In this study, we'll move on the book of Ruth to the final chapter of this book. Here, the theme of redemption, and the idea of a kinsman redeemer, which was previously mentioned, will take centre stage. Ruth 4 picks up from Ruth 3, as indicated by a well-placed "now" in Ruth 4:1. In chapter 3, we read of Ruth and Boaz's encounter in the field in the middle of the night. Ruth proposed marriage, but Boaz knew of a nearer redeemer who had the rights to redeem the land of Naomi's family. Boaz, a man of integrity, took pains to prevent any misunderstandings and scandals in the middle of the night, and promised to settle it immediately. He sealed his promise by sending Ruth away with a lot of barley discreetly (Ruth 3:15).
(A) The Nearer Redeemer: Desire only the Reward, but not the Cost (Ruth 4:1-6)
We are told that Boaz went up to the gate, which was the city centre and town square of their day. The city gates served as a "combined town hall and courthouse" (according to the ESV Study Bible), and was where trade and business take place. Elsewhere in the Bible, we are told that the elders sit at the gate and this was where Lot was in Gen 19:1 and community judgment took place there (Deut 21:18-21). It was at this place that Boaz managed to locate this particular redeemer. Notice how it was described in Ruth 4:1 -- "And behold". Once again, the use of the word "behold" shows the ‘coincidental’ nature of the encounter, just as the "behold" in Ruth 2:4. What are the chances that he could spot this redeemer in this crowded place? Not only that, in the midst of this busy, crowded place, Boaz is also able to stop ten elders (leaders, men of repute), to sit down with him. Clearly Boaz could command some respect from the others in the community It is easy to gloss over these details, but once more, these coincidences point to God's invisible grace. What about us? Do we see God's invisible grace in our daily life, and consider how we experience it everyday? Verses 1-2 remind us that God works so stealthily in the background, that sometimes we don't notice.
Boaz began his interaction and discussion with the nearer redeemer in verses 3 to 4. The transactional language employed is clear, for he described Naomi as “selling”, and how Boaz is proposing to the redeemer to “buy” it. We also notice that Boaz also adopted an honest approach and was clear in his proposal. In fact, if we consider Ruth 3, we might actually be amazed at his approach. After all, we would expect some scheming and manipulation to achieve his desired ends. He was clear in his intention, and honest and above board, without employing manipulative language. He mentions that he himself wants to redeem it, and he makes it entirely clear to the redeemer. Indeed Boaz is a man of integrity! He is still the same person even under pressure, despite his heavy investment and having the opportunity to secure what he wanted. Are we always clear in our speech or intentions? It is not always easy to be honest all the time, especially if we're heavily invested in something. Though this is not about lying, this is about being absolutely ethical where he does not conceal his true intentions clearly to the redeemer. Can we learn something from this? This is why the elders listen to him at the gate – he is this kind of man in private and in public.
The redeemer heard Boaz's proposal, and wanted to redeem it. At that moment, the redeemer's confirmation probably crushed him. Boaz played honestly, but seemed to lose everything. But Boaz continues in verse 5, adding that redemption of the land will come with some cost, for the previous owner had a wife, Ruth. Upon hearing this, the redeemer gives it up, saying “lest I impair my own inheritance”.
Why this quick change of mind? Understanding the biblical practice of a kinsman redeemer might prove helpful for us to see why the nearer redeemer behaved in the way he did. According to Deut 25:5-6, the nearest unmarried male relative is to marry the widow and provide her with an heir and redeem her land so that:
- the widow is protected from social and economic marginalization/abuse
- the covenant land inheritance/estate of the dead man is protected and the family has a livelihood
- the child born to the widow will be considered the son of the dead man, not the genetic father, thus preserving his name.
Thus, the law required that when a relative stepped up to the plate, he would gain by taking the land, but have to provide for the wife and child of the dead man. The kinsman redeemer system served as the Old Testament's equivalent of a bankruptcy law, and its economic design was entirely to protect and preserve the inheritance of the dead man.
The nearer redeemer knew this, and knew the implications of redeeming the land, and Ruth along with it. To him, it meant investing, but not having all the returns back to him, for he would also have provide for Ruth and any future children. In fact, it might also mean a dilution of his wealth if there are more children with her. Bible commentators have also mentioned that the redeemer probably had an existing family and a new wife in Ruth might be a cause of strife in his family. He considered all these, and decided against it.
Ruth 4 teaches us something about redemption that we don't always remember. Redemption has a cost. We've seen the redeemer, who heard about the land, and without hesitation agreed to redeem the land from Naomi, but when he heard about the need to “acquire Ruth”, he would not exercise his redemption right. Don't miss out the transactional language, devoid of relationship! He wanted all the gain, but was so unwilling to bear and absorb the cost. He wanted only the land and did not really want Ruth and did not want the threat of having to divide up his estate by giving over to his son (who would be considered Elimelech’s) and thus lose it into the estate of Elimelech. It was a kind of losing out. He simply was trying to selfishly preserve his name at the expense of Elimelech, and here, Ruth. We should also note that the passage never ever mentions his name – the most natural explanation would be that the writer did not want to embarrass his family in later reading of the book. But it has an ironic literary effect – to the reader, the man who wanted to preserve his name was never remembered in the end – his name blotted out from this amazing story of God’s providence.
