Monday, August 25, 2008

Ruth: kinsman-redeemer

In ancient Israel, a kinsman-redeemer had specific legal responsibilities. Always male, the kinsman-redeemer was a blood relative who had the duty of protecting his weaker relatives.

He had to redeem land that his relatives were forced to sell and was expected to defend the relative.

Redemption was the process by which people, property and prestige were restored to a family that has lost them. The redeemer was the designated family member who was expected to recover that which was lost.

We see the picture of the blood relative helping those who are unable to help themselves.

Redemption also included the levirate, which is key to our story in Ruth. A levirate redeemer was expected to beget and raise a child with the widow of his dead brother in order to carry on the brother’s name.

Tamar, in Genesis 28, invoked this right in demanding Jacob provide her with a levirate. Read Tamar’s story this week, because it is important in our understanding of the book of Ruth.

In Ruth, our storyline makes a quick change as we, and Naomi, realize that Boaz, who has generously shared his harvest abundance with Ruth, was a kinsman-redeemer for Naomi.

Naomi, at the beginning of chapter 3, began a plan to restore her husband’s name. She herself was too old for children but Ruth was not. So Naomi hoped to convince Boaz to provide a child.

She may not have been angling for a marriage for Ruth, but simply a levirate meeting in the night might be enough to provide the child needed to carry on the family name. Notice she says to Ruth, “he will tell you what to do.” (Ruth 3:4)

Ruth had vowed “where you go I will go.” In other words, what happened to Naomi happened to Ruth. And vice versa. They were united. And now Naomi sent Ruth out as her representative to a kinsman-redeemer, hoping for a levirate meeting to produce a harvest – a child.

Next time: at the threshing floor

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