Everyone Needs Redemption
September 4, 2016
EVERYONE NEEDS REDEMPTION
September 4th, 2016
Over the last number of weeks, I’ve been moving through the book of Ruth, chapter by chapter, and today is the final installment. For those of you who have missed the past weeks, let me just quickly give you the setting.
Naomi, a woman from Bethlehem who had left with her husband and two sons because of a famine has returned after many years of absence in Moab. Her husband and sons had died, and so the only one she is returning with is one of her daughter-in-law’s, a young Moabite woman by the name of Ruth.
Bethlehem was considered a small village even by biblical standards (Micah 5:2). The one in the picture on the overhead is likely bigger than Bethlehem at the time. Many of the women in the village remembered Naomi, who is now completely embittered against God because of her great loss.
Ruth the Moabitess, starts to pick up leftover grain on a field that happened to belong to a man named Boaz, related by marriage to her mother-in-law Naomi. Boaz seems to like her and makes sure that she is able to pick up a LOT of grain.
Last week I spoke about a plot by Naomi to have both the land that had belonged to her husband bought by Boaz, and to have Ruth propose marriage to Boaz at night on the threshing floor. In essence Boaz accepts on both counts, but there is a problem. Someone even closer related to Naomi’s husband, called the family redeemer, is first in line both to buy the land and to marry Ruth, which is what he now needs to deal with.
1 So Boaz went down to the town gate and took a seat. When the family redeemer Boaz had mentioned came by, Boaz called out to him, “Come over here, friend and sit down.” So the man came over and sat down. 2 Then Boaz called ten elders from the town and asked them to sit as well, which they did.
When Boaz returned to Bethlehem from the threshing floor, it must have still been very early. Boaz knew that the man who was the closer relative to Eli-melech had the funds to purchase the land. Boaz also knew that the man left the village in the morning, likely related to the work he had to do.
If there’s a village gate, one could assume that there is at least some kind of barrier along the perimeter of the village, even if it only consisted of private garden or house walls. In larger towns the city gates would have archways and alcoves where there was shade to sit in. So perhaps no alcoves.
At that time, towns and villages in Israel had narrow streets and did not incorporate an open square or market places like those found in Greek and Roman towns and cities (e.g. agora). Instead, the space between and in on either side of the town gates is where things happened.
So think of village gate as THE place where men met to catch up on news, to conduct business, where people sold merchandise (2 Kings 7:18), and where the elders held court and decided on disputes. For example, if a man didn’t want to honour the tradition of levirate marriage, he had to go to the elders at the gates in order to face the public humiliation deemed proper for such an act (Deut. 15:7).
When Boaz’s relative passed through the town gate, Boaz calls him over and invites him to sit beside him. I assume the other man thought immediately that Boaz wanted to conduct some business with him. This would have been confirmed when Boaz calls over 10 elders who were likely already at the gates, to sit in as witnesses and potential arbitrators and judges. This was a matter of importance, and had legal implications.
3 And Boaz said to the (closest) family redeemer, “You know Naomi, who came back from Moab. She is selling the portion of land that belonged to our relative Eli-melech. 4 I felt that I should tell you [lit. uncover your ear] about it so that you can buy it if you wish. If you want the land, then redeem it here in the presence of those sitting here and the elders of the people. But if you don’t want to redeem it, let me know, because you are first in line to redeem it and I am next in line.” The man replied, “I will redeem it.”
This is the first time in the book of Ruth, that we are introduced to the fact that Naomi had land that had belonged to her late husband Eli-melech which she now wanted to sell.
Theoretically, anyone could buy the property, [but it would be theirs only until the year of Jubilee (held ever 50th year) when it would revert back to the family of the original owner, or] until a family redeemer purchased it back, so it remained in the family. Therefore, it would have been the normal practice to offer the land first to a relative who could buy it before offering it to someone outside the family clan.
Prior to this point, the land apparently was of no benefit to Naomi. For one, she and Ruth couldn’t work the land themselves without the necessary animals and gear and strength. For another, the wording suggests that Elimelech’s land was part of a much larger common field. So perhaps it would have been difficult for her to demand any of the harvest from the person who is currently keeping it cultivated.
