- The Significance of the Unnamed Man
- The Fear of Losing Self
- Allegory for the Jesus as an Intercessory
- The Number 10
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
The final chapter of Ruth concludes the narrative with Ruth's "happily ever after" and the legacy of the couple. It also contains the story of the unnamed relative who was first in line to redeem Ruth and Namoi. This is yet another subtle message in this narrative.
The Significance of the Unnamed Man
The nearest kin of Ruth, with whom Boaz requests an audience to discuss the issue of Ruth's redemption, is all for buying the property but fears a marriage to Ruth. This fear isn't because she's a Moabite, but because he is afraid no one will remember his name if he continues Mahlon's line (Mahlon, being Ruth’s first husband). Talk about ironic! Boaz is the prototype for the perfect husband and known to millions of people over 3,000 years later. The Bible doesn't even record this near kinsman's name! Had this man said yes, it would have been his name we remembered throughout history as an ancestor of David and Jesus.
This is one of those moments that reminds you of how real the story really is. Think about it, if you were making up this story, why would you tack on this kind of ending after the climax? The entire issue of the unnamed kinsmen is wrapped up in a few verses; it doesn't really add to the plot. Remember, the book of Ruth isn't written such that at this point Ruth and Boaz are madly in love and this unnamed man is looming as a threat to destroy their love. There may have been some feelings brewing, but none of that is recorded; thus, from a literary standpoint there is no purpose for the inclusion of this information. The whole plot of the unnamed kinsmen is like watching all of Cinderella and after the prince discovers Cinderella's identity he says "well, I'd love to marry you but there's this other guy—oh, you don't want to marry her? Great, Cinderella let's get married." That being said, the reality TV shows of today would have a field day with such "drama." Scripted by one of these producers there would have been an all out brawl over who would get the honor of marrying Ruth. Shakespeare would have made sure everyone died... Instead, we are given a matter-of-fact rehashing of events with no emotional appeal. Clearly, God had a reason for including this information, and not for entertainment or suspense.
The Fear of Losing Self
What stands out once again is why we are given this information. The Old Testament is both prophetic and historical. From it we learn about the history of the Israelites and their relationship with God, as well as what to expect concerning the first and second comings of the Messiah. We've already established that the overall story of Ruth fits in as an example of Christ's relationship with the Church, but how does the unnamed man's denial of Ruth connect to all of this. Why did God tell the author of Ruth to add this information?
Think about it, this part of the narrative could have been simplified to "after discussing the matter with the nearer kinsmen it was decided that Boaz would be the redeemer." Instead, we get Boaz's delivery of this "setback" to Ruth, followed by him setting up the meeting, the denial of Ruth by the man, a reference to him taking off his shoe (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10) and Boaz boasting his victory after the fact. There has to be some significance.
Let's start with why the man refused Ruth. This man's fear was that he would not be remembered. He thought that by doing something God instructed, he would lose part of himself. While it may be true that you lose parts of yourself by honoring God's Will, it is also true that the parts you lose are the dead branches that bear rotten fruit, i.e. the parts you shouldn't want to keep.
The man did not want to marry Ruth because he would then lose what he had just redeemed to any children they produced. He would have spent money to buy the land or at least to keep up the land, followed by any money needed to raise the child (and take care of Ruth), only for all of that investment to fall under Mahlon's name. From a worldly perspective, particularly in a time where God is not the forefront of every issue (like today and during the Judges era that this occurred), you can see why this man was not willing to take on this responsibility. From a logical standpoint, most would come to the conclusion that it would ultimately be a financial loss, especially if Ruth was in her mid 20s as I presumed earlier in the book. This meant that even without God's divine intervention she had a good 10 more years left of childbearing capabilities. He might not just produce one heir but multiple heirs! Of course, it is unclear if after the first son the other sons could be considered his or if they were still to be considered Mahlon's...
The lesson to be learned from this seemingly random part of the story is to be careful in these situations. One can easily see how a worldly mindset could lead you to conclude that redeeming Ruth and the land was not a prudent decision. Today, many of us try to use our mind to think through issues and arrive at a logical conclusion. Sometimes that logical conclusion is against what God has commanded; this part of the narrative is an example of this. In choosing what he thought was best for himself and ignoring God's commandments, he brought upon himself the one thing he feared: a forgotten existence. Similarly, when we choose popularity or wealth over God we too will lose out in the end.
