Sermon: The Kinsman-Redeemer
Text: Ruth 3:7-13
Just as Boaz becomes the family redeemer for Ruth, so Jesus does for us.
Let me tell you that as residents of this great state of Michigan, we are the most fortunate and blessed citizens of this country. Sure, we may have car-destroying potholes, cities that are a national punchline, and the Detroit Lions, but we do have one point of pride that causes us to lift our heads high: We get ten cents for every bottle or can recycled.
There is no other state in the country gives ten cents per bottle. In 1978, Michigan enacted this high refund to encourage recycling, and at least from my perspective, it works. I’m not alone when I lug in bags of cans to the supermarket to get a good chunk of change back. Some states don’t even give you money back for cans, but ours does. So for Michiganders, the discarded pop can isn’t a piece of garbage, it’s a treasure waiting to be redeemed.
Today as we look at the second part of the book of Ruth, the thought of redemption should be on our minds. In fact, I’m going to teach you a strange phrase that you might have never heard before but is key to us understanding our relationship with Jesus. The phrase is “Kinsman-Redeemer.”
The Kinsman-Redeemer came out of the laws in Leviticus where God told the Israelites that they had a duty to act on behalf of a relative in danger or in need. The Kinsman-Redeemer was usually the closest male relative of age who would help to buy back property, purchase family members sold into slavery, or provide for a relative in need. Leviticus 25:25 began this movement: “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.”
For the people who were in a bad situation that they couldn’t get out of themselves, it was the Kinsman-Redeemer’s job to come in and save the day. The story of Ruth and Boaz isn’t just about blossoming emotional love, but that of a Kinsman-Redeemer who God guides to care for and redeem one of his loved ones. It foreshadowed what Jesus would end up doing for all of us on a much larger scale as our Kinsman-Redeemer, which is why this isn’t just a cute romance, but a story of your life and your relationship with God. Let’s open up to Ruth 2 and see how a Kinsman-Redeemer acts.
The Kinsman-Redeemer notices
Last week we talked about the dire situation that Naomi found herself in: Her husband and two sons had died, she had no income, and she was in a foreign country. Naomi returns to Bethlehem to find food, but an interesting twist happens: Her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth refuses to leave her side and accompanies her back to Israel. Now that both women have arrived, there looks to be no bright future.
Instead of moping around, Ruth goes out into the fields to begin gleaning. Another law in Leviticus – see, Leviticus isn’t just a speed bump on the way to more interesting stories in the Old Testament – told the Israelites to deliberately leave the corners of their fields untouched during a harvest and not to go back for grain they dropped. Instead, these were left for the poor and destitute, who could walk behind the workers and pick up the leftovers for food. Ruth was doing this in one of the fields of Naomi’s late husband’s relative when she is noticed by a guy named Boaz.
We should state here that this will not be a conventional Hollywood romance. For starters, there is a significant age gap as Boaz is an older gentleman, not to mention that Ruth is from a country that is largely despised by Israel. But as we read in chapter 2 verses 5-12, Boaz learns a lot about her character and is incredibly impressed: He discovers that Ruth is a very hard worker, that she is humble, she had a faith in the Lord, she is noble, and she’s loyal to Naomi. At first, Boaz is more paternal toward her than anything, but over the course of the book you can see hints of attraction and love blossom from that.
It made me think of the story of Beauty and the Beast a little. Once you get past the weird Stockholm Syndrome subtext of that film, there’s a fascinating study of two characters who notice who each other is on the inside instead of fixating on mere looks. In fact, the song “Something There” examines the moment when Beauty and the Beast have truly noticed the worthiness of each other. “I wonder why I didn’t see it there before,” Beauty sings.
The Kinsman-Redeemer, when he saw Ruth, noticed her. He did whatever the ancient equivalent of Googling her was and found out about her past and who she was. Boaz didn’t turn a blind eye to her need, but engaged it head-on. Luke 12:6-7 tells us that our Kinsman-Redeemer notices us fully: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
The Kinsman-Redeemer protects
Nobody likes to think of themselves as helpless and vulnerable. It’s an awful feeling, and we’ll do just about anything to either get out of that state or to ignore it. But no matter what your station is in life, your sin has made you helpless and vulnerable. You will be judged, you will be found guilty, and you will be punished. And because you cannot make yourself righteous, there is no way to escape this – unless you have a Kinsman-Redeemer who comes along to do what you cannot.
I’ve gone on about Ruth’s character a bit, but I’d like to give some recognition to Boaz right now. We know enough about him to find him a very admirable person: He leads a God-fearing household, he’s generous with the poor, and he has integrity. In fact, throughout this story you can’t find a hint of Boaz looking out for himself or trying to figure out how this situation might benefit him. He’s an example of selfless love that protects, as a Kinsman-Redeemer should.
