 4:1-22

“Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out,” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”[1] This is the last dialogue that is given to Naomi in the book of Ruth. In fact, neither Naomi nor Ruth have any dialogue whatsoever in the concluding chapter of the book. Up until this point, Naomi and Ruth were seemingly the main players; now, however, the focus shifts from the once-embittered widow and her faithful Moabite daughter-in-law, to the work of the kinsman-redeemer, Boaz. In the third chapter of the book, the worthy man[2] had promised that Naomi and Ruth would be redeemed; but, the means of their redemption was somewhat unclear. The reason for this was that Boaz was not, as Naomi seemed to think, the nearest go’el, or kinsman-redeemer. He tells Ruth, “And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I.”[3] Boaz set himself the task of settling the matter one way or the other; that is, either this other fellow would redeem the land and continue Elimelech’s inheritance and family name through Ruth, or Boaz would. Whichever was to be the case in the will of the LORD, Ruth and Naomi would be provided for, Elimelech’s inheritance would continue in the tribe of Judah, and Mahlon’s name would be preserved through levirate marriage. Ruth and Boaz passed the night on the threshing floor, and in the morning, both the worthy young Moabite convert and the worthy Ephrathite man of Bethlehem went their separate ways – Ruth home to her mother-in-law to wait, and Boaz to the gates of Bethlehem.

Thus, we find him in our passage today. Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. In our time, when one wants to make a legal transaction, the place of deciding and authorizing such a transaction is the courthouse. In Boaz’ time, though, the place where legal transactions were to be made was the gate of the city. The gate served as both the city court and a kind of town hall; there, the elders of the city sat in judgment to decide cases, and also acted as legal witnesses to transactions that took place. In Deuteronomy 25, we find that the issue of levirate marriage – that is, a living brother continuing his dead brother’s name through marrying and having children with his dead brother’s wife – was often decided at the gates of the city, specifically when the brother refused to fulfill his duty to his brother’s wife.[4] In Boaz’ case, it is the opposite; he is seeking to marry Ruth and redeem the fields of Elimelech; in other words, Boaz is seeking to obey God’s law. As there is a redeemer nearer than Boaz, the situation becomes somewhat complicated, as we see in the following verses. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. Before we continue, it is of note that the nearer redeemer is never truly named. In this chapter, and really throughout the book, we have seen that names are very important; the main problem that needs to be resolved in this book is the issue of continuing the family name of Elimelech. The nearer redeemer, though, is never given a name. Rather, the words here translated as “friend” seem to be a jab at this fellow; it would be equivalent to our “Mr. So-and-So”, a phrase that is often used not only because the name is not remembered, but in the grand scheme of things, the name doesn’t matter. It’s likely that Boaz knew this man’s real name; but the prophet who is writing the account is helping us to see that in God’s grand scheme of redemption, Mr. So-and-So doesn’t play a part. This becomes clear as the narrative continues.