Note, too, that by changing his perspective, everything changes. By redeeming Elimelech's land and marrying Ruth, the man stood to inherit more land. Yes, it was possible that Ruth could produce an heir who would claim that extra land, thus resulting in a loss of his investments, but he may have produce an heir of his own too who would inherit the land he already had. Furthermore, while name and land seemed to be a big deal to them, I can't imagine his name would have completely disappeared from the situation. I never remember Ruth's first husband's name, so even though Ruth and Boaz's son was to be attributed to Elimelech through Mahlon (Ruth's first husband), I still think of Boaz first. I'm quite sure the people of the town were the same. The lineage given in the last verses and in Matthew all list Boaz as the ancestor, not Mahlon.
A modern example can be witnessed in my own family. My mother was raised by her aunt and uncle. She always retained the surname of her parents, yet most people in the town I grew up in have no idea that the people I called grandma and grandpa weren't actually my grandparents. Similarly, I'm sure that while Elimelech's name would be thrown in the mix somehow, people would have known this child as the nameless man's son, just as we know Obed to be Boaz's son.
Allegory for the Jesus as an Intercessory
In relation to the allegory with Christ, I wonder if this nameless man is an allegory for Christ's conversation with God the Father about us. We are covered in sin and unable to approach the Father directly, so Christ intervenes. By allowing Jesus to come in this world as a man and die for our sins, God gave Christ the right to redeem us—He handed Him the sandal and said redeem your bride (the Church). The main difference is the motivation. God isn't worried about His name disappearing; He's God, the beginning and the end, His name can't disappear. Though an argument could possibly be made for Him defending His inheritance (Heaven) from those who are not worthy.
The Number 10
When Boaz confronts the nearest kinsman, he conducts the matter as a formal business proceeding with 10 witnesses. This represented the quorum needed to carry the transaction and make it legal. It is also the number of kingdoms that will exist at the end of the world when Jesus comes to retrieve His bride. Those 10 kingdoms will witness the transaction of Jesus taking His nation (the Church) as his bride. I don't think this is a coincidence, do you?
Most people don't need to be told that Boaz and Ruth's union paved the way for King David, which is the lineage of Christ. The last few verses of chapter 4 take us from Judah and Tamar's son Pharez, through Ruth and Boaz, to King David. It's interesting to remember that Tamar was also a foreign woman who's husband died before she produced an heir. Judah sent his second son to fulfill the levirate marriage, but he died too. After this, Judah was reluctant to send his final son to Tamar and became a bit like the unnamed man. However, God already knew that Jesus was to descend from this line and He was working to make sure an heir was produced. Judah is eventually tricked into sleeping with Tamar when he mistakes her for a prostitute and hires her! Never mind the obvious that Judah hired a prostitute, but this union produces Pharez who is the ancestor of Boaz. Reference is even made to Tamar and Judah in Ruth 4:12 when the town is pronouncing blessings on Ruth and Boaz.
Obed, Ruth and Boaz's son, is named by the people not Ruth and Boaz, which is interesting. His name means "servant" which may have been a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah through his lineage. We can learn a lot from the lineage given here. Note that through this lineage we see that not only did the line start with a Canaanite (Tamar), but Salmon, the father of Boaz according to Ruth 4:21, is the man who married Rahab, the harlot, another Canaanite and foreigner (see Matthew 1:5, bear in mind the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New in Greek, this is the cause for the changes in spelling). Also, we see that Nahshon who was a prince of the tribe of Judah, as told in Numbers 7, is also a descendant of Boaz, King David, and Jesus. There are clearly a lot of notable ancestors in this lineage. Most importantly, we see the inclusion of foreigners in this important line.
References and Footnotes
- Cayce, Ken. "Ruth Chapter 4". Discover Books of the Bible. 2016
- Deffinbaugh, Robert L. "Redeemed (Ruth 4)". Bible.org. 2016