A Prayer for Quiet Confidence
O GOD of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength; By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Then Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee? And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor. Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do. And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do. And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law bade 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 corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down. And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman. And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. (Ruth 3:1-9)
When Naomi tells Ruth that she wants to “seek rest” for her, she is not implying that Ruth is becoming physically tired of gleaning. Rather, Naomi’s desire is to secure Ruth’s future by helping her to reclaim the property, the future, and the place in the covenant structure that Elimelech had abandoned. Naomi knows that while gleaning is an honorable way for the two of them to be fed, it was never intended as a substitute for being fully established in the covenant community, with property and deep, strong family ties through which the dominion mandate can be lived out to the fullest extent. Indeed, that is the foundational truth on which the kinsman redeemer concept is based. If the well-being of one member of the family was compromised in any way, the stronger members of the family were responsible for restoring him and his honor.
By leaving the land that God had established for His people, Elimelech (and with him, his sons) had vacated both his covenant blessings and his covenant responsibilities. As a result, their widows were left vulnerable to poverty, servitude, and physical danger. God had protected Naomi and Ruth on their journey back to Bethlehem, and He had allowed them to find food as soon as they returned. Now through redemption by a kinsman, He would provide a way for both of them, even Ruth the Moabitess, to find rest in the covenant. In this way, grace is lived out in the lives of real people in the family of God.
The Fullness of the Covenant
God’s covenant with Israel was not constrained by the walls of the tabernacle; rather, the covenant permeated every area of life. Throughout history God’s interactions with mankind make it clear that the spiritual life and physical life are inseparable. While we have no expectation for God to heap material blessings on us simply because we have faith, it is true that whatever we have is His gift to us. It is also true that how we manage our economic and material assets is a direct reflection of our spiritual well-being. This includes not only how well we save and invest our assets, but also how generously we treat the poor, especially those “who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). We have already seen this truth in the example of Boaz, “a mighty man of wealth” (Ruth 2:1), who did not hoard his material blessings. He was generous both as an employer and a benefactor of the poor among the people of God because he was joyfully obedient to the Law of God.
God’s covenant is also not an individual matter. He had established the family, beginning with Adam and Eve, as the basic unit of spiritual, physical, and economic structure, and He continued to work through the families of Noah and Abraham. Even the entrance into the Promised Land was by family, as the land was divided according to the twelve tribes of Israel. The covenant continued to be lived out in practical ways in the land that God provided for them, governed by His law. Forfeiture of any covenant assets was not taken lightly, and the family had to be given every opportunity to redeem them. Specifically, the nearest kinsman had the responsibility to restore what had been lost in order to provide for his relative’s future, if he was at all able to do so.
The Redeemer’s Responsibilities
Just as the covenant reached into all areas of life, so did the duty of the kinsman redeemer. Besides avenging the death of a relative and serving as the trustee if a debt was owed to a relative who had died, the kinsman had several responsibilities to restore to his relatives what they had lost, ensuring that wealthier family members did not neglect those who had fallen on hard times and did not take advantage of their poverty.
One of the specific responsibilities of the nearest kinsman was to redeem any land that had been sold due to the owner’s need. The land actually belonged to God and had been given to the various tribes of Israel in trust. An outsider who purchased it was only purchasing the right of use, and he could not refuse to sell it back when the original owner or his representative presented the funds to redeem it. Even if no one in the family had the funds to redeem the land, it reverted to the original owner or his descendants in the year of jubilee, which occurred every 50 years.
If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold. And if the man have none to redeem it, and himself be able to redeem it; Then let him count the years of the sale thereof, and restore the overplus unto the man to whom he sold it; that he may return unto his possession. But if he be not able to restore it to him, then that which is sold shall remain in the hand of him that hath bought it until the year of jubile: and in the jubile it shall go out, and he shall return unto his possession. (Leviticus 25:25-28)
Another responsibility of the kinsman was to redeem a family member who had sold himself into servitude as a means to relieve his poverty. Although the situation may have been dire, perpetual servitude was not allowed because the Israelites were God’s servants first and foremost. Again, all servitude ended in the year of jubilee.
And if a sojourner or stranger wax rich by thee, and thy brother that dwelleth by him wax poor, and sell himself unto the stranger or sojourner by thee, or to the stock of the stranger’s family: After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him: Either his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him; or if he be able, he may redeem himself. And he shall reckon with him that bought him from the year that he was sold to him unto the year of jubile: and the price of his sale shall be according unto the number of years, according to the time of an hired servant shall it be with him. If there be yet many years behind, according unto them he shall give again the price of his redemption out of the money that he was bought for. And if there remain but few years unto the year of jubile, then he shall count with him, and according unto his years shall he give him again the price of his redemption. And as a yearly hired servant shall he be with him: and the other shall not rule with rigour over him in thy sight. And if he be not redeemed in these years, then he shall go out in the year of jubile, both he, and his children with him. For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 25:47-55)
In certain cases there was another responsibility, made infamous by Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38), that of levirate marriage, explained in the passage below:
If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)
The law that required a man to continue his brother’s bloodline by marrying his widow, and also forbade the widow to seek elsewhere for a second husband, seems odd and perhaps barbaric to us. Yet as we’ve seen previously, a childless widow was doomed to a life of poverty. The provision of an heir not only carried on the family line but also gave the widow hope for the future. Further, the firstborn child of such a union would carry the dead brother’s name rather than the name of his biological father, and would receive any assets that had been redeemed.
