The book of Ruth in the Old Testament tells a beautiful story of redemption through the lives of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. At the heart of this story is the concept of the “kinsman-redeemer” – a close relative who has the privilege and responsibility to redeem a fellow relative who has fallen into difficult circumstances. In Ruth’s case, the two potential kinsman-redeemers were Boaz and another unnamed relative. By looking closely at their actions, we can determine who the true redeemer was.
Naomi’s tragic circumstances
The story begins by introducing us to Naomi, her husband Elimelech, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion. Due to a famine in Judah, they moved to Moab, where Naomi’s husband and sons eventually died, leaving her a grieving widow without family to care for her (Ruth 1:1-5). This sets the stage for Naomi’s need for a redeemer. In that culture, a widow without children would be destitute and vulnerable. So Naomi decided to return to her hometown of Bethlehem, accompanied by one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, who refused to leave her (Ruth 1:6-18).
When the widowed and childless Naomi returned to Bethlehem, she told the townspeople, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty…the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me” (Ruth 1:20-21). Naomi felt abandoned by God and was in dire need of someone to step in and redeem her situation. This sets up the overarching question – who would be her redeemer?
Boaz as kinsman-redeemer
Enter Boaz, a wealthy kinsman of Naomi’s late husband Elimelech. We first meet Boaz when he notices Ruth gleaning in his fields and shows her unusual favor, offering her protection and provision beyond what was required by the law (Ruth 2:8-9, 14-16). When Naomi learns that Ruth has been gleaning in Boaz’s fields, she recognizes that he is a potential redeemer, saying, “May he (the Lord) not lack a redeemer today!” (Ruth 2:20).
Boaz goes out of his way to provide for Ruth and Naomi, even instructing his workers to pull out extra grain from the bundles for her (Ruth 2:15-16). Chapter 3 records Ruth appealing to Boaz to spread his “wing” or cloak over her, symbolic of taking her in marriage. Boaz responds enthusiastically, saying “May you be blessed by the Lord… for you have shown more kindness now than before” (Ruth 3:10). However, Boaz informs Ruth that there is another relative who is actually a closer kinsman than himself (Ruth 3:12).
The nearer kinsman
According to Israelite law, the closest living relative had the first right and responsibility to serve as kinsman-redeemer. So Boaz meets with this other unnamed relative at the town gate, informing him of Naomi’s need to sell the land belonging to her late husband in order to survive. The relative initially agrees to “redeem” the land, probably thinking it was a shrewd business deal.
However, Boaz says there is a catch – whoever redeems the land must also take Ruth as his wife, to carry on the family name and provide an heir for the inheritance. Suddenly the deal didn’t look so good to the nearer relative. Marrying a foreign widow would mar his own inheritance. So this nameless kinsman turned down the opportunity to be the redeemer, telling Boaz, “I cannot redeem it… Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it” (Ruth 4:6).
Boaz redeems Naomi and Ruth
With the unnamed nearer kinsman stepping aside, Boaz joyfully took on the full responsibility of redeemer. He bought the land belonging to Naomi’s late husband and also took Ruth as his wife. Most importantly, when Ruth bore a son named Obed, it provided hope and restoration to Naomi. The townspeople exclaimed, “A son has been born to Naomi!” (Ruth 4:17) and Obed would go on to be the grandfather of King David.
Boaz went beyond the letter of the law to become the true kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and Ruth. Though it would have been easier and more self-serving for Boaz to ignore Naomi’s plight, he sacrificially took action to restore her dignity and provide for her future. Boaz rescued Ruth from destitution and loneliness through marriage and a family inheritance. At personal cost to himself, Boaz stepped in to redeem Naomi and Ruth’s tragic situation.
Boaz points to Christ
This beautiful story of human redemption ultimately points us to Jesus Christ as the ultimate Redeemer. Like Boaz, Jesus is our “close relative” who willingly took on the full cost and responsibility to rescue us from our pitiful state:
“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 ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Just as Boaz sacrificed his own inheritance to rescue Ruth, Christ left His heavenly glory to redeem us:
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7)
We, like Naomi and Ruth, have no hope apart from our Redeemer. We rejoice that Jesus paid the ultimate price through His death and resurrection to buy us back from sin and death. Though we were destitute and helpless, He spread His protection and provision over us by uniting us with Him forever through faith. What an amazing gift of redemption!
– Naomi’s tragic situation as a widowed, childless returnee to Bethlehem demonstrated her acute need for a redeemer.
– Boaz went above and beyond to provide for Ruth and Naomi, showing himself willing to be their redeemer.
– The unnamed nearer kinsman refused the responsibility when he learned it included marrying Ruth.
– Boaz joyfully took on the full duty of redeemer, marrying Ruth and restoring Naomi’s dignity and hope.
– Boaz’s costly, sacrificial redemption beautifully foreshadows Christ’s ultimate redemption of sinners.