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At the City Gate

March 28, 2011

We are coming to the end of our journey with Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. They have overcome many obstacles–famine, widowhood, the long journey to Naomi’s home, desperate and depressing days. But God brought these women to the right place and the right time for their deliverance. Boaz agreed to redeem Ruth, but one matter stands in his way. Another custom that is strange to us, but we can understand and appreciate its significance in  God’s providence.

Boaz is a relative of Naomi, but he is not the closest relative. Before Boaz could marry Ruth, he must offer the role of the go’el to the relative and meet with the leaders at the city gate. Showing his eagerness for the matter to be resolved quickly, he immediately meet with the city elders. He told the relative that Elimelech’s property was available for the go’el to redeem. Boaz said, “If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know; for there’s no one but you to redeem it, and I am next after you.” The relative (who must have been an older brother or cousin to Boaz) replied, “I will redeem it.” (Ruth 4:4). If you’re reading this story for the first time, you can’t help but react with disappointment!

We learned that the go’el can redeem property, but he must also marry the widow so his relative’s family name line would not end. When Boaz explained that to buy back the property would also mean being with Ruth, the relative changed his mind. He said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I ruin my own inheritance. You redeem my right of redemption for yourself, I cannot redeem it” (Ruth 4:6).

Because this conversation happened at the city gate, in front of the elders, they were able to make their decision official. The practice in verses seven and eight must be explained to the original audience of the book of Ruth as well as to our modern audience. The passage simple tells us the custom of the day was for one of the men entering the agreement would give his sandal to the other. Although there are other mentions of redeeming with a sandal (Psalm 60:8, Amos 2:6) there’s no further details about this practice. What we do know is that Boaz and the other relative made the agreement in the official way in front of the appropriate audience. Boaz said to the elders and to all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Namoi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the wife 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” (4:9-10).

The beautiful story of Ruth’s go’el relates to our lives and our redeemer. Be sure to come back tomorrow and read Julie’s post on how this story applies to us today!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2011 11:56 pm

    Thanks for this detailed explanation of the appropriate “legal” actions Boaz took! Boaz’s respectful reaction of following these actions adds to his character.


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