This study picks up the story midway, after the nearer-redeemer relinquishes his claim to buy the land of Elimelech and his family.
(A) The House of the King (Ruth 4:9-12)
In verse 9, we see that Boaz now makes his intentions of redemption clear. He addresses the "elders and all the people" (Ruth 4:9), for the entire transaction and negotiation took place in public. He underscores their identity twice, both in verse 9 as well as in verse 10. By doing so, he was elevating their responsibility, for they were not just spectators, but he's involving them in what he proceeds to announce and declares.
He announces that he plans to buy the land and also marry Ruth. The land was an economic transaction that he was claiming within the kinsmen-redeemer law. In verse 9, we see how he is claiming everything that belonged to the men of Naomi's family ("I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon"). With Ruth, he was claiming the marital responsibility of marrying the dead man's widow, and not only that, a Moabite woman too.
Verse 11 tells us how the people at the gate and the elders respond to it. They appear to chorus their approval of his plan. How is it that so many people are now involved? As he makes this public declaration, and as they see him redeeming a dead man's estate and marrying a dead man's widow, all for the dead man, it is not surprising that they would respond so positively. His public generosity and sincerity was clear for all to see.
They proceed to respond in 3 "may" phrases, and they teach us important things about Boaz's act of redemption and marriage (Ruth 4: 11b-12).
- "May the LORD..." (Ruth 4:11b).
They drew attention to the work of the Lord, to provide abundant descendants, just like how Rachel and Leah provided many sons for Jacob. Yet, though Rachel and Leah were described here as working "together" to build up the house of Israel, Genesis 29 paints a different picture for us -- one not of unity but of great conflict.
- "May you..." (Ruth 4:11b).
They also referred to Boaz, and encouraged him to continue to be a man of character in Ephrathah and Bethlehem. We may not know much about these places, but Micah 5:2 speaks of these as small and relatively insignificant places
- "…and may your house" (Ruth 4:12a)
The third blessing was upon his house, and they likened it to that of Perez, son of Tamar and Judah. Yet from a reading of Gen 38, we know that Perez was born to Tamar, who was the daughter-in-law of Judah.
A cursory read of these words may lead us to conclude that they are blessing a great man, and we are tempted to move on. But upon closer reading, we realise that these are strange words. What kind of a king comes from this house -- one too small to notice, full of conflict, and an illegitimate one?
(B) The Mother of the King (4:13-16)
Boaz marries Ruth, and "the Lord gave her conception", and she had a son. The writer deliberately inserted the detail about the conception, to highlight the agency of the Lord. Procreation is a part of life, but we have numerous examples of the barren woman who does not bear children "as expected". Through the lives of Sarah, Rachel and Leah, Hannah, and Ruth, the barren woman or just the woman who conceives receives it as a provision of hope and blessing from the Lord.
It is also worth pointing out here that book of Ruth also has an interesting chaistic literary structure. This works out in the way the characters are introduced, and in the way they exit the story. We are first provided with a general introduction and introduced to Elimelech (Ruth 1:1-2), the Naomi (Ruth 1:2a), then Ruth (Ruth 1:4) and eventually Boaz (Ruth 2:1). Now as we near the end of the book, these characters exit the story in the same way, first with Boaz and Ruth here in verse 13. The story switches to focus on Naomi (as we shall soon see), then ends with a genealogy which sets it back in the larger context (Ruth 4:17).
Verses 14 to 17 swings away from the couple and back to Naomi. This is a beautiful end to the book of Ruth, which began with an introduction to Naomi. The story began with this woman's descent into bitterness and misery, and she was so upset she calls herself Mara because of all her suffering. Yet by the time she reaches the end of the book, we see that the Lord has made this bitter woman pleasant again. Through the various events in the book, we see God gently providing for her through those around her, and in the process, lifted her out of her pit of misery.
