In North America, our understanding of family responsibilities falls short of the Old Testament idea of a “kinsman redeemer” or a “goel.” By law, this person was responsible for at least three things that we do not practice, at least to the degree of legislating them to happen.
Forfeited Inheritance. If an Israelite sold part or all of his estate, any of his near relatives who were able to do it, were commanded to purchase it. Then when the trumpet announced the year of Jubilee, that estate reverted to its original owner.
And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year… the field shall return to him from whom it was bought, to whom the land belongs as a possession. (Leviticus 25:10, 27:24)
Forfeited Liberty. If an Israelite owed a debt or was in dire want, he might sell himself to a stranger or another Israelite. In the latter case, he was treated like a hired servant and freed in the year of Jubilee. If he became the slave of a foreigner, any of his kinsmen was permitted to pay the price of his redemption and set him free.
He shall treat him as a worker hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee. (Leviticus 25:53–54)
Forfeited Life. A “goel” could also avenge wrongs. In a complicated set of laws, family members could seek and destroy those who had killed their kin, yet to prevent feuds and wars, the guilty one could flee to a ‘city of refuge’ and be safe if the killing was accidental and not a murder. (Space here is limited to explain the justice in this strange arrangement.)
When the Hebrew woman Naomi returned home with her widowed daughter in law, the kinsman-redeemer law became part of her and Ruth’s story. First, Naomi said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1)
This signaled Naomi’s intention to find a near relative of her son who could marry Ruth and raise children in the name of her son. She sent Ruth to the gleaning fields of Boaz, the man who would be a “goel” for her, and gave her instructions. Eventually Ruth had this conversation with him…
He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9)
Ruth is a fascinating story, but it isn’t the whole story. It points forward to the One who would be the Kinsman-Redeemer for the entire human race.
Years later on the day that Jesus rose from the dead, He walked on the road to Emmaus with two of His disciples. They were confused and grieving over His death and had not yet recognized Him. However, an important thing was happening…
Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
The account in Luke does not tell us everything that He said, but it is not difficult to see how Jesus is our Kinsman-Redeemer. The word “goel” means “one who unlooses”—sets free whatever has been bound and restores it to its original position. Boaz was such a person for Ruth and even Naomi. Jesus Christ is such a person for sinners.
Those who are alienated from their original inheritance picture or typify fallen humanity. Everything was ours, but by sin we forfeited all into the hands of our enemy. Through sin, us and all creation is subject to death and decay. Yet Jesus, the Word who became flesh, has redeemed and restored the inheritance we lost. By grace, all things are ours (if we are His) and when the trumpet announces that last Jubilee, even creation will be delivered from its “bondage to decay… into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
When we became sold under sin and led captive by the will of an alien and adverse spirit, our freedom was gone also. In bondage to sin, we cannot escape or purchase our own redemption. Christ became our “goel” by giving Himself a ransom for us and redeeming us from slavery to sin with His own blood.
It is a little harder to see Jesus in the avenging function of the Hebrew “goel” yet He did come to destroy as well as to redeem. He pursued that great enemy of our souls and for him there was no city of refuge. Jesus avenged the world for all that has been suffered at the hands of evil and the evil one. As our Kinsmen-redeemer, He disarmed the powers of Satan.
Even though I cannot relate to this ancient custom, I can think of Jesus as my nearest kin, and understand these laws and conditions of redemption. I know that I could not do any of the work of a “goel” for myself, nor could anyone else. Only Jesus could do that, and this is why the Son of God became the Son of Man, that He might draw near and be all that sinners need.
Further, the loss of property or freedom or safety in the lives of ancient Israelites is nothing compared to the loss of righteousness because of sin, or the bitter bondage of my own selfishness. Nothing the ancient “goel” did can be compared to the redemption Christ made possible either. Like the friends of Naomi, I can also say, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left (us) this day without a redeemer, and may His name be renowned…!” (Ruth 4:14)