(Continued from page 526)
The "Acts" of the Book of Ruth
Act I, Scene I, begins with a family that has moved from Bethlehem to Moab because there was a famine in the land. We learned from Deuteronomy 28:15, 23, that when famine came on the land it was the result of sin in the nation and so this is a phase in the sin cycle. A "certain man of Bethlehem" (Ruth 1:1) decided to leave the area and try to find sustenance elsewhere, so he went to "sojourn" in the land of Moab. This sojourn indicates a lack of faith, because Elimelech left God=s promised land to go to Moab, exchanging the "house of bread," (Hebrew, Bethlehem) for Moab which should have been anathema to a Jew, and the last place he should choose over the land promised to his fathers. Indeed, his name, Elimelech, meant, AGod is my king," but he hardly seems to have lived up to it in taking his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to such a place. Although he intended to "sojourn" in the land, verse 2 tells us that he remained there, not as one who found refuge, but as one who found only death (verse 3). His tragic lack of faith caused him to die in a land which was an abomination to the Israelites, for reasons the book of Judges made clear, and left a widow and two sons, without income or support. Tragically left fatherless, the two sons did the next "obvious" thing and each took a Moabite woman for a wife. The text tells us something of the sons, for the phrase, "took them wives of the women of Moab," probably indicates that they contracted marriages on their own initiative and nothing in the passage indicates Naomi's involvement in arranging these marriages. However, her close personal relationship with the girls afterwards indicates definite intimate involvement with them. Jewish commentators unanimously view this passage as a silent protest against intermarriage and the Targum says of her sons, "they transgressed the decree of the word of the Lord, and took to them strange women [wives]" (Deuteronomy 7:3; 23:3; 1 Kings 11:1- 2) and adds, "And because they transgressed the decree of the word of the Lord, and joined affinity with strange people, therefore their days were cut off."13. Although the law did not directly prohibit marriage to a Moabite, there was a prohibition against admitting Moabites into the congregation of Israel and the offspring of a marriage with a Moabite was not to be admitted to the congregation until the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:3), indicating the purpose of the ten generations genealogy which closes the book. Certainly the entire incident is typical of the spiritual compromise of the Israelites during the period of the judges. We learn something of the nature of these two boys from their names: one was Mahlon, which means "sickly" and the other was Chilion, meaning Apiney.@ So we have "Sickly" and "Piney" responsible for the well-being of their mother and their Moabite wives but, as their names imply, they were hardly suited for the task and after about ten years in Moab both died (verse 5). Thus Naomi was left alone with two Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah, which means "little dear," or "little dear one," and Ruth, which means "glamorous."
At the close of Scene One, we appear to have the potential for a very sad ending, for Naomi, whose name meant "pleasant," was now left widowed by her unfaithful husband Elimelech. The two sons she should have been counting on to support her and her daughters-in-law were dead; leaving her dwelling in a land hated by the Israelites. However, we know that the Sovereign God of Israel had plans for her and the family and that, now the wrong-doers were out of the way, He had faithful servants in place who would demonstrate His grace through their obedience.
Act 1, Scene Two, begins with verse 6 where we read that Naomi rose up and began the return journey to Bethlehem after she heard that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food, thus demonstrating that the famine was not random chance or coincidence, but caused by God as phase two of a sin cycle. Evidently, back in the land of Israel, the people were in a repentance and deliverance phase, so God had visited His people and allowed the land to begin to produce grain again. So Naomi departed from Moab with her two daughters in law and they began their journey to Bethlehem (a journey of some 50-60 miles) in Judah. They would have travelled along the dusty road and pass by the northern part of the Dead Sea to cross the Jordan river at that point to get back into the land of Judah from Moab. This was an area inhabited by highway robbers and marauders who would prey on merchants and caravans travelling through the area, and so they had every reason to fear for their lives and we can imagine the trepidation as this sad little group huddled together as they walked along the dusty road. Before they had gone too far Naomi tried to bid the young women farewell. Verse 8-94 reads:
Go, return each to her mother's house: the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.
