Whenever we are asked to make a commitment involving our time, effort, or resources, we usually ask, “What’s in it for me?” This question is the subconscious mantra driving and directing many decisions we make.
The nearer relative agrees to redeem Naomi’s land because it is beneficial for him to do so. Redeeming the land at bargain prices is a fantastic opportunity. Naomi has no sons or grandsons to inherit the land, so the property will soon be his. Feeding an old woman will not take too much money, and it will not be long before she passes on. Even if he has to marry her, Naomi is past childbearing age. His redeeming the land would definitely be a profitable venture. Not only that, this good deed will also enhance his public image and standing in the community.
But there’s more than just redeeming land. There are two widows, not one. Boaz reminds the nearer relative that it is a package deal of both property and posterity—of redeeming the family land and continuing the family line. Because he has to “acquire Ruth the Moabite” (Ruth 4:5), everything changes. The relative understands the implications. While the land is an asset, Ruth is a liability.
The relative considers the implications of marrying Ruth. First, he has to provide for Ruth and all the children from this marriage. Unlike Naomi, she is still young, probably younger than him. He will have to take care of Ruth for a very long time. Second, the first son born will be legally considered Mahlon’s son, not his (4:10), and the ownership of this piece of land will return to Mahlon’s family when this son comes of age. Third, this firstborn son will also be entitled to a share of this kinsman’s own inheritance. And if this son with Ruth is the only one he has, then his own land will be inherited by Elimelek’s heir, and his own name will die out. Fourth, Boaz deliberately highlights that he is marrying a Moabitess (4:5). Perhaps this nearer relative is a purist or racist, unwilling to marry a foreigner. Perhaps the fact that Naomi’s two sons died after their Moabite intermarriage makes him reluctant to marry Ruth the Moabitess.
Redeeming a piece of land is good investment. But to assume family responsibilities for two widows, marry the foreign one, and let other people’s children inherit the land he has just bought, would “endanger [his] own estate” (4:6). The nearer relative tells Boaz, “You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it” (4:6). I imagine Boaz shouting out loud, “Praise the Lord! My prayers are answered.”
There are two positive outcomes. Firstly, the refusal of the other man to assume the responsibilities of a kinsman-redeemer only underscores the kindness and generosity of Boaz towards two needy widows.
Secondly, we can expect to hear wedding bells soon. Not all of life’s stories will end happily like this one. But this episode reminds us that God is still writing the last chapter.
When was the last time you asked, “What’s in it for me?”, when asked to help out in church?
Is God asking you to assume additional responsibilities to care for your family? How would you respond?