Summary: In four short chapters we move from tragedy to triumph, from despair to joy, from emptiness to fullness. This book begins with famine and funerals, and concludes with a wedding and the joyful birth of a son.
The final chapter of this quiet drama takes place before the town gate of Bethlehem, where all important transactions were conducted. Here is where the matter of Ruth the foreigner would be settled.
After the late-night rendezvous of chapter 3, Boaz goes right to work; he finds his kinsman and calls to him. His greeting, “my friend” is a Hebrew expression which is best translated, “Mr. So-and-so”. This was used when an author had reason for not revealing a person’s name. This omission is worth noting, for here was someone greatly concerned with his future, yet in protecting himself by refusing to fulfill the role of kinsman-redeemer, he relegates himself to anonymity. The irony is that, in seeking to preserve his heritage, he became a forgotten, nameless person. Perhaps just as well; the author is sparing him the embarrassment of being remembered by name as a bad example. Boaz was willing to redeem Ruth, and as a result, his name and legacy will be remembered for all eternity.
Boaz assembles a group of ten elders in verse 2. Ten was the number of men required to constitute a quorum for legal matters and worship. The word “elder” is taken from the Hebrew word for “beard” (as though there was a connection between facial hair and wisdom!). These ten were to serve as witnesses, not jurors. They were not tasked to pass judgment or determine any outcome. They were merely present to publically acknowledge the decision made between Boaz and his unnamed relative.
In verses 3-4 Boaz explains the matter. Our translation has Boaz saying how he wishes to “bring the matter to” his kinsman’s “attention” (NIV). Boaz is saying, literally, “I will uncover your ear.” This refers to the removal of headgear so that people could quietly converse.
Boaz focuses on Naomi’s land, and for good reason. Normally property passed from father to children. Since there were no surviving children, the land would be Naomi’s. The practice of the day was for land to remain with a widow till her death. In Naomi’s case, her husband Elimelech must’ve sold it when they left Bethlehem, and she needs a kinsman-redeemer to exercise the option to buy it back. For the Jews, their land was holy, sacred and entrusted to them from God. Any selling of land was to be only a temporary measure in hard times, with the intention to restore it to the family.
“Mr. So-and-so” assumes the land will be inherited by his children, so he agrees to redeem it. He realizes that he will have to add Naomi to his household, a small matter of little concern. She was, after all, past child-bearing days and so there would be no children of hers to inherit this land. If she had been young enough to bear children, he would be obligated to marry her and perpetuate the name of her deceased husband by raising up an heir...and so this seems like a risk-free offer too good to refuse…until Boaz reveals in verse 5 “the rest of the story”!
The land belonged to Elimelech and his family. As Mahlon’s widow, Ruth was part of the bargain (a “package deal”). Whoever redeemed this land would have to marry Ruth and the land would then go to her children. The kinsman was willing to redeem the land, but not Ruth; he declares that this arrangement would “endanger” his plans. We can assume he had children of his own, or was planning on marrying someone else. Boaz was unattached, without a wife or children, and so Ruth’s children would become heirs to both Boaz and Mahlon (and Chilion as well, since Orpah forfeited his inheritance by returning to Moab).
Refusing to honor his obligation, verse 6, this closer relative waives his claim and transfers his right of redemption to Boaz. I suspect he was somewhat upset with Boaz for trapping and embarrassing him with the offer, an offer with a catch. Boaz’s intention was to discourage and dissuade his kinsman...and he succeeded. There was no advantage to be gained by marrying Ruth. The unnamed kinsman is trapped by his own self-interest.
Boaz is glad to take his place. In verses 7-8 the transaction is made. By removing his sandal, this nearer kinsman acknowledges symbolically that he is forfeiting his right to walk upon the land. In handing his sandal to Boaz, he publicly seals his intention to transfer his right to redeem the property.
By refusing his responsibility as redeemer, the Law dictated (Deut 25) that Naomi and/or Ruth had the right to publicly spit in this kinsman’s anonymous face. This would have been humiliating, yet Boaz does not call for Naomi or Ruth. He is relieved and pleased with the outcome, and so he treats his kinsman with gentleness.
The compassion of Boaz is a picture of the love that Jesus has for us. He is our Kinsman-Redeemer. He shared our humanity. He was willing, able, and qualified to pay the price for our salvation. Boaz redeemed Naomi’s land; Christ redeems our souls, freeing us from the penalty of sin. He purchased us with His blood. He secures a heavenly inheritance for us. As Boaz loved an outcast, redeemed her, and brought her into fellowship with his people, so Jesus demonstrated His love to the outcasts of the world. God offers to us what Boaz offered Ruth.