Exploring the ‘Kinsman-Redeemer’

Posted on April 2, 2022

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By David Ettinger

A Crucial Aspect
One of the striking characteristics of the Book of Ruth is the theme of the kinsman-redeemer (2:20; 3-9).

So crucial to the story of Ruth is this theme that the future of not just Ruth and Naomi – but also of Boaz and the messianic line of Israel – depended upon Boaz executing his duty as the kinsman-redeemer.

So, what is a “kinsman-redeemer?”

The Hebrew word for “redeemer” is go´el, therefore, the law of the kinsman-redeemer is sometimes referred to as the law of the go´el. A go´el in ancient Israel was very much a conquering hero. However, that he was a kinsman-go´el indicates that the redeemer was to be a relative only. And a male one, at that.

The Redeemed
So, what was it the redeemer redeemed? In ancient Israel, there were three areas of redemption. The first was a relative who fell on hard times and had to sell himself into slavery. In such a case, the slave was bound to his owner … unless:

If an alien or a temporary resident among you becomes rich and one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself to the alien living among you or to a member of the alien’s clan, he retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in his clan may redeem him. Or if he prospers, he may redeem himself (Leviticus 25:47-49).

Such an action was indeed generous and unselfish as the redeemer suffered loss of funds and gained nothing for himself. However, his love for his relative, or at least his sense of responsibility for him, could have made the go´el’s investment worth it.

The second area in which the kinsman-redeemer acted was in regard to land that had to be sold because of economic hardship:

If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold. If, however, a man has no one to redeem it for him but he himself prospers and acquires sufficient means to redeem it, he is to determine the value for the years since he sold it and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it; he can then go back to his own property (Leviticus 25:25-27).

Notice in the first part of this passage how a relative (or kinsman) was required to redeem the land. God prohibited the Israelites from selling their land because it was not theirs to sell: “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine [God’s] and you are but aliens and my tenants” (Leviticus 25:23).

Interestingly, a man who got himself into debt could remain in slavery, but the land – which was the Lord’s – had to be redeemed.

The third area in which a go´el could redeem was much more expansive. If a woman’s husband died without leaving children, the deceased man’s brother (if single) was to marry the widow and provide her with a son.

If no brother existed, or was already married, a more distant male relative was required to perform this duty. This was called the law of levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:1-10) and could only be fulfilled by the kinsman-redeemer.

Whichever relative married the woman would become her go´el – her redeemer and protector. As such, the firstborn son to the widow was to be counted as a child of the dead husband and inherited his property.

Besides carrying on the family line of the deceased man, the levirate marriage law also insured the security of the widow, who might otherwise have been left destitute and friendless.

The Book of Ruth
The circumstances involving Naomi and Ruth were a little different. First, both women were widows and they were childless. Not only did Naomi’s husband Elimelech die, but so did her two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. Mahlon, Ruth’s husband, died without leaving Ruth any children. Kilion also died childless.

Second, Naomi was too old to have children and Ruth was a non-Israelite, which could have raised concerns for an Israelite man. However, Boaz, a near-relative of Naomi (possibly Elimelech’s cousin), had already shown Ruth staggering generosity, so Naomi devised a plan to have Ruth, in essence, propose marriage to Boaz.

While Boaz slept on the threshing floor, Ruth quietly lay by his side, took the lower part of his garment and covered herself with it. Boaz recognized this as Ruth’s appeal to him to provide the protection due her as the widow of his relative.

As a woman of Moab, Ruth had no obligation to marry within the family and could have married any single man she saw fit. However, she loved Naomi deeply – not to mention her love for the God of Israel – and sought to do the proper thing by raising an heir for the line of Elimelech and Mahlon.

Boaz, probably twice as old as Naomi, was happy to oblige, and was even touched by the beautiful woman’s solicitation. He instantly agreed to do what Ruth requested of him, thereby providing both Naomi and Ruth the security and rest afforded to an Israelite woman only through marriage.

Our Kinsman-Redeemer
The story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz is one of beauty, intrigue, and warmth, but most of all, it is a story of God’s divine protection of the most vulnerable members of society, all made possible by the kinsman-redeemer.

For believers, Jesus Christ is the kinsman-redeemer to all who have accepted Him as their Lord and Savior, as he has rescued us from the penalty of sin, and has given as a secure eternal future in Him!