April 6, 2020

Sealing the Deal

Ordinary Time Bible Study 2011
The Book of Ruth (11)

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. Boaz chose ten of the village leaders and said, “Sit down here!” So they sat down.

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. 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.”

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.” 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.” (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.) So the guardian said to Boaz, “You may acquire it,” and he removed his sandal.

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. 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 (NetBible)

When last we saw Boaz, he had promised Ruth that he would take her as his wife and provide for her, her mother-in-law, and the family’s future. One obstacle stood in the way: there was a nearer kinsman who had the first right and obligation to care for Elimelech’s kin.

The next morning, Boaz went to the city gate in Bethlehem. Everyone would pass through this gate on the way to the fields, so it was a likely place to run into the nearer kinsman. Furthermore, it was the public and legal square for the city, where official decisions were made and ratified. It was here that Boaz hoped to complete publicly what he had promised Ruth in private.

We are uncertain about many elements of the social and legal process that Boaz undertakes here, but what happens is this:

  • This is a family matter, and so Boaz and the kinsman work this out between them.
  • Because it involved transfer of property and legal rights, the elders of the city were asked to witness the transaction to guarantee propriety and fairness.
  • Boaz begins by giving notice that Elimelech’s land is for sale and that the kinsman has first right to buy it.
  • The kinsman jumps at the chance. It will add to his estate, and the proceeds from the land’s sale and use can be used to support Naomi.

It is right here that this “courtroom drama” reaches the peak of tension. If the nearer kinsman buys the family land, then he will be the one to provide for Naomi. Is Boaz going to be out of the picture? Where does Ruth fit in? What about Boaz’s promise to her? What is Boaz’s plan here?

  • At that point, Boaz inserts a crucial stipulation — “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.”
  • The dynamic of the situation now changes completely. Until then, the nearer kinsman thought he had started his day off by getting a good deal on some property, with no strings attached and little risk. However, if marriage to Ruth and raising up descendants for Elimelech is part of the bargain, it will be no bargain at all. The land he thought would become part of his estate would go to Ruth’s children. He would also be responsible to care not only for Naomi and Ruth, but also for any children that were subsequently born. Furthermore, those children would stand to inherit from the rest of his estate, thus diminishing it further. A good deal suddenly didn’t look so good.

And so the nearer kinsman declines, leaving Boaz free to purchase the property, marry Ruth, and raise up descendants for Elimelech and Naomi’s family.

The transaction between these two characters is parallel to the story of Orpah and Ruth in chapter one. There, both young women faced the choice to leave their land, their home, their people, their gods, their entire way of life in order to return to Bethlehem with Naomi. From the perspective of wisdom and common sense, that was a poor choice. So Orpah decided to stay in Moab. She did the sensible thing, the “right” thing as it were. However, Ruth threw caution to the wind and showed extraordinary love and loyalty (hesed) toward Naomi, refusing to leave her side.

When we studied that passage we made these comments: “Orpah is convinced. She decides to return home. Should we fault her for this? I think not. We have seen that Naomi herself had acknowledged all her previous acts of kindness. For years, Orpah had proven herself a loyal wife and daughter-in-law. By going home now, she is respectfully taking Naomi’s counsel, which in context, is wise and loving. Orpah is doing the sensible, responsible thing. We should not imagine some flaw of character in her. She does what is right.”

Nor should we, I think, fault this nearer kinsman for his prudent act of declining to buy Naomi’s property and marry Ruth. However, as Orpah served as a foil to highlight the extraordinary character of Ruth’s faith and love toward her mother-in-law, so the nearer kinsman’s rejection of this offer points out the “above and beyond” nature of Boaz’s actions toward these two poor women — he sacrificed his own settled life to give life to others.

Many have seen Boaz as a type of our Savior. And so he is.

Comments

  1. “he sacrificed his own settled life to give life to others.”

    Not once does the Bible say Boaz loved Ruth, but I mean, come on. It starts in 2:5 and culminates in their marriage. He was overly generous from the onset and had to scheme to get her. Boaz never says it, but he’s a man, we all know. Right?

  2. CM, as I’ve stated every week….this is a great series, one which I will most definitely be plagiarizing in some teaching setting in the future.

    Keep up the incredible work, and thanks to you, Damaris, Jeff, etc, for being an important part of my morning routine!

  3. A great nuance that was pointed out to me recently is that the kinsman-redeemer, who was seeking to protect his inheritance, his “name” so to speak, ends up nameless in the retelling. Boaz, who sacrificed his own security is the one whose name lived on into the present day.

    • Yes! I was thinking the same thing. The two people who gave up their identities, Ruth for Naomi and Boaz for both women, end up immortalized in Scripture and honored with a place in the Davidic/Messianic lineage. I agree that none of the others did anything wrong but it just brings to mind the upsidedown idea of Matthew 16:25 – “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

    • Good point, Nate. Bible readers have always wondered why the author of Ruth has Boaz call out to the kinsman using the name, “Mr. So and So.” Your explanation may be a part of the answer why.

  4. Are you really taking time off, now that the Southern Baptists have announced that they may change their name? How can you walk away from fodder like that? 😉

  5. Thanks for this awesome series. I have enjoyed every post, and learned so much. It has really answered some questions I have had – and brought up some points that didn’t even occur to me.

    A couple years ago I wrote a “fictionalized” novel of the Ruth story for the annual NaNoWriMo write-a-novel-in-November challenge. But there were some points I just couldn’t seem to put together so I shelved the project after I completed the first draft … now I’m thinking maybe it’s time to pull it out and work on it again 🙂 Thanks!