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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-58--- PROVERBS--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS

Commentary On The Book Of Ruth.

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Background to Ruth.

As well as containing spiritual guidance the book of Ruth is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly because it demonstrates how the lives of people in those days were often passed down either in oral (by family story tellers) or written form. We may ask, for example, why should the life of Elimelech have been remembered? There was seemingly nothing special about him, apart from his descent from Judah. He only became special when David became the great ruler of Israel, for then he became the forebear of David. And yet such details of his life were known and had been passed down. This suggests that people valued their family histories and remembered them in story form in some detail. The story gives an interesting insight into what life was like in the peaceful periods in the time of the Judges.

Secondly it is interesting because it demonstrates the importance to Israelites of their ancestry. Why should the book of Ruth be included among all the great tomes that outlined the history of Israel? One answer is, of course, that it portrays the ancestry of the great King David, the man after God's own heart, (and ultimately that of Jesus - Matthew 1.5). It demonstrates in an intimate way how God was moving through what seemed to be the most unfortunate of circumstances to the fulfilment of His purposes. It is a reminder to us that God works in mysterious ways His wonder to perform. Furthermore it underlines the fact that David came from a family noted for its godliness and righteousness. That was why out of Naomi’s darkest moments came light.

Thirdly it demonstrates how God can bring triumph out of tragedy, and how loyalty can bring its own reward. When Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, died, and then even more tragically her two sons, the lonely, almost penniless, old widow (for only such would need to live by gleaning in the fields because she had no means of working the family land that we later discover she owns) returned to the land of her birth. With her went the noble Ruth, who was not an Israelite at all by birth, but a Moabite woman, who insisted on standing by her to the detriment of her own social position (she could have returned to her Moabite family with all the provision for the future it offered, including another marriage). She must have known that her chances of marriage in Israel as a Moabite were not so rosy. It must have seemed like just another story of the forgotten poor and a useless, though noble, sacrifice. Two childless widows clinging together in the face of adversity, and one a foreigner. Yet because of their faith in God there sprang from it a prosperous marriage and the descent of God's chosen king. Because of her loyalty, the despised Moabite becomes the great-grandmother of Israel's greatest king.

Fourthly it demonstrates the grace of God in that He chose a Moabite woman to be the ancestor of both David, and Jesus Christ. The Moabites (and the Ammonites) were excluded from entering the congregation of Israel for ten generations because of the attitude that they had shown towards Israel at the time of the Conquest (Deuteronomy 23.3), and whilst this was strictly a restriction on the men, it did indicate a general attitude towards Moabites. It did not prevent them from becoming worshippers of YHWH. But it did indicate that they could not enjoy full acceptance as Israelites. It would, of course, be different for a woman marrying into an Israelite household, and becoming a Yahwist. There would be no bar on her. Nevertheless it does indicate that God’s love reached out to Moabites as well, just as it had to the Canaanite Rahab. And it further indicates that a Moabite woman such as Ruth could find acceptance among the Israelites, for there is no hint of any antagonism towards Ruth in the story (apart possibly from the truculence of the near kinsman when he learned that he would have to produce children through her).

Fifthly the author’s emphasis, both on the fact that Ruth was a Moabitess, and on the fact that she opted to follow YHWH rather than the god of her Moabite family, might suggest that he was seeking to encourage, by outlining Ruth’s story, the many ‘foreigners’ who were considering becoming Yahwists in the days of David’s power, assuring them that just as David’s great grandmother had been a Moabite who had turned to YHWH, and had found full acceptance, both by Israel and by Israel’s God, so they too could be sure that if they truly became members of the covenant God would smile upon them as He had on Ruth.

Date.

The final recension of the book was clearly not completed until the time of David, as the genealogy in 4.18-22 takes us up to the time of David, and it presumably indicated that by the time it was included David had become important enough for such a writing to be considered worthy of being preserved, and eventually ‘canonised’ (placed in the list of sacred Scriptures). But the fact that the genealogy does not continue with the great king Solomon may suggest that it was completed before he began his reign. This would point to a date during David’s reign for the completion of the work. The genealogy could, however, well have been added to an already written work when it was seen to be important as referring to an ancestor of David, thus the work itself may well have been in writing for a considerable period before that.

Another thing we have to take into consideration is the fact that the opening verse refers back to the time ‘when the Judges judged’. This would also indicate a time when kingship had now taken over. Once more, however, they were words that could have been added to an already existent work, possibly by the king’s recorder, so as to date it.

A third factor to be born in mind is that it was felt necessary to explain an ancient custom (4.7). But once more this could have been a comment added at a later date.

On the other hand its portrayal of ancient customs prevalent in the time of the Judges, such as redemption by a kinsman redeemer, levirate marriage as an obligation (and as extended beyond the Mosaic prescription), and the handing over of a shoe in making contracts (compare Deuteronomy 25.5-10), point to the fact that the text is aware of such ancient customs. And this suggests an early rather than a later date, and this especially because their outworking did not conform to the norms laid down in the Law. The loose application in these situations of the Law of Moses would certainly favour a time when ‘every man did what was right in his own eyes’. In the light of the discoveries at Ugarit, Aramaisms cannot be seen as dating the book but in contrast archaic verbal endings and ancient idiomatic expressions do appear to point to an earlier rather than a later date, while in our opinion (admittedly subjective) it breathes the atmosphere of the Judges period.

Our conclusion is therefore that the work is, on the whole, early, dating from the time of the judges, although as updated by the introduction, explanatory comment, and conclusion added by a recorder in the time of David.

Place In The Canon.

The Book of Ruth is found in the hagiographa, or ‘the sacred writings’, the third section of the Jewish Canon. In the LXX, however, it appears to have been placed after the Book of Judges, but that was Hellenistic practise. The Talmud placed it in the hagiographa before the Psalms. Eventually, however, probably due to its use in the liturgy, it was place in the Megilloth (the Song of Solomon, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther, and Lamentations) read at feasts.

Historicity.

There are no solid grounds for denying the historicity of the book. Contrary to some, it does not idealise the times of the Judges, but simply indicates that there were times during that period when life went on as normal, something which the Book of Judges itself confirms (e.g. ‘the land had rest for forty years’). Furthermore it essentially reads as though it had happened. On the other hand, the likelihood that any romancer at any stage in Israel’s history would make a Moabite woman the ancestor of David, if she were not so, must be considered remote in the extreme, and the reality of his connection with Moab may be seen as confirmed by the fact that David was later able to seek refuge for his father and mother in Moab (1 Samuel 22.3). Furthermore Ruth is named in genealogies which see her as a real person (Matthew 1.5). That the book presents itself as a piece of history the opening verse makes clear. Why then should we doubt the honesty of its author? It is astonishing to me how some scholars, whose own rectitude cannot be questioned, feel quite content to cast doubt on the rectitude of writers of an earlier age, and this when it is on matters of deep religious importance, as though suddenly the world has become more honest. And this must be seen as especially so as their Law continually emphasised the necessity of true witness. It is one thing to get something wrong, it is quite another to misrepresent it in the Name of the God of truth.

Summary Of The Story

The story relates how a man took his wife Naomi, and his two sons, from Israel to Moab in order to escape the ravages of a famine, where he unfortunately died. His two sons then married Moabite women. But sadly they also died, seemingly without bearing children. Early deaths were commonplace in those days. This left the man’s wife widowed, together with the two Moabite women. So Naomi finally determined to go back to Israel, and sought to persuade the two Moabite women to forget their family duty to her and return to their homes in order that they might have a future. One of the women was reluctantly willing to do so, but the other, Ruth, expressed her loyalty to her mother-in-law and swore to remain with her come what may.

Returning to Israel they found themselves in impoverished circumstances with the result that Naomi took advantage of Israel’s enlightened laws on provision for the poor and sent Ruth to gather barley which fell to the ground when the reapers had done their work (called ‘gleanings’). She chanced to select a field belonging to a relative of Naomi’s, and that relative, Boaz, received her kindly and behaved generously towards her and Naomi. Consequently, under Naomi’s shrewd guidance, Ruth laid claim to her rights under the law of levirate marriage, and offered herself as wife to Boaz in order to produce children on behalf of her dead husband. After following the requirements of the Law with regard to a nearer relative, Boaz accepted her and she became his wife. And the final result of their union was, after a number of generations, the birth of the great King David.

COMMENTARY>

Chapter 1. Driven By A Severe Famine Elimelech And His Family Seek Refuge In Moab Only To Suffer The Consequences Of Forsaking The Sphere Of The Covenant. He And His Sons Die And His Wife Naomi Returns To The Land Of Judah Empty.

As we know from the ending to the story Elimelech could trace his ancestry back to Judah through Perez (4.18-22; compare 1 Chronicles 2.4). He would thus be highly respected as one of the minority who could do so. And he lived, and had land, in and around Bethelehem-judah. But a severe famine appears to have smitten the land and, probably for the sake of his sons, he determined to seek refuge in Moab, which was across the Jordan to the east of Israel, on the other side of the Dead Sea. However, tragedy was the consequence of his decision as YHWH ‘testified against them’ (verse 21). The writer clearly intends his readers to see this tragedy as resulting from his desertion of the land of Promise. The one named ‘My God is king’ had gone to another land where God was not seen as king, in order to find refuge. He had virtually exposed YHWH to ridicule. Yet out of that tragedy YHWH intends to bring triumph. What will then follow is a revelation of the unmerited favour of God in the face of disobedience.

The chapter follows the chiastic pattern which had been a feature of the Law of Moses:

  • A There was famine in the land (v. 1)
  • B Elimelech and Naomi emigrated from Bethlehem and came into the country of Moab (v. 2)
  • C Naomi’s husband and sons died (vv 3-5).
  • D Naomi and Ruth left Moab for Bethlehem (vv. 6-7).
  • E Naomi made a speech calling on her daughters-in-law to leave her (v. 8-9a).
  • F Naomi kissed Orpah and Ruth goodbye (v. 9).
  • G All wept loudly (v. 9)
  • H Naomi could offer her daughters-in-law no sons (v. 11)
  • I Naomi was too old to have a husband (v. 12).
  • H' Naomi could offer her daughters-in-law no viable sons (v. 13)
  • G' All wept loudly (v. 14)
  • F' Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye (vv. 14-15)
  • E' Ruth made a speech refusing to leave Naomi (vv. 16-18)
  • D' They came to Bethlehem from Moab (v. 19)
  • C' Naomi was no longer pleasant but bitter for she had returned empty (v. 20-21)
  • B' Naomi left the country of Moab and returned to Bethlehem (v. 22)
  • A' It was the beginning of the barley harvest (v. 22).

Note in A the emphasis on the fact that the initial phase of the story began with famine, and ended with harvest. Central to the chiasmus in I is that hope has gone because Naomi is too old to bear children. Thus while they might return to the land of Judah, their cause would be hopeless. The emphasis all the way through is on the tragedy of Naomi’s situation, only alleviated by the loyalty of Ruth.

1.1 ‘And it came about in the days when the judges judged, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Beth-lehem-judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.’

