In the gate of Bethlehem, Boaz shews himself to be a man full of gracious consideration for the two widows but also of the utmost regard for the righteous requirements of Jehovah's law in the land of Israel. He arranged that the immediate redemption of Elimelech's inheritance should be undertaken in public and according to the approved customs of the people. There was, in fact, more involved in it than the provision of sustenance for the impoverished widows. The inheritance was Jehovah's gift to this family, and should be recovered and secured to them for this reason. In the days of Joshua, the parcel of ground had been bestowed by lot upon Elimelech's forbears to be held by them and their heirs in perpetuity. Jehovah was the landowner: "the land is Mine" (Lev. 25:23). Any question affecting the line of succession or a change of occupant should be made on a righteous basis in the eyes of Jehovah. Redemption was a sacred transaction, and not a mere matter of human bargaining.
With the double purpose of redemption and marriage in mind, Boaz betook himself to the "gate," which was recognised as an open court of justice where civil and criminal cases were investigated by the aged and wise men of reputation in the city. This form of local government was authorised by Moses and was embodied in his final instructions delivered to the children of Israel on the borders of the land of Canaan (cp. Deut. 16:18-20; Deut. 21:18-21; Deut. 25:7-9). The elders of the city were therefore its civil rulers and were "ordained of God" to be such, rewarding and protecting the good and punishing the evil with magisterial authority exercised according to His law (Joshua 20:4; Rom. 13:1-4).
Boaz and the Elders in the Gate
Boaz was aware that another man by reason of closer kinship possessed a greater claim than himself to the right of redemption from the leaseholder of the estate to whom presumably Elimelech and Naomi ceded it on their departure to the land of Moab. Unless redeemed the land would remain in possession of the leaseholder or mortgagee until the year of jubilee (Lev. 25:28). Up to the moment, however, the next-of-kin had taken no steps to redeem the inheritance, neglecting the widows to that extent. But Boaz was for instant action, and he at once raised the question before the lawful authorities, whom he called together in the gate. "And Boaz went up to the gate, and sat down there. And behold, he that had the right of redemption, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. And he said, Thou, such an one, turn aside, sit down here. And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit down here. And they sat down" (Ruth 4:1, 2).
Bethlehem was situated on a hill, the cornfields being in the valleys and on the slopes. Hence we read that Ruth "went down" from Naomi's house to the threshing-floor (3:6), and that Boaz "went up" from the threshing-floor to the gate of Bethlehem (4:1). The gate was a place of public resort, roomy enough for twelve persons to be seated and many townspeople to stand around as spectators. In great cities ample space was provided at the gates for important public ceremonies. For instance, in a "void" or open space at the entrance of the gate of Samaria two kings were able to sit on their thrones in state, while all the prophets prophesied before them (1 Kings 22:10).
The Next-of-kin Disclaims his Right of Redemption
In the presence of the elders in the gate, Boaz stated the case of the lapsed inheritance to the next-of-kin (goel). Naomi, the widow of their relative, was desirous that the allotment of land which was her husband's hereditary possession might be redeemed. Boaz pointed out to the goel that on account of his near blood-relationship in the family, the primary right of redemption belonged to him. Would he exercise this right? If not, Boaz himself would redeem the inheritance. "And he said to him that had the right of redemption: Naomi, who is come back out of the country of Moab, sells the allotment that was our brother (kinsman) Elimelech's. And I thought I would apprise thee of it and say, Buy it in the presence of the inhabitants, and in the presence of the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem; but if thou wilt not redeem, tell me, that I may know; for there is none to redeem besides thee; and I am after thee" (Ruth 4:3, 4).
The "nearer" kinsman-redeemer (goel) was ready to exercise his legal right and to purchase the property. By so doing he would add to his own estate. Altogether, the proposal seemed to him a good bargain. "And he said, I will redeem it" (Ruth 4:4). But apparently he was unaware that the transfer of the allotment to him required that he should also marry Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, Elimelech's son. "And Boaz said, On the day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance" (Ruth 4:5). This compulsory marriage was in accordance with the provision made in Jehovah's law (Deut. 25:6), in order that the family name might continue with the family freehold, even though its head died without heir, as had been the case of both Elimelech and his two sons. And it was the will of Jehovah that the inheritance of each family of the righteous people should be its perpetual possession (Lev. 25:23).