Whatever the case, we have to keep in mind that Naomi and Ruth had only been back in Bethlehem for less than a month, and it seems most likely that Naomi ignored the property up to this point. Only after she knew that one of Eli-melech’s male relatives could purchase it, does selling it even become a possibility for her.
By the way, there is a wrinkle in the Mosaic Law regarding this whole issue. In Numbers (27:8-11), there is no mention of widows inheriting land from their deceased husbands. The land is to go first to the sons, if there weren’t any sons the land went to the daughters, and if there were no children it was to go to the nearest male relative.
If that passage was taught and understood at the time of the judges, Naomi would have no claim on the land and it would have automatically gone to Eli-melech’s closest male relative without any need for money to be exchanged.
Obviously, this passage was no longer known or practiced in Ruth’s day. Also, we have a number of references, although about 400 years after the events in Ruth took place, that Jewish widows who were childless would indeed inherit their deceased husband’s estate.
The relative was eager to redeem, in essence to buy the land from Naomi. And why wouldn’t he want to? The land would become his for perpetuity and could never revert back to Naomi.
5 Then Boaz said to him, “Of course, if you purchase the land from Naomi, it would mean that you also have to acquire Ruth, the Moabite widow, in order to raise up (an heir) to carry on her husband’s name on his inheritance.” 6 “Then I can’t redeem it,” the family redeemer replied, “because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it.”
Here Boaz links, just as Ruth did, the Law of Land Inheritance, with the Law of Levirate marriage, something that the other redeemer may not have considered, but somewhat surprisingly accepts (as do all the elders and other men witnessing this exchange).
There are two very negative consequences that a potential levirate marriage can have. As Boaz points out, even though the redeemer would purchase the land, in essence it would not belong to him. It would belong to a son who, for all intents and purposes, would not be considered his own but would carry on Machlon’s name.
He would purchase the field, but then it would belong to him, but to the son of Ruth – and Ruth wasn’t even from Bethlehem, as Boaz is quick to point out.
For another, a wife, while a blessing, was also considered a financial burden, [because under Mosaic Law, the husband has to provide for his wife, including, food and clothing]. In this case the burden would be doubled since Ruth had Naomi in tow, and that likely meant having to look after Naomi as well.
While the man had the funds to purchase the land, he obviously wasn’t wealthy. Therefore he felt that to purchase the land and take on this extra financial burden could be too much and might land him in debt.
7 In those days it was the custom in Israel for anyone who is transferring a right of purchase, to remove his sandal and hand it to the other party. This publicly sealed a transaction in Israel. 8 So the other family redeemer took off his sandal as he said to Boaz, “You buy the land.”
The reason that this custom is explained is because when Ruth was written this practice had become obsolete, another indication, besides the mention of King David’s name at the very end, that the story was recorded at least 100 years after it actually took place.
The drawing off and giving over of the sandal (which was then returned to its owner) would attract the attention of those present at the gate and would signify to everyone that the right of redemption was legally transferred to Boaz.
9 Then Boaz said to the elders and to the people standing around, “You are my witnesses that today I have bought from Naomi all the property of Eli-melech, Kilion (pronounced: Kylayon or Kilyon?) and Machlon. 10 I also have acquired Ruth, the Moabite widow of Machlon, to be my wife. This way the name of the deceased will be retained over the inheritance and the name of the deceased will not be forgotten by his relatives and by the people at the gate. You are witnesses today.”
The men standing around are not simply bystanders. Boaz now included them as legal witnesses, similar to the 10 elders, who nevertheless still had a special position as judges and arbiters.
This would have been particularly important because in that day and age, there were literally no written contracts or judgments. It would have to be affirmed verbally by those who witnessed the events.
As we would anticipate, there are two transactions that go hand in hand. The first is buying the land, the second is taking Ruth as his wife.
Again, Ruth is named as the woman from Moab. Here we also learn to which of the two sons of Eli-melech and Naomi that Ruth had been married to - Machlon.