The famine occurred in the days of ‘the Judges’ (local rulers), each of whom at various times ruled a part of Israel. There were many periods under the Judges when the land was peaceful (see Judges 3.11, 30 etc.), and this would appear to have been one of them. If there are no gaps in the genealogy in 4.18-22 it suggests that it was probably late in that period, possibly in the time of Samuel, although some (accepting gaps in the genealogy) relate it to the famines caused by the predators in the time of Gideon (Judges 6). Whichever period we accept the famine was of sufficient severity to cause a man of Bethlehem-judah to seek refuge, with his family, in neighbouring Moab. This would involve crossing the Jordan, possibly at Jericho, and moving southwards into Moab.

‘Went to sojourn --.’ That is, semi-permanently as a resident alien. His intention would be to remain there until the famine was over.

‘He, and his wife, and his two sons.’ It was probably the need of his sons that he had in mind when he made the move, especially if, as their names suggest, they were weak and sickly. They would be in no condition to withstand famine. But one whose name declared that ‘My God is king’ should never have been seeking refuge in a land that was submissive to another god (Chemosh). He was belying his name.

1.2 ‘And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Beth-lehem-judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.’

Detailed names are now given of the family. The family consisted of Elimelech (‘my God is king’), his wife Naomi (‘my delight’ or ‘my sweetness’), and their two growing sons Mahlon (‘sickness’) and Chilion (‘wasting’). ‘Sickness’ and ‘wasting’ probably refers to how they were seen when born, as they struggled to survive, but it may well be that they had continued to experience such problems. Having ‘gone to sojourn in the country of Moab’ (verse 1), they ‘came into the country of Moab and continued there’. The double emphasis may have been bringing out the disapproval of the writer. They had left God’s land.

Ephrath(ah) is closely connected with Bethlehem, possibly as the region in which it was found, or possibly as the ancient name of Bethlehem itself (Genesis 35.19; 48.7). In Genesis 35.19; 48.7 ‘the way to Ephrath’ leads to Bethlehem. Compare Micah 5.2. Thus Ephrathites in this context may simply be the name by which Bethlehemites were called. Bethlehem-judah is so called in order to distinguish it from Bethlehem (house of bread) in Zebulun (Joshua 19.15).

1.3 ‘And Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left, and her two sons.’

We are not told how long they had been in Moab before Elimelech died, but his death must have been a cruel blow to the family. The impression given is that the sons were at the time in no position to provide the support that Naomi needed. Many would see his death and its consequence as an indication of God’s disapproval of what he had done.

1.4 ‘And they took for themselves wives of the women of Moab, the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth, and they dwelt there about ten years.’

But gradually the sons would grow up, and it was at that point that they took Midianite wives for themselves. These were named Orpah and Ruth. There is no certainty as to the significance of the names, which would be Moabite names. While there appears to have been good relations between Israel and Moab at the time, their taking of foreign wives might well have been seen by many as a downward step, a consequence of Elimelech’s initial mistake. Compare how associating with surrounding nations is disapproved of in Judges 1, although admittedly there it was because they were Canaanites. But the Moabites were disapproved of almost as much, as Deuteronomy 23.1 ff makes clear. And then ‘about ten years’ passed by while they continued to dwell among the Moabites. ‘Ten’ regularly means ‘a good number’. There may be a hint in this that they remained there overlong. That may have been seen as the reason why the sons also died.

We note that during those ten years neither son had fathered an heir. Both marriages were barren, a further sign of YHWH’s disapproval. It would have been seen as signifying YHWH’s disapproval of their presence in Moab. And it meant that Orpah and Ruth had no one to act as their protector in the future. They shared in Naomi’s desolation, three poor women with no male protector.

1.5 ‘And Mahlon and Chilion died both of them, and the woman was left by her two children and by her husband.’

The two sons also died. This may have been as a result of some pestilence or illness, the effect of which was possibly exacerbated by their weakly condition, or it may have been at the hands of brigands. That they apparently died around the same time would suggest some such thing. But it resulted in the consequence that Naomi found herself alone in a foreign country, with no sons and no husband, something which she had not foreseen.

1.6 ‘Then she arose with her daughters-in-law, so that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab how YHWH had visited his people in giving them bread.’

News meanwhile reached her that the famine in Israel had come to an end, because ‘YHWH had visited his people in giving them bread.’ Note how the famine, and its ending, were thus both laid at God’s door. YHWH was seen as the withholder of food and the provider of food. To Naomi at least there was no doubt as to Who had been responsible for the famine, and Who was now responsible for it having ended. And she may well have asked herself why she had not been there when God acted in deliverance. It would bring home to her the sinfulness of her position. She may also have felt that this same YHWH was the One Who could visit her and fill the emptiness that was in her heart. However that may be the news made her determine to return to Israel, and she arose with her daughters-in-law in order to set out for home, where she could once again enjoy the provision of YHWH.

1.7 ‘And she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.’

The three of them left the place where they had been residing, and took the road to the land of Judah. For the description ‘the land of Judah’ compare Deuteronomy 34.2; 1 Samuel 22.5; 30.16. ‘They went on the way.’ The two young widows probably assumed that they would be going with Naomi, but it is clear from what follows that this was not Naomi’s intention. She wanted their company thus far until the time came for a leave-taking, but her intention was that the two young widows should remain in Moab and return to their family homes.

1.8-9 ‘And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house YHWH deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead, and with me. May YHWH grant you that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voice, and wept.’

When they had reach a certain point, possibly at the crossing of the Arnon which divided Moab from the territory of Reuben, Naomi encouraged her two daughters-in-law to return to their family homes. She prayed that in view of the loyalty they had shown to her and her dead sons, YHWH would deal kindly with them. But she was well aware that in returning to their homes they would also be returning to their national god, Chemosh (verse 15). There would now be no one to lead them in the way of YHWH. Nevertheless she prayed that YHWH may provide them with good husbands, so that they would find contentment in their new homes.

‘Return each of you to her mother’s house.’ Normally we would expect reference to be made to ‘her father’s house’. The emphasis may be on the fact that they are again to take shelter in the women’s quarters, which would be presided over by their mothers, thereby demonstrating that they were once more available. This would often be where marriages were initially arranged and where the future bridegroom came to discuss the wedding, which may by tradition have been mainly the responsibility of the mother (compare Genesis 24.28; Song of Solomon 3.4; 8.2).

1.10 ‘And they said to her, “No, but we will return with you to your people.’

Both women felt a genuine duty and love towards Naomi. And recognising her loneliness they insisted that they should rather accompany her as she returned to her own people. It was not the kind of journey that an old woman should make alone.

1.11 And Naomi said, “Turn again, my daughters. Why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?”

But Naomi recognised that she now had nothing to offer them. To women of those days almost nothing was more important than having a husband and producing children. And her problem was, how could she provide them with husbands, for she had no sons in her womb. In other words she was too old to bear children. And where would Moabite women otherwise find husbands in Israel apart from in the family?

1.12.13 “Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight, and should also bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from having husbands? No, my daughters, for it grieves me much for your sakes, for the hand of YHWH is gone forth against me.”

Furthermore even if there had been a chance that she could produce children, and was able immediately to marry, would they really want to wait until any sons so born would grow up? By that time the women too would be almost beyond childbearing. No it was better for them that they left her and returned to their families and sought husbands in Moab. She assured them of the grief that she felt that YHWH had so dealt with her that she could offer them nothing, because His hand had ‘gone forth against her’. The whole move to Moab, although seeming a good idea at the time, was now seen as a disaster. YHWH had not been in it for good.

1.14 ‘And they lifted up their voice, and wept again, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clove to her.’

Then they all again wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and returned to her home as Naomi had suggested. We must in this recognise the strong pressure that Naomi had put on both of them. It was not that Orpah had not really been willing to go with Naomi. She had been willing. But she had paid heed to the word of Naomi. Ruth, however, was having none of it. She was determined to remain with her mother-in-law. The word ‘clove’ is a strong one.

1.15 ‘And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people, and to her god. Return you after your sister-in-law.’

Naomi pointed out to Ruth that her sister-in-law had taken her advice and had gone back to her people ‘and to her god’ (the Moabite god Chemosh). And she urges Ruth to do the same. Naomi recognised that she had sent Orpah back to the worship of Chemosh, and it is clear that the writer wants us to see that Naomi was in a poor spiritual condition. Her concern was for the physical needs of her daughters-in-law not their spiritual needs. Both Orpah and Ruth might have been lost to Yahwism.

1.16-17 ‘And Ruth said, “Do not entreat me to leave you, and to return from following after you, for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God, where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. YHWH do so to me, and more also (literally ‘and so may He add to do’), if anything but death parts you and me.”

Ruth firmly sets aside Naomi’s arguments. She begs Naomi not to entreat her to leave her. Rather she wishes to share in all that Naomi will face in the future. She will go where she goes. She will lodge where she lodges. Naomi’s people will be her people, and Naomi’s God will be her God. She will die where Naomi dies, so much is she committed to Naomi’s Israelite background. And she will be buried in the same land in which Naomi will be buried. The place where a person wished to be buried was a sign of the place that they saw as ‘home’. Thus this was thus a total commitment to being an Israelite. It was a reasonable position to take. By marrying a Yahwist she had already had to conform to Yahwism. And she would be looked on by many as an Israelite, because she had been incorporated into an Israelite family. The continued stress on the fact that she was a Moabite is mainly the author’s, for to all intents and purposes to marry an Israelite and to commence worshipping YHWH and observing the Feasts was to become an Israelite (Exodus 12.48 - as a woman she would not require circumcision). It was happening all the time. Compare how Moses had married, first a Midianite, and then an Egyptian. The author is concerned to bring out that David had within him Moabite blood, but having said that, that it was the blood of someone who had chosen to be an Israelite and a Yahwist. It would be an encouragement to all foreigners (apart from Canaanites) who were considering becoming Yahwists, and would indicate to them that YHWH would accept them on equal terms and equally bless them.

Once again we have emphasis laid on the fact that by her decision Ruth, like her sister-in-law, was choosing which god she served. Indeed Ruth could have gone back with Naomi but have demanded to serve the god of Moab. But she committed herself to serving Naomi’s God. This could only be because she had come truly to believe in YHWH. She wanted to be included in YHWH’s covenant. As a wife she would have been expected to conform to the worship of her husband’s God, even if she had retained aspects of her old religious life. But she could now have chosen to renege on her commitment to YHWH. Thus we see in Ruth a true believer to whom YHWH was very real, to such an extent that she was not willing to turn her back on Him..

1.18 ‘And when she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she ceased speaking to her.’

When Naomi saw how determined Ruth was to go with her she refrained from urging her any further. Possibly she felt ashamed at having had so little regard for Orpah’s spiritual status.

1.19 ‘So they two went until they came to Beth-lehem. And it came about, when they were come to Beth-lehem, that all the city was moved about them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”

The impression given is that they now proceeded alone (they two went) as they made their way towards Bethlehem. It would not be a pleasant journey for two women on their own. And when they arrived in the small town of Bethlehem word got around that Naomi was coming. Workers in the fields would have seen these two helpless women and had seemingly thought that they recognised Naomi. The result was that when the women entered the town the majority of its inhabitants were showing a deep interest in them, and were indeed asking whether this could possibly be Naomi, who had been away for so long.

