We said that justice must be done, and justice must be seen to have been done. By bringing the case to the elders at the city gate, Boaz satisfies both those requirements. And the near kinsman will finalize it formally. Today, though we sign a contract, we still have the idea of “shaking hands” to formally close a deal. Ancient Israel had a slightly different custom.
Now this was the custom in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning exchanging, to confirm all things: a man took off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor; and this was the way of legalizing transactions in Israel.
So the near kinsman said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” then he took off his shoe.
Many times, we have little or no direct evidence of when a biblical book was written, relative to the events in the book. Ruth is an exception:.It was written well after the events related, long enough that at least one custom had changed, and perhaps been largely forgotten. We know that because the author feels it necessary to intrude and explain about the custom of passing the shoe: “Now this was the custom in former time in Israel. . . .”
In our own day, documents often need to be witnessed or notarized: the claims of one individual are not enough. So it was in Ruth’s day. And Boaz, meticulous in detail, makes certain to meet that requirement as well.
Boaz said to the elders, and to all the people, “You are witnesses today, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, from the hand of Naomi. Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, I have purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers, and from the gate of his place. You are witnesses today.”
The crowd acknowledges the closing of the deal, and then adds several interesting things:
All the people who were in the gate, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May Yahweh make the woman who has come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, which both built the house of Israel; and treat you worthily in Ephrathah, and be famous in Bethlehem. Let your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the offspring which Yahweh will give you by this young woman.
Because the crowd here compares Ruth to Rachel, Leah, who “built the house of Israel,” and Tamar, who was in the royal line, many assume that this speech did not in fact happen, that it was inserted at a later date to make the whole episode look prophetic. And we cannot deny that possibility. After all, the book of Ruth does begin with the words, “In the days when the judges judged . . . .” And we noted that the custom of “passing the shoe” had ceased to be practiced. So we know that this account was written later. But that does not mean these words were not originally spoken. It is an unfortunate habit of mind to assume that because a story became written some years after it occurred, that the details must have been manufactured.
It is quite possible that many of these words were spoken at virtually every wedding in those days. I do not have to have a written record of every wedding anniversary or birthday celebration to report with confidence that people wished me “many more.” It is quite possible that people said the words reported along with many others, and the author selected these to emphasize his point. The fact that these were not the only words spoken at the time—and surely they were not—does not make it any less true that these words were spoken. And it is ofte true in our own lives, that when we look back at significant events in our lives, we realize that some words spoken at the time were truer than we could have imagined.
Wasting no time, the narrator declares:
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife; and he went in to her, and Yahweh enabled her to conceive, and she bore a son.
We noted before, in the story of Tamar, that the Old Testament writers always recognize that when conception occurs, it occurs because God makes it possible. Here the author makes it explicit: “Yahweh enabled her to conceive.” So Ruth becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son. And here we encounter a delightful twist on one of our story frameworks.
Early on, we mentioned that Naomi appears in this narrative as The Barren Woman. Although she had borne two sons, when this story begins, she has become, by her own declaration a barren woman. She has no sons to offer her widowed daughters-in-law, nor will she have any. Ruth has made her a grandmother, but does that change her situation? She still has no sons. Or does she?
The women said to Naomi, “Blessed be Yahweh, who has not left you today without a near kinsman. Let his name be famous in Israel. He shall be to you a restorer of life, and sustain you in your old age, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
“Your daughter-in-law . . . is better to you than seven sons.” Seven being the number of maturity, completion, and yes, perfection, they declare Ruth to be better than the perfect son. Does this make Naomi no longer barren? Sort of. But there’s more.
Naomi took the child, and laid him in her bosom, and became nurse to it.
The women, her neighbors, gave him a name, saying, “A son is born to Naomi”.
There it is. The narrator simply refuses to let us miss the point. “A son is born to Naomi!” And by “becom[ing] nurse” to the child, she is “mothering” him. This completes the Barren Woman framework, as God gives Naomi a daughter-in-law who refuses to abandon her, and ultimately makes her a mother again. We have two more loose ends to tie up in this wonderful story, which we will do next time.