Ruth Chapter 4  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Ruth 4
Rut 4:1

“Now Boaz.” The action shifts from Ruth and Naomi to Boaz (see commentary on Ruth 3:18).

“went up.” The town was higher in elevation than the fields around it (cp. Ruth 3:3).

city gate.” In the biblical culture of the Old Testament, it was the custom that the elders of a city would sit at the city gate (Gen. 19:1, 9; Deut. 21:19; 22:15; 25:7; Josh. 20:4; Ruth 4:11; 1 Sam. 4:18; Esther 2:19, 21; 3:2; Lam. 5:14; Dan. 2:49). The fact that Bethlehem had a wall and a gate at this early time in its history shows that it was a town of some importance.

[For more on the elders at the gate, see commentary on Ruth 4:11; and for Wisdom being at the city gate, see commentary on Prov. 1:21.]

“And behold.” The word “behold” is to catch our attention, but here it adds an element of surprise. We see God’s hand at work in that the very man Boaz needed to meet with showed up at the city gate apparently not long after Boaz himself arrived.

“friend.” The Hebrew is purposely vague and does not give the man’s name even though Boaz would have known it and seems certain to have used it in this situation. A literal translation of the Hebrew text would be more like “Turn aside, such and such” or “Turn aside, certain one.” The NET goes so far as to call the man “John Doe.” The translation “friend,” done in many versions, is interpretive. Different reasons have been proposed for the book of Ruth not personally naming the man. Some have suggested personal embarrassment, although the man would have been long dead by the time the book of Ruth was written, but his clan would almost certainly been alive. Others have suggested that not naming the man may be a literary device to contrast the fact that he refused to keep the name of Elimelech’s son Mahlon alive by not marrying Ruth.

Rut 4:2

“ten men.” The Mosaic Law required two or three witnesses, but in getting ten, Boaz will make the conclusion to his case indisputable.

Rut 4:3

“is selling.” There is a huge amount of scholarly discussion about this piece of land. There are a number of possibilities based on the Hebrew text and the Law of Moses. The verb translated “is selling” is a perfect tense (past tense) verb, so one possibility is that the land had already been sold to someone outside the family because of Naomi’s situation, and now Naomi is appealing to have the land bought back by a kinsman-redeemer and brought back into the family. Another possibility is that the verb can also be taken as a participle in which case the sense would be that Naomi “has put up for sale” the land. There are some other possibilities as well. As readers, we really do not have enough information in the text to make a firm decision, and the reason is likely that the property was ancillary to the point of the record, which was about Ruth and getting her and Naomi well taken care of.

One question that remains unanswered is that the reader was more or less led to believe that Naomi was a needy widow who was being sustained through the harvest by Ruth, but could she have land to sell? And if so, how much and how much was it worth? Or, as the text can be read, it is possible that Elimelech sold the land before he left for Moab and now there is a chance to redeem it back to the clan.

“brother.” Here the word “brother” is used to mean a relative, not a literal brother from the same father or mother.

Rut 4:4

“to inform you of it.” The Hebrew text uses an idiom, “uncover your ear.”

“For there is no one to redeem it besides you.” What Boaz said must be understood in the social context. When Boaz said, “there is no one to redeem it besides you,” he meant that there was no relative closer in line to redeem it than that man he was speaking to.

What is going on at this time in Ruth is not specifically addressed in the Law. The Mosaic Law only spoke of the actual brother of the deceased man, and stipulated that a brother of the deceased would marry the widow. But it seems clear that neither Boaz nor the man he was talking to were actual brothers of Mahlon. It is therefore reasonable to assume that people understood the Law to mean that if no actual brother existed, then the next closest relative could act as the kinsman-redeemer unless, as in this case, he turned it down and another person acted as the kinsman-redeemer. Thus the door was opened for Boaz to be the kinsman-redeemer for Ruth, and Naomi would become taken care of as part of the family clan.

“I will redeem it.” Apparently, this unnamed relative was wealthy and interested in increasing his land holdings around Bethlehem.

Rut 4:5

“you buy it also from Ruth the Moabitess.” That makes sense because Ruth’s husband who died was the rightful heir, and Orpah had stayed in Moab and would likely have remarried and had Moabite children in Moab.

