The third chapter of Ruth ended with a cliffhanger: will Boaz be able to marry Ruth and be her family redeemer? There is a closer family redeemer than himself who is to reacquire the property and inheritance of Elimelech. So Boaz goes to the city gate. The city gates were the center of city life and where important assemblies occurred (cf. 1 Kings 22:10; Jeremiah 38:7). The city gates were also the place where legal transactions and legal judgments were made (cf. Amos 5:10-15; Proverbs 22:22; Deuteronomy 22:15). The gates of the city were the place of public business. These gates are the right place for what Boaz is about to do in this chapter.
Setting The Narrative (4:1-10)
With Boaz at the gate, by the providence of God again, behold, the nearest family redeemer comes by. The text does something unusual here that is not reflected in our English translations. Most translations read, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” But the text does not refer to him as friend or by name. What the text reads is a Hebrew idiom that can perhaps be best translated as “Mr. So-and-So” to use one of our English idioms. The NET Bible reads “John Doe.” The scriptures do not want to give us his name, so he is just Mr. So-and-So to us.
Now Boaz explains the situation to this nearer family redeemer. Boaz tells this man that Naomi has returned from Moab and is selling the family property of Elimelech. It is this man’s responsibility to purchase the land. If he will not purchase the family property, then Boaz is the next in line with the responsibility. Mr. So-and-So says that he will redeem it. When we initially read this, we are left with an “Oh no.” Boaz will not be able to redeem Ruth. However, there is more to this. The family redeemer is not only taking over the family property, but Naomi’s daughter-in-law is part of this transaction. You will receive Ruth the Moabite in order to perpetuate the family name in Elimelech’s inheritance. Now Mr. So-and-So says that he cannot redeem it for himself because he would impair his own inheritance. With this, he give the right of redemption to Boaz and the transaction is made in verses 7-10.
We need to spend a moment to understand what has just happened. We made note of the fact that being the redeemer of the family inheritance did not mean you were required to marry the widow. But Boaz is evidently appealing to the spirit of the law, showing faithful, covenant love to God and to Naomi. Neither man is legally bound by Deuteronomy 25:5-10 to marry Ruth. It is voluntary. But this does not erase all moral responsibility. This appears to be what Boaz is appealing to this nearer family redeemer. He does not bring up the marriage component because that is not part of the redeemer requirement. His requirement is to purchase the property to keep it in the family. However, he does bear responsibility for Naomi and Ruth, and in that society, the way they would be provided for is through marriage.
So why does the family redeemer reject this situation? He says that he will impair, damage, or ruin his own inheritance. The likely point he is making is that by marrying Ruth, any investment that was made in this property would be forfeited to any offspring born to Ruth. He is going to spend his money for this property and the efforts will not be to his current descendants, but to the lineage of Elimelech. This, along with the added financial burden of caring for Naomi and Ruth, appears to be too much for Mr. So-and-So and he therefore give the redeemer right to Boaz. Mr. So-and-So only shows concern for his self-interests and not the interests of Ruth and Naomi. This could be the primary reason why his name is not given in this historical account.
God Blesses (4:11-17)
The elders of the city are witnesses to this transaction. Notice the blessing in verses 11-12. The blessing is declared upon the woman, Ruth. First, Ruth is likened to Rachel and Leah who will build up and strengthen Israel. Remember that Rachel and Leah are the wives of Jacob through whom are born his 12 sons which become the 12 tribes of Israel. May she cause Israel to expand like Rachel and Leah. Keep that blessing in mind. Second, Ruth is likened to Tamar. Tamar lost her husband and was childless but was then blessed through Perez. The elders are proclaiming a blessing on Ruth for the same reversal of fortune, from empty to full.
