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Bible Commentaries
Ruth 4

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes



The climax of this fascinating story, and the resolution of the problem lying in the way of Ruth’s union with Boaz and realization of rest, become clear in this chapter. Naomi and Ruth’s plan (Ruth 3:1-5) comes to a successful completion.

"This chapter focuses on three persons: a bridegroom, a bride, and a baby." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 197.]

Verses 1-6

A. The nearer kinsman’s decision 4:1-6

The gate of cities like Bethlehem was the place where people transacted official business (cf. Genesis 19:1; 2 Samuel 15:2-6; 1 Kings 22:10; Amos 5:10; Amos 5:12; Amos 5:15).

"In ancient cities the ’gate’ was a short passageway through the thick city wall which provided the town an entrance and exit. A series of small alcoves lined the passage, and the whole gate area served as both bazaar and courthouse. There the ancients gathered to buy and sell, to settle legal matters, and to gossip. Hence, ’gate’ here represented the city as a whole (the whole town), not a specific legal body like a ’town council.’" [Note: Hubbard, p. 216.]

The writer did not preserve the name of the nearer kinsman (Ruth 4:1; cf. 1 Samuel 21:2; 2 Kings 6:8). He wrote that Boaz called him "such a one" (AV, better than "friend," NASB, NIV; Heb. peloni almoni). Probably God did not record the man’s name in the text as a kind of judgment on him for refusing to perpetuate the name of his deceased relative by redeeming Ruth (cf. Deuteronomy 25:10). [Note: Bush, p. 197.] The reason the writer withheld his name was not that it is simply unimportant, because he could have made no reference at all to it.

". . . he who was so anxious for the preservation of his own inheritance, is now not even known by name." [Note: J. P. Lange, ed., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, vol. 2: Numbers-Ruth, "The Book of Ruth," by Paulus Cassel, p. 46.]

The Mosaic Law did not specify the need for 10 elders to decide such cases (Ruth 4:2). Perhaps this number was customary. In any case, Boaz chose his jury so the nearer kinsman’s decision would stand. [Note: Bush, p. 199.] The presence of 10 elders would also have put some social pressure on the kinsman to do what was right.

"In a time when few written records were kept, attestation by a number of witnesses made transactions legally secure." [Note: Huey, p. 544.]

The text does not reveal the precise relations of the nearer kinsman and Boaz to Ruth. This was unimportant to the writer. One important point was that both men possessed legal qualifications to redeem Ruth and to raise up seed in the name of her dead husband. Another was that the nearer kinsman had first rights of acceptance or refusal, and Boaz had second rights.

Redeeming the property of a relative in financial distress and marrying a near relative’s widow to perpetuate his name and family in Israel were separate procedures. Leviticus 25:25-28 legislated the redemption of property, and Deuteronomy 25:5-10 regulated levirate marriage. The actions did not always go together. [Note: Jack Sasson, "The Issue of Ge’ullah in Ruth," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 5 (1978):60-63.] In this case, Boaz wanted to do both things. [Note: Donald A. Leggett, The Levirate and Goel Institutions in the Old Testament with Special Attention to the Book of Ruth, pp. 209-53.]

Boaz raised the issue of redeeming Naomi’s land first (Ruth 4:3-4). For the first time in the story we learn that Naomi controlled some property. In spite of this, she and Ruth were poor, or else Ruth would not have had to glean. Naomi may have wanted to sell her property to raise cash for living expenses, though the Law specified that it had to be sold within her husband’s tribe. We can only speculate about why Naomi was poor even though she controlled property. Perhaps she had annexed ownership of this land while she was in Moab and therefore derived no income from it. [Note: Hubbard, p. 54.] Perhaps someone took control of the property when Naomi’s family moved to Moab. [Note: Howard, p. 138.] She may have had to mortgage her late husband’s property to survive. [Note: Merrill, "Ruth," p. 200.] She may have been acting as guardian of her husband and sons’ property rights and was now ready to dispose of their land. Or the issue may have been acquiring the right of holding and using her property without wasting its profits until the next Jubilee Year. [Note: Block, p. 710.]

We should not interpret Boaz’s reference to Elimelech as the "brother" of the nearer kinsman and himself (Ruth 4:3) to mean they were necessarily blood brothers. The expression in Hebrew, as well as in English, is a broad one meaning "friend." Elimelech may have been their blood brother, but the expression does not require that. Since these three men were relatives, the possibility is strong that the field Naomi wanted to part with bordered on the lands of the other two men. [Note: Morris, p. 300.]

