RUTH

Michael G. Wechsler

INTRODUCTION

Author and Date. As with several of the books in the biblical canon, the writer of Ruth is not identified in the book itself. According to long-standing Jewish (and hence Christian) tradition it was written by Samuel. One of the oldest strata of the Babylonian Talmud (Bava’ Batra’ 14b) records: "Samuel wrote down his own book [i.e., Samuel, up to 1Sm 24:22], Judges, and Ruth." There is no reason to doubt this tradition, as the scribal/recording role of the early Jewish prophets—and Samuel in particular—is attested elsewhere (1Ch 29:29; 1Sm 10:25). Moreover, as recognized by scholars specializing in historical Hebrew linguistics, the style and phraseology of the Hebrew in Ruth are indeed that of the early biblical period, being similar to that attested in Judges, Samuel, and the earlier parts of Kings. As the writer, therefore, Samuel would most likely have written Ruth sometime toward the end of the 11th century BC, after the enthronement of David recorded in 2Sm 5:3 (or, at the earliest, after his anointing in 1Sm 16).

Purpose. The purpose of the book of Ruth is not simply to provide us with information concerning the genealogy of David (and hence of the messianic "Son of David," Jesus; see Mt 1). For that the last five verses of the book alone would suffice—and even they are not essential, as the same information is given in a fuller genealogical context in 1Ch 2:3–15. Rather, the purpose of Ruth is to present within the genealogy of David a positive case study of what may be termed an "anatomy" of faith in the present world. It encompasses the breadth of faith’s operation—i.e., those crucial moments when faith is tested, the much longer period of perseverance in faith, and the rewards for such that God may extend in this life. Moreover, with the exemplar of faith in this case being Ruth the Moabitess, the book also addresses the extent of faith’s application—i.e., that this operation of true faith and the blessing that attends it potentially applies to those who are not ethnic Israelites (descendants of Jacob).

Indeed, it is this latter point in particular that helps explain why this example of faith is presented within the genealogy of David. Her association with one of the most respected figures in Jewish history who is also, together with Abraham, the recipient of God’s most prominent messianic promises (see 2Sm 7), ensures not only that her Moabite (i.e., pagan) genealogy is not ultimately held against her (even though the kinsman closer than Boaz does hold it against her; see comment on Ru 4:6).

Rather, her Gentile status is in fact highlighted as a reminder of God’s divine intent in choosing Israel and establishing the Davidic-messianic dynasty in the first place: to bring the blessing of faith in the true God to "all families of the earth" (see Gn 12:3 and comments there). It is this same point, no doubt, that Matthew intended at the outset of his Gospel (Mt 1:3–5). There he explicitly, and very unconventionally, mentioned Ruth as the third of three Gentile women in the genealogy of David, and hence of Jesus. (The previous two were Tamar and Rahab, who was Boaz’s mother!) Thus, he underscores the universal scope of the Messiah’s ministry and the motivating breadth and depth of the Father’s love in commissioning Him.

Background. In Christian Bibles Ruth appears among the "Historical Books," the second of four divisions into which the Old Testament is divided. This follows the older ordering of books adopted by Hellenistic Jewry (i.e., Greek-speaking Jews living outside the land of Israel). This ordering is attested in the Septuagint (a Gk. translation of the Hb. Bible begun c. 280–60 BC), which reflects primarily a genre-based (i.e., stylistic) division and organization of the biblical books.

In the enduring Jewish tradition, on the other hand, Ruth appears among the books collectively known as the Ketu im (lit., "Writings"). The Writings are the third and last division of the Hebrew Bible according to the tradition of the Jews living in the land of Israel (sometimes referred to as the "Palestinian" tradition). This tradition reflects primarily a thematic (and to a lesser extent liturgical) division and organization of the biblical books.