Naomi's address to her daughters-in-law is tender, persuasive, and affecting as she tries to encourage them to return to Moab and find rest in the house of their husband, that is, to return and re-marry again in the land of Moab. The invocation in the name of the Lord would indicate that His name was at least familiar in some sense to the girls. Naomi's desire that they "find rest" (Heb menuchah, meaning "place of rest," cf. Psalm 95:11; 132:8,14) indicates that she hoped they would find a better situation than she could provide for them. At that point, both Orpah and Ruth insisted they would return with Naomi, but she began to argue against the custom of the time while emphasising that she had no more sons to offer them as replacement husbands and was too old to bear more sons even if she were married and had babies in her womb that very night! Welfare was not available, and there were no social services to care for widows, so God had provided, in Deuteronomy 25:5; (cf. Matthew 22:23-28), the concept of levirate marriage. Levirate marriage provided that if a man died before he had a son to continue his name, his brother was to take the widow as his wife and father a son for his dead brother to continue the name of the deceased. This was God=s way of providing adequate care for the widows of the land. It appears that Orpah and Ruth were planning to go back with Naomi and participate in the levirate marriage system, but Naomi argued against it, saying in verse l1-134:
I am too old to have an husband . . . if I should have an husband also tonight, and should also bear sons; Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.
Therefore, she concluded that it would be better for them to return to their own families, since she sensed that "the hand of the Lord" was against her. There can be no doubt that Naomi viewed her tragic experiences as an act of God's judgment upon her family. As the drama further unfolds the three women wept again and the touching personal details of the story reveal the genuineness and reality of the account. As they stood there crying, Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye and left her to return to obscurity, and Naomi reminded Ruth that her "thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law" (v15). This was probably the lowest point of Naomi's spiritual life but Ruth's entreaty to Naomi is one of the classic gems of beauty in Biblical literature and probably lifted her spirits immensely, for we read that Naomi was silenced by these words (v16-174):
"Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me."
MacDonald14 observes that "the worship of Jehovah made no abiding impression on Orpah and Naomi clearly knew it, whereas Jehovah God was deliberately invoked by Ruth indicating her choice of the God of Israel". Ruth's vow not to leave Naomi was in itself a confession of her faith in the God of Israel. "Entreat me not to leave thee" means "do not insist that I return," thus Ruth promised Naomi that wherever she went and wherever she lodged she would also go and that "thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God." Thereby, Ruth clearly proclaimed her desire to become a follower of the Lord and of the people of Israel. Thus we see the genuine spiritual decision and the character of Ruth's determination to do that which was right and this correct decision would lead to untold blessing in the future! Finally, Naomi sensed Ruth's sincere determination to return with her to Bethlehem and gave up her attempt to dissuade her. We cannot help but consider that the influence of her mother-in-law had some part to play in Ruth's willingness to entrust herself to the God of Israel.
Upon their return to Bethlehem they were welcomed by the people of the city, who questioned: "Is this Naomi?," to which she responded: "Call me not Naomi, call me Mara." The meaning of Naomi is pleasant, whereas Mara means bitter (Hebrew: marar) and is related to the word that was used of the bitter waters in Exodus 15:23 (Hebrew: mar). In other words, Naomi was asking that they not call her a name which was no longer true of her personal experiences. This clearly indicates the interchangeable use of names in the ancient Near East based upon one's life-changing experiences. A decade before, Naomi had left with her husband and two sons, but now she was back, a poor destitute widow with a Moabite girl in tow. Her husband and her two sons had died, and here they were - two widows, an Israelite and a Moabite - probably dusty and dishevelled and looking like beggars. In the eastern philosophy of that time, such circumstances were indicative of God=s judgment on sin in an individual's life. Naomi's statement that the "Lord hath testified against me and the Almighty hath afflicted me?" reveals again that she interpreted her bitter experiences in Moab as God's punishment for forsaking the family's inheritance in the community of Israel. Conversely, if one were prosperous and lived a life of abundance, that was the outward indication of God=s blessing on a life.