The parallelism in the book of Ruth is astounding. It opens with despair and ends with hope. It began with death and emptiness, but ends with fullness and life. It started without a king, and ends with the beginnings of a king. Naomi's story teaches us that as humans, we never really know what is happening, and we never really know what God is actually doing right here, right now. After all, the Bible reminds us that we are here like the grass, here today and gone tomorrow. But in reality, we have a God whose ways are higher than ours. And in the story of Ruth, this wise God seeks to show us that hope can come out of hopelessness, light can come out of darkness. This God also loves the sorrowful. How are you feeling today? Are you despairing? Take heart, because this God loves, and He is not done with us yet.
In verse 14, we read of the prophetic words of the women as they spoke to Naomi. Who is the redeemer they are referring to? Upon close reading, we realise that there is not one, but actually four individuals who have served as a sort of redeemer for Naomi.
- Boaz (who made all these possible)
- Obed (Ruth 4:15), who would be to her "a restorer of life" and "a nourisher of your old age". To one who lost her sons and immediate family in the beginning of the book, she has now been given a new lease of life again, and in her old age, she has a new purpose to raise this child once more.
- Ruth (Ruth 4:15b), who loved her dearly and "is more to you than seven sons".
- And the Lord who has redeemed all this is the great Redeemer, prefigured in David, who is an eventual descendant of Obed.
Naomi has been rescued and redeemed, and it has been a complete and comprehensive redemption, both on the economic and relational scale. And God ultimately made it all possible. How would you describe the God of this Bible as He is presented here?
(C) The Return of the King (Ruth 4:17)
In verse 17, we are presented with two big pieces of information. The neighbourhood and the community declares that "a son has been born to Naomi", once more highlighting the amazing and great work of God in the restoration of her life. We are also told that Obed eventually became the father of Jesse, who fathered David. Why is the latter piece of information useful? The book of Ruth takes place during the period of the Judges. Turning a few pages back to the end of Judges in Judges 20-21, we realise that this was a period of spiritual decay, disrepair, and some political anarchy. This was a period where "there was no king in Israel" and "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (c.f. Judges 21:25). The absence of a king was a problem, and even in the worst of times, God was at work through this small family, to eventually raise up a great king after His own heart to rule the nation. The birth of Obed reminds us that God's plan of redemption was going according to plan, and He has not forgotten His people!
It is also worth taking a moment to consider how this line was restored and all that happened just to bring about this birth. God worked through the restoration of a bitter woman, whose family disobeyed and left their people and wandered in Moab before returning eventually. It required the faithfulness of a woman, who was committed to loving her mother-in-law through thick and thin. It needed an unlikely romance between an older man and a younger woman, and involved a public drama and commitment. It involved an old woman, faithfully looking after her grandson.
And we know that David was not the great king that Israel really needed, because he too was a sinful man. Years later, we see the return of the true King. He did not come in a mighty chariot, or on the back of a warhorse, but on a humble donkey (Matt 21:1-11). This King hailed not from a great line of men and women, but had a scandalous family history -- Perez born of an illegitimate relationship, the Moabite Ruth, the harlot Rahab etc. This unlikely and humble King came not to be served, but to serve and died in order to redeem us, who were objects of wrath and His enemies, from sin and death. He did not need to do it, but like Ruth, he cleaved faithfully to the will and purpose of God. Like Boaz, his redemption cost him.
This King did not stay dead and stone cold in a tomb, but was raised to newness of life, given the name above all names and is worthy of all praise. This is our hope and identity today. As those who live under the rule of this King, who rules justly and with love, we therefore strive to live in obedience to His rule and likeness. Do we do so perfectly? Not always, but even though we fail, His redeeming grace never fails. This great God, our King and Redeemer is still at work in our lives today. Just as He used Rachel, Leah, Tamar, Ruth, Naomi, He is doing a work in us. We are redeemed sinners, more flawed than we care to admit sometimes, and more loved that we can actually imagine. Today, how do we respond to this King, and look forward to His return again?