By Russ Ramsey
Where in your life are you thinking about giving up? You’re looking at a situation that once seemed filled with promise, but now you can’t see how anything good could come of it. And you’re tempted to kill your hope, to take your lumps and move on. Don’t do it. There’s so much you cannot see.
Today’s text reminds us that there is always more going on than we can know, and because there is, there is always room for hope.
I am not a poker player, but we’ve all seen movies or read stories about a perfectly played poker hand. Sometimes the hand wins because of the cards, but most of the time it’s because of how the cards are played. Today’s text, which describes an ancient custom of claiming inheritances, reads like a perfectly played hand.
The player? Boaz. The stakes? Ruth’s future. Read the text and let me describe the custom.
The city gate was essentially the town hall. Boaz goes to the gate to look for Elimelech’s next of kin, Ruth’s “redeemer.” Boaz arrives with a strategy. He finds Elimelech’s next of kin and invites him to sit down with him. The man knows this gesture means Boaz wants to talk business. Boaz then gathers ten elders—respected men in the town—to serve as witnesses to this conversation.
Boaz starts laying out his plan by saying nothing about Ruth. He just talks about Elimelech’s land. “If you want to redeem it, do it” (Ruth 4:4). Then Boaz shows one of his cards, expressing his willingness to redeem it if this man didn’t want to.
Now, the next of kin knows he would have to take on caring for Naomi, Elimelech’s widow, if he buys the land. But since Naomi is past childbearing years, he wouldn’t have to divide his inheritance with any children he might have with her. So he says yes, thinking the land will go to his existing heirs.
Then Boaz plays the rest of his hand: if the next of kin buy the land, he will also “inherit” Ruth in order to give her dead husband an heir. For the next of kin to take Ruth into his home, he would have to deplete his own children’s inheritance to buy this land, knowing it would not be passed down to his sons but to Ruth’s.
Boaz has painted the next of kin into a corner where the only way out is to deal honestly with what he wants. If the redeemer doesn’t want to pay the cost and be bound to the custom of the law to give Ruth a son, this is his chance to decline. And because the city elders are listening, Boaz has put the man in a position where he must give his answer on the spot. And the answer he gives will be final.
It’s a brilliant play. Boaz has Ruth’s well-being in mind. If the next of kin really wants to do for Ruth what Boaz wants to do for her, Boaz seems willing to call that good. But if there is any hint of reluctance in the next of kin, Boaz has already offered himself as an easy out for the man. Either way, Ruth will end up with a man who truly wants her.
The next of kin doesn’t want to absorb the cost of buying land that will not go to his heirs, so he declines in front of everyone, and names Boaz as Ruth’s kinsman redeemer. Boaz takes the man’s sandal with his heart set on marrying Ruth. The elders who witnessed Boaz’s commitment proclaimed, “May you be powerful in Ephrathah and your name well known in Bethlehem” (v.11). Little did any of them know how true that statement was.
This is how God works in us, through us, and for us. How much is God doing in your life that you can’t see? It’s a trick question. How could you possibly know?
Where are you thinking about abandoning hope? Don’t do it. There’s so much you don’t know.