Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ruth 4:1–12

Ruth 4:1–12: Boaz finagles hisself a weddin’


In the last passage, Ruth approached Boaz and, essentially, asked him to marry her. That’s not exactly how it works, she’s really asking him to redeem the family line, but he was thrilled, because he would have expected her to go after a younger man. (For rules on a relative redeeming a man’s family line, see Deuteronomy 23:15–25:19.) But there is a problem, in that there is a closer relative than Boaz, who, by all rights, could/should marry Ruth instead of Boaz.

So, as is the custom for transacting such business, Boaz seats himself at the town gate, and waits for the kinsman-redeemer. (That is, the man who is a closer relative than he is to Naomi.) When the man comes, Boaz invites him to sit down, and then gets ten elders of the town to join them. He then explains to the kinsman-redeemer that Naomi is selling a piece of land that had belonged to her husband Elimelech. Boaz tells the man that he has the right to claim it, but if he doesn’t, Boaz will take it.

The man agrees to redeem the property, however, Boaz then drops the bombshell: If the man redeems the property, he must also “acquire” the dead man’s widow (verse 5), in order to maintain Elimelech’s family line. When the kinsman-redeemer hears this, he changes his mind; he says that he can’t do this, or he will endanger his own estate. So he tells Boaz that he may do it.

Then, because it’s the custom in sealing such a deal, the kinsman-redeemer takes off his sandal, and gives it to Boaz. And Boaz announces the deal to those present; they are witnesses that he has bought the land from Naomi, and, furthermore, has acquired Ruth, Mahlon’s widow, as his wife. Therefore, Boaz will continue on Mahlon’s family line.

Those who are present then verify that they have witnessed the deal, and they pray for the LORD to bless Boaz and any offspring that may result from the union.


There are a couple of things that I’m not clear about, from this passage. First of all, when the kinsman-redeemer refuses the property—and, in this case, the widow—is he in violation of the laws mentioned above, outlined in Deuteronomy 23:15–25:19? Is he refusing to carry on the man’s family line? Or is he okay, in this instance, because he knows that Boaz is ready and willing to do so; so he’s not really abandoning Elimelech’s family line?

Secondly, is it okay that Boaz is going to marry Ruth, or was he supposed to marry Naomi? In a sense, he’s still carrying on Elimelech’s family line, because Mahlon is Elimelech’s son. I’m guessing this is a special case; I’m sure it isn’t often that you have a woman and her daughter-in-law who are both widows, where the family line could be carried on by either.

Thirdly, I think (but am not 100% sure) that Boaz is being a little deceptive here. He talks to the kinsman-redeemer about having to “acquire the dead man’s widow” (verse 5), which, to me, indicates that he’s talking about Naomi, but then when the deal is finalized, Boaz announces that he will be marrying Ruth. Would it have made a difference if the kinsman-redeemer thought he was marrying Ruth, instead of Naomi? (I also have to point out that there is a footnote to verse 5 that indicates that the Vulgate and Syriac manuscripts actually say that the kinsman-redeemer would acquire Ruth the Moabitess. So if those manuscripts are accurate, there is no mystery at all!)

I’ve always read this passage in a very rosy light; that Boaz is in love with Ruth, and is trying to work out the deal so that he can marry her, instead of the closer relative. However, it’s also possible that nothing of the kind is going on, and that it’s a very straightforward transaction happening—although, if that’s the case, this is kind of a boring story!

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