In verse 13 we see the reversal of fortune occurring. Though Ruth was married for 10 years to Mahlon, they did not have any children. Now we see God at work for notice in verse 13, “And the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son.” Ruth has experienced a full reversal of life. The wording of verse 13 really draws out this idea. Notice that the text says, “She became his wife.” This is unusual Hebrew wording because this is depicting a change of status. The book of Ruth as been watching the change of status of Ruth’s life. Back in Ruth 2:10 she was called a foreigner. In Ruth 2:13 she is called a servant but the Hebrew word represents the lowest level of servant status. In Ruth 3:9 Ruth is called a servant but this is a different Hebrew word indicating a higher status level. Some translations use different English words in 2:13 and 3:9 to represent this difference (maidservant/maid — NASB; worker/servant — NLT). Now in Ruth 4:13 “she became his wife.” God is bringing about a great reversal in the life of Ruth — from foreigner to wife.
But notice where the account goes in verse 14. The women do not address Ruth, but Naomi, for this book is truly about her. Bless the Lord because he has not left you (Naomi) without a redeemer. May God’s name be praised and honored in Israel for this. Listen to what the child will do in verse 15. “He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” This descendant will be to you a restorer of life and sustainer. Naomi’s future well being is secured. Ruth and her virtue has been worthy more than seven sons to Naomi. Notice how verse 17 drives this point further: “A son has been born to Naomi.” Naomi has been delivered. Naomi has be rescued and sustained. Her hope in God has not proven to be false.
Future Hope (4:18-22)
But this is not the whole purpose of the book. Yes, we see the providence of God who can change our course of life, taking us from empty to full. God richly blesses his people. But there is so much more and the end of the book of Ruth draws this out. On the surface this appears to simply be a genealogy. But look carefully at this genealogy. The son who is born is named Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse who was the father of David. The messianic line for the rescue and salvation of the world has been maintained.
Obed’s name means “the one who helps/serves.” This child is the one who serves. The servant is coming. In the dark days of the judges, God’s covenant righteousness is seen. Let us dig into this idea with the final minutes we have.
First, we are seeing a typology about the coming of the Christ. He is going to be the redeemer of Israel. He will be the restorer and sustainer of life. He will come and be the servant of the world for salvation. Our first picture is that God uses Gentiles to save the world and bring about his plan. The hope of Israel and the hope of the world is coming through a foreigner, an outsider, and a Moabite. How often God used pictures in the Old Testament to show that Gentiles would be full participants in God’s plan to save the world. Gentiles would be the way that the kingdom of God would explode through the world.
This picture is extended further by seeing that God is bringing Gentiles into his covenant family. One of the things that should stand out to us is that a Moabite is having her status changed from foreigner and servant to full access as a wife to the Israelite family. God is going to bring the Gentiles into his kingdom. Not only this, Gentiles will not enter as second class citizens or a lower rung in the kingdom but will be given full and equal access to God as if they were physical Israel. This is the beauty of what God is able to do. God is showing through the marriage of Boaz and Ruth that he will enter into a covenant relationship with the Gentiles as well as Israel. They would not be considered outsiders anymore. What was once defiled is no longer defiled. God is depicting in the book of Ruth a picture of the future.
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11–22 ESV)
We see this idea repeated in the life of Jesus. People who were unclean like lepers, Samaritans, prostitutes, and with a flow of blood were coming to Jesus and being cleansed and healed. If a leper touched another person then that person was unclean. But Jesus touched them and Jesus did not become unclean but made those people clean. God is doing what others cannot do. God is removing the defilement. Thus God would instruct Peter in his vision in Acts 10, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15).
Finally, Bethlehem has been the setting of this book (1:1). A redeemer has come to Bethlehem who is the provider and sustainer of life. Obed stands a representative of the Messiah because he is the hope of the future of the coming Messiah (Ruth 4:18-22). Listen to the prophecy of Micah about the coming Christ.
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And he shall be their peace. (Micah 5:2–5 ESV)
Out of Bethlehem will come the ruler over Israel. He will be our peace. Through Christ, God takes us from empty and makes us full. God takes us from outsiders and makes us his children. God takes our broken, ruined lives that have been corrupted by sin and cleanses us and heals us (Ephesians 2:1-10). Through our darkness comes the light of God to save us, to provide for us, and to sustain us. We must see our Lord Jesus Christ as functioning in this way for us. He is your Savior. He is your provider. He is your sustainer. Put your faith in God and love him for what he is done to change your life from hopeless and full of hope and life.