Boaz gives the reason for the Levirate marriage in both positive and negative terms. Positively, it was to produce a son who would carry on the name of the deceased and inherit the redeemed land. Negatively, it would keep the name of the deceased from simply being forgotten. In essence Boaz was saying that Ruth would have a son who would carry on Machlon’s name and inherit Machlon’s property.
When the author penned this part of the story, I am certain that he wanted to point out that God is indeed a God of redemption. And further, that God is so compassionate in his desire to redeem that he is open even to the most despised who genuinely come to him (like Ruth did).
[This is also the main point in Jonah. God’s compassion extended to a people who only 40 years after Jonah’s message would wipe the northern kingdom of Israel off the face of the earth.
And it is something that Jesus continued to stress in his teaching. ]
God must feel at least as compassionate toward the Ruths of Moab or Assur or Babylon as Boaz did. God must be the God of redemption with the desire and power to redeem all outcasts into fellowship with himself, should they so genuinely desire.
11 Then the people standing there at the gate and the elders replied, “We are witnesses! May YHWH make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! And may you be great in Ephratha and famous in Bethlehem! 12 And may YHWH give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.”
The court session concludes with a statement from the witnesses. They affirmed that they were able to affirm that this transaction took place and that Boaz would buy the land and marry Ruth. A few individuals among them spoke the blessing.
The first blessing pronounced is on the Ruth, the bride, in reference to the two wives of Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Even though the people of Bethlehem were descendants from Leah, they mention Rachel first. The two wives, along with their female slaves, who had no standing on their own but became Jacob’s concubines, had 12 sons from whom the whole nation descended.
Their prayer was for fruitfulness ...for lots and lots of kids and grandkids. However, a lot of piety went into this wish since this wasn’t a wish for natural fruitfulness, but for a fruitfulness that is a gift from God.
And then there is a blessing pronounced on Boaz. It wishes upon him “greatness,” which is likely in reference to wealth and prosperity, as well as “a name”, which points to lasting fame or renown that would be perpetuated down through history.
The blessing of fruitfulness first pronounced on Ruth is now reiterated with regard to Boaz.
The mention of Perez was a bit odd, given that his mother Tamar had tricked her father-in-law Judah into getting her pregnant by pretending to be a prostitute (Genesis 38).
Also, Perez wasn’t known as being particularly important or fruitful. However, a large portion of the tribe of Judah descended from Perez, including the people of Bethlehem in general (1 Chron 2:51) and Boaz in particular (Ruth 4:18-21).
So again this is a prayer for a lot of descendants, but also for descendants who will become people of importance and prominence ... which would come true because of the long line of Davidic kings were direct descendants from Boaz and Ruth.
This blessing makes most sense if Boaz is currently childless. Because he isn’t a young man, it is unlikely that he was a bachelor, but it could be that he is a widower whose wife had no children prior to her passing (or she and the baby died in childbirth).
13 So Boaz married Ruth and took her home to live with him. When he slept with her, YHWH enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. 14 And the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praised be YHWH who has given you a family redeemer today. May he be famous in Israel! 15 May this child restore your life and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you so much and who has been better to you than seven sons!”
The son who is born is considered a gift from God.
It is interesting that the focus at the end of the story shifts completely away from Ruth and back onto Naomi.
The women of the village are delighted at the birth. They now come to Naomi, not Ruth, as if Naomi had given birth. They thank God for the child and call it, not Boaz, Naomi’s redeemer. And they pronounce a blessing on this child that mirrors the blessing the people at the gate pronounced upon Boaz: a name that would be remembered, would become famous.
The blessing continues. This child is to become the one who would take over in looking after her in her old age. This is the first hint that Naomi may not be as old as we may have envisioned. In fact, Boaz may be older than her and the thought was that after Boaz’ death, the son would be old enough to continue to look after Naomi.
They give recognition to the love that Ruth has shown toward Naomi, something that has shone through every chapter of this book. However, that she was better than seven sons is striking, in particular because of the place given boys in comparison with girls. A plurality of sons was the highest ambition of the married and was considered the highest blessing by God. Seven being considered the perfect number, means that seven sons would constitute the perfect family (cf. 1 Sam 2:5). To say that Ruth was worth more than seven sons is to give her the highest praise possible.
Naomi’s future looked bleak when she first returned to Bethlehem. But because of Ruth’s dedication, she is now again part of a family, is loved, and has regained her status in the village as someone of note who is blessed by God.
As much as the book of Ruth is about Ruth, it is just as much about Naomi, the embittered and impoverished widow who needed redemption. Ruth, because of her godly character, is God’s instrument of providing that redemption through her own actions and then her marriage to Boaz.
16 Naomi took care of the child and became his nurse. 17 The neighbour women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse, and the grandfather of David.
Keep in mind that even though the son was born to Ruth and Boaz, he was considered as if he was Machlon’s son. Therefore, the child was considered to be a descendant of Naomi’s more so than Ruth’s.
As we can imagine, Naomi took a special interest in the baby boy. She becomes his wet nurse (in the Hebrew, she laid him in her bosom and became his nurse), which is another indication that she couldn’t have been that old.
[And by the way, with a LOT of patience and dedication it is possible for someone who is not pregnant to induce lactation and breastfeed a baby. Adoptive mothers do this all the time. ]
In essence, Naomi took on the raising of the child, as if it was her own – and this is affirmed verbally by the village women. They actually named the boy, which also seems very unusual because these women were outside of the family and naming was usually the right of the parents.
The name they chose, “Obed,” literally means “servant.” Again, not a particularly fetching name, possibly implying that the child would serve Naomi. Then there is a small note that this child, who was born as a result of the curious circumstances related in the book of Ruth would be the grandson of the most famous and greatest King of Israel, David; the founder of a dynasty that would last of hundreds of years; who, despite his big missteps, was said to do be a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14; cf. Acts 13:22) and to do what was right in God’s eyes (2 Chron 28:1; 29:1; etc.).
Further, the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah both declared that a descendant of David would be THE son of David, the Messiah, will establish Israel and rule over it with justice and will draw the nations to himself (Isa 9:7; 11:1-3,10; Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-17; Hos 3:5; cf. 1 Chron 17:11-14 where this individual would be considered the son of God).
The final verses in the book of Ruth then expand that genealogy into the past all the way to Perez (in essence to Judah himself, who is mentioned as his father in v.12).
18 Now these is the family line following Perez:
Perez fathered Hezron.
19 Hezron fathered Ram.
Ram fathered Amminadab.
20 Amminadab fathered Nachshon.
Nachshon fathered Salmah.
21 Salmah fathered Boaz.
Boaz fathered Obed.
22 Obed fathered Jesse (pronounced “Jischai” in Hebrew).
And Jesse fathered David.
This short genealogy connecting Judah (Perez) to David concludes the book of Ruth. The names are also found in 1 Chronicles and in Jesus’ own genealogy in Matthew 1:3-6, where both Tamar and Ruth (as well as Rahab and Bathsheba) are mentioned as well.
However, the time frame covered with these names is actually around 640 years, which means that many, many individuals in the genealogy are not mentioned.
The most venerated of all of the kings in Israelite tradition is linked to a Moabite ancestor, his great-grandmother. Some commentators think that this is the central purpose of the book of Ruth, to point out how and why this could be the case – it is God’s character of chesed, as modelled by the main figures in the story.
However, it still seems odd to end the story with a genealogy. Perhaps it was to point out the continuity of God’s purposes over a long period of time.
What is interesting with this genealogy, while the previous verses make it very clear that Obed would ostensibly be considered to be the son of Machlon, in fact this is not the case when it came to the legal interpretation of whose son he was.
And of all the children that Boaz and Ruth may have had, it is only this one who is remembered and ostensibly fulfilled the blessings pronounced upon the couple.
So what can we draw from this last chapter of the story of Ruth?
