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The Book of Ruth, part 21, The court case

Jun 25, 2019

It was not Boaz’ duty to marry Ruth. There was a closer kinsman whose duty it was, whether it was an older man such as Elimelech’s brother or his brother’s son. We are not told, and so the identity of that closer kinsman has remained deliberately anonymous. No doubt this was to protect the family from unnecessary shame.

Boaz loved Ruth and wanted to marry her, so he took the initiative into his own hands. We read in Ruth 4:1,

1 Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the closest relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down.

Once again, the scene opens with an apparent coincidence that reveals the hidden hand of God at work. The author lets us know that Boaz simply followed the leading of the Spirit, and it happened that the nearer kinsman passed by the gate of the town. By this we know that God was directing the events according to His sovereign will to bring about the right marriage that would bring forth the heir, the grandfather of David, the future king of Israel.

Boaz called to his anonymous kinsman, saying, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” The NASB calls him “friend,” which is not a proper term to use in a redemption story. A “friend” does not have redemption rights, though he may redeem property if the current owner agrees to it. Instead, the Hebrew text uses the term peloniy almoniy, which more literally means “so and so” or “such and such.” The KJV says, “Ho, such a one.”

The author (Samuel, I believe) went out of his way to use anonymous terminology. All we really know for sure is that he was a close relative and that Boaz knew him personally.

The City Gate

The gate of the city was the public courtroom, the place where the judges sat to judge disputes or, as in this case, to settle legal matters. Hence, Genesis 19:1 says that “Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom” when the two angels came to investigate. Lot was thus a judge in Sodom.

We also read in Genesis 22:15 that God appeared to Abraham the second time to confirm the promise, and there He added more blessings on account of Abraham’s willingness to give up his son, Isaac. Genesis 22:17 says,

17 Indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed will possess the gate of their enemies.

The blessing of many children was part of the first revelation in Genesis 12:2 that promised to make him “a great nation,” and this was repeated in Genesis 17:6, saying, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful.” However, it was only after Abraham had given the promise (Isaac) back to God that the blessing of possessing “the gate” was added. It meant that the seed of Abraham would govern and judge the nations. And, of course, the seed of Abraham, Paul says, includes all who are in unity with Abraham by exhibiting his New Covenant faith (Galatians 3:7, 29).

In Genesis 23:10 and 18 Abraham purchased a burial cave, and the transaction was recorded officially  “at the gate of his city,” where the judges were sitting.

Calling the Court Session

Ruth 4:2 says,

2 He [Boaz] took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down.

In a small town, it would not take long to gather ten elders who had the authority to judge at the gate. Instead of having jurors as such, the ten judges formed a panel that decided matters by consensus.

The Status of the Property

The hearing itself began in Ruth 4:3,

3 Then he said to the closest relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech.”

The wording in the NASB makes it appear that Naomi (really, Elimelech) had not sold the land before moving to Moab. We are given the impression that Naomi was now bankrupt and needed to sell the property to raise money on which to support herself. But if that were the case, why would the kinsman redeemer be called upon to purchase it? Why would Boaz have to defer to that kinsman redeemer? Property could be sold to anyone, regardless of kinship.

It is only when property is sold to a stranger—or to someone outside of the family—that a kinsman is called upon to redeem both the property and the kinsman-slave himself. The law gives the right of redemption to the kinsman, and as long as the kinsman was able to pay the price, the previous purchaser did not have the right to deny the kinsman his right (Leviticus 25:47, 48, 49, 50).

It seems obvious that Elimelech had sold his property when he moved to Moab, for why would he leave the land empty and unproductive? Would he not want to sell the land in Bethlehem so that he might rent or buy a house in Moab? When Elimelech died, Naomi returned to Bethlehem but did not have the means to redeem the family estate. In such cases, the law commanded a near kinsman to buy it if he had the means to do so. In such a case, the redeemed property and the redeemed people were to serve their kinsman redeemer until the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:53, 54).

The problem was that Boaz himself did not have the first right of redemption. If he had gone to the present owners of the property and offered to purchase it, they could have refused his request. The “so and so” nearest kinsman also possessed the lawful right to marry Ruth, and so Boaz could not overstep those lawful boundaries and marry her without running the risk of having the “so and so” kinsman deciding to assert his right.

The laws of redemption in Leviticus 25 did not specify the order in which redemption rights were dispensed. We see nowhere that the nearest kinsman had the first right of redemption over other kinsmen. Naomi’s case gives us this detail through an example of case law.

Redeem All or Nothing

We also learn that the right of redemption involved a package deal, where the redeemer had to redeem both the property and the people involved. In this case, the redeemer was not allowed to take what he pleased and leave the rest. It was all or nothing.

In Ruth 4:4 Boaz says,

4 So I thought to inform you, saying, “Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.”

“So and so” was willing to redeem the property, even as Boaz was willing to recognize his right of redemption. However, the situation changed when Boaz informed him of his duty to marry Ruth if he chose to redeem the property. Ruth 4:5 continues,

5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.”

Well, that changed everything! Boaz had gone to court by himself, keeping Ruth far away in case “so and so” might catch a glimpse of her beauty. Likewise, Boaz made sure that “so and so” knew that she was a Moabitess, which certainly did not put her in a favorable light. It is likely that “so and so” had not met Ruth and knew nothing of her faith or beauty, and Boaz made sure that he remained in a state of informed ignorance.

Ruth 4:6 says,

6 And the closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it.”

We are not told how marrying Ruth might jeopardize his own inheritance. Obviously, he had the money to pay the redemption price. Marrying Ruth would not add to the cost of redemption. It may be that he was already married and that a prenuptial agreement had forbidden that he should marry another. This appears to have been the agreement when Jacob married the daughters of Laban (Genesis 31:50). Jacob had two concubines, the handmaids of Leah and Rachel, but they were not full wives, so this did not violate his agreement with Laban.

Whatever the case, the reason that “so and so” could not claim his redemption right was not important enough to include in the story. We are only told that “I cannot redeem it.” He did not say, “I do not wish to redeem it,” which would imply a preference. The implication is that for some reason he was not allowed to marry her, as this would violate a prior contract.

This is part 21 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Ruth" To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Ruth

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones