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Scene One - At the Town Gate 4:1-12

4:1 The change in point of view in this act is quite marked. On the surface, for the first time in the book, the attention is focused on men and their doings.

Even the grammar of the first sentence in Hebrew reinforces the sense of change. We have had a series of sentences predominantly with the most usual order Verb - Subject - Object, the verbs have been in the form which is normal for narrative ("wayyiqtol") now we have a sentence in the unusual form Subject - Verb - Object and therefore the verb is in the simpler but less usual form ("qatal"). Such changes often signal a changed point of view.

There is also a discontinuity between the sjuzet (telling) and the fabula (the events told about). In the telling Boaz activity at the gate follows directly on Ruth and Naomi's conversation at the end of Chapter 3. However it is possible that "really" the two events happen at the same time, or alternatively that Boaz' activity is noticeably later.

"Gone up" cf. 3:3,6 "go down" the difference is not merely geographic, it may not even be geographic, it is thematic "she" goes down and "he" goes up.

"and behold, the next of kin, of whom Bo'az had spoken, came by." RSV or "No sooner had Boaz..." NRSV here the RSV is more literal, the effect is as NRSV suggests to give a sense of "coincidence" (cf. 2:3 and Gen 24:15 where too chance masks providence) and surprise (cf. 3:8 where "and behold" gives us Boaz perspective as well as introducing his surprise).

"friend" the expression used here by Boaz suggests that he is anonymous or unknown. He is "Mr So-and-so". Of course Boaz must have known him, for he knew he was a closer go'el. The expression used underlines his anonymity. If the narrator simply didn't know the name he could have phrased it differently: Boaz said to him "...
that Boaz didn't know is unthinkable; 
perhaps the narrator doesn't want to offend his descendants? In that case why underline his role, not least by this expression peloni 'almoni (Mr So-and-so)? 
perhaps there is a clue in the way the man acts. Like any prudent paterfamilias he protects his heritage, perhaps he is so strongly anonymous because he represents Mr Everybody? 
also note that Boaz avoids the term go'el, for he doesn't wish the man to act the go'el, the narrator by contrast does call him the go'el.

4:2 "elders of the city" in the Pentateuch the "elders of Israel" appear as an authorative group, this was so for other communities too (cf. Num 22:11), Boaz makes this conversation formal and "official".

4:3 "our kinsman Elim'elech" literally "our brother" rightly for a western audience translated "kinsman" for there is no suggestion that they have the same father or mother (cf. 2 Sam 1:26; Am 1:9; Lev 25).

"Naomi... is selling" - How does Boaz know this? The narrator has not told us, indeed we do not know that Boaz knows this, he may be speaking an untruth - such uncertainty is typical of the "gapping" of biblical storytelling.

In this case I do not believe that the gap is significant - however other readers do - what do you think?

4:4 "So I thought I" Subject - Verb - Object, with the subject stressed by being mentioned separately as at v.1 marks a change in point of view.

The repetition in this verse is striking. 

What words and ideas are repeated? 
What does this suggest to you?

4:5 "acquiring Ruth the Moabite" cf. vv. 3,4 "sell" of the field, though the verb has a somewhat more general sense of "acquire" and certainly there is no sense of paying a dowry or bride-price here. Cf. Ex 15:13,16 "the people you have redeemed" and "the people you have bought".

4:6 Nb. the repetition and the inclusio in the Goel's speech.

And the Redeemer said: "I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption for yourself, for I cannot redeem it."

As well as repeating the root "redeem" it also brackets the "redeemer's" inheritance as cause of his reluctance and stresses the pronouns and their play. This is highlighted further by the echo of "'et-nachalati" (my inheritance) with "'eth-ge`ullati" (my right of redemption).

4:7 "in former times" the expression is used in Jgs 3:2; Neh 13:5; Job 42:11 (Jos 11:10?) and clearly means more than a generation:
in 1 Chr 9:20 it refers to 700 years, 
while in Ps 102:25 it is translated "long ago" and refers to creation (NIV even renders it "in the beginning" there!). 
The narrator has dramatically broken the frame of the story and admitted the gap between the time of telling and the time of the events. Is this merely unavoidable because we need the "footnote" clarification, or is it a preparation for the ending where we will hear the genealogy of the Messiah?
 
"In Israel" occurs twice, in Hebrew bracketing the actual information. Three assonant technical terms echo through these two verses: 
ge'ullah "redeeming" (v.6 "right of redemption"), 
temurah "exchanging", 
te`udah "attesting".
 
4:8 "he took off his sandal" this is the phrase that made the explanation of v.7 necessary. Therefore either: 
the action itself is important in some way to the story - perhaps because "taking off the sandal" is intended to convey another meaning as well (Dt 25:9) or possibly in this case to avoid conveying that other message!
this action was part of the received "story of Ruth" which the author could not omit, any more than we can omit the porridge from Goldilocks, but it needed explaining for his hearers.

Look at the discussion of these two verses in commentaries available to you. 
What feelings or ideas do you believe are conveyed by including both the action and its explanation?

4:9 Notice how Boaz' speech is nicely rounded off by the reversal v.9 "elders - all the people..." v.11 "all the people - elders". And how their reply repeats his first word (in Hebrew), "witnesses".

4:10 "acquired Ruth the Moabite" cf. v.5.

4:11 "like Rachel and Leah" note the reversal for Leah was the elder, and the first wife. Ruth reflects Rachel, she is preferred, infertile (but just wait). The reversal of precedence contributes to our sense of reversal in this passage.

"produce children" in Hebrew "do chayil" cf. 2:1; 3:11 usually means 'be victorious', here but here "do chayil" means be fertile cf. Joel 2:22; Job 21:7,8 (Pr 31:3?).

4:12 "this young woman" another reference (indirectly) to Boaz age!

"Perez... Tamar... Judah" having likened Ruth to Rachel and Leah they now liken Boaz to Perez the direct reference is clearly to the story of Perez' birth (Gen 38:27-30) however to do this inevitably also raises the ghost of his conception (Gen 38:1ff) and thus of Judah's failure in hesed !

4:1-12 : Boaz Organises Things

Chapter 2 moves slowly and formally in the fields, chapter 3 takes place in secret in darkness, here things move fast for Boaz is used to getting things done (3:18). Indeed at last it looks as if all is being wrapped up. Except that we are still at the level of blesssing and not yet of accomplished fact (v.12).


© Dr Tim Bulkeley, 2004.

You may quote and use these study notes, subject to the usual provsions of fair use - like giving proper credit e.g.
Tim Bulkeley, "Ruth: Genre" in Study Notes on Ruth http://www.hypertextbible.org/ruth/genre.htm [downloaded today's date].

If you want to reproduce large sections you should contact Tim. (tim at bible.gen.nz)

Tim teaches Hebrew Bible (First or Old Testament) at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and at Carey Baptist College his other sites include:
Amos - Postmodern Bible commentary
Study Notes on Jonah
Images of Archaeological Sites in Israel (Focusing on the Iron Age)