(Many apologies for missing last Sunday – “the plague” had me quite down last weekend, and while I’m definitely on the upswing, I’m not 100% just yet.)
I can’t recall the last time I specifically read the book of Ruth, but I’m willing to bet it was at least five years ago. Re-reading it today, having experienced widowhood, the story reads very differently. That’s the beauty of the Word of God — there is always more to see and learn. As you grow, the meaning grows with you.
Naomi and Ruth are both primary characters in this book. Naomi was widowed after moving from Bethlehem to Moab to escape a famine, and then lost both of her newly-married sons. Destitute and grieving, she decided to return to Israel where the famine had ended, and tried to send her daughters-in-law back to their respective families. One of them returned to her family and her gods to be cared for and hopefully remarried. The other, Ruth, declared Naomi to be her family and refused to leave her, determining to convert to her faith and cast her lot with Naomi, whatever the future would bring.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth took on the responsibility of providing for the two of them by gathering food — gleaning the remnants of the harvest left behind by the regular gatherers, with the permission of the owner of the field, working long and hard hours to gather what scraps she could.
With all that hard work, however, God was gracious, and led her to the field of a close relative of Naomi’s late husband — close enough of a relative to be considered as a kinsman redeemer for Naomi and her daughter-in-law. And from there, we know how the story ends: Boaz agrees to marry Ruth, and to redeem both her and her mother-in-law from poverty… and becomes the great-grandfather of King David.
The concept of the kinsman redeemer is so fascinating, especially in a culture where most people are reluctant to take responsibility for one’s own actions and debts, let alone another’s. But rabbinical tradition provides for the goel, who as the nearest living relative of another is responsible for restoring that person’s rights, and avenging wrongs done against them.
The kinsman redeemer, or goel, is obligated to redeem a relative who has sold himself or herself into slavery and to repurchase property that was sold because of poverty. The goel was to avenge his kinsman if murdered, act as a prosecuting attorney when their killer is brought before the court, and to collect restitution on their behalf. And if the relative died without an heir, the goel was charged with marrying the widow and providing a son to carry on the family name.
Can you imagine taking on that kind of responsibility for your brother, or your nephew, or your cousin? Can you imagine taking on the debt of a relative who was completely ungrateful for having been redeemed, and who continued to dig himself further into debt?
Yet Christ willingly became our kinsman redeemer, ungrateful as we are, paying our debts and redeeming us from slavery… avenging the wrongs done against us and restoring our rights as sons of God.
He paid a debt He did not owe
I owed a debt I could not pay…
And with that thought, I leave you with this powerful video: