Ruth 4 – Coffman Commentaries on the Bible – Bible Commentaries
THE MARRIAGE OF RUTH AND BOAZ AND BIRTH OF OBED
Such is the importance of this chapter that we shall examine it one verse at a time.
“Now Boaz went up to the gate, and sat him down there; and, behold, the near kinsman of whom Boaz spake came by; unto whom he said, Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down here. And he turned aside, and sat down.”
“Boaz went up to the gate.” Morris thought that the threshing-floor was at a lower altitude than the city; and it might have been. However, if there was a hill of higher elevation than the city, that would have been a better place to catch the breeze for the winnowing. To us, therefore, it appears that Boaz’ going “up to the gate” is a reference to the high authority invested in the elders and magistrates who assembled at the gate in ancient cities. The words “go up to the gate” were used in the same sense that Israel always referred to “going up” to Jerusalem. The city gate, in those times, was the place where the city’s business was conducted; it was the equivalent of the modern city hall. The purpose of Boaz’ appearance there was to fulfill his promise to Ruth, which he certainly did, promptly and effectively.
“Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down.” These are the words with which Boaz greeted that near kinsmen as he came along, probably on the way to his field. We may be sure that Boaz addressed him by name, but the author of the Book of Ruth was either ignorant of his name or simply did not wish to mention it, which is the more likely. Moffatt rendered the expression. “Ho, you”! And, as we might say to a close acquaintance, “Hi, fellow!
“And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, sit ye down here. And they sat down.”
“And he took ten men.” The fact that those thus bidden promptly obeyed Boaz is an indication of his power and influence in the city, due no doubt to his age, wealth, and reputation in Bethlehem. There may not be anything very special about the number 10, although it was understood to be a perfect number, and was the minimum number (quorum) of resident Jews in a city during later times that was required for the erection of a synagogue. It might also have been the usual number required to witness any important transaction.
“And he said unto the near kinsman, Naomi that is come out of the country of Moab, selleth the parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s.
“Naomi selleth … the land.” This is the first intimation that Naomi had any land, and it indicates that there had been far more extensive contact between Boaz, Naomi, and Ruth than had been mentioned thus far in the narrative. We do not know how Naomi came to possess this land, but the probability is that she was acting as an agent for her deceased sons in whom the land title was probably vested. Matthew Henry supposed that Elimelech had been compelled to mortgage the parcel during the famine that drove the family to Moab. In that event, the land would have reverted to Elimelech’s heirs in the year of Jubilee. Thus, what Naomi was selling really amounted to the use of the land for that unspecified number of years.
“Our brother Elimelech’s.” The term `brother’ is used here in the sense of `brother Israelite,’ as frequently in the Bible.
“And I thought to disclose it unto thee, saying; Buy it before them that sit here, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it: but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me; for there is none to redeem it besides thee; and I am after thee. And he said, I will redeem it.”
“And I thought to disclose it … saying.” “This is a primitive expression denoting internal resolution, such as, `I said to myself.'”
“And before the elders of my people.” “Others besides the official ten witnesses had also assembled,” out of curiosity, no doubt, and to learn the news of what might be taking place.
“My people.” Some have expressed wonder at this, because the Bethlehemites were, in a sense, as much the people of the near-kinsman, as they were of Boaz. However, the prominence, wealth and age of Boaz had endowed him with a patriarchal status that did not pertain to the near kinsman.
“I will redeem it.” Why not? Indeed, this would have been quite a windfall. Naomi was a poor widow and probably could not command a very high price for the land; and besides that, in the year of Jubilee, which might not have been very far away, it would revert, theoretically, to Elimelech’s heirs. but, since he had no heirs, it would have remained in the near kinsman’s possession! It is not hard to see that Boaz was handling this situation with masterful skill and discernment. He had no doubt anticipated this answer.
“Then said Boaz, What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.”
“Ruth the Moabitess.” These words scared the near kinsman right out of the transaction. It was public opinion in Bethlehem that Chilion and Mahlon had died for marrying Moabitish women, and when the near kinsman found out that buying the land meant also marrying a Moabitess, he dramatically withdrew his offer. Under the situation as thus explained, he would acquire another family, lose the money paid for the land, for that would belong to his son by Ruth (if they married) and would no longer be a part of his inheritance. Additionally, he would be burdened with the support of another family! It is not hard to understand why he made such a hasty exit from the transaction. Thus, Boaz had played the trump card at precisely the right instant, and he would, as a result, be free to marry Ruth, which was doubtless what he intended to do from the very first.
“And the near kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance: take thou my right of redemption on thee; for I cannot redeem it.”
“I cannot redeem it.” “These words mean, simply, `I cannot afford it.'” There are two reasons that entered into this refusal: (1) The increased financial burden inherent in rearing another family, and (2) the stigma that popular prejudice fastened upon marriage to a foreigner, especially a Moabitess. Cassel, as quoted by Morrison, stated that, “It was Ruth’s Moabite nationality that formed the ground, such as it was, of the near kinsman’s refusal.”
