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The Kinsman-Redeemer

“That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” (Ruth 2:20, NIV)

Kinsman-Redeemer is a translation of the Hebrew word go’el which can mean kinsman or redeemer. Let’s see how it is translated here in other versions.

  • family redeemers – (New Living Translation & Holman Christian Standard Bible)
  • our closest relatives – (New American Standard Bible)
  • our redeemers – (English Standard Version)
  • one of those who is supposed to look after us – (Contemporary English Version)
  • one of our close relatives – (NKJV)

The go’el is a kinsman who has the the right and obligation to help a poor relative in his time of need, particularly if he has had to sell some property. The Hebrews an interesting system which you can read about in Leviticus 25. When they sold property, it wasn’t a real sale. It was more of an extended lease, the right to use the property until the year of Jubilee. There was a year of Jubilee every 50 years. The value of the land would depend on how long it was until the next year of Jubilee.

Naomi apparently could sell her property to anyone, and it would come back to her heirs at the Jubilee. But what, if she had no heirs to inherit it? She needed an heir. She needed someone to both buy her property and provide her with an heir.

Boaz could meet that need. He could marry Ruth and buy her field. He was a close relative. However, apparently he was not the closest relative. There was another man who is closer. We are not given his name. He’s a John Doe.

However, Boaz is willing to serve as kinsman-redeemer if the John Doe does not want to do it. Boaz is a relative. He has the money. He is willing to pay the price. He is willing to take Ruth the Moabite as his bride.

Ruth 3

This is perhaps the most difficult chapter to understand and yet a crucial part of the story. Earlier when Naomi insisted that Ruth stay behind in Moab, Ruth did not follow Naomi’s advice but  insisted that she was going to Bethlehem with Naomi.

Here she is following Naomi’s advice, although to me at least, it seems rather strange advice. I understand that Hebrew law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) provided for women with  Leverite marriage – marriage to a dead husband’s brother. However, Ruth’s husband Mahlon had no living brothers. Boaz was not obligated to marry Ruth, nor she him. That she would ask him to be kinsman-redeemer in the absence of closer relatives does make sense. But…

Why go to Boaz at night? Why not approach him about performing the role of kinsman-redeemer in daytime?

Observations

  • Boaz doesn’t seem to find it as strange as I do. (Ruth 3:10)
  • Boaz blesses her.
  • He complements her on her good, noble character.
  • He considers her actions to be kind.
  • He acknowledges that she could have sought marriage with a younger man.
  • Ruth is completely honest about who she is and what her desire is. (Unlike Tamar in Genesis 38)

Ruth 2

Chapter one concluded with Ruth and Naomi moving to Bethlehem. Ruth shows wonderful loyalty to both Naomi and her God. Naomi is feeling down, possibly bitter, but seems to have at least a bit of hope. She is returning to Bethlehem because “the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them.” (NIV)

What do we see in chapter 2?

  • That Naomi has a rich, well respected relative in town
  • That Ruth just “happens” to end up gleaning in his field
  • That Boaz has heard of Ruth and her kindness to Naomi
  • That Boaz takes a protective role over Ruth
  • That Ruth is surprised by his kindness
  • That Boaz’s kindness is obvious to Naomi even before she finds out where Ruth was
  • That Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer.

Questions

  • Ruth asks Naomi for permission to glean. Why might this be?
  • In what ways is Boaz kind to Ruth? How many can we list?
  • How does Boaz value Ruth? How does she value herself?
  • How does Ruth “happen” to end up in Boaz’s field? What do we know? What can we guess?
  • Have Naomi’s thoughts and feelings toward God changed? If so, how?

Translations

I’m not a translator or a Bible expert, so I really can’t give advice about which translations are best.

I do know that I get a lot out of reading different translations. Sometimes I see something reading one translation that I never saw before reading other translations, and yet when I go back and look, it was there all along!

Not all translations are created equal though. Some are more literal than others. Some are easier to understand than others. Some try to translate as closely to word for word as possible and retain the meaning, others take a thought for thought approach, some seem to paraphrase.

 Zondervan has a good section with a lot of information about various translations. Since they publish the NIV and TNIV Bibles it’s not surprising that in their opinion these 2 Bibles strike the best balance the two poles of word for word and thought for thought translation. Still, I like their chart. I find it helpful.

They used to have more information about various versions, but they seem to have removed some of it. I’ll see what else I can find.

More Food for Thought

Looking for studies of Ruth on the Internet I have found:

Ruth 1

Observations… and Questions

  • Naomi went to Moab with her husband Elimelech and their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion because of a lack of good food.  
  • Naomi means pleasant.
  • Mahlon probably means “weakling.” I’ve heard it said that Kilion means sickly or something similar. Some people take these names as evidence that the story is just a work of fiction, but given the fact that this story is tied so closely with the the genealogy of David, I think that’s unlikely. More likely these are nicknames. We do know that Naomi asks people to call her Mara when she returns to Bethlehem. (Although no one seems to do so.) If the boys were in poor health, perhaps that helps to explain why the parents moved to where there was more food.
  • Elimelech means “God is King.” Naomi’s husband had a good name.
  • The two boys married Moabite women.
  • All three women were widowed.
  • Hearing that the Lord has blessed the people in Bethlehem, and that they now have food, Naomi decides to return home to Bethlehem, but encourages her daughter-in-laws to go back to their parents.
  • Orpah goes back to her parents.
  • Ruth stays with Naomi and declares her loyalty not only to Naomi, but to her God.
  • We have this moving quote from Ruth:
    But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”  Ruth 1:16-17
  • Naomi and Ruth seem to have different ideas, although they are following the same God.
  • The expression “May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely…” is fairly common amongst the Hebrew people of this time.

I Wonder…

  • how Naomi’s husband and sons died…
  • how she felt…
  • how she expected to support herself in Bethlehem
  • how Ruth came to be so committed to God

The events in the book of Ruth take place during the time of the judges. How do we know? It says so in the first verse! Exactly when during this time period is up for debate. Some people think it was around the time of Gideon. They base this on the fact that Naomi and her husband Elimelech moved to Moab because of a famine. No famine is mentioned in the book of Judges, but in Judges 6 we read that:

  • Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. ” Judges 6:3
  • “Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.” Judges 6:6
  • “…Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.” Judges 6:11b (all taken from the NIV)

So while, the word famine isn’t mentioned, it does seem that food was scarce at that time.

However, others think that this occurred later on in the period of Judges. That’s quite possible. The Bible doesn’t say that they returned to Bethlehem because the Midianites  had been conquered, but because “the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing for them.” (Ruth 1:6) No judges are mentioned. Perhaps these events occurred sometime between the rules of Gideon and Samson.  

We do know that Ruth was King David’s great grandmother. It seems that Samuel is older than Saul, who is old enough to be David’s father. So I think that puts Ruth just a generation or so ahead of Samuel. Probably a bit later that Gideon.

It is in the time before Israel had a king – in the time when “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6b – NAB) The specific date doesn’t matter. Nor does the specific part of Moab where Naomi lived. It isn’t mentioned either. As you read, identify the main characters, think about what it would have been like to live back then, and ask yourself, “Why did God want to include these events and the story of these people in his holy word?”

Optional extra reading:

  • The book of Judges
  • The first 4 chapters of the book of Samuel