Jan Paron, PhD|June 3, 2021
The book of Ruth, a historical work of the narrative genre, occurred during the era of Judges (Ru 1:1). It opened in Moab, where Naomi sojourned from Bethlehem due to famine. She and her two Moabite daughters-in-law survived the death of their husbands while there (1:5). Upon hearing the Lord visited His people and gave them bread, Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem (vv. 6-7). While the one daughter-in-law Orpah left for her mother’s house to find rest and a husband upon Naomi’s advice, Ruth cleaved to her mother-in-law and made Elohim her God (Gn 1:1, Ru 1:16-17). Naomi arrived in Bethlehem with Ruth but felt the Lord dealt bitterly with her, bringing her home empty without a husband and sons (1:20-21). However, subsequent events demonstrated the Lord’s redemption, making Naomi full again through Boaz.
Jan Paron, 2021
In what one might call the story’s peak, Ru 4:1-12 opened with Boaz at the city gate, seeking Naomi’s nearer relative to rescue her from the shame of loss. The discourse announced Boaz’s entrance with the word then, signaling a transition from the previous chapter: “for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day” (3:18b KJV). The discourse focused on Boaz, the central character, regarding what he said (4:1-5, 9) and did (vv. 1-2, 4-5, 9-10) to redeem Naomi and Ruth’s future. Here, Boaz would seek the elders as witnesses to the kinsman-redeemer covenanted for Naomi’s inheritance.
In ancient Israel and Judah, the city gate played a critical function in settling community affairs. Its process reflected a vertical social order governed by a patriarchal societal norm. Thus, males played the dominant role, frequently determining a woman’s fate. Occasionally, a bloody outcome resulted in surrounding events such as in Gn 34:20-25, the first mention of a gate matter involving female honor and shame. While Boaz’s business concerned a more peaceful outcome for Naomi and Ruth, they could not control the decision from their social location. The women had much at stake, impoverished from the loss of their husbands and without an heir.
For Boaz to take on the role of kinsman redeemer (3:13), it required community witness. Characteristic to a collectivist culture, he settled the matter among the people. Boaz initiated the act at the gate (v.1) and assembled ten elders and the nearer kinsman. Since the nearer would not accept the land with the provision to marry Ruth the Moabite as well, he signified his intentions by removing his shoe similar to levirate marriage tradition (Deut 25:5-10). Instead, Boaz took up the role. His redemption of Naomi and Ruth concluded with “all the people that were in the gate” (v.11) serving as witnesses. The text highlighted Boaz naming all the people and elders present as witnesses (v. 10), and they, in turn, repeating “We are witnesses” (v.11a).
The focal point occurred when Boaz announced he bought all that belonged to Elimelech, Chilion, and Mahlon from Naomi (4:9), redeeming the land. Further, he acquired Ruth the Moabitess as his wife (v.10b). Boaz’s climactic statement reminds the reader of God’s providential hand resolving Naomi and Ruth’s need for redemption, as well as echoes the types therein that shadow salvation for humankind. As if to draw attention to the redemptive act, the discourse repeated the word redeem eight times in Ru 4:4-6.
Just as Boaz restored Naomi and Ruth in covenant at the gate, Jesus’ death on the cross brought a greater redemption to fallen humanity outside the gate (Heb 13:12) in the new covenant. The gate decision resulted in a royal heir descending from the lineage of Boaz starting from Pharez (Mt 1:1-25, cf. 1 Chron 2:4-13, Ru 4:11-12). The lineage also demonstrated a transformative progression from Rahab as redeemed and her life transformed to Ruth also transformed as a virtuous woman elevated in status (3:12).
Conclusion: God’s Grace and Mercy
The story supports Judges in which “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” because Israel had no king (Judg 17:6; 18:1; 19:1). The Deuteronomic Code lay central to God’s covenant with Israel, the governing law upon living in the land of promise. Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, sojourned to Moab either temporarily or permanently. Further, his two sons married Moabite women. Deuteronomy 7:1-3 prohibited Israel from mingling with or marrying Canaanites. God’s consequences for breaking covenant historically resulted in judgment. It signaled a lack of faith in Yahweh providing for His people in the land of milk and honey by dwelling in a country that oppressed Israel.
Nevertheless, God lifted the famine from Bethlehem, which drew Naomi back to the Promised Land. There, He showed grace and mercy to Naomi and her Gentile daughter-in-law, restoring what Naomi lost and giving her provisions and an heir. Naomi found her redeemer at the gate (4:14-15). The people at the gate saw a seed the Lord would give to build the house of Israel (vv. 11-12). Through redemption at the gate came the lineage that would birth King David (v. 22) and in time fulfill the begetting of the Redeemer for all creation.