Rut 4:6

“serve as the kinsman-redeemer.” The verb “kinsman-redeemer” has no object in the Hebrew text, although many translations add one and read “redeem it.” The verb without the object is better translated to act or serve as the kinsman-redeemer.a

See Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth [NICOT].
Rut 4:7

“this was the custom in former times.” The custom that is described in Ruth 4:7 differs from the custom described in the Mosaic Law (Deut. 25:5-10), and also apparently differs from the custom as it was practiced at the time the book of Ruth was written down, because the custom described here in Ruth 4 was the custom as it was practiced “in former times.”

“sandal.” The custom of giving up a sandal when land is bought, sold, or exchanged likely comes from the idea that the right to walk on the land belonged to the person who owned the land, and when a person no longer had a right to walk on the land then he gave up a sandal as tangible proof the land was not his. It also was a clear proof that the deal was done. If someone had your sandal, then everyone knew you agreed to the deal.

Rut 4:8

“and he took off his sandal." Grammatically, the Hebrew text is unclear as to who took off his sandal, Boaz or the other man, but it seems the one who had the right to walk on the land received the sandal from the other person.

Rut 4:9

“all that was Elimelech’s and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s.” Although Chilion and Mahlon never had a chance to inherit from Elimelech, Boaz is old and wise and makes sure that everyone is clear about the fact that he is redeeming everything that belonged to Elimelech and his sons. No one is going to be able to come back later and say anything about the estate not belonging to Elimelech.

The text never mentions what might have happened if Orpah had decided to return with Naomi as Ruth did. Things certainly would have been more complicated, but this is a case, like so many in life, where speculation becomes a waste of time and energy.

Rut 4:10

“Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon.” This is the first time in Ruth that we learn which man married which woman. Mahlon married Ruth, so Chilion married Orpah.

“I have purchased to be my wife.” Boaz “purchased” Ruth by way of redemption. She was not purchased in the same way a slave wife was purchased.

Rut 4:11

“at the gate, and the elders.” In the biblical culture of the Old Testament, it was the custom that the elders of a city would sit at the city gate (Gen. 19:1, 9; Deut. 21:19; 22:15; 25:7; Josh. 20:4; Ruth 4:11; 1 Sam. 4:18; Esther 2:19, 21; 3:2; Lam. 5:14; Dan. 2:49; cp. Amos 5:10). Sometimes even the king of the land would sit at the gate of the city (2 Sam. 19:8; 1 Kings 22:10). Most cities had only one gate, and so everyone who went in or out of the city would have to pass through that gate. Furthermore, there was usually an open space just inside the gate so there was plenty of room for people to gather.

The elders at the gate were generally older, mature men who were the powerful men of the city. As elders and often acting as judges, they were supposed to be godly and wise, which is why “Wisdom” could be found at the city gates (cp. Prov. 1:20-21). However, it was sometimes the case that the powerful men of the city were self-centered or ungodly, in which case the advice they gave would be ungodly too. Proverbs, reflecting the wisdom of the time, advises people to get advice from a multitude of counselors, and often those wise counselors could be found at the city gate (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6).

The larger cities often had a “double gate” for security. A double gate was a gate complex consisting of an outer gate and an inner gate with a space between them. The idea behind the double gate was that if an enemy managed to break down the outer gate they would not be able to break down the inner gate because while they were trying to breach it the city defenders could shoot arrows and spears, or throw rocks, or pour boiling water or oil down on top of them from the city walls surrounding them. The Old Testament city of Lachish is a good example of that.

If the city had a double gate, sometimes the elders sat “in” the gate, in the shade between the walls. The Hebrew “in” can also usually be translated “at,” so whether the elders were “at” the gate or “in” it usually has to be determined from the archaeology of the city. For example, Bethlehem was not a big city so when it did have a wall during what archaeologists refer to as the First Temple Period, it would have been a simple wall with just one gate, not a double gate, so the elders would have sat “at” the gate, not “in” it.

[For more information on the elders at the gate, and that a person could seek wise advice there, see commentary on Prov. 1:21, “at the head of noisy streets.”]

We are witnesses!” The Hebrew is simply the people saying, “Witnesses!” The terse, emphatic answer emphasizes that the elders and people agreed that they were witnesses to the transaction that had just transpired.

