Ruth chapter four opens with the dawn that closes chapter three. In the middle of the previous night, Ruth and Boaz had their encounter and proposal of marriage. Early that morning Ruth returns to Naomi, and Naomi declares that the sun will not set again until Boaz has settled the matter one way or the other. In the misty dawn of that very day while Ruth and Naomi celebrate their possibilities, Boaz is on his way to the city gate.
It is there where Boaz will be able to official transact the business which has to do with not only Ruth’s status, but Naomi’s land as well. As he is on his way, he sees the kinsman-redeemer he referred to in chapter three, and he calls him over to the gate. Interestingly, he does not give him a name. Clearly he not only has a name, but Boaz would have known it. They were related, after all. So why no name? Given the laws of redemption and levarite marriage, the fact that his unnamed man does not follow through on his duty to his family would lead to disgrace. Or as the NIV puts it, his would then be known as the “Family of the Unsandled” (Deut 25). So we may guess that the author has spared this man’s family from lasting shame by not naming him. Another guess is that it is a kind of subtle judgment on his refusal to marry Ruth. The man tells Boaz that if he marries Ruth, his own family line would be thinned, and he is not willing to do that. In order to save his own family name, his name is lost forever. We all know Boaz and the extraordinary deeds he performs, but none of us know that other guy who refused to show hesed to Ruth and Naomi.
This portion of the story provides a good place to talk about Christ in the pages of Ruth. First, a word of caution. Looking for types in the OT is a fun and sometimes rewarding process, but it can easily be taken to extremes. There are a few types we know for sure are in the OT because they are mentioned in the New, and there are a few which are pretty obviously types, but are not specifically mentioned as such in the New Testament. The book of Ruth falls into the second category. Because of its typology, many have gone a little overboard with finding details in the OT text and allegorizing them into the Gospel account. I would warn against doing that for a couple of reasons. First, it obscures the intent and message of the original text, and second, because it becomes rampant speculation and has little to no grounding in Scripture.
With all that said, this vignette in Ruth is probably the clearest type of Christ and our relationship to the Law in the book. In essence, before Boaz is able to redeem the land and take a gentile bride, the first kinsman-redeemer had to be shown inadequate to the task. Relating that to the Gospel, what the Law was unable to do, Christ did. The Law exists to prove to us that we need a savior, and that it is unable to be that savior. Romans 3 and 8 make that point clearly. Another interesting passage regarding this relationship between us, Christ, and the Law is Hebrews 7. In that chapter, the author of Hebrews is pointing out that Christ had to come because the Law was “set up to fail.” We needed an indestructible priest, not one we had to replace every generation.
Additionally, the issue of Boaz and Christ being kinsman-redeemers is important. One of the great Christian minds, Anselm, wrote a work in the Middle Ages entitled, “Why the God Man?” His answer, in a nutshell, was that God needed to come to earth in human flesh in order to redeem us. (Redemption simply means, “to buy back,” “to restore to original state.”) Hebrews chapter 2 makes that point. Christ came in human flesh and was honored to call us brothers.
What an amazing thing, that God would condescend to human flesh just to bring us back to where He intended us to be-back to what he created us for!
So, back to the story of Ruth.
I find it telling that the book opens and closes with Naomi. Ruth and Boaz have a child, but the child finds itself on Naomi’s lap. In addition, the women of the town are calling it Naomi’s child. This is appropriate and telling in a couple of respects. First, Boaz fulfilled his levarite responsibility by “giving” the child to Naomi and her deceased family. Secondly, it continues to highlight the amazing hesed Ruth is showing Naomi. Through the kindness and humility of Ruth, we find a completely restored Naomi at the end of the book. Not only is her belly filled, but now her home is as well.
Sometimes God puts a similar kind of call on our lives. We are all called to be priests-we believe in the “priesthood of all believers”-and we are all called to serve God’s kingdom on earth somehow. And from time to time it requires a Ruth-like willingness to fade into the background while God works amazing things in the lives of those around us. Recall that up to this point, Ruth was a widow in a foreign country. After her marriage to Boaz she could have left Naomi and taken the child as her own. That would have been nice for Ruth, but it would have obstructed what God wanted to do for Naomi. The kind of act taken by Ruth was not only a key component to God’s work in another’s life, but it took a lot of humility. Not everyone is willing or able to fade into the background while all the attention seems to be headed in the direction of another.
Take for instance Augustine. You have probably heard of Augustine-one of the luminaries of Christian theology and philosophy almost 2000 years after his death. But have you heard of Bishop Ambrose? If you have read The Confessions, you have. Augustine credits a lot of his spiritual journey toward Christ, and then toward maturity to the influence of Ambrose. Without a person willing to minister in Ambrose’s position, we might not have someone like Augustine.
God may not make us all fulfill that kind of role with our life’s work, but I believe from time to time we all need to fade into the background and allow God to do something wonderful in someone else’s life.