(Rut 4:11-12 ESV) 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, 12 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.”
What’s the significance of Perez to Ruth and Boaz?
Judah was seduced into having twin sons by Tamar, his daughter-in-law, after her husband died and his brother refused his duties as Levirate husband.
The proclamation of the townspeople recalls that this incestuous relationship was blessed by God. After all, the noble Boaz was a descendant of Judah and Tamar. They prayed that God would bless the marriage of Boaz to Ruth as well.
It’s an odd thing to pray for, given that Tamar seduced Judah under false pretenses, pretending to be a prostitute. But in both cases, the man who was obligated to become the Levirate husband refused his duties, and so another man had to become the kinsman redeemer so that the widow would not be left shamed and in poverty.
In short, Judah unwillingly honored his obligations under the Levirate law, whereas Boaz went to great lengths to fulfill his duties under the Law. And yet God has blessed the household of Perez — the tribe of Judah was perhaps the largest of the 12 tribes — and so God will surely bless Boaz and Ruth all the more!
(Rut 4:17b-22 ESV) They named [the first son of Boaz and Ruth] Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. 18 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, 19 Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, 20 Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, 21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, 22 Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.
Ruth had a son named Obed, Naomi was honored by the people, but the true conclusion of the story isn’t the son of Ruth. It’s the grandson of Obed — David.
The genealogy goes back to Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar, born in apparent incest but to correct a refusal of Judah’s son Onan to honor his Levirate obligations to Tamar. From there we find the generations leading through Boaz to Jesse to David.
Why? Is this just a nice story about David’s ancestry? Probably Ruth was written as a defense of David’s legitimate claim to the throne. After all, Saul and David would be rivals for the throne for years. After Saul’s death in battle, Saul’s son Ishbosheth would reign over 11 tribes of Israel for 7 years, while David ruled only Judah.
Surely some supporters of Saul’s family used David’s Moabite blood against him, arguing that he was not a pure-blood Jew. The book of Ruth showed that Ruth had become a Jew by choice — a proselyte — and that Boaz was required by the Law of Moses to marry her. The marriage was not just legitimate, but mandated by the Law!
It’s a great story. The customs are so foreign to us, and yet our knowledge of the legal system of that age is so incomplete that we are left scratching our heads at some points.
We see much later, in the first chapter of Matthew, that Matthew, surely thinking of the genealogy at the end of Ruth, includes Rahab, Tamar, and Ruth by name in the genealogy of Jesus.
Matthew seems to revel in the imperfections of Jesus’ bloodlines. Yes, he is heir of David, the greatest of the Hebrew kings, but he is also heir of a prostitute, a woman who seduced her father-in-law into incest, and a Moabite. And in that culture, what greater honor might a woman have than to be an ancestor of the Messiah?
Although not mentioned explicitly in Ruth or Matthew 1, Moab, the father of the nation of Moabites, was a son of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, by means of incest, as well (Lots’ daughters got him drunk and seduced him after they fled Sodom). Thus, both Boaz and Ruth had great sin in their ancestries, and nonetheless, God chose to anoint David and to send Jesus through bloodlines tainted with sin.
This is grace. The extent of this grace is not obvious to modern Americans, because we don’t see sin as passing through bloodlines. But the Jews certainly did —
(Deu 23:2 ESV) 2 “No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD.”
David is the 11th generation from Judah, who committed incest with Tamar. Thus, Perez was a mamzer and so barred from entering the Tabernacle or Temple. Mamzer does not mean illegitimate but born of an impermissible sexual union.
Oddly enough, a Levirate marriage would be incestuous under the Law of Moses, except for being required. A man is not allowed to marry the wife of his deceased brother under the Law — and so the child of such a marriage would be a mamzer unless it’s a commanded Levirate marriage.
Therefore, it may well be that Perez was no mamzer (if we take Judah to be fulfilling his obligation under the Levirate law), although you can see how reasonable minds might disagree. And that being the case, it was important to show that David was sufficiently removed from Perez to no longer be a mamzer by inheritance of Judah’s guilt.
On the other hand, Deuteronomy also states,
(Deu 23:3-4 ESV) 3 “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever, 4 because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.”
David was certainly fewer than 10 generations removed from Ruth, but the argument is that only male Moabites (and their heirs) suffer this condemnation because ethnic descent under Jewish law is male to male. They likely considered the “seed” planted by the man in the woman’s womb to be the sole source of the baby. Hence, the son of a Jewish man and Moabite woman was a Jew. But the son of a Moabite man and a Jewish woman was a Moabite — for 10 generations.
As a female, Ruth was able to be absorbed into the Jewish nation (due to the principle of patrilineal descent) and as a believer in the true God was no more considered a “heathen” of the sort forbidden for marriage under the definition of mamzer.
See this article as well.
The purpose of the Book of Ruth
So why was Ruth written and placed in the Old Testament? Well, to demonstrate that David was not a mamzer and so eligible to be king.
But more importantly, to show the working of the hand of God. Although the place of God in Ruth’s story is not explicitly stated, the book is well written to give a sense of God’s plan being worked out according to his purposes. Things did not have to work out so well for Ruth. Indeed, things could have gone very badly.
Ruth was in poverty. It just happens that she chose to glean the fields of Boaz, unaware that he was an in-law and a kinsman-redeemer.
