Week of Aug. 28: Story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz is one of redemption
Lesson Scripture: Ruth 4:1-10
The desire for children is a common, though not universal, desire of husbands and wives. That desire was so strong and so universal in biblical times, particularly for male children, that laws were formulated to deal with this concern.
Deuteronomy 25:5-10 spells out such a law. Here it is prescribed that if a man marries and dies without leaving a male child, the man's brother or next nearest kin shall marry his widow and seek to raise up children for him. If children are born to this marriage, they will be considered the children of the deceased man, and will also be his heirs and thus the inheritors of his property.
A law of redemption
Naomi told Ruth that this was a law they should call into action. It was this law that caused Ruth to "propose" to Boaz. Ruth, upon Naomi's direction, went to Boaz's threshing floor at night and lay down at his feet where he was sleeping. Imagine how startled he was when he awoke about midnight and discovered that a woman was lying at his feet. He must have been startled even more when she said to him: "Spread your cloak over your maidservant, for you are next-of-kin."
That was a proposal, I suppose! But it had some justification, because she was simply asking him to fulfill the Law, to do what the Law required.
When Ruth returned to Naomi's house, loaded down with grain Boaz had given her, and reported on the night's activities, Naomi told her they would not have to wait long to see how Boaz would deal with the situation. She was right. Boaz went to work immediately, and before noon the whole town knew what was going to happen.
Boaz took his seat at the gate of the town and waited until a kinsman came along, the only one nearer kin to Ruth's deceased husband than he was. This man had "first refusal" on the property which had belonged to his kinsman, Elimelech, Naomi's deceased husband. Boaz told this unnamed man that Elimelech's property was for sale to the nearest kin. The man was eager to buy the property, but when Boaz told him a wife came with it, he changed his mind! He saw this as jeopardizing his own inheritance, and so he opted out.
A decision certified
At that time, the people had an interesting means of certifying such a decision. In the presence of 10 elders of the city, the next-of-kin took off one of his sandals and gave it to Boaz, saying: "Acquire it for yourself." Boaz said to the elders, "Today you are witnesses that I have acquired from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon (Elimelech's and Naomi's sons). I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man's name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred . . ."
Was Boaz buying a wife? Was Ruth to be his property? There can be no doubt that marriage in those days carried implications of ownership. But that is not really what is meant here. The whole process described in Ruth 4 is called "redemption." Boaz was redeeming the property of Elimelech. He was buying it back, saving it for Elimelech's family. He was also redeeming or saving Mahlon's widow--and Naomi in the process.
So to understand what was happening, we need to think more in terms of saving than in terms of buying. Naomi and Ruth needed someone to help them in significant ways, and observance of the Law brought that help to them.
Hope for the future
Ruth and Naomi's situation changed radically when Boaz took Ruth as his wife! Now they would not have to live in poverty or in fear of physical harm. There was now a strong man to protect them and to provide for them. But even more important to Naomi and Ruth, there was now the possibility of the creation of new life, of a baby being born who would call Ruth "Mother" and would call Naomi "Grandmother."
When that possibility was fulfilled and became a reality, there was rejoicing in all of Bethlehem. It is interesting that the congratulations were given to Naomi. "Blessed be the Lord," the women of Bethlehem said to her, "who has not left you this day without next of kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel." It was a son that was born to Ruth and Boaz. The women said to Naomi, "He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him." The hopes and dreams of all their years were being fulfilled in the birth of that little boy.
Who was that little boy? The women named him Obed, which means "worshiper." the storyteller states in a matter-of-fact way that he became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David, Israel's greatest king!
Many centuries later, when writers were telling of the birth of another baby boy in Bethlehem, they traced his ancestry back to David and Jesse and Obed. In time people in Bethlehem and all across the world would call him Redeemer, Savior, Lord.
Rev. Herchel Sheets is an author and retired pastor. E-mail him at HHSheets@aol.com.