Love is... (part 4)
We have arrived at the conclusion of our series on Ruth, and what a journey it has been! What began as a message about love for the month of February became a 4 part sermon series. I find it so exciting when God leads in ways I had not previously anticipated. Studying the Bible is so exciting especially because there is so much that can be learned even from familiar stories.
I am so grateful that you have joined me in this journey and I hope this journey has sparked in you a desire to revisit familiar Bible stories with more patience and attention to detail.
I also hope that this story has challenged and expanded your understanding of what love can look like in the life of a believer.
Boaz takes action
We begin Ruth 4 focusing on Boaz who goes up to the town gate and sits there. All other characters will merely respond to Boaz’s initiatives.
From archeological finds we know that city gates in Palestine in the early iron age were complex structures with lookout towers at the outside and a series of rooms on either side of the gateway where defenders of the town would be stationed. These gateways also served a secondary purpose, as a gathering place for the citizens of the town. (Block, Daniel Isaac. Judges, Ruth. Broadman & Holman, 1999. p704-705)
It was at the city gate that the official administrative and judicial business of the community was conducted.
The last blog post left the reader wondering how Boaz was going to solve the obstacle to his desire to marry Ruth, now we realize that he took the mater to “court.”
When individuals were going to the fields or coming home from the fields they would have to go through the city gates. So Boaz places himself there hoping to spot the closer relative that he needs to talk to.
The second sentence of verse 1 begins with the word hinneh that is “behold” indicating a surprise! The man Boaz was looking for happened to be passing by just as Boaz had come to look for him. What are the odds of that happening right!?
This is another example of the hidden hand of God at work, guiding events that were beyond human control.
In Ruth 3:13 Boaz said he would take care of things in the morning and had invoked the name of God in a sign of determination. Here we see God coming through and assuring a quick resolution to the matter at hand.
We never find out the name of the man Boaz met. He is referred to by an expression (pĕloniy 'almoniy) that has no clear literal translation but rather is the equivalent of “so-and-so.” An expression that seems to be used whenever a proper name cannot or should not be used. (Block 706)
By keeping the character anonymous the writer intentionally diminishes our respect for him. Like Orpah, Naomi’s other daughter-in-law who left Naomi served as a contrast for Ruth, here this man serves as a contrast to Boaz.
Now Boaz had to gather around enough men to hold a legal assembly. He gathers 10 elders, who were men responsible for the administration of the town. These men left their work to follow Boaz, which shows that Boaz was respected in the community.
When the men are discussing the piece of land that belongs to Elimelech they are talking about the apportionment of the land among the tribes and clans of Israel under Joshua. According to Mosaic law the land was never to leave the family, and the institution of the kinsman redeemer or goel was one of the ways they prevented this from happening. (Leviticus 25:25-30) (Block 708).
Boaz refers to Elimelech as their “brother” but we don’t know how closely related they were. This means only that they are related. Genesis 38, Deuteronomy 25:5-10, talk about levirite obligations with regards to the immediate brothers, and according to Numbers 27:9-11 if a man died without having any children his property would pass to his brothers or to his paternal uncles, and after that to the nearest relative from their own clan.
We do not know how far Boaz and the other relative were, but they are the closest relatives with the other man being closer than Boaz.
The land did not belong to Naomi, she had no claim to it, neither did Ruth. That is why Mosaic law provided for widows and foreigners allowing them to glean. However, the land was still connected to them so far as it was connected to the family of their deceased husband. This meant that the land could be restored to a close relative and the close relative would also provide for them.
And this is where this gets a bit confusing. Because we don’t have anything similar in our society it becomes difficult to translate the interaction. Naomi is in a sense giving permission for the goel to redeem the land even though the land is not hers to sell. Chances are her husband sold the land during the period of drought and once they ran out of money and had to choose between leaving or selling themselves as slaves they chose to leave.
However, coming back now, Naomi could call on a close relative to redeem the land from whoever had possession of it, in the name of her dead husband, Elimelech. In a way, Naomi is attending to the legal business of the family, at least indirectly through Boaz. Naomi can claim the land back to the family of her husband.
From the events of the previous night Boaz realized that something must be done regarding the land. It was not right for the land to remain in the hands of an outsider. Boaz also knows that solving the issue with the land is directly related to his marriage to Ruth. The land was the key to him having the right to marry Ruth.
Boaz then makes the goel aware of the situation and states that if he is not willing to acquire the land that he is next in line to do so.
The goel replies with two words in Hebrew stating he will redeem it.
With two words he makes the heart of the reader sink.
But what about the love between Ruth and Boaz?
What about this relationship we have been carefully following and watching it grow and develop?
Does it all end here?
What about Ruth, how will she feel?
Does Boaz not lover her after all?