“Rachel and like Leah.” The two wives of Jacob, who together with their slaves Bilhah and Zilpah, gave birth to the twelve sons of Jacob who became the twelve tribes of Israel (cp. Gen. 29-30). The fact that Rachel is first seems unusual because Leah was the first and most dominant wife and also because the women speaking were from Bethlehem in the tribal area of Judah, and Judah was Leah’s son, not Rachel’s son. It may be due to the fact that the next verse, Ruth 4:12, focuses on the descendants of Leah’s son Judah.

“do worthily…be famous in Bethlehem.” The literal Hebrew is idiomatic: “do strength and call a name in Bethlehem.”

Rut 4:12

“May your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah​.” The record of Judah, Tamar, and Tamar’s son Perez is in Genesis 38. It is likely mentioned by the women of Bethlehem because it is part of the history of their clan and the union of Judah and Tamar produced a child that contributed greatly to their clan. Other than the record of Ruth itself, the Judah-Tamar relationship is the most well-known Levirate-like sexual union in the Bible, although it is mainly well-known because of the human drama surrounding it: the selfishness, lies, and trickery. The women may have also mentioned Tamar because she was almost certainly, like Ruth, not an Israelite by birth. So by mentioning Tamar, who was honored as an ancestor of the clan, they may have also been making Ruth feel more welcome in the clan.

Boaz married Ruth in a Levirate-like marriage, and Tamar bore Perez to Judah in a Levirate-like situation (although Jacob did not know it at the time). As Genesis 38 records, Judah had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er married Tamar and died before he had children. Onan should have had children by Tamar but did not want to, and he died also. Judah did not want to give Tamar to Shelah lest he die too, so he made excuses for her not to marry Shelah. Tamar then pretended to be a prostitute and had sex with Judah, got pregnant, and bore Perez. Perez’s descendants grew into a large clan, and Boaz and Obed his son by Ruth were Perez’s descendants and also, as we later learn, were in the genealogy of Christ.

“seed.” The Hebrew is literally “seed,” which speaks of the next generation, and it refers to offspring. The farmer needs seed from this year’s crop to continue farming.

Rut 4:13

“he went to her.” An idiom for sexual intercourse.

“and Yahweh gave her conception.” This conception was miraculous in the sense that Ruth had lived with her husband for ten years and not gotten pregnant (Ruth 1:4), but now she gets pregnant by the elderly Boaz.

Rut 4:14

“who has not left you this day without a kinsman-redeemer.” The wording of the text is set in the negative, that God “has not left you without” a kinsman-redeemer. We would expect something like, “Yahweh has given you a kinsman-redeemer” (cp. Solomon’s positive statement in 1 Kings 8:56). Perhaps the negative Hebrew text, which is more literally that Yahwah “has not stopped for you a kinsman-redeemer” is emphasizing that God is not against Naomi and has not stopped blessing her, in contrast to what Naomi expressed earlier (cp. Ruth 1:20-21).

The Hebrew verb translated as kinsman-redeemer is gaal (#01350 גָּאַל), the same word that has been translated as “kinsman-redeemer” in other places in Ruth. However, in this verse, the technical meaning of “kinsman-redeemer” is not being used (for the technical meaning, see commentary on Ruth 2:20). Here in Ruth 4:14, the women are not referring to Boaz but to the new baby, Obed. The women are referring to baby Obed as a kinsman-redeemer in the non-technical sense of one who can rescue the family from trouble, which Obed would do. This is a shift in the way gaal is used in Ruth, but an understandable shift since the women saw Obed as one who gave hope to Naomi and Ruth and would support Naomi in her old age. Daniel Block writes “The birth of this child was...viewed from a practical women’s perspective, the solution to Naomi’s concerns.”a

Several lines of evidence support the use of gaal as referring to baby Obed. The flow of Ruth 4:14-17 is all about baby Obed, Boaz is not even mentioned in those verses. Also, Ruth 4:13 and 14 are tightly connected, and when baby Obed is born, the women say that Yahweh has provided a kinsman-redeemer “this day.” Obed was born that day, but Boaz buying the field and acquiring Ruth as a wife had happened many months earlier. Also, Ruth 4:15 says that Ruth has given birth to “him,” which the context points to as being the gaal, the kinsman-redeemer. One has to unnaturally break Ruth 4:14 such that the first sentence segment refers to Boaz and the second segment to Obed to not apply Ruth giving birth to the redeemer to not make gaal refer to Obed, but there is no compelling reason to make that break. Also, the women say that this “kinsman-redeemer” will be a support to Naomi in her old age, but Naomi was likely only in her mid to late 40s when Obed was born, she was not in her old age and would not be for some time. Naomi likely had her sons in her teens (girls were typically married between 12 and 14), and boys were usually married in their mid-teens, so Naomi was likely only around 30 or in her early 30s when her sons were married, and they were married for ten years before they died (Ruth 1:4). So it is most likely that Naomi was only in her early 40s when Ruth married Boaz. Although 40 years old is not considered young, neither is it considered old. For example, according to the Mosaic Law, priests were not even allowed to serve until they were 30 years old (Num. 4:3, 30). So by the time Obed was in his teens and well able to marry and offer valuable support to family members, Naomi would be in her mid to late 50s, but Boaz would almost certainly have passed away (see chronology in commentary on Ruth 4:18). So Obed would be the one who could support Naomi in her old age.

“let his name be famous in Israel.” The “his” refers to the child who will be born (cp. Ruth 4:15).

Daniel Block, Ruth [ZECOT]; see also F. Bush, Ruth and Esther [WBC]; David Jackman, Judges, Ruth, Mastering the Old Testament; de Waard and Nida, Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Ruth.
Rut 4:15

“and sustain you in your old age.” Naomi was not yet in her old age (cp. commentary on Ruth 4:14), but as baby Obed grows up he will be able to sustain Naomi and his mother Ruth as they age.

“better to you than seven sons.” The value of sons to the family can be seen by this verse and 1 Samuel 1:8, in which Elkanah said to Hannah, “Am I not better to you than ten sons?”

Rut 4:16

“and became a nurse to it.” It is available for even women who have never given birth to nurse babies, although it may take some time and extra stimulation. In Naomi’s case, she had given birth and was almost certainly young enough to nurse a child. If she was married at 13 and had her children by age 16 or 17, and they were married at age 15 or so and were married for 10 years before they died, then Naomi would be in her early to mid-40s and well able to nurse a child. However, the word “nurse” in this context can also refer to simply taking care of the child. So the text is not clear as to whether Naomi participated in the breastfeeding of Obed.

Rut 4:17

“Obed.” The name means “servant.” In the biblical culture, the women did not usually name a child, but in this case, the women knew that Obed would be a sustainer of life to Naomi (Ruth 4:15), and thus named him Obed.

“the father of David.” The fact that the book of Ruth mentions David as having already been born shows that there was a long time between the time Ruth lived and when the book of Ruth was penned. Ruth could have been written by Samuel in his old age, or by another scribe such as the one who wrote down the book of Samuel. Samuel, however, could not have written even 1 Samuel because he was dead before the events at the end of 1 Samuel took place.

Rut 4:18

“Now these are the generations of Perez​.” Perez was a son of Judah by Tamar, and he is in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:3; Luke 3:33). The genealogy of Perez has been considered incomplete by almost every scholar because the generations from Salmon to David, which are Salmon, Boaz, Obed, Jesse, and David, cover a long period of time. Those generations cover the last years of the book of Joshua, the time of the book of Judges, and the time in 1 Samuel until the birth of David. That time, from the year that Joshua crossed the Jordan and conquered Jericho, which was when Salmon would have likely married Rahab, until the birth of David, was a period of 365 years, which most scholars think is too long a time for only four generations to be born.

However, the genealogy is that of Jesus Christ, and it is given four times in Scripture and all four genealogies completely agree (Ruth 4:18-22; 1 Chron. 2:4-15; Matt. 1:3-6; Luke 3:31-33). While it is true that some genealogies in the Bible are incomplete, the genealogy in Matthew 1 being a famous example, no genealogy that is recorded in the Bible in exactly the same way in four different books had ever been shown to be incomplete. Furthermore, the genealogy in Luke has never been shown to be incomplete, so it seems that even if the other three genealogies were to skip some generations in David’s line, Luke would not. The reason that the genealogy of David has been assumed to be incomplete is based on the assumption that there is too much time between Salmon and David to bridge that gap in four generations. But while covering that time period in four generations seems unlikely, it is not impossible.