Boaz orders his workers to drop extra grain for Ruth and he keeps sending her home to Naomi with spare food. He shares a meal with her and doesn’t treat her as a servant or a filthy foreigner. Even when Ruth proposes to him in the middle of the night, his first thought is to see if there’s a closer Kinsman-Redeemer in age for her and to keep the semblance of her reputation intact. He protects her out of his faith, love, and duty.
In 3:11-13, Boaz gives this declaration: “And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am a kinsman-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your kinsman-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it.”
The early Native Americans had a unique practice of training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, after learning hunting, scouting, and fishing skills, he was put to one final test. He was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. On this night, he was blindfolded and taken several miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of a thick woods and he was terrified! Every time a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. After what seemed like an eternity, dawn broke and the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was his father. He had been there all night long, protecting him.
Ruth was not so proud to deny the need for a protector in her life. We need that protector too, because without Jesus we are lost forever. But as Boaz said of Ruth, we can shelter in the refuge of the Lord’s wings, knowing that God will be there through the fretful days and the long, long nights.
The Kinsman-Redeemer pays
One day, a pastor saw a young boy walking by the church with a cage in his hands. He stopped the boy to ask him what was up. “I caught these little birds and thought I’d play with them before feeding them to my cat,” the boy said. The pastor offered to buy them but the boy refused, saying that they were worthless birds that couldn’t even sing. But the pastor insisted, offering $20 for the cage and the birds. The boy accepted and the pastor then set the birds free. He held the empty cage and watched the birds soar to freedom, chirping in delight for they had been redeemed from captivity and death.
Ruth’s redemption wasn’t free, because her Kinsman-Redeemer was legally obligated to provide for her family, including Naomi. In chapter 4 verse 5, Boaz finds the younger Kinsman-Redeemer – we never find out his name – and informs him that he needs to buy Naomi’s land to keep it with the family. While the new guy was willing to get married, he balks at the cost and walks away in verse 6: “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”
Boaz, being true to the promise of redeeming Ruth, steps into that vacancy, and pays the price.
I wonder how much Jesus thought of the price he would pay during his life on earth. I wonder how he imagined the physical pain of his death, the emotional pain of the crowd cursing him, and the spiritual pain of being separated from God due to the sins of the world being placed on him. I wonder if most of his ministry he kept looking into the eyes of those he taught, those he ate with, those he healed, and reminded himself over and over again, “These people are worth the price to me. I will redeem them. I will not abandon them.”
In Ephesians 1:7 it says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Every month when we drink communion, we are reminding ourselves of that price, of that sacrifice. God has paid the price for your soul, and the only greater sin than any we have done in our life is to reject his grace and turn our back on that payment.
The Kinsman-Redeemer provides
The wonderful story of Ruth and Boaz culminates in 4:13: “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.” Despite the age and racial differences, the two are married, are blessed with a child right away, and the future of Ruth and Naomi is made secure. In a final stunning twist, we learn that Boaz and Ruth’s great-grandson would be King David, and eventually through David’s line, Jesus would be born. It’s a blessing on top of a blessing on top of a blessing.
As Boaz brings Ruth into his family by marriage, the kinsman-redeemer pledges with his life to provide for her. This relationship glorifies God for many reasons, not the least of which is that it demonstrates to the people what God does for us when we come under his care.
The thing about marriage is that God didn’t just make it up to keep us together and having lots of drooling, babbling babies. The greatest purpose for marriage, as we see repeatedly in the Bible, is to provide a visible example of the actual relationship that Jesus has with his people.
Ephesians 5:25-27 details our wedding to Jesus: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
As Ruth was given a future filled with hope and joy with Boaz, we are given an even greater future as we come into this marital relationship with Jesus. Even though we have been unfaithful, he cleans us and makes us a radiant bride, fit to be by his side for eternity. He is able to provide for our every need and true desires in the best way possible.
During President Ulysses S. Grant’s courtship with a young woman named Julia Dent, he once took her out for a buggy ride. When they came to a flooded creek spanned by a flimsy bridge, Grant assured Julia that it was safe to cross. “Don’t be frightened,” he said. “I’ll look after you.”
“Well,” replied Julia, “I shall cling to you whatever happens.” True to her word, she clung tightly to Grant’s arm as they drove safely across. Grant drove on in thoughtful silence for a few minutes, then cleared his throat and said, “Julia, you said back there that you would cling to me whatever happened. Would you like to cling to me for the rest of our lives?” She said yes, and they got married.
The book of Ruth isn’t just a story about two people who lived long ago. It’s your story as well, a story of how your kinsman-redeemer noticed you, how he protected you, how he paid for you, and how he will provide for you always under the shelter of his wing. Cling to him always.