Bible blog 1972

Ruth 4New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

The Marriage of Boaz and Ruth
4 No sooner had Boaz gone up to the gate and sat down there than the next-of-kin, of whom Boaz had spoken, came passing by. So Boaz said, ‘Come over, friend; sit down here.’ And he went over and sat down. 2 Then Boaz took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, ‘Sit down here’; so they sat down. 3 He then said to the next-of-kin,‘Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our kinsman Elimelech. 4 So I thought I would tell you of it, and say: Buy it in the presence of those sitting here, and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not, tell me, so that I may know; for there is no one prior to you to redeem it, and I come after you.’ So he said, ‘I will redeem it.’ 5 Then Boaz said, ‘The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance.’ 6 At this, the next-of-kin said, ‘I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.’

7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, one party took off a sandal and gave it to the other; this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8 So when the next-of-kin[e] said to Boaz, ‘Acquire it for yourself’, he took off his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, ‘Today you are witnesses that I have acquired from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place; today you are witnesses.’ 11 Then all the people who were at the gate, along with the elders, said, ‘We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you produce children in Ephrathah and bestow a name in Bethlehem; 12 and, through the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman, may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.’

imageThe Genealogy of David
13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.’ 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. 17 The women of the neighbourhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

18 Now these are the descendants of Perez: Perez became the father of Hezron, 19 Hezron of Ram, Ram of Amminadab, 20 Amminadab of Nahshon, Nahshon of Salmon, 21 Salmon of Boaz, Boaz of Obed, 22 Obed of Jesse, and Jesse of David.

In my reading of this great story in the Hebrew text I’ve become convinced that the author is inventing a memorable scenario that will contradict a narrow view of Jewish identity, such as was promulgated by Ezra who commanded that men true to Gid should send away their “foreign wives.”  The author has put forward a very different sort of identity, forged by the faithfulness of a foreign woman Ruth to her destitute mother-in-law, an identity based on human need and affection. On their return to Bethlehem, the two women have planned a future for their new identity by including Boaz a relative of Naomi ‘s dead husband. In effect Ruth offers herself to Boaz, as his wife. All this happens in the time of harvest, when fruitfulness becomes evident.

This chapter shows Boaz apparently doing everything by the rules and in public. The negotiation is a sign that this new kind of people of God is not a romantic dream but can be established through the good customs of the people, one of which is the duty laid on male relatives of a man who has died childless, to take his widow as a wife and raise children “for the dead.” Clearly, using this custom to marry a foreign woman would be against the commandment of Ezra.

Boaz’ way of proceeding is above board but cunning; first he makes the deal sound advantageous: land is available, doubtless at a good price. Then he reveals that Ruth goes with the land, which introduces the clear probability that one day the land will have to revert to Ruth’s child. That makes the deal quite unattractive, and the primary next of kin rejects it. But Boaz’ aim has been to secure Ruth as his own wife, and he has succeeded in making her unattractive in the eyes of his competitor.

Here the new identity is established is another basic area of human concern, business.  If it couldn’t be established within normal economic practice, it would remain fragile. The author shows that a person who is not in thrall to gaining wealth can get what he really wants if he uses his brain. It is Boaz’ fundamental generosity that allows him to sideline his opponent: he wants the identity which will mean that the parcel of land will go to Ruth’s side of the family if she has a son. He wants to share his identity with Ruth, since she has already offered to share hers with him.

The birth of their child is the fruit of the faithful love that Ruth has shared with Naomi and then Boaz. Their marriage has been blessed with the names of Rachel and Leah the wives of Jacob, the mothers of Israel. Now there is a child of blessing, who embodies the new identity, in that he is shared with Naomi his grandmother, who lays him in her bosom, a sign of adoption. The widow whose husband and sons have died, now has, through the identity she shares with Ruth and Boaz, a child, who will pass that generous identity down to Israel’s greatest King, David.

image

Michelangelo Ruth and Obed

The author is marvellously aware of communal identity can be based on what we share as human beings, our need and our affection. The seasonal setting of the story tells us that such an identity is fruitful in the present and for the future, by virtue of its wisdom, trust , hope and love. And The identity is not private but rather fundamentally public in its ability to establish itself in the life of a village and a people. We can see this book as part of the wisdom literature of Israel which teaches its readers how to flourish.

It is also a relevant text for post Brexit-vote UK, in which xenophobia has been encouraged by the gutter press and organisations that feed on prejudice. It tells us that xenophobia is a product of the destruction of identity -in our time by global capitalism – and that the renewal of identity cannot be based on ideas alone -although bad ideas can be countered by good ones like this story – but also on affectionate relationships that cherish humanity and its needs. For the author of Ruth, God is the mystery who can be imagined as faithful, down-to-earth love.

 

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