Today’s passage was read yesterday, but since it’s so central to the book of Ruth, I thought this would be a perfect time to discuss the concept of the "Kinsman-Redeemer."
Today we have some idea of family loyalty. Hopefully if I’m in a really bad situation, then my family would help me out. In the ancient Middle East, however, this loyalty to one’s family went much further than most of us in modern America could understand. Unlike today, in which people are encouraged to turn to the government for assistance during financial hardships, the complete lack of any welfare state forced most folks to turn to their family for help first. The Bible had a specific term for the relative, supposedly the relative who was nearest in blood to those affected by the dire situation, who would step forward to help out: kinsman-redeemer. This simple Hebrew word, goel, holds a depth of meaning for us.
The first use of this term is found in discussions about the Cities of Refuge. Remember the “Avenger of Blood” (such as in Numbers 35:25)? When someone was killed (even accidentally), the goel was expected to hunt down the killer and exact justice on behalf of the family.
Or say that a widow had to sell her house or property because she was without any income (very common in those days). The goel would step forward and buy the land so that it wouldn’t leave the family inheritance. If someone became so destitute that they only could sell themselves into slavery (which was really indentured servitude), then the goel would buy his relative and set him free.
This is the story in the last couple of chapters in Ruth. Boaz was more than willing to marry Ruth, but there were larger issues at stake. Along with marrying Ruth, the Kinsman-Redeemer was obligated to redeem Naomi’s land from whoever had purchased it, and the first child he and Ruth produced would be counted as one of Naomi’s family, not Boaz’s. Most importantly, the goel was supposed to be the closest relative to Naomi, and as Boaz pointed out to Ruth, there was another man who was closer. He desired Ruth as his wife, but he refused to bypass God’s law in order to do it. Thankfully, in the next chapter Boaz and the other fellow agree that the closer relative would step aside.
There is a profound reason why this word and concept are so important to us as believers today. The book of Proverbs warns us against theft and oppression for a very good reason: Their “Defender” would make sure that justice was done. Obviously this Defender is the Lord himself, but what’s especially interesting is that this word-“defender”-is goel. What it's saying is that if someone is being exploited or oppressed or taken advantage of, then if no one else will step forward, the the Lord himself is saying "If no one else steps forward to be this poor person's Defender, their Kinsman-Redeemer, I will."
The book of Hebrews brings this into the New Testament era for us. I'd recommend you click on the link and let that passage sink into your heart. You probably know that as a believer you’ve been adopted as God’s child, but these verses underscore our relationship with Jesus. Our Elder Brother (astonishingly enough, not ashamed to claim us as such), he has stepped forward as our goel: He has redeemed us from slavery; he has gotten us our inheritance as adopted children; he counts himself as our Avenger and Defender, and he always has our best interests at heart. Not because someone forced him to, but because he loves us.
Lord Jesus, thank you for volunteering to be my Kinsman-Redeemer. You are so good to me.
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