by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
One wonderful item shared by so many is the accounting that continuous study of Scripture leads to ever new insights, even after many years of reading the same Biblical text. Such an event occurred with me recently when reading the 4th chapter of Ruth, a text I have read frequently over more than 60 years of Biblical reading and study.
This familiar and heartwarming story reveals the climax of Naomi’s flight with her husband and 2 sons to Moab to escape a famine in Israel, the marriage of the sons to Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, the death of Naomi’s husband and sons, and Naomi’s subsequent return to Israel, initially with both her daughters-in-law, then, after Orpah being persuaded to return to Moab, with Ruth alone after an emotional declaration from Ruth that she would never leave Naomi, her people, or her God.
One important sideline of the story is that the famine is, to at least to some extent, discipline from Adonai. The book of Judges, as well as much of the Biblical historical material, reveals a continuous stream of idolatry and unfaithfulness. Where God had promised great, sustained blessing and abundance with obedience, there were also promised disciplines for rebellion. One of the worst mistakes was to defy the discipline; for example, when the Babylonians invaded Judah, the Judean kings were told to “go out to the King of Babylon”, submit to him, and honor their agreements of fealty, thus accepting the discipline of Adonai until He delivered them from it. At the same time, we should note that the discipline of the Lord, even at its harshest, was never total rejection, as exemplified by the accounts of the book of Esther.
In Ruth’s 4th chapter, Boaz has come to love, respect, and honor Ruth’s faithful submission to her new life with Naomi, life in Israel, and the ways of God. He wants to marry her, redeem the estate of Naomi’s deceased husband, and raise up children to carry on the name of Ruth’s deceased 1st husband, all provided by the Torah in levirate marriage. But, there was a closer relative who, by Torah, had the 1st right and opportunity of refusal. Boaz went to meet this closer relative with the elders of Bethlehem at the city gate to offer the opportunity. While expressing initial interest in the property, the relative declines when discovering that the transaction would also include marrying Ruth. He signifies this by removing his sandal and giving it to Boaz. I have read this many times but missed a valuable insight. The very 1st promise of Messianic redemption occurred in Genesis 3:15 where Adonai tells the serpent that the rebellion newly occurred in the Garden of Eden would be undone by the “crushing of the heel” of “the seed of the woman”. Many times, such as with Moses at the burning bush and Joshua at Jericho,
God instructed to remove their sandals. This was also the provision of the Torah when declining the opportunity of levirate marriage. By doing this, the individual was exposing his heel, foreshadowing the sacrifice of “seed of the woman”. He was declining the opportunity to redeem, yielding to God’s provided Redeemer. Also, “aqev’, “heel”, is the root for “Yaacov”, “Jacob”, who, when born, clung to his twin brother’s heel. The reference to the heel implicates the line of Jacob, Israel, as the redemptive line. This action by the relative clears the way for Boaz, who marries Ruth, opening new vistas of life and joy for Naomi.
Ruth conceives and gives birth to a son and names him Obed, “servant”. In Isaiah 42, 49, 50, and 53, the Messiah is referred to as the “Servant of Adonai”. Ruth, a foreigner accepted into Israel’s life and covenant, has become so through the loving redemption of Boaz made possible by the exposure of a heel. She gives birth to a son named “servant” who becomes a predecessor of the ultimate “Servant”, the Messiah, Yeshua, as well as David and the entire kingly line of Israel.
Lastly, when Naomi becomes the loving, grandmotherly babysitter for Ruth and Obed, the women of Bethlehem come to celebrate with her. They exult, “Blessed be Adonai, Who has not left you without a “goel” (Redeemer) today.” That prescient statement reminds us that our Jewish people have a Redeemer, the Jewish Messiah Whose heel being crushed has renewed us from the famine of sin and restored us to life eternal!
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN. He is also a frequent guest on WGNR-FM 97.9 Moody Radio Indianapolis. Check out his congregation website: shaareyyeshua.org
by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler