If we were to view the Biblical book of Ruth as a play with multiple acts, then Ruth chapter four serves as the fourth and final act of this ancient drama. It is here within this chapter that the cliffhanger ending of Ruth chapter three will be resolved with a conclusion that reveals God’s involvement “behind the scenes” to serve a greater purpose…
“Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there; and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz had spoken came by. So Boaz said, ‘Come aside, friend, sit down here.’ So he came aside and sat down” (Ruth 4:1).
While “sitting at the gate” may not sound like a significant activity to a modern-day reader, a seat at the city gate was actually something quite prominent in the days of the Old Testament.
As you might expect, the “gate” of a city was associated with the main passageway that provided entry and exit through the thick walls of an ancient city. It was there at the gate that many of the legal, social, and commercial activities of the city took place.
For instance, the city gate functioned as a public forum, a place where people could gather to talk and discuss the news of the day. It also served as a marketplace, a high-traffic area where vendors could display their wares. The gate was also used as an area to conduct official business and a place where leaders might gather to make public announcements.
The city gate was also the place where judges sat to render legal decisions and local authorities (or “elders”) gathered to witness legal transactions. This explains why the husband of the virtuous woman spoken of in Proverbs chapter 31 was said to be, “…known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31:23).
So while much of the narrative of Ruth chapter three took place in the secluded darkness of the threshing floor, chapter four begins within the very public arena of the city gate. Since the city gate represented the center of urban activity in that area, it was a good place to find someone that you might be searching for- and sure enough, Boaz’ target soon appeared: “Soon the family redeemer Boaz had spoken about came by” (HCSB).
So by inviting this unnamed relative to join him, Boaz successfully initiated step one of what will turn out to be a carefully designed plan- and now it was time to launch phase two.
“And (Boaz) took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, ‘Sit down here.’ So they sat down” (Ruth 4:2).
After Boaz invited his unnamed relative to join him at the city gate, he took the initiative to secure an audience of “ten of the village leaders” (NET). Its likely that the local custom of that area required the presence of ten elders to ratify a legal agreement and as we’ll see, a number of other community members eventually gathered to witness what was about to take place as well.
So now that the preliminaries were complete, it was time to get down to business…
“Then he said to the close relative, ‘Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, sold the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech'” (Ruth 4:3)
It seems unusual to read that the “close relative” mentioned here in Ruth chapter four is never actually referred to by name. While Boaz certainly would have known the identity of this unnamed person, he is only referred to as a “friend” or “relative” within the pages of the Scripture. There may be a reason to explain this omission, and we’ll consider that possibility as we go on to observe the interaction between Boaz and this unnamed family member later in this chapter.
In any event, Boaz began by stating his reason for gathering everyone together: “Naomi, who has come again out of the country of Moab, sells a parcel of land which was our brother Elimelech’s” (MKJV). While this may seem to be a fairly straightforward announcement, it is somewhat unclear from the text as to whether the land in question had already been sold prior to Naomi’s departure to Moab or if she had decided to put these property rights up for sale now that she had returned.
One commentary explains the possibilities in this manner…
“Two interpretations are possible: 1. Naomi owns the land but is so destitute that she is forced to sell. It was the duty of the kinsman-redeemer to buy any land in danger of being sold outside the family. 2. Naomi does not own the land—it had been sold by Elimelech before the family left for Moab—but by law she retains the right of redemption to buy the land back. Lacking funds to do so herself, she is dependent on a kinsman-redeemer to do it for her. It is the right of redemption that Naomi is ‘selling.'” (1)
(1) Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Fully Revised), Ruth Copyright © 1985, 1995, 2002 by The Zondervan Corporation
The preceding chapters of the Book of Ruth suggest that Naomi was facing great financial difficulty. For example, if Naomi had been financially secure then it would not have been necessary for her daughter-in-law to glean the leftovers from the local farmlands in order to survive (see Ruth 2:2).
In light of such dire prospects, it seems that Naomi had decided to raise some desperately needed funds by disposing of her interest in the family estate. It was this “notice of divestiture” that Boaz delivered to this unnamed family relative in Ruth 4:3: “Naomi has come back from Moab and is selling the land that belonged to her husband Elimelech” (CEV).
So having informed the potential buyer of this property’s availability, Boaz went on to explain the reason for their meeting….
“And I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it back in the presence of the inhabitants and the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am next after you'” (Ruth 4:4a).
