[Boaz] said, “Who are you?”
And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9).
The story of Ruth and Naomi is poignant for many reasons: the faith of a foreigner, the devotion of a daughter-in-law, God’s lovingkindness toward those who serve Him despite finding themselves in difficult circumstances, and so on. Yet one of the more mysterious aspects of the story is this matter of redemption: Ruth appeals to Boaz as a redeemer, and Boaz will successfully redeem Naomi’s property and Ruth as well. This is not some interesting yet ultimately irrelevant story, for within it we find a type of which Jesus of Nazareth will be the reality.
One of the most important matters for the ancient Israelites involved maintaining proper tribal and clan control of property in perpetuity through legitimate offspring. This was the concern of the tribe of Manasseh regarding the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers 36:1-12; furthermore, even though looking upon one’s brother’s wife is generally an abomination (Leviticus 18:16, 20:21), Deuteronomy 25:5-6 compels a man to take his brother’s wife to have children to inherit the property of the brother if the brother has died.
Naomi and Ruth find themselves in a most difficult predicament. The men of the family–Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, Mahlon (Ruth’s husband, Ruth 4:10) and Chilion her sons–have died in Moab (Ruth 1:3-5). While it is true that women could inherit their father’s property in the absence of male offspring (cf. Numbers 27:7-11), neither applies to Naomi or Ruth, since they are wives and not blood relatives, and, for that matter, Ruth remains a foreigner (Ruth 1:4). Elimelech’s land near Bethlehem cannot be properly claimed by them.
But Boaz is a “near kinsman,” and thus a “redeemer” according to Ruth 2:20. This means he is a male relative of Elimelech and therefore can redeem both Elimelech’s land and Ruth to provide offspring to perpetuate Elimelech’s and Mahlon’s lineage. There is a nearer relative who has the first right of redemption (Ruth 3:12-13). The legal proceedings before the elders in the gate in Ruth 4:1-10 involve this nearer relative (left unnamed) and Boaz. The nearer relative was interested in redeeming the land but not Ruth, lest he impair his own inheritance (Ruth 4:4-6). Therefore, Boaz was legally granted the opportunity to redeem Elimelech’s land as well as Ruth, solemnly declaring before the elders in the gate that he had “bought” the land of Elimelech’s family and had “bought” Ruth as his wife to raise up children to keep the lineage going (Ruth 4:9-10). Through Boaz and Ruth a son is born to Naomi, Obed (Ruth 4:17); we know Obed’s grandson quite well, for he is David who will be king of Israel (Ruth 4:22). Such is why Boaz and Ruth are mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1:5.
This story helps us understand the idea of redemption and the redeemer in Scripture. Redemption involves some sort of purchase; through some process of transaction, one generally gives up something in order to obtain something else. We might redeem a certificate for its monetary value, or redeem a product with money. So it is that even though no money is transacted, Boaz must nevertheless “buy” the land of Elimelech and to “buy” Ruth in marriage, that is, to redeem them according to proper Israelite protocol, in order to protect the family’s property rights and preserve the name of the family through offspring.
As a redeemer, Boaz is a type of Christ: he comes upon two people in distress who have no legal recourse or standing, and through his compassion and lovingkindness accomplishes their deliverance in ways they would not be able to do for themselves on account of his position of privilege. So it is with Jesus: He has found us in difficult circumstances, alienated from God, unable to be reconciled back to Him by our own power on account of our sin (cf. Romans 3:20, Ephesians 2:1-3). Jesus, through His privileged position of being both God and man, the Son of God and God the Son, and on account of His lovingkindness and compassion, paid for us to be reconciled back to God through His death on the cross (Romans 5:6-11, 1 Corinthians 6:20, Galatians 3:13, 2 Peter 2:1). Through Jesus we can be reckoned as children of God; through Jesus we can receive a portion of the most important “property” or inheritance of all, eternal life (Romans 8:15-17).
It is easy for us today to automatically associate “buying” people with slavery, considering people as “property” to be used. While it remains true that we are to see ourselves as slaves of God in Christ (cf. Romans 6:16-23, 1 Corinthians 7:22), such does not mean that “purchase” should be always and automatically associated with “slavery.” We do well to remember the ever-present theme of redemption in the Bible, in terms of God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt, Ruth’s redemption by Boaz, and other similar examples, understanding how redemption is an act of grace and mercy, a gift from those in more fortunate circumstances to those in less fortunate ones. As Boaz redeemed Ruth out of his graciousness, compassion, and desire to do what was right, so God has shown us extravagant grace and mercy by allowing for our redemption through the death of His Son Jesus. Let us praise God for redemption in Jesus, and let us seek to honor and glorify His name!
Ethan R. Longhenry