This book is truly a Divine Comedy. It is no tragedy, although it seems initially to be so. This story has a happy ending. A wedding, a baby, and a genealogy. What could be more thrilling?
Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat him down there: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spake came by; unto whom he said, Ho, such a 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 ye down here. And they sat down. And he said unto the kinsman, Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, selleth a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s: And I thought to advertise thee, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it: but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee. And he said, I will redeem it. Then said Boaz, What 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
Summary of the Text
Boaz sets about to make good on his vow (3:13) to ensure that Ruth & Naomi would not be left bereft of a kinsman redeemer; it would either be the nearer kinsman, or else Boaz would fulfill the duty (v1). Boaz meets the man at the gate of Bethlehem and hails him as “such a one” (v1), assembles a council of ten elders (v2, Cf. Pro. 31:23), and appraises the nameless kinsman of the opportunity to buy Elimelech’s parcel (v3, Cf. Lev. 25:25). Boaz informs the man that if he doesn’t want to buy it, then Boaz will, but––to our disappointment––the man agrees to buy it (v4). However, Boaz has another card to play, the man must also marry Ruth the Moabitess and raise up a son in Elimelech’s stead (v5).
The kinsman balks at this out of fear of marring his own inheritance (v6). So, the customary transfer of duty was performed by removing his shoe & giving it to Boaz (vv7-8, Cf. Deu. 25:9-10). Boaz then announces to the council & all the people that he had purchased all that was Elimelech’s, and his sons (v9), including marrying Ruth with the incumbent duty to raise up the name of the dead (v10). Both the elders and the people add their witness and a three-fold blessing: 1) that Ruth would be like the matriarchs Rachel & Leah––building a mighty house of many sons, 2) that both Boaz and his offspring might be mighty & famous (v11); and 3) that the house of Boaz might be like the house of Pharez, begotten from Tamar’s righteous act of faith (v12, Cf. Gen. 38).
Boaz takes Ruth, and the Lord grants conception of a son (v13). Bethlehem’s women bless the Lord for this gift to Naomi, for this son––who would be famous (literally, “called out”)––would be unto Naomi as a resurrection, a comfort all her days, a blessing from the faithful loyalty of her daughter-in-law who turned out to be better than seven sons (vv14-15). Naomi’s bosom is now filled with a son (v16), and the womenfolk take it upon themselves to name the boy Obed: the serving one (v17). This servant-son would be the grandfather of mighty David (v17b). The text concludes with a vital genealogy, tracing ten generations from Pharez unto King David (vv18-22).
The Nameless & Shoeless
The names of the characters in this story are integral to the story. The story opens with a Elimelech (God is King), acting as if God isn’t king. His two sons are “sickly” & “pining”. Naomi (pleasantness) attempts to rename herself Mara (bitter). Boaz’s name implies strength & virility. But the near kinsman is left deliberately nameless. Boaz calls him, “Hey so-and-so.” This isn’t Boaz having a moment of forgetfulness. The Narrator is driving something home.
It seems that his initial willingness to buy the field was with the prospect that Naomi would soon die, and he could consolidate the land into his own; his sons would then inherit a greater tract of land. But if he is also obligated to marry Ruth, the son born of that union would not be reckoned as his son, and the land which he had purchased would not be retained in his portfolio. So, he would lose the money spent to “lease” the field, and it would not be attribute to his name. This seems to be the bitter pill the nameless kinsman is unwilling to swallow.
As the law in Deuteronomy instructed, the man who refused to fulfill this duty to his perished brother would henceforth be known as the “one without a shoe.” But in Ruth’s story, this man insists that he can’t fulfill his duty so as to not mar his own inheritance. He tries to maintain his name, and as such his name is forgotten. He is left nameless & shoeless. He is forgotten, as it were, while the son which came from Boaz is blessed with fame.
The nearer kinsman had a lawful claim, and both Naomi & Ruth & the land & name of Elimelech are bound up in this claim; Boaz cannot fulfill his vow until this nameless kinsman renounces his claim. The claim on Ruth must be nullified before she is free to marry Boaz (Cf. Rom. 7). But once this obstacle is removed, nothing is left in the way. The wedding bells can peal.
Until the Tenth Generation
In Deuteronomy 23:2-3 we have two parallel laws that shed light on the story of Ruth: “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD. An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever.”
The mention of Pharez, the son born from Judah & Tamar’s union, brings this into the foreground. Pharez would seem to be a bastard son; but in Tamar’s faith, God’s blessing flows even to bastard sons. Pharez’s tribe grew to greatness in Israel (Num. 26:21), and the Bethlehemites pray that Boaz & Ruth’s house would likewise become a great host.
As you count up the generations here in this genealogy, you find ten generations. In other words, any objections to David’s right to be a king are moot. The generational distance from both Pharez and the Moabites unkindness sufficed to ensure that God had now raised up for Himself a king after His own heart. God, like the ten generations from Adam to Noah, and from Noah to Abraham, was bringing about a new unveiling of His covenant glory. Ruth begins with God as King, and ends with God raising up a son to be a King over His people. This makes it clear that Israel’s demand for a king in 1 Samuel 8:6 was not only bad math, but grasping for God’s promises in impatience (like Abraham and Hagar).
Boaz points us to Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, who was restless until He removed every obstacle to our redemption. Obed points us to Christ, a servant-son to the widow, being her resurrection & life. And the book’s final word , David, points us to Christ, a great King who would rule with God’s people with truth & grace. By themselves they are incomplete portraits of Christ, but in Christ all the types and shadows come together in glorious array.
A Son of Great Renown
Balaam had proclaimed in his curses over Israel, which turned into blessings, that God would raise up a Heavenly King in Israel who would crush Moab. Now, a Moabitess, by faith, becomes the matriarch of that King. Boaz’s name indeed became famous, his name being assigned to one of the pillars of the temple. David, of course, becomes arguably the central character of the rest of OT history.
But of course, the name of great renown which is in view here, is the name at which every knee must one day bow. The name is Jesus, the son of David. This story of Ruth tells us of a babe born in Bethlehem, in order that many centuries later we might not be surprised when God once more providentially causes a Son––predestined for great renown––to be born in that Little Town of Bethlehem.
This whole story of Ruth teaches us more than just lessons of duty, loyalty, obedience, and virtue. It teaches us that God’s hand is behind all things. Not only that, but the purpose behind all His mysterious movings is in order to raise up a Son of Great Renown. You must receive this name as yours. Don’t try to rename yourself, according to your circumstances. Don’t care about your own name so much that you end up nameless. Instead, receive the name of great David’s greater Son.
This divine novella ends in wedding bells, and leaves us with the name of a great king. But the whole of history is heading to a final day when the wedding bells will once more peal louder than ever, and the name of the King of kings shall be upon the lips of all who are His.