1. God’s providential kindness is still guiding history and our lives.
Well, when Ruth decided to follow Naomi to Bethlehem to look after her, in their wildest dreams could the two widows not have envisioned that Ruth would become, not only the ancestor of the most important of all of Israel’s kings, but also the ancestor of God’s Messiah, Jesus, whose Hebrew name, Yeshua, short for Yehoshua, proclaims that Yahweh saves.
God is understood as the one who will provide for even the most desperate of his covenant people. He is the faithful provider to the powerless and helpless, the provider of the widows and orphans.
In our story God’s loving kindness is providing for the helpless widow Naomi. His providence and sovereignty is demonstrated in that he is using a woman from Moab to do so.
Despite all of the horrible things going on in the world, despite the fact that back then in Israel, as today, widows lived in abject poverty, there is an overarching plan of God that is not thwarted by human actions, human limitations, human prejudice, or human inhumanity toward God’s creation.
In essence, contrary to what we may think when we look at the news and despite the horrible things that are happening in the world, God has not checked out - he still blesses his people.
History is not simply the result of unguided chance and happenstance. And while the actions of humans determine to a large extent what happens, it isn’t the only thing. There is still what is called “God’s providence” which guides history to its ultimate goal. No matter what happens, we still can place our trust in God, despite our struggles.
Of course that doesn’t mean that we should just do what we want and not be concerned about the havoc that we might be creating in the lives of others, in our own lives, and in nature.
Of all people, Christians should be most concerned to demonstrate God’s steadfast kindness toward themselves, toward others, toward the world at large. However, we ultimately trust that God is sovereign over our own lives, as he is over the world.
[Aside: Praying for a situation and it only gets worse]
2. God kindness is extended to all people regardless of race, nationality, gender or status - so should ours.
This is an important point. It is the Abrahamic covenant in reverse. The Israelites were to become a blessing to the Gentiles (non-Jews), and here Israel is blessed through a Gentile.
Ruth was a Moabite in a Jewish world.
She was female in a male dominated society where she was considered the property of her husband.
She was uneducated in a society where women simply had no opportunity to learn.
She was a penniless widow in a society where there is no social safety net, and status was important.
Before faith (in Jesus as Messiah) came, we were held captive under the Law (of Moses), imprisoned (to sin) until faith was revealed. ... in Christ (Messiah) Jesus you are all children of God through faith. ... There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ (Messiah) Jesus. Galatians 3:23,26,28
Note: Messiah = God’s anointed (christening = anointing)
Whatever our prejudices and biases, these need to die in the face of God’s concern for everyone, regardless. There is no person unimportant to God.
3. God notices people who demonstrate kindness
The backdrop of the judges is a rather dark period in Israel’s history (because of oppression by others but also because of moral ambivalence) where “everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes” (Judges 21:25)
Ruth is introduced in chapter 1 as a person who demonstrates the kind of sacrificial chesed or loving kindness that, not only is a reflection of God’s own character, but also marks out the kind of person God is especially interested in - the kind of person He is looking for to be part of his covenant community.
It is because this characteristic is displayed in her life as she deals with Naomi and then Boaz, that God blesses her and allows her to become an even greater blessing to the nation as a whole.
4. God’s kindness is ultimately demonstrated in our redemption.
The theme of death ran large through the first chapter of Ruth ... in fact, both Naomi and Ruth are in a state of “death” because they have no hope of provision and protection.
Boaz was the one who went to some lengths to become the family redeemer of Naomi and the husband of Ruth. God, in Jesus, went to some lengths so that Jesus could become the redeemer of the world.
Naomi and Ruth were redeemed from financial devastation due to death -
we are saved from spiritual devastation due to our own separation from God (because of our own bad choices and sinful behaviour).
Boaz, who also is said to demonstrate God’s characteristic of chesed, faithful kindness to Ruth, then becomes a type of Messiah (God’s anointed) to both Ruth and Naomi. Jesus, our Messiah and family redeemer.
When we come to God in humility and submission, then on the basis of Jesus as our family redeemer, God receives us, forgives us, washes us, cleanses us, gives us his Spirit, and writes our names in the book of Life (Rev 20:12).