1.20 ‘And she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty (Shaddai) has dealt very bitterly with me.”

But as Naomi heard her name being spoken it brought home to her the significance of her name, ‘sweetness’ or ‘delight’. And it made her feel very bitter. She called on them not to speak of her as Naomi, but as Mara (bitterness), because Shaddai had dealt very bitterly with her. Note the use of Shaddai rather than YHWH. LXX translates as ‘the Almighty’. It was not the covenant name, but more a title which indicated His world-wide rule as God of the nations (Genesis 17.1 with 4-5, ‘a multitude of nations’; 28.3, ‘a company of peoples’; 35.11, a company of peoples). Naomi recognised that it was God in His world-wide sovereignty who had so dealt with her as she had, as it were, ‘dwelt among the nations’. Compare how it was as ‘El Shaddai’ that God had ‘made Himself known to the patriarchs’ (Exodus 6.3), that is, brought out the fullness of what the name signified by means of His activity as Lord over all nations, as he watched over them among the nations in a land that was not theirs, whereas it was not until His deliverance of His people at the Exodus that He had demonstrated the full significance of His Name as YHWH their covenant God and thus ‘made known’ His Name to them by what He accomplished. His making known of Himself essentially as YHWH by means of His activity is a theme of Exodus. See Exodus 5.2; 6.3, 7; 7.5, 17; 8.22;10.2;14.4, 18; 16.12; 29.46; 31.13; compare 9.14, 29. Note also Deuteronomy 29.6; Joshua 24.31; 1 Samuel 3.7).

1.21 “I went out full, and YHWH has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, seeing that YHWH has testified against me, and Shaddai (the Almighty) has afflicted me?”

And now God had made Himself know to Naomi as YHWH. While in the foreign land He had acted towards her as Shaddai, but He was now acting towards her as YHWH. She had gone out full (having a husband and two sons) into a foreign land, and there God had afflicted her as Shaddai and by that means, as the covenant God YHWH, had testified against her as one who had departed from the sphere of the covenant, but it was as YHWH that He had now brought her home again empty (having no husband and no sons) because she had previously removed herself from within the sphere of the covenant.

Note how Naomi equates Shaddai with YHWH in the Hebrew parallelism. It was as Shaddai that He had afflicted her in a foreign land, but it was as YHWH that he had testified against her by this action because with her husband she had removed herself from within the sphere of the covenant. And it was as YHWH, the covenant God, that He had brought her home within the sphere of the covenant, into the land where He had ‘visited His people by giving them bread’ (verse 6). By His affliction in the foreign land she had ‘known Him’ as Shaddai; by His bringing of her home within the sphere of the covenant she now ‘knew Him’ as YHWH; and she recognised that that it was because of what they had done by leaving the sphere of the covenant that she and her family had suffered.

1.22 ‘So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned out of the country of Moab, and they came to Beth-lehem in the beginning of the barley harvest.’

Naomi had, with her husband, deserted from within the sphere of the covenant, because there had been famine in the land, But now when she returned it was to discover a plentiful barley harvest, while she herself was empty. No wonder that in the bitterness of the experience she wanted to change her name. But what she did not as yet realise was the treasure that she had brought with her, Ruth the Moabitess from whose descendants would be born Israel’s greatest king, (and whose even greater ‘son’ would be the Saviour of the world).

‘Ruth the Moabitess.’ This is the first time that this description has been applied to Ruth and it will occur fairly regularly from now on (2.2, 21; 4.5, 10. Compare also 2.6, 11). The author is stressing her Moabite ancestry in spite of the fact that she had become a part of an Israelite family and a Yahwist. This suggests that one of his aims is to bring out how such a foreigner who converts to YHWH can find acceptance in the covenant community to such an extent that YHWH will use her to produce Israel’s great king, David.

Chapter 2. Ruth Comes Into Contact With Naomi’s Kinsman Boaz, And Finds Favour With Him.

This chapter focuses on the fact that Ruth came across Boaz’s field by chance, as a consequence of which a relationship built up between herself and Boaz, something which resulted in his showing great generosity towards Ruth, thereby awakening in Naomi the hope that he would play the part of a kinsman by marrying Ruth and bearing children on behalf of the deceased husband, thus preserving the family’s name and possession of land in Israel.

Once again we find a clear chiastic structure. Thus structure was regularly used so as to divide the narrative up into paragraphs (our method of depicting paragraphs was unknown in those days). We should note that while we have paralleled verses strictly in order to bring out the process, the writer’s aim (there were no verses) was more to parallel subject matter:

Analysis.

  • a And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, an important man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech, and his name was Boaz (2.1)
  • b And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Let me now go to the field, and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favour.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter” (2.2).
  • c And she went, and came and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and her chance was to light on the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech (2.3).
  • d And, behold, Boaz came from Beth-lehem, and said to the reapers, “YHWH be with you.” And they answered him, “YHWH bless you” (2.4).
  • e Then Boaz said to his servant who was set over the reapers, “Whose damsel is this?” And the servant who was set over the reapers answered and said, “It is the Moabitish damsel who came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab” (2.5-6).
  • f “And she said, ‘Let me glean, I pray you, and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came, and has continued even from the morning until now, except that she tarried a little in the house” (2.7).
  • g Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Do you not hear, my daughter? Do not go to glean in another field, nor pass from here, but remain here fast by my maidens” (2.8).
  • h Let your eyes be on the field that they reap, and you go after them. Have I not charged the young men that they must not touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels, and drink of what the young men have drawn” (2.9).
  • i Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, seeing I am a foreigner?” (2.10).
  • j And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has fully been shown me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother, and the land of your nativity, and are come to a people whom you knew not up until now. YHWH recompense your work, and a full reward be given you by YHWH, the God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to take refuge” (2.11-12).
  • i Then she said, “Let me find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me, and because you have spoken kindly to your handmaid, although I am as one of your handmaidens” (2.13).
  • h And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your morsel in the vinegar.” And she sat beside the reapers, and they passed her parched grain, and she ate, and was satisfied, and left some of it (2.14).
  • g And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her, and also pull out some for her from the bundles, and leave it, and let her glean, and do not rebuke her” (2.15-16).
  • f So she gleaned in the field until evening, and she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley, and she took it up, and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned, and she brought forth and gave to her what she had left after she had had sufficient (2.17-18).
  • e And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where have you wrought? Blessed be he who took notice of you.” And she showed her mother-in-law with whom she had wrought, and said, “The man’s name with whom I wrought today is Boaz” (2.19).
  • d And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of YHWH, who has not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead.” And Naomi said to her, “The man is near of kin to us, one of our near kinsmen” (2.20).
  • c Ruth the Moabitess said, “Yes, he (Boaz) said to me, ‘You shall keep fast by my young men (the reapers), until they have completed all my harvest” (2.21).
  • b And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maidens, and that they do not meet you in any other field (2.22).
  • a Ruth kept fast by the maidens of Boaz, to glean to the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest, and she dwelt with her mother-in-law (2.23).

Note that in ‘a’ we learn that Boaz was kinsman to Naomi This would immediately alert the attention of the reader or listener to his responsibility under the Law of Moses towards the poorer members of his wider family. In the parallel Ruth keeps close to the maidens of Boaz (as he had commanded, thus performing his duty as a kinsman), whilst also dwelling with her mother-in-law who was Boaz’s kinswoman. In ‘b’ Ruth determines to glean in the fields (picking up wisps of barley that had been dropped by the reapers) wherever she finds favour and Naomi tells her to ‘go, my daughter’, and in the parallel commends the going out of her daughter to the fields of the one with whom she has clearly found favour, and nowhere else. In ‘c’ she gleans in the fields after the reapers of Boaz, and in the parallel Boaz had instructed her to keep fast by his reapers. In ‘d’ Boaz is blessed by his men, and blesses them in return, while in the parallel Boaz is blessed by Naomi. In ‘e’ Boaz takes notice of Ruth and enquires as to who the young woman is who is gleaning, and in the parallel Naomi enquires as to where Ruth has gleaned, and blesses Boaz for having taken notice of her. In ‘f’ the reapers declare that Ruth has gleaned ‘from morning until now’ and in the parallel Ruth had ‘gleaned (all day) until evening’. In ‘g’ Boaz instructs Ruth not to glean in another field, but to remain close to his own women reapers, and in the parallel he instructs his young men to allow her to glean in the fields without reproach. In ‘h’ Boaz tells Ruth that she can refresh herself from the water drawn by his young men, and in the parallel the young men supply her with grain to eat, which is to be dipped in sour wine. In ‘i’ Ruth enquires as to why she has found favour in his sight, and in the parallel she expresses the wish to find favour in his sight. Centrally in ‘j’ we are given the reason for the kindness that Boaz has shown towards Ruth. It is because he is aware of how she has been willing to sacrifice herself for her mother-in-law, his kinswoman, and because she has taken shelter under the wings of YHWH.

2.1 ‘And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, an important man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech, and his name was Boaz.’

Introductory to what is about to unfold we are provided with information about Boaz, the man who will feature prominently in the story. He was ‘an important man of wealth’, and was of the family of Elimelech. Family was an important concept in Israelite eyes, and a man was seen as having a responsibility towards other members of his wider family. It was expected of him that where he could, he would redeem any family property that had had to be sold, and would enable the continuation of his kinsmen’s names by producing sons to take up their inheritance. Whilst the Law of Moses had only indicated this as being an obligation to brothers of a deceased man who had died childless (Deuteronomy 25.5-10), it was also apparently seen as incumbent on other close relatives to perform the same function, albeit voluntarily, when there were no brothers. Compare how Judah had basically admitted that he had been responsible to ensure that his daughter-in-law had had children by a family member, and that she could not therefore be greatly faulted for having ensured the continuation of her husband’s name by having intercourse with him by trickery (Genesis 38.6-30). Such perpetuation was ancient custom and a matter of family honour. Deuteronomy had only been applying it to a specific situation.

Furthermore they would be seen as having an obligation to ensure that family members did not go hungry, and it is clear from the narrative that Boaz had been making enquiries into Naomi’s situation and was well informed about it (verse 11). He was thus behaving like a loyal kinsman.

2.2 ‘And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Let me now go to the field, and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favour.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”

Israel, thanks to God’s Law, had its own social welfare system designed to ensure that no one living in the land would starve. When the fields were reaped any wisps of barley or wheat that fell to the ground were to be left there for the poor to gather, as was grain that was at the edges of the different sections of the fields (Leviticus 19.9-10; 23.22). This gathering by the poor was called ‘gleaning’. The same applied to the fruit of trees when it was gathered (Deuteronomy 24.21). The methods used by agriculturalists always ensured that some small amount of fruit was left on the trees. This too was available to the gleaners. Gleaners, however, were not always respectful or helpful, and it would appear that sometimes there was friction between the reapers and the gleaners (verses 15-16). Nevertheless the law was a good one. A similar social welfare law required that the third year tithe be stored so that it could be called on, among others, by the poor and by aliens (Deuteronomy 14.28-29), whilst in the seventh year, when the land was not to be worked, all were free to gather what grew by itself (Exodus 23.11; Leviticus 25.4-7).