And [Boaz] took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. Court is in session. And Boaz, though a worthy man and innocent as a dove, reveals that he is also shrewd as a snake.[5] Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” What a salesman is Boaz! It is as though he has said, “Mr. So-and-So, have I got good news for you! Naomi, our relative Elimelech’s widow, is looking to sell Elimelech’s land; as you’re the nearest redeemer, I thought I’d tell you first; even though I’m next in line, by law you have the right of redemption.” Note that Boaz has left out a key component – namely, Ruth! But, given the prospect of increasing his inheritance, and no doubt becoming wealthy in the process, Mr. So-and-So decides that he will indeed redeem the land. Not only would this land become his, but it would be passed down to his children; his name and his now increased land would be perpetuated in Israel. It’s a no-lose situation, and the man rushes to take advantage of it… but, Boaz wasn’t finished. Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Ever so suddenly, all the air that had inflated Mr. So-and-So’s dreams escapes. As Proverbs tells us, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”[6] Unlike Boaz, this fellow, before the witnesses at the gate, has sworn to his hurt – but then takes it back.[7] Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.” Why has the man’s view so changed as if in an instant? If he had redeemed the land from childless Naomi, the land would have been his to pass on to his children after his death. However, if he was to have a child with Ruth, the child would perpetuate Mahlon’s name, and the land would belong to the child. In other words, in having a child with Ruth, not only would he have to provide for Ruth and the child and Naomi, but the land which he purchased would eventually become the child’s who would perpetuate the name of Mahlon. What had looked to him like a sure investment, was now seen as an unfruitful financial risk. Dean Ulrich writes, “Mr. So-and-So comes across as a calculating businessman. His only concern is the bottom line. The thought of giving of himself for others, especially his deceased relatives, was not on his radar screen. He seemingly had no appreciation for grace, either received or given.”[8] How like Orpah, whose initial promise was quickly broken when the reality of the hard life of destitution in Bethlehem set in! How like so many who make vows to Christ for the crown, and then walk away because of the cross! Because he would not give of himself for the glory of God and the good of his neighbors, because he sought to save his life instead of losing it in service to God, because he refused to fulfill his promise and perpetuate the name of the dead, this man is forever unnamed. He bears his shame to this day! Oh sinner! Do you flee from the Christ when the heat of adversity arises, ashamed of His name before others?[9] ashamed to bear the cross in the hope of a future crown? Your name will be forgotten, and in its place will be only “condemned” for all eternity! If you care more for making a name for yourself and for your earthly possessions than for glorifying the name of God in acts of selflessness and grace, then your name will perish, and all your possessions will rot to nothing.

The narrative continues with a peculiar custom: Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. Though it’s unclear precisely what is represented in this action, it is clear that once the sandal was in the other’s hand, the transaction had been finalized as surely had they put their name to a contract. Mr. So-and-So had forfeited his rights as kinsman-redeemer; the nameless obstruction had been removed, and nothing now stood in Boaz’ way. He would redeem the land, and marry Ruth! Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also, Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” First, Boaz calls the elders and the people at the gate to bear witness that he is acting as the kinsman-redeemer in buying from Naomi the land that had belonged to Elimelech, and subsequently, to his two sons. Elimelech’s inheritance would continue in the land of Judah. This much, ol’ What’s-His-Name was willing to do. After all, it was the financially beneficial side of the deal. But, Boaz goes further. Not only was he to redeem the land, but, second, he was to redeem for himself an excellent wife whose value far exceeded that of the land![10] Through her, Boaz hoped to perpetuate the name of his dead relative; when the child was born, he would be born in the name of Mahlon, and eventually the inheritance which Boaz was now purchasing would go to him. Boaz would care for Ruth and her mother-in-law; Boaz would raise any child God gave to his marriage with Ruth; Boaz would fulfill his word to the young widow from Moab who had faithfully sought refuge under the wings of the God of Israel.[11] At great cost to himself, the worthy man would redeem the woman of faith. If the other kinsman-redeemer, Mr. So-and-So, was the precise opposite of Christ’s self-giving love, here Boaz proves to be a true type of Christ the Redeemer in that, at great cost to himself, he fulfills the covenant he made with Ruth, and redeems her to be his own bride. As beautiful as the shadow is, how much more beautiful is the substance! If these pages could breathe, no doubt they would join in singing: “From heav’n He came and sought her, to be His holy Bride! With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died!”[12] What a Redeemer is Christ! He is, in Himself, the manifestation of God’s steadfast love to sinners like you and me. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”[13] We did not redeem ourselves; just as Ruth and Naomi waited to see the outcome, so we, helpless, must look to another for our redemption. And for those who have, by God’s grace, sought refuge by faith in Christ the Redeemer, the redemption price has been paid by His blood! “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats or calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”[14] The whole universe bears witness! Christ has redeemed His Bride, the Church, for all eternity! Glory be to our Lord Jesus Christ! to the One Who paid our redemption price! Sinner, have you been united to Christ through faith in Him and His completed redemption? Are you covered by the corners of His garment?

Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman.” Here the elders rejoice and bless Boaz for his selfless act of redemption. And the blessing is not for Boaz only, but for Ruth as well. First, they pray that the union of Ruth and Boaz be a blessing and edification, not only for themselves, but like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel, their union should result in the edification of the whole of Israel. Of course, this is a reference to the beginnings of the tribes of Israel, when God blessed Jacob with twelve sons through his wives and their servants.[15] As we will see, though, the fulfillment of this blessing will be even greater than what was in the minds of the elders and people when they uttered it. Their prayer was that the union of Ruth and Boaz would build up the Israel that was in ruins during the time of the judges. Second, they bless Boaz, saying, “May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem.” As to the translation of “act worthily”, the context would seem to suggest that a better translation, and one within the semantic range of the Hebrew, is “prosper in Ephrathah”; in other words, they are praying that Boaz should have prosperity. What’s interesting about the second part of this particular blessing, however, is that “be renowned” is literally rendered, “[have a] name”; they pray that Boaz would “[have a] name” in Bethlehem. Unlike the forgotten Mr. So-and-So, the name of Boaz would continue; indeed, his name would be included in the genealogy of the One Whose name is above every name![16] Finally, they pray that Boaz’ house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman.” Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah, was the victim of a refusal of her husband’s brothers to take up the responsibility of levirate marriage. She was also a Gentile. Through her charade as a prostitute, she seduced Judah, her father-in-law, and from their union came a son, Perez,[17] who himself was an ancestor of Boaz. In this, they pray that God would continue His redemptive purpose through the union between an Israelite and a Gentile, just as He had done through the union of their ancestor Judah and the Gentile Tamar.

The day of redemption had come, and Boaz took Ruth to be his lawfully-wedded wife! So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. The rest for which Ruth had so longed, and for which Naomi prayed for her daughter-in-law,[18] had finally been given to her by her faithful God. She was no longer the Moabite; she was a daughter of Abraham, a worthy woman married to a worthy man, and a mother of a wee Israelite. Naomi, Mara the bitter, the empty-handed, now had her hands full with the son born in her son’s name; all that she had lost had been restored to her and more! She was the mother-in-law of a woman who was worth more to her than seven sons! To her, this little one would act as a restorer of life and a nourisher of her old age; this little redeemer would basically bring her back to life and sustain her in her elder years. As she held him in her lap, and the women sang, “A son has been born to Naomi!”, one wonders at her elation, knowing that her family’s name and inheritance would continue through this baby. God’s providence that had once been a dark cloud had broken upon Naomi’s bitterness in sweet rain; she now held in her lap a child that cooed God’s steadfast love for her. And the child’s name? Obed, which means “servant”. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. From this servant would come the king who would rebuild Israel, breathing life into the death of the period of the judges. David would come – a son of Judah, of Perez, of Hezron and Ram and Amminadab and Nahshon and Salmon, of Boaz and Ruth, of Obed, of Jesse – and through him God would bring rest to the Promised Land. But, O! how much more! From Obed would come the King Who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many![19] Great David’s greater Son would one day come to save His people! “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”[20]

 

 

[1] Ruth 3:18

[2] Ruth 2:1

[3] Ruth 3:12

[4] Deuteronomy 25:7-10

[5] Matthew 10:16

[6] Proverbs 18:13

[7] Psalm 15:4

[8] Dean R. Ulrich, From Famine to Fullness: The Gospel According to Ruth (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007), 131.

[9] Luke 9:26

[10] Proverbs 31:10

[11] Ruth 2:12

[12] Samuel John Stone, “The Church’s One Foundation”, 1866.

[13] 1 John 4:9

[14] Hebrews 9:12

[15] Genesis 29:31-30:24; 35:16-21

[16] Philippians 2:9; Matthew 1:5

[17] Genesis 38

[18] Ruth 1:9; 3:1

[19] Matthew 20:28

[20] Psalm 136:1

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