Bible Commentary: Ruth 4

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Ruth 4

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Redemption and Marriage 

Because Boaz was not the nearest kinsman, he had to give the choice to the nearer kinsman of whether to redeem Naomi’s land and marry Ruth or not. This was a serious choice because it was not just about inheriting land or marrying a widow, it was about continuing a family line. Several interesting things take place in this story. Verse 2 speaks of Boaz going before 10 elders of the city. According to the  Interpreters One Volume Commentary,  this incident provided a precedent for the later view that 10 men formed a quorum.

In addressing his relative before the quorum, Boaz informs him that with the land comes the obligation to marry Ruth (verse 5). But why would this be? And why does the land have to be bought from Naomi? Isn’t the whole problem that someone else now possessed the land?

First of all, we should understand that when land was sold in Israel, it was more like a lease or rental agreement since all land reverted to the original owner at the Jubilee, every 50th year. The original owner and his family still possessed title to the land. Elimelech sold his land in time of hardship. That land was redeemable by Elimelech’s family through paying the “balance of the lease” to the current occupant. Title would have passed to Elimelech’s sons and on down to the nearest of kin. Widows, however, were not listed in the line of inheritance (see Numbers 27:8-11 Numbers 27:8-11 8 And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. 9 And if he have no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 And if he have no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 And if his father have no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the LORD commanded Moses.
American King James Version×
). The nearest kinsman would thus seem to automatically become the new owner of the property. So why would he need to purchase it from the widow?

Keil and Delitzsch’s  Commentary on the Old Testament  explains: “The question arises, what right had Naomi to sell her husband’s land as her own property?… The true explanation is no doubt the following: The law relating to the inheritance of the landed property of Israelites who died childless did not determine the time when such a possession should pass to the relatives of the deceased, whether immediately after the death of the owner, or not until after the death of the widow who was left behind.

“No doubt the latter was the rule established by custom, so that the widow remained in possession of the property as long as she lived; and for that length of time she had the right to sell the property in case of need, since the sale of a field was not an actual transfer of title but simply the sale of the yearly produce until the year of jubilee.

“The field of the deceased Elimelech would, strictly speaking, have belonged to his sons, and after their death to Mahlon’s widow (Ruth), since Chilion’s widow had remained behind in her own country Moab. But as Elimelech had not only emigrated with his wife and children and died abroad, but his sons had also been with him in the foreign land, and had married and died there, the landed property of their father had not descended to them, but had remained the property of Naomi, Elimelech’s widow, in which Ruth, as the widow of Mahlon, also had a share.

“Now, in case a widow sold the field of her deceased husband for the time that it was in her possession, on account of poverty, and a relation of her husband redeemed it, it was evidently his duty not only to care for the maintenance of the impoverished widow, but if she were still young, to marry her, and to let the first son born of such a marriage enter into the family of the deceased husband of his wife, so as to inherit the redeemed property, and perpetuate the name and possession of the deceased in Israel.

“Upon this right, which was founded upon traditional custom, Boaz based this condition, which he set before the nearer redeemer, that if he redeemed the field of Naomi he must also take Ruth, with the obligation to marry her, and through this marriage to set up the name of the deceased upon his inheritance.”

In verse 6, the near kinsman realizes that in buying the land he would be eventually giving it to heirs of Elimelech, thereby losing not only the land but also the money used to buy the land and provide for Ruth and Naomi. This he sees as ruining his own inheritance. Perhaps he already has children from a previous marriage who, he feels, would be left insufficiently provided for in such a circumstance.

Whatever the case, he defers the right of redemption to Boaz in verse 7 and gives Boaz his shoe as a witness to make it official (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10 Deuteronomy 25:5-10 5 If brothers dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without to a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother to her. 6 And it shall be, that the firstborn which she bears shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. 7 And if the man like not to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate to the elders, and say, My husband’s brother refuses to raise up to his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother. 8 Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak to him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her; 9 Then shall his brother’s wife come to him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done to that man that will not build up his brother’s house. 10 And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that has his shoe loosed.
American King James Version×
). This “custom itself, which existed among the Indians and the ancient Germans, arose from the fact that fixed property was taken possession of by treading upon the soil, and hence taking off the shoe and handing it to another was a symbol of the transfer of a possession or right of ownership” (Keil and Delitzsh).

Deuteronomy 25 required spitting in the face of one who refused to fulfill the obligation of being the redeemer. That appears to be left out here—perhaps indicating some mitigating circumstances in favor of the relative, such as the children he was already providing for. Or perhaps the spitting is simply not recorded. Some believe the fact that the near relative’s name is not mentioned in the story connotes a blotting out of his name for refusing his obligation.

Boaz declares his intention to marry Ruth and all is approved. A blessing is even pronounced, invoking the example of Tamar, a former levirate marriage from whom most of the tribe of Judah had descended (Ruth 4:12 Ruth 4:12And let your house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give you of this young woman.
American King James Version×
).

The story comes to a close with Boaz marrying Ruth, and it seems that God blessed them right away with children (verse 13). Interestingly, the concluding scenes are of Naomi. The women of the community recognize that in the face of all of the difficulty Naomi had experienced, the conclusion of the matter was far better than anything that could have been anticipated. Ruth became “better to you than seven sons” (verse 15). Oddly, it is neighbor women who name the son born to Boaz and Ruth—they name him Obed, which means “Serving.” Perhaps they played a major part in helping Ruth through her pregnancy, enough so that their input was solicited and accepted.

The book finishes with a review of the genealogy that is very interesting because the genealogy has changed, with Boaz taking the place of Elimelech. Instead of losing everything, as his relative feared, Boaz gained a preeminent place in the history of Israel. In direct descent from Obed is Jesse, the father of David, from whom descended Jesus Christ.

We might wonder how, a few generations later, the descendant of a Moabitess becomes the king of Israel, when Deuteronomy 23:3 Deuteronomy 23:3An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:
American King James Version×
prohibited the descendants of Moabites from entering the congregation of the Lord for ten generations. “The Jewish Midrash implies that this prohibition related only to the women who wed Moabite males” ( Bible Reader’s Companion,  note on Ruth 1:4 Ruth 1:4And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.
American King James Version×
). We cannot, of course, know for certain. There is, it should be noted, a problem with Moabite wives in Ezra and Nehemiah’s time—but these women are pagan, not courageous women of faith who committed their lives to the true God. Ruth, on the other hand, well illustrates what the apostle Peter later said in Acts 10:34-35 Acts 10:34-35 34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35 But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him.
American King James Version×
: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” Let that be a lesson to all of us.


Supplementary Reading: “Ruth: An Example of Love and Devotion,”   The Good News,  May-June 1996, pp. 28-31.