Larry Kirkpatrick

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Lessons from Ruth, part 4


And now, at last, we complete our series on Ruth with part 4. The last point we recall from the previous scene was Naomi telling Ruth that Boaz will not rest until he has completed the matter. And it is true. We'll see now, as we read the text, the next day, Boaz rises, goes and sits in the gate, waiting for the redeemer who one notch closer than he is to show up. We don't know how long he is there, but it could have been for some time. Listen now to verses 1-12:

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. 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.' 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, 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.'

What it takes to make the result official is simply ten men of that city, ten witnesses. The city surely had many more than ten elders, for in another place, Sukkoth is spoken of as having 72 elders (Judges 8:14). Not much paperwork or bureaucracy here. Even today, in the contemporary conservative synogogue, for group prayer to be offered, a minimum of ten males are required.

Boaz tells the nearer redeemer that Naomi has sold the land. What is going on here? The answer is seen in Leviticus 25:23-28:

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land. 'If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. But if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property.

God owns all the land. Remember, also that there was a continuous cycle of 49-year Jubilee periods, When the jubilee came it was like a reset button; unnatural accumulations of wealth were then dispersed, debts settled, and property that had been sold outside the tribe reverted back to its tribal owners. The only reason for land to be sold was to pay a debt, and sometimes those who became poor found themselves with few other options. But the sale was temporary, always looking toward reinstatement at the jubilee. In terms we are more familair with, the use and production of the land was being rented for a period of up to 49 years.

The near redeemer is keen to redeem the land. Why? Naomi is passed child-bearing age, thus the land will truly be transferred to the nearer redeemer as perpetual owner and increase to his wealth.

But there is a bonus in this deal: buy the land from Naomi, and acquire Naomi's son's Moabite widow, too! If he buys the land and only takes up the responsibility of caring for aging Naomi, he also acquires the produce of the land. But if he redeems the property and is married to Ruth in the totality as well, he now has two women to support (Naomi and Ruth), and likely, in the not distant future, children from Ruth to feed too. And the first male son will be considered Mahlon's, and becomes owner of the field. The nearer redeemer will be expending capital for property which will go to any new son born to Ruth.

This will cost the nearer redeemer more than he is willing to expend. His willingness to redeem has a self-interested limit. He passes his right of redemption to Boaz. Boaz buys (redeems) the land. Boaz marries Ruth. As redeemer, Boaz perpetuates the name of the dead, and lives-out the law.

Are Wives Property?

We pause for a moment and address what here rises as a question. If a husband or a wife can be bought, are they not property? A slave? Isn't this one of the sore spots, an embarrassment for followers of God, found in the Bible? And there is another charge: that in Bible times women could not own property. That one is certainly false. Have you heard of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-11)? Explicit arrangement was made that women could inherit property. This arrangement (women are not property but they can own property) goes all the way back to the Torah, earliest part of the Bible.

But let's look for a minute at that question about wives being mere property. Is that a fair charge?

In Bible times, there was a bride price, a dowry, to be paid in connection with taking a bride. The sum was given to the parents of the bride. In this way, should the husband die or abandon her, some support for the bride was guaranteed. In such a case the wife could return to her parents who had received the amount. The bride-price also helped assure that the man was invested in the marriage. After consumating the marriage, there were no refunds. And, there were no divorces (Deuteronomy 22:28, 29; Exodus 22:16, 17); money paid out in an expensive bride-price was non-refundable. (The pagan Code of Hammurabi allowed refunds for women when no children resulted from the marriage.)

Some have confused the pride price for the idea of purchasing a wife in the sense of buying an object of some kind. Yet, it is to be remembered that people are no mere objects, nor are they seen as such in Genesis one or following. Even in the New Testament, the Scripture says that when a man marries a woman, she does not have final authority over her own body, he does; but what's good for the gander (the male goose) is also good for the goose (female); nor does the husband have final authority over his own body, his wife does (1 Corinthians 7:2-5). Nor in ancient Israel could a woman, even a widowed woman, remarry just any person; she could only marry a kinsmen.

Couples that marry today more often acquire debt from the husband than wealth. When Pam and I married, I was still paying off the school loans I had indebted myself for when I had acquired my bachelor degree. Realize that today when a couple marry and later divorce, usually one party pays to support the other. Can you see a similarity to the bride-price?

