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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Ruth 4

 

 


Verse 1

1. Went… up to the gate — Not from the harvest field, for, according to Ruth 3:15, (see note,) he went into the city after he sent Ruth away, but he went up from his house in the city. The gate itself may have been on no higher elevation than his own house, but, being the place of judgment, and therefore a place of honour in the eyes of the people, his going to it is spoken of as a going up.

Sat him down there — As one that had an important case for judgment. From the earliest times the gates of cities were the places where the courts of justice were held. The custom probably grew out of the fact that the gates were places easy of access to all the people, and witnesses and other persons concerned could come there with least inconvenience. See note on Matthew 16:18. Compare also Genesis 23:10; Genesis 23:18; Genesis 34:20; Deuteronomy 16:18-20; Deuteronomy 17:8; Joshua 20:4; 1 Kings 22:10.

Ho, such a one — An idiomatic expression. פלני אלמני, Peloni almoni; that is, Mr. Such a one, of such a place. Boaz probably called the kinsman by his proper name, but the author of this book has substituted for it this idiomatic phrase.


Verses 1-12

THE COUNCIL AT THE GATE OF BETHLEHEM, Ruth 4:1-12.

Closely connected with the customs and the law of levirate marriage was another law concerning the redemption of property. Jehovah claimed the land of Israel as his, and commanded that it should never be sold by his people. Therefore an inheritance was not allowed to pass permanently into the hands of another family than that whose original possession it was. If through poverty one was obliged to sell a piece of land from the family estate, (as Naomi, see Ruth 4:3,) it was the duty of the nearest kinsman to redeem it. He who acted as redeemer in such cases purchased, properly speaking, not the land itself, but the use of it until the next year of Jubilee. See the law, as detailed in Leviticus 25:23-34. But in case the kinsman performed the double part of buying the property and marrying the widow, then the inheritance would pass to the offspring of that marriage, and thus the kinsman would build up his brother’s house.

This chapter affords us a life-picture of an ancient court of justice assembled to arbitrate a case under the above-mentioned law. Every circumstance serves in some measure to illustrate the simplicity of that age.


Verse 2

2. Elders of the city — Whose years and judgment gave weight to all their decisions. Why ten were called does not appear, but perhaps that was the number required to constitute a court.


Verse 3

3. Naomi… selleth a parcel of land — According to the law, (Numbers 27:8-11,) when a man died and left no son, his property passed to his daughter; if he had no daughter, it passed to his brethren; if he had no brethren, it passed to his father’s brethren; and in case his father had no brethren, it passed to his next nearest kinsman. In no case did it pass to the wife of the deceased. Hence comes the question, What right had Naomi to sell Elimelech’s property? The solution of the difficulty is probably this, that, as the law did not designate the time when the proper heirs took possession of the inheritance, custom did not allow it to pass to them while the widow of the deceased was living. Naomi therefore would have the control of Elimelech’s property as long as she lived, and the selling of it was, as we have shown in the note at the head of this chapter, not a permanent disposal, but an annual renting of it till the year of jubilee.


Verse 4

4. I thought to advertise thee — Literally, as margin, I said, I will reveal in thine ear. That is, I will make known the matter to thee.

Before the inhabitants — Those of the inhabitants of the city who are sitting here to witness the judgment of this case. The gate of the city was usually thronged by a concourse of people, who would naturally resort thither to while away their leisure hours, and hear all passing news.

If thou wilt not redeem — The Hebrew has the third person, אם לא יגאל, if he will not redeem. This reading may be defended on the supposition that Boaz at this point of his discourse turned to the elders and spoke of his kinsman in the third person. But the English version is more natural, and is supported by the Septuagint and several Hebrew MSS.

I will redeem it — It would add so much to his own estate to procure also the property of the deceased Elimelech. Not knowing the condition which Boaz makes known in the next verse, he supposed that he would only have to pay Naomi a certain annual allowance till her death, and then the inheritance would pass to him as the lawful heir.


Verse 5

5. Thou must buy it also of Ruth — The estate of Elimelech would have been Chilion and Mahlon’s had they lived. Chilion’s widow had gone to her mother’s house in Moab, and perhaps married again, so that she had no legal claim on the property; but Mahlon’s widow, Ruth, had clung to Naomi, and therefore while she lived had a share with her mother-in-law in Mahlon’s inheritance. Naomi was too old to expect a husband, (Ruth 1:12,) or to claim of her deceased husband’s kinsmen the duty of the levirate marriage. But not so Ruth, who was young and beautiful, and had a right to ask in marriage the man who redeemed the inheritance of Mahlon.

To raise up the name of the dead — According to the law (Deuteronomy 25:6) the firstborn of the levirate marriage succeeded in the name of the deceased husband of his mother. Thus the family to whom the deceased belonged did not become extinct in Israel. See on Ruth 4:10.


