The romance between Ruth and Boaz is hanging in the balance. Boaz is bursting at the seams with love for Ruth, but she might be just out of his reach. A man is now standing in the way of their happy ever after. What will happen? Find out now.
Sealed with a Sandal
The Book of Ruth opens with three funerals, but closes with a wedding. There is a good deal of weeping recorded in the first chapter, but the last chapter records an overflowing of joy. Now, not all of life’s events have a happy ending; but this little book reminds the Christian especially, that it is God who writes the last chapter.
Adapted from Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Committed (Victor Books, 1993), p. 51
And in this particular Book, the last chapter couldn’t be more dramatically different than the first chapter.
When the curtain rose on this drama, there were 3 funerals and 3 widows.
It will close with a wedding scene and a baby boy.
When we began our study through the book of Ruth, I referred to the fact that most dads have spent quite a bit of time reading fairytales to their little girls.
Those old fairytales were the best. And if you recall what you read, eventually the prince would have to do something heroic.
Whether it was climb a tower or search the kingdom or slay a dragon . . . eventually the prince had to take charge.
My daughters would want their daily dose of fairytale excitement and often before bed they would as me to read a story from one of their large, colorful books. I’d pull their leg by saying, “Tell you what, I’ll make up a fairytale tonight.” They’d giggle in delight at the thought of a homespun story.
I would simply say, “Once upon a time . . . the end” and lay my head back on the chair as if to go to sleep.
“Daddy, that’s not a real story. You can’t tell a story with Once upon a time and The end so close together . . . you gotta have something in the middle.”
I’m afraid we, especially older Christians who’ve read all the stories before tend to treat the Bible like that.
- You remember when Esther became the queen? Yea she won the contest and then saved her people! Um . . . what happened in the middle?
- You remember when Daniel went to Babylon? Yep, he was thrown into the lion’s den? But what happened in between?
- You remember when Jesus went to the cross? Oh, yes, and He rose again. True, but what happened in between?
Do you remember the story of Ruth? Yea, she was a widow and Boaz married her . . . isn’t that great?!
That’s like saying, “Once upon a time . . . the end.”
Not so fast . . . we still need to see the prince take charge.
One of the most intriguing scenes in this drama happens to be at the city gate, where Boaz challenged the other potential redeemer in a strategic battle of wits.
Thus far, we’ve observed 3 months of courtship and a midnight proposal. Boaz and Ruth have whispered of their love out there on the threshing floor.
But we also discovered a problem – a big one. There is another prince, who has the legal right to the fair princess.
This is where it really gets interesting.
Ruth 4:1. Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2. He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down.
Let’s set this scene for what will happen next.
The city gate was literally the open area inside the town entrance where business was generally transacted.
A. Boyd Luter & Barry C. Davis, God Behind the Seen (Baker, 1995), p. 67
It was at the gate where elders sat and heard legal cases and passed legal judgment. It was at the city gate where civil plans were discussed. What was decided at the gate was the final word.
Stanley Collins, Courage and Submission (Regal Books, 1975), p. 33
By the way, this illuminates what Jesus Christ meant when He promised his disciples. I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it (Matthew 16:18). In other words, all the plans and schemes and decisions and even the final word of Hell will never crush the church.
Now you perhaps noticed that Boaz has invited ten elders to sit down and hear out this matter. Ten elders were the minimum needed to fill a quorum for a legal proceeding. So, as soon as Boaz meets the legal quorum, he’s ready to go.
And at just that moment, verse 1 informs us, this other kinsman redeemer just so happened to walk by.
Obviously, Samuel wants us to know that God is providentially arranging the details – above and beyond what that Boaz was capable of thinking through.
Then he said to the closest relative – literally, the goel/redeemer – Naomi who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech (verse 3).
Most believe the word “brother” in this context is a broad term indicating clan relation, rather than an immediate family member. In other words, the land belonged to the clan of Elimelech.
These are the opening lines of Boaz.
Paraphrased in our vernacular, Boaz would have been casually informing this older man, “Hey, you know that piece of land Naomi has inherited from her deceased husband – you know, she can’t do anything with it on account of the fact that her sons also died; well you’re the next in line so if you want it, you ought to go ahead and buy it.
If Boaz was a poker player, he would win at every hand; talk about a cool demeanor around his beating heart!
Not that I know anything about poker, I’m just saying . . . in fact, I can’t even play Rook all that well. My girls loved tearing me to shreds.
