After recounting the story of Ruth in the Bible, the teacher asked his Sunday school class, “What’s the name of the man who married Ruth?” Six-year-old Tommy confidently shouted, “Boaz!” The teacher then followed up with another question: “What’s the name of the other man who didn’t want to marry Ruth?” Another student shouted, “my friend!” (Ruth 4:1).
Conspicuously and curiously, the name of the other relative is never mentioned in this story. Boaz probably knew and would have called him by name. And his name would have been required for the transaction to be legal. But in telling this story, the author intentionally avoids naming him, or even providing any important details about him. The Hebrew words peloni almoni, rendered “my friend” (4:1) literally means, “so-and-so”! To convey the correct meaning of the Hebrew expression, the NET Bible calls him “John Doe” (4:1 NET)”—a name sometimes used to conceal a person’s real identity.
Some scholars explain that the narrator wanted to protect him from the embarrassment resulting from his inability or unwillingness to assume responsibility for Ruth and Naomi. Rabbinic traditions, however, say that this is poetic justice for the one who refused to preserve the name of a kinsman because he was worried about his own inheritance and posterity. So today, we don’t even know his name!
Today, most transactions are formalised when parties sign on a dotted line in the presence of witnesses. But in the days of Ruth, “for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other” (4:7). It would appear that by the time the story of Ruth was written, the exchange of sandals as a way of legalising business transactions was no longer practiced and hence, the editorial explanation provided in parentheses.
In the Bible, the feet also symbolises authority and ownership (Psalm 8:6; Ephesians 1:22). The removing of the sandal thus indicates that the unnamed relative is relinquishing all rights to the land, and the passing of the sandal to Boaz symbolises that Boaz now has the right to walk on the land as his property (see also Joshua 1:3; 14:9).
And we hear wedding bells. Boaz explains why he is assuming the responsibility of guardian-redeemer even though he is not legally bound to do so. Boaz marries Ruth “in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property”, giving Mahlon a descendant “so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown” (4:5, 10). What selfless love!
With his part finished, the nearer relative, Mr “So-and-so”, disappears into the pages of history, his name forgotten. Today, we know only the name of Boaz, the generous and gracious kinsman (4:14) who acted with extraordinary covenantal love. And, as an added bonus, we know Boaz as the ancestor of both Israel’s most beloved king and the world’s greatest King (Ruth 4:22; Matthew 1:5–16). Indeed, as the writer of Hebrews assures us, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end” (Hebrews 6:10–11).
What does Proverbs 22:1 say about the importance of maintaining a good name? According to Proverbs 3:3–4, how can we maintain a good name?
How does Hebrews 6:10–11 motivate you to continue to serve and help others?