The word "Almighty," as it is used in verse 21, is the Hebrew word El Shaddai, the name God used for Himself when He addressed Abram, in Genesis 17, as He talked about the promise of the seed and multiplied blessing which would result in the re-named Abraham becoming the father of a "multitude of nations" (Genesis 17:4-5) through seed too numerous to count. There seems to have been a play on words here as Naomi used this term, because God had cut off her seed and He is no longer the Almighty in her mind because He had afflicted her and now she was responding improperly toward God. She had suffered and been afflicted through circumstances and God=s hand had gone out against her for a purpose that she could not comprehend and now she was acting improperly toward God because she mistakenly believed He was her enemy. So, when her old friends came to greet her by her original name, "Pleasant" she was far from pleasant and admitted to being "Bitter." There are lessons here for all Christians today, for we can all praise God when employment is regular and the pay-cheques are coming in so we can pay the bills on time, and there is no sickness in the family. But when we are made redundant, or miss promotion and bills go unpaid, or tragedy strikes the household, then we see Christians rebelling against God, shaking their fists at Him and claiming He owes them better than this! We do not have the ability to see "the big picture" and fail to realise that God is bringing this event, even persecution and false imprisonment as Joseph suffered in Egypt when he thought God was going to get him out of his false imprisonment through the interpretation of dreams (Genesis 40:14), but "God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20). Naomi could not see the future and recognize how God had cleared the way for His sovereign grace to act in her life, otherwise her attitude would have been totally different. Instead she had a short-sighted point of view and knew only that she was hungry, left alone in the world with a Moabite girl, and was now forced to return to her hometown where people were speaking against her. She had lost her husband and her sons, and she was bitter and nothing seemed pleasant for she had gone out full and had come back empty. The chapter ends with the note that they returned to Bethlehem "in the beginning of barley harvest," that is, at the time of the spring harvest in April, and verse 224 acts as a summary, as if a narrator has come on the stage as the curtain falls on Act 1, Scene Two and says:
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest".
Thus the account of this great blessing is just beginning and we see that the majority of the events in this book actually cover only a matter of a few weeks.
Before Act II begins, it seems in verse 14 as if the Holy Spirit, as Narrator, stands before the curtain to set the scene for the next act as He reveals:
"Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz."
Act II, Scene I, begins with Ruth asking permission to go out into the harvest fields and glean after the reapers after the custom of the time. The law of gleaning, designed by God as a protective measure for those unable to otherwise provide for themselves, is described in Deuteronomy 24:194:
"When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field and hath forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it. It shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow, that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand.
The law showed again how God always intended a loving and practical social structure for even the most impoverished of his people, and also for the "strangers" of other tribes who may have come into the area and were in danger of dying from lack of sustenance, to follow behind the reapers and glean what remained so that they had enough food to survive. As Ruth went out to glean, she "happened" to come upon a portion of the field belonging to a particularly kind-hearted land-owner named Boaz. We can begin to see that God was working behind the scenes, guiding and directing Ruth, who could have chosen "by chance" another field, but came to the one belonging to Boaz.
So we see how, at cross roads near Bethlehem, Ruth had a decision to make and she was sensitive enough to follow the leading of God and make the right decision. As Christians we need to be aware that there may be eternal and momentous consequences from seemingly small decisions we make. Ruth=s first decision, as the three women stood crying together in Moab, was whether to continue on with Naomi or to turn back. She made another decision when she left her mother-in-law to go and glean and, because of a seemingly inconsequential decision, the lineage of the Messiah was determined. If Ruth had made the wrong turn that morning, she would not have married Boaz, would not have been the ancestor of King David, and therefore would not have been in the lineage of the Lord Jesus Christ. Who would have thought, when she left the house that morning, that the apparently simple choice of which field to glean would determine whether or not she would be in the ancestry of the Messiah, the Son of God? Verse 44 reads: "And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The Lord be with you. And they answered him, The Lord bless thee" we see the God-fearing Boaz greeting his workers with 'God's blessing' and receiving the same in return from people who no doubt had reason to rejoice that they worked for a fair and honest man, for we gradually learn more of his nature in his dealings with this stranger gleaning in his field as the drama unfolds. We see the pieces of the jigsaw fitting together and know that our Saviour God is at work in all of this for it was not chance that they just "happened" to get back to Bethlehem at the beginning of the harvest, that Ruth "happened" to take advantage of the law of gleaning. She wanted to glean and was submissive and, when she selected the field of Boaz and sat down for a little break, Boaz, the owner and her kinsman, just "happened" to come from Bethlehem out to his field. He just "happened" to be a godly man who "happened" to notice Ruth. There are too many coincidences for this to be accepted as chance and we recognise God's sovereign hand behind the human activity and decisions. There is a lovely touch to the exchanges as Boaz asked his servant in charge of the reapers, "Whose damsel is this?" In the vernacular of today, such an inquiry translates into "Wow!" The servant replied, AIt is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab." We notice that the servant in charge knew all about her and no doubt Ruth and Naomi would have been a source of much gossip in such a small community, which may well have thought negatively of them, but we notice that the servant spoke well of her as he continued (v74):
And she said, I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves: so she came, and hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house.
Verse 8 describes an unusual event. Normally a man in that culture would not speak to a woman in public, and certainly a man in Boaz's position would not speak to a servant girl, especially a widow gleaning among his reapers. Yet he said (v8-94):
Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens: Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn.
Ruth=s response was to fall on her face in gratitude and ask, "Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?" A better translation would be "foreigner," rather than stranger, and Boaz's answer to Ruth=s question would not have been elicited through her personal appearance or her self-worth, because Moabites were despised and a widowed Moabite woman was not worth any consideration since the Jews would still remember with hatred their 18 years under the rule of Eglon, although it was two centuries earlier. The grace shown on the part of Boaz was unmerited favour as it is with us. We were dead in trespasses and sins and unable to help ourselves, but Christ, of whom Boaz was a type, extended His grace and love to us when we were alienated from Him, as Boaz extended his grace and love to this foreign woman who had no reason inherent in herself to be loved. Boaz answered her, "It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband" (vs.114). As a leader in the community, Boaz would be aware of everything that went on and he had not been listening to the murmuring and gossip which always abound in human society, but had been hearing with a spiritual ear, which is why he added (v124):
"The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust."
Boaz's spiritual reaction reminds us of Psalm 914:
"1He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. 3Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. 4He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler."
This is akin to the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:22-264 where "the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 'Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, 'The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. Ruth was comforted by this kindness that spoke to her heart, and responded, "Athough I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens" which reminds us of the promise of Jesus in John 10:16 when he confirmed to the disciples that God's plan had always been to reconcile the world to Himself through His Son: "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold. Them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."
The typology continues to unfold as, at mealtime (v14), Boaz invited Ruth to share the meal with his reapers and dip bread with them in the vinegar ("dip thy morsel in the vinegar" - King James Translation) which would have been very appealing after working in the sun all morning in the fields. Again we see a picture of God=s condescending grace typified by this wealthy Hebrew man condescending to eat at the table with a Moabite widow. She sat beside the reapers and he served her roasted grain and he even fed her himself so that Ruth had some left after she was satisfied just as the Lord=s grace and goodness was illustrated in His feeding of the multitudes (Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:35).
The unexpected and unlimited grace which Christians enjoy from our Kinsman-Redeemer is mirrored in Boaz's care for Ruth which goes beyond the demands of the law. After Ruth left, Boaz ordered his reapers to let her glean even among the sheaves not just the discarded husks. They were not to insult her or rebuke her. He even added, "And let fall also some of the handfuls of grain on purpose for her."4 Ruth continued working until evening, probably becoming more and more excited as she saw how much good grain she was gathering. At dusk, she took home an ephah of winnowed barley and also gave Naomi the left-over lunch she had saved. When Naomi recognized that the day=s results were unusual, she inquired about where Ruth had worked. Hearing her reply, "The man's name with whom I wrought today is Boaz," Naomi's reaction was the equivalent of our "Praise the Lord!" (v20) and, when Ruth repeated all Boaz's words, Naomi identified him as a near kinsman and redeemer. She urged her daughter-in-law to obey his instructions: "AIl is good, my daughter, that thou go out with his maidens, that they meet thee not in any other field." We also remember from the last verse in Judges (21:25) that this was a lawless era, "when every man did that which was right in his own eyes." If Ruth had been forced to work outside the protection of Boaz, she could very well have been assaulted, injured, or dishonoured. The harvesting required approximately seven weeks and this meant that these two widows had seven weeks of security to rely on. Chapter 2 ends with the statement that Ruth stayed close by the maids of Boaz until the end of the barley harvest and on through the wheat harvest until the seven weeks go by and the curtain falls on Part 3 of Act II
When the curtain goes up on Part 4 of Act III, Naomi begins the next step in the levirate process. We need to remember that Naomi was the one with first option on Boaz as the kinsman-redeemer but, with a kind, loving spirit, she relinquished this right to her daughter-in-law, Ruth, when she said to her: "My daughter, shall I not seek [security] rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?," She reminded Ruth of who Boaz was, and that the harvest season was over. She knew he would be winnowing barley on the threshing floor which was a time of celebration for, when the winnowing was done and they looked at the results of their harvest, they would eat, drink, and celebrate and then Boaz would go to sleep, so Naomi instructed Ruth how to approach him (v4-54):
Wash thyself, therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor; but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place here he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.