Within the Writings, moreover, Ruth is part of the smaller collection known as the "Five Scrolls" (hamesh megillot), comprising five small books that are traditionally read in the synagogue during one of the yearly Jewish holidays. As attested by the oldest complete and most authoritative manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, Ruth is the first of these Five Scrolls and follows the book of Proverbs. It is read on the Feast of Weeks, known per Hellenistic tradition as Pentecost (see further in "Purpose"). The thematic—even homiletical—concern underlying this organization becomes evident when one considers that Proverbs closes with an ideal description of the "woman of valor" (eshet hayil; Pr 31:10). This expression occurs outside of Proverbs only in Ru 3:11, with reference to Ruth herself (see further "The Woman of Valor" below).

Themes. Several themes appear in the book of Ruth and figure in its interpretation.

(1) The Kinsman Redeemer. The book provides the only clear biblical enactment of the Mosaic law concerning the "kinsman redeemer"—or, as the process is otherwise designated, "levirate marriage"—described in Dt 25:5–6 (where "brothers" probably signifies the closest male relations). According to this law, the closest male relative (yet in post-biblical practice only actual paternal brothers) of a woman’s dead husband is obligated to marry that widow if she has no son (yet in post-biblical practice no child, so that if she has a daughter the law does not apply). The practice of levirate marriage is well attested and legislatively expanded among post-biblical (including contemporary religious) Jewry. This law represents God’s compassionate codification and refinement of the pre-Mosaic custom attested in Gn 38:6–14, 26 (hence the comparison in Ru 4:12). It was intended to ensure that (1) the woman’s needs would be supplied in a proper way by a male provider, and (2) the "name" (i.e., reputation and inheritance; see comments on Gn 11:1–4, 10–26) of the deceased husband would endure (i.e., "not be blotted out from Israel," per Dt 25:6).

This law and its exemplification by Boaz is also significant as a further enhancement of the biblical image of God as "Redeemer," since the legal term for "kinsman-redeemer" (go’el)—and hence the term applied to Boaz (in Ru 2:20; 3:9, 12; 4:14)—is also applied in the Bible to God. This occurs especially in the book of Isaiah with reference to His complete (i.e., spiritual and material) work of redemption, as in Is 49:6–7: " ‘It is too small a thing that you should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make you a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’ Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer [go’el] of Israel and its Holy One …" (cf. also Is 44:24; 47:4; 48:17; 49:26; 54:5–8; 59:20; 60:16; 63:16; Jb 19:25; Ps 19:14; Jr 50:34).

(2) The "Woman of Valor". As noted above, in the predominant Jewish tradition of biblical organization (following the early tradition of Jews living in the land of Israel), the book of Ruth immediately follows Proverbs, thus highlighting the canonical-thematic link between the last pericope in Proverbs describing the ideal "woman of valor" (ēshet hayil; Pr 31:10) and Ruth. She is the only real biblical woman to whom that expression is applied (Ru 3:11).

As therefore might be expected, the various positive qualities and actions that characterize the "woman of valor" in Pr 31 are associated with Ruth at various points throughout the narrative, in some instances even employing the same terminology. Thus the woman of valor rises early in the morning to set about her work (31:5), as does Ruth (2:7; 3:14); the woman of valor works with dogged industriousness (31:27), as does Ruth (2:7, 17); the woman of valor is not dissuaded from difficult tasks, but rather "girds herself with strength" (31:17), as does Ruth (2:17–18, see comments); the woman of valor always takes thought to supply her family’s needs (31:15), as does Ruth (2:14, 18); the woman of valor is characterized by "the teaching" (i.e., the exemplary doing) of hesed ("lovingkindness"; 31:26), as is Ruth (1:8; 3:10); the woman of valor is blessed by her husband (31:28), as is Ruth (by her husband-to-be; 3:10); and because of her works the woman of valor is praised "in the gates" (i.e., by the city; 31:31), as is Ruth (3:11).

Considering Ruth’s background, moreover, the practical challenge of this canonical link and unique distinction is clear: If Ruth could achieve this status in the face of her many disadvantages (raised outside the community of faith, a new convert, a widow, and beset by poverty), how much more so should the Israelite (or Christian) woman behave who is not beset by these cumulative disadvantages?

