Ruth chapter 4
“A Child is Given”
Chapter 3 left us with two matters still unresolved. The most important, a grandson for Naomi, will be resolved at the end of the book. But first the question of who will become Ruth’s husband must be dealt with. Naturally we want it to be Boaz, but there is another kinsman closer in relation who has the legal right to redeem Ruth.
Verses 1- 12 records the transaction between Boaz and this other possible redeemer. Now while most business transactions are somewhat dull, the author skillfully throws a surprise in the mix. Apparently Naomi owned a tract of land, and whoever redeemed Naomi would need to buy this land for her. The author could have told us this earlier, but for his Spirit-led purposes he decided to wait until now.
This adds a new twist to the story. The nearer kinsman would be much more likely to redeem Ruth and Naomi if a piece of land were involved. What probably happened is that when Elimelech took his family to Moab, he leased out his land. When Naomi returned, the property would legally still belong to her. Because of the famine the land likely remained unfruitful. Naomi and Ruth would be living on it alone. They would not be able to afford laborers to farm the land, so Naomi had come to the point where she was forced to sell her family’s property. Selling the land would have broken her heart. The closest way maybe we can relate to such a feeling is when your mother or grandmother, who has lived in one place all her life, is forced to give it up. That house and property means everything to her.
Boaz went up to the gate first thing in the morning to see if the other kinsman would fulfill his role as redeemer. The city gate was where the social and legal gatherings were held.
Remember in ch. 2 when Ruth went to the field the author wrote, ”behold, Boaz came to the field.” Now right when Boaz comes to the gate, the man he was looking for happens to pass by, and the author writes, “behold, the kinsman Boaz had spoken of was passing by.” Timing is everything.
It is somewhat odd that the author does not name this other kinsman, but calls him friend, or as the KJV translates, “such a one,” or “so and so.” Certainly the attention is to be on Boaz here. Boaz invited some elders to sit with them so that the transaction would be legal. The onlookers would act as the official witnesses. Boaz begins his question not about Ruth but about the piece of property. Do you wish to redeem this property to keep it in Naomi’s family? Boaz cleverly begins with that aspect of the redemption easiest to swallow. If you will redeem Naomi’s land, redeem it. The man responds, “I will redeem it.”
For the reader there is a letdown; this is not what we had hoped for, but the man did what we would expect him to do. The unnamed kinsman must have been smiling upon his good fortune that morning. For very little money, he could own a new tract of land. Naomi had no sons or grandsons to take over the land when they grew up, so the property would be his for good. Feeding one older woman wouldn’t take too much money. This small investment could develop into a profitable venture and further the inheritance of his own children. Plus rescuing the popular Naomi and Ruth wouldn’t hurt his reputation either.
But we are left to wonder why this man, who must have known Naomi his relative, has done nothing to relieve their suffering to this point. It is possible that the author left out his name so as not to shame his ancestors living at the time of the writing.
Just as we are expecting the deal to close, Boaz springs a surprise upon the man. If you do buy her land, then you must also be a true Goel and marry Ruth the Moabitess in order to continue the family name. This changed everything. The man responded, “I cannot redeem it myself, lest I jeopardize my own inheritance.”
This man’s practical mind was working in overtime. If he married Ruth he would need to provide for Naomi, Ruth and their children. If they had a son, upon the son’s maturity the tract of land would revert to the son’s ownership. Plus the first-born would also inherit a share of the man’s own inheritance. Thus he waived his rights as the nearest kinsman to Boaz.
We are not to think too evil of this man. His reason for refusing has some validity. With all this extra responsibility he might not have enough left for his own children. Remember the difference between Orpah and Ruth in chapter 1? Orpah did what was natural; Ruth did the extraordinary. Here we have the same difference between the man and Boaz. The man did what was expected while Boaz acted with extraordinary loyalty and sacrifice. The two men of chapter 4 match the two women of chapter 1.
Thus Boaz redeems Ruth, and now they can be married. Ruth would now be publicly accepted as a full Israelite. The engrafting of Ruth begun in chapter 1 is now complete. She has gone from outsider to a field worker to the wife of Boaz. Boaz then repeated this transaction in the presence of witnesses. The author does not repeat the results in vv. 9&10 simply to fill space. In reading this Israel is a witness to God’s plan to engraft the Gentiles into Israel. There would be no excuse for rejecting David because he enlisted Gentiles as his closest guards. Israel has no excuse to reject Christ when He proclaimed the engrafting of the Gentiles into His kingdom.
In v. 11 the elders pray that Ruth would be like the matriarchs of Israel, Rachel and Leah. Then they wish upon her that her offspring would be as famous and important as Perez. They obviously didn’t know how true their prayer would become.
V. 13 jumps nine months ahead, to the resolution of the chief problem of the book; posterity for Naomi. And now the author directly invokes the name of the Lord as the divine force behind the solution. “Then Boaz went into Ruth, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.” Up until now the author has been subtle in drawing our attention to the Lord’s sovereignty in the story; but now he gives glory to the Lord explicitly.
This phrase reminds the readers of Sarah, whom God gave the ability to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. Would Ruth’s offspring share a greater destiny than Isaac? Is this the promised child God swore to give to Abraham’s descendants?
