So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife.
Boaz had promised Ruth that he would see to her rights as a widow in Israel. Naomi assured her that Boaz would not rest until he had done it. And so it was. The very same day found Boaz at the gate of Bethlehem representing the cause of Ruth before the elders of the city.
The gate of the city in that day was the near equivalent of our present county court house. At the gate of each city, just inside of the walls, there was an open market place where all business was transacted. There contracts were made and publicly verified. There trials were held, judgments were made, and verdicts were given. There the law was recognized and enforced if any order remained in a city. Thus it was that, leaving his duties at the threshing floor, Boaz went up and took a seat at the gate of the city. In itself, this action was a public notification that he had on his mind legal matters which were pressing and needed to be transacted.
It was not long before there appeared at the gate, perhaps just passing through it either out or in, the one man who was a closer kinsman to Elimelech than he. Boaz had undoubtedly been aware that the duties of the day would bring this kinsman that way. Immediately Boaz approached him and said in the idiom of the day, “Ho, such a one turn aside, sit down here.” Nothing more was needed. It was immediately apparent both to this kinsman and to everyone there at the gate that Boaz had a legal matter which he wished transacted with this man before the sight of everyone. Without difficulty, Boaz had soon gathered together ten men of the elders of the city to sit in witness and in judgment over the matter which he wished to be transacted with this relative of his. This was the equal of a court of law gathered together according to the customs of the day.
No sooner was all in order than Boaz presented the matter before the kinsman and the elders. Proceeding carefully, he said, “Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, has sold (not ‘selleth’ as in the AV) a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s: and I thought to advertise thee, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it: but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee.”
To understand this, we must first understand the laws which governed the transfer of property in Israel. Actually, in the strict sense of the word, property could not be sold because it was not owned by anyone. The land of Israel belonged to God, and it was only given into the hands of the people to be used by them in His service. Neither was it given just to the individual, but to the families throughout their generations. Thus no man was ever allowed to make a permanent sale or transfer of property to another. The most that anyone could do was to make a temporary sale, or rental, or lease of the land to another. Always when the year of jubilee came, every fiftieth year, the land reverted again to the family to which it was originally given. Even such temporary sales or leases of land, however, were to be made only in extreme circumstances. It was the duty of every family to do all that it could to keep all of its land within its own limits. Thus if any individual of a family came to need, it was expected that the other members of the family would help him so that it would not be necessary for him to sell his land to others. To fail to do so was a shame in Israel.
There was a reason, therefore, why Boaz should approach this kinsman on this matter. There was evidently a portion of land in the vicinity of Bethlehem which had formerly belonged to Elimelech and which Naomi had been forced to sell or lease out because of her poverty and her own inability to operate it profitably. This was, however, a disgrace to her relatives and family. It was an evidence for all to see that they had not cared for her in her need. Through their neglect the rightful heritage of their family had fallen into the hands of another. Only one thing could change this; they could redeem it from the hands of the stranger who had rented it by restoring to him the value of the land until the year of jubilee. According to the law, they could do this at any time and could not be refused. It was the duty of the nearest living relative; and accordingly, in the name of the family and for the sake of its reputation, Boaz confronted this man in the gate of Bethlehem and laid the responsibility before him.
The answer of this kinsman was immediate. “I will redeem it,” he said. This was to be expected. He was the closest living male relative of Elimelech. As long as there was no living male descendant of Elimelech, the portion of property which had belonged to Elimelech would eventually revert to him and to his descendants. All this would be changed, however, if he would refuse to bear the responsibility of a kinsman when requested. Then the property would become the eventual possession of the nearest relative that would. It was a matter of protecting his own interests to consent to redeem the properties of Elimelech.
But Boaz was ready for this. As soon as this answer was given, he continued by adding, “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.”
This threw a whole new light upon the matter. As willing as he was to take over the land which Elimelech had possessed, he was not willing to take Ruth to be his wife. Very frankly he gave to Boaz the reason. “I cannot redeem it for myself,” he said, “lest I mar mine own inheritance: redeem thou my right to thyself; for I cannot redeem it.”
In this was made evident what was the real concern of this kinsman. He was concerned only with the matter of inheritance, the extent of the possessions which he would receive. His reason, therefore, for not marrying Ruth, even though it was a duty under the law, was that it would be detrimental to or damage his inheritance in the end.
The question does arise at this point as to how a marriage to Ruth could in any way interfere with this man’s inheritance. The answer is suggested that it was because of Ruth’s nationality. The children of Israel were forbidden to marry heathen, and this man feared that a marriage to Ruth would bring a curse upon him and his inheritance. If this were so, however, it would have applied equally well to Boaz. It is more likely that this man had no desire to marry Ruth because it would have interfered with another, more profitable marriage which he was contemplating. Possibly this man was planning to marry another woman who was without brothers and who therefore bore the inheritance rights of her family. But to marry Ruth would have made this marriage impossible. (Although we know that bigamy was practiced in that day and not directly forbidden by the law, we can hardly suppose that the law would have in any way encouraged it. Rather we may almost suppose and find the suggestion here that in cases of bigamy the profitable laws of inheritance did not apply, thus discouraging the practice.) So this kinsman refused a marriage to Ruth because it would not have been as profitable as to another, and his inheritance would therefore be damaged by it. This much would surely seem evident. The only real consideration for this man was the matter of material profit.
This Boaz had expected, and he was ready to move. He had presented the matter very carefully and with tact. Although to him as well as to Ruth the parcel of land involved was a minor consideration, he had presented it first so that the accusation could never be brought against him that he had kept any part of the matter secret, particularly a part which in the end would prove to increase his own material possessions. Righteous man that he was, he had set forth the whole case in all of its implications. But it was this final refusal for which he himself was looking. It was this that he desired to hear. It cleared the way for him to marry Ruth under the provisions of the law.
According to the prescription of the law, Boaz therefore took from this man his shoe in the presence of the elders. This was a sign for all to see that this man allowed his right of possession to be transferred to Boaz. Accordingly also he said to them, “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. 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: ye are witnesses this day.”
Such faithfulness to the law of God was not seen often any longer in those days. Those who stood in witness were impressed by it and accordingly they answered, “We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem: and let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give thee of this young woman.”
Thus finally the way was cleared for the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. Notification of this marriage and its fruits close this short and beautiful book of the Scriptures. By it several great truths are brought to the fore.
In the first place, it shows us that the Old Testament did not maintain mere legalistic bars against the heathen. Although Ruth was a Moabitess, her faith in Jehovah constituted more than ample credentials to be received into the nation of Israel. Although there may well have been nationalistic prejudices which she also met, they were not there in men of faith, such as Boaz. By him she was received as a child of God, and that was sufficient for him even to the point of marriage.
Even more, however, in this book we see the working of God toward the fulfillment of his covenant. It was the day of the judges when there was much wickedness which abounded in the land. But even in the midst of it, God still preserved his faithful remnant abiding in faith and living according to the law. To them God gave a son, Obed, the grandfather of David, the forefather of Christ. It was the faithfulness of God to the living and the dead. As the women of Bethlehem said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age; for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath borne him.”