Monday, July 22, 2019

Redemption in the Book of Ruth

"So the kinsman-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal" (Ruth 4:8).

In our modern day, as we read the last half of the book of Ruth, we are made acutely aware of the immense cultural and temporal gap that separates us from that day and its practices. Although what is happening may seem strange, this passage actually gives us a glimpse of the practical application of certain divine mandates buried in the book of Leviticus which we easily miss—mandates which mercifully provide for societal protection of the weak and unfortunate.

In Leviticus 25, under the more general discussion of the year of Jubilee, we are also confronted with the idea of redemption. When we hear the word redemption, our tendency is to think in terms of God’s supernatural work in saving His people. But the primary emphasis in Leviticus 25 is on redemption in the here and now—redemption of land and homes to their original owners and redemption of people to personal liberty out of slavery or servitude. It is redemption on a human scale which recognizes, with occasional references, Yahweh’s sovereign ownership of all things (25:23, for example).

The theory of Leviticus 25 is played out in Ruth 3–4 as Naomi determines to sell the land belonging to her dead husband in order to gain capital to survive. What is potentially confusing in chapter 4 is that two different Israelite regulations come together in this one episode. Initially the unnamed kinsman-redeemer (Ruth 4:1, 3) is willing to redeem the land from Naomi. 

However, Boaz then reveals that along with the land comes the obligation to fulfill the levirate regulation. This meant that whoever redeemed the land also had to marry the dead man’s relative so as to maintain that family line of descent (Deuteronomy 25:5–6). For one reason or another (perhaps his own family situation), the unnamed kinsman-redeemer could not, so he deferred to the next in line for redemption. This was Boaz. In a modification of the negative stipulation of Deuteronomy 25:7–10 (where a man unjustly refuses the levirate obligation), the transaction was finalized by exchanging a sandal.

In Ruth we see God’s providential hand guiding events, and providing for redemption. But we also see faithful people who are willing to follow God’s commands to show mercy to His people. Consider how God wants you to show mercy to His people who are in need near you. Like Boaz, be willing to take risks to help God’s people.