Do you like buying a property? I have noticed that there is a Chinese obsession in purchasing and acquiring property and land in Australia. With the super high property values across the Sydney area, houses and lands worth a fortune. Some families would require a few generations from the grandfather to grandsons working for many years to pay off their mortgage loan. However, if the family leave no descendant and the older generation has died off, their property would probably be sold and lost to another high bidder of the property, and the liquid assets then would be divided amongst the surviving relatives. The family would easily lose their ancestral house or land because of the division of wealth.
But in the Old Testament, God has promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and Jacob, who God renamed to be Israel, and each tribe and family has been inherited a piece of the Promised Land as their ancestral promise from God. So what happens if a family of Israel lost their patriarch with no an heir to inherit the land? Who will take the land of the dead in Israel? Today’s passage gives us a glimpse into the ancient world in this legal matter regarding the property of the deceased.
1) The role of a Kinsman-Redeemer
In ancient Israel, the Mosaic Law requires the closest relative to redeem the property of the deceased. This person is called the kinsman-redeemer. It is sort of like in the modern-day if a person died without leaving a will, his possessions and property will belong to his closest relative. The role of kinsman-redeemer is found in Leviticus 25 of the Old Testament. This law of divine justice was written to protect the weak in the society so that the Israelite family who has lost the patriarch can have a chance to maintain their ancestral homeland by a close relative from their own family.
This is the situation of Naomi, who has become a poor widow after she lost her husband and two sons in Moab. More than just acquiring the land of the dead as the guardian, the relative who would become the kinsman-redeemer also should take the wife of the dead. He needs to produce children for the dead to continue the family line of the deceased.
In the case of an Israelite man’s death in which he fails to leave behind a son, the brother of the deceased man is commanded to take his widow as the wife, and both redeem the land and provide a son to carry on the dead father’s name. This kinsman-redeemer acts as both the guardian of the deceased’s property and the guardian-keeper of the decease’s remaining family. A relative of the person will be in charge of looking after the poor and provide their needs. Such an ancient welfare system by family has never existed outside of God’s people in Israel.
As it is written in the Deuteronomy 25:5-10, “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. 6 The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. 7 However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” 8 Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” 9 his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” 10 That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.”
This role as the Kinsman-Redeemer is Boaz’ supposed position, and it is the responsibility that Ruth had pleaded with Boaz to fulfil in Chapter 3. Being the godly man that he is Boaz graciously receives Ruth’s offer, and he promises that he will fulfil his role early in the morning. Because there is another relative closer to Naomi than him, so Boaz meets up with that person at the city gate. In ancient cities of Israel, the city gate served as the city hall as well. The city official gathered there at the city gate to transact business. It was the right place for Boaz to make his transaction. First, Boaz presented his case to the relative in front of ten elders sitting at the gate as witnesses, that Elimelek, the dead husband of Naomi still had some property in the area that was now for sale. As the nearest relative, this man had the first right to buy the land, which he agreed to do as written in Leviticus 25:25, “If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold.”
But then Boaz also said that according to the law, if the relative bought the property, he also had to marry Ruth, the widow of Mahlon to fulfil his duty as the kinsman-redeemer. The relative now backed down. He didn’t want to complicate his inheritance. Then in verse 8, we saw the relative said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself”, and he removed his sandal.
What the relative did is related to the Jewish custom in Deuteronomy 25:9. In earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. In those days in the ancient time, there is no permanent record of court proceeding or transcripts, witnesses were to recall transactions, and such dramatic visual effects made transactions memorable. The meaning of the sandal originally probably signified sovereignty over property rights – one would be able to “walk” at one’s property. Giving away the sandals signifies the transfer of right to the new owner to walk in his property.
Whatever his reason, now Boaz has the right as the second closest relative to Naomi and Elimelek. This did not mean Boaz purchased the property, but rather that the right of oversight and redemption had passed from the relative to Boaz. Boaz had also acquired Ruth the Moabites, Mahlon’s widow as his wife. It is done in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property. So, the name of Mahlon would not disappear from among his family or from the town records. This is Boaz’s role as the kinsman-redeemer so that he can officially redeem Ruth and marry her.
2) Blessing to Boaz and Ruth
As the kinsman-redeemer, Boaz not only takes Ruth as a wife, but he also fulfils the levirate law by producing a son to carry on Elimelek’s family line. Because of this, the elders of Israel blessed Boaz. In verse 11, we see, “Then the elders and all the people 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 family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem”.