Verse 6

6. I cannot — This kinsman already had, according to the Targum and the general supposition of interpreters, a wife and children. Accordingly, had he married Ruth, his children by her would have succeeded to Elimelech’s estate, and so his own inheritance would not only have received no addition, but might have suffered much by having his time and attention largely drawn from it in care for the interests of another. Others suppose that it was Ruth’s Moabitish nationality that formed the ground of this kinsman’s refusal to marry her. The death of Elimelech’s sons may have been popularly attributed to their marriage with Moabitish women, and this kinsman feared that by attempting to redeem his relative’s estate he would involve himself in like misfortunes.


Verse 7

7. The manner in former time — This remark implies that the custom was no longer in use when this book was written.

Concerning redeeming and concerning changing — That is, concerning the buying and exchanging of property.

A man plucked off his shoe — “The custom itself, which existed among the Indians and the ancient Germans, arose from the fact that fixed property was taken possession of by treading upon the soil; and hence taking off the shoe and handing it to another was the symbol of the transfer of a possession or right of ownership.” — Keil.

“The shoe symbolized a possession which one actually had, and could tread with his feet at pleasure.” — Cassel.

A testimony in Israel — Rather, an attested usage: a custom in Israel. This custom, it will be observed, is not precisely the same as that recorded Deuteronomy 25:9, in which the widow that claimed the right of marriage came into the presence of the elders and loosed the shoe, and spat in the face, of the man who refused to marry her. This nearest kinsman of Elimelech could not properly marry Ruth, and therefore the transaction between him and Boaz at the gate of the city was but an honourable transfer to his relative of his right to redeem the inheritance. It was but an instance of the ancient Israelitish custom concerning redeeming and changing. But the custom of Deuteronomy 25:9, is said to be still in use among the Jews in some localities, and Burckhardt tells us that the modern Arabs, in speaking of a repudiated wife, say, “She was my slipper; I have cast her off.”


Verse 10

10. That the name of the dead be not cut off — The name of the child borne unto Boaz by Ruth was not called Mahlon, the name of the deceased husband, but Obed. Ruth 4:17. To the question why this was so, Patrick answers that what Boaz did was in obedience to the law in Deuteronomy 25:6, for he was not the brother of Mahlon, but only a remote kinsman, and therefore not bound by the strict letter of the law in giving a name to the child. But the passage in Deuteronomy 25:6, need not be pressed to mean that, even if the redeemer be a brother, the child born of the levirate marriage must literally bear the name of the deceased brother; but rather, that all the facts of the case should be made known and preserved, as has been done in this history before us. Thus the name and memory of the dead Elimelech and of Mahlon were not cut off from among their brethren, nor from the gate of their native city, although the child of Ruth was not called after either of them.


Verse 11

11. All the people… and the elders, said, We are witnesses — “And thus,” says Clarke, “the business was settled without lawyers or legal casuistry. A question of this kind in one of our courts of justice, in these enlightened times, would require many days’ previous preparation of the attorney, and several hours’ arguing between Counsellor Botherum and Counsellor Borum, till even an enlightened and conscientious judge would find it extremely difficult to decide whether Naomi might sell her own land, and whether Boaz or Peloni might buy it! O glorious uncertainty of modern law!”

Like Rachel and like Leah — The two wives of Jacob, who were accounted mothers of all the tribes of Israel. Genesis 29:30.

Which two did build the house of Israel — That is, bore him offspring to establish his name. “By a common oriental metaphor, house is transferred to a family and children; and whoever begets children is said to build a house. Hence בן, son, comes from the idea of building; that is, of begetting. The same metaphor is elegantly carried out in Plautus, Mostellaria, 1, 2, 37.” — Gesenius. So in modern times great lineal families are designated by this word; as, house of Bourbon, house of Brunswick. The passage in Plautus to which Gesenius here refers is as follows: “Now this I will say, that ye men may be compared to buildings, as long as parents are chiefly builders of children, and the foundation of children they do lay,”

Do thou worthily — Acquire power and influence.

Be famous — Literally, Call out a name. That is, perpetuate thy name by means of a numerous posterity.

Ephratah… Beth-lehem — Different names of the same place, (Genesis 35:19,) used here in the way of poetic parallelism.


Verse 12

12. Whom Tamar bare unto Judah — See the history, as given in Genesis 38. There was a peculiar appropriateness in this allusion to Boaz’s ancient ancestors, for Tamar’s playing the harlot with Judah was not from lust on her part, but a forcing of him unawares to perform the part of a kinsman to her. His two sons Er and Onan had married her, and died leaving her childless. He then had promised her his younger son, but seems not to have kept his word, and therefore she took the bold step to be redeemed by Judah himself from the lonely estate and condition of a childless widow. Nor was Pharez, the offspring of that connexion, ever regarded as illegitimate, but he figures most honourably in the genealogy of David and the Messiah.


Verse 13

MARRIAGE OF BOAZ AND RUTH, AND BIRTH OF OBED, Ruth 4:13-17.

13. Boaz took Ruth — Whatever scruples a pious Hebrew might have had about marriage with a Moabitess, Boaz could have had none in this case, inasmuch as Ruth was the widow of an Israelite, and had left her native land and kindred to become a proselyte to the Hebrew faith. Compare note on Ruth 1:4.