This verse revealed the moment of truth for the entire transaction. The near kinsman refused twice to redeem it and also declared that he waived his right to do so, requesting Boaz to take the right for himself. Boaz, of course, promptly did it, proclaiming his redemption of the land as well as his intention of marrying Ruth to raise up a son to carry forward the name and family of Elimelech.
“Now this was the custom in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning exchanging to confirm all things: a man drew off his shoe and gave it to his neighbor; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel.”
In some ways, this is the most important verse in the book, because the “critical community” have made it the basis of late-dating the writing of it until post-exilic times. There are many reasons why this action on the part of Biblical enemies is not merely inaccurate and totally unjustified, but is also extremely ridiculous and contrary to overwhelming evidence elsewhere in the Book of Ruth!
“In former time in Israel.” In the first place this does NOT mean five hundred years earlier. The words were just as appropriate when Samuel, as we believe, wrote Ruth, as they could possibly have been at any other time. The date of Samuel’s authorship was at a time after he had anointed David to be the king of Israel instead of Saul, namely, about 1000 B.C., and the custom referred to, according to Dr. LaGard Smith was between the times of the Judges Abdon and Samson, both of whom were a century or more before Ruth was written. “In former time” can refer to one century as well as it can to five centuries.
Besides that, it is the opinion of some very dependable scholars that the verse is a gloss, inserted into the text at some later time following the writing of the book. S. R. Driver admitted that, ” Ruth 4:7 may be an explanatory gloss.” And, even if that should not be allowed, Hubbard pointed out that “The verse seems to be more of a literary device than any kind of an historical reference.”
“This was the custom.” This is not a reference to levirate marriage, which was not a custom but a divine law. Even the drawing off of a shoe or sandal is not connected with levirate law, for, in that law, the disgrace of the brother who refused to marry his brother’s widow was humiliated by the widow’s spitting in his face. Nothing like that is found here. “Here the drawing off of the shoe was no disgrace but the confirmation of the surrender (or transfer) of the right of redemption.”
WHAT HAD ACTUALLY CHANGED?
It appears to us that Matthew Henry solved this problem by his observation that, “In those former times it was not the custom to pass estates (from one party to another) by writings,” but by the ceremony visible in this passage. If the change to the method of transferring by written records came with the introduction of the monarchy under King Saul, which seems most likely, then there is nothing whatever in this passage to suggest any later date for the writing of the Book of Ruth than that which we have suggested in the introduction. Certainly the transfer by written records is visible in the times of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:10ff), and in all probability much earlier. Certainly writing was well known in the times of Moses, and it will be remembered that the young man Gideon met on the highway gave him the written records of the names of magistrates of Succoth (Judges 8:13ff, RSV).
“So the near kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thyself. And he drew off his shoe.”
Presumably, he handed the shoe to Boaz, symbolizing the transfer of the right of redemption. But, of course, when the ceremony ended, “Boaz returned the shoe to the near kinsman.”
“And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye 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.”
This declaration by Boaz before the court of the fathers in the gate of the city constituted the legal transfer to Boaz of the right of redemption just renounced by the near kinsman. This verse is not all of the legal procedure, for it also included Ruth 4:10.
“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.”
“Ruth the Moabitess have I purchased.” This statement stands in respect to the legal proceedings before the village court and does not mean that Boaz, in any ordinary sense, was purchasing Ruth. What is meant is that Boaz was buying the land from Naomi and that the land purchase also included the right and the obligation for his marriage to Ruth.
The proceedings here procured for Boaz only the right to marry Ruth; “the actual marriage is recorded in Ruth 4:13.”
Leon Morris noted that this magnanimous and unselfish action on the part of Boaz tells us something about God: “(1) God must feel at least as compassionate toward all the Ruths of Moab and Babylon and of every other land as His creature Boaz felt towards Ruth; and (2) God must actually be a God of redemption, with the desire and the power to redeem all outcasts into fellowship with Himself.”
“And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. Jehovah make the woman that is to come into thy house like Rachel and Leah, which did indeed build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephrathah, and be famous in Bethlehem.”
“Jehovah make the woman … like Rachel and Leah.” The text does not make it clear, but it seems that this extensive blessing might have been spoken by the elders, or one of them, whereas the populace which had gathered around merely shouted at the appropriate time, `We are witnesses’!
“Be famous in Bethlehem.” The good will of all the city appears in these expressions of prayerful best wishes. Apparently, the people were hoping that Ruth would bear many children to Boaz, as indicated by their mention of Rachel and Leah.
“And let thy house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which Jehovah shall give thee of this young woman.”
It first appears that this mention of Judah’s shameful action in begetting Perez of Tamar might have been inappropriate, but the significance of it lies, perhaps, in the fact of Tamar’s having been a foreigner (a Canaanite), a non-Israelite, just like Ruth the Moabitess. Tamar and Ruth are both mentioned in the genealogy of Christ in the N.T. (Matthew 1:3,5), thus the blessing of the elders that day was fully realized in time.
“So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife; and he went in unto her, and Jehovah gave her conception, and she bare a son.”
“So Boaz took Ruth.” This is a reference to the marriage ceremony itself and to the fact of the marriage’s consummation and the blessing of God upon their union in the birth of a son. “In effect, this verse ushers Ruth and Boaz offstage and sets their infant at the center.”
“And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be Jehovah, who hath not left thee this day without a near kinsman; and let his name be famous in Israel.”
“The women said unto Naomi.” These words sharply remind us that this narrative is essentially the story of Naomi. “It is altogether fitting, therefore, that at the end, attention should return to her to admire her radical reverse of fortune.”
“Jehovah hath not left thee this day without a near kinsman.” “Of course, the near kinsman is Ruth’s son, a near kinsman even nearer than Boaz. The kinsman was given by Jehovah `this day,’ that is, the day the child was born.”
“And he shall be unto thee a restorer of life, and a nourisher of thine old age; for thy daughter-in-law, who loveth thee, who is better than seven sons, hath borne him.”
“A nourisher of thine old age.” Until the birth of this grandson, the prospect of an old age for Naomi in those times and environment was bleak and threatening indeed; but the birth of Ruth’s child had changed all that dramatically. As a prospective heir of perhaps both Mahlon and Boaz, the child Obed would indeed be a source of powerful strength and support for Ruth and for his grandmother Naomi. “These lines suggest that, in some sense, the child belongs to Naomi.”
“For thy daughter … loveth thee.” Of course, the key factor in all of the tremendous blessing and honor that accrued to Naomi in the birth of this child was the unqualified love of Ruth for her mother-in-law, of which truth there had already been so many conclusive and undeniable proofs.
“Who is better to thee than seven sons.” In view of the fact that the ancients strongly preferred having sons rather than daughters, this statement that Ruth was better for Naomi that `seven sons’ is “The supreme tribute.”
“And Naomi took the child and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it.”
This does not mean that Naomi adopted the child or that there was anything unusual about this. What comes into view here is the honored place that Naomi had in the household of the wealthy and powerful Boaz. The tradition that Boaz was both a widower and childless is not contradicted by anything found in the Scriptures, and it would have been the most natural thing in the world for Naomi to have moved into the “Big House” as the new infant’s full-time nurse.
“And the women her neighbors 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.”
“A son is born to Naomi.” In Hebrew writing, the terms “son” and “grandson” are sometimes used interchangeably, as here.
“And they called his name Obed.” This does not mean that Ruth, Boaz and Naomi had no part in the choice of the name, but that they consented to go along with the suggestion of the neighboring women. “The context suggests that this name was proposed because of the `service’ that the child would ultimately provide in the matter of caring for Naomi in her old age.” “The name Obed means either `worshipper’ or `servant,' but it seems that the neighbors were thinking of the meaning as “servant,” in view of what they felt sure would be done for Naomi in her old age by this newborn child.
“He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.” “These words show the object that the author had in view in writing down these events and in composing the book itself. This conjecture is raised to a certainty by the inclusion of the genealogy with which the book closes.”
These verses are also the undeniable proof of the date of the writing of Ruth. Note that David is not called `king’ here. Why? Because he was NOT YET king of Israel when this book was written by Samuel, at a time, no doubt, after God had commanded Samuel to anoint David as the monarch who would take the place of Saul (1 Samuel 16:1). The theory that any other reason for not mentioning the kingship of Israel’s most illustrious monarch is so weak as to appear RIDICULOUS!
“Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez begat Hezron, and Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, and Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, and Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, and Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.”
The termination of this genealogy with the name of David proves that the Book of Ruth was written DURING the life of David and at a time BEFORE he became king. Otherwise, the text would have referred to him as KING David.
To be sure, the critical “scholars,” anxious to establish their fairy tale of a post-exilic date know this to be true. What is their defense against the facts? They simply declare Ruth 4:17-22, more than 25% of the whole chapter, to be an interpolation
The notion that the Book of Ruth was written in post-exilic times is unacceptable for the simple reason that at such a period in Israel’s history, there could have been neither any interest in the production of such a book nor any motive whatever for terminating the genealogy with David. As Keil noted, “This genealogy makes it certain,” that the purpose of the book was to disclose the pious ancestry of the wonderful person who later (after Ruth was written) became King of Israel.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Ruth 4”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/ruth-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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Ruth 4 – Coffman Commentaries on the Bible – Bible Commentaries