Everyone loves a happy ending. Elimelek’s family is not the only family to have suffered in Bethlehem. To see a family overcomes the devastation of famine, death and childlessness are very inspiring to the town. The elders have given Boaz a divine blessing that pointing to something more significant in God’s plan.
First, they compared Ruth like Rachel and Leah, the wives of Jacob were all tribes of Israelites came from their wombs. God’s blessing to Jacob, whom God renamed Israel was the one who has received the divine blessing from Abraham. A chosen godly family whom God will bring salvation to humankind. Then, Boaz was blessed to have a standing in Ephrathah and Bethlehem. Ephrathah means “fruitful” in Hebrew, and it is the old name Bethlehem. Someone coming out from Bethlehem will be great in God’s salvation plan, and Boaz’s family will be famous and fruitful through Ruth’s womb in Bethlehem.
This blessing of the elders was filled with the Spirit, with a prophecy in the final line in verse 12, “Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”
The offspring of Boaz will be a son, an heir who will inherit God’s promise to Abraham and Jacob, much like Perez was a son of Judah, who is one of the twelve sons of Jacob with Tamar in Genesis 38, where Tamar’s husband was killed without a son. So Judah was the kinsman-redeemer to produce a child Perez to continue the family line. Boaz is in the same bloodline of blessing from God to keep His promise to Abraham, Jacob and Judah, and now the blessing is passed down to Boaz at the city gate of Bethlehem. This blessing is pointing toward the future family linkage to the Messiah. It is the blessing of the royal bloodline of Israel where King David and Jesus Christ will be born. It will come from Ruth’s womb. Boaz and Ruth had never dreamed of their righteous deeds, and faithfulness would result in such an abundant blessing from the LORD. May God’s holy name be praised forever and ever. Amen.
3) Boaz foreshadows Jesus as the Kinsman-Redeemer
And what is more, that though Boaz redeemed the line of Elimelek, Jesus would come to redeem all the people of God. The story of Ruth portrays God’s blessing on the righteous people who put their faith in Him. This outcome was only accomplished though, through Boaz’s righteous response. Through his actions, Boaz communicates Christ and foreshadows the role of the redeemer. Boaz’s person and character illustrate the righteousness that Jesus possesses for God’s people. Boaz also communicates the great measures that Jesus is willing to take to redeem his bride.
Although Ruth arrives at Boaz’s place empty-handed and humbled to the core, Boaz treats Ruth with respect and kindness. Disgraced by her position and despised for her ethnicity, the young Moabite woman appears to have little to offer. Yet, despite all this, Boaz views her as a worthy woman. Although Ruth comes from a family that has turned away on the LORD, the LORD turns his face towards Ruth and reveals himself to her through Boaz. God’s work of redemption in Ruth’s life was invisible. And it is the same that God is working on each of us today. Not many of us are born to a noble family. All of us are born from a pagan society and a gentile ethnicity like Ruth. Yet Jesus looks at us with kindness like Boaz sees Ruth. Like Boaz, who spends a large sum in great measure to redeem Ruth, Christ has also spent a great measure, his own life to redeem us from our sins on the Cross. It was Jesus to whom Boaz’ position pointed to, as the ultimate kinsman-redeemer. The Son of God – Jesus Christ who would redeem his elect from the world, he who would redeem a bride for himself, that is the Church. So that in the person and work of Christ was found the true definition of kinsman-redeemer.
Are you feeling grateful like Ruth that God has sent you a kinsman-redeemer who would do everything, even given up his life to redeem you? As the Church, we are the bride of Christ. We are Ruth. We are all saved through the grace and kindness of Jesus, our Boaz, the redeemer.
Ruth did not know that she would become the great-grandmother of Israel’s greatest kings when she left Moab. All she knew was to take the step of saying, “your people are my people, your God my God”. Because of Ruth’s faithful obedience, her life and legacy were significant even though she couldn’t see all the results. Similarly, we must make our choices with God’s eternal values in mind. Taking moral shortcuts and living for short-range pleasures are not good ways to move ahead. Instead, live in faithfulness to God, knowing that the significance of your life will extend beyond your lifetime. The rewards will outweigh any sacrifice you may have made. So be faithful to our Lord as his bride the Church. Be faithful like Ruth, and the blessing and salvation from God will come and extend beyond this lifetime till eternity.
Let us pray to our Heavenly Father in the name of our Redeemer Jesus, and ask him to shape us to be wise and righteous like Boaz, and to be faithful and obedient like Ruth.