According to Jewish law, property should remain within a family if possible. If a Jewish person lost his or her share of the land through debt or by some other means, a near relative (if there was one) was supposed to buy the property back. This person, because of his or her close relationship to the one who had lost the property, was a “kinsman,” and if he was willing and able to purchase the property and restore it to the family, he became a “kinsman-redeemer.” In some cases, in which there was no male heir to inherit the property after the owner’s death, the duty of the kinsman extended to marrying the widow in order to raise up heirs.
A kinsman-redeemer had to be a close relative, willing to take on this responsibility, and had to be able to pay the ransom price. These three conditions were fulfilled in the case of Jesus Christ, but they are best illustrated in the story of Ruth and her redeemer Boaz. In the days of the judges there was a famine in Israel, and a man from Bethlehem, whose name was Elimelech, left Judah with his wife, Naomi, and two sons to live in Moab. Not long after this, Elimelech died, and shortly after that the sons married two local girls from Moab. One was Orpah; the other was Ruth. Ten years later the sons also died, and Naomi and her daughters-in-law were left quite poor. When Naomi heard that the famine in Judah had passed and that food was available there, she decided to go back to her own land and live again in Bethlehem. Orpah, the first daughter-in-law, returned to her family, but Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi. Her appeal to Naomi is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible:
“Do not urge me to leave you or return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1.16–17).
In Bethlehem, Naomi and Ruth were still poor, and the only way they could survive was by Ruth going into the fields at harvest time to glean behind the reapers (following after the workmen and picking up any small bits of grain they missed or discarded).
Ruth went to a field belonging to an affluent man named Boaz, who, as it turned out, was a close relative of Naomi, a kinsman of her deceased husband, Elimelech. Boaz was kind to Ruth, in spite of the fact that she was a foreigner. He encouraged her to remain in his fields and instructed the workmen to protect her and be generous to her, allowing a good supply of the grain to fall behind.
Naomi seems to have recognized what was happening. She realized that God was arranging circumstances so that Boaz could perform the duties of a kinsman-redeemer for her, in regard to her inheritance, and for Ruth, in regard to raising up an heir. She advised Ruth as to how to make her claim known to Boaz. When she did, Boaz was delighted, for it meant that Ruth was interested in him also and had not, as he said, “run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.” Unfortunately, there was another kinsman who was closer to Naomi and Ruth.
As it turned out, the other relative was interested in the land but was unable to fulfill the obligation to Ruth, so Boaz willingly bought the land and married Ruth. They had a son named Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David.
In redeeming us, Jesus did exactly what this beautiful story illustrates: (1) He became our kinsman by the incarnation, being born in the town of Bethlehem, (2) He was willing to be our Redeemer, because of His love for us, and (3) He was able to redeem us because He alone could provide an adequate redemption price by dying.
The redemption of Ruth cost Boaz only money – but our redemption cost Jesus Christ His life.
Do you understand how this applies to the life you are called to live as Jesus’ follower? More specifically, do you see it? This is where the final incident in Matthew 20 comes in, the one involving the blind men who called to Jesus as He was passing by on His way from the area near Jericho to Jerusalem.
The healing of the two men is included as an illustration of the disciples’ spiritually blind condition. Or to put it another way, the blind men represent us. We are spiritually blind; we do not see spiritual matters as we should. We are also poor, spiritual beggars who have no hope of improving our condition and who have no claim on Jesus. The crowd will not help us either, because the crowd is also blind. It pushes us aside, telling us to be quiet and get out of the way. We have only one hope: that Jesus might be merciful to us. All we can do is cry out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” as the blind men did.
But that is precisely why Jesus came – to have mercy, to serve rather than to be served, and to give His life as a ransom for many. When we ask for mercy, Jesus gives it. He does something else too. He opens our eyes to see Him as He is, and He frees us from sin so we can tell others about Him and what He has done to be our Savior.
Pastor Steve can be reached at PastorSteve@MaranathaBibleChurch.org