Spiritual Maturity; Suffering into Blessing; Ruth 4:1-22
The major theme of the book of Ruth is that God transfers suffering into blessing. It is only on the basis of doctrine and a relationship with God that the suffering in the life of the believer, whether it is suffering as discipline or suffering for blessing, can be transformed into blessing. In the opening verses of this book we see Naomi facing a difficult trial, and she take that suffering and rather than focusing on God's provision she does what most of us do at times, she internalizes it, becomes self-absorbed with her problems and goes on a pity party. So that when she comes home to Bethlehem she tells everybody not to call her Naomi any more but to call her Marah (bitter) because God had made her life bitter. She is blaming God for all the troubles and all the difficulties in her life, and she is so focused on the problems right now that she can't see the bigger picture and she is not trusting God. Yet, at that very instant that she is blaming God and crying and on a pity party about her own problems the solution is standing right next to her in the person of her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Ruth is going to be the agent through whom God is going to transform her suffering into blessing. So we see in the book that there is a personal transformation as Naomi's emptiness becomes full. She left the land and returned empty on chapter one, and at the end of chapter four she is going to be full. Her life will be full and God is the one who is going to supply all of her needs and transforms her personal sorrows and heartaches into joy, just as He does with us.
Nationally there is a picture here of what God is doing to the nation. This is during the period of the judges when they are disobedient, out of fellowship, and going through all kinds of self-induced misery because God is disciplining them through the oppression of foreign powers and the fourth cycle of discipline on Israel as a covenant nation toward God, and God is going to transform their suffering and self-induced misery into blessing because it is going to be through Naomi's great grandchild that the nation is going to be blessed. That will be king David. Ultimately we see how this applies to all mankind, that God is the one who transforms our suffering into blessing because all suffering is ultimately due to the fall of Adam, and God is going to be the one to provide the ultimate solution through the greater son of David, who is Jesus Christ.
That introduces us to another concept that is foundational to understanding this book, and that is the concept expressed in the Hebrew word chesed, a love that is always related to character and integrity, and never related in the Scriptures to emotion. We see this word translated numerous times and usually it is translated "kindness" in Ruth but it is used at different times to emphasize the character of both Ruth and Boaz as well as the character of God.
Ruth and Boaz demonstrate that they understand the faith-rest drill, they understand the promises and provision of God as expressed in the Mosaic law so that they are trusting God for provision. Ruth is trusting God because she is going to go out into the fields looking for someone who is applying doctrine, the doctrine of the Mosaic law, to provide for the sustenance of the impoverished, the widows and orphans in the land, by not harvesting every ounce of grain in the field. Boaz is also trusting God. He is trusting God to provide his own resources and he is not out there trying to squeeze every economic value he can out of every grain of barley. So he is going to apply the Word and trust God to take care of his needs and while he is harvesting he is going to leave the corners of the field unharvested. So he is trusting God that he doesn't need every single bit of grain that he can squeeze out of the field.
They both demonstrate grace orientation. Ruth in her kindness to Naomi is submissive to Naomi and shows respect for Naomi, and that indicates humility which is an aspect of grace orientation. Furthermore, Ruth is willing to put the past behind her. Whatever their life was like when they were in Moab she was willing t put all behind her and that indicates that she has at least the beginnings of the mastery of the details of life. She is putting her relationship with God as number one priority over the details of life. Boaz, too, demonstrates grace orientation in the way he provides for Ruth and Naomi. When Ruth comes into the field he gives her extra. He is always giving her more grain than she has actually worked for and earned. He makes it easier for her and that demonstrates his generosity. Generosity with who and what we are and what God has given us is part of grace orientation. They demonstrate doctrinal orientation because of the way they are applying the Old Testament Scripture in relationship to the gleaning laws and levirate marriage. It shows that they have made the thinking that is reflected in the Mosaic law part of their thinking. That doesn't just happen by showing up at Bible class once a week or every now and then. Furthermore, Ruth and Boaz are demonstrating some advance spiritual skills in terms of personal love for God and impersonal love for all mankind. They are reflecting the chesed of God and God is the priority in their lives, and they are also demonstrating unconditional and impersonal love for one another. Ruth is demonstrating her love for Naomi and Boaz is demonstrating a non-romantic but unconditional love for Ruth, especially at the beginning when he doesn't even know her.
