A redeemer is one who delivers or rescues someone by paying a price. To redeem is, literally, to “buy out.” A kinsman-redeemer, under the Mosaic Law, was a male relative who had the responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need. The law of the kinsman-redeemer is given in Leviticus 25:25: “If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold.” This law is key to how events in the book of Ruth take shape.
Ruth was the Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi, a Judean. Both were widowed, and Naomi was being forced to sell her late husband’s property due to their extreme poverty. Ruth went to glean in the nearby fields, to help provide something for them to eat, and she “happened” to come to a parcel of land belonging to Boaz (Ruth 2:3, ESV). That evening, Ruth told Naomi the name of the man who owned the field, and Naomi was hopeful: “The man is a close relative. He is one of our kinsman-redeemers” (verse 20, BSB).
Ruth approached Boaz and asked him to act on her and Naomi’s behalf as their kinsman-redeemer (Ruth 3:9). Boaz was willing to purchase their property, marry Ruth, and provide for the two women, but there was a nearer relative who was first in line for the job (verse 12). Boaz assured Ruth that, one way or another, she would be redeemed: “If [the other relative] does not want to redeem you, as surely as the LORD lives, I will” (verse 13, BSB). The next day, Boaz went through the legal process to become the kinsman-redeemer for Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 4:1–10). Later, a child, Obed, was born to Ruth, and this child eventually became the grandfather of King David (verse 17).
The theme of redemption, found throughout the Bible, is central in the book of Ruth. In studying Ruth, some raise the question of who is the “true” redeemer in the story. The answer depends on the perspective one takes.
Perspective 1: Boaz is the true redeemer in the book of Ruth. This is the most straightforward, literal answer. Boaz is explicitly called a kinsman-redeemer in Ruth 2:20, and he gathered witnesses when he officially took on that role (chapter 4). Scripture indicates that Boaz was a comparatively older man (Ruth 3:10), and some question the likelihood of his ability to provide for Ruth for the rest of her life. Given that his redemption was likely temporary, can Boaz be considered the “true” redeemer?
Perspective 2: Ruth is the true redeemer in the book of Ruth. In a sense, as the heroine of the account, Ruth served as a redeemer. Near the beginning of the book, Naomi is a destitute widow, bitter and living in a foreign land (Ruth 1:1–5, 20). When she decided to return to Bethlehem, she sent her daughters-in-law back home to their families (verse 8), but Ruth refused, choosing to go to Judea instead and saying to Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (verse 16). The fact that Ruth “clung” to Naomi (verse 14) makes her a candidate for being the story’s “true” redeemer. Were it not for Ruth’s faithfulness, Naomi would never have been redeemed.
Perspective 3: Obed is the true redeemer in the book of Ruth. According to some, the “true” redeemer of the account is Obed, the son of Boaz and Ruth. The women of the city identified Obed as Naomi’s redeemer (Ruth 4:14). After the death of Boaz, Obed would have been the one to care for Naomi and Ruth in their old age; he was a more “permanent” redeemer than Boaz could have been. Also, Obed was the grandfather of David—through whom the Redeemer of the world would come. It is the mention of David at the narrative’s end that gives the whole story its significance.
Perspective 4: The LORD is the true redeemer in the book of Ruth. We know that the Lord God is the ultimate Redeemer (Psalm 106:10; 130:8; Isaiah 35:10; 48:17; Galatians 3:13). And we see God’s hand working behind the scenes in the book of Ruth: God sent the famine that drove Naomi’s family to Moab, where Ruth was (Ruth 1:1); God made certain that Ruth “happened” to come to the field of Boaz (Ruth 2:3); God had previously instituted the law of levirate marriage (Ruth 4:5; cf. Deuteronomy 25:5–6); and God enabled Ruth to conceive (Ruth 4:13). Through it all, God’s plan was to bring David into the world and continue the line of Christ (verses 17–22).
We praise God for Christ’s redemption of us, spiritual paupers that we are, and we are grateful for the profound illustration of that redemption we find in the book of Ruth.