Matrimony: Boaz Redeems & Marries Ruth (Ruth 4)

Court Proceedings (4.1-12)

The Hebrew sentence structure indicates a new scene. Boaz had promised Ruth that he would act “in the morning” (3.13). Naomi was confident Boaz “will not rest” until he had settled the matter. So we can conclude that there is no large span of time between the end of chapter 3 and beginning of chapter 4. Boaz is taking care of business. This scene begins with Boaz going to “the gate” of the city. Baldwin explains, “The main gate of the town served as the local law court. Planned with an open space around which benches provided places to sit in the shade of the high walls, the gate was a natural meeting place. It had the advantage of being open to the public, who could observe that justice was done.”[1] Therefore, Boaz takes his seat and waits for the kinsman-redeemer to show up.

Boaz does not wait long for the kinsman-redeemer to show up. Boaz invites the redeemer to “turn aside” and “sit down” which he does. We know very little about this man. We don’t even know the man’s name. Boaz’s address of this man has caused some fits for translators. The Hebrew translates to something akin to “Mr. So-and-So” in English. In fact, the NET translates it as “John Doe” with a footnote that includes “Mr. No-Name.”[2] The ambiguity concerning this man’s name is appropriate given the many names with which the chapter will conclude. He does nothing of significance and even refuses to perform the duty of the kinsman-redeemer.

The nearer kinsman-redeemer has taken his place. Boaz then builds the quorum so he can begin legal proceedings. In contrast with the informal calling over of John Doe, “took” seems to indicate Boaz intentionally went out to select these men. These select men will serve as witnesses. The Levirate Law does not specify how many elders are required. Two or three witnesses would suffice under the law in other legal proceedings. Boaz’s ten elders seems to indicate the importance of cases such as his. The legal assembly is convened when the ten elders take their seats.

Verses 3 and 4 are Boaz laying out the situation for John Doe. Naomi is selling the usage rights of the land which belonged to her husband Elimelech. The land was to stay in the family passed down father to sons. With the death of Elimelech and his sons, the right of inheritance would have passed on in a certain order: first, brothers, then, if no brothers, paternal uncles, and finally, if no paternal uncles, the man’s nearest relative (Num 27.9-11). John Doe is the nearest relative, though his relation is not specified. He has the right to redeem the portion of land if he so chooses. If he will not redeem it, the right passes to Boaz, the next nearest relative. The decision is John Doe’s to make.

Boaz’s decision to leave Ruth unnamed thus far in the court proceedings is noteworthy. He has only informed John Doe of the redemption of the land. The reader may wonder why Boaz has left off that very important bit of information. Lange suggests Boaz did not want to appear as though he was only bringing this up to John Doe on behalf of the widow.[3] Others suggest that Naomi only is mentioned since she is directing the negotiations and Boaz wanted to avoid suspicion of needing to marry the foreign women before first making the offer.[4] It may just be that long before Perry Mason, Boaz had a flare for the dramatic in court proceedings.

Initially, John Doe agrees to redeem the land. It is at this point that Boaz lays the remainder of the situation before John Doe: the land comes with the widow Ruth the Moabitess, “to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance” (5). As the kinsman-redeemer, though, John Doe would not only inherit the rights of the land, he would also be responsible to continue the lineage of Elimelech through the widow of one of his sons (which we will not know until verse 9), Ruth the Moabite. It is this right of inheritance which dissuades John Doe from redeeming the land. Technically, according to the letter of the Law, John Doe was not required to marry Ruth. He could redeem the land and not marry Ruth and still be within the legal demands of the Levirate Law (cf. Deut 25.5-10). However, as Block explains, Boaz “was not appealing to the letter of the law but its spirit.”[5] He is prepared to live up to the spirit of the Law; will the kinsman-redeemer?

John Doe says he cannot redeem the land “lest I impair my own inheritance” (6). His dilemma is four-fold.[6] First, he could redeem the land, marry Ruth, and take care of Naomi. Second, he could redeem the land, promise to marry Ruth, then back out of this commitment once the deal was done. Third, he could refuse to redeem the land thereby passing the right on to Boaz, something Boaz has already expressed interest in. Finally, he could redeem the land and let Boaz fulfill the levirate obligation. This course, though, would hurt him financially in the long-run if Boaz and Ruth had a son since the son would inherit the land John Doe had paid for. Factoring in all the financial and, perhaps, ethical implications, John Doe choses the third option, doing so emphatically; twice he says “I cannot redeem it” and he tells Boaz “take my right of redemption yourself.”

John Doe’s verbal declaration is followed by a non-verbal declaration which confirms and solemnizes the whole proceedings (verses 7-8). Verse 7 serves as a parenthetical explanation for the reader unfamiliar with the finalization of “redeeming and exchanging.” “In former times in Israel” may indicate that the practice had fallen out of use at the time of the writing. Keil and Delitzsch explain that the sandal became a symbol of transference of property because it was understood that one took possession of property by walking upon it with the foot.[7] Absent from the description are several elements found in Deuteromony 25.9-10: the woman being the agent of sandal removal, spitting in the face, solemn declaration (“So shall it be done, etc.”), and change of name (Unsandaled family). Of course, technically Ruth is not his brother’s wife. So this whole legal scene plays out according to the spirit of the law. Elimelech’s land will stay in the family, the widows Naomi and Ruth will be cared for, and the lineage will continue. Everything intended by the Law will be upheld.