Another thing doctrine that is emphasized in Ruth is that of redemption, the person of the goel. The noun refers to the kinsman-redeemer. The kinsman-redeemer was to protect the family and preserve the inheritance of the family. The function of the goel indicates that he is one who is related to the one who is going through the suffering, and in the same way this is a picture of Jesus Christ in hypostatic union, that he had to be full humanity in order to go to the cross and purchase our freedom by His substitutionary death.
Another point to note is the way they solved problems with wisdom. So often in life we are faced with a number of problems about decision-making. What should I do here? What should I do there? Should I take this job? Should I leave this job? Should I move to this part of the country or that part of the country? Should we have another child or not? We go to the Bible and the Bible doesn't give us direct answers to those kinds of questions. What the Scriptures do provide is a framework that as long as we follow the principles we know that we are operating within the general prescriptive will of God. God didn't say exactly how they should solve the problems in Ruth because their situation didn't fit the levirate marriage laws because Boaz was not a brother to either Mahlon or Elimelech. He was a distant cousin, not a brother as necessitated by the passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. So one side of this equation was established in Leviticus 19:9, 10 which has to do with the reaping law. They were both applying that doctrine. Ruth is relying upon this and the promise that there would be a field to glean. And Boaz is applying it in his agricultural practice. Then secondly there is the principle in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 which deals with levirate marriage. There we learned that this related to brothers, that when one brother died without a son then the wife of the deceased should not marry outside the family to a strange man but should be taken by the husband's brother and then when she gave birth to a son that son would be raised up to the name of the dead brother.
The third boundary has to do with protection of the property rights. There are three boundaries set up here and within that framework Ruth and Naomi and Boaz are going to work out a creative solution, and that helped solve the problem. The Word of God does not specifically address the exact circumstances of their situation so they are going to apply creativity within the boundaries set by God's Word. That is how we problem-solve and that is a great example of how we can find out the will of God in particular problems in our lives.
The other thing that we are going to see here relates to the doctrine of marriage. Here we have two people from two different cultures. Not only are they culturally different—one is a Moabitess and the other is a Jew—but there is a difference in age. Ruth is probably in her late twenties and has not been married more than ten years. Boaz seems to be much older, probably twenty years older, so there is an age difference. So they are going to get together and face life together. One of the most common problems that happen in marriage is that when two people get to marry they often make the mistake of either not marrying another believer or not marrying someone who is equally positive to doctrine as they are. That is a real prescription for misery in marriage. One of the most difficult situations that anyone cam get into is when there are people coming out of different cultures getting married. But no matter what the differences might be if both people are submitted to the Scriptures and the authority of God's Word then there is no problem and no difficulty that they can't overcome, as long as they are using the problem-solving devices and are going forward. Remember that Boaz do not know one another that well at this time but what they do know is a little about one another's integrity, and based on that character they recognize there is a responsibility to preserve the name and the property rights that belong to the family of Elimelech and Mahlon. So emotion is not a factor, romantic love is not a factor, the factor is responsibility and integrity, and because that is the foundation they are going to have a successful marriage that is made famous and recorded in Scripture for all time.
Ruth 4:1, 2, "Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat down: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spoke was passing by; to whom he said, Turn aside, 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. And they sat down."
Remember that in a levirate marriage the responsibility goes to the brother of the deceased, but there is no deceased brother. Then it would go to the uncle, the brother of the father, so then it would go to a cousin. Apparently Boaz was a distant cousin of either Elimelech's or Mahlon's, but there is one that is closer. So there was this pecking order that they had to go through, this hierarchy of relatives, and he is probably a fifth or sixth cousin once or twice removed. But now there is one who is closer, so he has to figure out who this is.
