As promised, Boaz heads to the city gate – where all business is supposed to be transacted – and takes a seat. When the nearer relative comes by, Boaz accosts him and invites him to have a seat. He then finds ten city elders to sit with them, presumably to act as witnesses.

With everyone gathered together (except, you know, the actual person who currently owns the land – Naomi), Boaz explains that Naomi has returned and seeks to sell her late husband’s land. According to the laws laid out in Leviticus 25 (or, more specifically, Leviticus 25:25), Elimelech’s relatives must be given the opportunity to redeem the land, keeping it in the family. Boaz offers dibs to the nearer kin, since he is the closer relative. If he doesn’t want it, Boaz explains, then Boaz is the next in line as potential redeemer.

The nearer kin announces that he wants the land, but pulls back when Boaz adds the stipulation that buying the land also means “buying Ruth the Moabitess” (Ruth 4:5). Gross language, but the purpose, says Boaz, is to “restore the name of the dead to his inheritance.” In other words, he is attaching the rules of the Levirate marriage to the sale of the land rather than to the sibling relationship. It’s not clear what gives him the authority to do this.

Ruth, Naomi, and Obed (detail), by Simeon Solomon

Ruth, Naomi, and Obed (detail), by Simeon Solomon

The nearer kin backs down, saying that he can’t take the land if it comes with Ruth “lest I impair my own inheritance” (Ruth 4:6). It’s a little confusing, but I think the point he is making is that if Ruth has a child, then it will be officially her husband’s, but it will also be the kinsman’s son. Therefore, his own inheritance will pass into the hands of someone who is legally another man’s son. Which is all a little weird – if Ruth’s first born is considered her late husband’s, wouldn’t only subsequent children count as her new husband’s?

It may just be a “plot critical” issue, so, moving on.

The text then gives us an interesting historical lesson: “Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel” (Ruth 4:7).

This is a really weird twist on Deut. 25:9-10, which specifies that if a man refuses to impregnate his brother’s wife, in the situations where a Levirate marriage applies, she is to remove one of his sandals and spit in his face.

Here, rather than Ruth removing his sandal and spitting in his face, he removes his own sandal and hands it off to Boaz, and this is played out like it’s some sort of transaction receipt.

The transaction concluded, the elders give their blessings, which includes linking Ruth and Boaz to Tamar and Judah – another situation where a woman managed to secure a Levirate marriage by disguising/hiding herself to sexually approach her intended target.

Interestingly, while the elders heap their blessings on Boaz, they hope for his prosperity, but completely fail to mention the continuance of Elimelech’s household – which is the stated purpose of the marriage in the first place.

After Boaz “went in to” Ruth (Ruth 4:13), she bore a son named Obed. Naomi nurses her grandson (which is a rather impressive feat, by the way), and the women exclaim: “A son has been born to Naomi” (Ruth 4:17).

The women also tell Naomi that Ruth “is more to you than seven sons” (Ruth 4:15). According to Claude Mariottini, “seven sons” was a sort of generic blessing for a woman, since it falls quite safely within the “heir and a spare” requirement (and, presumably, because seven is a symbolically popular number). For her loyalty, Ruth is even better than the standard great blessing for a woman.

It is the women who gathered around Naomi and welcomed her home in Ruth 1:19-20, and it is the women who celebrate with her here. Once again, this is a woman’s story, and time is actually spent on the relationships between women in the neighbourhood – something that’s been almost entirely lacking up until now.

Genealogy

In the final portion of Ruth, we are told that Perez, the son born of Tamar and Judah in Genesis 38, was the father of Hezron, who fathered Ram, who fathered Amminadab, who fathered Nahshon, who fathered Salmon, who fathered Boaz.

Boaz fathered Obed, who fathered Jesse, who fathered David.

So the story of Ruth and Boaz is linked to both Tamar and Judah (as the elders reference in Ruth 4:12, though without indication that they know Boaz’s parentage), and to David (yes, that David, the one who will one day be king).

The significance of the genealogy is apparently quite debated:

Some scholars argue that this genealogy is the starting point for the story of Ruth. On this reading, the purpose of the book is to put a positive spin on the fact that David’s great-grandmother is a Moabite, by showing how she won the Lord’s favour. But Ruth is not a political story. David is only mentioned at the end, in a virtual appendix. It seems much more likely that the genealogies were added secondarily, to justify the inclusion of the story about a Moabite woman in the scriptures of Israel. (Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.270)

The timeline of the genealogy doesn’t make too much sense within the biblical narrative. Even if we assume that each generation did not have kids until they were 50 years old, and we assume that Perez spent most of his life in Egypt (which I think is being very generous), it would still place Boaz’s birth in Egypt, since we are told that the Israelites spent ~400 years there (Exodus 12:40). Not only that, but Boaz does not seem a newcomer in Bethlehem. There has been time for a settling, a famine, and a return… This story makes far more sense if we assume that Israel’s founding was a slow process of mini-migrations and assimilation, rather than great exodus event.