(3) The Doing of Chesed. One of the key words in the book of Ruth is the Hebrew term chesed, which may be variously translated/understood as "lovingkindness," "kindness," "favor," or "grace." Perhaps it is best described by the preeminent medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides (late 12th century): "the doing of good to one who is not entitled to it from you at all … [or] the doing of more good to one than that to which he is entitled … for which reason every good thing deriving from the Exalted One is designated chesed" (Guide of the Perplexed, ed. Qafih, žiii.53).

Significantly, of its three occurrences in the book of Ruth, Ruth herself is the doer and/or recipient of the chesed. Thus, in 1:8 Ruth and Orpah are presented as the past doers and potential recipients of divine chesed in Naomi’s statement, "May the Lord treat you with chesed just as you have treated those who are (now) dead and me." Also, in 2:20 Ruth and Naomi (i.e., "the living," which is plural); as well as Elimelech and Ruth’s husband Mahlon ("the dead," likewise plural) are identified as the recipients of divine chesed in Naomi’s statement, "May he [i.e., Boaz] be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn His chesed to the living or the dead." Further, in 3:10 Ruth is presented as the doer of chesed in Boaz’s declaration, "You shown your last chesed to be better than the first …" This consistent presentation of Ruth as the doer and/or recipient of chesed is both rooted in and reflective of the larger purpose of the book: to emphasize the extent of application (i.e., for Gentiles as well as Jews) of true faith and the blessing that attends it (see above).

OUTLINE

I. The Test of Faith (1:1–18)

A. Testing the Judaean Men (1:1–5a)

B. Testing the Judaean Woman (1:5b–7)

C. Testing the Moabite Women (1:8–18)

II. The Perseverance of Faith (1:19–4:12)

A. The Persevering of Ruth (1:19–2:18)

B. The Persevering of Naomi (2:19–3:4)

C. The Persevering of Boaz (3:5–4:12)

III. The Reward of Faith (4:13–22)

A. The Rewarding of Ruth (4:13)

B. The Rewarding of Naomi (4:14–17)

C. The Rewarding of Boaz (4:18–22)

COMMENTARY ON RUTH

I. The Test of Faith (1:1–18)

A. Testing the Judaean Men (1:1–5a)

1:1–5a. The events narrated in this book are set within the days when the judges governed. This phrase serves to further set this book apart (and hence to justify its presentation as a separate book rather than another "episode" within the book of Judges) from the cycle of immature faith that characterized the Israelites of that period. A hint of this immature faith is, nonetheless, implied here at the outset when the patriarchal head of the family, Elimelech, responded to the onset of a famine in the promised land by taking his family from their hometown of Bethlehem in Judah ("in Judah" distinguishes it from the identically named town in Zebulun; see Jos 19:15) to sojourn in the land of Moab.

The onset of a famine in the promised land was always a test of faith, as well as, on occasion, an expression of divine chastisement. The proper response to such a test would be to stay in the land in dependence on God, as did the majority of the residents of Bethlehem. (See also Jacob’s specific appeal to God about leaving Canaan even when invited by his son to do so during famine in Gn 46:3 and the comments there.) It is against this theological backdrop that the death of Elimelech should be viewed. It was the "ultimate" divine chastisement of a believer (cf. 1Co 5:5) for the sin of leaving the land (which God never gives His people warrant to do without first consulting Him) and having remained in Moab (v. 2). These actions underscored his entrenched unwillingness to repent and correct his sin (see comments on 1:21).

Elimelech’s spiritual immaturity was likewise reflected in the decision of his two sons … Mahlon and Chilion, to "take for themselves" (the standard biblical idiom for the act of marriage) Moabite women as their wives. Though Ruth, of course, eventually became a believer of the highest caliber, the act itself was a clear violation of the Mosaic commandment in Dt 7:3 not to "intermarry with them" (i.e., the pagan residents of the land, which included Moabites per Dt 23:3). From God’s perspective, the means can never be justified by the ends (cf., among others, Php 2:14–16; 2Tm 3:10–12; 1Pt 2:13–20; 5:9–10). It is against this backdrop as well that the "premature" deaths of Mahlon and Chilion should be viewed, as chastisement for their egregious and public violation of God’s law.

B. Testing the Judaean Woman (1:5b–7)

1:5b–7. With the death of the men, who were the direction-setters and final decision-makers of the family, Naomi was left as the default leader of her diminished family unit, then comprised of her and her two Moabite daughters-in-law. Her first decision in this role—and one that stood in marked contrast to that of her husband’s—was to arise and return from the land of Moab. Note the narrator’s—and hence the reader’s intended—perspective from within the promised land. Though the following causal statement, for she had heard … that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food, would appear to diminish from the spiritual motivation of Naomi’s decision, more should not be read into this statement than is warranted. The text does not state that this was the only reason for her decision. Considering that her daughters-in-law and their families would unquestionably have provided for Naomi in Moab, she evinced a clear preference for being in Israel. Indeed, any disparagement of Naomi’s spiritual maturity at this point would not only be premature, but would also be unjustified in view of her obvious sensitivity to the will and solicitude of God (who is mentioned for the first time in v. 6). This sensitivity is borne out in the ensuing narrative—beginning with her profound concern for the spiritual welfare of her two Moabite daughters-in-law who had apparently decided to return to Judah with her.

C. Testing the Moabite Women (1:8–18)

1:8–18. Though many scholars have considered Naomi’s statements in this section to be expressions of spiritually immature complaining and unjustified bitterness, a careful reading reveals in fact just the opposite. Rather, Naomi had a keen perception of and concern with spiritual matters—specifically, a focus on the will and work of God as well as the spiritual welfare of her daughters-in-law. This was borne out, perhaps most significantly, by Naomi’s culminating challenge at the end of each of her three rhetorical addresses to her daughters-in-law (vv. 8–9a, 11–13, and 15).

In the first instance she expressed her hope that the Lord would grant them rest, each in the house of her husband. The challenge centers on the term rest (menuha), which is employed elsewhere in the Bible to describe the spiritual rest (relationship with God) that one experiences through faith in the True God (cf. Ps 95:11 with Heb 4:3, as well as our comment on Gn 2:15, in which the same Hb. root is used). Such rest was therefore hardly to be found in the house of a pagan husband. In the second instance she challenged them by observing that the hand of the Lord has gone forth against her. That is to say, living with her will not be easy, since she was experiencing the bitter consequences of the sinful decisions of her husband and two sons. In the third instance, when Orpah had already "thrown in the towel," Naomi presented her third and most direct "challenge" to Ruth: Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law—which is to say, "return to your gods"!

It is only when Ruth decisively answered this challenge and affirmed her commitment to Naomi (where you go, I will go …), to her people (your people shall be my people), and to her God (your God, my God), that Naomi said no more to her on this topic. Naomi’s three appeals are thus to be understood as carefully worded expressions of evangelistic warning, in which—contrary to the method often practiced today—she was seeking not to "smooth out" the hardships entailed by conversion, but in fact to highlight them in all of their potentially unappealing detail. In this, Naomi was in quite good company, for Jesus Himself adheres to the same method, never paving the way to "easy" faith, but always making sure that the potential disciple understands the true and potentially painful cost of following Him (cf., e.g., Mt 8:18–22; Mk 13:9–13; Lk 18:18–30; Jn 10:24–26).

In this respect Ruth and Orpah also provide a vivid real-life example of two of the "seeds" of faith described by Jesus in Lk 8:4–15. The seed that "fell on rocky soil," represented by Orpah, was "those who, when they hear, receive the word [of God] with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation [peirasmou, which is synonymous with Hb. massa ("test(ing)"); cf., e.g., the LXX Ex 17:7] fall away." The seed that fell into the "good soil," represented by Ruth, was "the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance."