However, in Ruth’s case, there were extenuating circumstances and for this reason, a few scholars insist that Boaz was not serving as kinsman redeemer to Naomi and Ruth. For one, Mahlon’s brother was also dead, and the strictest reading of the law was that only a brother would be required to perform this duty. For another, Mahlon had not been living in Bethlehem at the time of his death. In addition, the assumption of the levirate law was that the widow was also an Israelite, and Ruth was most certainly not. She was a Moabitess, and we saw in a previous lesson how the Moabites had made themselves enemies to the Israelites. So by a strict reading of the law, Boaz was not required to marry Ruth when she approached him, or to help her beyond allowing her to continue to glean. But it appears that this law had been given the widest possible interpretation; when Boaz asserted that the redemption of Elimelech’s property involved marrying Ruth, neither the nearest kinsman nor the witnesses disputed his claim.
One thing we should address is what really happened on the threshing floor. Some scholars say that the terms used in this passage are euphemisms that mean Ruth seduced Boaz. But given that they had both behaved honorably until that point and continued to do so afterward, there is no reason to believe that they had sexual relations that night. For one thing, the scriptures spared no detail in the account of Tamar and Judah; there is no question about happened between the two of them. Further, it would not have been honorable for Boaz to take Ruth as a lover and then turn around and tell her that he was not the nearest kinsman and that he would offer her to the one who was. Although she had made herself vulnerable to him by asking him to take her under his wing, he did not exploit her. His response to her request also indicates that they did not consummate their relationship:
And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I. Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the Lord liveth: lie down until the morning. (Ruth 3:12-13)
Boaz extended Ruth the grace of securing her place in the covenant because she had shown herself to be faithful to the God of the covenant. Though by blood she belonged to her family in Moab, in spirit, she belonged to the family of Elimelech and Naomi, who called her “daughter.”
Ruth 4 begins with an account of the nearest kinsman being offered the opportunity to redeem Naomi and Ruth. Boaz presents it in such a way as to reveal the other kinsman’s greed in front of witnesses. He first tells him that Elimelech’s property can be redeemed for Naomi, and the kinsman jumps at the opportunity. Naomi is old, and her sons are dead, so he will have little time to wait until it all becomes his. But when Boaz adds that Ruth’s part also must be redeemed, which will also mean he must marry her, the nearest kinsman backs away. He is not willing to take on this responsibility because he feels it will “mar [his] own inheritance” (Ruth 4:6). If their marriage resulted in a male child, the property would pass to him, and he was not willing to spend money and allow another to gain the benefit. Contrast this attitude not only with that of Boaz, but with that of Jesus Christ, “who thought it not robbery to be equal with God but made Himself of no reputation” in order to redeem His people (Philippians 2:6). By refusing Ruth, Elimelech’s kinsman forfeited his place in the lineage of Christ.
As part of the law regarding levirate marriage, if the brother refused his duty, the widow had the right to humiliate him before witnesses:
Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her; then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother’s house. (Deuteronomy 25:8-9)
We understand the concept of spitting in his face, but what is the significance of removing his shoe? This goes back to the curse on the serpent, who was condemned to crawl on his belly on the ground and to eat dust. Making him walk barefoot, touching dust, was a way to humiliate the one who had betrayed his family by refusing to take on his covenant responsibility. All in all, this kinsman got off easy; he was spared the humility that he deserved.
By God’s grace, Naomi found rest not only for Ruth but also for herself. The remainder of the chapter summarizes the happy conclusion of all of Naomi’s woes. The same chorus of women who had welcomed her back to Bethlehem only to be told that she was no longer pleasant Naomi but bitter Mara, returned to rejoice with her. No longer childless, she had a loving daughter and a grandson, as well as a kind and generous redeemer in Boaz.
And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him. And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it. And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:14-17)
The book of Ruth is a beautiful account of how, in the lovely words of J.R.R. Tolkien, “everything sad [is] going to come untrue.” Naomi, restored to her place in the covenant community and given a new family, was willing to be called Naomi again.
May God grant us all such hope.
- The word redemption is an economic term, but it is used frequently in the scriptures, especially in the books of poetry, as a spiritual term. What similarities do you see between the responsibility of the kinsman redeemer and the work of Christ, our Redeemer?
- Why do you think Naomi did not find out the name of the nearest kinsman?
- Do you think Ruth was too bold in her approach to Boaz? Does her attitude remind you of anyone in the New Testament who approached Christ?
Albert Mohler, “12 Theses on a Christian Understanding of Economics”
Ron Kirk, “The Biblical Principles of Household Economy”
Solomon Schechter and Joseph Jacobs, “Levirate Marriage“