Verse 14

14. The women — The women of Beth-lehem, Naomi’s neighbours and friends. Ruth 4:17.

Not left thee this day without a kinsman — The kinsman or redeemer in this passage refers not to Boaz, but to the child born to Ruth, as is evident from the words that follow.

That his name may be famous — Rather, and may his name (that is, the child’s name) be famous; become honourably perpetuated by a numerous and worthy posterity in Israel.


Verse 15

15. He shall be — That is, the child shall be. Boaz was the goel or redeemer of Ruth but the child Obed was the goel of the aged Naomi.

Restorer of thy life — He shall make thee feel the glow of youthful life and joy again.

A nourisher of thine old age — A source of comfort, since the birth of this son would take away the reproach of childlessness from her husband’s family.

Better… than seven sons — Because through Ruth “the loss of her own sons had been supplied in her old age, and the prospect was now presented to her of becoming in her childless old age the tribe-mother of a numerous and flourishing family.” — Keil. “It would seem as if there was already a kind of joyous foretaste of the birth and infancy which, in aftertimes, was to be forever associated with the name of Beth-lehem.” — Stanley.


Verse 17

17. There is a son born to Naomi — The son of Ruth was called Naomi’s, and that aged and childless widow herself rejoiced over the birth just as Rachel and Leah, who built the house of Israel, (Ruth 4:11,) rejoiced over the children borne them by Bilhah and Zilpah. their maid-servants. Genesis 30:1-13. By the birth of this child she was assured that the name of her precious dead would not be cut off from among their brethren. Ruth 4:10.

They called his name Obed — The name means, literally, one who serves; and, as the context seems to suggest, was given to the child of Ruth and Boaz because he served to gladden Naomi’s old age. From this it appears that the law of Deuteronomy 25:6, was not understood to mean that the firstborn child of the levirate marriage must be called after the very name of the dead. See note on Ruth 4:10.

He is the father of Jesse, the father of David — Thus at last is brought out fully and significantly the author’s manifest object in writing this brief but deeply interesting history of Ruth. It throws a calm and peaceful light upon the ancestry of the greatest personage of Israelitish history.


Verse 18

18. Pharez — Son of Judah by his daughter in law Tamar. See Genesis 38:29. Thus David and Messiah trace their lineage directly up to Judah.

Hezron — Mentioned in Genesis 46:12, and 1 Chronicles 2:5.


Verses 18-22

GENEALOGY OF DAVID, Ruth 4:18-22.

This genealogical table presents us with ten names, a round and even number; and this fact, taken in connexion with the well known love of the old Hebrews for a perfectly drawn, symmetrical family register, may at least suggest that some unimportant names have been designedly left out. This is most naturally to be supposed in a list that bridges over many hundred years. The position that every individual link in this ancestral chain, stretching back from David to Pharez, is given here, is an unwarrantable assumption, and utterly destitute of proof. We may, therefore, pass over without notice all questions of chronology which have been raised upon this genealogy. The passage appears again, with but trifling verbal differences, in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ, (Matthew 1:3-6,) so that from a lofty spiritual point of view we may look upon it as a carefully finished document, looking not to David only, but also to Messiah. It is a noticeable fact, and worthy of special mention here, that the first two genealogies of Genesis — that of Cain (Genesis 4:17-22,) and that of Adam through Seth, (Genesis 5:1-29,) — contain each precisely ten names.


Verse 19

19. Ram — Or Aram, as in Matthew 1:3.

Amminadab — He was father in law of Aaron. Exodus 6:23.


Verse 20

20. Nahshon — Prince or chief captain of the tribe of Judah during the journeys of the wilderness, (Numbers 2:3,) and whose offering to the Lord among other tribe-princes is described at Numbers 7:12-17.

Salmon שׂלמה, Salmah; whilst the name in the next verse is שׂלמון, Salmon; whence Dr. Kennicott conjectures that these are the names of two distinct persons, and that one link has been dropped out between Nahshon and Boaz, which might be thus supplied: Nahshon begat Salmah, and Salmah begat Salmon, and Salmon begat Boaz. Some names, doubtless, have been left out; but no weighty argument can be made from so slight a difference in the orthography of the names of persons.


Verse 21

21. Salmon begat Boaz — Matthew reads, Salmon begat Boaz of Rachab. It is not absolutely certain that this Rachab is the same as the Rahab who entertained the spies at Jericho, (Joshua 2:1; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25,) but such is the ancient tradition and common belief; and, if true, it is very clear that one or more names have been omitted between Salmon and Boaz, who must have lived some two hundred or more years apart. That such omissions were sometimes intentionally made, a comparison of Ezra’s genealogy, as given in Ezra 7:1-5, with the fuller table of 1 Chronicles 6:3-15, will abundantly show. The same may be seen in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ, (see notes on Matthew 1:17,) where, with a manifest effort to make the register bear the appearance of a symmetrical whole, and with noticeable respect for the sacred symbolism of numbers, he groups all the named from Abraham to Christ under three heads of fourteen generations each, though, as his own list shows, he has omitted several named, which may be supplied from the Old Testament tables.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ruth 4:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/ruth-4.html. 1874-1909.

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Friday, October 30th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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