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Deeper Commentary


Ruth 4:1 Now Boaz went up to the gate-
This fits exactly with Bethlehem being built on a ridge. The accuracy of fine details like this throughout the Biblical record confirm that indeed the Bible is not a fictional work of men but the inspired words of God.

And sat down there. When the near kinsman of whom Boaz spoke came by he said to him, Come over here, friend, and sit down! He turned aside, and sat down-
The near kinsman sits down, and in :2 the elders sit down. This all leads on from the information in Ruth 3:18 that Ruth too is sitting down, but at home, nervously and eagerly awaiting the result of the sitting down of the men. This is all part of the inspired story line and suspense. For we all want to know whether Ruth ends up having to marry a man who doesn't love her when she has already a lover. The narrative of loveless marriages, girls loving men whom they can't marry and marrying men they don't love and who don't love them... this has for ever been the stuff of Middle Eastern stories. And there is that intrigue inserted into this story, a kind of carrot to get human attention- in order to introduce us to some of the profoundest issues of Divine and human grace.


Ruth 4:2 He took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit down here. They sat down-
Note the emphasis upon sitting down; see on :1. It's as if the cameraman of Divine inspiration is zoomed in close on the men in the scene; truly we can play Bible television with these verses.

Ruth 4:3 He said to the near kinsman: Naomi, who has come back out of the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s-
Just as Boaz had no legal necessity to allow gleaning in his fields, nor was he legally obligated to be the goel to Ruth (see previous discussions in Ruth 2,3), so he here appears to be somewhat stretching legal truths. For this is the first we hear of Naomi owning land. Mosaic law didn't allow inheritance by a widow (Num. 27:8-11); the property was to pass to the husband's family, not to his widow. Elimelech had long since left Israel and forsaken his inheritance, and we would assume that his parcel of land had passed already to someone else. And there appears no legal requirement for the kinsman to consider the land as jointly owned now by Ruth and Naomi, and to make purchase of the land contingent upon marrying Ruth and having children by her. The issue of property seems unrelated to the levirate law which Boaz was seeking to apply to himself. Surely he could have offered Ruth in marriage to the near kinsman, and married her if he refused.

We naturally enquire why he raises this issue of property. There are various options. It could simply be that there were Jewish laws in place at the time which we don't have access to, and Boaz is alluding to them. For in practice, the Mosaic laws would have required other practical laws added to them in order to enable to functioning of society in practice. Or perhaps the parcel of land in view had been inherited by Naomi from her father, in a situation akin to that of Zelophehad's daughters in Num. 27; or maybe Naomi was related to her husband Elimelech, which might explain their lack of children and poor health of the two who survived to adulthood. Or perhaps it belonged to Naomi in the sense that it should have passed to Mahlon and Chilion, but as they were dead, she was their legal representative and had the right to dispose of it as they were childless (:9). Or "The property was perhaps promised to Naomi as a marriage-gift or bequeathed to her at marriage to provide for her husband's predeceasing her without leaving a child".

It was absolutely possible for women to inherit property from their father (as in Job 42:13-15), and for a woman who had been a period in Gentile lands to return to Israel and have her inheritance restored (2 Kings 8:1-6). Because of her poverty, Naomi was selling the land which somehow she had legally inherited. But the need to marry Ruth if the land was purchased is not in accordance with any Mosaic legislation or even logic. Therefore it has been suggested that :5 should be translated  "On the day you acquire the field from Naomi's hand, I am acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the wife of the deceased, to raise up the name of the deceased over his inheritance". And on reflection, the near kinsman pulls out of the property acquisition because he can see legal problems developing in the next generation if Ruth has children who would also claim it.

Maybe Boaz raises this whole issue of the property simply because he indeed did want to keep the land in the power of Ruth, and he wanted to make his advertising of his marriage to Ruth somehow incidental. He would then be using the property issue as a kind of blind, a distraction, to take attention away from his declaration of intent to marry Ruth. But we wonder why the night before he had told Ruth that he would like to be her goel, but there was a nearer kinsman who legally could do this.

