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Ruth

Kinsman Redeemer

Ruth 3

We come now to one of the strange stories of the Old Testament. We must remember that we are three millennia away from these people, and their customs may be strange to our understanding. Even so, many have seen something not quite right about this. Let’s take a look:

(Ruth 3 NIV) One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, "My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? {2} Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. {3} Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don't let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. {4} When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do." {5} "I will do whatever you say," Ruth answered. {6} So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do. {7} When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. {8} In the middle of the night something startled the man, and he turned and discovered a woman lying at his feet. {9} "Who are you?" he asked. "I am your servant Ruth," she said. "Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer." {10} "The LORD bless you, my daughter," he replied. "This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. {11} And now, my daughter, don't be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character. {12} Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. {13} Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the LORD lives I will do it. Lie here until morning." {14} So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, "Don't let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor." {15} He also said, "Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out." When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and put it on her. Then he went back to town. {16} When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, "How did it go, my daughter?" Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her {17} and added, "He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, 'Don't go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.'" {18} Then Naomi said, "Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today."

Background

If we hope to understand this passage, we need a little background information – everything from farming practices to Levitical Law.

Threshing floor

Every farmer had to have one. If you could get it, a large slab of flat sandstone would be best. Otherwise, you leveled a piece of ground, spread it with chalk and rolled it into a hard, flat surface, not likely to grow weeds.

To separate the wheat from its chaff, you constructed a tent over your threshing floor. In the evening, when the sea breezes blew in, you would arrange its sides so that the maximum amount of wind came through the tent. Taking a shovel, you would throw the grain into the air. The lighter chaff would float on the wind while the denser grain fell more or less straight down. This is the process known as winnowing.

Having separated your grain and disposed of the chaff, you then closed up the sides. You slept there at night to keep the grain safe from robbers. Now you know what Boaz was doing there.

Law of the Kinsman Redeemer[1]

The people of Israel were held to have been redeemed by God as he took them out of Egypt. They were redeemed by the blood (remember Passover). This law was extended to those who sold their property (the land is holy, remember). It was also extended to those who sold themselves into slavery.

Every 50 years came the year of Jubilee. All Israelite slaves were released (unless they wished otherwise) and all land was returned to its original family.

A variant of this was the duty of the nearest kinsman to redeem on behalf of a widow. This kinsman – called the “kinsman-redeemer” was obliged, if able, to repurchase the land sold, and in the process take the widow as wife. Any children born to this marriage were accounted as children of the original husband, and entitled to inherit that property. (It’s interesting that four generations later, Obed’s descendants are indeed poor again – must have been a small plot.)

Social Security

We’re so used to the idea that people save for their old age, rely on Social Security, etc., that we’ve forgotten what these people did. They relied on their children to support them in old age! (A thought which horrifies children these days). If you were a widow with no sons, you were liable to starve, barring charity. So it is that a widow who had a chance to remarry would be anxious to do that.

Marriage as a portrait of Christ and the church

When we read these passages, we need to consider the symbolic meanings involved. This is not just for pleasant reading; God has painted on the living canvas of our bodies a portrait of his love for the church. We must see the colors of that portrait in this painting of Ruth and Boaz.

What really happened that night?

It is interesting to see the split in commentators. We know very little outside the Bible about these people. Some commentators see this as an attempt by Ruth, encouraged by Naomi, to seduce the man. Others see it as proper and correct in their culture. We’ll take a look at that later; now we shall examine the characters as shown – as a preliminary.

Character

Naomi – often neglected in this story, she models a mother’s role for us.

  • She sees it as her duty to care for Ruth – even though she is a daughter-in-law. United in marriage is united before God, and Naomi sees Ruth as a daughter. It’s a great example.
  • She’s willing to kick-start things. Remember that in this culture marriages are usually arranged. But who’s to do the arranging here? It’s tough, because Ruth is from Moab – and Israelites are forbidden to marry Moabites. Somebody has to pull the trigger on this one.
  • As befits the older woman, she is a counselor to the younger one. Today we don’t see that as good – but Scripture universally commends this point.

Ruth – a stranger in a strange land; an alien.