Thus as a widow without a provider Ruth was within her rights to glean in the fields. Gleaners were not, however, always looked on as desirable, especially ‘foreign’ ones, and it was therefore her intention to seek out the field of someone who would prove favourable. As verse 7 indicates, she sought permission before she gleaned, although legally such permission could not be withheld. Naomi, recognising their need for food (not just for eating at the time but also with the remainder of the year in mind) gave her permission and in kindly fashion bade her, ‘go’.

2.3 ‘And she went, and came and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and her chance was to light on the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.’

Leaving the town to glean in the fields Ruth found a field where, having made enquiries of those working in the field, she was given permission to glean (verse 7). She therefore began to follow the reapers as they cut and gathered the barley, picking up any gleanings that were left. The reapers would be both men and women, mainly free men and women who made themselves available at the various harvest times (compare Matthew 20.1 ff.). Ruth was probably not the only gleaner there, and there would no doubt also have been quarrels among the gleaners as they sought for the best gleanings, and she may well have been looked down on even by them. It was not the pleasantest of tasks and offered little reward. But unknown to her she ‘chanced’ to have selected a part of the ‘field’ which belonged to Boaz, who was kinsman to her deceased father-in-law and her deceased husband. It was not, of course, a fenced field, ownership of parts of a large area of ground being indicated by landmarks, which sometimes unscrupulous owners would move (Deuteronomy 19.14; 27.17). There can be little doubt that the author did not really see it as having happened by chance. Notice how YHWH is emphasised in the next verse. (We can, however, compare ‘by chance’ with Luke 10.31).

2.4 ‘And, behold, Boaz came from Beth-lehem, and said to the reapers, “YHWH be with you.” And they answered him, “YHWH bless you.”

Being a good man Boaz came to see how the reaping was going, and greeted his reapers with the words, ‘YHWH be with you’ (compare our ‘goodbye’ which means ‘God be with you’). They in return called down on him the blessing of YHWH. We are intended by this to see Boaz as a godly man. Note that in the Hebrew it literally reads, ‘YHWH be with you -- bless you, YHWH’ with the Name of YHWH forming an inclusio. YHWH is brought into the centre of the situation.

2.5 ‘Then Boaz said to his servant who was set over the reapers, “Whose damsel is this?”

As he looked out over his land he saw Ruth following his reapers, and he turned to his overseer and asked who the woman was who was gleaning, and to what family she belonged. He possibly wanted to ensure that she had the right to glean (it was restricted to the needy), and even possibly in order to ensure that his overseer was doing his job properly. Part of his job would be to check up on the gleaners.

It is not surprising that Boaz did not know her, She would probably be well and discreetly covered up, and he may well never have seen her. Women did not move around as freely as they do today. So while he had made enquiries about Naomi’s situation, it was unlikely that he had ever met Ruth.

2.6 ‘And the servant who was set over the reapers answered and said, “It is the Moabitish damsel who came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab.”

The overseer demonstrated that he was fulfilling his duties, and informed Boaz that it was the Moabitish young woman who had come back from Moab with Naomi. It would appear that Ruth’s loyalty was well known in the town. The overseer may not, however, have known her family history, and that she was related to Boaz by marriage.

2.7 “And she said, ‘Let me glean, I pray you, and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came, and has continued even from the morning until now, except that she tarried a little in the house.”

He explained that Ruth had in fact asked permission to glean, following the reapers as they gathered the sheaves. And he pointed out how hard she had worked at her task, working from dawn to this moment, apart from taking shelter for a short while in a lean-to which was apparently provided in order to offer a brief shelter from the hot sun while people ate such food as they had. She would no doubt have chosen a time when it was not otherwise being used, but it had not failed to be noticed by the overseer. His words may have been expressing admiration, or they may have been an assurance to Boaz that he was being observant. Gleaners no doubt sometimes exceeded their rights.

2.8-9 ‘Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Do you not hear, my daughter? Do not go to glean in another field, nor pass from here, but remain here fast by my maidens. Let your eyes be on the field that they reap, and you go after them. Have I not charged the young men that they must not touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels, and drink of what the young men have drawn.”

Recognising that Ruth was related to him, and admiring what he knew of her, Boaz either went over to her or summoned her to him. And then he adjured her remain in his portion of the land, following after his male and female reapers, and sticking close to his female servants. He assured her kindly that he had charged his young men not to touch her, so that she would be quite safe, and that when she was thirsty she must feel free to drink of the vessels of water drawn by his young men from the local spring. This would be a great boon as it would mean that she did not have to take time off from her gleaning to satisfy her thirst at the same spring.

We have an indication here of some of the dangers of gleaning for a good-looking young woman. Unscrupulous field owners, or their servants, may well often have taken advantage of such young women. They were unprotected, except to some extent by the Law, and many would take no notice of what happened to them.

2.10 ‘Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, seeing I am a foreigner?”

Ruth was filled with gratitude, and humbled herself, bowing deeply before him. Humbly she asked him why such an important man was condescending to take such notice of her. He must be aware that she was a foreigner (something the writer continually emphasises). Why then was she proving so favourable in his sight? Her words did not indicate suspicion, but merely an estimation of her own worth as compared with him.

2.11 ‘And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has fully been shown me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother, and the land of your nativity, and are come to a people whom you knew not up until now.”

We are not given the source of his information, which was probably one of his servants whom he had sent to enquire into Naomi’s general welfare, but he now makes clear that he is aware of almost the full story of what had happened. He knew something of what she had done for Naomi after the death of her own husband, and how she had left her own family, and the land of her birth, so as to come with Naomi among what to her had, up to this time, been a strange people. He had also seemingly learned of her devotion to YHWH. This may have become common knowledge as Naomi had spoken with her fellow citizens, or it may have been information obtained from Naomi herself as a result if his kindly enquiries.,

2.12 “YHWH recompense your work, and a full reward be given you by YHWH, the God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to take refuge.”

Boaz’s godliness comes out in his wish for Ruth, that she be recompensed by YHWH, the God of Israel, and given the full reward that she deserved. In view of his age he was probably unaware at this moment that he would prove the answer to his own prayer.

Especially important in the narrative are his words concerning the fact that she had come ‘to take refuge under the wings of YHWH’. This would suggest that he was aware of her piety and genuine love for YHWH. To take refuge under the wings of YHWH indicated a commitment to the covenant. But what is even more important is that it was making clear to the reader or listener that her faith in YHWH was true and genuine. She was a genuine proselyte and as such one of the children of Israel by adoption (Exodus 12.48). What follows in the story would not have happened had it been otherwise. While her race would not matter (it was deemed more important with males), especially because she had married an Israelite, her attitude towards YHWH and His covenant would matte. It is this continued emphasis that indicates that part of the reason for the account was in order to indicate to would be proselytes that they could be totally accepted into Israel. This was especially important at the time of David’s greatness when many foreigners would have been considering the claims of YHWH.

This figurative expression is derived from Deuteronomy 32.11, and we can compare Psalm 91.4; 36.7; 57.1. It was a classic description of someone who was genuinely true to the covenant and therefore under the protection of YHWH.

2.13 ‘Then she said, “Let me find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me, and because you have spoken kindly to your handmaid, although I am as one of your handmaidens.”

Ruth responds to the words of the great man with true humility. Basically she is saying, ‘let me continue to find favour in your sight’, for she has previously stated that she has found favour in his sight (verse 10). And she is grateful for the comfort that he has given her, which she may well have found lacking in some people in Bethlehem, and appreciates the fact that he has ‘spoken kindly’ towards her. ‘Your handmaid’ is in fact a typical way in which a woman, even one of some importance, speaks to someone important. There are any number of examples in Scripture (e.g. 1 Samuel 25.24). Thus Ruth is not literally seeing herself to one of his handmaids. What she is seeing is that she is not more important than they, which makes the kindness and gentleness of Boaz appear to her even more important. She is appreciating the comfort and the kindliness of a man of some importance.

2.14 ‘And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your morsel in the vinegar.” And she sat beside the reapers, and they passed her parched grain, and she ate, and was satisfied, and left some of it.’

When mealtime came around for the shearers Boaz invited Ruth to join them calling on her to share their food and sour wine mixed with oil. And in consequence, rather than being treated as a gleaner, she sat among the reapers while they passed to her edible parched grain, to such an extent that she was more than satisfied and was able to leave some over, which she carefully stored up so as to take it back to Naomi. It was royal treatment indeed for such a one as Ruth. Such edible parched grain is still partaken of by reapers in the Middle East today. The grains of barley or wheat, not yet fully dry and hard, are roasted in a pan or on an iron plate. They constitute a very palatable type of food; It was food near to hand, and there was as much as they wanted.

2.15 ‘And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her.”

Then once the meal was over and she arose in order to start gleaning again, Boaz commanded his young men to allow her to glean even in the very place where they were reaping without reproaching her. She would thus be able to pick up the best of the gleanings, with the other gleaners being unable to prevent it. For they did not dare to glean among the reapers. They knew that they would be sharply rebuked for it, and even manhandled.

2.16 “And also pull out some for her from the bundles, and leave it, and let her glean, and do not rebuke her.”

He also commanded them, not only to allow her to glean among them, but also to ensure that she had plenty of gleanings by taking some of the barley stems out of their sheaves and dropping them in her path so that she could collect them up. And she was not to be rebuked for doing so. By this means he was ensuring that Naomi and Ruth would be well provided for in the coming months without appearing to be unnecessarily charitable. He was demonstrating that he was aware both of their needs and of their sense of pride, and of their feelings.

2.17 ‘So she gleaned in the field until evening, and she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.’

So Ruth continued to glean diligently until nightfall, after which she beat out what she had gleaned, and it came to about an ephah of barley. Due to the generosity and kindness of Boaz it was far more than she could have expected as a gleaner. An ephah was a vessel large enough to hold a small woman (Zechariah 5.6-10).

2.18 ‘And she took it up, and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned, and she brought forth and gave to her what she had left after she had had sufficient.’

Ruth then returned home and showed Naomi what she had gleaned, and she also gave her what remained of the parched grain that she had been given at mealtime. She ‘brought forth’ (‘drew out’) the spare parched grain, probably out of a kind of pocket that she had made with her robe.

2.19 ‘And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where have you wrought? Blessed be he who took notice of you.” And she showed her mother-in-law with whom she had wrought, and said, “The man’s name with whom I wrought today is Boaz.”

Naomi seemingly gathered from the quantity of grain that Ruth had brought that someone had been especially kind towards her (‘blessed be he who took notice of you’), and asked her where she had been working, and in whose field she had been gleaning. And Ruth informed her that she had been working in the field of a man called Boaz.

2.20 ‘And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of YHWH, who has not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead.” And Naomi said to her, “The man is near of kin to us, one of our near kinsmen.”