My preferred answer is that Naomi, the seller, had made a condition of buying the land that the purchaser also married Ruth. Any children Ruth had would then inherit the land. And therefore Boaz had been unable to agree immediately to marry Ruth because he needed to get the near kinsmen with the first right of purchase to actually not purchase it.  

I conclude, therefore, that between them, Boaz and Naomi are seeking to expand the spirit of the levirate law of Deuteronomy. The spirit of that law was that the widows should be protected and be given children. By various mechanisms and schemes, they were expanding and keeping the spirit of the law but not the letter. Yet they didn't disregard the letter of the law, but sought to give the near kinsman the opportunity to buy the field and formally turn down the chance of marrying Ruth. This is in harmony with the way that Boaz had expanded the spirit of the law about not fetching home a forgotten sheaf to mean that he allowed women to glean in his field. And this is exactly the spirit of Yahweh's redemption of His people. 

Ruth 4:4 I thought to disclose it to you saying, ‘Buy it in the presence of those who sit here, and of the elders of my people’. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not redeem it, then let me know. You have first right to redeem it; and I am next in line. He said, I will redeem it-
See on :3 for the various options of interpretation. John the Baptist's comment that he came "after" Jesus, and that Jesus was the redeemer rather than he himself (Jn. 1:15) contain a strange allusion to the words of the redeemer-who-was-incapable-of-redeeming in Ruth 4:4. Boaz told him that "I am after thee" (AV, NEV "next in line"), but in the end the incapable-redeemer plucked off his shoe as a sign of unworthiness to redeem (Ruth 4:7). And John surely also had this in mind when he commented that he was unworthy to unloose Messiah's shoe (Jn. 1:27). The allusions are surely indicative of the way John felt like the unworthy / incapable redeemer, eclipsed before Boaz / Jesus.

Ruth 4:5 Then Boaz said, On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must buy it also from Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance-
I concluded on :3 that Naomi, the seller, had made a condition of buying the land that the purchaser also married Ruth. The record doesn’t state contact between Boaz and Naomi; although see on Ruth 2:11 for the suggestion that they worked out this plan together in the months of barley and wheat harvest. Naomi had told Ruth to just sit tight and wait and see what Boaz would arrange over the next 24 hours. We note too that Boaz didn’t give the anonymous kinsman the full picture- he firstly mentioned the land for sale / redemption, and only then mentions that this would involve marrying Ruth and raising children by her in the name of Elimelech. The Levirate law only required brothers to raise up children to their dead brother. Elimelech had not died childless, so there was no legal requirement to raise up children in his name. Ruth’s former husband had no living brothers. Therefore Boaz was operating according to the spirit of the law and not the letter of it; there was no legal requirement for the kinsman to marry Ruth and have children by her. But Boaz seems to be playing legal and psychological games to make the anonymous man turn down the offer of marrying Ruth- so that Boaz could then marry her on the basis that this was his legal necessity. The truth seems to be that he fell in love with her at first sight, and was going through all this appearance of legal necessity in order to somehow legitimize that fact. We likewise noted how he spoke of Ruth and Naomi’s manipulation and desperate appeal to him for help to in fact be a display of Divine grace (see on Ruth 3:10).

 If in some way the levirate law was being strictly followed, and I discussed possibilities for this line of thought on :3, then we reflect that the principle would have often required men to become polygamous. A man "must redeem" the property of a dead relative in some cases by marrying his wife; but this would have resulted in polygamy. Boaz himself may have been already married. There are times when the standards of God contradict each other, on a surface level.

Ruth 4:6 The near kinsman said, I can’t redeem it for myself, otherwise I will spoil my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption for yourself; for I can’t redeem it-
Land at that time was organized according to strips of land within a field, rather than owning a field. Even wealthy Boaz only owned part of the field (2:3). Strip farming was very inefficient; upon death, land was split up between the children, and then when they died, the land was split up even further. The anonymous man didn’t want to have any more children because it would mean that what he was leaving as an inheritance would be even more reduced and divided. But because of that, he remains anonymous. He was concerned about what would happen over the next generation or so. By contrast, Boaz wasn’t worried about splitting up yet further the inheritance which he was leaving- and because of that, he left an inheritance which was recorded and stretched right down to the Lord Jesus.

