Summer 2020 Series (The Story of Ruth, Part 5 of 6)
Today’s story comes from the first part of Ruth chapter 4. We are going to hear the story told, using both the words of that chapter in the Bible, and through the eyes of two people involved in the story – an elder at the gate, and a woman present at the birth.
Meanwhile, Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there. When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned to Ruth came along, Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend and sit down.” So he went over and sat down. Then Boaz took ten elders of the town and said “Sit here” and they did so.
It was early morning, the sun had barely risen, and I was still brushing the sleep from my eyes when there was a loud knock on the door. “Who is it?” I called out. It was Reuben, one of my oldest friends and another elder in our hometown of Bethlehem. “We are wanted!” he called. “Boaz is at the town gate – he is calling for the town elders, he has urgent business!”
“What can be so urgent at this early hour” I grumbled, but I got up, splashed some water on my face, pulled on my cloak, then left the house with Reuben. Most days we would head to the gate of the town to be witnesses to deals, manage disputes and give out justice – just not usually so early! But that was Boaz for you – he didn’t hang out when he wanted something! The other elders of the town were already there, with Boaz and one of his cousins, Joel. Joel – he’s the oldest man in that family now, isn’t he I thought.
Then Boaz said to the kinsman-redeemer, “Naomi who has come back from Moab is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of those seated here – and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I that I will know. For no-one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.
Well, everyone in Bethlehem knew the sad story of Naomi – how she had left years before during the famine, and returned a widow, with just her daughter in law to keep her company. Boaz’s older cousin Joel as the kinsman redeemer had first refusal on Naomi’s field – and he was keen to buy it! Until…Boaz reminded him that if he wanted to buy it, other responsibilities came with being the redeemer…
Then Boaz said, on the day you buy the land from Naomi and Ruth, you must also marry Ruth the widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead, the name of her husband Kilion with his property.
Now that was something! I should explain our customs – if a man was married and died without leaving a son, another male in the family was called on to marry his widow – to ensure his name continued! Joel wasn’t keen on that – none of us were really sure why. Was it because the field he bought wouldn’t really be his? Was he not keen on marrying Ruth, who was a Moabite? Whatever the reason, he was very clear “I cannot do it!”
The kinsman redeemer said, “Buy it yourself!” And he took off his sandal.
I also should explain this was a symbol, a way of showing that you were doing a deal, by taking off your sandal and handing it to the person you were doing business with!
So Boaz announced to the elders present, and all the people. “Today you are witnesses! I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon. I will also take Ruth, the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife in order to maintain Kilion’s name, that his name will not be lost from among his family or the records of this town.”
So we witnessed Boaz’s words and gave our blessing to Ruth, who had become part of Israel, part of the people of God. Then I headed home – as there was no other business to do that day. At least I thought, despite an early start Boaz never hangs around, once he has decided to do something, he gets it done.
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.
Woman at the Birth
It was early morning, the sun had barely risen, and I was still brushing the sleep from my eyes when there was a loud knock on the door. “Who is it?” I called out. It was Sarah, one of my oldest friends and cousin to Naomi. “We are wanted!” she called. “Ruth has gone into labour – she is about to give birth!”
I splashed some water on my face, pulled on my cloak, and set off with Sarah to the house of Ruth and Boaz. “Why can’t babies arrive at sensible times” I grumbled. When we arrived, Naomi was already there along with the midwife. Before long, the cries of a newborn baby were heard – Ruth had given birth to her first-born son.
The women said to Naomi, “Praise be to the Lord who this day has not left you without a kinsman redeemer! May he become famous throughout Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter in law, who loves you and who is better to you that seven sons, has given birth to this child.”
Then we watched as Naomi took the child from Ruth, and rocked him gently in her arms, tears of joy running down her face. “Naomi has a son” we all called. No longer Marah, no longer living in bitterness, but now living in joy and hope, her future secure, part of a family again, witnessing the grace of our God working through them all, through Ruth and Boaz, bringing redemption, healing and hope.
We are drawing towards the end of the story of Ruth – and in today’s part of the story, we see three things; redemption, healing and hope.
You will remember the beginning of Ruth is filled with tragedy – a family fleeing Bethlehem due to famine, Naomi losing her husband and then both sons, returning eventually to Bethlehem a broken, and empty women – indeed, she calls herself Marah “bitter”. And yet not alone, her daughter in law, Ruth showing a loyalty and faithfulness to her “better than seven sons” comes with her.
But now that all changes.
The first part of today’s story occurs at the town gate. The towns and cities of those times didn’t have the equivalent of a central square or open area in the centre – rather business tended to occur at the city gate where there was space. This was the place the elders of the town would gather to witness transactions like the one today.
Boaz, it seems to me is someone who doesn’t hang around once he has decided something, hence my portrayal of the account happening in the early morning! He meets the person known as the kinsman-redeemer and then calls the elders together to witness what happens next.
We don’t know who this kinsman redeemer is – his name is not given. He would have, like Boaz been a male relative of Elimelech, Naomi’s dead husband. He probably wasn’t an actual brother of Elimelech, so I have made him a cousin older than Boaz and therefore the one who had the role of kinsman redeemer – the one tasked with ensuring the name of Elimelech’s family continued and his relatives were looked after. It seemed this kinsman redeemer was keen to buy the field Naomi owned, but not to take Ruth as his wife. We don’t know why.
Boaz has no such issues though, and declares he is willing to buy Naomi’s field, and take Ruth as his wife. The language might sound difficult to our ears – in the NIV reading Boaz says “today I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess as my wife” although we might have noted in chapter 3 that it seems to be Naomi and Ruth who have set this all up! Boaz however is willing to take on the role of redeemer – and by doing so ensures that Ruth and Naomi have a family and a secure future.
The words of the elders and people at the gate liken Ruth to Rachel and Leah, who built up the house of Israel. Ruth has fully become part of Israel, the people of God. From the beginning she has demonstrated her faith in God, and now God demonstrates his promises and faithfulness towards her.
In the second part of today’s story, the women at the birth also speak of Ruth – they comment to Naomi on how she is worth more than seven sons due to her loyalty – the word here is "chesed" – a word often used of God to speak of his love, kindness and faithfulness towards his people. Through this story, Ruth and Boaz have demonstrated that loyalty and faithfulness. This story therefore reminds us of the bigger story of redemption within the Bible, of Jesus the ultimate redeemer, and also how we are called to show that faithfulness to one another and to God.
The final part of the story – the famous descendant who comes from their family, well, that is for next week.
Tim & Suzanne Matthews
You may like to listen to our Podcast which accompanies this Blog. Click here.
You may also enjoy watching our Sunday gathering related to this Blog, where you can hear this message along with worship and prayer. This video was originally aired via Facebook LIVE on Sunday 16th August 2020.