How are we like this redeemer sometimes? When things are convenient and full of reward, we jump at it, but when there is a cost, we are unwilling to follow through. Although we also note that the Bible, in Luke 14:28, teaches us count the cost of following Jesus. If we do our cost-benefit analysis, would we see that the benefit of following Jesus far outstrips the cost. What is the reward there?
(B) The Kinsman Redeemer: Taking up the Cost with Integrity and Purpose (4:7-10)
And thus, Boaz stands in bolder contrast to this nameless nearer redeemer. Boaz, seeing that this redeemer wanted to give up his right, took the next step to seal and secure this redemption. Verse 7 tells us about a custom in Israel, which was introduced in Deut 25:5-10. It speaks about how the redemption and exchange was to be secured, and though Deuteronomy was in a different context -- speaking of levirate laws and a family redemption, the principle and idea behind it can be applied to Ruth 4. These verses shows us that Boaz's redemption was no dodgy transaction, but was official, and confirmed by the taking off of a sandal. The sandal served as a kind of receipt, a testament to the legalised transaction conducted in the presence of many witnesses. In our day and age, we mark transactions not with the exchange of a sandal, but through written legal contracts, or simply sending emails. In fact, we also realise that Christianity is full of significant signs and symbols to mark a transaction – the Lord’s Supper has the body broken and the wine poured out for us as we eat and drink it. Water baptism has the sign of full immersion to show our union with Christ in death and resurrection, going in and coming out of the water. In marriage, the exchanging of rings symbolizes the agreement in the presence of witnesses. Here, we see a similar culture – the slipper as a receipt and visual sign of the agreement.
Boaz declares his redemption in two key parts (Ruth 4: 9-10). He spoke of the land (“all that belonged to Elimelech, and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon”) and Ruth. He made a comprehensive redemption of the land in the name of the family of the three men - Elimelech, Chilion and Mahlon. Boaz knew what he was getting himself into, and he sought to redeem everything. Next, he also declared his intention to marry Ruth, described as "the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon". Her foreign identity is repeated in the two instances that her name was brought up in this passage, and Boaz was clear and purposeful that he wanted to bring this foreigner into the community through marriage. He saw Ruth not as a burden and downside to the redemption of the land. In verse 10b, we also see that Boaz is not afraid to take up the responsibility of perpetuating the name of Elimelech/Mahlon. Boaz was willing to take up the cost so that Mahlon’s name would not be cut off from his relatives and his social standing would be preserved (“gate of his native place”).
Ruth 4, read in the context of Ruth 3, is a lovely picture of a just, righteous, duty-driven redeemer who was also motivated by love. Boaz, a man of character lived a life of integrity, privately (like in his interactions with Ruth) and publicly (in his dealings with the nearer redeemer, in full view of everyone). In fact, he was committed to his cause, despite the cost, even to the point of exchanging his rightful name, for the sake of the inheritance and name of Elimelech and Mahlon. Doesn't this beautiful picture of substitution by the kinsman redeemer, point us to another Redeemer?
In Matthew 27:30, we read of a Redeemer, who, unlike the nearer redeemer in Ruth 4, got spat on and dishonoured. He bore it all, and did not shy away from the cost. As Philippians 2:8 tells us, he took on the great cost of becoming human, and he was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. He did not seek to preserve His own name, and His name was blotted out so that others could have their names written in Lamb's Book of Life (c.f. Rev 21:27). He lost everything and paid the price so that we who were bankrupt, alienated and foreigners could receive everything and have His inheritance. 2 Cor 8:9 describes it beautifully -- "He who was rich became poor so that through His poverty we might become rich". Ruth 4 is lovely, but it points to the greater redemption, initiated and paid for by the great Redeemer, Jesus Christ. On the cross, Christ paid the price, to redeem us, to buy us back.
The language of redemption is also clear that when God redeems us at this great cost, He redeems us for Himself. Just as Boaz redeems Ruth to be his wife, God, through Christ, redeems us for himself, bringing us into His community and love. This is the LORD, the God of relationships, who spreads His love to cover His people and who desires to be with His people. Redemption, as Ruth 4 shows us, comes at a cost, but it is also special, because it is also relational. What does this mean for us today? Dear friends, do you realise the "transaction" that took place when we professed faith in Christ? Do you know that you are God’s having confessed your faith in Him?
Take heart today! If we are redeemed, then He has this to say to us, the way Boaz speaks to Ruth – Our Boaz, our great redeemer, says this to us:
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1-2)
Yes, this God has redeemed us, and walks with us everyday. He walks us through good and bad, through the fire and through the waters, even in times when we don't feel his presence. He has formed us, called us by name, bought us back at such a cost, and will not let us go. He will show us His steadfast love and faithfulness, because we are His.