Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Boaz Marries Ruth - Ruth 4
To redeem the promise he had given to Ruth, Boaz went the next morning to the gate of the city, and calling to the nearer redeemer as he passed by, asked him, before the elders of the city, to redeem the piece of land which belonged to Elimelech and had been sold by Naomi; and if he did this, at the same time to marry Ruth, to establish the name of the deceased upon his inheritance (Rut 4:1-5). But as he renounced the right of redemption on account of the condition attached to the redemption of the field, Boaz undertook the redemption before the assembled people, together with the obligation to marry Ruth (Rut 4:6-12). The marriage was blessed with a son, who became the father of Jesse, the father of David (Rut 4:13-17). The book closes with a genealogical proof of the descent of David from Perez (Rut 4:18-22).
"Boaz had gone up to the gate, and had sat down there." This circumstantial clause introduces the account of the further development of the affair. The gate, i.e., the open space before the city gate, was the forum of the city, the place where the public affairs of the city were discussed. The expression "went up" is not to be understood as signifying that Boaz went up from the threshing-floor where he had slept tot the city, which was situated upon higher ground, for, according to Rut 3:15, he had already gone to the city before he went up to the gate; but it is to be explained as referring to the place of justice as an ideal eminence to which a man went up (vid., Deu 17:8). The redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken - that is to say, the nearer relation of Elimelech - then went past, and Boaz requested him to come near and sit down. סוּר as in Gen 19:2, etc.: "Sit down here, such a one." אלמני פּלני, any one, a certain person, whose name is either unknown or not thought worth mentioning (cf. Sa1 21:3; Kg2 6:8). Boaz would certainly call him by his name; but the historian had either not heard the name, or did not think it necessary to give it.
Boaz then called ten of the elders of the city as witnesses of the business to be taken in hand, and said to the redeemer in their presence, "The piece of field which belonged to our brother (i.e., our relative) Elimelech (as an hereditary family possession), Naomi has sold, and I have thought (lit. 'I said,' sc., to myself; cf. Gen 17:17; Gen 27:41), I will open thine ear (i.e., make it known, disclose it): get it before those who sit here, and (indeed) before the elders of my people." As the field had been sold to another, getting it (קנה) could only be accomplished by virtue of the right of redemption. Boaz therefore proceeded to say, "If thou wilt redeem, redeem; but if thou wilt not redeem, tell me, that I may know it: for there is not beside thee (any one more nearly entitled) to redeem, and I am (the next) after thee." היּשׁבים is rendered by many, those dwelling, and supposed to refer to the inhabitants of Bethlehem. But we could hardly think of the inhabitants generally as present, as the word "before" would require, even if, according to Rut 4:9, there were a number of persons present besides the elders. Moreover they would not have been mentioned first, but, like "all the people" in Rut 4:9, would have been placed after the elders as the principal witnesses. On these grounds, the word must be taken in the sense of sitting, and, like the verb in Rut 4:2, be understood as referring to the elders present; and the words "before the elders of my people" must be regarded as explanatory. The expression יגאל (third pers.) is striking, as we should expect the second person, which is not only found in the Septuagint, but also in several codices, and is apparently required by the context. It is true that the third person may be defended, as it has been by Seb. Schmidt and others, on the assumption that Boaz turned towards the elders and uttered the words as addressed to them, and therefore spoke of the redeemer as a third person: "But if he, the redeemer there, will not redeem." But as the direct appeal to the redeemer himself is resumed immediately afterwards, the supposition, to our mind at least, is a very harsh one. The person addressed said, "I will redeem." Boaz then gave him this further explanation (Rut 4:5): "On the day that thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou buyest it of the hand of Ruth the Moabitess, of the wife of the deceased (Mahlon, the rightful heir of the field), to set up (that thou mayest set up) the name of the deceased upon his inheritance." From the meaning and context, the form קניתי must be the second pers. masc.; the yod at the end no doubt crept in through an error of the pen, or else from a ו, so that