The nearer kinsman desired Naomi’s land and was willing to buy it from her (Ruth 4:4). Why the nearer kinsman had to marry Ruth if he decided to buy Naomi’s property is not clear in the text. The Mosaic Law did not command that levirate marriage should accompany the redemption of family property whenever possible. Perhaps the following explanation provides the solution to this problem.

When the nearer kinsman chose to purchase Naomi’s land he identified himself as the nearest kinsman. Since he was the nearest kinsman he was certainly under a moral, if not a legal, obligation to marry the wife of his deceased relative if he could (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). [Note: Block, p. 715.] His refusal to do so would have brought disgrace on him (Deuteronomy 25:7-10). Huey believed that none of the disgrace of this regulation was present in Boaz’s dealings with the nearer kinsman. [Note: Huey, p. 544. See also Bush’s excursus on the nature of the transaction that Boaz proposed in Ruth 4:3-5 a, pp. 211-15.] The Mosaic Law required levirate marriage only when the male was legally able to marry his brother’s widow. If he already had a wife, he could not do so. The law did not require him to become a polygamist. [Note: See J. R. Thompson, Deuteronomy, p. 251. Bush, pp. 221-23, provided an excursus on levirate marriage in the Old Testament.]

". . . it had become a traditional custom to require the Levirate marriage of the redeemer of the portion of the deceased relative, not only that the landed possession might be permanently retained in the family, but also that the family itself might not be suffered to die out." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 482. See further their helpful discussion of the transfer of property on pp. 488-90.]

"Ruth was the only one who could raise up a son to inherit the estate of Elimelech. Therefore, she was not only an important link in the chain of genealogy, but she sustained certain rights over the property which Boaz was discussing with the other kinsman. To redeem the property therefore would involve the goel in the affairs of the foreigner from Moab. The one who redeemed the estate would have to redeem Ruth also, as she and her affairs were legally bound up in the field of Elimelech. This was the legal technicality upon which Boaz was depending for his victory." [Note: McGee, p. 109. See also Block, pp. 716-17; and Reed, p. 426.]

The desire to raise up a name for the deceased was one of the major motivations in Boaz’s action. Boaz wanted to honor Mahlon by perpetuating his name in Israel. [Note: See Oswald Loretz, "The Theme of the Ruth Story," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 22 (1960):391-99.] The writer did not overtly condemn the nearer kinsman for doing what he did, though by withholding his name he put him in a bad light. Rather the writer focused on Boaz as acting with extraordinary loyal love.

The fact that the genealogy at the end of the book (Ruth 4:21) connects Boaz and Ruth’s son with Boaz rather than Mahlon does not mean he failed to perpetuate Mahlon’s line and reputation. The son would have been eligible to inherit from both Mahlon and Boaz. The Israelites regarded him as the son of both men. Naturally he was Boaz’s son, but legally he was Boaz and Mahlon’s son as well as Elimelech’s descendant.

"The same person could be reckoned genealogically either in different family lines or at different places in the same line. In this case, Obed was probably reckoned to Boaz (and, ultimately, to Judah) for political reasons; at the same time, for theological reasons (i.e., to show the providence behind David’s rise), he was also considered to be Elimelech’s son." [Note: Hubbard, pp. 62-63.]

Faced with the double financial burden of buying the field and marrying and providing for Ruth (and Naomi?) the nearer kinsman declined Boaz’s offer (Ruth 4:6). Note that he said he could not rather than would not redeem it. The reason he gave was that he would jeopardize his own inheritance. His inheritance evidently refers to the inheritance he would pass on to his descendants, not an inheritance he might receive from an ancestor. He felt he would have little left to pass on to his own heirs if he bought Naomi’s property and married Ruth. Apparently he was not a wealthy man like Boaz (Ruth 2:1).

Hubbard concluded that the obligation to marry Ruth as well as purchase the land must have been a legal one either known throughout Israel or unique to Bethlehem. [Note: Ibid., p. 58.] He regarded the unnamed kinsman redeemer’s change of mind "the book’s thorniest legal problem." [Note: Ibid., p. 56.]