Before continuing, we should remember that concepts like “buying” and “selling” were relative terms when it came to the idea of property rights in the days of the Old Testament. When the nation of Israel first entered the Promised Land, individual tracts of land were first allocated to each of the twelve tribes. These areas were then subdivided into individual family parcels.
While the Old Testament Law clearly stipulated that ownership of the land ultimately belonged to God Himself (see Leviticus 25:23), it was His intent that these subdivisions should remain under the control of the individual family units to which they had been allotted. Therefore, an area of land could never be sold on a permanent basis although usage rights could be purchased for a period of time.
A seller (or a family member with sufficient financial resources) always retained the option to redeem such property rights but if neither of these alternatives were available, the land would revert back to family control every fifty years (see Leviticus 25:8-17).
This was the proposal that Boaz put forth when he said, “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” (NIV). It was an offer that was too good for this unnamed relative to refuse- and we’ll see why next.
“…’Now then, if you want it, buy it in the presence of these men sitting here. But if you don’t want it, say so, because the right to buy it belongs first to you and then to me…'” (Ruth 4:4a GNB).
This passage tells us something about the nature of Boaz’ strategy and his plan to secure the right to a marital relationship with Ruth. For example, notice that Boaz made a point to mention that he had gathered a group of elders together to witness his discussion with this unnamed relative. While there may seem to be little significance in this observation, it helps to remember that there is a difference between simply discussing the issue of redemption rights and formalizing an agreement concerning such rights.
You see, Boaz might have elected to discuss this matter privately with his unnamed relative first before calling the town elders together to recognize whatever arrangement they had agreed to. But Boaz chose to reveal Naomi’s offer (and his own potential interest) in the presence of everyone who had gathered there. By strategically presenting his options in this manner, Boaz effectively created an environment that encouraged his unnamed relative to make an immediate decision- and that is exactly what happened…
“And he said, ‘I will redeem it'” (Ruth 4:4b).
An important thing to remember about this unnamed family relative is that he agreed to act upon his right of redemption without first knowing all the facts involved. In other words, he did not ask, “Are there any other conditions associated with this offer?” before making a decision. While it is usually unwise to enter into an agreement without a full knowledge of the facts, there’s a reason to explain why this unnamed relative may have decided to act so quickly.
You see, one commentator explains why this close relative might have viewed this opportunity as an offer that was too good to refuse…
“Why not? Indeed, this would have been quite a windfall. Naomi was a poor widow and probably could not command a very high price for the land; and besides that, in the year of Jubilee, which might not have been very far away, it would revert, theoretically, to Elimelech’s heirs. But, since he had no heirs, it would have remained in the near kinsman’s possession!” (1)
Although Boaz was honest in his representation of the facts, there was one bit of strategic information that he still had yet to disclose. We’ll see what that information was (and why it had the potential to affect this transaction) next.
(1) James Burton Coffman, Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ru&chapter=004
“Then Boaz said, ‘On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also buy it from Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance'” (Ruth 4:5).
Even if the unnamed relative of Ruth chapter four elected to purchase Naomi’s property rights, the authority to use the land would still revert back to Naomi’s family after a period of time by law. But since Naomi’s husband and sons had all passed away, this meant that the land would likely remain within this unnamed relative’s possession following Naomi’s death.
As a result, this unidentified man would receive a property that he could hand down to his own immediate family members simply by paying the price of redemption. Because of this, the opportunity to redeem the land represented a very attractive business proposition and this unnamed relative readily agreed to exercise his option.
But we’re about to see an example of the negotiating skills that likely helped Boaz attain his position as a wealthy and prominent businessman in that area: “…’Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family'” (NLT).
You see, while the price to redeem Naomi’s property rights was certainly attractive, the cost of acquiring those rights was another matter entirely. When Ruth was factored into this equation, a number of complications were introduced into what otherwise seemed to be a fairly straightforward business transaction.
First, the addition of “Ruth the Moabitess” meant that this unnamed relative would have to take on the burden of an other family member in addition to the change in family dynamics that her mere presence would bring. Next, he would also lose the rights to the land (along with the redemption price) if a son was born to Ruth through their relationship. Finally, this unidentified relative would also acquire the responsibility of raising any children born from their relationship, children who would carry the name of his deceased relative instead of his own.
So by conducting these negotiations in public and in full view of the village leadership, Boaz presented this offer in a manner that left his counterpart with little time to consider his options and attempt to devise a creative means of separating these property rights from an obligation to marry Ruth as part of the bargain. That led this unnamed relative to quickly rethink his position.
