King of Hopelessness, pt 13 (4:1-7)

וּבֹעַז עָלָה הַשַּׁעַר וַיֵּשֶׁב שָׁם וְהִנֵּה הַגֹּאֵל עֹבֵר אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר־בֹּעַז וַיֹּאמֶר סוּרָה שְׁבָה־פֹּה פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי וַיָּסַר וַיֵּשֵׁב׃
וַיִּקַּח עֲשָׂרָה אֲנָשִׁים מִ‍זִּקְנֵי הָעִיר וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁבוּ־פֹה וַיֵּשֵׁבוּ׃
וַיֹּאמֶר לַגֹּאֵל חֶלְקַת הַשָּׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר לְאָחִינוּ לֶאֱלִימֶלֶךְ מָכְרָה נָעֳמִי הַשָּׁבָה מִ‍שְּׂדֵה מוֹאָב׃
וַאֲנִי אָמַרְתִּי אֶגְלֶה אָזְנְךָ לֵאמֹר קְנֵה נֶגֶד הַיֹּשְׁבִים וְנֶגֶד זִקְנֵי עַמִּי אִם־תִּגְאַל גְּאָל וְאִם־לֹא יִגְאַל הַגִּידָה לִּי וְאֵדְעָה כִּי אֵין זוּלָתְךָ לִגְאוֹל וְאָנֹכִי אַחֲרֶיךָ וַיֹּאמֶר אָנֹכִי אֶגְאָל׃
וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז בְּיוֹם־קְנוֹתְךָ הַשָּׂדֶה מִ‍יַּד נָעֳמִי וּמֵ‍אֵת רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת־הַמֵּת קָנִיתָה לְהָקִים שֵׁם־הַמֵּת עַל־נַחֲלָתוֹ׃
וַיֹּאמֶר הַגֹּאֵל לֹא אוּכַל לִגְאָל־לִי פֶּן־אַשְׁחִית אֶת־נַחֲלָתִי גְּאַל־לְךָ אַתָּה אֶת־גְּאֻלָּתִי כִּי לֹא־אוּכַל לִגְאֹל׃
וְזֹאת לְפָנִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל עַל־הַגְּאוּלָּה וְעַל־הַתְּמוּרָה לְקַיֵּם כָּל־דָּבָר שָׁלַף אִישׁ נַעֲלוֹ וְנָתַן לְרֵעֵהוּ וְזֹאת הַתְּעוּדָה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל׃
וַיֹּאמֶר הַגֹּאֵל לְבֹעַז קְנֵה־לָךְ וַיִּשְׁלֹף נַעֲלוֹ׃

Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down.

Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. 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, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.”

Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”

Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. (4:1-8, ESV)

Up to the gate. The gates of a town or city where the main meeting place for most business in ancient Judea. This was true whether the town was only lightly fortified or a built up city. The gates where something of a choke point. Everyone had to enter by them, and certain business was done at each. This is why the gates of Jerusalem had names like Sheep Gate and Water Gate. If you were a farmer, you would most likely be using a particular gate so other farmers who wanted to meet you would naturally head to that gate.

In a town the size of Bethlehem, it was likely that there were only one or two gates. The gates were breaks in a small wall, although no remains have yet been uncovered. The walls of Jericho, which is to the south, would have stood about 14′ high and were 5′ feet thick. They were made mostly of mud brick with a stone tower for defense. Jericho was a major city at a ford in the Jordan River. Bethlehem was essentially a farming town, so it is reasonable to assume that the fortifications – whatever they would be – were less imposing than Jericho’s; but they must still have provided some protection.

Bethlehem’s hilltop situation in a mostly pastural setting meant that most of the warfare of the region would pass it by. There were other very genuine and very real concerns. The walls probably served as protection against wild animals. Of particular interest were Syrian bears (Ursus arctos syriacus) and Asian lions (Panthera leo persica). Today these top level predators are found only in zoos and reserves, but in the Bronze Age, they were very real concerns. The Syrian bear is actually a subspecies of the same family as the kodiak (Ursus arctos middendorffi) and the grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis) bears. The lions, although smaller than their African cousins, were still ferocious. Since both troubled the flocks and the populace, it is not surprising that settlements were walled.

Gates (שַׁעַר, ša’ar) could be made of anything, but most likely they were wooden doors of some kind, set into the wall and hinged. Since they were locked at night, the people who lived or were working outside of them would gather right outside in the morning. This was a time to do some quick business before the day began, and this is probably when Boaz went to the gates.

Naomi is selling her property. Boaz waits for the other family member (who is never named) and then assembles a council of elders to hear the situation. Then he phrases the matter carefully. He mentions only the property and that Naomi is attempting to sell it. It is only after the kinsman says he would like to purchase the land that Boaz mentions the woman Ruth.

This moment again highlights an important concept built into the redeemer. He not only restores what is dead, but he becomes the owner of it. He becomes responsible for it. While the nearer kinsman is more than happy to redeem the lands, he is not ready for the responsibility of a new wife.

More than likely, this nearer kinsman was already married and had selected an heir. Were he to marry Ruth and have a son with her, he would have to re-evaluate and reallocate his legacy.

Now, there is something else at work as well. People must have known of Boaz’s interest in Ruth. Would you marry a woman who another man clearly has designs upon? The potential for trouble is obvious. While I am sure the other kinsman was sincere in not wanting to have to rethink his legacy, there was probably also a bit of common sense built into turning down the property.

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