". . . the surprise element must be something other than the obligation to marry a deceased’s widow since the kinsman probably expected that. While certainty is impossible, a careful reading of Ruth 4:3-5 suggests that the new information was the sudden, unexpected substitution of Ruth for Naomi as Elimelech’s widow. The progression of thought would be as follows. Cleverly, Boaz steered the conversation away from Ruth to focus on legal matters concerning Elimelech and Naomi in Ruth 4:3-4. If the thought of a marriageable widow associated with the land crossed the kinsman’s mind at all, he probably assumed her to be Naomi. Advanced in age beyond child-bearing, she posed no threat to his prospective profitable purchase. The alluring proposition offered him double returns for a small investment. He would not only increase the size of his own holdings but also enhance his civic reputation as one loyal to family. Future profits from the land would offset any expense incurred in caring for Naomi; indeed, given her awful suffering, one might not expect her to live much longer anyway. In any case, there was no risk of losing his investment to the claims of a future heir. A required marriage to Ruth (Ruth 4:5), however, was a very different matter. Much younger, she might bear several sons, the first eligible to claim Elimelech’s property as his heir, others perhaps to share in the kinsman’s own inheritance (Ruth 4:6). That possibility made the investment all too risky and perhaps even flustered him . . . The profit to be turned would be his only until the child acquired Elimelech’s land, probably on attaining adulthood. Further, the care of a younger, obviously robust wife (cf. Ruth 2:17-18) meant considerably more expense than anticipated. Hence, he willingly waived his redemption rights in favor of Boaz (Ruth 4:6-8)." [Note: Ibid., p. 61. Other writers who held essentially the same view include E. W. Davies, "Ruth 4:5 and the Duties of the go’el," Vetus Testamentum 33 (1983):233-34; Campbell, p. 159; E. Robertson, "The Plot of the Book of Ruth," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 32 (1950):221; and Howard, p. 138.]

Verses 7-12

B. Boaz obtains the right to marry Ruth 4:7-12

Probably the practice of standing on land one possessed led to the custom of using the sandal as a symbol of possession in land transactions (Ruth 4:7; cf. Genesis 13:17; Deuteronomy 1:36; Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:3; Joshua 14:9). [Note: Ernest R. Lacheman, "Note on Ruth 4:7-8," Journal of Biblical Literature 56 (1937):53-56.] Many scholars believe that it was the kinsman who removed his sandal to symbolize the completion of the transaction (Ruth 4:8).

Boaz’s emphasis on raising up the name of the deceased (Ruth 4:10), namely, Mahlon, and his father, Elimelech, shows Boaz’s concern for the reputation and posterity of his family line. These were important concerns in Israel because of God’s promises concerning Abraham’s seed and especially Judah’s descendants (Genesis 49:10).

"The ancients believed that when a person’s name is never mentioned after his death, he ceases to exist (Isaiah 14:20)." [Note: Block, p. 723.]

The witnesses to Boaz’s transaction wished God’s blessing of numerous descendants on him. They cited Rachel and Leah, both of whom, like Ruth, had joined the Israelites and had entered their land from alien nations that had demonstrated hostility to God’s people. Rachel’s tomb was near Bethlehem. She and her sister had given Jacob 12 sons directly and through their maids. They had indeed "built the house of Israel" (Ruth 4:11). The people also wished wealth (cf. Ruth 2:1; Ruth 3:11) and fame on Boaz, which he did obtain thanks to God’s blessing on his family, especially through Ruth and David. Ephrathah means "fruitful."

The reference to Perez (Ruth 4:12) is also significant. There are many parallels between the story of Boaz and Ruth and the story of Perez’s parents, Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38). Ruth and Tamar were both foreigners who had married into Israel. The first husbands of both women died leaving them widows. Both women participated in levirate marriages. Tamar seduced Judah under cover of a disguise, but Ruth encouraged Boaz under the cover of night. When Judah and Tamar appeared before a public tribunal they were ashamed and condemned, but when Boaz and Ruth did so they received praise and blessing. In both cases the husbands were considerably older than the wives. Both women, however, bore sons in the Davidic messianic line, Ruth honorably and Tamar dishonorably. Tamar bore Perez, and Ruth bore Obed (lit. he who serves; Ruth 4:21). Obed lived up to his personality trait name by serving as Boaz and Ruth’s son, and as Naomi’s grandson.

"Like Ruth, Tamar was a foreigner who perpetuated a family line threatened with extinction, one which later became Judah’s leading house, and thereby gained herself fame as its founding mother. If fertile, may not the equally creative (ch. 3) foreigner, Ruth, also preserve Elimelech’s line, and, if that line became famous, thereby earn a similar grand destiny?" [Note: Hubbard, p. 261.]

