Purposes of Marriage in Ruth

Rest

Naomi urges her daughters-in-law to return to Moab and prays that they will find rest, each in the house of her husband (Ruth 1:9). Like the Israelites found rest in Canaan after their jouney and war, Ruth and Orpah would find security and stability in marriage. As Ruth is laboring to provide for her, Naomi again seeks rest for Ruth in the house of Boaz (Ruth 3:1).

Protection

When Ruth comes to a foreign country with no husband, father, or brothers, she is at the mercy of the men of Bethlehem. Boaz commands his young men not to touch Ruth, and warns her not to go to other men’s fields. Even with this precaution, he warns her to stay close to his young women (Ruth 2:8–9). Naomi explains more directly that if Ruth works in another man’s field, she might be assaulted (Ruth 2:22). The death of Ruth’s husband makes Ruth unnaturally vulnerable, but by the grace of God she comes under Boaz’s protection.

Honor

Boaz is willing to marry Ruth because, literally, the gate knows she is a woman of strength, chayil (Ruth 3:11). Boaz has a reputation with the elders and the other men of the city who meet at the gate, and a woman of chayil brings honor to her husband (Proverbs 12:4). Proverbs 31:10–31 describes a woman of chayil, but begins by asking who can find one! Boaz has found one, and marrying her will bring him honor at the gate.

Name

Similarly, marriage allows a man to perpetuate his name (Ruth 4:5). By marrying Ruth, Boaz ensures that the name of Elimelech will not be cut off from the gate (Ruth 4:10). Just as Boaz is known at the gate, the names of Elimelech and Mahlon would continue to be known through the descendants of Ruth’s firstborn son. This would be their legacy on the earth, so that their lives would not be spent in vain.

The significance of this point is very hard to grasp for me, a modern American. I recently listened to Crime and Punishment, and my mind was blown when Svidrigailov said something to the effect that the last name Razumikhin indicates noble character. Was there really a time when a family name meant something? And wouldn’t this generational reputation be something worth laboring for? Even today, there is some truth to this: for example, it is not a coincidence that we have had two presidents with the last name Bush. A man should not only seek honor for himself, but a name that will mean something when he passes it onto his son.

Chayil

The very masculine transaction at the gate ends with a peculiarly masculine blessing for Boaz’s marriage. The translations of aseh chayil in Ruth 4:11 are all over the place: have standing (NIV), prosper (NLT), act worthily (ESV), achieve wealth (NASB), be powerful (HCSB), produce children (NRSV). All of these translations fit the context, and none of them are wrong. The elders wish for the descendants of Boaz and Ruth to be like the nation of Israel: great, numerous, powerful, prosperous, and honorable. The men at the gate have an interest in Boaz’s family becoming powerful and prosperous, because this will make Bethlehem powerful and prosperous. Boaz’s descendants will work the land, enforce justice, and fight battles. The elders have no idea to what extent God will answer their prayer through the family of David.

Provision in Old Age

When the baby is born, the women of Bethlehem praise God for taking care of Naomi in her old age, and she gladly nurtures the grandson she didn’t expect to have. A stable and prosperous family gives rest and joy to the elderly.

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