If we take the genealogy in Ruth, Chronicles, Matthew, and Luke as being accurate, then we have a huge key as to when the book of Ruth and other events occurred in the Judges period. Spanning the time gap in Judges requires that the fathering age of the men in the genealogy be between 90 and 100 years, which is not the norm, but neither is it impossible, especially when we consider that God was working behind the scenes to build the genealogy to Christ, which had already had divine intervention with Abraham, Isaac (Jacob was born when Isaac was 60), and Jacob (Jacob married Rachel and Leah at age 84, then started having children). The Bible names some people who, after the Flood, either fathered children at age 100 or older, or could have, for example, Shem (Gen. 11:10-11), Abraham (Gen. 21:5), and Moses (Deut. 34:7). Also, Caleb at age 85 said he was as strong as he was at age 45 (Josh. 14:10-11) and so it seems he could have fathered children then and for years to come.

The Bible implies that Boaz was an old man when he married Ruth (Ruth 3:10), and it says that Jesse was an old man while David was still very young (1 Sam. 17:12), so we have some solid biblical evidence that the men of those generations were very old. Also, it is generally the case that older men do not father children because their wives have stopped being able to bear children. But in the biblical culture older men often married much younger women, and that could have happened with at least three of the four men in this genealogy, and especially so since the men in this genealogy seem to be men of means. For example, we know that Ruth was young but married Boaz when he was an old man, and part of her reason for that was so she and Naomi could be well taken care of. Also, long life runs in families, and we already know that at least two of the four men were old when they had sons, so that makes it more likely that the other men in the genealogy could have had long fertile lives as well.

Salmon’s age when he married Rahab, and when Rahab gave birth to Boaz are not known, but Salmon would have normally had to have been 20 years old to be counted in the army (Num. 1:3), although in the case of the conquest of Canaan younger men might have joined the fight. Men who fought would have the privilege of taking a wife of the women who were captive (Deut. 21:10-12). So Salmon could have been quite young when he married Rahab and not have fathered a son in the genealogy of Christ for many years.

The time span for the genealogy from Salmon to the birth of David can be calculated in part by knowing that there were 480 years from the Exodus to the fourth year of Solomon, when the Temple foundation was laid (1 Kings 6:1). So the time span would be 480 minus 4 years for Solomon, minus 71 years for David’s life and reign (he was born the year before he turned one year old), minus the 40 years wandering in the desert before crossing the Jordan and conquering Jericho, and that would equal 365 years. For that 365 years to be spanned by the life of Salmon, Boaz, Obed, and Jesse before their sons in the genealogy of Christ were born would mean that the average age of those men when their sons were born was 365 divided by 4, or an average of just over 91years old. This is unusual, but not impossible.

A hypothetical but possible reconstruction of the 365 years could be that Salmon crossed the Jordan as one of Joshua’s soldiers at 20 years old and given birth to Boaz 73 years later, at age 94, early in the judgeship of Ehud. Then Boaz married Ruth as an old man at age 96 and gave birth that same year to Obed in the judgeship of Deborah. Then Obed married and gave birth to Jesse at the old age of 98 during the judgeship of Jair. Then Jesse gave birth to David when he was 97. These numbers could be moved around somewhat with some men being a few years younger while other men would then be a few years older, for example, if one of the men got his wife pregnant when he was 115, then other men would not have had to have been as old to fill the time gap. The point is that the genealogy from Salmon to David that is recorded exactly the same way in four different books of the Bible can be the correct genealogy, and it makes more sense to believe what the Bible says in four different places than to doubt it simply because it seems unlikely.

“Perez was the father of Hezron.” The Hebrew uses an active verb, that Perez fathered Hezron.

Rut 4:19(top)
Rut 4:20

“Salmon.” Salmon married Rahab the Canaanite prostitute who was spared from the destruction of Jericho (Matt. 1:5; see commentary on Josh. 2:1).

Rut 4:21(top)
Rut 4:22(top)

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