Ruth – part 7 (4:1-22)

We come to the final chapter of Ruth, in which the only remaining obstacle (the presence of another kinsman-redeemer) is overcome. While important for the resolution of the story, there’s not a lot new to be said about this part. Again, it’s the story of God’s laws in action – the laws that were set up to protect family inheritance and the family name. Have a read of this section now:

sandals4:1-10 Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down. 2 Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 3 Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. 4 I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.” “I will redeem it,” he said. 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” 6 At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” 7 (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.) 8 So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal. 9 Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”

But the response of the witnesses is vitally important for our understanding of of why this story is in the Bible:

4:11-12 Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” 

Ruth is adopted into the family of Israel. And the blessing pronounced on her invokes the name of some women in Israel’s history. Firstly, they ask that God make her like Rachel and Leah, Jacob’s two wives from whom the twelve tribes came. This points to Ruth’s offspring being significant for Israel. More on that in a minute.

Secondly, they ask God to make her family like that of Perez, the son born to Judah by Tamar. This was a sordid incident in Israel’s past (see Gen 38) in which Judah failed to look after Tamar (the ex-wife of his first two sons, who died) by giving her to his third son; Tamar ended up disguising herself as a prostitute and becoming pregnant by Judah himself. Again, a case of God being able to bring good out of the mess created by people’s sin and poor choices.

Which brings us to Naomi. Back in chapter 1, she complained that she was now bitter and empty, with God’s hand against her. She was without a provider and without children. Yet by the end of the story, she has both:

4:13-17a So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” 16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed.

But that’s not the end of the story. If it were, it would simply be a story about God being kind to a particular woman and her family. And perhaps not significant enough to warrant inclusion in the Bible. Except for the next bit:

4:17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

That’s King David to you. Or to give the full sequence from Perez (and the mess of Judah and Tamar):

4:18-22 This, then, is the family line of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, 19 Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, 20 Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 21 Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, 22 Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.

Out of the despair of a family suffering – along with the rest of Israel – the consequences of idolatry, God brought about his choice for a king.

Out of the hopelessness voiced by the narrator at the end of Judges – that in those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did as they saw fit – God provided the answer.

Out of the emptiness of one woman, God filled not only her, but all of his people.

In fact, that’s why the book of Ruth is in the Bible. It’s the story of how God raised up as king a man after his own heart. Where it’s placed in the Old Testament is interesting: as the bridge between the mess of Judges and the start of the monarchy in Samuel. Where it’s placed in the Babylonian Talmud (the collection of Hebrew Scriptures circa 200AD) is also interesting: just before the Psalms of David. The book of Ruth is the story of David. How God raised up a king for his people. The king who, more than anyone else, points to the King of Kings. Which is why Ruth (and Tamar) feature in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew chapter 1.

To think about

This is the story of how little stories are part of God’s big story. How is your little story – and that of your family – connected to God’s big story? How could you make it more connected?

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