The "nearer" goel, however, was not prepared to carry out the latter part of the bargain by taking Ruth to wife and preserving the name of the dead to the inheritance. He at once revoked his former decision. "And he that had the right of redemption said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance. Redeem thou for thyself what I should redeem, for I cannot redeem it" (Ruth 4:6). By this declaration in the presence of the elders of Bethlehem he who had the prior right of redemption publicly surrendered this right to Boaz, and the way was opened for the latter to fulfil the generous purpose of his heart.
Boaz had stated clearly what was the position respectively of the two widows in regard to the inheritance. He said (1) that Naomi, in the eyes of the law, was the seller of the property, although it had, no doubt, been leased or mortgaged in the days of the famine to its present occupier. And as soon as the goel redeemed the inheritance, Naomi would receive its value for her own immediate use and enjoyment. He said also (2) that Ruth, not being a daughter of Elimelech, had no title to the property under the special "statute of judgment" applying to daughters (Num. 27:6-11). But as the widow of Mahlon, she had a recognised place in the family. Moreover, seeing that her sister Orpah, the wife of her husband's brother, Chilion, remained in her own country, Ruth was the only one from whom, by suitable marriage, an heir might be expected to Elimelech's inheritance. These two facts will be found to be of importance when the typical aspect of the narrative is being considered (see pp. 60-69, section G).
The "nearer" goel had declined to marry Ruth, "lest," he said, "I mar mine own inheritance." He thought that by his marriage with the Moabitess, he would bring upon his family the stigma of a "stranger." Moreover, he would be taking money from his own inheritance to redeem another's, and so he would "mar" it to that extent. He suggested therefore that Boaz had better perform the part of a kinsman-redeemer (goel). In fact, the law in Israel had proved its own impotence to redeem the poor and the stranger, and it stood aside that grace and truth in the person of Boaz might act for the blessing of Naomi and Ruth.
This verbal refusal by the goel to redeem the inheritance was confirmed publicly and attested lawfully according to ancient custom by handing to Boaz one of his sandals, thereby signifying that he surrendered to Boaz his claim upon the whole of the inheritance and every part of it down to a foot's breadth. A foot-breadth was a figure of the minimum holding of land a man might possess as an inheritance (see Deut. 2:5; Acts 7:5). Also, receiving the sandal was an earnest of receiving the whole inheritance in due course. "Now this was the custom in former time in Israel concerning redemption and concerning exchange, to confirm the whole matter: a man drew off his sandal, and gave it to his neighbour, and this was the mode of attestation in Israel. And he that had had the right of redemption said to Boaz, Buy for thyself; and he drew off his sandal" (Ruth 4:7, 8).
As the goel who had the legal right of redemption had decided not to make the proposed purchase and had formally renounced his right in favour of Boaz who had made no secret of his readiness to undertake the cause of Naomi and Ruth, everything was left in his willing hands. Neither of the two women appeared at the ceremony. They were persuaded that in Boaz God had raised up a redeemer (goel) for them. Both they and Boaz trusted in Jehovah Who "executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed" (Ps. 103:6). Acting in the fear of Jehovah and as His servant, Boaz thereupon redeemed the inheritance and married Ruth, for the two acts were inseparable in the circumstances of this twofold redemption.
Boaz becomes the Redeemer for Naomi and Ruth
Accordingly, Boaz purchased all the property that had belonged to Elimelech and his two sons, and further he took Ruth to wife so that the inheritance might not become void and the name of the deceased disappear from among his family and his tribe. This beneficent act Boaz announced that day to the elders and people assembled in the gate. "And Boaz said to the elders and all the people, Ye are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi; moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren and from the gate of his place; ye are witnesses this day" (Ruth 4:9).
