וַיֹּאמְרוּ כָּל־הָעָם אֲשֶׁר־בַּשַּׁעַר וְהַזְּקֵנִים עֵדִים יִתֵּן יְהוָה אֶת־הָאִשָּׁה הַבָּאָה אֶל־בֵּיתֶךָ כְּרָחֵל וּכְלֵאָה אֲשֶׁר בָּנוּ שְׁתֵּיהֶם אֶת־בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וַעֲשֵׂה־חַיִל בְּאֶפְרָתָה וּקְרָא־שֵׁם בְּבֵית לָחֶם׃
וִיהִי בֵיתְךָ כְּבֵית פֶּרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יָלְדָה תָמָר לִיהוּדָה מִן־הַזֶּרַע אֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן יְהוָה לְךָ מִן־הַנַּעֲרָה הַזֹּאת׃
Then all the people who were at the gate and 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 act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman.” (4:11-12, ESV)
Witnesses. Being a witness (עוּד, ‘uwd) was a big deal in the Hebrew culture. Remember that their culture was largely oral. While writing systems existed, they were the exclusive property of the rich and artisans. Proving just about anything required witnesses, so throughout the Hebrew Scriptures there are constant calls for witnesses.
One of the great commandments is, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16, ESV) Many people reduce this to simply, “Don’t lie” but false witness was much more severe. It was roughly equivalent to perjury in our judicial system, but it carried a much stiffer penalty. Under rabbinical Judaism, if someone was found to have borne false witness, they were sentenced as if they had committed the crime they accused others of.
By calling the elders and all the people nearby as witnesses, Boaz evokes the most powerful element of ancient society – the community. Individuals had to suborn their own wishes and desires to the good of the community. It was the selfish man who elevated his own desires above that of the tribe or clan, and when such people came on the scene they were ultimately snuffed by the weight of their peers.
Boaz wisely involves the entire town with his marriage to Ruth and the redemption of the property of Elimelech. It removes any suspicion of foul play, establishes Boaz’s reputation even further, and most importantly it provides precedence for the ascendance of Ruth and Boaz’s descendant David.
To have met with the other kinsman in private and enacted this transaction without the public display would have been just as legally binding, but then the kinsman could have accused Boaz of manipulation of deceit and it would have been Boaz against the kinsman. Now, there was no reversing the covenant, and while the kinsman or his family might have eventually regretted the decision, there was nothing they could do.
The House of Perez. This little reference to Perez is something that most people miss, but it is crucial to the ascendancy of David. The narrative itself is related in Genesis 38. Judah, the heir apparent to the leadership of the sons of Israel had several sons. The oldest, Er, was married to a Canaanite woman named Tamar. When Er died without offspring, Judah had his second son, Onan, marry her. Onan was then struck down by God for refusing to impregnate Tamar. Judah’s third son, Shelah, was too young to marry Tamar, so Tamar used an elaborate trap to get Judah to impregnate her. She conceived twins, and once Judah discovered the situation, he took her as his own wife and the eldest of the twins, Perez, inherited the rule of Judah’s clan.
The Hebrew inhabitants of Bethlehem claimed descent through the house of Perez. The similarity between Boaz’s redemption of Elimelech and Judah’s redemption of his own son’s inheritance seem to have had a strong effect on the Bethlehemites. Just as Perez’s family ascended, so too would Boaz’s.
No one should miss the significance of this declaration. The descendant of Boaz and Ruth would be directly connected to Judah. Later, in the book of Deuteronomy, an entire legal code would be adopted for when the child of incest or immorality could be admitted into the congregation. Not surprisingly, the number of generations is the same as the number between Perez and David. (Deuteronomy 23:2-3)