Obediently, Ruth went down to the threshing floor and did all that Naomi had instructed her, waiting until kind-hearted Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was happy and contented with the celebration of the completed harvest. He made a bed for himself near his heaps of grain and lay down and we read (verse 7) that Ruth went in at midnight, lifted up the cover, and lay down at his feet. Boaz was startled and "bent forward," and behold, there was a woman lying at his feet. He exclaimed, "Who are you?" and Ruth identified herself and added, "Spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid, for thou art a near kinsman." In spreading his garment over her he gave the sign of acceptance, acknowledging his role as redeemer and his willingness to marry her. We notice that she requested redemption and he granted it in the words of verses 10 and 114:
"Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter. for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not, I will do to thee all that thou requirest. for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman."
Ruth had stayed within the prescribed family program of levirate marriage, become obedient to Hebrew customs, and her demeanor during the past two months had been exceptional so that she had acquired an excellent reputation. She had come to Bethlehem in circumstances which meant that every eye was on her and every tongue was ready to spread malicious gossip about her. But she had behaved herself in such a way that her virtue and her unspotted character had become known through-out the town and, more importantly, to Boaz. We now learn more about the integrity and honesty of Boaz for, having acknowledged his role as redeemer and having agreed to fulfill it, he adds in verse 124: "And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I." We have observed all the good things about this developing relationship between Boaz and Ruth and see how much good will came out of it for the two widows, but now it suddenly looks as if there is a fly in the ointment, and that Boaz is not the right man after all! But Boaz has surely shown his godly character by adhering to the accepted social system and he assured Ruth her that if he discovered that the closer relative would redeem her, "let him do the kinsman's part." If the other man was unwilling, however, "then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the Lord giveth," said Boaz, and advised her to "lie down until morning" (v13). Here are the potential bride and groom, together throughout the night, but separated by the possibility that another closer redeemer existed who could claim the right of redemption. Ruth lay at his feet until morning - neither probably enjoyed much sleep under these circumstances - and got up before anybody could recognize her and Boaz cautioned her not to let anyone know that she had been there. The phrase "before one could recognize another" is for the reader and observer to understand that this was before dawn. While this might at first appear to be questionable activity by Boaz (3:13), there were several good reasons why he chose a time when it would be safer for Ruth to return home (early morning) rather than in the middle of the night when another might be out and take advantage of her. Boaz was also wise to recognise that others might inaccurately speculate about what went on between them that night and thus threaten his approach to the nearer redeemer. He was also protective of her reputation, for prostitutes came to the threshing at harvest time and he knew that Ruth's honour would be compromised if she was seen leaving with a sack, so he measured six measures of barley into her cloak and sent her back to her mother-in-law in the city.
As Ruth entered the house, Naomi asked her, "How did it go, my daughter?", or, literally in Hebrew, "Who are you, my daughter?" What she really meant was, "Are you Mrs. Boaz this morning?" Of course, at this stage, Ruth could not say for sure, but she reported the conversation between them and gave Naomi the pledge which Boaz sent, repeating his words, "Go not empty unto thy mother in law." (Ruth 3:16-174) Naomi was beginning to see God demonstrating His lasting love and, after she had complained of coming home empty, she was no longer empty and showed that she knew she could rely on Boaz because we read that she instructed Ruth, "Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be at rest, until he has finished the thing this day" (v18). Thus, in classic style, the curtain goes down on Part 4 of Act III of this God-blessed drama, and we wait with growing suspense for it to rise again. Will Boaz be the one to get the girl, or will it be the other unknown kinsman?
