Two different laws of Israel were involved in the events that took place in Ruth 4:1-10.
Boaz called the nearer kinsman and explained that their relative Naomi had returned from Moab and that she “sells a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s” (Ruth 4:3).
The other man, being a closer relative, was given the first opportunity to “redeem” the land, but if he refused, then Boaz was next in line (Ruth 4:4).
1). This action was based in Leviticus 25:25, which says, “If thy brother be waxen poor, and has sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.”
Although they were using Leviticus 25:25 as the basis for their conduct (and there was nothing at all wrong or foolish for them to do so), that particular law did not completely fit the circumstances involved in Ruth 4, because in this case, Naomi had not yet sold the land, whereas Leviticus 25:25 technically applied only after the sale.
In truth, Naomi’s kinsman was not actually being given the opportunity to “redeem” the land, but to purchase it outright. It became the Jews’ custom to apply this law both before and after the actual sale of the land (see also Jer. 32:6-12). The nearer kinsman agreed to buy it (Ruth 4:4), but changed his mind when another law was added to the equation.
2). After the nearer kinsman expressed his intention of buying Naomi’s land, Boaz said to him, “What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance” (Ruth 4:5). The nearer kinsman declined to buy the field on the grounds that it would “mar” his own inheritance (Ruth 4:6).
Whatever money he invested in purchasing Naomi’s land would ultimately be lost to this man, because that land would eventually go to a son that would be born to Ruth by him. Thus, he would not gain any extra land in the long run, and he would be taking money out of his own inheritance to buy it. Therefore, he forfeited his right to Boaz, saying, “Redeem thou my right to thyself; for I cannot redeem it” (Ruth 4:6).
“Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor: and this was a testimony in Israel. Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe. And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi. Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day” (Ruth 4:7-10).
All of these events were based in the law that is found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10: “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she bears shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. And if the man like not to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband’s brother refuses to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother. Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her; then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother’s house. And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.”
The Sadducees wrongly extended this law to the afterlife in their mistaken belief that it disproved the resurrection (Matt. 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40.)
As before, there was nothing wrong with the people using Deuteronomy 25:5-10 as the basis for their actions in this case, but that law did not actually apply to this situation.
First, unlike the property law in Leviticus 25:25 which applied to “any of his kin,” this “levirate marriage” law applied only to a brother of the childless deceased, and Boaz was definitely not the brother of Elimelech (or else the other man could not have been a nearer kinsman), and it appears that the nearer kinsman was not that near either.
Second, this law applied only when brothers dwelt together (Deut. 25:5), and Elimelech had dwelt in Moab until the time of his death (Ruth 1:1-3), not “together” with any of these relatives.
Third, the nearer kinsman gave up his shoe not to adhere to the law in Deuteronomy 25:9-10 (which was a great reproach upon the man who lost his shoe), but in accordance with the “manner” that was followed in Israel at that time (Ruth 4:7-8), and there is no indication that this custom was in any way a reproach upon whoever gave up his shoe. The text also implies that this custom was not even permanently followed in Israel, which could not be the case with a law of God.
Fourth, Ruth did not spit in the nearer kinsman’s face as the law required (Deut. 25:9) when a brother refused to take his deceased brother’s wife.
Finally, if Deuteronomy 25:5-10 indeed applied strictly to this case, and if Boaz was therefore obligated to marry Ruth on this basis, then Obed, the child of Boaz and Ruth, would have been counted as Mahlon’s son and heir (Ruth 4:10). In that case, Obed would not have been included in the genealogical records as the son of Boaz.
But the fact that Obed is counted as the son of Boaz (Ruth 4:21; 1 Chr. 2:12; Matt. 1:5; Luke 3:32), the grandfather of David (Ruth 4:17,22; 1 Chr. 2:12-15; Matt. 1:5-6; Luke 3:31-32), and forefather of Christ (Matt. 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38), is further proof that Deuteronomy 25:5-10 did not obligate Boaz to marry Ruth.