The end of the story is the direct opposite from its gloomy beginning. We are invited to the baby’s birthday party where Grandma Naomi is celebrating with her friends. Boaz and Ruth are noticeably absent from the festivities. Remember this book is about Naomi and her cry for redemption. Naomi’s hopes for survival hung on this male child, and now the child is here. God has provided for Naomi above and beyond all hopes. Not only did she have an heir, but this heir will grow up to inherit her family’s land. The women rejoice in her fortune, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel.” Again, little did they realize how gloriously their blessing would be fulfilled!
The women list the benefits Naomi will enjoy from her new redeemer. “May he be a restorer of life to you.” That’s another way of saying, “may he revive your spirits.” Naomi’s bitter lament in chapter 1 is now resolved. A child has been given to answer Naomi’s bitter cry of the curse. God fulfills his covenant promises by giving a son. This boy would provide Naomi both food and comfort as she grew old. Now both of Naomi’s problems – no provision or posterity have been resolved.
The women end their blessing by praising the woman whom at least on a human level brought all this about – Ruth. All the time Naomi was desperate for a son, there was one with her better than seven sons. Of course the ancients strongly preferred sons to daughters. But Ruth is paid the highest tribute as the women ascribe to Ruth worth more than seven sons.
Now the story comes full circle in v. 16. The once empty Naomi now enjoys her fullness as she places the baby on her lap. What a joyous moment! But then we read that Naomi became the child’s nurse, or nanny. This word in the OT is only used for someone who cares for a child in the absence of the natural parents; thus a foster parent. But this time his parents were still around. Something very unusual is going on here.
Ruth’s devotion surprises us one last time. She had given one final gift to Naomi. Ruth had given Naomi her own son to raise as her own! Naomi would take on the role of a foster mother.
This was more than just Grandma coming to visit once in a while. We do not need to infer from this that the baby lived with Naomi instead of his parents, though that is possible. But Naomi would have a position of raising the child like her very own son. This is the only time in Scripture that this status is given to a grandmother. Ruth exhibits for us extraordinary grace once again. She performs this act out of deep affection for Naomi. Ruth has become like her Redeemer, offering her own son for those whom she loved.
In v. 17 the women name the son Obed, which means “servant.” This one would serve Naomi as her redeemer. He would grow up to protect and provide for her, and through him her family’s name would not be extinguished in Israel.
In Luke 1 Elizabeth’s friends and relatives want to name her son Zechariah, so the custom of others beside the parents naming an infant was not unknown in Israel. But here again we see the reversal from ch 1. Earlier the women of the village listened while Naomi lamented, but now Naomi listens while the women rejoice.
If you were reading this story for the first time you would expect it to end here. But the narrator has one more surprise in store. This baby turns out to be the grandfather of Israel’s King David. Suddenly this charming, simple story about two widows takes on greater significance. This story now becomes a part of the history of God’s people. This is the history of our king! This is our story! In the time of the Judges, when all seemed hopeless, God worked through a Moabite widow to bring our king to us.
The author leaves us with two unanswered questions. The first is about Naomi herself. In the book, everyone gives praise to Jehovah except Naomi. Ruth in chapter 1, Boaz in chapters 2 & 3, and the village women in chapter 4 all attribute glory to Jehovah. We would expect Naomi to do the same, especially here at the end, but Naomi is strangely silent.
Here the theology of the book is taught as much as by what is not said, as by what is said. Did Naomi ever confess her lack of faith? Is Naomi a true Israelite who placed her hope in the Redeemer as Ruth did? Or is she only confessing the Lord for what she could get out of it in this life?
This is left unanswered, for Israel herself must answer that question. Israel, will you trust in the Lord to bring your Redeemer as promised? Will you serve Him though as Naomi you might suffer loss in this life? It is a question for the new covenant church also, is it not?
The final and most crucial question raised concerns the adequacy of this child to be Naomi’s redeemer. Can this child really take away the curse? Can he redeem Naomi from her real problem, sin and death? How can Obed serve Naomi when she stands before God on Judgment Day? What about the child’s grandson, King David? Could David do any better? David failed greatly as a redeemer. David died a sinner’s death with his own family full of apostates. Is this the answer to the problem of the curse, or do we wait for another from David’s line?
Naomi placing this baby redeemer on her lap propels us forward to another, whose womb God opened in a marvelous way. A woman named Mary would cradle another of Ruth’s descendants. As Mary held the Redeemer for all of God’s people, we as the church rejoice as the village women rejoiced in Obed. Our cry has truly been answered; God has sent a Son as our Redeemer. This son would be His very own Son!
The OT is full of complaints like Naomi’s, crying out to God to end the bitterness. After the death and resurrection of our Redeemer, there is not one recorded complaint in the NT. Yes there is pain, and often confusion, for the effects of the curse are still bitterly experienced by the people of God. But our Kinsman Redeemer has conquered death for us and truly redeemed us from the hand of slavery.
The Book of Ruth is a love story. It is a love story from Christ to his Church. Here was the condition of His people in sin and misery, chapter 1; here is what God did to bring about their Redeemer, chapters 2-4. Ruth’s descendant truly has brought us everlasting provision and posterity, an eternal inheritance in the New Heavens and Earth. Let us rejoice in the birth of our Kinsman Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, son of Ruth and Boaz. Amen