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”!