the word is either to be read קנית (according to the Keri) or קניתו, "thou buyest it." So far as the fact itself was concerned, the field, which Naomi had sold from want, was the hereditary property of her deceased husband, and ought therefore to descend to her sons according to the standing rule of right; and in this respect, therefore, it was Ruth's property quite as much as Naomi's. From the negotiation between Boaz and the nearer redeemer, it is very evident that Naomi had sold the field which was the hereditary property of her husband, and was lawfully entitled to sell it. But as landed property did not descend to wives according to the Israelitish law, but only to children, and when there were no children, to the nearest relatives of the husband (Num 27:8-11), when Elimelech died his field properly descended to his sons; and when they died without children, it ought to have passed to his nearest relations. Hence the question arises, what right had Naomi to sell her husband's field as her own property? The Rabbins suppose that the field had been presented to Naomi and Ruth by their husbands (vid., Selden, de success. in bona def. c. 15). But Elimelech could not lawfully give his hereditary property to his wife, as he left sons behind him when he died, and they were the lawful heirs; and Mahlon also had no more right than his father to make such a gift. There is still less foundation for the opinion that Naomi was an heiress, since even if this were the case, it would be altogether inapplicable to the present affair, where the property in question was not a field which Naomi had inherited form her father, but the field of Elimelech and his sons. The true explanation is no doubt the following: The law relating to the inheritance of the landed property of Israelites who died childless did not determine the time when such a possession should pass to the relatives of the deceased, whether immediately after the death of the owner, or not till after the death of the widow who was left behind (vid., Num 27:9.). No doubt the latter was the rule established by custom, so that the widow remained in possession of the property as long as she lived; and for that length of time she had the right to sell the property in case of need, since the sale of a field was not an actual sale of the field itself, but simply of the yearly produce until the year of jubilee. Consequently the field of the deceased Elimelech would, strictly speaking, have belonged to his sons, and after their death to Mahlon's widow, since Chilion's widow had remained behind in her own country Moab. But as Elimelech had not only emigrated with his wife and children and died abroad, but his sons had also been with him in the foreign land, and had married and died there, the landed property of their father had not descended to them, but had remained the property of Naomi, Elimelech's widow, in which Ruth, as the widow of the deceased Mahlon, also had a share. Now, in case a widow sold the field of her deceased husband for the time that it was in her possession, on account of poverty, and a relation of her husband redeemed it, it was evidently his duty not only to care for the maintenance of the impoverished widow, but if she were still young, to marry her, and to let the first son born of such a marriage enter into the family of the deceased husband of his wife, so as to inherit the redeemed property, and perpetuate the name and possession of the deceased in Israel. Upon this right, which was founded upon traditional custom, Boaz based this condition, which he set before the nearer redeemer, that if he redeemed the field of Naomi he must also take Ruth, with the obligation to marry her, and through this marriage to set up the name of the deceased upon his inheritance.
The redeemer admitted the justice of this demand, from which we may see that the thing passed as an existing right in the nation. But as he was not disposed to marry Ruth, he gave up the redemption of the field.
"I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance." The redemption would cost money, since the yearly produce of the field would have to be paid for up to the year of jubilee. Now, if he acquired the field by redemption as his own permanent property, he would have increased by so much his own possessions in land. But if he should marry Ruth, the field so redeemed would belong to the son whom he would beget through her, and he would therefore have parted with the money that he had paid for the redemption merely for the son of Ruth, so that he would have withdrawn a certain amount of capital from his own possession, and to that extent have detracted from its worth. "Redeem thou for thyself my redemption," i.e., the field which I have the first right to redeem.
