Devotional: Ruth 4 – Choices

1) Meanwhile, Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down.

 2) Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so.

Boaz didn’t wait until threshing and the celebration of the threshing was over. The way this passage begins, we know this is the same day as his meeting with Ruth. 

The city gates were often like our modern courthouses. They were built with a little alcove in them with benches around the inside. All twelve men might have fit on the benches. People coming in and out of the city may have been able to stand around and watch what was going on. Because everyone has to walk in and out of the gates for work and trade, it is the most logical place to do business and catch someone you need to speak to. The elders of the city would have helped govern and decide disputes. This governmental structure was as legal a setup as it gets in the ancient world. What was decided here was law for the town. 

Boaz did not just take the near relative aside to deal with this issue, but also ten witnesses who had the authority to settle disputes. Instead of this being a private agreement, Boaz made it a legal settlement. This very formal action makes me wonder if there was some bad blood between these relatives or if Boaz has any reason to think this relative will go back on his word. This public action may have also been a choice to protect his reputation from seeming to steal a woman or property that belonged to another man. Lastly, this choice of making this discussion public and legal would have cemented Ruth’s future son’s right to inherit Elimelek’s estate. 

 3) Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek.

According to Numbers 27:9-11, the property was not to pass out of a family. If a man died with no sons, it would go to his brothers. If he had no brothers or children, it would go to his paternal uncles. If none of these existed, then it went to the nearest relative in his clan. We already know that Boaz is from the same clan as Elimelek, but we don’t know how he is related.

Naomi cannot “sell” the land to outsiders, so what this word must mean is that she is ready to transfer it to its legal inheritor or to hand over the land. Neither Naomi nor Ruth has talked to Boaz about land in the story, so Boaz is reading into the situation a lot more information than we readers have. He somehow knows from Ruth’s request for marriage that this plan is for the security of both Naomi and Ruth and the settlement of their dead husbands’ property. This is implied when Ruth tells Boaz to act as a kinsman-redeemer in the previous chapter. The writer of this book assumes that we know the Israelite laws and customs for inheritance.

 4) I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”

I will redeem it,” he said.

So Boaz does not mention Ruth at all in his first speech. The whole motivation in Naomi’s scheme was to take care of Ruth. This was also Boaz’s primary purpose. For some reason, he hides this purpose behind laws and logistics. I can’t help but think that Boaz is manipulating the situation to his best advantage. He does point out the slowness and indecisiveness of the near relative to do anything for Naomi and Ruth. He had months to come forward and has not, so Boaz is saying, “make a choice so that this can be resolved.” It almost gives the impression that Boaz is indifferent to the outcome and just wants it resolved. His action hides that he sees Ruth as the ultimate goal and makes the land, which may be irrelevant to him as the primary focus. The near relative answers with only two Hebrew words. 

 5) Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”

Boaz uses phrasing from Deut 25:7 to present the fact that the near relative must marry Ruth if he redeems the land. This law only requires brothers to marry a widow, but Boaz is bringing up the spirit of the law as the focus, which is to preserve the family line. He also brings up that Ruth is a Moabite. This near relative may not have had much acquaintance with Ruth, so the fact that she is a foreigner is a negative stroke against her.

 6) At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”

 7) (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)

 8) So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal.

Whatever the reason, the near relative does not want to marry Ruth. It is unclear how this might endanger his estate. It could be that he is worried about Ruth not having any children or the fact that marrying a foreigner was looked down upon by Israelite law, and his father may disapprove. This near relative may be waiting for a more advantageous marriage. There are many possible factors, but this relative did not have to take time and think about it. He already knew he could not marry Ruth. He is still talking about the sale of the land, which was what he was most interested in, but Ruth was the issue that made it a bad deal for him. It is unclear if Boaz knew that this relative couldn’t marry Ruth before he made this case. He gives no hint of this in his meeting with Ruth. 

 9) Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion, and Mahlon.

 10) I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”

Boaz is very clear in his public declaration to ensure everyone understands what has happened and his intention to marry Ruth. He is publicly announcing his engagement and that her children will inherit this property. He makes no mention of his own estate, and we know that he had grain fields. If he has only one son with Ruth, his estate may be inherited by a child that does not have his last name. The firstborn of Ruth will by law now belong to the house of Elimelek. Boaz is taking a selfless gamble in marrying Ruth, but I think love sees this as a small thing. If Boaz had already thought of himself as too old to marry, then he was already resigned to the idea that he may not have a son to inherit. Inheritance was not Boaz’s concern; Ruth was. 

 11) Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.

 12) Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”

The witnesses do not just affirm Boaz’s engagement, but they also bless it. This is primarily a blessing to Boaz by not say Ruth’s name. Boaz is apparently a highly admired and respected man who everyone is cheering for. I imagine many people are thinking that he has been so good to them that he deserves all the happiness in the world. Ruth is the blessing to Boaz, and they are hoping he has many children. This, to me, also verifies that he probably had no previous children. 

13) So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.

I am sure they had a beautiful marriage since he was a rich man. I noticed that the phrase ‘the Lord enabled her to conceive’ seems to imply that she had not been able to have children before with her first husband. Having children is just a given in other parts of the Bible. Other places in the Bible just talk about a woman conceiving matter-of-factly. Ruth is only mentioned as having this one child. It seems like the Bible would have mentioned any other children if she had had any more to show God’s approval of this marriage or God’s blessing on this righteous couple. God gave her one, and this child could not have been more loved. 

 14) The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!

 15) He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

This is a remarkable blessing that the women give to Naomi. We are not told that Ruth had any more children, but this doesn’t matter. Naomi has been blessed because of Ruth. This son is not just a blessing because he will inherit the land or because he will carry Elimelek’s family name, but because Ruth bore him and Ruth is more valuable to Naomi than seven sons. In ancient times, women were rarely of much value at all, but Ruth was different. In both blessings, the one to Boaz and the one to Naomi, Ruth is the blessing. Her kindness is seen as extraordinary, and she has been the key to so much happiness. This is part of the reason she isn’t the one being blessed. This is yet another unexpected twist in this Bible story. Israel is supposed to be a blessing to the nations versus a foreigner being a blessing to Israel.

 16) Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.

 17) The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

18) This, then, is the family line of Perez:

Perez was the father of Hezron,

 19) Hezron the father of Ram,

Ram the father of Amminadab,

 20) Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,[d]

 21) Salmon the father of Boaz,

Boaz the father of Obed,

 22) Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of David.

So the blessings don’t just end with Ruth having one son or with Ruth being a blessing to a couple of people. Ruth’s descendants lead to King David, who is Israel’s greatest king, and then to Jesus, who saves the world. It is remarkable the domino effect kindness and virtue can have. Small things grow into bigger things. One action leads to another. The choices Ruth made changed not only a nation but the world.