by Sam E. Stone
The book of Ruth provides an excellent example of today’s lesson title, “Caring for one another.” After Ruth gleaned in the field of Boaz, Naomi told her daughter-in-law, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers” (2:20). Such a person was responsible to look out for the interests of needy members of his extended family.
The concept was rooted in Old Testament law. Three major areas of responsibility were given to a kinsman-redeemer. He should provide an heir for a brother who died (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), redeem land that had been sold by a poor relative (Leviticus 25:25-28), and redeem a relative who had been sold into slavery (Leviticus 25:47-49). Early on Naomi recognized Boaz as a possible source of help.
Naomi sent Ruth to talk to him privately, asking that he fulfill this obligation as kinsman-redeemer and marry Ruth (3:1-18). Boaz had already shown his desire to be Ruth’s protector, but this didn’t address all of the legal concerns. By going to Boaz, Ruth was in essence “proposing” to him. Throughout the account, nothing immodest or improper occurred. Boaz assured her, “I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character” (3:11). He then explained that because one relative was closer than him in the family line, that man would need to be contacted first. This is where today’s lesson text begins.
The next morning Boaz went to the town gate, a public forum area where legal business was regularly transacted (compare Genesis 19:1; Proverbs 31:23). Ten of the city’s elders were assembled with Boaz and the other relative (his name is never mentioned). Boaz explained that Naomi had returned from Moab and was selling the piece of land that belonged to their kinsman Elimelech. He was bringing this to the other man’s attention in this legal setting to see if he wanted to buy it. “If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.” The man quickly responded, “I will redeem it.”
You can almost hear Boaz adding, almost as an afterthought, “Oh, and there is one more thing. You will need to marry the dead man’s widow (Ruth) as well. This will maintain the dead man’s name with his property.” With that, everything changed. The kinsman hesitated. “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”
Bible students have tried to guess why he said this. Perhaps he feared that his own present holdings would go to a son if he had one with Ruth, and all his present property would then transfer to Elimelech’s line. Others think he may have already been married, or that he didn’t want to marry a foreigner. The bottom line is that he was selfish. Unlike Boaz, he was unwilling to put himself out to care for another—even a relative.
F. W. Bush sums up the situation accurately: “His words clearly express concern only for his own interests; they show no concern for Ruth and the line of Elimelech at all. Thus unwilling to shoulder his full responsibilities as the redeemer with the prior right, he summons Boaz to acquire his rights (4:8a) and expresses the transfer symbolically by the physical act that customarily accompanied such a transfer: he removed his sandal and gave it to Boaz (4:8b).”
Boaz called upon the elders and the people to be official witnesses of this exchange. “I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” Mark Ziese notes, “His words underline a generosity as previously witnessed, his piety in making and keeping promises . . . and finally, his honor in upholding social traditions. In short, he is truly a ‘mighty man.’”
Throughout the short book of Ruth, the lives of the primary characters all teach lessons about caring for others. Boaz the Hebrew and Ruth the Moabitess together were used by God for the ultimate realization of his purposes. The inclusion of a person from a pagan background in the genealogy of Jesus is a prelude to making the gospel message available to the world (Isaiah 49:6; Ruth 4:17).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.