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Secretary Activities in Chapter 4 of the book of Ruth

  • September 15, 2019
  • By Ben van Noort
Secretary Activities in Chapter 4 of the book of Ruth


Secretary Activities in Chapter 4 of the book of Ruth

In past times, how did people in Bethlehem act to guarantee a reliable arrangement? Let’s take a look at Boaz.

After Boaz’s Promise

As soon as Boaz had left the threshing floor he had to hurry. Maybe he first went home to refurbish himself. Then he had to go to the gate where it was the custom to deal with juridical affairs. As soon as he arrived he sat down and waited.

Preparation of the Case

Happily he was in time, when the next of kin (redeemer) came by, Boaz said to him “Turn aside, sit down here!” And so he did.

Then Boaz asked ten other respected citizens (elders) of the city to do the same. They also did, as they understood that Boaz needed them for a legal arrangement. They were the legal witnesses, and of course they needed a civil secretary for the (civil) administration.

Opening of the Case

As soon as everybody was ready Boaz opened the case by questioning the next of kin [the first to redeem] whether he was willing to buy the land of Naomi. At first he reacted positively.

Then Boaz remarked that he had to face the fact that if he did, he also had to accept Ruth and to marry her to bring forth children for Elimelech, the former owner of the ground. The relative of Boaz did not need to think a lot. He said that he could not redeem, because he already had heirs he could not deprive.

The Outcome

Then the matter turned in favor of Boaz. The relative offered Boaz the right to buy the ground and marry Ruth, and he took his shoe and gave it to Boaz which was the official custom to come to a deal. Thereafter Boaz turned to the witnesses and spoke:

9 You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Na′omi all that belonged to Elim′elech and all that belonged to Chil′ion and to Mahlon. 10 Also Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, …”

Also the witnesses and others who were there said:

“We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel…”

(Of course there were different sayings of approval. Only one was added, that was representative for the general feeling among the witnesses.)

Documentation 1

That morning Boaz received from the civil secretary a copy of the discussion that had led to the agreement. And of course, Boaz in turn had to pay for the copy and for the juridical activities he had initiated.

Documentation: Civil secretary in juridical matters
Motive: Discussion in public to receive a right

Documentation 2
Later Boaz and Ruth got a son. It was the custom in Old Israel to have a wax tablet ready to pick up the first reaction of the elders and to derive a name from it (see Genesis 29:32 etc.). The women said to Na′omi:

14Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next of kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 16 Then Na′omi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse.

There is no mentioning that Naomi did a prophetic saying. So the women themselves gave the boy a name “Obed” (Servant). As a servant, this little boy brought to Naomi the new perspective she needed so desperately. Obed became the grandfather of King David.

Documentation: Matter of great personal impact 
Motive: Naming after birth

Manifested Righteousness
in Jesus

Just as the Gospels, the Old Testament also is often a book of forgotten impact. Especially concerning the written aspect of the spoken words. 

In Romans 3:21 we read: 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it.” 

Part of the righteousness that was manifested in Jesus, was the establishing of his words by writers who followed him. In the old history of Israel, in the same way the words of God and Man had been established (recorded) by writers who were there. And it would be a great mistake to see that differently.

Take Note

It is possible that in case of important legal matters two secretaries worked together, a head-secretary and an assistant. A procedure to check a final text. The time of Boaz and Ruth was about 1100 BC.

Many years later in the Jewish Sanhedrin two or even three writers were at work (according to the Mishnah). We have to reckon with this procedure everywhere around the Mediterranean in the Greco-Roman world, as an old custom for important decisions.

By Ben van Noort, September 15, 2019