II. The Perseverance of Faith (1:19–4:12)

A. The Persevering of Ruth (1:19–2:18)

1:19–22. When Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem the women of the city were stirred up because of them, no doubt glad to receive Naomi back and interested as well to learn about her family’s ill-motivated sojourn in Moab. After all, these women who were asking about her did not leave. The implication of Naomi’s response is that the sojourn in Moab was indeed ill motivated—which is to say, that it was not just a poor decision, but also a sin. By this, she affirmed those women, and especially their husbands, who remained in Bethlehem. Thus Naomi’s leaving the promised land (though in fact initiated by her husband Elimelech) is presented as an exclusively human action, i.e., I went out full (emphasis added). The exclusion of God from this decision is underscored by contrast with Naomi’s reference to her bitter return, in which she presented herself as the passive recipient of an exclusively divine action, i.e., but the Lord has brought me back empty (emphasis added). In her mind, clearly, the "emptiness" of her return—the absence, due to death, of her husband and sons—was the result of divine chastisement for their sinful decision to leave and sojourn in the land of Moab.

It is unusual that Ruth the Moabitess should be described as having "returned" from the land of Moab. Grammatically there is no question that this expression is referring to Ruth. The same expression is also used in 2:6. The reason may well be that the same verb which here denotes a physical-locational "return" is elsewhere commonly employed to denote a spiritual "return"—which may otherwise be rendered by the English verb "(to) repent" (e.g., Is 19:22; see further Even-Shoshan, A New Concordance, s.v. sh-w-b, meaning "d"). This verb use is all the more apropos here by association with the land of Moab. Considering the close association in the Hebrew Bible between ethnicity/geography and religion (as in 1:15) saying that she "returned from" Moab is the same as saying she repented of her faith in the gods of Moab. This maintains the focus on Ruth’s spiritual commitment as the basis of her perseverance in upright conduct (i.e., her "valor" as a "woman of excellence" [3:11]) as described in following verses.

2:1–18. Ruth’s valor and commitment to Naomi are immediately borne out by her expressed initiative to go to the field and glean among the ears of grain (v. 2) so that both she and Naomi might have something to eat (cf. 2:18). This indicates Ruth’s awareness (no doubt informed by Naomi) of the Mosaic commandment that the Israelites leave the gleanings of their harvest "for the needy and for the stranger" … "for the orphan, and for the widow" (Lv 19:9–10; 23:22; Dt 24:19). This was a practical guideline for applying that "law of love" which has always stood at the heart of the law and its fulfillment (see Mt 22:39; Rm 13:8–10). Moreover, while Naomi was already an "old" woman (see 1:12; 4:15), Ruth was probably still in her early twenties, as implied by the reference to her as a young woman (na‘ara) in 2:5 (and again in 4:12). The term typically denotes a woman between adolescence and her mid-twenties at the latest. That is also consistent with her having been married, per the usual custom at that time, at 12 or 13, with 10 years then passing (per 1:4) until the death of Mahlon and the commencement of the present narrative.

By apparent "coincidence," Ruth happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. The significance of this is hidden from Ruth until revealed to her by Naomi in 2:20. Of course, in view of the biblical concept of divine sovereignty, this is no "coincidence" at all, for God "causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rm 8:28). Divine activity is also suggested in that the same verb here translated happened (vay-yiqer, from the root q-r-h), which is relatively infrequent in the Bible (used 23 times), appears earlier in a clearly causative sense regarding God’s active solicitude (see Gn 24:12; 27:20). Further emphasis on Ruth’s persevering valor is borne out by her day-long, tireless gleaning (v. 7: she came and has remained from [lit., "been on her feet since"] the morning … [and] she has been sitting [i.e., taken her rest] in the house for a little while; v. 17: So she gleaned … until evening), her humble gratitude for Boaz’s unmerited favor; (v. 13: I have found favor in your sight, my lord … though I am not like one of your maidservants), and her conscientiousness in setting aside some of her own food for Naomi (v. 14: she ate and was satisfied and set some aside [not, as this grammatically active expression is sometimes translated: "and had some left over"]).