At this Naomi’s heart rejoiced, for she saw in it the hand of YHWH, recognising by it that He had overlooked neither her and Ruth, nor her dead husband and sons. It appeared to her that YHWH had taken note of their plight and had the intention after all of producing sons to carry on the family name. She called on YHWH to bless Boaz, and explained to a puzzled Ruth that Boaz was in fact of near kin to them and was thus, legally speaking, ‘a near kinsman’. For the responsibilities of a ‘near kinsman’ acting as a goël, or redeemer, see Leviticus 25.25, 47-49. .

2.21 ‘And Ruth the Moabitess said, “Yes, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close to my young people (the masculine noun covering both men and women), until they have completed all my harvest.”

Ruth then explained what Boaz had said to her, that she keep close to his young people for the remainder of the harvesting, where she would be safe from being molested, and could be sure of ample gleanings. Note again the reference to Ruth as ‘the Moabitess’, which confirms that that fact is important to the writer’s purpose.

2.22 ‘And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maidens, and that they do not meet you in any other field.”

Naomi the expressed her approval of what Boaz had said. As she had remained at home, a fact which suggested that she was old and infirm enough not to have joined the gleaners, she had probably had time to worry about Ruth’s welfare. Who knew what unscrupulous field owners, or feisty young reapers, or jealous gleaners, or unpleasant young women who looked down on an alien, might do to take advantage of a virtually unprotected, and seemingly beautiful, young woman? But now she knew that YHWH had been watching over Ruth, and was content. So she confirmed Boaz’s words and called on Ruth make sure that she went out into the fields with Boaz’s young women, and not work in any other field where unpleasant people could meet her (or more literally ‘fall upon her’, i.e mistreat her or misuse her).

2.23 ‘So she stuck close to the maidens of Boaz, to glean to the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest, and she dwelt with her mother-in-law.’

So Ruth did what Naomi had asked, and ensured that she stuck close to Boaz’s young women, who would have regard for her because she was a protégé of Boaz, all the while that she was gleaning, first with regard to the barley harvest, and then with regard to the wheat harvest which followed. And thus two or three months passed by. It was clear that YHWH was watching over the one who had taken shelter under His wings (verse 12), and was keeping her safe.

‘And she dwelt with her mother-in-law.’ She remained a firm member of the family of the deceased Elimelech. It was as such that God’s purposes would be fulfilled. And thus she had protection, both when she was in the fields, and in the home in which she lived, for Naomi was a respected member of the community. But there is here also a reminder that they were two widows, two defenceless women living together. However, as we shall soon learn, God is the One Who watches over widows and orphans, and so they were not without a protector.

‘The barley harvest -- the wheat harvest.’ The barley harvesting commenced immediately after the Feast of Unleavened Bread in late March or early April, whilst the wheat harvest was terminated by The Feast of Sevens (Weeks), that is, seven weeks later in late May or early June.

It should be noticed how God’s purposes are unravelling. Chapter 2 has dealt with the concern of Ruth and Naomi to find sufficient food to see them through the coming months, and with Ruth’s diligence in going about the task. For them that was a basic need and they had no other thought in mind. But it was while they were seeking to do this, with no other thought than to be obedient to God’s Law and to take advantage of His provision, that the One under Whose wings Ruth had taken refuge has revealed that He had greater purposes in mind.

Chapter 3 Ruth Makes Her Plea To Boaz As Her Near Kinsman To Fulfil His Duties Towards Her.

Recognising that Boaz has revealed himself as well-disposed towards them, Naomi now determines to call on him to fulfil the responsibilities of a near kinsman. This would, as he would know (see 4.3-5), involve his buying the land that Naomi had inherited from her husband (which presumably at present lay waste), in order to prevent it going out of the family, and to bear children through Ruth so as to perpetuate the name of her dead husband. These responsibilities were not legally binding, nevertheless they were a firmly established custom, and to fail to fulfil them would bring a certain level of ignominy on the one who refused (Deuteronomy 25.10).

Responsibility towards family was an important concept in Israel (as indeed it was in the wider world o that day) and the Law of Moss laid down certain responsibilities which Israelites had towards family members who were in need, whether the need was financial or to do with the perpetuation of the name of a male family member who had died without sons.

With regard to family land ‘owned’, the theocratical position was that YHWH was seen as the actual owner of the land, and as having leased it to His people for their inheritance, with the consequence that the Israelites themselves merely had the recognised use of the land which they had received by lot for their inheritance. Because of this the present possessor could not part with the family portion perpetually or sell it at will. It was to remain for ever in his family. If therefore the situation arose that any one was obliged to sell his inheritance on account of finding himself in poverty, and actually did sell it (although all that he could sell was the use of the land), it was seen as the duty of the nearest relation to redeem it, by acting as goël (redeemer). However, even if it was not redeemed, it still returned to its original ‘owner’ at the next year of Yubile, without compensation, for what had been bought was merely the use of the land. Consequently, at least in theory, (land purchasers would often later find a way round it by absorbing the land into their own land, ‘adding field to field’), no actual perpetual sale could take place in the way in which we would understand it (it was different with houses owned within city walls), but simply a sale of the yearly produce till the year of Yubile (see Leviticus 25.10, 13-16, 24-28).

Furthermore there was also an old customary right, which had been confirmed to some extent by YHWH in the Law of Moses, for the widow of a family member to require that a near kinsman (in the Mosaic Law a natural brother) beget children through her in order to perpetuate the family name. This was the custom of Levirate marriage. Such a custom is evidenced in Genesis 38 where Judah was seen as responsible to see that the wife of his dead son was impregnated by one of his other sons, whether older or younger than the widow, so as to produce seed for the dead son. This would preserve his name in Israel and provide an heir for his inheritance. This son was then the legal heir of any landed property that the deceased father had had (compare Deuteronomy 25.5).

It would appear from the Book of Ruth that these two customs had become interconnected so that to ‘redeem’ the land was to take on responsibility for bearing children through the widow of the deceased man. Indeed, to fail to do the latter was seen as bringing a certain level of disgrace on the one who refused, for the widow would loose his shoe and spit in his face and he would for ever afterwards be known as ‘the one whose shoe had been loosed’ (Deuteronomy 25.8-10).

It is clear from what follows that Elimelech, and of course his sons on his death, had ‘owned’ land near Bethlehem, land which would now be offered to the near kinsman for him to ‘redeem it’ on behalf of the dead man, with it then being recognised that he would beget a son through Ruth in order to perpetuate the name of the dead. It was these customs which were the basis for Naomi’s actions in this chapter.

Once again the chapter is seen to be in chiastic form as follows:

  • a And Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (3.1).
  • b “And now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maidens you were? See, he winnows barley to-night in the threshing-floor (3.2).
  • c “Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself, and put your clothes on you, and get you down to the threshing-floor, but do not make yourself known to the man, until he has done eating and drinking” (3.3).
  • d “And it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall mark the place where he shall lie, and you will go in, and uncover his feet, and lay yourself down, and he will tell you what you shall do.” And she said to her, “All that you say I will do.” And she went down to the threshing-floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law bade her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain, and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid herself down (3.4-7).
  • e And it came about at midnight, that the man was fearful, and turned himself, and, behold, a woman lay at his feet, and he said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your handmaid. Spread therefore your robe over your handmaid, for you are a near kinsman” (3.8-9).
  • f And he said, “Blessed be you of YHWH, my daughter. You have shown more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as you did not follow young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do to you all that you say, for all the city of my people know that you are a worthy woman.”
  • e “And now it is true that I am a near kinsman. However, there is a kinsman nearer than I. Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform to you the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part; but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to you, then I will do the part of a kinsman to you, as YHWH lives. Lie down until the morning” (3.12-13).
  • d ‘And she lay at his feet until the morning. And she rose up before one was able to discern another. For he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing-floor” (3.14).
  • c And he said, “Bring the mantle that is on you, and hold it.” And she held it. And he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her. And he went into the city (3.15).
  • b And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “Who are you, my daughter?” And she told her all that the man had done to her. And she said, “He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said, “Do not go empty to your mother-in-law” (3.16-17).
  • a Then said she, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will fall, for the man will not rest, until he has finished the thing this day (3.18).

Note that in ‘a’ Naomi is seeking Ruth’s wellbeing and her security for the future, and in the parallel she is content that she has obtained it. In ‘b’ Boaz is their near kinsman and is winnowing barley, and in the parallel Boaz gives Ruth six measures of that barley, a sign that he has accepted his position as near kinsman. In ‘c’ Ruth is to make special preparations to offer herself to Boaz, and dresses, and in the parallel Boaz tells her to prepare her robe and indicates his acceptance of her by giving her six measures of barley. In ‘d’ Ruth is told to go to the threshingfloor and lay herself down at Boaz’s feet, and in the parallel she lies at his feet until morning. In ‘e’ Ruth calls on Boaz to act as a near kinsman, and in the parallel he agrees to do so. Centrally in ‘f’ Ruth receives her benefit because she is a kind and worthy woman, in other words one whom YHWH delights to bless.

3.1 ‘And Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?”

Harvest being over Naomi now decided that it was time to act. She had no doubt observed with interest Boaz’s continued generosity towards Ruth, and it had encouraged her to think that he might not be averse to marrying her. So she approached Ruth informing her that her intention was to ‘seek rest’ for her so that her future might be secure. She then gave instructions to Ruth about what she ought to do.

3.2 “And now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maidens you were? See, he winnows barley tonight in the threshing-floor.”

She reminds Ruth that the man who had been so kind to her was in fact their kinsman, knowing no doubt that Ruth would recognise the significance of that fact. Furthermore she knew where he would be that evening, for the harvest having been gathered in it would now be necessary for it to be threshed. Thus she knew that he would be in charge of the winnowing in the threshingfloor. The threshingfloor would be in an open area of ground where the ground had been beaten down and where it would be affected by the steady wind that blew at that time of year. The grain would be piled on the threshingfloor and would then be tossed up into the air by winnowing-forks so that the wind could blow away the chaff, leaving the ears of grain to fall again to the threshingfloor. Thus the ears of barley would be separated from the chaff. The winnowing would be followed by feasting in celebration of the gathering in of harvest.

3.3 “Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself, and put your clothes on you, and get you down to the threshing-floor, but do not make yourself known to the man, until he has done eating and drinking.”

Ruth was therefore to wash herself, and anoint herself with oil, and then dress and go down to the threshingfloor. There she must wait patiently and unobserved until Boaz had finished eating and drinking. As mentioned above this eating and drinking would probably be part of the celebrations because the harvest had been safely gathered in. It was not to be interrupted. What Ruth was about to do must not be done publicly.

3.4 “And it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall mark the place where he shall lie, and you will go in, and uncover his feet, and lay yourself down, and he will tell you what you shall do.”

But once he laid himself down to sleep Ruth was to mark where he lay down (darkness would be approaching), and when the time was right she should go onto the threshingfloor, lift up his robe where it covered his feet (Boaz would be using his robe as a kind of bedcovering) and should then lay herself down there and put that portion of the robe over herself. This was seemingly a recognised act by which she would be claiming the right of levirate marriage. It certainly indicated that she was seeking his protection. Boaz would then tell her what she should do. It would be in his hands how he responded to her plea.

