Meditations in Ruth : 18. Boaz acting righteously
Ruth 4:1 Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there. When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned came along, Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down.
We are about to come to verses that are strange to modern eyes but make us realise we are dealing with a very different culture. So often we read of life in Israel in Old and New Testaments and fail to focus our eyes through the culture of the days and places which are so very different from today and here where I live in the West.
Ruth has been told by Naomi to wait. Now it is up to Boaz to check out the situation. He is related and therefore he can be a redeemer-kinsman but there is yet one who is a closer relative, and the closest has to be given first option. It is facing this that shows Boaz to be a righteous man; he is willing to abide by the outcome but it has to be according to the Law. So watch the procedure: “Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so.” (4:2) It is probable that Boaz is well-known and influential and so he calls together leading elders of the town to a public place where they would normally meet. Obviously he also calls the other relative to come: “Then he said to the kinsman-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. 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.” (4:3,4) Elimelech had some land and, as we saw previously, the Law required that when he died the nearest relative redeemed it. The relative is happy to buy the land: “”I will redeem it,” he said.”
Ah, but there is a problem. If you follow the Law you must also take Ruth as well: “Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” (4:5) That is what the Law requires, so of you take the land, you must also take the widow. At this the other balks: “At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” (4:6) It is possible that he fears that, if he has a son by her and that son is his only surviving heir, his own property will transfer to the family of Elimelech. That seems to have been the practice. But if that was his fear, then it must be true of Boaz as well, but he clearly isn’t fearful of his own name, just of caring for Ruth. That is what the rejection by the other relative would have been about, the fear of losing family prestige in the next generation. Boaz is not so concerned.
Then we go through an even stranger cultural practice: “(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.)” (4:7) It was a simple ritual that signified the passing of property from one person to another and when the elders would have seen it, they would be witnesses to a legal transaction. “So the kinsman-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal. Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, 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 the town records. Today you are witnesses!” (4:8-10) Notice twice, “Today you are witnesses.” It was important for the Law to be followed and seen to be followed and that the transaction had been worked through completely amicably.
Thus we see: “Then the elders and all those 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 house of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.” (4:11) They affirm they are witnesses to this transaction and they acknowledged that in reality Ruth was very much in keeping with what had gone on earlier in history. Rachel and Leah had been the two daughters of Laban who Jacob had married, girls from outside the close family and from another land (although they were distantly related, as intriguingly was Ruth for Moab came from Lot’s family tree originally, nephew of Abraham from whom Israel eventually came). And with this they invoke a blessing upon him as a sign of their approval. It has all been done well!