What about slaves then? People could sell themselves into an indentured-servant kind of slavery, but the period of service always had an ultimate expiration date, unless the person voluntarily chose to permanently become a slave.

Slavery in the Old Testament was not like the western slavery of recent centuries. Western slavery primarily benefited the rich, but Israelite slavery primarily benefited the poor. Slavery was almost always voluntary. These relationships were usually initiated by the slave as a remedy for poverty. The slave agreed to work in exchange for economic security and personal protection. While modern western slaves were forbidden to own property of any kind, Hebrew slaves could take part in business, borrow money, and buy their own freedom. In other words, they were free to "buy out" the contract they'd made.

Here in Ruth, the word for "purchase" in the Hebrew all the way through is the one associated with buying property. Yet it does not mean that Ruth was being bought, but is used because there is a transfer of property in the arrangement, and in such cases this word is the one habitually used.

To summarize then, neither brides nor husbands were bought and sold in the sense we would be inclined to think of as buying and selling in our culture. Obligations were acquired with the wife--obligations not easily discharged. Divorces then were practically unheard of. Is the bride-price we see in the Old Testament really just buying property? Was the bride-price system truly that primitive and awful after all? God had arranged matters so that women would be protected in their marriage relation.

Boaz Redeems Ruth

But we must finish our story. Listen to verses 13-22:

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, 'Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.' Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, 'A son has been born to Naomi.' They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David (13-22).

Boaz takes Ruth as wife, and immediately there is conception. Things move fast here and so we fast forward another nine months and Ruth gives birth to a son! Whereas at the end of Ruth one the women stood by silently listening to Ruth's bitter analysis, here they offer a chorus of praise to God. This child will be a restorer of life (to Naomi). 4:15. The child is to Naomi one who—in the literal wording—causes her life "to return." Here is the answer to Naomi's claim in Ruth 1:19-22 that she had gone out full but that the Lord had caused her to return empty. This was not true. This was her perception at that time. But the end of Ruth chapter one is only a snapshot; here in Ruth chapter four we see how God worked out His purposes for Ruth.

Redeemer is here applied to the new child. He will be ultimately responsible for the two widows. The inheritance will one day go to him. He will take care of Naomi in her old age. But there is more.

The ladies declare to Naomi that Ruth is better than seven sons, having provided a redeemer for the family. The women name the child Obed (servant). He will be the grandfather of David who will be king. David was the ancestor through whom--in due course--Jesus, the ultimate Redeemer, would later come. Ruth, a moabitess, a non-Israelite by birth, is ancestor to Jesus (Matthew 1:5, 6; Luke 3:23, 32).


And so, we have come to the end of the Bible book of Ruth. Ruth went out full, her husband and two sons died, three widows were left. Orpah remained in Moab, but Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel, to Bethlehem. There, God provided Boaz, a Redeemer, who married Ruth. They had a child, and thus Ruth became mother to the ancestor of David, and David, ancestor to Jesus.

Out of a seemingly inexplicable set of circumstances, unreasonable events, a not-explained pain and suffering, out of a feeling of drainedness and emptiness when Naomi returned to Jerusalem--out of that, God wrought blessing. Naomi and Ruth were redeemed by Boaz and baby Obed came from that--baby Obed, their, in a very real sense, redeemer. In a few generations comes David, and some generations more Mary and her child, her little Redeemer, the Messiah Jesus. God came down into sorrow. Jesus took humanity, our humanity so that He would be our near kin, our Redeemer in potential. And He followed through with His mission which was to redeem us. He died for batch of self-interested rebels. He died for you and I and the redemption price was paid.

We were trapped in sin piled high, sins we could never pay for, sins radioactive, destroying, deadly, and unnatural. Jesus, with His perfect life could buy us back, pay out on our debts incurred, and redeem us because He was Immanuel, God with us, Yeshua, Salvation to us. As Naomi spoke to Ruth about Boaz, "The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers" (Ruth 2:20), God in the Bible says the same to us. Jesus is a close relative of ours, our Redeemer. "It was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers" (Hebrews 2:10, 11 ESV, margin).


Bonners Ferry ID SDA 2013-09-14