3.5 ‘And she said to her, “All that you say I will do.”

Obedient to here mother-in-law as always, Ruth consented to do what Naomi had asked.

3.6 ‘And she went down to the threshing-floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law bade her.’

Once again it is emphasised that Ruth did as she was bidden. The writer wants it to be clear that Ruth was not self-seeking. She was obedient to the customs of her new people. So she went down to the threshingfloor.

3.7 ‘And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain, and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid herself down.’

There would be a good number of people present for the threshing, and all these would join in the feasting, and then seek out a place to sleep on the threshingfloor, probably a little merry from the wine. Boaz in his turn, once he had eaten and drunk also sought out a place to sleep, and he chose to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Observing this, Ruth gave him time to settle and fall asleep, and then approached him softly, uncovered his feet, and laid herself down under that portion of his robe. It should be noted that she would remain fully clothed.

3.8 ‘And it came about at midnight, that the man was fearful, and turned himself, and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.’

By this time it would be quite dark, and thus when Boaz awoke, and was conscious of someone lying at his feet he was a little apprehensive. Turning he noted that it was a woman. Not being able to tell who the woman was in the dimness it seemed to him quite out of place. Possibly the thought sprang though his mind that someone was trying to compromise him.

3.9 ‘And he said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your handmaid. Spread therefore the edge of your robe over your handmaid, for you are a near kinsman.”

So he asked, quite startled, ‘Who are you?’ And Ruth replied ‘I am Ruth your handmaid.’ As we have seen previously to call herself his handmaid was not to be taken literally, but merely indicated her maidenly modesty. She then requested him, acting as a near kinsman, to cover her with the corner or ‘wing’ of his robe (see Deuteronomy 22.30; 27.20; Ezekiel 16.8) as a sign that he was taking her under his protection. The word for ‘wing’ is the same as in 2.12 where it is in the plural and indicated the wings of YHWH, thinking of Him in terms of a protecting bird. Here then, symbolically, Boaz would be taking her under his wing.

3.10 ‘And he said, “Blessed be you of YHWH, my daughter. You have shown more kindness (love) in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as you did not follow young men, whether poor or rich.”

Boaz was moved that such a presentable young woman should be willing to become his wife. It is apparent that he had to some extent fallen in love with her, for he felt only able to express his gratitude that she should have chosen him rather than a younger man, ‘whether rich or poor’. He for one clearly believed that she would have had good marriage prospects. Thus he blesses her in the Name of YHWH, for showing him even more kindness than she had before when she had gleaned in his fields and had spoken so graciously to him. He undoubtedly saw her being willing to marry him as a great kindness. It augured well for the future. Some see the ‘love -- at the beginning’ as referring to the previous love shown to her former husband, a young man, and her mother-in-law, compare 2.11.

3.11 “And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do to you all that you say, for all the city (literally ‘the gate’) of my people know that you are a worthy woman.”

He then assured her that as far as it lay within his power he would do what she had requested, because she had a reputation among all the people of Bethlehem as being a worthy woman. ‘All the gate of my people.’ The gate was the place where people met and conversed, and where the elders made decisions and judged the rights and wrongs of people. Thus her reputation was good among the people, and equally among those most competent to judge.

There is a play on words here in that Boaz had been declared to be ‘a man of chayil (wealth)’, see 2.1, and now Ruth is declared to be ‘a woman of chayil (worthiness)’. Both were getting a good bargain.

3.12 “And now it is true that I am a near kinsman. However, there is a kinsman nearer than I.”

Boaz, however, now drew attention to a problem There was a nearer kinsman than himself. In view of the fact that Ruth was seeking to produce children on behalf of her dead husband it had to be through the nearest kinsman who was willing. Furthermore, rights to property were involved, and that also gave precedence to the nearest kinsman.

3.13 “Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform to you the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part; but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to you, then I will do the part of a kinsman to you, as YHWH lives. Lie down until the morning.”

Boaz then told her to wait there with him until the morning when he would discover whether the nearer kinsman would be willing to fulfil his duty as near kinsman. If he would, then well and good. (As with most ancient marriages love did not enter into it). On the other hand if he would not perform the duties of a kinsman, then Boaz himself would take up the role. ‘As YHWH lives’ was a regular oath, and a binding one. He wanted Ruth to be in no doubt about his good intentions. The request to remain the night was no doubt for Ruth’s own safety. That he saw nothing inappropriate in her doing so comes out in that he could have suggested that she found a place to sleep nearby.

3.14 ‘And she lay at his feet until the morning. And she rose up before one was able to discern another. For he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing-floor.”

However, in view of the fact that she might be offered to another he clearly felt that it was necessary to be discreet. Nothing wrong had been done, but he would not want it known that she had offered herself to him when matters were not yet settled. And as always, there would be those who would try to make something out of an innocent situation, interpreting her presence in the wrong way. So no doubt following his advice, Ruth, having laid at his feet until morning, arose before it was yet quite light in order to make her way home. Meanwhile Boaz instructed any who may have observed Ruth’s presence not to let it be known that she had been there. He did not want her compromised in any way.

3.15 ‘And he said, “Bring the mantle that is on you, and hold it.” And she held it. And he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her. And he went into the city.’

But before she went he told her to hold her mantle in such a way that she could receive a gift, and he measured out six measures of barley and put them in her mantle. And he then left and went into the city. It is probable that this gift was highly significant, indicating his acceptance of Ruth on the terms he had agreed. He probably knew that Naomi would recognise in this that he was happy with the situation. Note on verse 17.

3.16 ‘And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “Who are you, my daughter?” And she told her all that the man had done to her.’

When she arrived home Naomi asked her, ‘Who are you my daughter?’ It was possibly intended to be an enquiry as to whether her status had changed. Was she still Ruth the widow, or was she now a prospective bride, betrothed to a wealthy man and enjoying the benefit of a kinsman redeemer (a goel)? Alternatively it might simply mean, ‘How did things go? What was the result of what you did’ Ruth then explained to her all that had happened.

3.17 ‘And she said, “He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said, “Do not go empty to your mother-in-law.”

Ruth then produced the six measures of barley explaining that Boaz had said, “Do not go empty to your mother-in-law.” We must almost certainly see, in view of the next verse, that Naomi recognised in this gift an acceptance by Boaz of the proposal that had been made, a gift assuring her that he would do all that was necessary. Had Boaz been at all offended, or even neutral, he would not have offered such a gift. It may even be that it was intended to be a kid of firstfruits of what they could hope to enjoy in the future.

3.18 ‘Then said she, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will fall, for the man will not rest, until he has finished the thing this day.’

So Naomi told Ruth to sit quietly and await the outcome, for she was now sure that Boaz would not rest until he had sorted mattes out one way or the other.

Boaz Negotiates For Ruth And Make Her His Bride (4.1-11a).

In order to further his cause with Ruth Boaz made his way to the city gate. The gate of any city, in which there would often be an enclosed space between an inner and outer gate, and a gate house, together with rooms/alcoves for conducting official matters, was the place where much business took place and where the elders of the city met to make decisions and act as judges. Markets would be held there. It was a centre of activity. Knowing that the near kinsman he sought would almost certainly pass through there he sat down and waited, and sure enough the man whom he sought approached. Sitting him down, and calling for the elders as witnesses, Boaz then began to put to him the situation. The land of Elimelech was for sale and he as the nearest kinsman had the first right to buy it, but what he had to recognise was the fact that whoever bought it would be obliged by custom to take Ruth the Moabitess as wife in order to beget a son for the dead husband. Learning of this the man declined and granted Boaz permission to take his place as near kinsman, at which Boaz announced to the elders that he would be purchasing Elimelech’s land, and marrying Ruth in order to bear sons on behalf of the deceased Elimelech and his deceased sons in order to perpetuate their names.

Analysis.

  • a Now Boaz went up to the gate, and sat himself down there, and, behold, the near kinsman of whom Boaz had spoken came by, to whom he said, “Ho, such a one! 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, “You sit down here.” And they sat down (4.1-2).
  • b And he said to the near kinsman, “Naomi, who is come again out of the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s” (4.3).
  • c “And I thought to disclose it to you, saying, “Buy it before those who sit here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not redeem it, then tell me, so that I may know, for there is none to redeem it besides you, and I am after you” (4.4a).
  • d And he said, “I will redeem it” (4.4b).
  • e Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance” (4.5).
  • d And the near kinsman said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar my own inheritance. You take my right of redemption on you, for I cannot redeem it” (4.6).
  • c 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 neighbour, and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. So the near kinsman said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he drew off his shoe (4.7-8).
  • b 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, from 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 on 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 (4.9-10).
  • a And all the people who were in the gate, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses.” (4.11a).

Note that in ‘a’ Boaz approaches the Gate and calls the elder as witnesses, and in the parallel the people who were in the Gate, and the elders, declare that they are witnesses. In ‘b’ Boaz explains that Naomi is selling the family land which was Elimelech’s, and in the parallel he states that he is buying all that was Elimelech’s, both land and woman. In ‘c’ Boaz calls on the near kinsman to buy the land, and in the parallel the near kinsman tells him to buy the land. In ‘d’ the near kinsman says he will redeem the land, and in the parallel he says that he cannot redeem the land. Centrally in ‘e’ Ruth the Moabitess goes with the land. Although not outwardly apparent, this was in fact the central point at issue with the writer.

4.1 ‘Now Boaz went up to the gate, and sat himself down there, and, behold, the near kinsman of whom Boaz had spoken came by, to whom he said, “Ho, such a one! Turn aside, sit down here.” And he turned aside, and sat down.’

Boaz knew that his first task was to track down and talk to the one who was a nearer kinsman than himself. So in order to do this he went to the gate of the city. It was, of course, morning (3.15), and he was clearly aware that the man must shortly come through there, possibly on his way to his fields. The gate of a city was the hub of the city’s activities. It was there that the elders met to deliberate, and act as judges where it was necessary, and it was there that important business activities took place, especially those which involved witnesses. The gateway would include an enclosed between two gates, with the gatekeeper’s house on one side, and other rooms on the other side. There would also be areas for storage. The city itself would be a warren of houses crowded in on each other in unplanned fashion. It was thus only at the gate, together with the city square in front of the gate if there was one, that space could be found for such activities.

Sure enough he soon spotted the nearer kinsman passing through, and called on him to turn aside and sit near him. The nearer kinsman would recognise that Boaz had something official to say, or ask, and he therefore had no hesitation in taking a seat, intrigued as to what Boaz may want. The writer deliberately leaves out he name of the nearest kinsman, possibly because he is to be seen as disgraced for having refused to carry out his kinsman’s duties (compare Deuteronomy 25.9-10).

4.2 ‘And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, “You sit down here.” And they sat down.’

The mystery deepened when Boaz requested that ten city elders should also sit with them. They were there to act as witnesses to the transaction that was about to take place. It may, however, be that ‘ten’ indicates ‘a reasonable number’ (compare Jacob’s ‘he has changed my wages ten times’ - Genesis 31.7).

