Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Kinsman Redeemer

My Life Journal readings have been in the book of Ruth the last couple of days. I love Ruth's story. It's a short book, only four chapters, and I encourage you to read it yourself (Ruth).

I like to imagine these scenarios and how they must have happened. Below is something I wrote when preaching on Ruth a few years back - just an imaginative description of a part of the story. I hope you enjoy:

Naomi hadn’t been sleeping well the past few nights. She didn’t want to worry Ruth but…a thought had been nagging her – prodding at her spirit like the constant scraping of a branch in the wind against the side of a house. She was so proud of Ruth for her work in the fields. Her heart warmed just thinking about how hard Ruth had worked and how well she was caring for her dear old mother-in-law. But she couldn’t get away from the thoughts that worried her now.

As hard as Ruth had worked – the harvest was over now. Naomi wasn’t concerned for herself as much as she was for Ruth. But the stark reality was – they were in trouble again. The grain that they had saved would last them a while and then…well, then there would be no food.

She had hoped that Boaz would have made his move by now. Naomi was aware of the age difference between him and Ruth, but Ruth was an attractive woman – a good catch for any available man. Still, Boaz hadn’t shown any sign up to this point of being interested in any way other than his generous help with the grain. He had to be aware that as a close relative he qualified as a kinsman-redeemer, someone who could be responsible to carry on the family name by marrying a childless widow. Naomi thought to herself, “He is such a good man. He is not assuming that he should be the one to come forward – maybe he knows of someone who is a closer relation and is waiting out of respect?”

Well – she couldn’t sit around and think any longer. She needed a plan. Ruth was a young woman who needed a secure home and a future. She began to ponder the situation in front of them. She knew that the kinsman-redeemer was God’s way of providing for widows in their culture. She wouldn’t be suggesting anything outside of what the law allowed. She knew that Boaz was a Godly man, a generous man, who would do the right thing. And she trusted that God in his providence and wisdom, was on their side and helping her and Ruth. She had sensed it to be so since they left Moab. And she was certain that it had been God’s spirit prodding her to take action over these last few sleepless nights.

She played out every detail, every potential scenario in her mind. It would be risky – she wondered how Ruth would respond. It was really Ruth that would be taking the risk – but Naomi was certain that her plan would work.

The sound of the front door scraping along the floor brought her back to reality. Ruth was home and she entered the room where Naomi was sitting to find Naomi with a serious look on her face. “What is it Naomi?” Ruth asked. “Is everything OK?”

Her expression softening, Naomi smiled and said “Everything is fine dear, just fine.” She hesitated for a moment, then continued carefully.

“Ruth, you know I’ve appreciated all of your hard work in the fields this last while?”

“Yes” Ruth answered.

“And I’m very pleased at the grain we have stocked ahead.” Ruth nodded along in agreement. “But Ruth, dear, you know that grain won’t last forever don’t you?”

“Well…, yes...” answered Ruth haltingly. “But we’ll find another way to provide for ourselves Naomi. Your God will help us!”

Naomi felt a smile creep across her lips. There it was again – that simple faith in a God that, in the beginning, wasn’t her own, but that over time, had become the mainstay of Ruth’s existence. What a change Naomi had seen in Ruth since they left Moab.

It was time to tell her of the plan. Naomi cleared her throat and began. “Ruth, I think that it is time to do something about your situation.”

“What do you mean?” Ruth asked innocently.

“Well, I can’t get away from the feeling that it is my responsibility to make sure that you end up in a secure home where you will be taken care of and provided for…and loved.”

Ruth started to protest, “Naomi, I’m fine…I enjoy being with you. I – “

“Let me finish” Naomi said, cutting her off in mid-sentence. “You know how we came to Bethlehem and you went out to the fields to glean?” 

“Yes” Ruth replied. 

“And you know how it just so happened that the field you ended up in was the field of Boaz, my close relative?” 

“Yes” Ruth said again wondering where Naomi was going with this. 

“And do you remember how that just as you were there working in the field, Boaz happened to come by?” 

“Yes, I know all this” Ruth said a little impatiently. “What exactly are you getting at?”

Naomi went on. “Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about this Ruth and thinking about how kind Boaz has been to you and how well we have been cared for during this time, and I think there is something bigger going on here than we’ve been seeing.”

Now Ruth was not following. She gave Naomi one of those “What in the world are you talking about?" kind of looks and let out a huge sigh.

“Ruth, I think God has orchestrated this whole scenario. What we might have taken for chance or coincidence, has actually been God carefully crafting our destiny. And I think there is more that he wants to do for us still and that’s what I need to talk to you about.”

Ruth had known Naomi long enough to know that this was a moment to sit up and listen. She was so envious of Naomi’s seeming closeness to her God. Sometimes lately, Ruth had sensed a similar kind of feeling in her own heart about Naomi’s God – almost like he was becoming her God as well. She leaned forward in her chair to hear what it was that Naomi had to say.