It seems to me that the nameless relative in Ruth 4 was like so many people today. He was interested in getting a bit more land to add to his stack; but he didn't really care for the redemption of his brother, and pulled out of the whole thing once he learnt he would have to marry another wife and have more children. He said he couldn't do this because he would spoil [AV] or endanger [NIV] his inheritance. We know that at this time, strip farming was being practiced- whereby a field was split up into parts, each of which belonged to a different person (Ruth 2:3). By having more children, the man would have to split up his land into yet more parts so that each son had his strips. And the son he had by Ruth would be counted as Mahlon's son, in the spirit of the levirate marriage laws. And so his bit of land would then be separate from the land strips the man was intending to give to his existing children. Ultimately this could lead to the man's total inheritance becoming almost worthless if it was just split into tiny strips because he had too many children.

I like how the NIV has the man speaking of 'endangering' his inheritance. He was like so many people- he had say a 20 year horizon, genuinely concerned about what was best for his children in the short term, rather than thinking about his responsibility to his brother. He saw 'danger' in doing that. It could be argued that the 50 year Jubilee law meant that the land boundaries returned to how they originally were after 50 years... so perhaps [although it's hard to work out how the Jubilee law worked in practice] he was worrying about something which only had meaning for the next few decades [if that]. He wasn't a bad man; just one who was fearful and wouldn't look beyond the next 20 years or so. And I suggest the genealogy at the end of Ruth 4 comments upon this- that man is anonymous, his name never went down in history, whereas Boaz who loved his brother and didn't focus solely on his own immediate family went on to be the ancestor of both David and the Lord Jesus Himself.

Another possibility is that the man thought that marriage to Ruth was bound to spoil or destroy his inheritance or family, as she had that of Elimelech. He considered her a femme fatale. He may have seen this as just judgment for marrying a Moabitess. And he wasn't going to do the same. In this case we see how utterly wrong he was. He would be representative of the legalistic Jewish xenophobes of the postexilic period- who missed out on so much because of their attitudes.

Ruth 4:7 Now this was the custom in former time in Israel-
It can be noted that there are Aramaic terms in this verse. This confirms my suggestion on Ruth 1:16 that the book of Ruth was rewritten in exile, presenting Naomi and Ruth as examples to the exiles who were likewise intended to return to their land their God. This would explain why at this point, the author or editor sees the need to explain what the customs were "in former time in Israel", because the readership would not know this.

Concerning redeeming and concerning exchanging, to confirm all things: a man took off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour; and this was the way of affirmation in Israel-
This custom indicates that the law of Dt. 25:9 had been somewhat reduced in severity and altered. For there is no mention of spitting. We could read this as an indication of Israel’s apostasy from God’s law; or we could consider that even in Old Testament times, the essence of the Law was what was important rather than keeping the letter of it. However I have suggested on :3-5 that the levirate law did not at all require anyone to marry Ruth. Perhaps that is why the spitting was not done, only the removal of the shoe as a sign that they had indeed made the agreement.  

Ruth 4:8 So the near kinsman said to Boaz, Buy it for yourself. He took off his shoe-
We notice that this was done "in the presence of the elders" (:2), just as was required by the law of Dt. 25:7-9 if the levirate law was not followed. But there was no spitting in the face, because actually the law did not require the kinsman to marry Ruth. That was an extension of the law being added by Boaz and Naomi. However :7 may imply that this whole things was nothing to do with levirate law in itself, and taking off the shoe was simply a token of confirmation of an agreement.

Ruth 4:9 Boaz said to the elders and to all the people, You are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, from the hand of Naomi-
Presumably by this point, Naomi has appeared on the scene. Clearly there has been more collusion between her and Boaz than is recorded. The order Elimelech - Chilion - Mahlon may reflect the order in which they had died.

Ruth 4:10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, I have purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance, that the name of the dead not be cut off from among his brothers, and from the gate of his place. You are witnesses this day-
They were standing in the gate of his place, in the gate of Bethlehem (:1). Although Mahlon had been but a child when he left Bethlehem, he was still counted as being from there and somehow was rooted to the land of his inheritance. "To raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance" seems another attempt to connect the property issue to the marriage of Ruth (see on :3). This was not a connection strictly made by the levirate law. The seed did not have to be raised upon the geographical land inheritance of the deceased person. But that would indeed have been according to the spirit of the law; but it was not the letter. Naomi's selling of the land conditional upon the purchaser marrying Ruth was (see on :5) was therefore a reflection of how she [and Boaz] had worked out the spirit of the law. And indeed there is the nail-biting moment when the nearer kinsman has the opportunity to marry Ruth. When she's in love with Boaz and he with her. This arose because of their genuine desire to be obedient to the law. So in terms of the narrative, this statement of Boaz that he is going to marry Ruth leaves us all with the same sense of relief and triumph which we imagine in his voice.

Ruth 4:11 All the people who were in the gate and the elders said, We are witnesses-
Passers by had crowded around the seated elders to witness what was happening. Marriage was to be publically testified. There was not necessarily any documentary evidence, but marriage was publically acknowledged by the surrounding society in whatever form was then current. This can help us in defining marriage today. 

May Yahweh make the woman who has come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, who built the house of Israel; and treat you worthily in Ephrathah, and bring you fame in Bethlehem-
See on Ruth 3:2; 4:12. We recall that Elimelech was from Ephrath (Ruth 1:2), and perhaps Boaz was too, as he was a relative of Elimelech. The people perceived that Boaz wanted to build up the family of Elimelech, which had been wiped out by the death of his sons childless and his apparent failure to have any other children. This was grace indeed, to be so concerned about building up your brother's family, when Boaz surely had his own family. But it was as a result of this concern that his name is remembered; because we know nothing of his children, but we do know that his child by Ruth led to the Lord Jesus. "Worthily" is the word for "virtuous", used of Ruth in Ruth 3:11. They were seen as a match for each other, as they were both virtuous people.

Ruth 4:12 Let your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which Yahweh shall give you of this young woman-
Tamar’s fertility was legendary because despite being in middle age, one act of intercourse resulted in her having two children [twins]. The comparison with Rachel and Leah also seems forced, because they both had fertility problems; we have an example here of people using traditional terms of blessing, rather like singing hymns, without putting any meaning into the words. What unites all these three women is the fact that they were sexually manipulative, and this would support the impression we could possibly take from the record of Ruth’s approach to Boaz that night at the threshing floor.

Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife; and he went in to her, and Yahweh gave her conception, and she bore a son-
The rubric for procreation usually found in the Bible is that a man goes in to a woman, she conceives and bares a child. But here there is added that "Yahweh gave her conception". We wonder if she had been barren before. Perhaps that is why she more easily resigned herself to coming to Israel to serve Yahweh and being Naomi's carer, resigning the hope of remarriage. She imagined that if she did remarry, it would be a sad marriage [for those times] as she would be barren. However, her enthusiasm for Boaz, himself an old man, and the whole plan about him marrying her to raise up seed for Mahlon, was therefore all done even more in faith.

Ruth 4:14 The women said to Naomi, Blessed be Yahweh, who has not left you this day without a near kinsman; and let his name be famous in Israel-
The 'being a kinsman' to Naomi was felt to have only been achieved when a son was born. But grammatically, the near kinsman who would be famous and a restorer of life (:14) appears to refer to the baby boy. And this would then look forward to how this child's descendant would ultimately be the Lord Jesus, the ultimate restorer of life.

Ruth 4:15 He shall be to you a restorer of life, and sustain you in your old age, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him-
Is. 56:3-8 seems to allude to Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. The "dry tree" who was a eunuch [Boaz? Naomi?] and the Gentile [Ruth] who had taken hold of the covenant would be given a destiny "better than of sons and daughters", a quotation from Ruth 4:15. Naomi has said she is barren (see on Ruth 1:11), and we can deduce from Ruth 4:13 that Ruth was also. And at his age perhaps Boaz was impotent. Perhaps this was why the idea of Ruth marrying him didn't initially occur to Naomi. Out of every human inadequacy and impossibility, God raised up a seed, through using two women and a man who had faith that "God is able". And that seed was to continue to the conception of the Lord Jesus by the faithful virgin Mary, also from Bethlehem. 