4.3 ‘And he said to the near kinsman, “Naomi, who is come again out of the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s.”

Then Boaz explained his purpose. He explained to the near kinsman that Naomi, who had recently come out of the country of Moab, was selling the family land which had belonged to her deceased husband, Elimelech. But as we have seen above, it was not as simple as that. For the land belonged to YHWH, and it had been allotted by Him to a family in Israel who was represented by the head of the family (who had in this case been Elimelech). What was therefore seen as of crucial importance was that ‘the name’ of that family, in this case the family of Elimelech, should be maintained in Israel, and that would be done by the redeemer who bought the land begetting children through the surviving females in the family, where all the menfolk had died. This was the responsibility of the goel (redeemer).

As can be seen, the survival of the ‘name’ of the family was seen as of vital importance. A man lived on in his sons, and no family was to be allowed to die out in Israel. It was the equivalent in the Old Testament of ‘eternal life’. Every means therefore had to be used in order to ensue the survival of the family name.

The question may arise as to whether Naomi was able to sell the land. Legally speaking it was not hers, and had it been a question of simply selling the land the answer would probably have been ‘no’. But that is not the case here. The land was being sold conditionally on the purchaser producing a male heir to finally inherit the land. In fact the right of women to inherit was declared in Numbers 36. There the daughters of a deceased man were able to inherit his land where there were no sons, the only condition being that they would then marry within their tribe so that possession of the land would not go outside the tribe. So it would appear here that legally the land could be seen as Ruth’s, as wife of Elimelech’s heir, but on that basis she would only enjoy the right as long as she married within her dead husband’s tribe. While the position was not quite the same, Numbers 36 did suggest that where all male direct heirs within a family were dead, women could have an inheritance in the land of that family as long as when they married it remained within ‘the family’. This was probably the basis on which the sale here was able to proceed, with the sale being restricted to someone who could produce sons on behalf of the dead. In consequence the land would finally pass on to male heirs of Elimelech and Mahlon. From the point of view of the story what, of course, matters is not what exactly the Law said, but how it was being interpreted at this time in the light of custom.

4.4 “And I thought to disclose it to you, saying, “Buy it before those who sit here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not redeem it, then tell me, so that I may know, for there is none to redeem it besides you, and I am after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.”

Boaz then called on the near kinsman, in front of ‘those who sit here, even before the elders of my people’, acting as witnesses, to buy the land if he wished to do so, so that it could remain in the family (that is why he was said to ‘redeem it’). If he was not willing to do so then the right passed on to the next nearest kinsman, which in this case was Boaz.

As we have seen the purpose of redemption was so that the land might remain in the family and not go to outsiders, but even more specifically it was in order for it finally to be restored to the near family of its original owners. This would require the maintaining of the name in Israel of the original owner (verse 10), and that would be the duty of the purchase. So what was being bought in this case was the right of use of the land until it could revert back to its original owners, that is, to a son of the dead man as begotten through the goel (the kinsman redeemer). Thus the redeemer, being a near kinsman, had the responsibility to ensure that the family and name of the original owners survived, and he did it by himself begetting sons through any womenfolk who were left of the original family. The purpose of this was in order to ensure that the name of the original owners survived in Israel, along with their ownership of their land as originally allotted to them by YHWH.

On hearing that the land was available the near kinsman immediately said that he would ‘redeem’ it. The rights to land were very valuable, especially land which probably bordered on his own as a near kinsman, and the possibility of obtaining it did not come up very often because of the rigid customs that prevailed. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss. But he had not thought out the consequences, possibly because he was not familiar with the Law, or possibly because he had not connected Ruth with the situation (not how Boaz had spoken of Naomi as the ‘seller’). That would not indicate that the law did not exist, only that people are often very vague as to what exactly the law requires. It will be noted that once it was drawn to his attention (and no doubt confirmed by the listening elders) he yielded to Boaz’s arguments.

‘I thought to disclose it to you.’ Literally, ‘I have said (to myself) I will lay bare (disclose) in your ear’, a good example of translator’s licence which is common in translating Old Testament Hebrew.

4.5 ‘Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance.”

Then Boaz pointed out what this redemption involved. On the day that he bought the land he would have the responsibility of ‘raising up the name of the dead on his inheritance’, by begetting sons through the remaining womenfolk who were selling the land, in this case Naomi and Ruth, the wives of the deceased menfolk. That son would then take the name of the deceased (he would be ‘ben Mahlon, ben Elimelech’). Note that it is made quite clear here that Ruth, though a Moabitess, was now an essential part of Israel with certain rights of land ‘ownership’ of YHWH’s land. Thus the continual stress on her being a Moabite (not only in his use of the descriptive title, but also in comments continually made - 2.6, 11) is patently a part of the writer’s purpose. He wants to stress that the great King David was descended from a Moabite, and his purpose in this must have been in order to make clear that a foreigner, even a Moabite woman, could become an essential part of Israel (compare how he later describes her seed as ‘the seed which YHWH gives her’ - verse 12).

4.6 ‘And the near kinsman said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar my own inheritance. You take my right of redemption on you, for I cannot redeem it.”

As soon as the near kinsman learned what would be involved in the redemption of the land he withdrew his offer. He made the excuse that he could not buy it because he did not have the money available and arranging the purchase would put him in debt, thus badly affecting the position of his own inheritance. He may also have had in mind that on his death the land would pass to Ruth’s son, begotten through him, with his own inheritance, which he planned to pass on to his other sons, meanwhile having been diminished by the price of the land. It was his other sons who would lose out. He was therefore unwilling to take on himself the responsibility of being ‘kinsman redeemer’, and was now willing to pass on the right to Boaz. The fact that he had originally been so eager to redeem the land (verse 4) might, however, suggest that this was just an excuse, presumably made because he did not want to marry a Moabite woman, even though she was now an ‘adopted’ Israelite. Racism still prevailed in some, as it always does. As no wife of his is mentioned it would appear that that was not his reason for refusing, but that contrary to the Law (consider Exodus 12.48) he was not willing to accept the proselyte Ruth as a genuine Israelite and marry her, giving her his seed. It may be because of the shame of that that he was not named (his name was blotted out of Israel). This will shortly then be contrasted with the fact that YHWH had so accepted Ruth as a genuine Israelite that He gave her ‘His seed’ and caused her to be the ancestor of His chosen king. The man is clearly depicted as being at fault.

4.7 ‘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 neighbour, and this was the manner of attestation in Israel.’

The writer then pauses in order to explain an ancient custom, which presumably in his day had ceased to apply, so as to explain what happened next (verse 8). Where a man refused to act as kinsman redeemer (to act ‘concerning redeeming and concerning exchanging’) he evidenced it by publicly taking off his shoe and handing it over to the one on whom he devolved the right. This was final confirmation in the sight of witnesses that he had withdrawn his own right to act as kinsman redeemer, and had passed it on to his neighbour.

This custom may be connected with the fact that it was the shoe which trod on the land denoting the owner’s possession. Compare YHWH’s words to Abraham in Genesis 13.17, and His words to Joshua in Joshua 1.3. The result being that the handing over of the shoe was seen as devolving possession. But it was also perhaps an adaptation of the original Law. For in the Law of Moses, where a person refused to act as kinsman and beget children through the wife of a deceased relative in order to preserve the name of her family, the wife had the right to loose his shoe and spit in his face (Deuteronomy 25.9), and his family would from then on be known as ‘the family of him who had had his shoe loosed’ (Deuteronomy 25.10). By this he would be ‘branded’ as having failed to fulfil his responsibility towards his wider family. It may be that the custom had now been altered in order to make it less openly offensive. If this is the case it was seemingly mainly followed in the time of the Judges, whilst no longer being so in the time of David. That would not, however, lessen the continual importance of the law of Levirate marriage.

4.8 ‘So the near kinsman said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he drew off his shoe.’

Verse 7 explains why the near kinsman did what he did. He devolved on Boaz the right to act as kinsman redeemer and demonstrated the fact in front of witnesses by taking off his shoe, and no doubt handing it to Boaz. We are not told how much it was at that stage seen as an act of shame, as opposed to being just evidence of the transaction (Deuteronomy 25.9-10). But it does bring out that the law of Levirate marriage was still seen as being of great importance (which is why it is mentioned).

4.9-10 ‘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, from 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 on 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.”

By accepting the shoe Boaz would be declaring to those present that he was accepting the responsibility for redeeming the land and begetting a son through the wife of the deceased in order that Mahlon’s name might be perpetuated (the son could be called ‘ben Mahlon’). And he now therefore turned to the elders whom he had summoned as witnesses, and to all the people gathered in the gateway, and called on them to be witnesses to the fact that he had bought the land that had belonged to Elimelech, which had been inherited by his two sons, from Naomi, Elimelech’s wife, (the eldest surviving near relative) and that with it he had bought the privilege of begetting sons through the wife of Mahlon in order to preserve the name of the family of Elimelech and Mahlon. That land would eventually devolve on the son produced by Boaz and Ruth, so that the name of the family of Mahlon would have been preserved in Israel. He would be known as ‘Obed ben Mahlon ben Elimelech’ as well as ‘Obed ben Boaz’. Note the repetition of ‘you are witnesses this day’.

Being ‘cut off from the gate of his place’ probably indicates being removed from the permanent genealogical records of the place which was his home city. Where a family died out there would be no purpose in maintaining the records. The city records would probably be held in the gatehouses.

4.11 ‘And all the people who were in the gate, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses.”

Then all the people in the gateway gathered together with the elders, and declared ‘we are witnesses’. This parallels Boaz’s statement in 4.9, ‘you are witnesses this day’, and combined with the twofold ‘you are witnesses’ in the verses 9 and 10 it indicates a threefold, and therefore complete, testimony. From then on the legality of what Boaz was doing could not be questioned, for there would be many witnesses who could declare that he had acted rightly. The whole episode underlines his integrity, and his determination to do what was right, indicating why he was a chosen vessel of YHWH.

Boaz Marries Ruth And They Produce A Son Whom They Name Obed, A Son From Whom Will Be Descended The Great King David (4.11b-17).

The story now builds up to its conclusion. The passage commences with the pious expression, no doubt by a leading elder, that Boaz’s house should be like the house of Perez, as a result of the ‘seed of YHWH’ being implanted in him by Ruth, and ends by describing the genealogy of Perez which finally results in the birth of David. It is this parallel which explains why the genealogy begins with Perez rather than Judah.

Analysis.

  • a “YHWH make the woman who is come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel, and do you worthily in Ephrathah, and be famous in Beth-lehem, and let your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which YHWH will give you of this young woman” (4.11b-12).
  • b So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in unto her, and YHWH gave her conception, and she bore a son (4.13).
  • c And the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be YHWH, who has not left you this day without a near kinsman, and let his name be famous in Israel” (4.14).
  • d “And he will be to you a restorer of life, and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him” (4.15).
  • c And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse to it (4.16).
  • b 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 (4.17).
  • a 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 (4.18-22).