And it is this that we remember when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper ... the willingness of Jesus to suffer and face execution in order to redeem us from our sins, to buy us free from eternal death and a futile life spent only on selfish pursuits.
 Reflected in the Christmas carol, “Oh little town of Bethlehem.” Note that 2 Chron 11:5-6 records that the village was fortified under king Rehoboam (973-915 BC).
The town gate is where assemblies took place, kings would sit on their thrones in order to pronounce judgments (Joshua 20:4; 1 Kings 21:8,11; 22:10; Jer 38:7) and for the men of note, the elders, to make legal decisions (Deut 22:15; cf. 2 Sam 15:2; Amos 5:10,12,15). It was a tragedy when the elders no longer sat at the gate (Lam 5:14). NOTE: One exception is Philistine Ashkelon where, in the 7th century BC a small market place existed.
 If a man dies and has no son, then you will transfer his inheritance to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you will give his inheritance to his brothers. And if he has no brothers, then you will give his inheritance to his father’s brothers [paternal uncles]. And if his father has no brothers, then you will give his inheritance to the nearest male relative in his own family, and he will own it.
 In 2 Kings 8:1-6 (possibly composed in the late 7th century BC during the reign of Josiah), during the time of the prophet Elisha (c. 892-832 BC), the widow who had left Israel for 7 years goes back and petitions the king of the northern kingdom of Israel to have her house and fields restored to her – she was considered to have a rightful claim on the land. In the apocryphal book of Judith 8:7 (composed around 100 BC), the childless widowed Judith possessed, among other things, land that was left to her by her deceased husband, and seems uninterested in a Levirate marriage. Also, in the Mishnah (Yeb 4.3), a woman who has inherited property and is awaiting a Levirate marriage, is allowed to sell the land or give it away (so that her second husband has no claim on it). This likely demonstrates that childless widows could in fact inherit their deceased husband’s land.
 In Genesis 38:9, Onan, who was forced to marry his deceased brother’s wife Tamar, knew that the son he would have with Tamar “would not be his.” Apparently Levirate marriage was a common practice prior to the Mosaic Law.
 “Transferring a right of purchase” is literally, “A redemption and to as an exchange.”
 Actually, at least 100. Ruth 4:17-22 lists nine generations between Perez and David (which is too few to span the almost 640 years laying between), but only three generations between Boaz and David (which may also be missing some “links”). The account of Ruth may have been written much, much later, possibly during the time of king Josiah when the Mosaic Law was rediscovered.
 Jonah was active during the reign of King Jeroboam II (c. 785-746 BC); Assyria destroyed Samaria in 722/721 BC. That would mean that Jonah would have given his message to Nineveh, the capital of Assur, just 64 to 24 years before the annihilation of the northern kingdom of Israel by those who “repented.”
 The reason was that Judah, having lost two sons who had been married to Tamar, wouldn’t let her marry his third son. Perez was the first of a set of twin boys, his brother’s name was Zerah or Shelah (Gen 38:30).
 Hannah prays: Even the barren gives birth to seven (sons).
 Apparently some women can lactate for 20 years, even post-menopausal.
 According to Josephus in the first century AD, Naomi named the child (Antiquities 5.9.4).
 Amminadab was the father-in-law of Aaron (Ex 6:23).
 Nachshon is also mentioned numerous times in the Exodus account (cf. Ex 6:23; Num 1:7; etc.).
 While v.20 has Salmah, v.21 has Salmon. In 1 Chron 2:11 it is Salma. In the genealogy of Jesus in Matt 1:5 it is Salmon.
 1 Chron 2:5-15. Matt 1:3-6 – “to Judah were born Perez and Zerah by Tamar ... to Salmon was born Boaz by Rahab ... to Boaz was born Obed by Ruth … to David was born Solomon by her of Uriah”.
 Psalm 68:5-6 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, one who provides a home for the lonely, and prosperity to the prisoner.” Note also Deut 10:18 - God “executes justice for the orphan and the widow and shows his love to the foreigner by giving him food and clothing,” and other passages like it (see also Psalm 10:14; 146:9; Prov 15:25).
 In Colossians 3:11, “there is no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman”.