This declaration he confirmed by what was a usual custom at that time in renouncing a right. This early custom is described in Rut 4:7, and there its application to the case before us is mentioned afterwards. "Now this was (took place) formerly in Israel in redeeming and exchanging, to confirm every transaction: A man took off his shoe and gave it to another, and this was a testimony in Israel." From the expression "formerly," and also from the description given of the custom in question, it follows that it had gone out of use at the time when our book was composed. The custom itself, which existed among the Indians and the ancient Germans, arose from the fact that fixed property was taken possession of by treading upon the soil, and hence taking off the shoe and handing it to another was a symbol of the transfer of a possession or right of ownership (see the remarks on Deu 25:9 and my Bibl. Archol. ii. p. 66). The Piel קיּם is rarely met with in Hebrew; in the present instance it was probably taken from the old legal phraseology. The only other places in which it occurs are Eze 13:6; Psa 119:28, Psa 119:106, and the book of Esther, where it is used more frequently as a Chaldaism.
After the nearest redeemer had thus renounced the right of redemption with all legal formality, Boaz said to the elders and all the (rest of the) people, "Ye are witnesses this day, that I have acquired this day all that belonged to Elimelech, and to Mahlon and Chilion (i.e., the field of Elimelech, which was the rightful inheritance of his sons Mahlon and Chilion), at the hand of Naomi; and also Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to raise up the name of the deceased upon his inheritance, that the name of the deceased may not be cut off among his brethren and from the gate of his people" (i.e., from his native town Bethlehem; cf. Rut 3:11). On the fact itself, see the introduction to Ruth 3; also the remarks on the Levirate marriages at Deu 25:5.
The people and the elders said, "We are witnesses," and desired for Boaz the blessing of the Lord upon this marriage. For Boaz had acted as unselfishly as he had acted honourably in upholding a laudable family custom in Israel. The blessing desired is the greatest blessing of marriage: "The Lord make the woman that shall come into thine house (the participle בּאה refers to what is immediately about to happen) like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel ("build" as in Gen 16:2; Gen 30:3); and do thou get power in Ephratah, and make to thyself a name in Bethlehem." חיל עשׂה does not mean "get property or wealth," as in Deu 8:17, but get power, as in Ps. 60:14 (cf. Pro 31:29), sc., by begetting and training worthy sons and daughters. "Make thee a name," literally "call out a name." The meaning of this phrase, which is only used here in this peculiar manner, must be the following: "Make to thyself a well-established name through thy marriage with Ruth, by a host of worthy sons who shall make thy name renowned."
"May thy house become like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah" (Gen 38). It was from Perez that the ancestors of Boaz, enumerated in Rut 4:18. and Ch1 2:5., were descended. As from Perez, so also from the seed which Jehovah would give to Boaz through Ruth, there should grow up a numerous posterity.
This blessing began very speedily to be fulfilled. When Boaz had married Ruth, Jehovah gave her conception, and she bare a son.
At his birth the women said to Naomi, "Blessed be the Lord, who hath not let a redeemer be wanting to thee to-day." This redeemer was not Boaz, but the son just born. They called him a redeemer of Naomi, not because he would one day redeem the whole of Naomi's possessions (Carpzov, Rosenmller, etc.), but because as the son of Ruth he was also the son of Naomi (Rut 4:17), and as such would take away the reproach of childlessness from her, would comfort her, and tend her in her old age, and thereby become her true gol, i.e., her deliverer (Bertheau). "And let his name be named in Israel," i.e., let the boy acquire a celebrated name, one often mentioned in Israel.
"And may the boy come to thee a refresher of the soul, and a nourisher of thine old age; for thy daughter-in-law, who loveth thee (who hath left her family, her home, and her gods, out of love to thee), hath born him; she is better to thee than seven sons." Seven, as the number of the works of God, is used to denote a large number of sons of a mother whom God has richly blessed with children (vid., Sa1 2:5). A mother of so many sons was to be congratulated, inasmuch as she not only possessed in these sons a powerful support to her old age, but had the prospect of the permanent continuance of her family. Naomi, however, had a still more valuable treasure in her mother-in-law, inasmuch as through her the loss of her own sons had been supplied in her old age, and the prospect was now presented to her of becoming in her childless old age the tribe-mother of a numerous and flourishing family.
Naomi therefore adopted this grandson as her own child; she took the boy into her bosom, and became his nurse.
And the neighbours said, "A son is born to Naomi," and gave him the name of Obed. This name was given to the boy (the context suggests this) evidently with reference to what he was to become to his grandmother. Obed, therefore, does not mean "servant of Jehovah" (Targum), but "the serving one," as one who lived entirely for his grandmother, and would take care of her, and rejoice her heat (O. v. Gerlach, after Josephus, Ant. v. 9, 4). The last words of Rut 4:17, "he is the father of Jesse, the father of David," show the object which the author kept in view in writing down these events, or composing the book itself. This conjecture is raised into a certainty by the genealogy which follows, and with which the book closes.
"These are the generations of Perez," i.e., the families descended from Perez in their genealogical order (toledoth: see at Gen 2:4). The genealogy only goes back as far as Perez, because he was the founder of the family of Judah which was named after him (Num 26:20), and to which Elimelech and Boaz belonged. Perez, a son of Judah by Tamar (Gen 38:29), begat Hezrom, who is mentioned in Gen 46:12 among the sons of Judah who emigrated with Jacob into Egypt, although (as we have shown in our comm. on the passage) he was really born in Egypt. Of this son Ram (called Aram in the Sept. Cod. Al., and from that in Mat 1:3) nothing further is known, as he is only mentioned again in Ch1 2:9. His son Amminidab was the father-in-law of Aaron, who had married his daughter (Exo 6:23), and the father of Nahesson (Nahshon), the tribe-prince of the house of Judah in the time of Moses (Num 1:7; Num 2:3; Num 7:12). According to this there are only four or five generations to the 430 years spent by the Israelites in Egypt, if we include both Perez and Nahesson; evidently not enough for so long a time, so that some of the intermediate links must have been left out even here. But the omission of unimportant members becomes still more apparent in the statement which follows, viz., that Nahshon begat Salmah, and Salmah Boaz, in which only two generations are given for a space of more than 250 years, which intervened between the death of Moses and the time of Gideon. Salmah (שׂלמה or שׂלמא, Ch1 2:11) is called Salmon in Rut 4:21; a double form of the name, which is to be explained form the fact that Salmah grew out of Salmon through the elision of the n, and that the terminations an and on are used promiscuously, as we may see from the form שׁריה in Job 41:18 when compared with שׁרין in Kg1 22:34, and שׁריון in Sa1 17:5, Sa1 17:38 (see Ewald, 163-4). According to the genealogy of Christ in Mat 1:5, Salmon married Rahab; consequently he was a son, or at any rate a grandson, of Nahshon, and therefore all the members between Salmon and Boaz have been passed over. Again, the generations from Boaz to David (Rut 4:21, Rut 4:22) may possibly be complete, although in all probability one generation has been passed over even here between Obed and Jesse. It is also worthy of notice that the whole chain from Perez to David consists of ten links, five of which (from Perez to Nahshon) belong to the 430 years of the sojourn in Egypt, and five (from Salmon to David) to the 476 years between the exodus from Egypt and the death of David. This symmetrical division is apparently as intentional as the limitation of the whole genealogy to ten members, for the purpose of stamping upon it through the number ten as the seal of completeness the character of a perfect, concluded, and symmetrical whole.
The genealogy closes with David, an evident proof that the book was intended to give a family picture form the life of the pious ancestors of this great and godly king of Israel. But for us the history which points to David acquires a still higher signification, from the fact that all the members of the genealogy of David whose names occur here are also found in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. "The passage is given by Matthew word for word in the genealogy of Christ, that we may see that this history looks not so much to David as to Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed by all as the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that we may learn with what wonderful compassion the Lord raises up the lowly and despised to the greatest glory and majesty" (Brentius).