Two Old Testament legal practices, both instituted for the protection of people, are referenced here. The first is the requirement of a kinsman-redeemer to buy land that a member of the family sells in time of need (Leviticus 25). The second is the requirement that if a man died without having children, his brother should marry his widow and have children to ensure that the land which was bound to male descendants remained in the family (Deuteronomy 25).
The obligation of the kinsman redeemer was to redeem (“save”) his family who were in difficulty or danger. Here, the kinsman-redeemer who is closer related to Elimelek is willing to save the land for the family but is not willing to rescue Ruth. His reasoning is that, by doing so, he would endanger his “own estate”.
So, it is Boaz who saves not only the land but also Ruth. In doing so he fulfils both laws, crucially stepping into the marriage of his “brother” Mahlon to Ruth, although as a kinsman redeemer his only legal obligation was to redeem the land. Both Naomi and Ruth experience redemption.
But who is that, ultimately, has provided salvation for Naomi and Ruth? Who was it but God that came to the aid of his people in a time of famine that drew these two widows back to Bethlehem? Who was it but God who arranged that Ruth should end up in Boaz’s field? And what of Boaz, a man who followed God’s laws, and who in his behaviour towards others echoes God’s generosity? Perhaps we miss that this good man, who followed God, had remained unmarried, and was now old. Ruth was as much a provision for Boaz as he was for her and Naomi.
The word “redeem” appears multiple times in this passage and is associated with a person who saves from difficulty and danger. It is of course a picture and language that deliberately speaks of what God does for us in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the difficulties and dangers we face today, may we trust in our redeemer–Jesus Christ–who is always working in our lives to save.