Perez’s descendants included many leaders who were a blessing to Israel. The tribe of Judah led the Israelites in the wilderness march and in the settlement of the land following Joshua’s death (Numbers 10:14; Judges 1:1-2).

The witnesses also recognized that children are a gift from God (Ruth 4:11; cf. Psalms 127:3-5). They prayed that Boaz would achieve wealth (standing, valor, worth, ability; Heb. hayil) in Israel (cf. Ruth 2:1; Ruth 3:11). God is the source of all blessing.

Verses 13-17

C. God’s provision of a Song of Solomon 4:13-17

Ruth 4:13 is a key verse in the book because it records the fulfillment of Naomi and Ruth’s plans to obtain rest (Ruth 2:2; Ruth 3:1-5). [Note: See Constable, p. 111.] A son was indispensable to the continuation of the line of Boaz as well as that of Mahlon and Elimelech. With the birth of Obed, Ruth and Naomi could both rest. They had produced someone who would carry on the program of God for Israel. The redeemer in view in this discussion was Obed, not Boaz.

Why did a godly Israelite such as Boaz marry a Moabite woman? Did the Mosaic Law not forbid the Israelites from admitting Moabites into their nation (Deuteronomy 23:3)? Several solutions to this problem have been proposed.

1. Perhaps Boaz simply disregarded the law at this point. Was this not, after all, the time of the judges in which everyone did what was right in his own eyes, including ignoring the proscription about welcoming Moabites into Israel? This is unlikely because Boaz, as the writer presented him in Ruth, was a scrupulous observer of the Law (cf. Ruth 2:4; Ruth 2:12; Ruth 3:9-13; Ruth 4:1-6; Ruth 4:9-10; Ruth 4:13).

2. Perhaps the prohibition in Deuteronomy applied only to male Moabites since Moses used the masculine gender when he referred to them. However, the masculine gender would have been the normal gender to use when referring to both male and female Moabites. Moreover, there is no other clue in Deuteronomy that only males were in view in this prohibition.

3. Probably the law in Deuteronomy had in view unbelievers who wanted to immigrate into Israel. God had always welcomed believers from outside Israel into the covenant community (Genesis 17; Genesis 38; Joshua 2; et al.). His purpose for Israel was that she bring people from other nations to God (Exodus 19:5-6). God’s purpose in the Abrahamic Covenant to make Israel a blessing to the world by bringing all people into relationship with God antedated and superseded all provisions of the later Mosaic Covenant. God brought the Mosaic Covenant in alongside the Abrahamic Covenant to help the Israelites maximize the blessings He had promised Abraham.

The women blessed the Lord (Ruth 4:14), acknowledging His goodness in providing a redeemer for Naomi, as well as Ruth, in Obed (Ruth 4:15). God eventually granted their desire that Obed’s name become famous in Israel. Little did Ruth and Boaz realize that from their union would come Israel’s greatest kings, including David and Jesus Christ. Obed did indeed restore life to Naomi’s apparently dead branch of the family of Judah (Ruth 4:15). Furthermore he sustained her in her old age by giving her hope (cf. Ruth 1:20-21).

". . . in all probability, Obed originally meant ’servant’ of Naomi; as her go’el, he ’served’ her by assuring her family’s survival and providing her food. . . . Obed’s name perhaps added the nuance ’servant of Yahweh,’ for in the end his service of Naomi served Yahweh’s larger purpose as well." [Note: Hubbard, p. 277.]

Ruth too received praise for her unusually selfless love and care for her mother-in-law. The ancient Israelites believed that seven sons constituted the ideal family (cf. 1 Samuel 2:5; Job 1:2; Job 42:13; Acts 19:14-17). Thus saying that Ruth was better to Naomi than seven sons was to say that she provided all that an ideal family could for Naomi.

Naomi became a nurse of Obed (Ruth 4:16) in the sense of becoming his guardian, the meaning of the Hebrew word ’aman (lit. "cared for him" or "one who serves"). Compare "Obadiah," which means "servant of Yahweh." She did not become his wet nurse but his nanny. [Note: Bush, p. 259; Block, p. 730.] Naomi adopted this grandson as her own child. [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 492.]

Ruth 4:17 contains one of only two instances in Scripture when a child received its name from someone other than the immediate family (cf. Exodus 2:10; Luke 1:59).