If the story ended here many would likely be very unhappy. We want a happy ending right?
But Boaz had a plan, and now he adds some additional terms and conditions. This reminds me of legal papers or even commercials that mention really fast at the end, “terms and conditions may apply.”
Boaz casually mentions, "oh yes, and by the way, you also get to marry the widow, you know Ruth, from Moab, and provide and heir, someone to keep the family name going and to inherit the land."
This meant that the goel would not get to keep the land indefinitely to himself. He would have to invest into taking care of it and after all his hard work the land would go to the son of Ruth. Also he would become involved with a Moabitess, a foreigner.
Is he willing to risk all that?
How willing is he to help make sure the name of his brother is not erased?
His offspring would have mixed blood, would he be accepted by the community?
The goel is suddenly not so sure this investment is worth it. Why would he go through so much trouble just to give it away in the end?
Suddenly he realizes this will cost him more than he expected and he realizes he can avoid the extra trouble and focus on what he already has. The goel was probably already busy enough as it was and didn’t need the extra hassle that would come with more land and a wife that is a foreigner and providing for someone who would not carry his name forward but rather the name of the deceased.
When the goel realized all that was involved in helping he decided he could not afford to help. Sure Moses would have liked him to. Sure the laws of Moses reflected the will of God. But his self-interest kept him from helping, because helping would not advance his personal interests in any way. His selfishness led to him remaining nameless in the story while Ruth has a whole book of the Bible named after her.
Ruth was the only hope for the family line of Elimelech. Naomi was passed the age of childbearing, and if Ruth did not marry and have a son, the family name would disappear. It is interesting that if we go only by the law as stated in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 is not clear concerning this case, when there is no living brother but rather a more distant relative. They are going by the spirit and principle of the law, but the letter of the law does not seem to extend to this point. This would be a moral obligation. The right thing to do, but not something that was forced by the letter of the law.
The goel backs down and allows Boaz to redeem the land and marry Ruth and establish the name of Elimelech and his dead son Mahlon.
The goel leaves and disappears from history. He is very different from Boaz. He is concerned about his future, while Boaz is concerned about Ruth, Naomi and Elimelech. Boaz wants to do the right thing, to help provide for this amazing person he has met and to do right by his dead relative Elimelech, and to restore his name. The goel cared more about himself, while Boaz representing the true meaning of hesed cared more about Ruth, Naomi, and Elimelech, then himself.
Boaz then becomes the goel, the kinsman redeemer, and agrees to not only buy the land but also redeem the family name.
Like Naomi mentioned in Ruth 3:18, Boaz settled the matter that day!
Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I am buying from Naomi everything that belonged to Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. I also take Ruth to be my wife. Then the dead man’s property will continue to belong to his family. And he will always be remembered by his family and the people in his hometown. You are all witnesses of what I am doing today.”
So all the elders and the people who were near the city gates said, “We are witnesses to all of this. And may the Lord bless this woman who is coming into your home to be like Rachel and Leah. They are the ones who had many children to make the people of Israel strong. And may you become powerful in the tribe of Ephrathah and famous in Bethlehem! May the Lord bless you with many children through Ruth. May your family become great like the family of Perez,the son Tamar bore for Judah.”
Ruth 4:9-12 ERV
Now there is much rejoicing and a pronouncement of a blessing for Boaz though the blessing really focuses on Ruth. They pray for Yahweh, the LORD God of Israel to grant this foreign woman a place among the matriarchs of Israel along with Rachel and Leah. These were the daughters of Laban who married Jacob and their children became the children of Israel.
Rachel is mentioned specifically probably because she was barren for a while and only later finally conceived. Ruth appears to have been married to Mahlon for 10 years but never had any children. The mention of God’s blessing could also reflect on Psalm 127:1 which mentions how “unless the LORD builds a house, they labor in vain who build it.”
Tamar is another interesting case where the levirite obligation lead to betrayal involving widow whose husband had died. Tamar eventually bore twins one of which became an ancestor of the clan of Boaz.
If God had worked through all these messy stories and brought great blessing from them, imagine what He could do with Ruth and Boaz who were so faithful and willing to live out hesed. This couple embodied the highest ethical standards of faithful love.
Those who uttered these blessings had little idea of how prophetic their words were. None of them lived long enough to witness how their prayer would be answered and how a name would come from that family that would be far greater than Perez, or even Judah, how the house of King David, a name commemorated to this day in the flag of the state of Israel, would come from that union.
Ultimately the royal line is preserved because two pious human beings and God act in consort for the achievement of God’s will.
How beautiful it is when people come together, in love, in covenant faithfulness and kindness, dedicated to the good of the other and to following the will of God.
This my friends is how a foreigner, who at one point in her life lost everything, and ultimately became part of the genealogy of Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior.