The Reluctant Redeemer.

Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”

Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.” – Ruth 4:1-12 ESV

Boaz wasted no time in settling the matter regarding the redemption of Naomi and Ruth. Because there was a closer relative who, by law, had the responsibility and right to act as the kinsman-redeemer, Boaz went out of his way to make the matter known to this individual. He met him at the gate of the city, the place where official business was done. Finding the man for whom he was looking, Boaz enlisted ten elders of the city to act as witnesses, then proceeded to inform the man of the situation. Interestingly, Boaz began by telling the man that Naomi, as the widow of Elimelech, had property to sell that had belonged to her deceased husband. Since her two sons were also dead, Naomi was legally free to sell it. Boaz informed the kinsman-redeemer about the availability of the land and the man readily agreed to buy it. Then Boaz seemed to surprise the man by revealing a second “opportunity” available to him. As the kinsman-redeemer, he not only had the right to buy Naomi’s property, he also had the responsibility to take on Naomi and Ruth. More specifically, he was obligated to marry Ruth and perpetuate her deceased husband’s lineage. Boaz told the man, “When you acquire the field from Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the wife of our deceased relative, in order to preserve his family name by raising up a descendant who will inherit his property” (Ruth 4:5 NLT). In other words, the man who bought the land must also marry Ruth, and any son they had as a result of their marriage would become the rightful heir of the property. Once this part of the transaction was made known, the potential kinsman-redeemer had a quick change of heart. “Then I am unable to redeem it, for I would ruin my own inheritance in that case. You may exercise my redemption option, for I am unable to redeem it” (Ruth 4:6 NLT).

The man forfeits his right to the land because he fears the future financial costs of having to marry Ruth and any son they have becoming the rightful heir to the property. He saw the whole deal as a bad investment. It would seem that he had no feelings of obligation toward Naomi or Ruth. While the land had interested him, the thought of having to redeem two widows and marry one of them was not something he found appealing. So he refused and opened up the door for Boaz, as the next in line to act as the kinsman-redeemer, to take his place. What is fascinating about this part of the story is that the Mosaic law had a clause for dealing with anyone who refused to redeem a widow and perpetuate her deceased husband’s name.

And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.” Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, “I do not wish to take her,” then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, “So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.” And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, “The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.” – Deuteronomy 25:7-10 ESV

While this situation was avoided in the case of Ruth because Boaz readily stepped in and took on the role of kinsman-redeemer, it reveals just how significant the redemption process was to God. It was not to be taken lightly. And Boaz knew full well what he was doing. He told the elders, “Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place” (Ruth 4:10 ESV). The property was a secondary issue for Boaz. His primary goal was to marry Ruth and to honor the name of her deceased husband. Boaz took the role of kinsman-redeemer seriously. He probably didn’t need more land. There was no indication that he had been looking for a wife. But from the first moment he had laid eyes on Ruth that day in his field, he had been intrigued by her character, as well as the consequences of her life. She was a woman of integrity and honor. She was selfless and sacrificial, putting her mother-in-laws needs ahead of her own. And Boaz was committed to doing whatever was necessary to care and provide for Ruth.

It would seem that the main emphasis of these verses is the contrast provided between Boaz and the other kinsman-redeemer. Both had a legal right and responsibility to rescue Naomi and Ruth from their predicament, but one refused. He counted the cost and cut his losses. He weighed the benefits and found them to be not in his favor. On the other hand, Boaz knew going in what the cost entailed and he was more than willing to pay whatever price was required to redeem Ruth. He had a shepherd’s heart – a caring, compassionate heart that prompted him to risk all for the sake of one in need. In the gospel of John, we have recorded the words of Jesus comparing Himself to the false shepherds who were self-serving and nothing more than hired hands who had no real love for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.” – John 10:11-13 NLT

As has been noted earlier, Boaz, as the kinsman-redeemer, acts as a kind of Christ, a foreshadowing on the One to come. He is an imperfect and incomplete illustration of the Savior who would come to redeem mankind from its bondage to sin and death. While Boaz was not required to lay down his life for Ruth, he was willing to put her needs ahead of his own. His redemption of Ruth cost him. It required of him a commitment and a sacrifice of his time and resources. The man who forfeited his rights to redeem Ruth was like a hired hand, obligated by the head shepherd to care for the sheep, but who ran at the first sign of personal cost. He showed no compassion for Ruth or Naomi and refused to care for their needs. But Boaz provides us with a glimpse of the great redeemer who was to come.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” – John 10:14-15 NLT

How fortunate for Ruth that Boaz proved not to be a reluctant redeemer. How amazing for us that Jesus proved not to be a reluctant redeemer, but a selfless, sacrificial, lay-it-all-on-the-line shepherd who loved us enough to die for us.