Last week followed Naomi and Ruth’s return to Bethlehem and saw how Ruth “happened” to go to the fields of Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband (2:20). Naomi saw the Lord’s kindness at work in this circumstance for she said Boaz was “a close relative ours, one of our redeemers.”
This element in the story of Ruth combines two of the books major themes: the Lord’s kindness (in Hebrew, hesed) and redemption. As discussed last week, the Lord’s hesed is his never ending, never changing, faithful covenant love for his people. When Naomi and Ruth are in the near-hopeless situation of being childless widows, the Lord’s hesed is expressed in seeing to their redemption.
We have to wade into some of the high weeds of ancient Hebrew culture here. Two traditions of the Hebrews are in play: the levir and the go’el. The practice of levirate marriage was a way of making sure the name of man who died without children still could be preserved (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). If a man died without having children, it was the duty of his brother to have children with his widow on behalf of the deceased. In this way, his name would be carried on, and his widow would be protected. If there was no brother, it would go to the father or the next of kin.
Then there is the go’el, the redeemer. The redeemer was the next of kin who would buy the land that had to be sold by an impoverished family member (Leviticus 25:23-25). If I found myself in debt and had to sell my land, my next of kin would try to redeem it from whoever I sold it so it could stay in the family and be passed back to my line.
So when Naomi said God was being kind to the living and the dead in 2:20, she was making reference to what she said next: Boaz is a redeemer. The line of her husband would not disappear. She and Ruth could be cared for. God made a way for them to be provided for.
This is why Naomi tells Ruth in chapter 3 to go and basically propose marriage to Boaz. She is instructed to go and let him know he is a redeemer for her and ask his protection. Boaz responds favorably, seeing in Ruth the kindness of looking to him rather than a younger man (3:10). However, he notes there was someone else who was a closer relative, who therefore had the first right to redeem the line of Naomi and Ruth.
The next day, Boaz goes to the city gates to give this closer relative the right of first refusal in buying the land of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. At first, this closer relative agreed to redeem the land, but when Boaz let him know he also would be responsible for Ruth and for perpetuating the family line, he changed his mind. He said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance” (4:6).
This nearer redeemer does a cost-benefit analysis in his mind, and clearly this is going to be costly to him—so much so he’s afraid for his inheritance. What exactly does he mean? He knows how much this could cost him.
So he gives up his right, and he also dismisses his responsibility. “No, no … . You do it,” he tells Boaz. And I have to wonder, for myself and for you, who am I more like? Who are you more like? Boaz or the other guy?
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The truth is, you have to admit, we are inclined to be the other guy. We aren’t naturally inclined to sacrifice this much on behalf others. God calls us to show kindness to others, to give to the poor, to support the ministries of the church and we just aren’t willing to go past a certain point. And we can think we are being very, very reasonable. We can even be like this other guy and blame it on our kids: “I want to leave them an inheritance.”
But you know what is ironic? This other man who was in line ahead of Boaz, who was so concerned about the legacy he would leave, who did not want to destroy his inheritance to carry on his name … well, we don’t know his name. He is nameless in the Bible.
Redeeming Naomi and Ruth made very little sense according to the world’s reasoning. There was not much advantage economically, socially or in any other measurable way. Yet God provided for them a redeemer who acted on the basis of kindness, hesed, covenant love, rather than worldly wisdom.
The result was Boaz and Ruth got married and had a baby (4:13). When Naomi had returned to Bethlehem, she was surrounded by the women of the village, bemoaning the bitter life God had given her (1:20). But the book closes with a beautiful scene that shows what God really was doing. These same women praise the Lord for his kindness to Naomi as she holds her grandbaby in her lap (4:14-16).
Grandma Naomi helped raise baby Obed, and as he grew up, I’m sure she told him the story of God’s faithful love and kindness to their family. He heard the story of the drought, of the gleaning in the field, of Ruth’s request for shelter in the wings of Boaz, of the threat of another redeemer, of a wedding celebration.
Decades later, the very same eyes that looked up at Naomi would look down at his own grandchild, David (4:22). And as David grew up, his father Jesse and grandfather Obed would tell him the same stories they had heard about God’s faithful loving-kindness.
Imagine how Obed’s heart felt when little David ran up to him, lyre in hand, and sang the new song he just wrote about God: “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. … How precious is your steadfast, loving kindness, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 36:5, 7).
Yes, Obed was a child given by the Lord, but neither Obed nor his son Jesse would fulfill all the Lord’s promises to his people. For a time, the people thought that in David all of God’s promises would be fulfilled. God even had promised to establish the throne of David forever (2 Samuel 7). But David let the people down; he disobeyed God, and the nation eventually was enslaved again and exiled.
But God is faithful. He is good. And from this very family line, from the line of Ruth and Boaz, of Jesse and David, came our Redeemer who would never fail, Jesus Christ. The very closing verses of Ruth, the official genealogy provided there, are quote in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.
Naomi nearly missed God’s big plans because she was so focused on the bitterness in her life at that moment. We often are endangered by the same temptation. But God’s hesed never changes, never fails. His covenant love has provided for us a Redeemer who takes us under the shelter of his cross and gives us all we need and more.
The Book of Ruth ultimately is about God’s faithfulness to redeem his people. He did not forsake Naomi or Ruth. He will not forsake us. We “were redeemed … not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Take shelter under his wings.