Ruth 4 and Leviticus 25:25

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Puritan Board Junior
My understanding of Leviticus 25:25 is that in the case a poor man has to sell part of his land, and actually does so, that one of his kinsmen may buy that land back from the person who had bought it, and in turn restores that land (free of charge) to the original owner of it. Is this understanding correct?

If so, it seems something different is going on with the nearer kinsman than Boaz in Ruth 4. Am I right to conclude that at first, Boaz is proposing to this man the offer of buying/purchasing Naomi's land (IE, for himself; rather than actually doing what is outlined for a ga'al redeemer in Leviticus 25:25)? And what Boaz does afterwards is quite a contrast, which as again I understand it, is purchasing Naomi's land at full price but then in effect giving it back to her, free of charge, in order that it might be given as an inheritance to the first-born son of Boaz/Naomi's union (Obed)? I understand Deuteronomy 25:5 and what's happening there; my question is just about the land/redeemer.

Just curious about this. If Boaz is just proposing to the nearer kinsman to buy the land, couldn't anyone buy it? Wasn't it the ga'al redeemer's job not just to buy the land (so that it wouldn't be bought by an outsider/stranger), but to buy it for the express purpose of giving it back to the original owner who had to sell it?


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
We are limited in our desire to have a full grasp of the ga'al institution as it functioned in Israel. Like a good many other things about life in ancient time, the Bible only gives us a narrow perspective (though it is rich). We end up in possession of fragmentary details that prove both the antiquity and the reality of the depiction of Israelite society, a record that rewards close inspection and meditation on the possibilities but does not allow us an immersive understanding.

The ga'al exercised three functions (at least) in Israelite society, a conviction we gather from the scant OT data. 1) Redeemer of property and persons, 2) levirate marriage, and 3) avenger of blood. It is reasonable to think that the first two items could be accomplished by someone other than the ga'al. I suppose the case of levirate marriage was not such as belonged exclusively to the ga'al institution, but naturally gets associated with such a role. Levirate marriage is "redemptive" in nature.

In the case of redeeming property and person, it strikes me that the ancient society governance might have exercised more oversight, may have felt a greater need to regulate in law situations in which people gained and lost control of their wealth and powers, claims and counterclaims flying back and forth, with the danger of violence lurking in the background. Therefore, it makes sense to me that state or local rules governed the propriety both of alienation of property and person, as well as its recovery. This would include adjudication of a situation (for example) in which someone in a powerful position sought to take control of a piece of land by claiming to be a ga'al. Behind the scenes, I can imagine the possibility of coercion, bribery, and lying for advantage, despite surface appearance of caring, fairness, and legality.

It is for the above causes, as well as the nature of the third function, the avenger of blood with its concomitant expectation of violence, that I am of the mind the ga'al was regarded as an Israelite office, recognized by the whole community. The ga'al, especially as an avenger, was not simply any relative who felt like taking up a family feud for honor's sake or some other reason. If there was order in Israelite society in connection with strapping on a sword to deal with bringing justice to bear, arrest powers, deadly force, etc., it stands to reason that similar order was instituted in the matter of redemption.

In the case of Boaz and "So-and-so," the second man had first-right (as defined by law) to undertake redemption; which also had the possibility of incurring debts from the party being helped; in the case of Naomi/Ruth, additional complication having to do with levirate or other marriage claims, not to mention foreign claims originating from Moab, all might have been reasons why the man recognized by Bethlehem society as first-in-line to "take advantage" of opportunity presented by the redeemer-situation chose to pass.

When a person steps aside from a chance (or duty) to fulfill an office, that office doesn't ordinarily disappear. It is offered, it is passed to someone next-in-line, possibly someone more worthy. Office involves responsibility, which entails risk and reward. There are costs associated with office, which may be financial, or foregoing of other opportunities or honors, etc. Those costs may be offset by rewards, usually long term, sometimes out of sight entirely in earthly calculus.

Boaz took on whatever risk he had to, to do the right thing. He recovered the land for Naomi, and probably made it part of his fields for a time. And, he also gave Ruth a child, and Naomi a grandchild (in law), while preserving the inheritance of Elimelech. Boaz, however old he was then, took on legal demand to provide for a wife, child and mother-in-law until that duty was discharged and another (the child) took it on; he did this without a "legal payoff." We may not know or understand all the risks, real and imagined; but he did not let those put him off. "So-and-so" briefly looked into the rewards, and liked what he saw; but balked when the full responsibility of the office of ga'al was put on the table. He missed out.
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