The kinsman-redeemer

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicates that everyone who is born again was predestined for adoption into God’s family through Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5). Paul said that in Christ, “we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). The Greek word that is translated inheritance, kleroo (klay-roˊ-o) means “a lot. In the passive, to obtain an inheritance, as through the casting of lots” (G2820). After the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Joshua cast lots to determine which portion of land each of the tribes of Israel would receive as their inheritance (Joshua 18:2, 10). The portion of land that each man received was expected to be passed on to his oldest son or nearest living relative at the time of his death so that possession of the land would be uninterrupted. In the story of Ruth, Elimelech left his inheritance behind when he moved to the country of Moab. “But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons…and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband” (Ruth 1:3-5). When Naomi returned to Bethlehem, she needed someone to redeem the piece of land that had belonged to her husband “so that it could stay in the family (see Leviticus 25:25)” (note on Ruth 4:1-8).

The laws concerning marriage stated that, “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5-7). Naomi was referring to this law when she said to Orpah and Ruth, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD had gone out against me” (Ruth 1:11-13). Naomi saw her situation as impossible and it seems very likely that when Ruth made her decision to go back to Bethlehem with Naomi that she had resigned herself to being a widow the rest of her life.

The legal ramification of marriage laws were still being discussed in Jesus’ day. On one occasion Jesus was asked to explain the marriage law that applied to Ruth in the context of eternal life. Matthew 22:23-33 states:

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

The important thing to note about the question that the Sadducees asked Jesus was that they didn’t believe in the resurrection. Their question, “whose wife will she be?” (Matthew 22:28) was meant to disprove the resurrection rather than for them to understand how the marriage law was intended to work. Jesus’ answer was directed at the problem that the Sadducees had with the resurrection; they didn’t believe that continuity of life after death was possible. Jesus pointed out to them that the resurrection was a fixed state that was associated with both the living and the dead. The terms living and dead refer to a person’s spiritual state. The spiritually dead are those who are “dead to Christ and his gospel” (G3498). The spiritually living are those who exist “in an absolute sense and without end, now and hereafter” (G2198). Jesus’ specific mention of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob indicated that faith was a necessary component of the living and also it showed that predestination, God’s selection of certain individuals in advance (G4309), guarantees that the inheritance will be distributed according to God’s purpose for his creation and mankind (Ephesians 1:4-5, 11-14).

The reason why the crowd was astonished when they heard Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection was because they realized that not all of the Jews were going to inherit eternal life. Some of them were and would remain spiritually dead. Shortly before he was crucified, Jesus talked about the final judgment that was going to occur when he returned to the earth. Jesus said:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.’”

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus made note of the fact that the cursed and the righteous had done the same things. Both groups had fed the hungry, given the thirsty a drink, clothed the naked and visited the sick, but the motives of the righteous and the cursed were very different. Jesus acknowledged the righteous by stating, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40), but to the cursed Jesus said, “As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45). The emphasis that Jesus placed on who the good deeds had been done to showed that acts of kindness were meant for a specific group, people he referred to as the least of these. In this instance, least probably has to do with a person’s dignity. When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1), Matthew’s gospel tells us:

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:2-6)

The Greek word that is translated humbles, tapeinoo (tap-i-noˊ-o) means “to depress; figuratively to humiliate (in condition or heart)” (G5013). The Apostle Paul referred to himself as the least of the apostles and made reference to the grace that was responsible for his calling. Speaking of the Lord, Jesus, Paul said, “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:7-10). Grace or graciousness is “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485).

Boaz’s treatment of Ruth was characterized by her as favor. In his first encounter with her, Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:8-10). In the King James Version of the Bible, Ruth’s statement is translated, “Why have I found grace in thine eyes” (Ruth 2:10). The Hebrew word that is translated grace is derived from the word chânan (khaw-nanˊ) which means, “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior…Generally, this word implies the extending of ‘favor,’ often when it is neither expected or deserved” (G2603). Ruth associated Boaz’s favor with being comforted by him and also said that he had spoken kindly to her (Ruth 2:13). The Hebrew word that is translated kindly, leb (labe) means “the heart” (H3820). Ruth could tell that Boaz’s compassion toward her came from his heart and she was deeply affected by his acts of kindness.

When Ruth returned home after gleaning in Boaz’s field, “her mother-in-law said to her, ‘Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.’ So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers” (Ruth 2:19-20). Naomi identified Boaz as one of her husband’s kinsman-redeemers; “the kinsman-redeemer was responsible for preserving the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative” (H1350). “The three requirements for a kinsman-redeemer were that he must be the closest living relative, possess the necessary financial resources, and be willing to carry out the redemption of his relative (cf. Leviticus 25:25, 48, 49)” (note on Ruth 2:20). Naomi instructed Ruth to go to Boaz’s threshing floor at night and while he was sleeping, make a marriage proposal to him by uncovering his feet and lying down next to him (Ruth 3:1-5). Ruth 3:6-13 records the encounter.

So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.”

Ruth’s statement, “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9) made it clear to Boaz that she wanted him to marry her. Boaz’s response revealed that there was probably a significant difference in his and Ruth’s ages. Boaz told Ruth, “You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich” (Ruth 3:10). Boaz wanted to marry Ruth, but he told her, “Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I” (Ruth 3:12). “This closer relative, however, did not want to marry Ruth because that would threaten his own children’s inheritance (Ruth 4:5, 6). Therefore he deferred to Boaz, who willingly married Ruth” (note on Ruth 4:1-8). It should be noted that Ruth did not shame the relative who refused to perform his duty. According to Deuteronomy 25:8-9, she was supposed to take off his sandal and spit in his face, yet it appears that she was not even present during the discussion between Boaz and the other relative. Some have suggested that Ruth was not able to carry out the legal stipulations because she was a Moabitess. Others believe that she did not want to marry the person who was the closest relative because of her love for Boaz” (note on Ruth 4:1-8).

Boaz’s depiction of the kinsman-redeemer was a foreshadowing of the role that Jesus played in God’s redemption of mankind. Paul explained Jesus’ role as the kinsman-redeemer in his letter to the Galatians. Paul said:

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 3:23-4:7)

Paul specifically stated that Jesus was sent by God “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). The phrase under the law refers to both Old and New Testament commandments. “The ostensible aim of the law is to restrain the evil tendencies natural to man in his fallen estate, yet in experience law finds itself not merely ineffective, it actually provokes those tendencies to greater activity” (G3551).

The book of Hebrews provides an in depth look at Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s covenants. The author portrayed Jesus as the High Priest of a better covenant and explained that the sacrificial system that was put into place when the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt was “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5), and went on to say, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). The better promises that are mentioned here have to do with our eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12) and an eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15) that followers of Christ will receive when he returns (Hebrews 9:28). Hebrews 10:12-13 indicates “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.” Paul referred to that time as “the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Job’s extreme suffering caused him to experience internal conflict about his faith in God. When Job’s internal conflict had reached its highest point, “Job sought for someone who would defend him from the false accusations made against him and acknowledged that God alone was this ‘Redeemer’” (note on Job 19:25-27). Job said about his kinsman-redeemer:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
    and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
    My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)

The Hebrew word that is translated faints, kalah (kaw-lawˊ) “describes the transitory reality of fallen human nature” (H3615). Job’s circumstances brought him to a point of despair, but he held on to his faith and was certain that his day of redemption would eventually come.