The close of the brief narrative in the Book of Ruth records the joy that came to Bethlehem through the marriage of Boaz the goel and Ruth. The blessing of Jehovah upon this somewhat singular union was made manifest by the gift of a son to the elderly husband and the barren widow. The women of the town with pious neighbourliness united to bless the God of Israel Who had raised up an heir to the inheritance, long lying in abeyance but now redeemed. By the birth of Obed, Naomi's sad heart was filled with joy, and Boaz acquired the fame of becoming a progenitor of Abraham's Seed of promise and of David's Son and Lord.
The Heir born for Naomi
Naomi, the widow of Elimelech, being the "seller," had the primary interest in the redemption of her husband's inheritance in Bethlehem, as Boaz publicly acknowledged when negotiating its purchase (4:5). When the transfer of the property to Boaz had been completed, she then ardently desired to see with her own eyes an heir born to Boaz and Ruth, so that her husband's name might thereby be preserved in his tribe, and the main object of the redemption be attained (for the anxiety of wives and mothers in Israel on this score, cp. the words of the widow of Tekoah, 2 Sam. 14:5-7). Naomi's desire for a family heir was granted, and her faith in Jehovah rewarded by the gift of a grandson. "And Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife; and he went in unto her, and Jehovah gave her conception, and she bore a son" (Ruth 4:13).
The women of the neighbourhood also recognised how signally Jehovah had wrought in the case, and with piety and intelligent insight they expressed their sympathy and delight to the elderly Naomi rather than to Ruth herself. "And the women said to Naomi, Blessed be Jehovah Who hath not left thee this day without one that has the right of redemption (goel) and may his name be famous in Israel! And he shall be to thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourishes of thine old age; for thy daughter-in-law who loves thee, who is better to thee than seven sons, has borne him" (Ruth 4:14, 15).
Evidently, these women were not idle, curious, chattering gossips, but godly sober-minded matrons with the fear of God before their eyes. They were able to discern that Jehovah had a purpose before Him in which this exceptional marriage and birth was involved. They no doubt remembered the outstanding case of Abraham and Sarah, to whom Isaac, the child of Jehovah's promise and plan for blessing to all the nations of the earth, was marvelously given. Perhaps they also recalled Amram and Jochebed and their child Moses; and again, Manoah and his wife and their child Samson. What blessings those children were to their parents! What honour those parents subsequently received through their children whose names became "famous in Israel," because God had "raised them up" and chosen them from birth for His special service! At any rate, the women, consciously or unconsciously, framed their congratulations to Naomi in the spirit of Jehovah's past dealings with the "fathers" of Israel. They told Naomi that in this baby boy Jehovah had given her the goel she had hitherto lacked, and He had thus made her inheritance secure, not only for the present but for the future also.
Moreover, the women seem to have had in mind Naomi's words of complaint on her return from Moab to Bethlehem (cp. 1:20-21); she then said that she went away full (with a husband and two sons), and had returned empty (with neither a husband nor a son). But Jehovah Whom she had blamed had regarded her "low estate," and had dealt not "bitterly" but bountifully with her. Ruth, the wife of the wealthy Boaz, had now become a mother, and in the newly-born infant Naomi saw the goel of her husband's inheritance for the coming years. The little grandson would be the "restorer of her life." In him, her dying family-possessions were given a living hope again. Ruth's son had brought nourishment to Naomi's old age.
Further, the women reminded Naomi of the great treasure she had in the mother of the young child. In Ruth she had found "the comfort of love" in the loneliness of her treble bereavement. Ruth had loved her when she was Naomi the pleasant, and she still loved and clung to her when she was Mara the bitter widow. Was Naomi still grieving that she had lost her two sons in Moab? Why, they said, Ruth herself "is better to thee than seven sons." Has she not borne to thee a grandson, the son of Boaz? To be the mother of seven or more sons was esteemed a signal honour in family life (see 1, Gen. 46:25; 2 Sam. 1:8; 2 Sam. 2:5; Job 1:2; Job 42:13; 1 Chron. 3:24; Jer. 15:9). So the wise women of Bethlehem bade Naomi to be glad in the Lord and to rejoice; the hour of sorrow had passed, and "a man" had been born into the world, whose name should be famous among the posterity of Abraham.
The Motherly Grandmother
The long pent-up maternal emotions of Naomi were aroused towards the child of Ruth. She took an intense interest in the babe, and was ready to devote her energies and experience to its upbringing in the ways of the Lord, as "grandmother Lois" seems to have done with Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5). "And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse to it" (Ruth 4:16). "Nurse" or "foster-parent" is used in the general sense of one who is "instructor" and "protector." Moses, speaking to Jehovah, uses it to describe his office of leadership of Israel in the wilderness: ". . . Thou sayest to me, Carry them in thy bosom, as the nursing-father beareth the suckling, unto the land . . ." (Num. 11:12). See also Isa. 49:23.
The interest of the neighbouring women-folk was so effusive that, like the neighbours of Elisabeth in later days (Luke 1:58, 59), they undertook to select a name for the child, whom they regarded as Naomi's because of its connection with the redemption of the inheritance which stood in her name. "And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi. And they called his name Obed (that is, worshipper, or servant). He is the father of Jesse, the father of David" (Ruth 4:17). The neighbours' choice of a name was accepted by Naomi and the parents of the child, and he was called Obed. Worship and service Godward seem both to be embodied in the meaning of this name, and the two qualities sum up the required attitude of man to God.
Our Lord referred to this essential combination when resisting the temptations of Satan in the wilderness. Quoting from Deut. 6:13, He said to the devil, "It is written, Thou shalt do homage to (worship) the Lord thy God, and Him alone shalt thou serve" (Matt. 4:10). The Lord Jesus had taken "the form of a servant," and as such He glorified God to the uttermost; for He was Jehovah's Beloved Servant, of Whom the prophets of Israel bore ample witness.
Obed (servant), the son of wealthy Boaz, by his name, at any rate, and perhaps also by an obedient and dedicated life of piety bore a quiet witness, not only to his coming grandson David who "served his own generation by the will of God" (Acts 13:36), but to David's Son and David's Lord, Whose service to God is unequalled and incomparable. The scripture record shows that in Obed's posterity his name became "famous in Israel"; for besides this brief record in Ruth, his name occurs nowhere else but in 1 Chron. 2:12, as the grandfather of David, and in Matt. 1:5 and Luke 3:32 as the ancestor of the Messiah of Israel. But what illustrious honour for the son of a Moabitess is this association with the Anointed of Jehovah in His pedigree!
The Genealogical Appendix
The brief narrative in this Book shows how, through the providential over-ruling of Jehovah, Ruth the Moabitess became naturalized in Bethlehem-Judah in the land of Israel. The narrative ends with the statement that Obed, the son of Boaz and Ruth, "is the father of Jesse, the father of David," this brief sentence expressing the main object of the record. But a fuller genealogy is added, which extends David's pedigree backwards as far as Pherez, the son of Judah. "Now these are the generations of Pherez. Pherez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab, and Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salma, and Salma begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed, and Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David" (Ruth 4:18-22).
This table of lineage unaccompanied by comment is of importance, forming as it does plain proof of the descent of David from the tribe of Judah, to which tribe the sceptre and the lawgiver in Israel belonged, according to the inspired promise and prophecy of Jacob on his deathbed (Gen. 49). The evidence afforded by this short list of names is sufficient in itself to invalidate all rival claims to royalty either by the tribe of Ephraim or by the tribe of Benjamin. It therefore connects the Book of Ruth with the histories of king Saul of Gibeah in Benjamin and king David of Bethlehem in Judah, which follow in the Books of Samuel. The period covered by the table extends from the calling of the Israelites out of Egypt to be Jehovah's people and nation to the time when Jehovah raised up David to reign over them as His king.
The list contains ten generations, and these may be divided into two groups of five. The first five names — Pherez to Nahshon — are connected mainly with Israel when in Egypt and in the wilderness; the second — Salmon to David — with Israel in the land up to the time when monarchy was established under God's chosen king. The pedigree shows the distinct line of constitutional royalty promised to the nation. The names given in it are not always those of the eldest in the family. David himself, for instance, was the seventh son of Jesse (1 Chron. 2:15). The line of descent from Pherez was decreed to end with the Messiah, and it was therefore continuously under the superintendence of Jehovah. Elimelech's name does not appear in the list, but that of Boaz, the son of Salmon. This selection shows the religious value attached to the marriage of Ruth and the redemption of the inheritance, of which perhaps the happy couple themselves were entirely unaware.
Some historical items connected with the names in this list may be noted. Pherez (Perez), the son of Judah and Tamar is always given precedence over his twin-brother Zarah or Zerah, so that he possessed the right of primogeniture. The family of Pherez (Num. 26:20) held highest rank in the tribe of Judah in David's reign (1 Chron. 27:3), and seems to have been distinguished by its fertility and virility. This rapid increase of the family explains the allusion to "the house of Pherez" by the people at the marriage of Boaz (4:12). The list in Ruth begins with Pherez, and not with his father, Judah, who died prior to the time of the Exodus, which was the beginning of national life for the children of Israel. Hezron was the firstborn of Pherez. Ram is sometimes called Aram (Matt. 1:3). Amminadab was the father of Elisheba, who became the wife of Aaron, brother of Moses, and first of the hereditary high-priests of Israel (Ex. 6:23). Nahshon (Naason) was brother-in-law of Aaron (Ex. 6:23), and prince or head of the tribe of Judah (Num. 1:7; Num. 2:3; 1 Chron. 2:10). Salmon (Salma), son of Nahshon, married Rahab the harlot, and was the father of Boaz (Matt. 1:5). Salmon was probably one of the two men whom Joshua sent to Jericho and the neighbourhood secretly, and who lodged in Rahab's house (Joshua ii). Obed has been already noticed. Jesse the Bethlehemite (1 Sam. 16:1, 18; 1 Sam. 17:58) had eight sons (1 Sam. 16:10, 11; 1 Sam. 17:12). Jesse is described as "that Ephrathite of Bethlehem-Judah," and "was old in the days of Saul; advanced in years among men" (1 Sam. 17:12). He was a wealthy man, but his great distinction in the nation seems to have been that he was the father of David, his youngest son, who rose to the throne of Israel, having been chosen by Jehovah to be the ruler of His people.