Scene 5 of Ruth (4:1-12) shapes up like a courtroom drama. You’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat, nervously biting your nails while you wait to hear witnesses’ verdict. Who will redeem Ruth? Will it be Mr. Right, Boaz, our man of valor? Or will it be the unnamed kinsman, hinted at in scene 4, who is closer in line to perform the duties of a go’el? But even if we weren’t familiar with the story of Ruth, we still would have little reason for anxiousness. Why? Because we know God has a plan for Ruth wherein the problem of the lack of rest only finds resolution in Ruth marrying a specific man. So, we can say with great certainty, that God’s plans are best. In fact, we can rest assured that God’s good plans will not be thwarted. Repeatedly in Scripture, we are presented with a God that overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles to see His good plan succeed.
A MAN WITH A PLAN (Ruth 4:1-4)
The reader is in a great state of anticipation as we begin scene 5. Boaz promised Ruth he would resolve the looming problem of the lack of rest “in the morning” (3:13), a fact echoed by Naomi at the close of chapter 3 as well (3:18). And so we aren’t surprised to find Boaz already at work on Ruth’s behalf, waiting at the town gates for this unnamed kinsman and the elders to show up. In fact, the text says he “fetches” the 10 elders for this court scene drama at the town gates, a place of business and judicial hearings.
In front of legal witnesses, Boaz approaches the unnamed kinsman concerning the redemption of Elimelech’s land. We can only surmise that as a result of her widowhood, Naomi has been forced to sell the lands of her husband’s family. And although we aren’t given any details concerning this transaction (when did she sell the land, to whom did she sell it, for how much), the pressing issue is the land is in danger of passing (or has already passed) out of family hands. And so Boaz calls on the unnamed kinsman to redeem it/acquire it back. The unnamed kinsman, much to our chagrin, agrees to fulfill his go’el obligations. In fact, he responds a little too quickly, doesn’t he? And from the text, we get the sense that Boaz was banking on this specific response. Boaz was a man with a plan, and his plan is strategic. Perhaps this is why Boaz deliberately presents the obligation to redeem the land of Elimelech before mentioning the need to redeem the name of Elimelech through Ruth as well.
Let’s look at this concept of redemption, because this concept litters the first four verses of our scene. Redemption means “to pay a price in order to secure the release of something or someone.” And in the book of Ruth, the word for redeem is from the cognate ga’al, which means to “buy back.” So when Boaz purchases the land of Elimelech, he acts as a redeemer “to secure the freedom of Ruth from poverty and widowhood.” In the Old Testament, redemption is commonly seen in the form of rescue – where God repeatedly redeems Israel from oppression from enemies (Ex. 6:6). But there are other words that refer to redemption. One such word, padah, refers “to deliverance “redemption from sin” or death. We see in the sacrificial system a yearly, daily reminder that redemption of sin only came with a payment. One only need to re-read Romans 6:23 to be reminded that redemption comes at a price: “For the wages of sin is death.”
God’s good plan for you has always been having a ‘restful’ relationship with Him. But once sin entered the world through man, the capacity for a relationship of rest was obliterated. And so God sent Jesus, His Son, to redeem us from sin and death. Redemption comes at a price – that price was the innocent blood of Jesus Christ. So while we see redemption in the story of Ruth, it is a present-day reality for you, too. Christ has already paid the price of sin on your behalf so you might experience His rest forever, eternally, and perfectly. He has bought you back. He has rescued you from the poverty of sin. He has committed Himself to you by the costly price of His innocent blood!
A MAN WITH COMMITMENT ISSUES (Ruth 4:5-6)
If the reader was nervously biting her nails at the opening of our scene, she is now squirming in her seat! Will Ruth end up with Mr. Wrong? How will God overcome this seemingly insurmountable obstacle of a closer relative in line to redeem Ruth? But, in the following verses Mr. Right’s strategic planning will shed light on Mr. Wrong’s character. Boaz intentionally withholds information concerning Ruth from this redemption equation until after Mr. Wrong commits to redeem the land. And then, Boaz strategic plan unfolds as he begins to disclose little bits of information that indicate this is a little more complicated that a one-step transaction. Consider:
- There is another woman involved – the go’el would need to provide for another woman besides Naomi.
- There is a foreigner involved – the go’el would need to provide for a Moabite, a detested ethnic group excluded from the assembly of the Lord.
- There is a young widow involved – the go’el would need to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance so that the dead man’s name would not die out.
