Elimelech (Hebrew: אלימלך, ʼĒlīmẹleḵ; "Name means::My God is King") (d. ca. Died::2682 AM) was the first father-in-law of Ruth and the owner of an estate in Bethlehem that became the subject of an important kinship-redemption transaction.
The word in Hebrew used to describe Elimelech is איש (ʼish), which means "man." Numerous Jewish commentators state that the use of this word means that Elimelech was a wealthy man, though they do not suggest that he was more wealthy than was Boaz. (Obviously he was not, or else Boaz would not have been able to buy his entire estate.)
The name Elimelech usually means "My God is King." But some commentators, including Levin, say that with a slight change in pronunciation, the name means "A kingdom is my due," meaning that the estate of a king is one's just due. These commentators state that Elimelech felt unappreciated. Elimelech lived in an era in which few great leaders would receive appreciation from the people—but perhaps Elimelech also thought himself greater than he actually was.
During the administration of Judge Ehud, one of several frequent famines struck the land of Israel. Elimelech left the region, together with his wife Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. They traveled to Moabite country and became lawful residents there. (Ehud had won a war of liberation against the Moabites twenty years earlier.) Elimelech's motives are controversial. Some commentators suggest that Elimelech was simply trying to go to a land not stricken by famine, while others suggest that Elimelech was deliberately shirking his duty to assist the poor at need. (Nobility obliges, and that maxim was as true in those days as it is today.) In any case, almost every commentator sees Elimelech's action as demonstrative of a lack of faith.
In 2682 AM, Elimelech died. Each of his two sons married a local woman; Chilion married Orpah and Mahlon married Ruth. Ten years later, Mahlon and Chilion died also. Orpah returned to her own father's house, but Ruth swore fidelity to Naomi, to the people of Israel, and to the God of Israel, and so Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem toward the beginning of the harvest season (1 Abib 2692 AM). (Ruth 1 )
Boaz, a near relative of Elimelech, became involved when Ruth came to his field to glean grain. He made her welcome, encouraged her to glean only on his land, and also thanked her for the kindness that she had shown to Naomi.
When the barley and wheat harvests were concluded, Ruth made a frank proposal to him: she asked Boaz to marry her, and asserted her right under the law of kinship redemption to marry a near kinsman so that her son would inherit Elimelech's estate and thus keep the land within the family. Ruth was asking Boaz to play the role of a redeemer (Hebrew: גאל, gaʼal). The duty of a redeemer under the applicable law was to marry the widow, redeem the estate from any encumbrance, and leave the estate to the widow's next-born son as his inheritance.
The law also specified that the nearest male relative had the right and duty to redeem the estate. Boaz recalled that another man had precedence over him. He proposed to inquire directly of this man the next day, and pledged that he would marry her and redeem the estate if the other man would not.
The next day, Boaz summoned his near relative and also summoned ten city councillors of Bethlehem to witness the transaction. At first the near kinsman was willing to buy the estate, but when Boaz informed him that he must marry a woman connected with the estate and allow their son to inherit it, the man balked. He renounced his claim in favor of Boaz, and Boaz completed the transaction. (Ruth 4:1-12 )
|Orpah||father of::Chilion||father of::Mahlon||Ruth||Boaz|
The Bible does not state the exact relationship of Elimelech to Boaz. The Bible says only that Boaz was a near kinsman, and that another man, even more closely related to Elimelech, was living in Bethlehem at the time of the redemption transaction. (Ruth 4:1-4 ) The Bible does not give this other kinsman's name, but does say that this person had the right of first refusal in the matter, and that Boaz was next in line.
Nearness of kinship is assigned by degree, then by nearness of a common ancestor, and finally by birth order. The degree of kinship between a decedent and a living relative is the number of persons, including the living relative, that one encounters in the shortest trace from one to the other in a genealogical table. Thus a father or a son is a first-degree relative, a brother or a sister is a second-degree relative, first cousins would be fourth-degree relatives, and so on.
The traditional rabbinic sages have asserted that Elimelech and the unnamed kinsman (Hebrew: פלני אלמני, pelōnī ʼālmōnī, or literally, "Mr. So-and-so," listed in the above table as "No-name") were brothers, that Naomi was his niece, and that Salmon was his other brother. If this were true, then Boaz would have been Elimelech's nephew. But if the unnamed kinsman were Elimelech's brother, then one would expect him to inquire after his brother's estate shortly after Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem. In fact, the Bible gives no indication that he knew anything about it until Boaz asked him about it before the town councillors.
The unnamed kinsman's relationship to Elimelech was close enough to give him precedence, but not close enough that he would have heard that the estate was for sale in three months. (Barley harvest occurred in the first month of spring, and wheat harvest in the third.) A second-degree relative would almost certainly have heard right away about Naomi's offer to sell. A fourth-degree relative might not.
One must also consider that the ancestry of Boaz has remarkably few generations and is an ancestry of long-lived men. This was probably unusual, especially in the tribe of Judah, which was the most prolific of all the twelve tribes of Israel, as the two general censuses clearly show. (Numbers 1 , Numbers 26 ).
Thus the most likely connection among Elimelech, his unnamed kinsman, and Boaz is that Elimelech and his unnamed kinsman were first cousins, and that Boaz was Elimelech's great uncle. The common ancestor in this case is Salmon. The unnamed kinsman would take precedence over Boaz because, though he and Boaz would have the same degree of kinship to Elimelech, the unnamed kinsman would be the closer relative by one ancestry level. The unnamed kinsman would have even more precedence if, as seems likely, his grandfather was Boaz' older brother.
We must assume that Elimelech had no brother, and that his father, grandfather, and uncle were all dead when Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem, and Ruth asserted her redemption rights and asked for a redeemer.
- Levin M, "Ruth," Torah.org, 2005. Accessed January 20, 2009.
- This date was placed in the margins of the 1701 and subsequent editions of the King James Version of the Bible by Bishop William Lloyd, the only person ever to assign a date to the events of the life of this man or his daughter-in-law. This date does not appear in James Ussher's Annals, nor does Ussher treat the Elimelech and Ruth story at all.
- Hirsch EG and Seligsohn M, "Elimelech," The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906. Accessed January 20, 2009.
- Fox B, "The Book of Ruth: A Lesson in Virtues," Mesora.org, n.d. Accessed January 20, 2009.
- Barton GA, et al., "Ruth, Book of," The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906. Accessed January 20, 2009.
- Jacobs J, et al., "Go'el," The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906. Accessed January 20, 2009.
- Schechter S and Jacobs J, "Levirate marriage," The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906. Accessed January 20, 2009.
- Nilson KW, "Degrees of Kinship," MyStateWill.com, 2007. Accessed January 20, 2009.
- "The Story of Ruth," OU.org, n.d. Accessed January 20, 2009.