Act IV, Part 5 scene 1, takes place at the city gate of Bethlehem, for the gate of ancient towns was the place where political and legal decisions were made (1 Kings 22:10; Jeremiah 38:7; Deuteronomy 22:24; 25:7; Psalm 127:5; 2 Samuel 15:2-6; Amos 5:10,12,15). Boaz sat down at the gate and, behold, the close relative of whom he had spoken just "happened" to pass by. Again, no coincidence, for this relative could have been any number of places, but God drew him to the gate to confront Boaz because He was ready to bring His plan to a climax (chapter 4). We never learn the identity of Boaz's kinsman, even when he greets him, "Turn aside friend, sit down here"(4v13), because "friend" translates the rhyming expression peloni <almoni (Hebrew), which means "a certain unnamed person or place" (cf. 1 Samuel 21:2; 2 Kings 6:8). After asking him to sit down Boaz stopped ten more men of the city, who were passing by, and they became a legal committee of witnesses who were called to attest to everything that transpired instead of attempting the difficulty of written contracts. The number ten was significant to the Jews as a quorum necessary for a synagogue gathering and for the marriage benediction and from the most ancient times it represented an official gathering of those in authority. The scene between Boaz and the nearer kinsman gives a quaint picture of this ancient custom, and also of the high value placed upon keeping a plot of ground in the same family. Because there were no men left to farm the land that had belonged to her husband and sons, Naomi was prepared to sell it and the first option to buy it fell to the next of kin, this same relative. Boaz states his case in verses 3 and 4:
Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, selleth a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech's: And I thought to advertise thee, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it, but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee.
As with all great dramas, and God-inspired dramas are the greatest of all, at first the reply of the kinsman was, "I will redeem it," and we can picture Jewish families through history, even knowing the end of the story, being enthralled as it appears that the love between Boaz and Ruth will not be realized because the worst has happened - the nearer relative has agreed to redeem the land! But Boaz had not finished yet and went on to describe the most vital condition of the transaction almost as a casual aside: (v5) "What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance."
At that point the closer kinsman backed out, saying, "I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance; redeem thou my right to thyself, for I cannot redeem it." The equivalent of legal papers being signed for the transfer of rights to redeem the land, and as a sign of his refusal to "do the part of the next of kin" for Ruth, is now expressed through the nearer redeemer taking off his sandal and giving it to Boaz (4:7-8). The sandal was probably a visual way of expressing that one had walking rights on the land (cf. Joshua 1:3; 14:9; Deuteronomy 1:36; 11:24; Psalm 60:8). The way was now clear for Boaz to announce to the assembled elders that he would take both the land and Ruth and, at last, we can relax for the final obstacle to the romance has been removed.
In Ruth 4:10, Boaz confirmed the fact that He had redeemed the land and taken Ruth to be his wife and we now learn that Ruth had been the wife of Mahlon, whereas previously we did not know to which of Naomi's sons she had been married. The scene in which the city elders pronounce their blessing (v11-12) on the new family gives us a beautiful insight into the love and concern expressed within the nation of Israel for the wealth and prosperity of faithful members who had shown that they desired to follow God's commandments above all else, and Scene I closes here with this insight.
Act IV, Scene 2, informs us (v13) that Ruth became the wife of Boaz and in time gave birth to a son, Obed (which means "worshipper") a name given to him by the neighbourhood women who came to rejoice with Naomi because she had a redeemer, saying, "Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman." So we find that Naomi, who was "the empty one," was now full as the doting and fulfilled nurse-maid! The women (v15) predicted that Boaz would care for Naomi by renewing her life and giving her security for her old age and Ruth, whom Naomi did not seem to even mention when she first returned to Bethlehem, was declared to be of more worth than seven sons. This was a tremendous acknowledgement of Ruth's worth, for seven sons symbolised the supreme blessing that could come to a Hebrew family (Job 1:2) and this phrase is usually applied to male progeny (1 Samuel 1:8) with the number seven being symbolic of a perfect family (1 Samuel 2:5). But here it is applied to Ruth! She is better than seven sons to Naomi because unlike her (two) sons, she has been able to provide one to continue the family name - she has given birth to a son who will be the heir. Naomi had come back from Moab empty, but now things could not have been better for the hardships are behind her because God has shown He is in control and His purpose is evident. She has progressed from being a poverty-stricken widow to become the grandmother of the man who would become the grandfather of King David (ref. Matthew 1:5-6) and an ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ!
(Continued on page 528)