B. The Persevering of Naomi (2:19–3:4)

2:19–23. Naomi kept a persevering focus on the will and ongoing work of God, despite her suffering brought into her life through the chastening of her husband and her sons (see comment on 1:1–5a). This focus is evident from her immediate reaction when Ruth told her that the name of the man in whose field she worked was Boaz. Naomi declared in worship, May he be blessed of the Lord, who has not withdrawn His kindness [Hb. chesed, see Introduction] to the living and to the dead. She then explained to Ruth: the man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives [lit., kinsman-redeemers]. Naomi could only mean by this that God specifically and providentially directed Ruth to the field of Boaz so that Boaz might get to know her and ultimately marry her as her kinsman-redeemer. God’s provision of this marriage would thus be His chesed to the living, meaning Ruth and Naomi, by ensuring the two women would be cared for by Boaz for the rest of their lives, and to the dead, meaning Elimelech and Mahlon, by ensuring that, per the law of the kinsman-redeemer (i.e., "levirate" marriage; see Dt 25:5–6), the "name" (i.e., reputation and inheritance) of Mahlon (and hence Elimelech) would endure in the couple’s first-born son (see Introduction).

3:1–4. In dogged allegiance to God’s will, and realizing that Boaz may need some encouragement, Naomi counseled Ruth about the best way, consistent with righteousness, of making known to Boaz her desire that he marry her. Boaz was either a widower himself or—as seems more likely—never married. He may have been waiting for a righteous woman in an age when unrighteousness among God’s people was rampant. Thus she told Ruth to wash herself (since she had been working in the field all day), anoint herself (i.e., to perfume herself), and put on her best clothes. Then Boaz would understand immediately what Ruth intended and, taking her lead, would tell her what she should do. Naomi’s counsel, it should be pointed out, makes clear that the apostle Peter’s exhortation in 1Pt 3:3–5 is against the unbalanced prioritization of such things, not their complete exclusion, especially since Peter would unquestionably have counted Ruth among "the holy women" of "former times" whom he cited as examples.

C. The Persevering of Boaz (3:5–4:12)

3:5–18. Ruth obediently prepared herself according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. After Boaz had eaten and found a quiet, isolated spot by the heap of grain in which to lie down and sleep, she came secretly (i.e., with discretion, not deception, to avoid giving fodder for slander to anyone who might see her and misconstrue her intentions—and perhaps those of Boaz. She uncovered his feet (v. 7), which was intended as a gentle way of waking him up. As the night breeze blew over his exposed feet he "shivered and twisted" (as the verbs in v. 8 are literally rendered, rather than the NASB: was startled and bent forward). Although some have claimed that uncovering Boaz’s feet was a sexual act, there was no hint of immorality here. Boaz greeted her in the name of the Lord (3:10), called her a woman of excellence (or "virtue," i.e., godly character; 3:11), protected her through the night (3:13), and guarded her reputation in the morning (3:14).

When Boaz awoke Ruth immediately identified herself and made her intentions clear with the simple, direct plea: Spread your covering (lit., "wing," on which see below) over your maid, for you are a kinsman-redeemer (go’el, not simply close relative, as in some translations; see Introduction.) While Ruth’s godly character was already well established in the narrative, here it was explicitly affirmed by Boaz: all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. This is the same expression used to introduce the ideal godly woman in Pr 31:10 (see Introduction).

Her simple plea seems to have considered the all-pervasive male (and husbandly!) desire for respect (Eph 5:33; 1Pt 3:2; Est 1:20): (1) She employed the same phraseology that Boaz employed in his previous affirmation of her spiritual commitment (see 2:12, finding refuge under "the wing of"; and the same image employed by their great-grandson David in Pss. 36:7 [Heb 8] and 91:4), thus showing that she was thoughtfully attentive to what he would say. (2) Though she was in fact the initiator, she expressed her plea in such a way as to emphasize Boaz as the subject (i.e., the "doer" of the action) and herself as the object (i.e., the "receiver" of the action). For his part, Boaz immediately took Ruth’s lead and, just as Naomi said would happen, he told her exactly what to do: wait until dawn and then return to Naomi while he sought to bring the matter to its conclusion in the morning.

