The Invisible Hand of God

1 Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. 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. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 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.” 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.” 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.”

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. 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. 10 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.” 11 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, 12 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.” Ruth 4:1-12 ESV

While Ruth had been busy bringing Naomi up to speed on her latest encounter with Boaz, he had made his way to the city gate of Bethlehem. In an Israelite city, the city gate functioned like a city hall or town square. This narrow opening through the city’s walls was where all official business took place. Men would gather there to conduct legal transactions, land sales, and any other commercial or personal transactions. Normally, the elders of the city could be found at the gate, which was essential because they played an official role in witnessing and approving all business transactions.

So, in an attempt to settle the matter regarding who would serve as Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer, Boaz headed to the gate to meet the only other man who could serve in that capacity.

The situation concerning Naomi and Ruth was complicated. Naomi was an Israelite widow and, as such, there were certain legal issues involved. Because her two sons had died, there was no legal heir to Elimelech’s land. And in the ancient economy and legal environment of Israel, a woman was not allowed to be a landholder. So, it was necessary that a kinsman of Elimelech purchase the land so that it could remain within the inheritance of that family and tribe. God had made this requirement perfectly clear when He gave His law to the people of Israel during their exodus from Egypt.

“The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.” – Numbers 36:7-9 ESV

The kinsman-redeemer was obligated to purchase his deceased relative’s land so it might remain in the family. But in the case of Naomi, there was another aspect to the circumstance that complicated matters. Naomi was a widow without any male heirs to carry on the family name, and she was likely well past child-bearing age. But Naomi had a daughter-in-law, the widow of one of her deceased sons. According to the Mosaic law concerning levirate marriage, a kinsman was obligated to marry Ruth and ensure that she bore a male child so that Elimelech’s line could be continued.

The book of Deuteronomy provides detailed instructions concerning this matter.

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’” – Deuteronomy 25:5-10 ESV

In the book of Ruth, we are going to see Boaz acting as Ruth’s advocate and representative. As one of the two possible kinsman-redeemers, he feels a strong sense of responsibility for the well-being of Ruth and Naomi. And it seems quite clear from the previous three chapters that Boaz has strong feelings for Ruth.

In this story, the matter of the land and the marriage of Ruth are linked together. This was not a legally binding issue, but it seems that Boaz, as Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer, felt that both matters needed to be taken care of together. He felt a moral and legal obligation to see to it that Naomi and Ruth were cared for. In his mind, whoever agreed to buy the land should feel a moral obligation to take Ruth as his wife and ensure that she bear a male heir to carry on the line of Elimelech.

Once at the gate, Boaz spied the second kinsman-redeemer and called him over. He also invited some of the elders of the city. Boaz explained the nature of the situation.

“You know Naomi, who came back from Moab. She is selling the land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. I thought I should speak to you about it so that you can redeem it if you wish. If you want the land, then buy it here in the presence of these witnesses. But if you don’t want it, let me know right away, because I am next in line to redeem it after you.” – Ruth 4:3-4 NLT

Notice that Boaz withheld an important detail from the story: Ruth. He simply states that the land is available for purchase and the other relative agrees to purchase it. Then Boaz drops the bombshell.

“Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family.” – Ruth 4:5 NLT

That small bit of information proved to be a deal-breaker for the second kinsman-redeemer. So, he turned down the offer, stating, “this might endanger my own estate” (Ruth 4:6 NLT). The added obligation of marrying Ruth was more than he was willing to take on. So, he passed on his kinsman-redeemer responsibility to Boaz. Following the protocol outlined in the Deuteronomy passage above, “the other family redeemer drew off his sandal as he said to Boaz, ‘You buy the land’” (Ruth 4:8 NLT).

Having legally purchased the land, Boaz states his intention to take Ruth as his wife.

“You are witnesses that today I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. And with the land I have acquired Ruth, the Moabite widow of Mahlon, to be my wife. This way she can have a son to carry on the family name of her dead husband and to inherit the family property here in his hometown. You are all witnesses today.” – Ruth 4:9-10 NLT

The elders of the city of Bethlehem seal the deal by giving their blessing to the transaction.

“We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” – Ruth 4:11-12 NLT

Little did they know how prophetic their words would prove to be. The prophet Micah would later write: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf” (Micah 5:6 ESV). Hundreds of years later, the wise men who arrived in Jerusalem in search of the newly born king of the Jews would quote the Hebrew prophets:

And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel. – Matthew 2:6 NLT

Little did those elders know how accurate their pronouncement of blessing on Boaz’s marriage to Ruth would be. Ruth would prove to be fruitful, eventually bearing a son named Obed. And Matthew records in his genealogy of Jesus how Obed would play a role in the lineage of Jesus.

…Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king… – Matthew 1:5-6 ESV

That Matthew goes on to list Jesus as the crowning fruit of that long genealogical line.

…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. – Matthew 1:16 ESV

But Boaz knew none of this at the time. He was simply doing what he believed to be the right and honorable thing to do. But God was orchestrating his actions and directing every detail of his story in order to bring about His divine will and to set the stage for the arrival of His Son, the Messiah.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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