As will be seen from the narrative of the proceedings in the gate of Bethlehem, the redemption was twofold, comprehending (1) the purchase from Naomi of all that belonged to her husband and her two sons, the three men having died in the land of Moab, and (2) the "purchase" of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, to be his wife. Thus, both widows benefited by the transaction: (1) Naomi received from Boaz the value of the inheritance as a means of subsistence; she who had been dependent upon Ruth's gleanings in the barley-fields was now comparatively "rich and increased with goods"; while (2) Ruth the "stranger" became wife of Boaz the Bethlehemite, the "mighty man of wealth." Boaz had acknowledged himself to be "brother" in the broad sense of near relationship to the deceased Elimelech (ver. 3), and therefore he had accepted and fulfilled a brother's obligation under the law in Deut. 25:5-10 to marry the widowed Ruth and raise up seed for the continuance of Elimelech's name and inheritance in the tribe of Judah and the land of Israel.
The elders and the people who witnessed the "act and deed" of Boaz showed neither envy nor jealousy, but rather expressed their congratulations and pious wishes that the special favour of Jehovah might crown the happy event. "And all the people that were in the gate and the elders said, We are witnesses. Jehovah make the woman that cometh into thy house like Rachel and Leah, which two did build the house of Israel; and acquire power in Ephratah, and make thyself a name in Bethlehem; and let thy house become like the house of Pherez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which Jehovah shall give thee of this young woman" (Ruth 4:11, 12).
The united desire of the assembly in the gate was that Jehovah would grant His blessing (1) to Ruth (2) to Boaz himself, and (3) to his house. Their desire (1) was for the childless young widow that she might now be fruitful like Rachel and Leah from whose sons came the eight principal tribes of the nation of Israel. Rachel, the much-loved wife of Jacob, and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, died in childbearing, and was buried near "Ephrath, which is Bethlehem" (Gen. 35:19). It may be for this reason that the citizens of Bethlehem mentioned her name before that of her elder sister, Leah.
They desired (2) for Boaz that he who was already a man of substance might through the redeemed inheritance acquire further power and possess a still more famous and illustrious name in Bethlehem. This prayerful hope was gloriously and supremely answered, for by this marriage Boaz became ancestor of Israel's Messiah Who in due time was born in Bethlehem, little though it was "among the thousands of Judah" (Micah 5:2).
Further, their desire (3) was that the house or family of Boaz might be numerous and influential in the tribe of Judah, like the house of Pherez. Pherez (Pharez in the A.V.) was the second son of Judah, and twin-brother of Zerah or Zarah. His two sons and their families are mentioned in the census of the children of Israel taken in the plains of Moab near Jericho (Num. 26:20, 21). He was an ancestor of Boaz (Ruth 4:18-21), and Jashobean, one of his descendants, was "chief of all the captains of the host," commanding 24,000 men selected for service in the court of king David during the month Nisan (1 Chron. 27:2. 3).
Surely we cannot but admire the unjealous spirit and kindly grace that animated the townsmen of Bethlehem when they knew that Ruth the young Moabitess was entering the home of their respected elder, Boaz, as his wife. The law had said, "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not come into the congregation of Jehovah; even their tenth generation shall not come into the congregation of Jehovah for ever. . . . Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever" (Deut. 23:3-6).
But all the elders and the people in the gate rose above the austerities of the law of Sinai and sought the peace and the prosperity of the new household in their bridal blessing, naming first the poor Moabitess and then the wealthy Bethlehemite. It was indeed a glimmering of that true Light which, coming into the world, would lighten every man, Israelite and Gentile alike (John 1:9). The words of the Bethlehemites were of greater significance than they themselves knew, for they contained a latent prophecy of "Jesus Who is called Christ." His genealogy from Abraham appears at the beginning of the New Testament in forty-two generations, and the tenth of those recorded is "Boaz begat Obed of Ruth" (Matt. 1:1-17). And Ruth's name is thus written in the First Gospel because she by faith forsook the idols of Moab and sought sanctuary in Bethlehem where the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Jehovah of Israel, was known and worshipped.