“Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day” (v. 10).
When Ruth asked Boaz to redeem her and Naomi’s family, Boaz indicated that he was willing but that first the opportunity had to be given to a redeemer more closely related to Elimelech, Naomi’s dead husband (Ruth 3). According to the levirate marriage laws, which evidently allowed other relatives besides a dead man’s brother to produce an heir for the dead man when no brother was available, this other redeemer was the first one responsible to fulfill the duty of redemption (Deut. 25:5–10).
Because redemption under the levirate marriage laws involved producing an heir for a dead relative so that dead man’s family property would not be lost and his name would continue on, certain legalities had to be taken care of with respect to a levirate marriage. That explains why Boaz gathered with the elders of Bethlehem at the city gates, as we see in Ruth 4:1–12. Legal affairs were conducted in the presence of the city elders at the gates of the city in ancient Israel, so this was the place to formalize the redemption of Elimelech’s line.
Naomi was going to sell Elimelech’s property, presumably to raise funds to care for herself, and the right of first refusal to purchase fell to the potential redeemer whom Boaz identified to Ruth. Initially, the unnamed redeemer was eager to get the land, but when he found out that it required marrying Ruth and siring an heir for Elimelech and Naomi, he refused because he did not want to impair his existing inheritance (vv. 1–6). The man knew that his own family’s property could be transferred to the son he would have with Ruth in the event that his existing heir died. His clan would therefore die out, for the son with Ruth would not be reckoned as the son of the unnamed redeemer but as the son of Naomi and Elimelech. He was more concerned with perpetuating his own name and the name of his family than with fulfilling his redemptive duty. But there is irony here. The name of the closer redeemer is not perpetuated, for the text of Ruth never identifies him. He sought to have his name remembered, but he was forgotten, yet the name remembered was that of Boaz, who cared more for the name of Elimelech than for his own name and did not worry about being forgotten (vv. 7–22).
Boaz redeemed Elimelech’s line by marrying Ruth and pledging to raise up an heir for Elimelech. And the people at the gate were so overwhelmed by his selflessness that they asked God to make Boaz and Ruth like the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel (vv. 7–12).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Boaz is a preeminent example of selflessness, willing to risk the loss of his own name so that he could make sure that the name and line of his relative Elimelech would not pass away. This kind of selflessness in which we put others ahead of ourselves is a character trait toward which all believers must strive. Let us seek ways to be selfless this day, asking the Lord to help us put others first.