  • She is obedient – both the Naomi and Boaz. Obedience is the lubricant of faith.
  • She is humble. There is no presumption that the Law says someone must do something for her; she asks.
  • She is an alien as well – one who is not of the chosen people. It is a model for us, that God has now spoken to bring all nations to him.

Boaz – do remember that this guy is the older man! He’s probably Naomi’s age.

  • He is a diligent farmer – the harvest is on, and he’s out in the fields with his workers.
  • He is generous in his provision – that load of grain would have been exceedingly heavy; the Talmud tells us that Ruth was strengthened by God just to carry it.
  • And – see verse 10 – he is not expecting Ruth to have any interest in him. Fat, old bald guys know that Miss America is usually busy nights.

So, just what happened that night?

The seduction version

Some commentators see it this way: Naomi (the schemer) tells her daughter-in-law (the no doubt reluctant Ruth) that it’s time to make her move. Sneak into the tent and seduce the man in the middle of the night. But due to the noble character of Boaz and the honesty of Ruth, the seduction doesn’t come off. God intends something better.

The cultural version

Other commentators see it differently. We really don’t know that much about their culture. What we do know is that Boaz clearly reacts as if he has been asked to exercise the right of kinsman-redeemer. So they conclude that this is what has been done. Considering that they legalized deeds by swapping sandals, this just could be.

All I can tell you is that this says more about the commentators than it does about Ruth and Boaz. Modern commentators tend to the seductive version, for we live in a time like that. Older commentators presume the cultural version, in general. All I can tell you is that to the pure, all things are pure.[2]

What’s really important: see the picture that Ruth and Boaz present – as the examples of Christian and Christ.

Boaz – the figure of Christ

We can see in Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, a figure of the Christ to come.

  • He is related to Ruth. In the same sense, our redeemer is not an angel or spirit, but rather the flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth. In this we see the humanity of Christ.
  • He is approachable. This is not the awesome figure of some benefactor at a distance, but another human being who is approachable by anyone. The God of Sinai becomes the Jesus of Nazareth.
  • There is one key phrase here. When Ruth asks him to spread the corner of his garment, the word she uses for “corner” is the same one used for “wings” in Ruth 2:12. The action is symbolic. Boaz by doing this is spreading the wing of his protection over Ruth. The action is symbolic of taking her under his care, as Christ has taken us “under wing.”

More than that, we can see the providence of God in the provision of Boaz:

  • He sends her away with as much as she could possibly carry. Is that not typical of how God blesses us?
  • He tells her, “Don’t be afraid.” Does not Christ take away our fears?
  • “I will do all you ask.” Do you hear the echo of Jesus telling his disciples that whatever they ask in his name, he will do for them?

Ruth – the figure of the Christian

We can see the Christian in Ruth as well:

  • She comes in and lies at his feet. This is the gesture of a servant, not an equal. We too should approach our Lord as servant.
  • She asks his protection, knowing her own strength to be insufficient. We too should acknowledge our dependence upon Christ.
  • She does not come to him unprepared, but dressed and anointed. Symbolically, anointing might be prayer; Revelation tells us that fine linen on the Bride represents the righteous acts of the saints. So we should approach our Lord with prayer and good works.
  • She is obedient to him, not leaving in the night, but at the dawn. So we too should be obedient to our Lord.

The Church – the Bride of Christ

The most important fact of marriage is this: it is the picture of the relationship between Christ and his church. Time does not permit a full exploration of this; but here are some things to think about:

  • The Bride is in submission to her husband. I know that is not politically correct; perhaps political correctness is not the same thing as truth! The church must be in submission to her Lord, or she is not the church. Therefore, we should be following his commands, not the political philosophy of the moment.
  • The Bride is to be adorned for her husband – think of wedding gowns. But how shall this bride be adorned? By righteous acts of the saints – which is commanded for our brides instead of jewelry[3], and is fitting for all the saints.
  • We are a spotless bride – without fault or blemish, as the Scripture says, - but only because of the blood of Christ.

From the oldest book in the Bible (Job) to the last book, one thought is clear: My Redeemer Lives. May we greet him in holiness, righteousness and homage at the wedding of the Lamb.


[1] Found in Leviticus 25

[2] Titus 1:5

[3] 1 Peter 3:3-4

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