On Kinsmen–Redeemers

On Kinsmen–Redeemers

Last Sunday we saw how the LORD, by way of his providence—not coincidence!—led Ruth to glean in the field of kind Boaz, a man who was from the same clan as Elimelek, Naomi (Ruth’s mother-in-law)’s, deceased husband.[1] Boaz insisted that Ruth remain gleaning in his field and reassured her by letting her know that he had told  his men not to lay a hand on her.[2] Too, unbeknownst to her, he further told them that they were even to pull out stalks from their own bundles and leave them for her to gather.[3] As a result of Boaz’s protection and generosity— not to mention Ruth’s hard work—she ended up collecting about 30 pounds worth of barley,[4] enough for her and Naomi to live on for about two weeks, an extraordinary haul to say the least. Ruth took Boaz up on his generous offer to continue gleaning in his fields and she continued to do so, as stated at the end of chapter 2, “…until the barley and wheat harvests were finished.”[5] All told, this means Ruth was able to glean for a period of about two months.[6]

Well, as we heard read for us earlier, chapter 3 opens with Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, saying to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for.” Again, knowing that she couldn’t take care of her, Naomi took the initiative and sought to provide for her daughter-in-law. And this is where Boaz, the two women’s kinsman–redeemer, comes back into play. As Naomi stated, starting in verse 2,

2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.

Ruth agreed to follow Naomi’s plan. As she replied to her, verse 5, “I will do whatever you say.” And so she did[7]—and then some, as we’ll see.

Now when we first looked at the Book of Ruth a few weeks ago, I mentioned that though many commentators state how simple and enchanting this story is, though I get the “enchanting” part, I’ve never found it to be simple to understand since it’s full of customs and practices that feel quite alien to me. Naomi’s instructions, and the way in which Ruth carried them out, are yet another example of this. Apparently uncovering and lying down at Boaz’s feet was a way of having Ruth express her desire for Boaz’s protection. But Ruth went beyond Naomi’s instructions for she didn’t simply lie down at Boaz’s feet, but she also spoke to him saying, as recorded in verse 9, “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a [kinsman]–redeemer of our family.” And I should note that some translations, such as the ESV,[8] record her words as being, “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”  Whichever translation we choose, the point is that in stating this Ruth was, in effect, asking “directly for the favor of marriage.”[9] And notice Boaz’s response to Ruth in verse 10 of chapter 3: “The Lord bless you, my daughter…. This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.” Message received! Clearly Boaz understood that Ruth was offering herself to him in marriage. And he consented, at least provisionally, in stating, verse 11 “And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.” However, being the godly man of integrity that we’ve seen him to be, though Boaz was a kinsman-redeemer, he wasn’t the nearest kinsman-redeemer. So before moving forward he first had to contact the nearest kinsman-redeemer to see if he would carry out his obligation.[10] This would have entailed not only buying the land that had belonged to Elimelek, Naomi’s husband,[11] but also marrying Ruth in order that the family lineage might continue,[12] again given that both of Elimelek and Naomi’s sons had died.

The long and short of Boaz’s inquiry was that when Naomi’s nearest kinsman-redeemer learned that in acquiring Naomi he would also have to acquire Ruth the Moabite, he declined Boaz’s offer, indicating that doing so would put his estate in peril.[13] This then left Boaz free to marry Ruth, as he publicly announced “to the elders and all the people” and as recorded in verses 9–10 of chapter 4: “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!” Again, what we’re seeing here is a variation of the levirate marriage[14] in which should someone’s brother die, his brother was obliged to marry his brother’s widow. But since both of Naomi’s children had passed away, this became the responsibility of the kinsman-redeemer or nearest relative. And since in this instance the nearest relative had passed on taking on this responsibility, Boaz underwent the ritual described in chapter 4 so that no one would be able to question his assuming the responsibilities of kinsman-redeemer by marrying Ruth and caring for Naomi.

Well upon completing this ritual, the response of “the elders and the people at the gate” is recorded starting with verse 11: “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” The people’s response recorded here was an extraordinary one for a number of reasons. First, we should keep in mind that Ruth was a Moabite, a foreigner. Yet this blessing made clear that she was being embraced as one of their own for Rachel and Leah were matriarchs in Israel. They were the wives of Jacob—whose name was later changed to Israel[15]—and from whom, along with their servants Bilhah and Zilpah, the twelve tribes of Israel into being.[16] So this blessing would have been high praise indeed. Second, notice how the elders and people also ask that Boaz “have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.” Again, these were the clan and city in which David—and Christ Jesus, no less—would be born. Therefore with the advantage of hindsight, we can appreciate how this prayer was answered in a mighty fashion!  Finally, in asking that Boaz’s “family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah,” the original lineage of the city Judah was being evoked for the city of Judah took its name from Israel’s son, Judah, from whom, again, both David and Christ Jesus would descend.[17]

The blessing that was offered by the elders and all the people is a beautiful expression of how a community can surround and embrace a couple about to be married. And their blessing began to come to completion in verse 13 as “…Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.” This is a remarkable and unexpected ending for Ruth, the Moabite. Think about the life’s journey she had made. She went:

from marrying Mahlon, a man of Israel, who had come to live in the land of her people and gods in Moab;

to then becoming a childless widow who left her people and gods, despite the likelihood of facing impoverished and dire times, that she might remain with her mother-in-law and her people and God;

to now finding herself provided and cared for by Boaz, one of her adopted people, and giving birth to a son by way of the gracious LORD she had also adopted who enabled her to conceive.

So upon being widowed, Ruth went from being a slave-servant;[18] to being a maidservant;[19] to becoming a wife for the second time.[20]

So, too, we find Naomi’s restoration. She who had had, along with her husband and sons, to leave her people and God due to a famine in the land; who then lost her husband and two sons; and who then returned home to her land with one of her daughters-in-law in the hope of being able to survive among her own people, was also provided for by the LORD. And so we see how she, too, received a blessing—hers was from the women who surrounded her. As recorded starting in verse 14 they exclaimed: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a [kinsman]–redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” It’s worth noting that in carrying out his responsibility as kinsman–redeemer Boaz had managed to restore the livelihood of two women who had few other recourses for surviving. This was cause to praise God, indeed! Too, to state that Ruth, a woman and a Moabite—a foreigner—had loved Naomi and was better to her than “seven sons”—seven being considered a number of completeness or fulness—was quite a testament to Ruth’s character for, as it can sadly still be the case today, sons were often valued more than daughters at this time. Yet not even seven sons could have done better by Naomi than her foreigner daughter-in-law, Ruth.

Next we see in verse 16 how grandma Naomi took her grandchild “in her arms and cared for him.” And the women shared in her joy as they exclaimed, “Naomi has a son!” But this turned out to be not just any child for Obed, Ruth and Boaz’s son and Naomi’s grandson, ended up becoming “the father of Jesse” and therefore was future King David’s grandfather. And the narrator was so aware of the significance of Obed’s birth, that he went on to list a partial genealogy at the end of the book in verses 18–22,[21] underscoring again in the final two verses how Boaz was Obed’s father (verse 21); Obed was Jesse’s father; and Jesse was the father of David (verse 22).

The story of Ruth is a story about many things. As we noted last week, our kind and gracious LORD’s providence, his protective guidance and care, was one theme. And this week we see yet some other important themes, not least of which is the importance of being people of integrity who carry out our responsibilities to those whom the LORD has providentially placed into our lives:

In the case of Naomi, when faced with the prospect of poverty, she released her two daughters-in-law from any obligation of returning home with her when she determined that doing so was her best prospect of surviving given that she had no husband or sons to care for her. One daughter-in-law, Orpah, accepted her generous offer and returned back to Moab to her people and gods; the other daughter-in-law, Ruth, did not, choosing instead to cling to and return with Naomi to her homeland;

So in the case of Ruth, despite having had seemingly few prospects of marriage in Israel—given that she was a foreigner, a Moabite—and many prospects of future poverty—given that both women had lost their husbands—she nonetheless chose to care for Naomi, the mother-in-law she had come to love, and thereby gave up her own people and gods that she might adopt Naomi’s people and God instead. And rather than expect Naomi to take care of her, upon returning to Bethlehem with her Ruth sought to glean in the first field she came across that she and her mother-in-law might have some food to eat;

Because of Ruth’s initiative, in our gracious LORD’s providence, she just happened to glean in the field of Boaz, a man of God who treated well the women and men who worked for him and who also turned out to be one of Naomi’s near kinsmen. And in carrying out the responsibilities he had as a kinsman–redeemer, he ended up not only providing for Ruth and Naomi but also becoming the great-grandfather of David, Israel’s greatest and most important king.

And this brings us to a third theme in this book. In addition to teaching us about God’s providence and the importance of being people of integrity who are responsible to care for those whom God has placed in our care, this story also teaches about the inestimable value of kinsmen–redeemers. More than one commentator has noted how in many ways Boaz, in both his character and actions, represents God. And part of the reason for stating this lies in the phrase noted earlier when Ruth asked Boaz, “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a [kinsman]–redeemer of our family.” And as also noted, a more poetic way of translating this is, “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” I’ll stay with this latter translation to briefly trace out how this phrasing further ties Boaz to the LORD.

The first time this phrase appears in Ruth is in the second chapter when Boaz first noticed Ruth gleaning and encouraged her to remain in his field. In a portion of his blessing upon Ruth he stated, “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”[22] Boaz expressed a desire that the LORD, the God of Israel whom Ruth had adopted and chosen to follow, would bless and care for her given the sacrifice she had made in returning with Naomi, her mother-in-law. Therefore when later Ruth not only chose to lie at Boaz’s feet by Naomi’s instructions but also offered herself to him in marriage, by asking him to “spread his wings” over her, she was in effect asking him to be the answer to his prayer of blessing by becoming her redeemer himself.

