by Linda Ryan
Everybody loves a bargain. There’s something about a tag that says “buy one get one” that seems to be beckoning people to buy things just to get another one for 50% off or even, and maybe better, free. It encourages compulsive buying, and merchants know that.
The story of Ruth is a familiar one — Naomi and Elimelech moved to Moab with their sons who married two Moabite women. Elimelech and the two sons died, leaving the three women alone and unprotected with no family around them. Naomi decides to move back home but encourages the daughters-in-law to remain in Moab. One does just that, but Ruth, the other, vows to follow Naomi back to her home. She does, and follows Naomi’s instructions about gleaning in a relative’s field and other things that would make their lives better.
Elimelech had owned some land, and Naomi decided to sell it since there were no direct heirs in Elimelech’s line because there were no sons. We know at least two kinsmen at least, were interested in the property, so one of them, Boaz, met the other in the marketplace and asks the relative’s plans regarding the inheritance, whether or not the cousin would accept it. Boaz made quite a formal event of it making sure that there were witnesses needed to make it a binding thing no matter which way it went. The kinsman said he would redeem the inheritance, probably thinking it would increase his portfolio quite nicely. Then Boaz adds a little reminder. “If you take the land, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite widow of a dead man, and you will raise sons to be Ruth’s late husband’s inheritors.”
The kinsman thought about that for a minute and then decided that the deal just wasn’t a good thing for him and so he left it all to Boaz. . It sounds funny to us to use land as a primary factor in inheritance and then, oh, by the way, throw in a human being in the process. It sounds almost demeaning. It was if Ruth were no more than a chattel, a possession to be bargained for willy-nilly, or sent here or there depending on the circumstances. Frankly, as a 21st century woman, it galls me. I realize the times were very different then, and I can’t argue with the culture 3000 or so years ago.
Inheritance is always been an important thing. Most people had very little to leave as an inheritance. If they were lucky, they had the clothes on their back and the family that they left behind. With better luck, they might on a stall in the marketplace and maybe even their own house or room above their place in the market. They lived in a time where goods were thought of as limited resources. The more you had, the less there was for me, because there was only so much to go around. Today it does seem that the world does go by that belief, given that 1% of the world’s people have as much as almost all of the 99% of others, ranging from wealthy to comfortable to poor to utterly destitute. Some even base their theology on that belief in limited resources and the Prosperity Gospel where God loves the rich so much more than the poor (or they wouldn’t be so poor!).
Back to Ruth and Boaz. We know at the end that indeed Boaz does take Ruth as his wife and, per the custom of the people, he has a child by her who is considered to be the son of her late first husband, Mahlon. That was a common thing, to prevent names and bloodlines from being lost. Even if adopted, it was as if the child were born to the adoptive family rather than its own birth family which, if you think about it, is as it should be.
Meanwhile after the birth of Obed, the son of Ruth, he was taken to Naomi to be a new son to her. She placed him on her knees as was the custom and adopted him. In essence, he got a mother and grandmother all the same time, and still had Ruth and Boaz as parents. Boaz got the land and got a family as well. It was a pretty good deal, plus it brought Boaz into the lineage of a child to be born at some future point in time who would make all children inheritors of a great kingdom.
Think of it — an inheritance of a part of a great kingdom, FREE! Ok, so the price of entrance is a belief in this kingdom and a willingness to work to make that kingdom a reality. God isn’t asking us to take out a mortgage with God to be part of this kingdom, so there’s nothing to buy or which could be bought to get a person into the place of inheritor. Instead, God is inviting us to be investors of time and talent (and sometimes money to help others) in this dream of God. Sounds a lot better than “Buy one, get one free,” at least to my way of thinking. What about you?
Go thou and invest wisely in thy inheritance. God bless.
Image: Naomi, Ruth and Obed, painted by Thomas Matthew Rooke, 1876-7.