Notice what is going on behind the text. First of all, God is operating. We are told that Boaz went up to the gate and there are two things going on in that particular idiom. First of all he had to go up to Bethlehem. Towns were usually built on a high point and so in Israel going up to some place is always in terms of elevation. Furthermore, there was an idiom in the Hebrew that when you went up to the gate you were going to court because the gate was where the city fathers met. City gates in Israel at this time were complex structures. They had lookout towers on the outside and inside the gateways there were a series of rooms on each side. The idiom "going up to the gate" basically meant to go to court. So as soon as dawn came Boaz headed to town to go to court. He goes in and sits down on one of the benches waiting to see who will come along. Literally, the text says "By chance" the close relative of whom Boaz spoke "just happened" to be the first one to come along that morning. There we see the hand of God working behind the scenes. It could have been days before he came along but he was the first to come along. Boaz says, "Turn aside, friend and sit down here." That is not really a good translation. He does say "turn aside" but the Hebrew expression here translated "friend" is an interesting word play. Literally in Hebrew it really doesn't mean "my friend" as in the NIV and NASB, and the rhyming of the Hebrew word play here is called farrago, where you take two words that may perhaps just be meaningless words but they have a certain rhyming sound to them and they are combined to produce an idiomatic phrase. For example, in English we talk about a hodge-podge collection, or something is helter-skelter, etc. What this refers to in the text is that Boaz doesn't call him by a specific name and you might translate it better in English just "so and so." The writer of the text doesn't record his name for us, and that is because the man is not going to step to the plate for his responsibility. It is almost an insult to this guy that because he failed to respond to family responsibilities and put his own problems in life first, then he is not significant to the plan of God so we are just going to leave him out and ignore him.
Then Boaz got up and went through the town, watching men coming by, and he chose ten men, all of whom were elders of the city. That means they were full citizens living in Bethlehem, older men, and were identified as the key leadership or administrators of the city. Their response to Boaz in that they immediately came over and sat down indicated something about his stature in the city, that he is well respected, and he too is one of the pillars of Bethlehem.
Then we come to verses 3-8. The first two verses set the stage where Boaz takes the initiative and calls the court into session. Then Boaz is going to make the issue clear to the nearer relative. These verses read something like a court transcript today.
And he said unto the kinsman, Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, has to sell a piece of land, which was our brother Elimelech's: and I thought to inform you, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it: but if you will not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside you; and I am after you. And he said, I will redeem it."
What is going on here is obscured a little bit by a bad translation in verse three. It says that Naomi has come back from Moab and has to sell a piece of land. That is not exactly true. She can't sell it, she is prohibited by Mosaic law to sell it, it is not hers to sell. The land is in the name of her husband, it is part of the clan inheritance for Elimelech and for Mahlon. The word here that is translated "sell" is a Hebrew word that means to sell, and that is the verb makar, but it also is synonymous to the Hebrew word natan which means to give. So it could mean to sell or to give, and it is used that way in the book of Judges where we were told that God sold the Israelites into the hands of their oppressors. It was an idiom for giving. God gave them or placed them in the hands of the oppressors. So the use of the word makar here doesn't mean that she is selling it, she wants to place the piece of land into the hands of the goel, and she is going to gain something for that because the goel will protect the land, keep it in the family, and use it for a certain number of years until the year of jubilee comes along. So it is merely the process of applying the Mosaic law in terms of keeping the land in the family. So this man gets the first right of refusal and he decides he wants to purchase it. Probably Boaz's heart then skipped a beat. He has promised to redeem it and has been looking forward to marrying Ruth and has made that promise, and now it doesn't look like that is going to take place. But then in verse five he is going to explain that there are a few strings attached to the deal.
"Then said Boaz, What day you buy the field of the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance. And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar my own inheritance: redeem you my right to yourself; for I cannot redeem it. Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel. Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for you. So he drew off his shoe."