Its often been said that “timing is everything,” and by presenting the availability of Naomi’s property rights first and then following with the conditions of the sale after an agreement had been secured in the presence of others, Boaz skillfully maneuvered his unnamed relative into a face-saving withdrawal from his previous agreement…
“And the close relative said, ‘I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I ruin my own inheritance. You redeem my right of redemption for yourself, for I cannot redeem it'” (Ruth 4:6).
Since this unidentified relative was apparently uninterested in considering the human element involved in this transaction, he readily agreed to transfer his rights to someone who was. The fact that this man viewed this transaction simply in terms of “what’s best for me” is aptly illustrated by his self-described justification for transferring his redemption rights: “I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate” (NIV).
So how might this unnamed relative have endangered his own estate by simply acting as Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer? Well, consider what the future might have held if this man had acquired Ruth as a wife as part of this transaction.
For example, not only would he lose Naomi’s land (along with its purchase price) to the first son born from his relationship with Ruth, any additional children born to her would also share in inheriting a portion of the estate he already held. So rather than increasing the size of his estate, a marriage to Ruth would actually serve to dilute those holdings he already possessed.
Unfortunately, there is no indication that this man ever gave the slightest amount of thought to what God might want him to do in this situation. On the contrary, it appears that this unidentified relative based his decision on one thing: “What’s in it for me?”
It seems that Naomi’s desperate financial condition, the bleak future faced by Ruth (a childless widow in a foreign land), or the opportunity to continue the name and lineage of a deceased family member were all less important to this man than protecting the assets he already possessed.
Perhaps this explains why this “unnamed relative” is never recognized by name within the inspired Word Of God while Boaz is afforded with a position of honor and respect. In the words of one commentator, “…it remains none the less an instructive fact that he who was so anxious for the preservation of his own inheritance, is now not even known by name.” (1)
(1) J. P. Lange, ed., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, vol. 2: Numbers-Ruth
“Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging, to confirm anything: one man took off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was a confirmation in Israel. Therefore the close relative said to Boaz, ‘Buy it for yourself.’ So he took off his sandal” (Ruth 4:7-8).
This passage indicates that the Book of Ruth found its way into written form long after the events mentioned within it actually took place. You see, the fact that the “narrator” of this account felt it necessary to explain the custom involved with removing a sandal to ratify an agreement indicates that this practice had fallen into disuse by the time this account was written. Because of this, it became necessary to explain this custom so the original readers of this account would understand the significance of what had taken place.
Nevertheless, we might question why a sandal would be involved in such a transaction and not some other item of value. To answer that question, we can say that this practice found its likely origin in the following Old Testament Scripture…
“If brothers live together and one of them dies without having a son, the dead man’s wife must not go outside the family and marry a stranger. Instead, her brother-in-law should go to her and take her as his wife. He will then consummate the marriage according to the brother-in-law’s duty. The brother-in-law will name the oldest male son that she bears after his dead brother so that his brother’s legacy will not be forgotten in Israel.
If the brother does not want to marry his sister-in-law, she can go to the elders at the city gate, informing them: ‘My brother-in-law refuses to continue his brother’s legacy in Israel. He’s not willing to perform the brother-in-law’s duty with me.’
The city’s elders will summon him and talk to him about this. If he doesn’t budge, insisting, ‘I don’t want to marry her,’ then the sister-in-law will approach him while the elders watch. She will pull the sandal off his foot and spit in his face. Then she will exclaim: ‘That’s what’s done to any man who won’t build up his own brother’s family!’ Subsequently, that man’s family will be known throughout Israel as ‘the house of the removed sandal'” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10 CEB).
A sandal was significant because it symbolized the right to tread upon one’s property. This concept was synonymous with the idea of property ownership; therefore, the renunciation of property rights eventually became associated with the same act that identified a man who refused to “own up” to his responsibility to his deceased brother.
“And Boaz said to the elders and all the people, ‘You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, from the hand of Naomi'” (Ruth 4:9).
So having drawn off his sandal (a symbolic transfer of the right to walk upon the property in question), the unnamed relative of Ruth chapter four officially relinquished his option to redeem Naomi’s land. It was in this manner that Boaz assumed responsibility for Naomi’s property and acquired the right to enter a marriage relationship with Ruth according to the Old Testament Law concerning widowed family members.
All that was left to finalize this transaction was the issuance of a public notice- and it appears that Boaz wasted little time in doing so: “All of you are witnesses that today I have bought from Naomi the property that belonged to Elimelech and his two sons, Chilion and Mahlon” (CEV). But unlike the unidentified relative from whom he purchased this option, Boaz viewed this transaction as something that involved more than just money and property…
“Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren and from his position at the gate. You are witnesses this day” (Ruth 4:10).
In reading through this announcement, it may appear as if Boaz considered Ruth to be little more than part of the estate that he had acquired. But in reality, Ruth was not “purchased” as a mere commodity; the property was purchased and with that purchase came the right (and obligation) to enter a marital relationship with Ruth.
Boaz’ motivation in entering this agreement was also clear: “I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, 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 his hometown” (NIV).
Its interesting to note that while Naomi, Elimilech, Mahlon, Chilion, and Ruth are all mentioned by name in these verses, there is one member of Naomi’s family who is conspicuous by her absence. That would be Orpah, Naomi’s other daughter-in-law.
Much like the unknown relative who declined the option to marry Ruth and raise up an inheritance to Mahlon, Orpah’s choice to leave Naomi and return to Moab has also relegated her to the status of historical obscurity.
While its true that all public proclamations are not equally well received, the reaction to Boaz’ public announcement concerning his purchase of Naomi’s property (along with the right to marry Ruth) was immediate and highly enthusiastic…
“And all the people who were at the gate, and the elders, said, ‘We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two who built the house of Israel; and may you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem'” (Ruth 4:11).
Now that the negotiations were complete, those who had gathered to witness these proceedings were no longer obligated to serve as detached, objective spectators. Instead, these observers now became enthusiastic participants in this process by offering a benediction and expressing their desire for Boaz and Ruth’s success and prosperity.
In doing so, this assembly invoked the names of Rachel and Leah, two women “…who between them built up the house of Isra’el” (CJB). The Old Testament book of Genesis provides us with the account of these women and their marriages to Abraham’s grandson Jacob. Rachel bore Jacob two sons named Joseph and Benjamin (Genesis 35:24) and later, Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manassah were legally recognized as members of the twelve tribes of Israel as well (see Genesis 48:5-6).
Leah’s relationship with Jacob produced six sons according to Genesis 35:23: “the sons of Leah were Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.” In addition to these children, Jacob’s other sons included Dan and Naphtali (through Rachel’s maidservant Bilhah) as well as Gad and Asher (through Leah’s maidservant Zilpah). Since the sons born to Bilhah and Zilpah were legally accepted as Rachel and Leah’s children, it could be said that these two women single-handedly established what eventually became known as the nation of Israel.
As a result, the invocation we read of here in Ruth 4:11 represents one of the greatest blessings one could ask on behalf of a woman of Israel. So instead of responding with a perfunctory benediction, these witnesses enthusiastically proclaimed their hope that Boaz’ relationship with Ruth would be as fruitful and productive as the relationship that Jacob enjoyed with the women who went on to establish the nation in which they were living.
This benediction also serves to illustrate this assembly’s respect for what Boaz had done in undertaking the responsibility of continuing the family lineage of his deceased relative. But if that was not enough, these enthusiastic onlookers went even further in expressing their hopes for Boaz and Ruth’s relationship- and we’ll look at that proclamation next.
“May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring which the LORD will give you from this young woman” (Ruth 4:12).
In order to understand these references to Perez, Tamar, and Judah (and why these individuals were mentioned within this invocation), it helps to know some Old Testament history that’s found within Genesis chapter 38. That chapter recounts a period in the life of a man named Judah, the son of the Old Testament patriarch Jacob…
“It came to pass at that time that Judah departed from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he married her and went in to her” (Genesis 38:1-2).
After participating in a conspiracy to hide the truth behind his brother Joseph’s disappearance (see Genesis 37), Judah made the decision to leave home and retreat to an environment that was presumably less uncomfortable. Judah’s “escape hatch” was provided in the form of a friend named Hirah, a man who lived about 15 miles (24 km) away from the rest of Judah’s family.
While he was there, Genesis 38:2 tells us, “…Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he married her and went in to her.” This relationship quickly began to produce a number of children and the following verses tell us, “…she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. And she conceived yet again and bore a son, and called his name Shelah” (Genesis 38:3-5).
Following these births, the Biblical account of Judah’s life jumps ahead to the point where his two oldest sons had reached marriageable age: “Then Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD killed him. And Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother'” (Genesis 38:7-8).
As mentioned previously, it was a man’s responsibility to marry the widow of his deceased brother if his brother died without a son to carry on the family name. If any children were born from their relationship, those children would then be considered as heirs of the man who passed away. This begins to establish the connection between Judah, Tamar, Boaz, and Ruth- but there is much more to this account.
