When Ruth told her the man who had been her benefactor was named Boaz, Naomi instantly saw the hand of God in the blessing. “Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!’ And Naomi said to her, ‘This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives’ ” (v. 20 NKJV).
The Hebrew word translated “one of our close relatives” is goel. It is a technical term that means much more than “kinsman.” The goel was a relative who came to the rescue. The word goel includes the idea of redemption, or deliverance. In fact, in order to express the idea more perfectly in English, Old Testament scholars sometimes speak of the goel as a “kinsman-redeemer.” In Scripture, the word is sometimes translated as “redeemer” (Job 19:25 NKJV) and sometimes as “avenger” (Num. 35:12 NKJV).
A goel was usually a prominent male in one’s extended family. He was the official guardian of the family’s honor. If the occasion arose, he would be the one to avenge the blood of a murdered relative (Josh. 20:2–9). He could buy back family lands sold in times of hardship (Lev. 25:23–28). He could pay the redemption-price for family members sold into slavery (Lev. 25:47–49). Or (if he were a single man or widower and thus eligible to marry) he could revive the family lineage when someone died without an heir by marrying the widow and fathering offspring who would inherit the name and the property of the one who had died. This was known as the law of levirate marriage, and Deuteronomy 25:5–10 presented it as a duty in cases where one brother (obviously unmarried and presumably younger) was living in the household of a married brother who died. If the surviving brother refused to fulfill the duty of the goel by marrying his brother’s widow, he was treated with contempt by all of society.
The Old Testament places a great deal of emphasis on the role of the goel. There was a significant redemptive aspect to this person’s function. Every kinsman-redeemer was, in effect, a living illustration of the position and work of Christ with respect to His people: He is our true Kinsman-Redeemer, who becomes our human Brother, buys us back from our bondage to evil, redeems our lives from death, and ultimately returns to us everything we lost because of our sin.
Boaz would become Ruth’s goel. He would redeem her life from poverty and widowhood. He would be her deliverer—and Naomi grasped the potential of this glad turn of events the very moment she learned it was Boaz who had taken an interest in Ruth. He was not only a kinsman; he had the means to be a redeemer too. Naomi strongly encouraged Ruth to follow Boaz’s instructions and stay exclusively in his fields. Ruth did this until the end of the harvest season (Ruth 2:21–23).
John F. MacArthur Jr., Twelve Extraordinary Women: How God Shaped Women of the Bible and What He Wants to Do with You (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2005), 37–40.
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- Eve: Mother of All Living Things
- Sarah: Hoping Against Hope
- Rahab: A Horrible Life Redeemed
- Ruth: Loyalty and Love
- Hannah: A Portrait of Feminine Grace
- Mary: Blessed Among Women
- Anna: The Faithful Witness
- The Samaritan Woman: Finding the Water of Life
- Martha and Mary: Working and Worshiping
- Mary Magdalene: Delivered from Darkness
- Lydia: A Hospitable Heart Opened