4:1–12. Just as he said he would, and as anticipated by Naomi in 3:18, Boaz doggedly pursued the matter of Ruth’s marriage. On the following day, Boaz went to the gate of the city, where most matters of civic and juridical importance were conducted (cf. Gn 23:10; 34:20; Dt 21:19; Jos 20:4). There he gathered together the "kinsman-redeemer" (go’el, again, not simply "close relative") who was "closer" than Boaz (and hence had first right to marry Ruth; see 3:12) and the minimum of ten men of the elders of the city to witness and affirm the "transaction" officially. It is from this key passage, among others (i.e., Gn 18:32, the ten "righteous men" petitioned by Abraham; Gn 42:3, the ten brothers who go down to Egypt; Nm 14:27, concerning the ten "grumbling" spies), that the Jewish rule of the minyan ("quorum") is derived. That rule requires a minimum of ten men for congregational prayer and other important religious ceremonies (cf. Joseph b. Judah ibn Aqnin [d. 1226], Sefer ha-musar, on Abot chap. 5; Yalqut shi moni ad loc.; etc.).

Boaz then presented the matter by referring first to Elimelech’s (and now Naomi’s) piece of land to be redeemed (v. 3–4a), and secondarily to the necessary redemption of Ruth that this would entail. At first sight this may seem unusual, since this emphasis on the acquisition of land was clearly attractive to the other man, which is why he initially responded, I will redeem it (v. 4b). In this, Boaz—as an expression of his spiritual maturity and godliness—was doing in principle the same thing that Naomi did with her daughters-in-law in chap. 1. He was expressing himself in a way that, though contrary to his own desire, reflected a greater concern for the welfare of his neighbor than himself. Naomi, who undoubtedly desired to have both of her beloved daughters-in-law continually with her, sought to dissuade them from returning with her so as to ensure that their commitment would be solid and true (see comment on 1:5b–7). So too Boaz, who clearly desired to marry Ruth himself, was presenting his offer in such a way that the offer of redemption would be more attractive. Following the other man’s initial acceptance, it would be harder for him to withdraw. To forfeit his right to Ruth and the land would not just be to the man’s material and marital detriment, but also to his social and spiritual detriment; see consequence of such forfeiture in Dt 25:7–10. Nonetheless, when this other kinsman-redeemer learned that he would also be required to redeem (i.e., marry) Ruth along with the land, he withdrew his acceptance and forfeited his right of redemption to Boaz.

Though some commentators seek to excuse this other man’s rejection by claiming that he was already married and was seeking to avoid strife between multiple wives and/or heirs, nowhere does the text say that the man was in fact married. Indeed, his explicit reason for rejecting the marriage to Ruth was that he did not want to jeopardize his own inheritance (v. 6). The word jeopardize (ashhit, from the root sh-h-t) means literally "(to) corrupt or pollute" (often in connection with sin, as in Gn 6:12; Dt 31:29). His point was that to marry and have children by Ruth would be to "pollute" his seed and their inheritance by ethnic association with a Moabite. His position reflected, perhaps, an ill-motivated interpretation according to the letter, not the intent (which was to prevent spiritual contamination), of God’s command in Dt 7:3–4. This man, in other words, was holding Ruth’s ethnic heritage over her proven commitment to the Lord and His people (which he, as one of all the people in the city [3:11], was undoubtedly familiar with)—an example of true racism! It is for this reason, his refusal to perform the Mosaic duty of a kinsman-redeemer and raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance (v. 5), that this man’s own name has been forever omitted from the record of this event in Scripture.

III. The Reward of Faith (4:13–22)

A. The Rewarding of Ruth (4:13)

4:13. As a result of her spiritual commitment and perseverance in godliness, including her obedience to Naomi’s counsel in 3:3–4, Ruth experienced three additional blessings: (1) She was taken as the wife of a godly man. In 2:1 Boaz, was described as a gibbor hayil, representing the masculine counterpart of the expression eshet hayil ["woman of valor"] applied to Ruth in 3:11 (see comment there). He would ensure not only that her (and Naomi’s) physical needs were supplied, but also her spiritual needs by instructing and nurturing her in righteousness (cf. 1Co 14:35; Eph 5:26). (2) Once married to Boaz, she was enabled by God to conceive (lit., "the Lord granted her conception"), in contrast with her inability to conceive (i.e., God withholding conception) during her 10 years of marriage to Mahlon (see 1:4; on children as a divine "gift/inheritance" see Ps 127:3). (3) Her conception, specifically of a son, was of especial importance in biblical culture since it was the son(s) who would sustain the parents in their old age, as explicitly noted in v. 15.