“May the children you have by this young woman make your family as famous as the family of Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah” Ruth 4:12 CEV).
After Tamar’s first husband died, the Scriptures tell us that her father-in-law Judah approached his middle son Onan and said, “‘…Go and marry Tamar, as our law requires of the brother of a man who has died. You must produce an heir for your brother'” (Genesis 38:8 NLT).
Unfortunately, Onan possessed an attitude that was completely different from the one that Boaz consistently demonstrated throughout the Book of Ruth. You see, Genesis chapter 38:9 goes on to tell us, “But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother’s wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother.”
So it seems that Onan wanted to enjoy the physical aspect of his relationship with Tamar but not the responsibility that went along with it. Unfortunately for Onan, that decision cost him his life: “And the thing which he did displeased the LORD; therefore He killed him also” (Genesis 38:10).
So two of Judah’s three sons had now been married to Tamar and both had now passed away. This left Judah’s youngest son Shelah as the only remaining son available to carry on the family name. Although Judah outwardly expressed his willingness to allow Shelah to marry Tamar once he reached marriageable age, it turns out that Judah really had something else in mind…
“Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, ‘Remain a widow in your father’s house till my son Shelah is grown.’ For he said, ‘Lest he also die like his brothers.’ And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house” (Genesis 38:11).
In another contrast to Boaz’ God-honoring example within the Book of Ruth, this verse tells us that Judah made a promise to Tamar that he never intended to keep. Unlike Boaz (a man who was willing to back up his commitment to Ruth with an ironclad vow in Ruth 3:13) Judah intentionally sent Tamar back to her parent’s house to wait for a marriage proposal that would never come.
But while Judah went about the business of getting on with his life, there was one thing that he didn’t anticipate: Tamar was a woman who was much more perceptive than he may have realized.
“May your family become like the family of Perez — whom Tamar bore to Judah — through the descendants the LORD gives you by this young woman” (Ruth 4:12 NET).
There are a number of contrasts and parallels between Boaz, Ruth, Tamar, and Judah- and one of the most striking contrasts involves the circumstances that initiated their respective relationships…
“And it was told Tamar, saying, ‘Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.’ So she took off her widow’s garments, covered herself with a veil and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place which was on the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him as a wife” (Genesis 38:13-14).
Even though Judah instructed Tamar to return and live with her parents on a (supposedly) temporary basis, it had become clear to her that Judah had no intention of ever following through on his promise to give her his youngest son in marriage. However, Tamar had a plan- a plan that involved exploiting one particular aspect of Judah’s character…
“As soon as Tamar was told that her father-in-law was on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep, she took off her widow’s clothes, covered her face with a veil, and disguised herself. Then she sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah… When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute because she had covered her face” (Genesis 38:13-15 GW).
So it appears that Tamar suspected that Judah might approach her if she assumed the guise of a prostitute- and sure enough, he did…
“Then he turned to her by the way, and said, ‘Please let me come in to you’; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. So she said, ‘What will you give me, that you may come in to me?’ And he said, ‘I will send a young goat from the flock.’
So she said, ‘Will you give me a pledge till you send it?’ Then he said, ‘What pledge shall I give you?’ So she said, ‘Your signet and cord, and your staff that is in your hand.’ Then he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him” (Genesis 38:15-18).
So, unlike Boaz- a man who acted honorably, willingly kept his promise, and would not rest until the matter with Ruth was legally validated in the presence of others- Judah was leveraged into keeping his promise to Tamar through an act of deception.
“May the children that the LORD will give you by this young woman make your family like the family of Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar” (Ruth 4:12 GNB).
So Judah and Tamar (who, unknown to Judah, was actually his daughter-in-law in disguise), agreed on a price to sleep together and both went on their way according to Genesis chapter 38. When Judah later sent his friend Hiram to pay the agreed-upon price for her services, Hiram found that the “prostitute” that he had been looking for was nowhere to be found. Also missing were the personal belongings that Judah had given to her as a guarantee of payment (see Genesis 38:20-23).
Although these belongings were eventually returned to Judah, they found their way back to him through an unexpected source in an unusual manner…
“And it came to pass, about three months after, that Judah was told, saying, ‘Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry.’ So Judah said, ‘Bring her out and let her be burned!’
When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, ‘By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.’ And she said, ‘Please determine whose these are—the signet and cord, and staff.’ So Judah acknowledged them and said, ‘She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son.’ And he never knew her again“ (Genesis 38:24-26).
In the course of time, the Scriptures tell us that Tamar went on to give birth to twin boys as a result of her encounter with Judah. One of her sons was named Perez and he eventually went on to become a person of note within the Scriptures. His lineage was prominently represented within the Bethlehem/Ephrathah area according to 1 Chronicles chapter two and we’ll later find that Perez was actually an ancestor of Boaz himself.
Nevertheless, it may be difficult to understand why this assembly chose to invoke the memory of Judah and Tamar within their blessing. After all, a man who made a promise he never intended to keep and a woman who disguised herself as a prostitute in order to lure her father-in-law into a sexual relationship hardly seems appropriate for a benediction such as this.
This invocation may begin to make better sense when we stop to consider the remaining similarities and differences between Tamar, Judah, Ruth, and Boaz along with the lessons we can apply from their lives. We’ll take a look at those particulars next.
“Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ruth 4:12 NIV).
While the account of Judah and Tamar’s relationship might seem to be better off left in the past, there are a number of reasons to explain why these witnesses included their history as part of this invocation.
First, Tamar and Ruth were both foreigners (Tamar from Canaan and Ruth from Moab), and both had previously lived within areas that were traditionally hostile to the nation of Israel. Both women were widows and both had an opportunity to continue the family lineage of their late husbands. In yet another parallel, Tamar and Ruth also pursued relationships with men who were old enough to be their fathers.
Yet despite these similarities, there is one significant difference between these two examples: Boaz and Ruth chose to pursue their relationship in a God-honoring manner while Tamar and Judah interacted in a manner that was considerably less so. Nevertheless, as one commentator observes, “Certainly Tamar’s behavior would not normally be commended. Yet she was desperate because her husband’s brothers would not fulfill their responsibility to her, and in the end Judah praised her as more righteous than himself (Gen. 38:26).” (1)
In addition to serving as an ancestor of Boaz, the Scriptures tell us that Tamar and Judah’s son Perez also has a place within Jesus’ own human lineage as well (see Matthew 1:3 and Luke 3:33). This bit of family history should provoke us to consider a serious question: since Tamar and Judah hardly provide us with the best spiritual example, why would God allow them to have a place within Jesus’ human ancestry?
Well, the fact that people like Judah, Tamar, Ruth, and Boaz are all found within Jesus’ earthly lineage reminds us that God may sometimes elect to use flawed, imperfect human beings to accomplish His purposes. Instead of selecting from among those who seem to be the best and brightest, these examples tell us that He may instead choose to use ordinary people (along with all their difficulties and shortcomings) to accomplish some very important things.
This benediction found within Ruth 4:14 reminds us that God doesn’t necessarily choose from among the smartest, wealthiest, most talented, or most accomplished people to achieve His objectives. If God can use a morally flawed individual like Judah or a poor resident alien like Ruth to accomplish His purposes, then He can certainly do the same with us today.
(1) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (Ru 4:12). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
“So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son” (Ruth 4:13).
While the Biblical narrative of Ruth chapter four moves quickly to the birth of Ruth’s son here in verse thirteen, we might stop to consider what likely transpired between Boaz’ acquisition of Naomi’s property (along with the right to marry Ruth) and the birth of this child.
For example, we might consider how Boaz must have felt as he departed the city gate with the news that Ruth and Naomi were so anxiously waiting to hear. While Boaz was surely looking forward in anticipation of a life together with Ruth, its also easy to imagine the sense of fulfillment that this prominent businessman must have felt as his skillful negotiating strategy helped him secure the biggest and most important transaction of his life.
Then there was Ruth, the poor, widowed, childless resident alien who now had the opportunity to begin a new life. While Ruth’s prospects had seemed terribly bleak just a few weeks earlier, she now possessed the hope that a marriage relationship with Boaz would bring.
Consider the happiness that Naomi must felt as she delivered this joyous news to her friends and neighbors. And once the initial excitement over this announcement had subsided, perhaps Naomi may have thought to herself, “I won’t have to live in poverty any more.”
Imagine what it must have been like to plan this marriage ceremony along with the traditional feast and celebration that accompanied it. An Old Testament wedding feast was something like the wedding reception that often follows a marriage ceremony today and always featured lots of singing, dancing, eating, and drinking. It represented a welcome diversion from the drudgery of everyday life for all who were invited and while most wedding receptions last for just a few hours today, the wedding feasts of that time might continue for a week or more.
This wedding celebration likely represented a final gathering of many of the supporting characters within this account- Boaz’ male and female employees, Naomi’s friends and neighbors, and one particular individual without whom this wedding would not have been possible. That would be the unnamed relative mentioned here in Ruth chapter four, the man who almost talked himself into taking Boaz’ place as the groom and the only person who may have been happier to see this wedding take place than Ruth and Naomi.
(1) Net Bible Notes On Ruth 3:17 https://net.bible.org/#!bible/Ruth+3
“So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel!'” (Ruth 4:13-14).
So “Ruth the Moabitess” was no longer a resident alien, foreigner, and outsider within the Bethlehem community. She was no longer the poverty stricken young woman who was forced to glean leftovers from the local farmlands in order to have enough to eat. Ruth was now the wife of a prominent and honorable man of Israel and fully accepted into the family of God.
In these things, the Book of Ruth serves once again to remind us of what God has done in reconciling us in Christ. As we’re told in the New Testament book of Romans…
“For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11).
This passage continues by saying that Ruth went on to bear a son following her marriage to Boaz, a sign of great blessing within that culture. While Ruth surely received many congratulatory responses from the Bethlehem community following the birth of her son, the Scriptures tell us that Naomi also received congratulations as well: “After his birth, the women said to Naomi: Praise the LORD! Today he has given you a grandson to take care of you. We pray that the boy will grow up to be famous everywhere in Israel” (CEV).
So those who witnessed Naomi’s earlier expression of disappointment concerning the way in which God had orchestrated the circumstances of her life now returned to acknowledge the blessings she had received from that very same God. Naomi’s previous request to change her identity from “pleasant” (Naomi) to “bitter” (Mara) (1) was now just a distant memory for Naomi could now be “Naomi” once more.
Naomi’s friends also expressed their hope that Ruth’s son would attain a prominent place within Israel’s history, a request that God would eventually go on to grant. But Naomi’s acquaintances had not yet finished expressing their desire for God’s blessings upon Naomi’s life- and we’ll look at what else they had to say next.
(1) Ruth 1:20-21
“And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him” (Ruth 4:15).
In reading through the Scriptures, it quickly becomes apparent that numbers often carry special meanings. Although its possible to take the examination of Biblical numerology to an unhealthy extreme, the occasional relationship between Biblical numbers and meanings is one that is easy for us to grasp because we sometimes use numbers to represent things in a similar manner today.
For instance, if one person says to another, “You’re number one”, the first person certainly doesn’t mean to imply that the second person is an actual number. In this case, the number one is used to represent the fact that someone else is the first or best.
Perhaps the most easily recognizable example of this idea within the Scriptures can be found in the use of the number forty, a number that is often associated with a period of testing or judgment. For instance, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus fasted for forty days prior to His period of temptation on the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11).
Then there is the example of the people of Israel following their departure from Egypt. The Scriptures tell us that the people of Israel wandered within the desert for forty years before entering the Promised Land as a result of their inappropriate attitude towards God (see Numbers 14:26-34). So the Biblical use of the number forty is often associated with a period of testing, judgment, or an unusual encounter with God. (1)
Another example of Biblical numerology would be associated with the use of the number seven, a number that is repeated over fifty times within the book of Revelation alone. The number seven is often used within the Scriptures to represent things like completion, fulfillment, or perfection. Here in the Book of Ruth, this concept was employed by Naomi’s friends who observed, “Your daughter-in-law who loves you is better to you than seven sons…” (GW).
Since the birth of a son was considered to be a sign of great favor and blessing, the idea that “Ruth the Moabitess” had exceeded the blessings associated with seven sons by herself was one of the highest compliments that one could ever hope to receive.
(1) See Exodus 34:28
“Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him. Also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, ‘There is a son born to Naomi.’ And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:16-17).
Following Ruth and Boaz’s marriage, it seems reasonable to assume that Naomi maintained some kind of living quarters in or near their home. This arrangement would have provided a benefit for both Ruth and Naomi. First, it would enable Naomi to maintain her relationship with her beloved daughter-in-law and assist both during and after her pregnancy. For Ruth, it represented an opportunity to strengthen the emotional bond she shared with Naomi and provide the ability to benefit from her experience.
This deep relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law was clearly demonstrated following the birth of Ruth’s son Obed. It seems that Naomi was so close to this child that her friends and neighbors (perhaps only half jokingly) began to refer to him as “Naomi’s son.”
So Naomi, the woman who once said, “I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:21) now had a fulfilling, satisfying family role to play once more. Naomi, the same woman who once said, “Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?” (Ruth 1:11) now had a child to love, care for, and draw close to.