Note that in ‘a’ Boaz’s house is to like the house of Perez, and in the parallel the house of Perez is described. In ‘b’ Ruth bears a son, and in the parallel the son is seen as coming from Naomi. In ‘c’ Naomi is no longer left alone because the new born son will be her near kinsman, and in the parallel Naomi lays the son in her bosom and becomes nurse to it. Central in ‘d’ is what the son will mean to Naomi as the restorer of life and the nourisher of her old age.

4.11b-12 “YHWH make the woman who is come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel, and do you worthily (or ‘powerfully’) in Ephrathah, and be renowned in Beth-lehem, and let your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which YHWH will give you of this young woman.”

We are not told who spoke these words, but they were presumably spoken by one of the leading elders on behalf of all the people. It is a plea to YHWH on behalf of Boaz and his house. The initial plea is that Ruth, having come into Boaz’s house, will be as fruitful as Leah and Rachel who, together with their maidservants, came into Jacob’s house, and produced, the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel, thus laying the foundations for the multitude of the house of Israel. These women whom Jacob married were, although related to him, from outside the tribe, and came from a family which worshipped false gods. And yet God used them as builders of the house of Israel, just as He would now use Ruth. It is also a plea that Boaz may have many influential sons. And the attention then turns directly on Boaz with the desire that he will be prominent in righteousness (‘do -- worthily’) or power (‘do valiantly’ - Psalm 60.12), in Bethlehem Ephratha (see note on 1.2), and that his house will be like the house of Perez, the son whom Judah begat through Tamar, and this as a consequence of the ‘seed which YHHW will give him’ through Ruth. This is preparatory to the final listing of the descendants of Perez in verses 18-22 (which the chiasmus makes clear is an essential part of the book). The word for ‘worthily’ is chayil, which is used of Boaz in 2.1 and of Ruth in 3.11. Thus the virtues of both are to be reflected in their future lives. The writer may have intended us to see this as being finally fulfilled to the fullest extent in the life of David. So the basic plea is that Boaz will be both successful and fruitful, and will have sons who are equally prominent.

The plea that his house might be like the house of Perez almost certainly had in mind the fact that Perez could be seen as parallel to the son who would be born to Boaz and Ruth in that he was the eldest son born as a consequence of Judah impregnating Tamar when he was (unknowingly) acting as her near kinsman in begetting a son for her dead husband (Genesis 38). Furthermore while Tamar is not said to be a Canaanite, Judah certainly mistook her for a Canaanite harlot, and she was married to one of Judah’s sons who was born as a result of his marriage to a Canaanite. Perez was thus seen as the ‘son’ of a half-Canaanite. Yet this had not prevented his house being fruitful. Indeed, as we soon learn, it was so fruitful that it produced King David. (But this last fact would not, of course, be known to the elders. It was his birth through a near kinsman, and his foreign connections, that in their eyes paralleled what would happen to Ruth).

4.13 ‘So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in unto her, and YHWH gave her conception, and she bore a son.’

The consequence of what had happened was that Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife, and as a result of his having impregnated her ‘YHWH gave her conception’, and she bore a son. This is the second time that it has been made clear that YHWH was with Ruth, and that the son to be born was of His doing (compare verse 12). It made clear that YHWH had accepted her, a Moabitess, as a true member of the covenant.

4.14 ‘And the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be YHWH, who has not left you this day without a near kinsman, and let his name be famous in Israel.”

As a consequence of the birth of a son the women were able to say to Naomi, ‘blessed be YHWH Who has not left you without a near kinsman’. They were referring to the new born baby who would grow up to be head of Naomi’s family, and would inherit the family property. Whilst Boaz would take her into his house (she becomes nurse to the baby) she was not strictly of his family. But the new born baby was in the eyes of the Law her son’s son (in consequence of the law of Levirate marriage) and inherited the family land. Once he was of age he would thus have family responsibility for her.

‘Let his name be famous in Israel.’ Literally ‘and let his name be named in Israel’. The idea was that they hoped that he would ‘make a name for himself’ by his success and godliness, so that he would be a successful family head.

4.15 “And he will be to you a restorer of life, and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.”

And they assured Naomi that once he was old enough he would ‘restore her life’ by giving her encouragement and a reason for living. And secondly that he would be a ‘nourisher of her old age’, ensuring that she was provided for and that all her needs were met. So the woman who had left Moab in such despair was now assured of a safe and happy future. And this was because her own daughter-in-law had borne him, a daughter-in-law who loved her and had indeed been better to her than seven sons, seven indicating the divinely perfect number. To have seven sons would be the ideal, giving total confidence and provision for the future, and the idea here is thus that Ruth was such a wonderful daughter-in-law that she was of greater value than seven sons, because Naomi could have such confidence in her. Brought up under such a mother, they are saying, how could the son not be similar?

4.16-17 ‘And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse to 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.’

And Naomi already had cause for blessing, for she acted as his nurse, coddling him and watching over him. And her women neighbours supplied a name for him because he was ‘a son born to Naomi’, not literally, but because he was her grandson. The name means ‘servant’ and the idea in the neighbours’ minds would be that he would be like a true servant to his grandmother. But the writer probably also saw it as signifying that he was the servant of God, an that he proved to be a true servant of God, for he begat Jesse, who begat the great King David. He could in terms of those days perform no greater service.

Note that in 1.11-13 Naomi had made clear that it as unlikely for her to have a son. But now we learn from these verses that she did have ‘a son’. Even though he was not from her womb, she nursed him in her womb. God had heard the cry of her heart.

4.18-22 ‘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 writer now closes his book in triumph. We have noted already that he has often liked to repeat ideas, and here he does so by adding the genealogy of Perez (already mentioned in verse 12) which leads up to the birth of King David (already spoken of in verse 21). King David was the king of Israel/Judah par excellence. He united the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, established Jerusalem, and expanded his empire in all directions, leaving a rich and powerful empire for his son Solomon to inherit. And it was to him that God made the promise that his seed would rule over God’s people for ever (2 Samuel 7.11-17). In consequence of this ‘everlasting covenant’ (Isaiah 55.3) the coming expected king (Genesis 49.10-11) was seen in terms of his name (Jeremiah 30.9; Ezekiel 34.23-24; 37.24-25; Hosea 3.5), the prophecies finally finding their fulfilment in our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘born of the seed of David according to the flesh, but declared to be the Son of God with power -- by the resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1.3-4).

The commencement of the genealogy with Perez connects back to the story that we have been considering, for in verse 12 the elders had prayed that Boaz’s house might be as the house of Perez, who had also been born of a widow by means of a kinsman redeemer (4.12). In this genealogy it is seen, therefore, that the house of Perez, and the house of Boaz, had both produced King David. And so the prophecy of the elders was fulfilled. That this genealogy is to be seen as an integral part of the narrative comes out in the chiasmus.

To us this genealogy is just a list of names, but to Israel, brought up to know their history, it was of deeper significance. They would be aware that the wife of Perez was Tamar (see on verse 12), and that Salmon married Rahab the Canaanite prostitute who saved the spies (Joshua 2; compare Matthew 1.5), and would recognise the parallel with Ruth the Moabitess. It will be noted that the genealogy is carefully worked out. There are ten generations from Perez to David, ten indicating a complete divine period, with five coming before the Exodus, and five following it. This reminds us of the ten generation for the patriarchs up to Noah (Genesis 5), and the ten generations from Noah to Abraham (Genesis 11), which probably similarly had omissions.

Perez was the son of Judah, begotten through Tamar (Genesis 38.29), with Tamar, by trickery, making Judah act as near kinsman. Thus Perez was born of a Levirate marriage. It is this parallel which explains why Perez and not Judah is highlighted. Perez then begat Hezron who is spoken of in Genesis 46.12 as being among the ‘sons’ of Judah who emigrated to Egypt (being seen as in the loins of Judah, because he was not yet born but was required to make the number up to seventy, the number of intensified divine completeness). Hezron begat Ram, and Ram’s son Amminadab is described as the father-in-law of Aaron, Aaron having married his daughter (Exodus 6.23). Amminadab was the father of Nahshon who is spoken of as a leading prince of Judah at the Exodus (Numbers 1.7; 2.3; 7.12). Thus the period from Perez to Nahshon, in other words from the departure from Canaan into Egypt, to the Exodus, is, if we ignore names that have been left out, described as consisting of four-to five generations. Timewise this is quite insufficient, but the answer to that is that only the prominent descendants are listed, Perez, as leader of the sub-tribe, Hezron as leader of one of the clans arising from the sub-tribe, Ram as the leader of the extended family, Amminadab as the leader of the family, and Nahshon the prince of Judah a the Exodus.

Nahshon then begat Salmon (or Salmah, a variation of the name - 1 Chronicles 2.11), whom Matthew 1.5 tells us became the husband of Rahab. Thus Salmon was involved in the Conquest. Salmon begat Boaz. That means that two generations at the most are supplied to cover the period from the Exodus to the time of Boaz, and only one generation from the Conquest. From this it will clearly be seen, and the writer would have been aware of it, that if Boaz is considered to be operating in the time of Gideon, some names must have been omitted. If he is seen as operating during the period of the late Judges period even more names have been omitted. But this is not surprising in that such deliberate omissions were in fact quite common in ancient genealogies (Matthew quite patently leaves names out of his genealogies in Matthew 1). Only the crucial names were often included, heads of tribes, heads of sub-tribes, heads of clans, and heads of wider families.

The final section, from Boaz to David, is then seen to consist of three to four generations. This would be sufficient if Boaz was operating in the late Judges period, but not if he was operating during the period of Gideon.

So the genealogy confirms that God’s purpose in producing David was fulfilled through levirate marriage (Tamar and Ruth) and through ‘foreign women’ (Rahab and Ruth), all of whom were then seen as true Israelites, indicating that God in His goodness reaches outside Israel and incorporates into His people those who are from other nationalities. And it was because of Ruth’s involvement in the birth of David that the story of Ruth became accepted as Scripture.

Thus we may sum up what this verse teaches us:

  • Firstly, that these are the antecedents of the great King David.
  • Secondly, that God accepts foreigners and incorporates them into His chosen people Israel (this would turn into a flood when Jesus called the new Israel, the believing remnant, out of the old, resulting in the incorporation of many Gentiles into the true Israel as seen in Acts).
  • Thirdly, that such proselytes, like Ruth, are seen by God as an integral part of His people and not just as second rate, and that their full acceptance is thus guaranteed (Genesis 12.48; this would have been important in the reign of David when many of his most loyal supporters were not native born Israelites, and when as part of his empire other peoples were faced with the claims of the covenant).
  • Fourthly, that God works in mysterious ways in the bringing about of His purposes. Who would have seen the tragic circumstances of Naomi, who had deserted Israel and had gone into the land of Moab, and whose deceased sons had married Moabite women, as fertile ground for the birth of Israel’s greatest King, and subsequently for the birth of the Messiah (Matthew 1).
  • Fifthly, that God hears the heart cry of His people, bringing them from barrenness to fruitfulness. Compare how in chapter 1.11-13 Naomi bewailed the fact that God had left her without sons, and how in the closing section of chapter 4 He gave her a son (4.17).

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