"What day you buy the field of the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess" is, again, a bad translation because it almost makes it sound like slavery that he has to also purchase Ruth the Moabitess. Once again, the words here do not necessarily indicate that money is changing hands, but that Ruth goes with the land. The responsibilities of a goel were not only to protect the land and make sure it stays in the family but also to take the levirate responsibility to marry the childless widow and raise up a child to the name of Mahlon and Elimelech and keep the family line going. So there is a big strong attached to the deal and the close relative says simply, "I can't redeem it for myself because I would jeopardize my own inheritance." Apparently he had some deal going, was in love with someone, or whatever it was there was something in his own life that he thought was more important than fulfilling the family responsibility. The Holy Spirit doesn't tell us and doesn't make a major issue out of it. And there is no real shame involved here. Notice that no one spits in his face, according to the Deuteronomy law, and that is because it is not a direct application of the levirate law. He is not the brother, he is just a distant relative. He has a responsibility but it is not a serious a responsibility, it is not specifically spelled out as it is in the Mosaic law.
Then the author of Ruth inserts a little parenthetical clause in verse 7. This verse tells us that by the time that this was written, which was after David became king, they no longer practiced this custom. It is just another indication of how certain laws in the Mosaic law died out and Israel was not following all of the laws in the Mosaic law. What is the significance of the sandal? Sandals were used symbolically for something. For example in Deuteronomy 1:36, "Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him will I give the land that he has trodden upon, and to his children", because he has wholly followed the LORD." They would go out and walk around the land. When they took a piece of property that was given to them they would walk the entire boundary of that land and that would indicate that they were taking possession of it and were claiming it for their own. So apparently a sandal or a shoe became a symbol of signing a document or taking title or claim to a piece of land. So the man takes the sandal or shoe and gives it to Boaz as a sign that Boaz can now take title of the land and also marry Ruth. Then in verses 9 and 10 we come to the third scene where Boaz explains the importance of his actions to the court.
"And 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, of the hand of Naomi. Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: you are witnesses this day." He hasn't purchased it but is taking it under his protection as the goel. The interesting thing is that when the child is born it is still going to be Boaz's name in the genealogy and not Mahlon. Boaz receives the blessing of the court at this point.
Ruth 4:11, "And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and you do worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem." This is a prayer. They are reaching back into Genesis in order to pull from the history of Israel what God had done in blessing Israel in the formative stage. Rachel and Leah were the two daughters of Laban. They were seen as the mothers of Israel, and just as they had made Israel prosperous with so many sons, so they were praying that in like manner Ruth would also be a mother who would make Israel, and specifically Bethlehem, prosperous. Of course, this prayer is answered in the person of her great grandson, king David, and eventually Jesus Christ who is a descendant of David on both sides.
Verse 12, "And let your house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bore unto Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give you of this young woman." That is another example of a levirate marriage and that is why that was referred to.
In verses 13-17 we have the brief story of Ruth's pregnancy and the birth of a son. "So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son. And the women said to Naomi, Blessed is the LORD, who has not left you this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be to you a restorer of your life, and a sustainer of your old age: for your daughter in law, which loves you, which is better to you than seven sons, has borne him. And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her lap, and became nurse unto it. And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David."
Notice, the women don't go to Ruth. Ruth is not in the picture any more, it is now Naomi. Just as the book started with the emphasis on Naomi, it ends with Naomi. The book begins with Naomi losing, she is empty, and now she is made full. It is God's restoration of blessing to her in the midst of suffering—transforming her suffering into blessing. Laying the child in Naomi's lap was the custom of the day to indicate that she is basically going to function as a surrogate mother and a nanny for this child.
Then there is a final listing of a genealogy, and this is to connect the dots between Jacob and his offspring through Pharez down to David. All of these genealogies indicate the line of the Messiah. All of these genealogies give us a legal basis for claiming that Jesus Christ is the complete fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophecies.