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Kinsman Redeemer
How Boaz Foreshadows Jesus the Messiah

In this article written September 2010, we examine the doctrine of the “kinsman redeemer”, both as it applied during Biblical times, and its significance for us today.

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The kinsman-redeemer or family-redeemer (Heb go’el, meaning “kinsman” or “nearest relative”) was basically a guardian of family rights.  The redeemer could perform duties such as to “redeem” (buy back) a family member who had been sold into slavery, or buy back property that had been sold due to poverty (Lev 25:23-34, 47-49).  The debtor could then work off his debt to his relative under much better conditions than under a non-relative.  A kinsman-redeemer could also avenge the murder of a family member by killing the guilty party under certain conditions (Num 35:9-34, Dt 19:1-13).  Finally, the family-redeemer was obligated to marry the wife of his dead brother (if his brother died without any sons) in order to continue his brother’s family line (Dt 25:5-10).  This tradition was referred to as a “Levirate Marriage”.

Elsewhere in the Bible, there are numerous statements and allusions to both God the Father and God the Son as Redeemer.  For example, God is called the Savior and Redeemer of Israel (Is 60:16).  Paul affirms that we have redemption through the blood of Christ (Eph 21:7), and Peter also testifies that we are redeemed by His precious blood (1Pe 1:18-19).

We now begin our study by considering how the story of Ruth and Boaz foreshadows the work of Christ as our Kinsman Redeemer.

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Boaz and Ruth - A Foreshadowing

The OT Book of Ruth provides us with a wonderful picture of God’s redeeming grace.  As our story opens during the latter stages of the Judges era, a great drought and famine came to Bethlehem, the home of the Israelite Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Kilion and Mahlon.  To avoid starvation, Elimelech moved his family east to the land of Moab, where the two sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.  While in Moab, Elimelech and his two sons died, and when the famine ended, Naomi decided to return home.  On the way to Bethlehem, Orpah chose to return to Moab, but Ruth declared her loyalty to her mother-in-law and the God of Israel (Ru 1:16-17), so the two arrived at the beginning of the spring barley harvest.  Here’s where the story gets real interesting.

In the society of the times, widows were often ignored, particularly cursed foreigners like the Moabite Ruth.  Elimelech and Naomi were from the tribe of Judah, so they would have ancestral rights to property, but after her husband and sons died, Naomi was unable to regain the property on her own.  Due to God’s benevolence, the OT law contained a provision that allowed the poor to glean during the harvest, which meant that they could follow along behind the harvesters and pick up whatever grain fell off the wagon, was dropped or left behind.  So, to obtain food for Naomi and herself, Ruth went out to gather barley in the fields and, by the providence of God, she happened to begin in a field owned by Boaz, a relative of Elimelech.  The fact that Boaz was a relative of Elimelech is very important, as we will see.

Boaz, who was very kind to his workers, inquires of them as to Ruth’s identity since he had never seen her.  His foreman replies that she is “the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi”, and that she “has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter”.  Boaz then tells Ruth to continue gleaning in his field and even instructs his worker to drop some additional grain for her.  Ruth asks “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”  Boaz replies, “I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.  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.”  (see Ru 2:4-12)

When Ruth returned to town and Naomi saw how much she gleaned, Naomi asked,  “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”  Ruth replied, “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz”.  When Naomi hears this, she, gets even more excited and exclaimed “The LORD bless him! He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead”.  She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers”.  (see Ru 2:17-23)

Looking back at Naomi’s return to Bethlehem, she had told both Ruth and Orpah to return to Moab, but they both said that they would go on with her.  But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters.  Why would you come with me?  Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?  Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband.  Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons- would you wait until they grew up?  Would you remain unmarried for them?  No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!” (Ru 1:11-13).  Naomi was saying, there is no one to fulfill the levirate marriage tradition.  Then Orpah returned to Moab, but Ruth refused, declaring her loyalty to Naomi and the God of Israel (Ru 1:16-17).

Knowing the primary duties and functions of a kinsman redeemer (see “Introduction” above), Naomi was hoping that Boaz would redeem her property and consent to a Levirate Marriage with Ruth.  At this point however, a critical question could be raised.  Since Ruth was a Moabite, would a marriage between her and Boaz be forbidden by covenant law?  We’ve dealt with this and other related questions in our Intermarriage article, so please refer to it for a detailed treatment of the proclamations against Moab, including the basis for the curses and how Ruth became exempt to them.  In the article, we also determined that the marriage of Boaz and Ruth did not violate the spirit of the covenant laws which prohibited intermarriage with foreigners and banned immigrants of certain nations from participating in worship with Israel.

While family property could be redeemed by the nearest relative (Lev 25:25), the original levirate marriage stipulation originally mentioned only that the deceased husband’s brother would fulfill the duty.  By the time of Ruth however, this marriage custom had evidently been extended to include the next of kin since Naomi hoped that Boaz would accept both duties.  There were also no objections raised by anyone, including the author of the book (probably the prophet / priest Samuel).