Part of my problem was that whenever I got a good card in my hand, everybody knew it. They could read the sheer delight all over my face . . . everybody knew, Daddy just got a match!
Not Boaz . . . he’s as cool as a cucumber
He continues; 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.” (verse 4)
Again, paraphrased, “I just thought I’d let you know I’m interested in that land as well . . . so, if you want it, go ahead and buy it since you’re first in line . . . but if you don’t want it, well, I might as well buy it for myself.”
Have you ever tried to mask your emotions as you’ve interviewed for a job you really wanted. It offers twice the pay, three times the vacation and a company car. On the outside, you’re cool and composed during the interview. But on the inside, you’re down on your knees begging, “Please, give me this job.”
And at the end of the interview, when they say, “We’ll hire you! When can you start?” you say, “Well let me check my calendar.”
On the outside, Boaz is feigning only the slightest interest. On the inside, Boaz is begging, “Please don’t redeem this property.”
The truth is, Boaz already assumed this man would agree to buy the land.
And that’s exactly why he started the discussion about the land without mentioning two widows who came with it. Boaz wanted the last bit of news to be placed negatively in such a way as to overpower the positive prospect of available land for sale.
In the same way, someone will say to you, “Do you want the bad news or the good news first?” You normally respond with, “Give me the bad news first.” Why? Because you know that no matter how bad it is, good news is just around the corner and it will more than likely compensate for the bad news.
Boaz reverses the order – he starts with the good news. He shrewdly knows that the following bad news will probably overpower the good news and render it unsavory.
Hey, a piece of land just came on the market and you’ve got first dibs on it . . . you interested? And the man answers in “I will redeem it.’” Absolutely!
I’m sure Boaz’s heart skipped a beat . . . but from studying his strategy, I believe he fully expected it.
Now watch this – Boaz continues; 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 (verse 5).
What incredible strategy.
Sure enough, this potential redeemer hadn’t thought about Naomi or Ruth.
Boaz eliminates any enthusiasm this man might have had over a good land deal by layering out the bad news, one piece at a time.
Look back at verse 5 again – just a little slower.
- On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must – note that – you must!
- also redeem Ruth – who’s she?
- the Moabitess – our ancient enemies; pagan idolaters!
- the widow of the deceased – there’s a pagan widow you’ll be required to marry when you buy the land;
- in order to raise up the name of the deceased – you’ll be responsible to give her an heir
- to raise him up on his inheritance – so you can give the child this piece of land you just bought, as their inheritance!
Let me say paraphrase the bad news for Boaz; “Oh and by the way, if you redeem the land – you’ll have to care for a widow named Naomi as well as marry her Moabitess daughter-in-law widow and give her an heir that you name after her first husband – and then when the boy reaches manhood, you will, according to Mosaic law, give him that piece of property as his inheritance.”
So whatever you buy today, you're going to have to give away later! I just thought you might want to know all of that before you buy the land.
As quickly as this guy said, “I’ll buy it,” he’s now looking for a fire escape.
He has to care for Naomi
He has to marry a foreign woman from Moab
He has to purchase land
He has to raise a child with this Gentile widow
He has to give away the land to that child
He will lose whatever he’s invested in the property
And the son he might have with Ruth will not even have his name, but the name of his wife’s deceased husband!
Who in the world would want to do such a thing?
There’s only one person willing to do any of that – the man who just so happens to be in love with the widow!
That overrules everything.
The closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. (verse 6a)
That’s a long way of saying, “There’s no way I want to do all that . . . besides, I don’t want to jeopardize my own financial standing with a purchase that becomes a debt. And I certainly don’t want to mix my clan with Gentile offspring . . . especially from a Moabitess . . . the deals off.”
He went on to say the words that Boaz was hoping so desperately to hear – Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it (verse 6b).
The Hebrew text records Boaz shouting “Yeeeeeha!”
You’ll just have to take my word on that.
The decision is ratified in their traditional manner; Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter; a man removed his sandal and gave it to another; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. 8. So the closest relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he removed his sandal (verses 7-8).
What an interesting custom.
In the Old Testament, shoes and feet symbolized ownership and possession.
The Lord gave mankind the rule over creation and David the psalmist put it this way – “You, Oh God, have put all things under his feet.” (Psalm 8:6)
The people of Israel were told by the Lord that wherever the sole of their foot treads will be given to him as an inheritance (Deuteronomy 11:24).
The reverse was just as meaningful. In Exodus 3:5, when Moses met with God at the burning bush, God had Moses remove his sandals as a symbol that Moses owned nothing but God owned everything.
Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 251
So when this near relative took off his sandal and gave it to Boaz, he symbolized that he was not going to own that land – his feet wouldn’t walk on that land, so to speak.
The sandal transfer indicated this transfer of power. He was literally saying, “Boaz, you can walk in my sandals – you can walk the path, in my place.”
And that also meant that Boaz could walk down that wedding aisle in this man’s place and take Ruth as his bride.
Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people. “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to by my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.” (verses 9-10)
Boaz wants to make sure the legal language is recorded in the minutes. He has a quorum of elders and witnesses from among the people who’ve gathered around. He doesn’t want any misunderstanding later. He repeats every possible detail, including all the names of the parties involved.
Can you imagine how the other kinsman redeemer, right about now – knows that Boaz had planned for this outcome, all along!
It didn’t matter . . . he didn’t want his name or family inheritance jeopardized!
By the way – do you happen to know the name of this barefoot redeemer?
No one does.
The man who didn’t want to jeopardize his name through marriage with Ruth; the man who wanted to protect his name from Gentile blood; the man who avoided God’s intention within his law of redemption . . . his name has been forgotten.
By the way, did Boaz ruin his name or reputation? Not on your life.
In fact, years later after Boaz and Ruth had died, when Solomon built that massive temple to God’s glory, two bronze columns stood freely on the outer porch and every man or woman who walked between them could see the names of two men etched into the columns – one name on the left column and one name on the right column – names whose meanings represented the character of God; men who had lived out godly character. One of the names etched into those two columns was the name – Boaz.
Who was that barefoot redeemer? We don’t know.
But throughout history the story of a prince named Boaz and a princess named Ruth lives on.
And now all the people respond with prophetic precision – all the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem (verses 11-12).
These people have no idea how their blessing will one day come true.
Ruth will become the great grandmother of King David. Boaz and Ruth will continue the line through which our Lord Jesus Christ will come – the Great Kinsman Redeemer.
Unfortunately, Ruth chapter 4 doesn’t give us any details of the wedding; the wedding garments, the feasting or the days of celebration. It simply tells us that the bride and groom were together at last.
The prince has rescued the princess in the end.
But I’ve wondered; why would this godly Jewish man be interested, and open, to a foreign widow?
Why would a godly man like Boaz jeopardize his good name by mixing it with a Moabitess; having children that are half-Jew and half-Gentile; having his name whispered about when he rode into town that this was the man who married a former idolater.
Why would this prince risk his reputation?
Obviously, Boaz trusted Ruth’s commitment to Israel’s God. She had not converted in her faith for position or money or advantage. In fact, following after God had meant that Ruth walked away from every possible source of security.
The virtue of her testimony was to him the appealing factor.
But she also reminded him of someone. Boaz already knew the testimony of a Gentile woman who had left her country and her heritage and her idols to follow after the God of Abraham.
His own mother.
Boaz’s mother had followed after Israel, converting from idolatry to faith in the true and living God after the walls of Jericho fell before the Israelites.
Later on, a Jewish man by the name of Salmon married his mother, a foreign Gentile woman with a past. They would both end up in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, in Matthew chapter 1.
Boaz was willing to do the very same thing his father had done years before.
Boaz was not deterred by Ruth’s past.
He knew the testimony of his mother who’d left her sinful past as a prostitute and devoted the rest of her life to the laws of God’s holiness and purity. He had heard that testimony from his own mother’s lips as she explained how she had been known throughout the city of Jericho as one of the resident harlot.
He knew the pain that caused her and the gratitude she felt for God’s grace.
Boaz also knew that his father had been willing to risk his good name by marrying a woman with a past – but more importantly, a woman with a present devotion to God.
Like father, like son.
Think of it; Boaz isn’t afraid to trust his future children to the care of a former Gentile idolater because he had been a child raised by a former Gentile idolater – a woman listed in Hebrews 11 as Rahab, the harlot.
Isn’t it wonderful to see how God prepared Boaz’s heart to love a Gentile bride and become her kinsman redeemer?
Don’t forget, your kinsman redeemer, Jesus Christ, redeems people with a past. In fact, He has chosen a bride that carries both Jewish and Gentile blood.
He is a mixed breed too. Our Kinsman Redeemer descended from Rahab . . . and Ruth.
And His love for us has not sullied His name yet. It has not jeapordized His reputation, but enhanced it with undiminished beauty.
He is the Kinsman Redeemer of grace!