Boaz has successfully navigated the legal proceedings (8). With the declaration for Boaz to buy the land himself John Doe removes his sandal. As the sandal is extended to him, Boaz recognizes that he has fulfilled his word to Ruth. Any anxiety Ruth suffered since she learned of a closer kinsman will dissipate with the sandal exchange. As he takes the sandal, Boaz it signals the closing of the deliberations.

What remains is the actual declaration of the legal transfer that has taken place. Boaz, in his final words in the book, then declares to the ten elders as well as to a crowd of “all the people” who have apparently gathered to watch the court case that they are witnesses. The phrase “You are witnesses today” bookends the actual declaration. Boaz emphasizes his two-fold actions: he has purchased of the land of Elimelech and “all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon” (9) and included with the purchase is Ruth the Moabite who will be his wife (10).

Boaz has three goals for redeeming Ruth (10). First, “to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” This was the same proposition put to John Doe (see v.5). Second, “that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers.” Thus Boaz would ensure that the lineage of Elimelech did not go extinct. Third, “that the name of the dead may not be cut off…from the gate of his native place.” This would ensure that Elimelech would always have representation at the city gate. These goals are likewise witnessed by the crowd and elders.

Everyone at the gate affirm that they are witnesses to the legal proceedings. The crowds invoke a blessing from Yahweh. Rachel & Leah invoked as figures of women whose wombs were opened by the Yahweh (esp. Leah, Gen 29.31-30.24). The people recognize these two women “built up together the house of Israel. This blessing is profound since it seeks to seat Ruth the Moabite with the matriarchs of Israel. The crowds also charge Boaz to “act worthily” and “be renowned in Bethlehem.” The phrase “act worthily” could refer to either financial prosperity,[8] social standing,[9] or reproductive fertility.[10] For Boaz to “be renowned” could speak to Boaz becoming famous (so the NIV). Finally, they invoke yet another blessing from Yahweh. This time another earlier Levirate Law case is mentioned, that of Judah and Tamar (see Gen 38). There is no connection between the character of Judah and Boaz nor Tamar and Ruth. Rather, the people’s blessing must be understood through the lens of a lesser to greater. In other words, if Yahweh had blessed the sordid union of Judah and Tamar with a double portion, then certainly He will bless Boaz and Ruth who are models of a high ethical standard.

Genealogical Considerations (4.13-20)

Verse 13 serves as a time lapse report. Boaz and Ruth are married and at least nine months later Ruth gives birth to a son. Yahweh is acknowledged as the Giver of the child since He “gave her conception.” The implication is that during her decade long marriage to Mahlon Ruth was barren. Now in answer to the prayers of the crowd at the city gate Yahweh yet again “visited His people” by giving Ruth a child.

In response to the grace of Yahweh upon Boaz and Ruth the women of the city break out in spontaneous praise to Yahweh (14a). Their stirring at the beginning of the book when Naomi returned (1.19) is similarly reflected here. The women are stirred this time to utter a blessing to the God of Israel. God is to praised for not leaving Naomi without a kinsman-redeemer. So she who returned empty has been filled through this son.

The women then turn their attention to the boy and bless him (14b-15). First, they seek for his name to “become famous” in Israel (NASB). Second, they declare that Naomi’s emptiness if ended since the child will be “a restorer of life” to Naomi and, presumably when he is grown, will sustain Naomi in her old age (literally, grey hair). The bitter emptiness that death brought her has been reversed (perhaps even resurrected) in the child born to Ruth. Third, there is a statement made about Ruth. She loves Naomi, they say, and she is more valuable than seven sons, having given birth to the boy. Truly, Ruth has loved Naomi, not only in staying with Naomi through all the calamity of chapter 1, nor in finding gainful employment to support both of them in chapter 2, but also in risking her reputation and very life to follow the plan of Naomi in chapter 3. The birth of the son who is, to these women, the kinsman-redeemer (though not a technical or legal way) of Naomi is yet another demonstration of Ruth’s love for Naomi. Certainly with this blessing whatever bitterness lingered in Naomi has dissipated.

The final two verses which close out the narrative (16-17) contain a summation of the story. Naomi receives the child onto her lap and becomes his nurse. Naomi’s emptiness is filled as she takes the child onto her lap and cares for him. Finally, the women name the boy and we find out his identity in the grand scheme of things. This completes the symmetry of the book as the neighbor women who had declared “Is this Naomi?” (1.19) now declare “Naomi has a son” and give him a name. He is Obed (his name means “one who serves”), the grandfather of the man who would be King David.

So the book ends with a final genealogical account tracing the Davidic lineage. It begins with Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar. Ten generations are listed, most of them nothing else is written about these men but their name. They served their purpose in their generation then died. So too does Obed. No other stories are tied to him. He too served his purpose: a comfort to Naomi, but also carrying on the lineage of David.

[1] Baldwin, 293.

[2] English is not the only language which has had difficulty with the phrase פְּלֹנִ֣י אַלְמֹנִ֑י. The Septuagint translates to “O Stranger” and the Vulgate side steps the issue with the ambiguous phrase “he called to him by name” (NAB).

[3] John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Ruth (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 47.

[4] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 175.

[5] Block, 715.

[6] See Block, 716, who summarizes a summarization of Bush’s comments.

[7] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 358.

[8] The NASB emphasizes this translating וַעֲשֵׂה־חַיִל “may you achieve wealth.”

[9] So the NIV reads “may you have standing.”

[10] So the NRSV reads “may you produce children.”