Therefore, Naomi developed a plan for Ruth to approach Boaz.  By custom, Ruth would have to make the first move because Boaz was a generation older and could not initiate the proposal.  We hear of this plan and watch it play out in the third chapter of Ruth.  After Boaz goes to sleep for the evening on the threshing floor, Ruth lays at his feet.  When Boaz awoke during the night, he was startled and asked “Who are you?”  Ruth replied, “I am your servant Ruth.  Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer” (Ru 3:9).  What Ruth was actually saying was “Marry me”.  Boaz responds by saying “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.  And now, my daughter, don't be afraid.  I will do for you all you ask.  All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.  Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I” (Ru 3:10-12).  When Ruth returns to Naomi, she is told that Boaz will not rest until the matter is settled.

Sure enough, the next morning (Ruth chapter 4), Boaz went to town and when he found the nearest relative, he gathered ten elders as witnesses.  He then told the relative that “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech”.  The relative offers to redeem the land, but Boaz then tells him that there’s a catch, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man's widow (Ruth), in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property”.  Whoa, suddenly the relative didn’t think this was such a great deal after all, so he told Boaz to “Buy it yourself”.

The scriptures then say that Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon.  I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, 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 the town records.  Today you are witnesses!”  Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses.  May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel.  May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.  Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ru 4:9-12).

As a result, Boaz redeems the land for Naomi and marries Ruth.  So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife.  Then he went to her, and the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.  The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer.  May he become famous throughout Israel!  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” (Ru 4:13-15).

Consequently, Ruth and Boaz had a son, but not just any son.  The Bible says, And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David (Ru 4:17).  So, here is a formerly cursed Moabite becoming the great-grandmother of King David, and thus an ancestor of the Messiah, because God provided her with a redeemer.

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Jesus- Our Kinsman Redeemer

We’ve just seen that Boaz is a foreshadowing or a picture of our kinsman redeemer.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, redeemed us from the curse of sin and eternal death (separation from the Father).  The price he paid for us was His very life (1Pe 1:18-19).

We mentioned the primary duties and functions of a kinsman-redeemer in our intro, so let’s now examine the necessary qualifications that must be met in order to be a redeemer of a person.

First, the redeemer must be a blood relative of the one to be redeemed (Lev 25:25, Dt 25:5).  Just as Boaz was the relative of Naomi (Ru 2:1), Jesus is our blood relative in that he is related to all humans.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons (Gal 4:4-5).  Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people (Heb 2:14-15,17).  See also Rom 1:3 and Php 2:5-8.

A second requirement is that the redeemer must possess the necessary resources to pay the price of redemption.  Just as Boaz possessed the monetary funds to buy back the land and support Ruth, Jesus (and only Jesus) lived the perfect life of obedience required to become the perfect substitutionary sacrifice for us.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Pe 1:18-19, also Rev 5:9).  He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.  Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Heb 9:12,15).

Finally, the redeemer must also possess a willingness to redeem.  Even if a perspective redeemer was a relative who possessed the means, there could be no redemption if the person is not willing to perform his duty.  Naomi’s nearest relative had the money to redeem the land and marry Ruth, but he was not willing, so the role fell to Boaz (Ru 4:1-12).  Jesus willing laid down His life for our redemption.

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (Jn 10:11,18).  See also Mt 20:28, Jn 3:16, Php 2:8 and Titus 2:14).

Thus, Jesus was the only person who was our relative, possessed the means, and was willing out of His love for us to be our Kinsman Redeemer.

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Summary and Application

Because of God’s great love for His people, He made provisions in the Mosaic covenant to protect the poor and widows against losing their property being left without an heir.  This defender of family rights was known as a “kinsman redeemer”, or go’el in the Hebrew.  We’ve illustrated how Boaz served as a kinsmen redeemer in the Book of Ruth.

At times in the OT, God Himself would redeem His people, such as when He rescued them from Egypt (Ex 6:6).  When Job was going through his great trials, he professed, “I know that my Redeemer (go’el) lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25).  God is also seen as redeemer in Ps 19:14, Jer 50:33-34 and elsewhere.

We’ve also demonstrated how Jesus serves as our Kinsman Redeemer under the new covenant by paying the ultimate personal cost to buy us back from the fate we deserve.  Instead, we now have in Him, redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace (Eph 1:7).

Before we end this article, we should mention few practical conclusions that we can draw from this subject.  First, the principle behind the family redeemer, like the closely related Year of Jubilee (Lev 25:8-55), reminds us that everything ultimately belongs to God.  This should prompt us to be more generous to God and to others.

We also notice that the declaration of Naomi’s friends, “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer” can be said of all believers today.  So, in light of this wonderful news, how should we respond?  It should increase our love for God, and in the spirit of the family redeemer, our love for others (Mt 22:39-40, Rom 13:10, Gal 5:14).

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34-35).

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