Upon Ruth’s arrival back home following her day working in Boaz’ fields, Naomi fills in some detail: “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers. (2:20)” The kinsman redeemer served an important social role in ancient Israel. Following the death of a woman’s husband, a relative of his (a brother for example) was to take responsibility for her and her children. This served to protect the widow from social and economic marginalization, and protect the land inheritance of the dead man in order to preserve a livelihood for his family’s future generations. The widow’s first-born son was to be considered the son of the dead man, even if he was not the biological father, thus preserving his name. In other words the kinsman redeemer gained a wife and land, but also the responsibilities therewith.
The nearer redeemer Boaz approaches in chapter 4 knew this, and knew the implications of redeeming the land, and Ruth along with it. To him, it would mean investing, but without securing all of the return to his own estate. Therefore, providing for Ruth and potential children, and investing in a property not fully his would likely (in his own words) ‘impair my own inheritance. (4:5)’ Taking all this into consideration, and unwilling to pay the cost, he refuses his redemption right (4:6).
Thankfully for Ruth and Naomi, Boaz willingly paid the price to be Ruth’s kinsman redeemer. We read of his gracious response to Ruth’s needy supplication: “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer. (3:9)” Ruth, in her need, requests the covering of a rightful redeemer. Likewise, we are needy, indebted sinners before a holy God’s law. Jesus is our kinsman redeemer, our brother sanctifier (Heb 2:11), who paid the price for our redemption: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)”