NLT Study Bible Blog.
The Family Redeemer, Part Three (Ruth #7)
[part 1 | part 2]

While reading Ruth 2, we learned that Boaz was a “family redeemer” for Naomi and Ruth, and through the study materials we were able to understand what that means in a general sense. Now let’s see how it plays out in Ruth 3–4. As we do, we have a couple of unanswered questions:
  • Did Naomi have in mind that Boaz would buy back her family’s property?
  • How did Boaz’s status as family redeemer for Naomi relate to Ruth?

As we read Ruth 3:1-4, it becomes clear that Naomi has a plan to provide her daughter-in-law Ruth with “a permanent home”: Naomi instructs Ruth to make herself attractive and go present herself to Boaz in the night. As Ruth does so, she makes a remarkable request:
“Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my dfamily redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9)
In other words, “Marry me, because you are a near kinsman whose role is to act as a go’el.” This is an amazing request: Apparently both Naomi and Ruth had made a connection between the Boaz’s status as a go’el and his ability to provide an heir who would inherit the family property. As we discussed previously, he was not under a strict obligation to provide an heir, because he was not Elimelech’s brother. He was, however, eligible to do so, and evidently Ruth and Naomi believed that he would do so because of his generosity up to that point. Certainly there was a connection between the family redeemer’s obligation to help keep property in the family, and the need to have an heir who could inherit the property.

The study note on Ruth 3:9 does not provide much information at this point, because the idea of a family redeemer has already been explained at 2:20 and in the theme note, and all the connections really become clear in ch 4. So the note simply points to those resources:
3:9 ... Ruth appealed to Boaz’s status as a family redeemer (Hebrew go’el; see “The Family Redeemer,” above) to persuade him to marry her (see 4:5).
The connection between Boaz’s status as a family redeemer, and the need to provide an heir to inherit Naomi’s property, becomes clear in ch 4.

Before we go there, though, we should take note of Boaz’s response in 3:10-13: Boaz clearly understood that Ruth was asking him to marry her to fulfill his role as the family redeemer, and he understood this to be an act of loyalty to the family. Boaz saw Ruth as willing to provide an heir for Elimelech’s family rather than seeking a marriage for her own satisfaction. That is why he exclaimed that she was “showing even more family loyalty now than you did before” (Ruth 3:10).

In ch 4, Boaz takes the issue to the town assembly and presents the opportunity to the man who is a nearer relative, who has the right of first refusal. Here everything becomes clear: Naomi was “selling the land that belonged to our relative Elimelech” (4:3), and Boaz was offering this other kinsman the right to “redeem” the land first (4:4), because he was a closer relative (3:12). While it is both clear and accurate to translate 4:3 that Naomi was “selling” the land, in the original context the situation was more complex than our idea of selling, as the study notes makes clear:
4:3 Naomi ... is selling the land: Naomi probably did not have control of Elimelech’s ancestral land, though she did have legal title. She was selling the right to redeem it, or buy it back, from whoever was currently using it (see 4:4).

4:4 redeem it: The law called for a near relative, the family redeemer, to buy land when a landowner had to sell it (see Lev 25:23-34). This practice kept land in the family; the redeemer was a conservator for the land until the destitute landowner could recover economically and buy it back.
Thus, the offer to the nearer relative was that he could buy the use of the land and hold it as conservator until Elimelech or his heir could buy it back.

As 4:4 makes clear, the nearer kinsman immediately offered to buy the land. The study note on 4:4 explains:
All right, I’ll redeem it: The kinsman could see a great opportunity—there was no male heir and no apparent likelihood that there would be one, so he could add the land to his own estate while doing his social duty for the family.
It was a win-win situation for him: It was unlikely that Elimelech would produce an heir, because he was dead, his sons were dead, and his wife was old. So he could look like a hero and serve his own interests as well.

But now, in 4:5, Boaz introduces Ruth into the equation, and it is clear from the other kinsman’s response in 4:6 that this move was a surprise to him. Why was it a surprise? After all, everyone knew about Ruth, so shouldn’t the other kinsman have realized that he would be called on to provide an heir for Elimelech through her? Apparently not! The second part of the note on 4:5 explains this situation:
4:5 ... • That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family: This sentence draws heavily on Deut 25:7. Boaz connected the duties of a family redeemer (see notes on 2:20; Lev 25:25) with the duties of a brother-in-law (Latin levir) to provide an heir for a deceased brother (see Deut 25:5-10 for a description of levirate marriage; cp. Gen 38). There is no precise precedent for Boaz’s legal maneuver. The duty of the levir as stated in Deut 25:5-10 was not binding in this situation (neither Boaz nor the other kinsman was Elimelech’s brother, and Ruth was not Elimelech’s widow). Boaz was apparently using the spirit of the law concerning the go’el (family redeemer) to establish a moral, if not a legal, obligation to serve as levir and provide the deceased with an heir to inherit the land (see note on Lev 25:25). The concepts of land ownership and provision for an heir were intimately connected in ancient Israel (cp. Num 27:1-11). Because Naomi was beyond childbearing age, Ruth, the widow of Elimelech’s son, would be the mother for such an heir. This maneuver apparently surprised the other kinsman (4:6), but it is clear from what follows that Boaz’s argument, while perhaps novel, was accepted as valid.
The other kinsman replies, “Then I can’t redeem it, ... because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it” (4:6). Why would it endanger the other man’s estate to marry Ruth? The note on 4:6 explains:
4:6 Then I can’t redeem it: The addition of Ruth to the transaction completely changed the equation for the other kinsman. • this might endanger my own estate: If he bought the land, married Ruth, and raised an heir for Elimelech, he might invest many resources only to lose control of the new land, and he might not have enough to maintain his own land. If he then failed to have a second son with Ruth as his own heir, his land would be inherited by Elimelech’s heir, and his own name would die out. Even if this kinsman had acquired the land and not Ruth (see notes on 3:11; 4:5), he still might lose his investment in the land to the heir born to Ruth. By acting to preserve his own name, this man became the no-name who refused to help his close relative.
What Boaz did was a brilliant legal manueuver: He made it certain that Ruth would be provided for and that Elimelech would be provided an heir. It is also not too far a stretch to say that he knew the other man’s character and was ensuring that he himself would be the one to redeem the land, marry Ruth, and provide Elimelech an heir through her. What a Mensch! Just like Jesus.

We’ve followed the theme of the family redeemer through the book of Ruth, and we’ve seen how much more fully we can understand what is going on in that book if we understand the cultural customs that guided the people involved. The study notes, theme note on “The Family Redeemer,” and the word study on Hebrew go’el have all helped us to overcome our cultural difference and catch a glimpse of Ruth’s amazing faith and Boaz’s remarkable generosity.

Sometime soon, I would encourage you read through the book of Ruth afresh and enjoy more fully than ever the romance and beauty of what God did through these ancestors of King David.
posted by Sean Harrison at 8:00 AM
Blogger hiddent said...

Thank you very much for your wonderfully informative postings!

July 31, 2008 4:35 PM  

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