B. The Rewarding of Naomi (4:14–17)

4:14–17. As a result of her persevering focus on the will and work of God, and her attendant counsel to Ruth in 3:3–4, Naomi enjoyed the blessing of having a daughter-in-law who love[d] her and was better to [her] than seven sons. She was further blessed by the birth of a grandson who would be to her a restorer of life (lit., "restorer of soul" [meshiv nefesh], the same expression David used in Pss 19:7; 23:3; 35:17) and her sustainer in old age. Even more, she became the boy’s nurse (omenet)—a term that could indicate that Naomi nursed the child by actual lactation (possible even in post-menopausal women), but better construed here in the sense of "guardian/rearer" (like the equivalent masculine term, omen, applied to Mordecai in Est 2:7). This is still the case with grandparents in many (especially Eastern) cultures to this day. Therefore, Naomi played a central role, together with the parents, in the daily upbringing of her grandchild. The child’s name Obed (Hb. ‘Oved), which means "Servant," is in all likelihood a shorter form of the name Obadiah (Hb. ‘Ovadya[hu]), meaning "Servant of Yah" or "the Lord."

C. The Rewarding of Boaz (4:18–22)

4:18–22. The blessings Boaz experienced paralleled those Ruth experienced: (1) receiving a godly woman (eshet hayil) for his wife, (2) having Ruth bear him a child, and (3) that child being a son. This last blessing entailed the further distinction for Boaz of ensuring him an enduring "name" in the genealogy (typically delineated through the male ancestors) of David (v. 17; the link to whom is clearly specified in vv. 18–22) and ultimately therefore of the Messiah Himself. This distinction is also borne out more subtly by the phrase that introduces this brief genealogy, including Boaz: "these are the generations of" (elleh toledot). This is the 12th occurrence and the only occurrence outside of the Pentateuch. There, this phrase applies primarily to those "generations" on which God’s promises and plan of messianic redemption are focused (i.e., those of Adam, Gn 5:1; Noah, Gn 6:9; Shem, Gn 11:10; Terah, Gn 11:27; Isaac, Gn 25:19; Jacob, Gn 37:2; Moses and Aaron, Nm 3:1).

The conclusion with a genealogy is not an authorial afterthought but rather a significant point. It establishes the lineage of David, the ideal king of Israel, and provides the foundation for the Messianic line. It is a reminder that although Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz anticipated the birth of Obed with joy and expectation, Israel would have to wait for the Son of David, Israel’s ultimate Redeemer, foreshadowed by Boaz, to bring redemption for the nation.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Atkinson, David. The Message of Ruth: The Wings of Refuge. The Bible Speaks Today. Edited by J. A. Motyer. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1985.

Block, Daniel I. Judges, Ruth. New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999.

Bush, Frederic W. Ruth, Esther. Vol. 9 of Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word Books, 1996.

Duguid, Iain. Esther & Ruth. Reformed Expository Commentary. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005.

Franke, John R., ed. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel. Vol. 4 of Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005.

Hubbard, Robert L. The Book of Ruth. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988.

Huey, F. B. "[Commentary on] Ruth." Vol. 3 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, et al., 509–549. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

Keil, C. F. and F. Delitzsch. Joshua, Judges, Ruth. Vol. 4 of Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Trans. by James Martin. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1865. Reprint. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956.

Lewis, Arthur. Judges and Ruth. Everyman’s Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1979.

Reed, John W. "Ruth." Vol. 1 of The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, 415–429. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Younger, K. Lawson, Jr. Judges and Ruth. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

 

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