Naomi began to unfold the plan. “You know that Boaz is a close relative of mine, right?” Ruth nodded. “Well that makes him eligible as a kinsman redeemer for our family.” Seeing Ruth’s look of perplexity, Naomi explained. “A kinsman redeemer is someone who, among other things, is responsible to marry a childless widow in our culture to carry on the family name and provide for her, and also take over any unclaimed family property.”

Ruth’s eyes widened as she realized what Naomi was suggesting. “Do you mean…?” 

“Yes” Naomi answered, before Ruth could finish, “I mean we should propose.”

Her suggestion hung in the air like a puff of smoke. Naomi gave Ruth some time to let the words sink in. Then, not hearing any hesitation from Ruth, she went on. “Here is what I want you to do. Tonight, he will be working down at the threshing floor. The barley is all in, but it needs to be processed – and he will be caring for that himself. I want you to go bathe and then prepare yourself as if you were getting ready for the most important date of your life. Put on the nicest and most flattering dress you have and use the expensive perfume you’ve been saving. This is what you’ve been saving it for.”

She looked up at Ruth, who was wide eyed and taking it all in. “Then go down to the threshing floor where he is working. Don’t let him know you’re there until he has finished his work and had his meal. Then, when he lies down to sleep, go and lie down at his feet. Once he realizes that you are there, he will tell you what to do.”

Ruth was silent for a long time. She had never asked anyone to marry her before, but she knew that was what Naomi was suggesting she do. It was NOT the way they did things where she came from – it wasn’t how they did things in Naomi’s culture either. It seemed crazy and yet…she couldn’t explain it, but she had a peaceful feeling in her heart about the whole thing.

She looked straight into Naomi’s eyes and she said, “I’ll do it – but only because you asked me to.” Ruth excused herself, and left to get ready. There were butterflies in her stomach as she thought about the encounter that was ahead.

The night was quiet as Ruth made her way along the road to the threshing floor, her steps marking rhythm with the chirping of the crickets, the gentle wash of moonlight her only guide. Coming through the trees to where the threshing floor stood out in a clearing, she slipped silently to the edge, staying in the shadows so she would not be discovered. Standing there, in the dark, she waited for her eyes to adjust to the flickering light that danced from the torch near the threshing floor. It was still enough that the loudest sounds that she could hear were the pounding of her own heart inside her chest, and the short quick breaths that she was taking. A strange kind of terrified excitement gripped her as she waited patiently for the moment that she would go and take the biggest risk of her life to this point, wanting to do it and not wanting to all at once.

She could see Boaz sitting down, enjoying the last bit of his meal. Then she watched as he washed it down with the wine that remained in his glass, swishing it around in his mouth before swallowing. In the flicker of the torchlight she could see his strong jaw-line and his tanned complexion. She thought to herself, “he really is quite handsome.” Movement jarred her back to the moment, as he stirred from his seat and then got up. Casually he walked around to the end of the grain pile. He arranged his garments in such a way that he would be comfortable and then he laid down to sleep.

That was her cue! She waited for what seemed like an eternity to be sure that he was actually sleeping. Finally, the sounds of his even breathing and an occasional snore wafted from the end of the grain pile and she was satisfied that he was indeed sleeping.

She emerged from her place in the shadows into the dim torch light and moved stealthily to the place where Boaz was sleeping. Looking over her shoulder to be certain she wasn’t observed, she lay down at Boaz’s feet and pulled the bottom of his garment over her. She was breathing very rapidly now and her heart pounded even louder in her ears – she had to stay calm.

She lay there for 3 or 4 minutes, trying to calm her self and get her breathing back to a normal rhythm. It seemed like hours. Finally her breathing slowed to a systematic, more uniform pace and she could no longer hear her heart pounding inside of her head. As she lay there imagining what this night would bring, she gently drifted off to sleep.

How long she had slept she did not know, but she was jolted awake in the middle of the night by a startled Boaz. Something had wakened him in the night and now he was staring at her like he was waiting for a response. “Who are you?” he asked again, trying to make out her identity in the dark as the torches had long since burned out.

This was it! The moment of truth. Ruth’s palms were sweaty and her mouth was dry…she struggled to come up with the words Naomi had told her to say. Finally she forced them from her mouth and heard her voice own voice say, “I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me since you are a kinsman-redeemer.”

If you want to know what happens next - you'll have to read the story. I refer you back to the link above!

1 comment:

Kamalesh Kumar said...

The kinsman-redeemer is a male relative who, consistent with quite a lot of laws of the Pentateuch, had the privilege or responsibility to behave on behalf of a relative who was in obstacle, chance, or need. The Hebrew time period (go el) for kinsman-redeemer designates one who promises or rescues or redeems property or man or woman . The kinsman who redeems or vindicates a relative is illustrated most clearly within the booklet of Ruth, the place the kinsman-redeemer is Boaz.
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