The tie to God further appears in a verse from the book of Ezekiel in which the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel. He poetically spoke concerning Jerusalem, “Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.” In other words, this theme of spreading the corner of one’s garment over someone is covenantal language indicating that someone has pledged to take care of another. So as Boaz prayed that the LORD, the God of Israel, would cover Ruth and Ruth entreated Boaz to be the means of that covering, so our gracious LORD and Maker seeks to cover us with his garment, with his righteousness; so our gracious LORD and Maker seeks to shelter all who turn for refuge under his providential wings of protection and care. For this is what kinsmen-redeemers do. They cover and take care of those whom they claim. They redeem those who belong to them.

This is a theme that we see throughout Scripture. And so we read, for example:

1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.[23]

Or, again:

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.[24]

And, of course, Jesus himself spoke of how he longed for Jerusalem to turn to him and, because he knew it wouldn’t, he lamented: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”[25]

These passages express beautifully how our loving and gracious triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit desires us, whom he made in his image, whom he made for himself, to come to him and find shelter under his loving wings of care. And as the concept of being covered by the wings of our caring and sovereign LORD is common in Scripture, so too Scripture teaches us that he desires us not only to be covered with the corner of his garment but indeed to clothe us entirely for we’re in need of his covering; we’re in need of the salvation he provides. For because of the Fall, even our best intentions and attempts to be the people God made us to be fall far short of the holiness he has created us for. As the prophet Isaiah declares, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”[26] Yet the very same Isaiah offers a word of hope in proclaiming, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”[27]

Boaz, Ruth and Naomi’s kinsman–redeemer, the one who saved them from lives of poverty and became the means of rich blessing, does indeed represent God who similarly seeks to replace our impoverished and filthy rags with his beautiful garments of salvation and righteousness. And it’s worth noting this first Sunday in Advent and communion Sunday that in God’s providence, Ruth and Boaz became part of the lineage of Christ Jesus, the One who has come to redeem all who would come to him and accept his wonderful offer of salvation and righteousness. And all who do accept his gracious offer are adopted by him to become children of our heavenly Father. As Paul teaches concerning those who do, “26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”[28] All who turn to follow the one true God who made us are, like Ruth, adopted into his family and treated not like foreigners but equally as his children for we are clothed with our heavenly Father’s Son.

And we can know we are his children if we turn to him and ask him to help us be like him. This is a prayer God will always answer. So let us close by receiving and taking to heart Paul’s admonition as he exhorts teaches us using the imagery of clothing:

9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”[29]

Dear sisters and brothers, let us pray.

[1] Ruth 2:3: So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

[2] Ruth 2:9a: Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you.

[3] Ruth 2:16: Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”

[4] Ruth 2:17: So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah.[That is, probably about 30 pounds or about 13 kilograms]

[5] Ruth 2:23: So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.

[6] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Ruth 2:23: “The two-month delay prepares for the threshing floor incident (ch. 3).”

[7] Ruth 3:6: So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.

[8] English Standard Version.

[9] Reformation ESV Study Bible comment on Ruth 3:9.

[10] Ruth 3:12–13: 12 Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. 13 Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.”

[11] Ruth 4:3­–4: 3 Then [Boaz] said to the guardian[kinsman]-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. 4 I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.” “I will redeem it,” he said.

[12] Ruth 4:5: Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” The Reformed ESV Study Bible suggests in its note to Ruth 4:1–17: The necessary arrangements seem to turn on a combination of levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5–10) and the laws for a redeeming relative (Lev. 25).”

[13] Ruth 4:1–6: 1 Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down. 2 Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 3 Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. 4 I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.” “I will redeem it,” he said. 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” 6 At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”

[14] An example of this in practice may be found in Genesis 38:8: Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” The law itself may be found in Deuteronomy 25:5–6:If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.” A New Testament instance assuming this law may be found in Mark 12:18–23: 18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” Parallels may be found in Matthew 22:23–28 and Luke 20:27–33.

[15] Genesis 32:28: Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

[16] Genesis 35:23–26: Jacob had twelve sons: 23 The sons of Leah: Reuben the firstborn of Jacob, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. 24 The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25 The sons of Rachel’s servant Bilhah: Dan and Naphtali. 26 The sons of Leah’s servant Zilpah: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram.

[17] Reformation ESV Study Bible further notes on Ruth 4:12: “In a much earlier time, Judah had become the father of Perez because Onan refused to carry out his obligation as a close relative (Gen. 38:29). Perez became a symbol of the fruitful offspring. Now in the same way Boaz becomes the father of Obed (v. 21) because another person refused to carry out the levirate obligation. Despite human failures, the messianic line was preserved (Matt. 1;3, 5, 16).”

[18] Ruth 2:13: “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

[19] Ruth 3:9:

[20] Ruth 4:10:

[21] The Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Ruth 4:18–22 states that “The genealogy begins with Perez, someone who could ‘breach’… and whom the women in their blessing remembered as the vigorous son of Tamar (v. 12). Like Ruth, Tamar became an ancestor of David in an unexpected way.”

[22] Ruth 2:12.

[23] Psalm 91:1–4.

[24] Psalm 36:5–9.

[25] Matthew 23:37.

[26] Isaiah 64:6.

[27] Isaiah 61:10.

[28] Galatians 3:26–29.

[29] Colossians 3:9–14.