"This verse [Ruth 4:17] is, of course, a clue to the book’s purpose: to show that the reign of David resulted from neither his shrewd politics nor his clever tactics but from the divine preservation of his worthy family line. Therefore, Israel was to accept David’s kingship as the gift of divine guidance." [Note: Hubbard, p. 278. See also Block, pp. 734-36.]

Why did the writer feature Naomi in this closing section of the book rather than Ruth? I believe he did so to finish off the main point of chapter 1. There Naomi said it was impossible for her to have a son (Ruth 1:11-13). Yet at the end of the book she has a son (Ruth 4:17). This motif of a need for the line of Judah, therefore, is one that the writer wanted his readers to appreciate. God provided the seed supernaturally (Ruth 4:14) to a godly couple. Ruth’s faith in Yahweh qualified her as a channel of blessing in spite of her Moabite origins. The Book of Ruth opens with three funerals and closes with a wedding. [Note: Wiersbe, p. 197.]

Verses 18-22

D. The genealogical appendix 4:18-22

Far from being an unimportant postscript, this genealogy helps us see one of the main purposes for which God gave us this book.

Why does the genealogy start with Perez? He was the founder of the branch of Judah’s family that took his name, to which Elimelech and Boaz belonged (Numbers 26:20). Perez was the illegitimate son of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:5) who, like Jacob, seized the initiative to stand in the line of messianic promise from his twin brother (Genesis 38:27-30). [Note: Merrill, "The Book . . .," p. 134.] This genealogy emphasizes how God circumvented custom and tradition in providing Israel’s great redeemer, David. Like Perez, Boaz was the descendant of an Israelite father, Salmon, and a Canaanite harlot, Rahab (Matthew 1:5). Both Tamar and Rahab entered Israel because they believed and valued God’s promises to Israel, as Ruth did. David himself was the youngest rather than the eldest son of Jesse.

"It is clear that a major purpose of the biblical narrator was to establish links between Judah and Tamar on the one hand and Boaz and Ruth on the other, links binding the royal promise given to Judah with the fulfillment of the Davidic dynasty. This was accomplished not only by demonstrating the affinities between the stories of Tamar and Ruth, but also by suggesting important contrasts." [Note: Idem, Kingdom of . . ., p. 184.]

The wording of the genealogy (Heb. toledot), to so-and-so was born so-and-so, does not necessarily imply that this is a complete list (cf. 1 Chronicles 2:5-15; Matthew 1:3-6; Luke 3:31-33). The word toledot is key to the structure of Genesis, indicating its major divisions (Ruth 2:4; ruth 5:1; et al.). This is one more of the many allusions back to the early history of Israel that Ruth contains. This book shows that God was still working faithfully with the Israelites as He had earlier in their history even though they were generally unfaithful to Him during the Judges Period. We might have expected Mahlon, rather than Boaz, to be mentioned since by marrying Ruth, Boaz perpetuated the line of Mahlon, Ruth’s former husband. Evidently the genealogy goes through Boaz because Boaz was the physical father of Obed.

"The first five names cover the period from the time of the entry into Egypt (Perez, Genesis 46:12) to the time of Moses (Nahshon, Exodus 6:23; Numbers 1:7), while the remaining five belong to the period of the early settlement in Canaan to the closing years of the judges." [Note: Huey, p. 548.]

The fourth chapter brings to a tidy conclusion all the themes and threads spun out in the earlier chapters. [Note: See again the diagram of the structure of the book in the notes introductory to chapter 1 to visualize how these ideas come together.] Then the genealogical appendix adds information that helps us appreciate the greatness of God’s gift of the son, Obed. He became the ancestor of King David. The appendix also ties the events of the Book of Ruth to the past as well as to the future. It does so by showing connection with God’s promise to raise up a ruler over His people from the descendants of Judah.

"Throughout the book the narrator has deliberately cast the characters as stellar models of hesed, of deep and sincere devotion to God and to one another, expressed in self-sacrificial acts of kindness toward one another. Into the plot he has also carefully woven markings of the providential hand of God, rewarding who[ever] rewards authentic piety with his fullness and care. The birth of Obed symbolizes the convergence of these two themes: piety and providence. But the narrator is aware that in the providence of God the implications of a person’s covenantal fidelity often extend far beyond the immediate story. In fact, the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz does not end with the birth of Obed. It simply signals a significant turn in the history of this family and the history of Israel, down a course that leads directly to King David." [Note: Block, p. 736.]

Boaz, like Enoch in Genesis 5, represented the seventh of ten generations and set the course of his family toward godliness.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ruth 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ruth-4.html. 2012.
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