Revelation (Part 05): Ruth and Boaz
Following the deaths of Elimelech and his sons, the action in Ruth turns to Naomi, Elimelech’s wife, and her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Naomi represents Israel. Ruth represents believing Gentiles. And Orpah represents unbelieving Gentiles. Israel knew the one true God and had covenanted with God at Mt. Sinai to be his people and priests to the world. However, Israel didn’t do a very good job in showing God to the world. And neither did Naomi do too well initially in showing her Gentile daughters-in-law a way of salvation.
Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, just as Israel had followed God in leaving Egypt to return to the Promised Land. It was a return in trust to the provision of God. But as the journey commences, Naomi urges her daughters-in-law to return to their own nation. Symbolizing Israel, Naomi did show how Israel failed to be a light to the world. She urges return to their mothers (1:8), who symbolize the nations. She insists that she can’t help them, although the rest of the story tells us that there is hope through the kinsman redeemer.
From her urging, Orpah turns back. She represents those nations and people that Israel did not help. However, Ruth clung to Naomi, indicating a relationship that she treasured. The word “clung” in 1:14 is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 when God tells us that a man will leave his parents and cling to his wife. It denotes that relational union that imitates the love of God. Ruth’s declaration is a leaving off of everything else to pursue a course with Naomi, her people, and her God. We see in this those Gentiles who did leave their lands to join with Israel because they recognized in Israel the revelation of the one true God.
In chapter 2 we are introduced to Boaz, the Christ figure. Boaz is said to be a relative. The connection is emphasized as we are told immediately again that this person of noble character is from Elimelech’s family. The double emphasis with slight difference of perspective is important. He is Naomi’s relative through her husband, and he is from Elimelech’s family. Yes, that does seem to say the same thing, but it says it in different ways. Jesus is the Son of Man and the Son of God. As Son of Man, Jesus is related to us—the same as us—all in likeness from Adam as human creatures. Yet Jesus is Son of God, come from God as perfectly righteous (noble) image bearer. So as Boaz is introduced, his relationship is emphasized, I think, for this reason—to link him more closely with Christ.
In 2:2, Ruth asks Naomi whether she can glean in the fields, and Naomi tells her to go ahead. Again, the Gentile to Israel image is being shown as those who came to Israel were guided by Israel toward the law of God. Boaz sees Ruth in the field and hears of her story before she even tells it to him. Impressed with her devotion, he welcomes her and tells her to stay in the field. This is similar to Christ, seeing the heart of faith, welcoming those who come to him who he “will never cast out” (John 6:37). Boaz urges Ruth to stay “with my women” (be with God’s people) because she sought to be under God’s wings (2:12) (through faith sought the provision of God). Boaz even has her come to the place of the reapers at mealtime to partake of roasted grain—the fruit of the harvest, just as we who follow God in faith partake of his harvest of blessing.
When Ruth reports back to Naomi of all that Boaz had done, Naomi recognized Boaz as a kinsman redeemer and urged Ruth to follow him. This, again, shows Israel urging those who seek to follow their God toward faith in the Messiah.
In chapter 3 we see further evidence of continued faith and devotion of Ruth. She goes to the threshing floor where Boaz is sleeping and lies at his feet, pulling his cloak (the hem of which displays the family insignia) over her, in effect asking him to redeem. Of course, through this process we see the idea of faith electionism—a revelation/response interchange of God with us bringing us along, as faith in God’s revelation continues, to that point in which salvation is sought.
Boaz is willing to redeem. However, another kinsman is a closer relative, so Boaz must find if there is that other way for redemption to occur. Of course, this particular activity has no direct correspondence with God’s overall redemption plan except to illustrate the fact that there was no one besides Christ who could be our Redeemer.
To understand this interchange, we must understand the custom of the kinsman redeemer. Land was not owned by the people of Israel in a fee simple arrangement as we own our land in America. God owned that land and allotted it to the people in the tribe, clan, and family divisions. The people then had the right to use the land allotted to them. That land was intended to remain in that tribal-clan-family control perpetually. Elimelech had sold his allotted land during the famine and had taken the money to Moab with him. Naomi did not own this land upon Elimelech’s and his sons’ deaths. Whoever Elimelech had sold it to had control of it. However, the family of Elimelech had the right to redeem—purchase back—the land so that it could remain in that family. So Boaz asked the closest relative whether he wanted to redeem the land—pay for it and control it—since he was the closest of the family. That relative said yes, he would. It would increase his positions and offer his children a greater inheritance.
However, there was another custom. If the land was to be redeemed, the widow of the owner would also come along with the land. And further, that widow would be married to the redeemer. Any children from that union, although biologically fathered by the redeemer, would carry the name or line of the dead father. Thus, that redeemed land would go to that offspring to keep it as closely as possible in that direct line from the previous generations who owned it. The close relative decided this did not make good economic sense for him. To have to pay for land that he would turn around and give away to this child perpetuating another man’s heritage would only hurt his own children’s inheritance. He therefore declined.
Thus, there were two requirements for the kinsman redeemer: (1) you had to be a close relative, and (2) you had to want to fulfill the obligations. This is what was meant to be a worthy redeemer. Only Boaz was worthy to redeem. He was a close relative, and he wanted to do it—he wanted Ruth as his wife.
And so Boaz redeems the land and takes Ruth for a wife, and they have a child—Obed. We see in this story Christ, with the witness of the OT revelation building his church. We learn in chapter 4 that Naomi is also blessed and herself redeemed through the child just as Christ did not come to save Gentiles only but also to redeem the chosen of Israel.
One of the main points for recounting this story is to discuss how Boaz sealed the deal with the other kinsman. The kinsman took off his shoe, in the presence of witnesses, and gave it to Boaz. The practice was, in essence, vowing that he would not “walk on” (actually, try to take control of) that land he had just given up the rights to. The text tells us that that is how they used to seal deals. But by the time of the writing of Ruth, the practice had already changed. Legal agreements in Israel were sealed by writing down the terms on a scroll and sealing that scroll so that the terms would not be changed. We will look into that practice next time.