Much like the experience of Job in the Biblical book that bears his name, the Lord blessed Naomi’s latter days more than the beginning. (1) Naomi also lived out a truth that the Apostle Paul would later be inspired to record within the New Testament book of Romans: “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Naomi’s experience also call to mind the Biblical admonition found in Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…” (NIV). As we’ve seen, was a time when Naomi struggled to make sense of the circumstances surrounding her life. But while God does not stop us from attempting to reconcile those things we don’t understand, neither does He promise to provide a complete explanation for everything that doesn’t make sense to us.
Our responsibility is to trust God even when the circumstances seem to indicate otherwise, for as we’re told in in Hebrews 10:35, “…do not cast away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.”
(1) Job 42:12
“…And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. Now this is the genealogy of Perez: Perez begot Hezron; Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab; Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon; Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed; Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David” (Ruth 4:17-22).
Ruth 4:17-22 features one of the many examples of Biblical genealogies. A genealogy is a record of the descent of a person, family, or people group from an ancestor (or collection of ancestors) and is sometimes referred to as a “family tree” today.
While some may be inclined to skip past the kind of historical record found within the closing verses of Ruth, a look at the Biblical information found within these genealogies (and the list mentioned here in Ruth chapter four in particular) can often yield a wealth of information that helps provide us with a fuller, richer, and more complete understanding of God’s plan and purpose.
In addition to the already-mentioned Perez, there are some other important Biblical personalities to be found within this abbreviated genealogy. For example, let’s consider Salmon, a man listed for us here in Ruth 4:21.
Salmon was married to a woman named Rahab, a former prostitute and someone who perhaps is best known for her efforts in hiding a pair of Israelite spies from the authorities within the city of Jericho (see Joshua chapter two). Rahab was later listed within the Hebrews 11 Faith Hall of Fame in acknowledgment of her act of faith (see Hebrews 11:31).
Rahab was recognized within the Scriptures for her demonstration of genuine, Biblical, God-honoring faith- and as we’re told here in Ruth chapter four, Rahab and Salmon’s lineage eventually led to Boaz, the man who later went on to become the great-grandfather of Israel’s King David. So Rahab was not only a woman who was praised for her great faith, she also went on to become an ancestor of David and of Jesus Himself.
As mentioned earlier in our look at the experience of Judah and Tamar, this genealogy reminds us that God doesn’t necessarily choose from among the strongest, wealthiest, most educated, or highly accomplished people in order to achieve His objectives. Instead, God may choose to do extraordinary things in and through the lives of ordinary people- and if God can use a former prostitute like Rahab to accomplish His purposes then He can certainly do the same with those of us who are alive today.
“Here is a list of the ancestors of David: Jesse, Obed, Boaz, Salmon, Nahshon, Amminadab, Ram, Hezron, and Perez” (Ruth 4:18-22 CEV).
Now that we’ve reached the end of the Book of Ruth, these closing verses provide us with an opportunity to make two final observations. To begin, let’s first take a moment to recall the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke chapter two…
“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child” (Luke 2:1-5).
While many people (including those who are not particularly religious) may be aware that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the location of His birth within that city was no accident. As we’re told in the passage from Luke quoted above, Joseph and Mary specifically traveled to Bethlehem for registration purposes. Since Joseph’s ancestral family hailed from the Bethlehem area, this is the place where he returned to participate in this registration.
This return to Bethlehem (and the place of Jesus’ birth as foretold by the prophet Micah in Micah 5:2) provides us with a direct connection to Ruth, Boaz, and all the events that occurred within the Book of Ruth. In a sense, Joseph was returning “home” in preparation for Jesus’ birth since he was a member of the very same family line mentioned here in the final verses of Ruth- a line that included Boaz, his son Obed, his grandson Jesse, and great-grandson David.
Finally, this abbreviated genealogy (stretching over hundreds of years) serves to illustrate the manner in which the impact of our choices and decisions often extend beyond our limited life spans to affect generations yet to come. In the words of one commentary…
“The theological message of the Book of Ruth may be summarized as follows: God cares for needy people like Naomi and Ruth; he is their ally in this chaotic world. He richly rewards people like Ruth and Boaz who demonstrate sacrificial love and in so doing become his instruments in helping the needy. God’s rewards for those who sacrificially love others sometimes exceed their wildest imagination and transcend their lifetime.” (1)
(1) NET Bible® notes on Ruth 4:22, NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved. http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Rut&chapter=4&verse=22&tab=commentaries