It just happens that Boaz is a generous man who makes certain Ruth is well provided for, provoking Naomi to inquire as to whose field Ruth had gleaned that day.
It just happens that Boaz worries that a young widow in the field might be in danger, and so he orders her protection. Had he not done so, she might have been robbed, sold into slavery, killed, or raped. Had he not protected her, she’d likely not have become an ancestor of David.
It just happens that Boaz was willing to marry Ruth even though it would dilute the inheritance of his sons by another wife.
It just happens that the true kinsman-redeemer was unwilling to marry Ruth, for purely financial reasons.
It just happens that Boaz was next in line.
All this was set up by Ruth’s decision not to remarry in Moab but to go with Naomi to Bethlehem, to a land that was unfamiliar to her, to be among people who were not her blood kin — foreigners to her — to worship the God of the Jews and to glean the fields of strangers to support her mother-in-law.
That’s the essence of the story. It happened this way because God wanted it to happen this way.
It happened this way only because Ruth and Boaz were willing to honorably follow the Law regarding Levirate marriage — a law violated by the parents of Perez. Boaz and Ruth demonstrated how Moses’ commands work when properly applied and meticulously followed, and in a very real sense, erasing the sin of incest from both their ancestries by honoring the Law. Ruth shows the blessings of obedience to the Law.
And, of course, by showing the legitimacy of David’s claim to the throne, the Book of Ruth defends the claim of Jesus to be the Messiah. It’s all connected.
the story of Ruth is a wonderful story on loyalty.
Great teaching except that most scholars disagree that Boaz was compelled to marry Ruth under the Levirate law as he was not a brother of the deceased. He undertook to marry her (or provide for her) not out of legal obligation but out of chesed (lovingkindness), the principle that drives the story. His only obligation (once the other kinsman-redeemer refused to do so) was to act as go’el and buy back Elimelech’s property.
I don’t disagree with your point, although I think the reality is likely somewhere in between.
Kathleen A. Robertson Farmer, “The Book of Ruth,” in Numbers-2 Samuel vol. 2 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 937. (I really like this commentary, but didn’t have it when I wrote this post.)
In Deu we find —
There’s no reference to the obligation passing to the next brother — but it’s plainly a matter of severe dishonor for the first brother to reject the widow of the deceased brother. That is, while the first surviving brother could refuse the marriage, he did so at great cost. We Americans don’t comprehend the severity of the dishonor because we live in a very different culture.
Add to this this kinsman-redeemer of property, as you mention, designed to keep land in the family line, and it appears that in Ruth, the two concepts have become combined so that the widow is treated as property —
Boaz says he “bought” Ruth from what we’d call the estate of Mahlon. Evidently, the sandal ceremony was modified in this case. Rather than Ruth ripping it off and spitting in his face, the next of kin gave the sandal to Boaz, symbolic of transferring the “right of redemption” to Boaz. No shame but a transaction designed to preserve the line of Mahlon and avoid the dishonor of rejecting Ruth. She can’t rip off his sandal as he’s given it to Boaz — but if Boaz refuses, then Ruth could shame him (but this was theoretical only at this point, the deal having been made in advance).
So, yes, Boaz acted of his own free will, under no legal obligation, but then the next-of-kin had the right to refuse as well. The overlay to all this was honor/shame culture — and if no one “bought” Ruth, the family would be shamed for having cut off the line of the deceased brother. Boaz seems to have certainly acted out of love/chesed — I agree! — but his actions not only provided him with a good wife, he absolved his family from shame and he brought great honor to his house by doing what the next of kin refused to do. He cleaned up someone else’s mess, rescuing the family from shame.
This was not mandatory in the sense that the city elders could have forced the marriage — but the penalty of shame on the family, even on a brother or cousin — would have been highly motivating. Much worse than a fine. If Boaz had declined, the family would have been compelled to find someone to take Ruth or else have the family suffer dishonor. Dishonor has a way of sticking to the entire family.
Now, although the language refers to Ruth being “bought,” I suspect that this was a legal fiction (modern term) to combine the kinsman redeemer law with the Levirate marriage law, so that the property passed to the new husband, so it would then pass to the children of the new marriage. The marriage and property needed to go together so that the sons of the new marriage would inherit the estate being preserved. So the widow was treated as a chattel (property) who passed with the rest of her deceased husband’s estate to the redeemer — like property. But I don’t think she was actually thought of as literal property — as would have been the case with a slave. Rather, she was part of the inheritance being acquired — and to preserve the memory of her late husband and continue his line (and to give Ruth children to support her in her old age) the fiction had to be indulged. After all, most wives were much younger than their husbands, would outlive their husbands,and would need to be supported by the community if they had no children with property that could be farmed to care for their mother.
Of course, the financial incentives were pointed the other way. If the property passed to the male next of kin who didn’t marry Ruth, then Ruth was left in poverty but the next of kin built up his estate for his own children. Hence, society marked such self-interested behavior with shame. These strange laws were actually established for the protection of widows — entirely consistent with God’s self-revelation (Deu 10:18 etc.).
Kathleen A. Robertson Farmer, “The Book of Ruth,” in Numbers-2 Samuel vol. 2 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 938.
I also found this insight —
Kathleen A. Robertson Farmer, “The Book of Ruth,” in Numbers-2 Samuel vol. 2 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 942.