Hezekiah apparently chose to be a eunuch for the Kingdom's sake. There is the implication in Is. 56:3-8 that his example inspired others in Israel to make the same commitment. They are comforted by Isaiah: "Neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold (the same Hebrew word is used five times about Hezekiah, 2 Chron. 29:3,34; 31:4; 32:5,7) of my covenant; even unto them will I give in mine house, and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off". Hezekiah had lamented that he would die without a seed (Is. 38:12 Heb.; Is. 53), and so did those who had also become (in their minds?) eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom. There was that human desire for a seed, a "house" to perpetuate their name. But they are promised a name in God's house (family) in the Kingdom, better than of sons and daughters in this life. This alludes to Ruth 4:15, where Ruth is described as being better than sons to Naomi. In other words, Ruth's having a child was a living exemplification of the Kingdom now. How God acted with her is how He will with all His people, who put Him first and take hold of covenant with Him.

Ruth 4:16 Naomi took the child and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse to it-
The barren Naomi (see on Ruth 1:11) is portrayed as becoming able to nurse the baby. That would have been a miracle, reflective of the new life God was giving to all involved. Or it could be that she symbolically held the child to her breast, rather like Bilhah giving birth upon Rachel's knees so that Rachel could claim the child as hers (Gen. 30:3).

Ruth 4:17 The neighbouring women gave him a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi! And they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David-
The naming of a child by women rather than the father is unusual (Lk. 1:62). Perhaps it was because Boaz died soon after the marriage, as Jewish tradition claims. But it fits in with the theme in the book of the meaning and power of women, in a male based society. "Obed" means 'servant' and this was not a great name for a child in those times, especially for the son of a wealthy man like Boaz. But the spirit of the family was such that they perceived the spirit of servant leadership.

Ruth 4:18 Now this is the history of the generations of Perez: Perez became the father of Hezron-
The genealogy now given jumps many generations and so those who are mentioned must all have purpose. Beginning with Perez, son of Tamar who played the prostitute to Judah, we surely have Tamar [who was likely also a Gentile] being paralleled with Ruth. This could confirm the theme of sexual manipulation discussed on Ruth 3:2. But I think the similarity is more in that they had both worked out the spirit of the law, and then went out and in their own ways tried to practice it with the appropriate men in their lives.

Ruth 4:19 and Hezron became the father of Ram, and Ram became the father of Amminadab-
Comparing with 1 Chron. 2, some generations are skipped. But the point is that it included Amminadab, meaning "my kinsman, or paternal uncle (ammi) is generous". The idea is being presented that generosity and being a true kinsman redeemer ran in the family. Not only Boaz had been like this, but his ancestor too. The idea is that this would characterize the line of David, and would come to full term in the Messianic Son of David.

Ruth 4:20 and Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon became the father of Salmon-
Amminadab, the generous kinsman like Boaz (see on :19), had a descendant called Nahshon, meaning 'snake'. The abrupt juxtaposition is so that we understand that spirituality is not at all inherited genetically. It is a case of consciously choosing to follow good examples.

Ruth 4:21 and Salmon became the father of Boaz, and Boaz became the father of Obed-
Mt. 1:5 says that Salmon had Boaz by Rahab. Yet Rahab lived some time earlier. I therefore suggest that Salmon was the ancestor of Boaz [not the literal father], through the child he had from Rahab. This is mentioned to highlight the fact that Boaz was descended from Rahab, and therefore was generous to the strangers and saw nothing wrong with a Moabitess marrying into the congregation of Yahweh.

Ruth 4:22 and Obed became the father of Jesse, and Jesse became the father of David
The function of the narrative is to set up David as the intended outcome to a line which had arisen out of barren, Gentile women, domestic tragedy, servant leadership (see on :17), faith and perception of grace. And this is the line which the New Testament genealogies show continued to the Lord Jesus.