Any one of these complications would be reason enough to re-think one’s commitment. But it is the last issue “the wife of the dead” that is the real kicker. In fact, we discover that Mr. Wrong reneges on his earlier commitment primarily for this reason. He states in 4:6 – “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I ruin my own inheritance…” By this he means that his own holdings earmarked for his owns sons would be eaten up by purchasing Elimelech’s land and producing an heir for Elimelech’s name. Why is this? This man would never benefit from the land he purchased. He would be making a poor investment. He would be pouring out his own resources to acquire and maintain the land but possess no legal claim to it and no right to benefit from it. Instead, any son Ruth might have in the future would be the sole inheritor of this property. In this one verse we see a marked contrast between Mr. Wrong, and Mr. Right. Mr. Wrong is a man who is concerned about the bottom line – protecting the inheritance that is due his own sons. But Mr. Right is a man who consistently shows concern for others. Despite having just as much to loose in this venture, Boaz demonstrates hesed toward Ruth by redeeming her at great personal cost.
A GOD WITH A PLAN THAT WON’T BE THWARTED (Ruth 4:7-12)
In the verses that follow, the reader is finally able to sit back in her seat in relief. In a solemn sandal exchange, Boaz officially commits himself to Ruth, pledging to buy the widows back from sure poverty. But Boaz is not the only actor in this scene – the witnesses also play a significant role in the unfolding of this drama. The witnesses verify Boaz’s claim, acting as legal confirmation (4:11a), and they offer a two-fold blessing of fruitfulness and fame over Boaz (4:11b-12).
A prayer for fruitfulness -“The LORD make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two who built the house of Israel; and may you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem” (4:11b).
This is a prayer for offspring! Throughout this narrative, the reader has been faced with the looming question of what will happen to Elimelech’s line. Will it die out? How will it continue in light of (a) Ruth possibly being barren and (b) all the male heirs having died off! These issues seem like insurmountable obstacles. Just one of these problems is enough to potentially end the line of Elimelech – let alone both! Yet Scripture is clear: God miraculously turns insurmountable obstacles into an intricate pathway of stepping stones leading to His end goal. In light of Ruth’s possible infertility, this prayer for fruitfulness is poignant. It is more than wishful thinking. It is more than warm wishes on a wedding card. It is an incredibly vivid expression of faith. Verse 12 says “because of the offspring which the LORD WILL give you…” The witnesses are full of faith that Yahweh will be faithful to Boaz and Ruth.
And so when the witnesses pray for fruitfulness, the reader is catapulted both forward and backward. Forward in knowing that Ruth and Boaz will indeed be fruitful and conceive a male heir to continue the line of Elimelech. And this son will not just be any son of Israel, but he will become Israel. He will become the eternal “seed” promised to David (2 Sam. 7). But more specifically, we see this prayer for fruitfulness catapults the reader backward to the time of Rachel and Leah who “built the house of Israel.” Through their marriage to Jacob (and with a little help from their maidservants), the sons of Rachel and Leah formed the 12 tribes of Israel. Interestingly enough, Rachel experienced the lows of infertility. The narratives of the great matriarchs of Israel showcase a line through which the promised “seed” of salvation would come despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of infertility. God was faithful to His promise to preserve His People and to preserve His seed of salvation (Gen. 3:15; Gen. 12:1-3; 17:3-6; 49:8-10).
A prayer for fame –“May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring which the LORD will give you from this young woman” (4:12).
And so we see that the prayer for fame is a prayer of hope – hope that Ruth and Boaz might participate in God’s plan for His people. The witnesses are asking a great blessing to be bestowed on Boaz and Ruth – that God might work through them in much the same way He worked through their ancestors. These witnesses would have known the promises concerning Boaz’s ancestors. They would have remembered the promises made in Gen. 49:10 – that it would be through the sons of Judah that a warrior figure would come bearing the rod of iron (the scepter) and before whom all nations would bow. In fact, they link Boaz to the line of Judah and Perez through Tamar – another matriarch of Israel who found herself in the dire straits of widowhood without a redeemer. And so, we see the link from Judah, to Perez, to Boaz, to King David – a line preserved by God for a specific purpose (1 Chronicles 2:1-15; Luke 3:31-34). Their prayer for prosperity and fame falls in line with this hope – a Messianic hope that yearned for the coming “seed” of salvation.
And so, after an anxious moment in the town square, the reader knows the immediate problems of the lack of ‘rest’ and lack of progeny have been resolved in the union of Boaz and Ruth. But the author is also setting us up to anticipate something greater to come from the union between Mr. and Mrs. Right – a greater rest in a more future context. Next week we will finally reach the end of the story of Ruth. And we are going to discover that there is indeed a wider range to the measure of ‘rest’ described in this narrative. And even though we will be closing the book on this beautiful love story, scene 6 is not the end of the story – part of God’s good plan has yet to unfold for you and for me. Our Redeemer will come again, and at that time, all creation will be completely restored back to its state of “restful” service.
 Charles Brand, ed., The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2003), 1370-1371.