Ruth, the young Moabite woman, had real affection for Boaz, the wealthy, elderly Israelite grain grower. She hoped that Boaz would marry her. Boaz, who himself was probably a widower, hoped that it would be that way, too.
But there was another man in Bethlehem who was more closely related to Ruth’s dead husband. He had more claim to Ruth as a wife than did Boaz (Deut. 25:5-6). However, this other man had given the matter no real thought (Ruth 3:10-18).
During the weeks Ruth had gleaned in his fields, Boaz had come to love the Moabitess, and he was determined not to lose her. The morning after he found that Ruth cared deeply for him, he went early to the main gate of Bethlehem, the place where most business was conducted in that area. There he stayed, hopeful of finding the unmarried man who was more closely related to Ruth’s dead husband, and whose traditional duty it was to marry the widow if she were childless. Boaz was confident he would see the relative as he left town to spend the day working in his fields.
Fortunately, the man soon showed up at the busy place. Boaz sought him out and invited him to share the bench where he, Baoz, had been patiently sitting (Ruth 4:1).
“I have some important news that could be very good for you,” Boaz told him. “If you will sit here for just a few minutes till I return, I’ll tell you about it.”
It was the custom then that several other people be present as witnesses when business decisions and agreements were made. Boaz wanted to make certain that what he was about to do was duly witnessed. Being well known in Bethlehem, he succeeded in quickly summoning ten of the leading men of the region who were present in the crowd at the gate. They gathered around him and the man he had detained to see that matters were properly attested to.
“I’m here to inform you that Elimelech’s wife, Naomi, who recently returned from Moab, has a field for sale at a reasonable price,” Boaz explained. “Inasmuch as you are Elimelech’s nearest relative, you should have the first opportunity to purchase the land. If you prefer not to buy it, then I should like to do so as the next of kin after you” (Lev. 25:25).
Ever since Naomi had returned from Moab, Boaz had known that she had intended to sell the piece of land. She didn’t want to part with it, but her increasing needs made it necessary. Boaz’ colorful description of the field caused his relative to feel that it was indeed a bargain without his even seeing it, though he knew the location.
“I’ll buy it!” he exclaimed. “Tell Naomi that I’ll bring her the money this very afternoon” (Ruth 4:2-4)!
“Good!” Boaz said. “And now I have a pleasant surprise for you. The sale of this land also included something else – marriage to Elimelech’s childless daughter-in-law, Ruth, and having an heir to Elimelech by her!”
The relative’s jaw dropped. He stared unhappily at Boaz, who had hoped for just that reaction.
“Then I can’t afford to buy it!” he declared disappointedly, when he knew he couldn’t get the field just for himself. “From what I’ve heard, this Ruth would make a wonderful wife. But I can’t afford to spend my money to provide an heir for Elimelech. It would be much simpler if you would buy the land, Boaz, and thereby have Ruth in marriage.”
The man thereupon yanked off one shoe and handed it to Boaz, which was a custom indicating that the nearest of kin declined to carry out his obligations, and left them to the next of kin after him. All this was just how Boaz had hoped and planned that matters would turn out (Ruth 4:5-8).
“You have seen and heard what has happened here,” Boaz announced to the witnesses. “I hereby declare that I will purchase the land that belongs to Elimelech and his sons and Naomi. Beside, by this purchase, and with her consent – I hereby acquire Ruth, the daughter-in-law of Naomi, as my wife, so that she shall not be childless even though her first husband is dead.”
The ten men Boaz had chosen and even many others who had been watching and listening nodded in agreement.
“We are witnesses to what has taken place here,” they spoke out. “May God cause your wife to be as fruitful as Rachel and Leah, from whom Israel came, and may you have great success in your work. We hope that your house will be like that of Pharez, from which part of the people of Judah sprang in such great number” (Ruth 4:9-12)!
The tribute was graciously accepted by Boaz, who then lost little time in getting to the home of Naomi and his new wife Ruth. When Ruth saw him approaching, she was filled with anxiety, realizing that the man who was nearest of kin to Naomi’s dead husband could have acquired her in marriage, even though she had never met him.
Her fears were swept away the moment Boaz entered the house. She could tell by his excited grin that he had, with God’s help, somehow made matters work out right. She fell into the arms of her new husband, silently thanking God that such happiness could be hers.
Naomi slipped quietly out of the room, smiling to herself because of how well matters had turned out, though she didn’t yet know what Boaz had done to make them that way.
Some who read the story of Ruth, which gives an insight into the lives of a few of the obedient people of Israel in troubled times, might question the marriage of an Israelite to a Moabitess, from the heathen land of Moab.
The answer is Boaz married a woman who had renounced the pagan religion and gods of Moab. She had a desire to become as an Israelite by obeying and worshipping the God of Israel. Further, the Moabites were not of another race. Their ancestor Moab was a son of Abrahams’s nephew Lot (Gen. 12:5; 19:36-38).
God’s church has always been made up basically of Israelites, but Gentiles have been able to come into the church and become “spiritual” Israelites by forsaking their wrong practices and beliefs and repentantly and earnestly seeking the ways and laws of the Creator, who chose Israel to help carry out His plan.
In due time Boaz and Ruth had a son. Friends suggested that he be named Obed, which means servant.
“Ruth is better than seven sons,” they told Naomi, “because she has stayed with you, and now she has given birth to a grandson who will give you great happiness in your later years. He will also become famous, a man in whom you shall be pleased.”
This prediction, whether or not inspired, turned out to be true. Naomi became a nurse to Obed, and greatly enjoyed the privilege of helping rear a boy. Obed not only became an outstanding Israelite, but he also was an ancestor of Jesus Christ (Ruth 4:13-17).
The lineage of Christ at the time of Judah (Gen. 38:27-30) had a strange twist at the birth of Judah’s twin boys. The midwife present, realizing that two babies were to be born, noticed that a little arm was first to appear. She hastily tied a red thread around the protruding wrist to indicate for certain which baby obviously was to be born first, inasmuch as the firstborn son would ordinarily be the one to whom the greater honor and heritage would be due. In this case, the royal line ending in Christ would be carried on through the one born first.
The baby with the red string on his wrist wasn’t the first, however. The other twin was born before him, to the surprise of the midwife. He was named Pharez, the one referred to by Boaz’ witnesses when they expressed their hope that all would go well with him. The other baby was named Zarah (Gen. 38:27-30; Ruth 4:18).
This unusual birth situation was mentioned in the Bible because it had to do with who and where Israel is today – something that presently isn’t understood by most ministers, religious leaders and Bible scholars.
There were seven generations and about four and a half centuries from Pharez to Obed. Obed was the grandfather of David (Ruth 4:19-22), and then there were twenty-eight more generations of the line of Judah to the time that Jesus was born (Matt. 1:17).
There were several long generations among the ancestors of David after the Israelites arrived in Canaan. Boaz was born after the arrival in Canaan. Yet his great-grandson David, the third generation afterward was born about three hundred years later. The Bible tells us Jesse was very old compared to other men when his son David was a young boy (I Sam. 17:12). And some of these men must have been over a hundred years old when their last sons were born, just as Abraham was (Gen. 21:5; 24:1, 67; 25:1-2).
In those days people were healthier and had a more natural diet and got plenty of exercise. They were vigorous until they were very old (Deut. 34:7).
God had a hand in what occurred in this matter of his Son’s ancestors. This doesn’t mean that people are always caused to think and act only as the Creator wills. If that were so, we would be little better than robots. But God does choose to work through certain people. Those whom he chooses don’t always realize that God is leading them to decide to do certain things in certain ways insomuch that it all results in some end God had in mind.
About a century and a half after the birth of Obed, there was a man by the name of Elkanah living in a town in the high elevations of the Mt. Ephraim region. He was a Levite, and he had two wives. This wasn’t right and he, being a Levite, should have known better. But there were many things not right in Israel in those times when the people had fallen so far away from God. However, the fact that this man had two wives for so many years was part of the means through which he was used to later bring another of God’s servants onto the scene (I Sam. 1:1-2).
Elkanah tried to obey God the best he knew how for the most part, including observing the annual Sabbaths. But still, because of his bigamy, all was not peace and harmony in his home. One of his wives, Peninnah, was jealous of the other, Hannah, because their husband showed Hannah more affection. Hannah, however, was unhappy because she had no children and Peninnah had several. To add to the trouble, Peninnah often vexed Hannah, telling her that she wasn’t a good wife, and that it was obvious because she had no children. Hannah could hardly bear up under such taunts, what with it being considered a disgrace in ancient times for a woman to be childless in Israel.
Elkanah would have spared himself and his family much grief if he had wisely considered how matters were bound to turn out for a man craving and taking on two wives. On the other hand, God eventually allowed this tragic situation to serve a purpose.
The tabernacle and ark were still located at Shiloh, a town in the mountains of Ephraim about twenty miles north of Jerusalem. During one of the times Elkanah was there with his family to make peace offerings, Peninnah was especially troublesome to Hannah.
It was according to the rules of sacrificing that meat for peace offerings was in most part returned to the one who had brought it, if he were present. Then it was ordinarily consumed at the family meals that were prepared during the feast days. This time, as usual, Elkanah saw to it that Hannah was served twice as much of the choice meat as any other person in his family was served (I Sam. 1:3-5).
“Does our husband feel that you might at last be able to bear a child if you are fed especially well?” Peninnah smugly whispered to Hannah.
Hannah winced at this remark. She realized that she had trouble in being as loving and kind as she should be to Peninnah’s children, but she didn’t feel that Peninnah had sufficient reason for constantly making such snide statements. She arose from the table and walked away to seat herself at a distance. When Elkanah noticed what she had done, he went to her and was grieved to find her sobbing.
“Why are you crying?” he asked her tenderly. “Why did you leave the table?” “Don’t worry about me,” Hannah breathed, struggling to hide her tears. She said nothing about Peninnah’s cruel conduct.
“I wish you wouldn’t be unhappy because you are not yet a mother,” Elkanah murmured. “There is a lot of time yet. Meanwhile, don’t you believe that I love you even more than ten sons could care for you” (I Sam. 3:6-8)
“I know,” Hannah replied. “But just let me sit here by myself for a while.”
Elkanah understood that she wanted to be alone. He returned to the table to join the others of his family unaware of the smirk on Peninnah’s face.
Hannah sat by herself for quite a while. Then she went into the tabernacle enclosure and started to pray, though not aloud. Because her eyes were closed, she wasn’t aware that she was being closely watched by Eli, the old high priest, who was sitting in an elevated seat close to one of the corner posts of the tabernacle fence.
“God of Israel, please make it possible for me to give birth to a baby boy,” she fervently prayed. “If you will just do this for me, I will gladly give him to you to use in your service all the days of his life!”
Hannah kept on praying silently. Her lips were moving, and she was unwittingly bending farther and farther forward in her state of great emotion. Eli was still watching her. Finally he got to his feet and strode over to where she was crouching (I Sam. 1:9-14).
”Young woman!” he snapped impatiently. “Young woman, straighten up! You should be ashamed of yourself! How much longer do you intend to hang around here in your drunken condition? If you want to stay around this tabernacle any longer, stop drinking before you pass out completely!”
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.