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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Ruth 4



Verse 11


‘All the people that were in the gate said, We are witnesses.’

Ruth 4:11

I. It was a solemn moment when Boaz said to the elders and to all the people, ‘Ye are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s.… Moreover, Ruth … have I purchased to be my wife … that the name of the dead … be not cut off from the gate of this place.’ We would like to have known more of how this sweet mother builded her house; but when, as a widow, already she was ‘known in the gate as a virtuous woman,’ there is little doubt that afterwards in her own home she enjoyed the fruit of her hands, and her own works praised her in the gates. Most of all had she the right to give thanks in the gate as she carried her little Obed to the well his grandson loved and longed to drink of. This we are sure of, that she never forgot that day at the gate when she was bought back.

II. In the answer of the elders to Boaz there is a word for mothers of all time.—‘The Lord make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel.’ For we are builders; our work never ceases, and, unlike a building, never comes to an end until the Master-builder takes a block for finer workmanship above. We are builders, and have to keep our eye on high. A child was taken by a master-mason to a high scaffolding of a new house to get a view that would be impossible again, because slates would take the place of the workman’s planks. In case of giddiness his word was always, ‘Keep looking up.’

III. We are builders, and our buildings have gates, and our help is sure, for the Lord supplements as He inspects us.—David, in one of his closing psalms in his little praise-book within the psalm book, gives us encouragement. He has been ransacking nature for tongues to praise God’s goodness. He has spoken of the stars, the clouds, and the wild beasts, and in his flight he gives Jerusalem and Zion a word which in a narrow and limited sense all mothers can claim, for we are working at the same building. ‘He hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee.’


(1) ‘Cornelia, the mother of twelve children, refused Ptolemy’s crown after she became a widow, that she might devote herself to the training of her sons; and this was the inscription the Romans put on her statue, “Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi.” And nearer home our own Princess Alice might be called the model and martyr of motherhood. She writes thus: “I always think that in the end children educate the parents. For their sakes there is so much one must do; one must forget oneself if everything is as it ought to be. It is doubly so if one has the misfortune to lose a precious child. Rückert’s lovely lines are so true (after the loss of two of his children):—

“Now unto you the Lord has done what we had wished to do;

We would have trained you up, and now ’tis we are trained by you.

With grief and tears, O children, do you your parents train,

And lure us on and up to you, to meet in heaven again.”’

(2) ‘It casts a side light on this loosing of the shoe to know that it is still done in our western islands. “In the outer Hebrides, when a crofter has been elected constable, he takes off his shoes and stockings, and taking his bonnet in his hand, and, bowing low and reverently, he declares on honour, in presence of earth and heaven, in presence of God and men, that he shall be faithful to his trust. The feet are bared in order to bring the man into contact with the earth of which he is made, and to which he returns.’

(3) ‘There are hundreds who will take up religion for the profit of it, but who don’t care to saddle themselves with its duties. If religion is a little addition to their respectability, or a little guarantee of their professional integrity, or a warrant of ultimate safety in the next world, they are all for religion; but when it is the expenditure of thought, labour, or money, when it makes a strong and lasting claim upon man’s whole love, and attention, and conduct, then they will have none of it. But the kinsman’s refusal opens the way to the fulfilment of Boaz’s wishes. Ruth is not there to pluck off the kinsman’s shoe and to spit in his face: those rough ceremonies have passed into desuetude; but the custom prevails of taking off the shoe, and giving it in token of a transference of rights. This was the custom, says the historian: plainly intimating that this custom had ceased at the time he wrote. So he narrates the old custom with the glee of an antiquary, and tells how the kinsman handed Boaz his shoe in sign that he gave over his claim; and how Boaz calls the ten grave aldermen and the crowd to witness that now all rights in the land and in Ruth the Moabitess have become his. And then the good-natured people, who know and respect Boaz, wish him every happiness; and so the little court breaks up.’

(4) ‘The story of Ruth is unsurpassed for charm and tenderness. Slightly modernized, it would take high rank to-day as a short story. It is first of all an idyll of sound, strong, womanly character. Ruth has the self-devotion, the reverence, the industry, the modesty, the courage, and the ready obedience which entered into typical Hebrew womanhood. Again it stands for the truth, so sorely needing enforcement, at least in post-exilic times, among the Jews, that those of foreign birth might exhibit such character as well as those of their own nationality. It also undermines the intolerance often felt by Jews for outsiders by showing that Ruth, although a Moabitess, was recognized as a true servant of Jehovah, wedded to an influential Hebrew, and in time became the ancestress of King David. As a plea against intolerance it is very effective; as a picture of the social life of the Judges era it is beautiful and artistic; as a study in womanly ideals it is interesting; as a plea for sincere and simple faith it is effective.’

(5) ‘Trust God with your life. He is working out His own plan. He will not fail; be not discouraged. He will do as He pleases among the armies of heavens and the inhabitants of the earth. Pharez was the ancestor of the family settled in Bethlehem. It is curious to hear his name again, and to find it appearing twice in this story. It seems as though our families stand together for evermore, for better or worse. Trees from root to quivering leaf. Rivers from fountain to sea. So the sweet episode finishes. The door closes upon these twain. The tiny babe lies in Naomi’s bosom. The women who had mourned lend themselves to the gladness of the hour and rejoice. God’s stories end sweetly, if not always here, at least hereafter.’


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ruth 4:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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