My parents divorced just months after I was born. In fact, I don’t remember meeting my father until I was about 10. During my teen years, I spent several memorable weekends with him at his home in rural south Mississippi. As the only child of my mother, it was fun spending time with my half-brother and half-sister, fishing and riding four-wheelers out in the country. Those are great memories.
But I rarely spoke to my father between visits. From my mother’s stories and being around him on those few weekends, I knew some things about him. But I really didn’t know him. Sadly, the relationship was distant and impersonal.
Do I wish it were different? Absolutely.
The reason I share that part of my life is this: I wonder if some of us have that kind of relationship with God.
You may have a lot of theological knowledge, which is great. But to be honest, you may know a lot about Jesus, but not really know Jesus. I may know about the Holy Spirit, but not be walking with the Spirit. I may pray to God on occasion, but those prayers sound and feel more like I’m talking to a distant and impersonal deity, not an intimate, Abba, Father.
Having information about someone is a starting place but it isn’t enough to really know someone. We need a personal encounter.
Moving past intellectual knowledge to a relational knowing made all the difference in the world for Ruth and Naomi.
If you have been following our study in the Old Testament book of Ruth, you know that the storyline follows a J-Curve.
After ten years living in a foreign land, the once prosperous Naomi has returned home to Bethlehem destitute — at the very bottom of the J-Curve. But as we saw last week, the sun that had set in her life has begun to rise. There is hope on the horizon — hope that rises even higher in our text today in Ruth 2:14–23.
In the first part of the chapter, the author of the story calls Boaz, a gibbor hayil, “a great man of excellence, honor and worth.”
In the second half, Naomi will call him a kinsman-redeemer. In Hebrew, the word for kinsman-redeemer is goel. A goel was a male member of a family clan who had the ability to rescue another member of the family who was in desperate need — usually a man of social standing in the community who owned land and had substantial financial resources.
Naomi knew about Boaz, and we would assume had contact with him before she and her husband had departed for Moab when the famine struck years earlier. We don’t know the backstory. What we do know is that a personal encounter with Boaz is when things begin to move upward on the J-curve for Ruth and Naomi.
What I want to show you from Ruth 2:14–23 are three things about a goel — a kinsman-redeemer — in ancient Israel that will prove particularly relevant for our lives today.
The first thing we learn about a goel is that…
1) A Goel is More Than Able to Meet the Need
Look at verse 14, where, speaking to a Ruth, who has been working in the fields gathering left over barley, Boaz says, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered (passed) her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over.”
The Hebrew word for “offered” or “passed” is only used once in the OT. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, called the Septuagint, the word is translated as heaped. Boaz wasn’t offering as little as possible or just a crumb as token hospitality. The text tells us that Boaz heaped grain upon her.
She was given far more than she needed. Far more than she could possibly consume. So much that we read this famished woman couldn’t finish all that had been heaped upon her. There were left overs!
Like Jesus feeding of the 5,000, Boaz provides an over-abundance.
In the last post in this series, we learned that in the book of Leviticus, the LORD had established “gleaning laws” for Israel, which functioned as a type of welfare program that provided for the poor by allowing them to collect the leftovers of the harvest.
In verses 15–16, by putting out grain so that it would be easier to gather, we see Boaz’ commitment to provide in ways that go beyond the gleaning laws of Leviticus.
At the end of her first day, we read that she gathers an ephah of grain, which is about 30 pounds!
Boaz is far more than a donor to Ruth’s cause, showing that a goel (a kinsman-redeemer) doesn’t just contribute to a problem from a distance; he draws close, owns the need, and meets it.
As a goel, or kinsman-redeemer, Boaz prefigures the great goel, Jesus, who has done this and more. I can’t help but think of Paul’s comments in Ephesians 1:7–8,“In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us.” That he HEAPED on us!
If you would have asked Ruth and Naomi their greatest need in moment, how do you think they would have responded? Food. Absolutely. They needed grain to live.
We typically think of our greatest needs in the same way — some form of material provision. Certainly, in times like these, physical needs like food and heath care become acute and pressing. But there is a greater need that may not feel as immediate, although for some it will.
That greatest need isn’t financial or medical. It is judicial. Say what?
Here is why. Before the law court of heaven, each and every human is guilty. That passage we read in Ephesians 1:7–8 is talking about Jesus serving our sentence of death to free us from the condemnation our sin deserves. On a cross, he satisfied the demands of the law, enabling us to be reconciled to God without fear.
The great goel is more than able to meet the need. Not primarily our need for grain but for grace. Remember, in the gospel, grace is lavished, heaped upon us. There are always left overs. We will never be able to consume the extent of Jesus’ mercies.
I want to believe is that if God will meet my greatest need like that, he will meet my lesser needs in ways that fit into his sovereign plan, even if those lesser needs are not met in the way I want. But one thing we know if that a goel is more than able to meet the need — whatever it is.
The second lesson is that…
2) Knowing That the Goel Is For Us Has The Power To Awaken A New Dream In Us
When we left Naomi at the beginning of chapter 2, she was back at their rented room as Ruth headed out to the fields hoping to gather leftover grain. I can imagine Naomi being bed-ridden, exhausted, and incapacitated with depression. We know that she was angry, bitter, and in no mood to be cheered up. Her world, once bright and hopeful, had become dark and miserable.
Then in verses 18–20, Ruth comes home with “news.” Really good news! Life altering, dream awakening news.
18 Ruth carried [the grain] back to town, and Naomi saw how much she had gathered…19 Naomi asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”… “The name of the man… is Boaz,” she said. 20… Naomi, “That man is… one of our kinsman-redeemers!”
Four years ago this week, on April 26, 2016, a 29-year-old Columbian man was rescued by a Panamanian freighter in a sparsely traveled part of the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 miles south of Hawaii. He and three companions had set out from Columbia on a 23-foot skiff. When the engine died, they drifted into the open ocean… for two months. His three friends had not survived.But on April 26, after two harrowing months drifting in the world’s largest ocean, he was rescued!
Can you imagine? Floating for days, then weeks and weeks. Farther and farther from land. No one in sight. Only sea, sky, and sharks.
Then on the horizon, you think you see a ship. It must be a hallucination. Then it begins to turn in your direction and draws closer. You are saved! Miraculously, unbelievably saved!
Can you imagine the overwhelming emotions of such a rescue? Disbelief. Joy. Relief. Hope.
I wonder if this is something akin to how Naomi felt. You can feel the awakening in her soul. “That man is… one of our kinsman-redeemers!”
It was like a ship on the horizon was turning toward her and drawing closer for the rescue.
Boaz, the goel, had taken an interest. Could hope live again? Could the birth of a new dream be possible? This is what becomes possible when we realize that the goel is for us.
Maybe this is how we should feel when we consider the excessive kindness of our great goel, Jesus? We haven’t been rescued from a ship but from our sin — by someone who took our place in the sinking dingy so that we could be lifted to safety.
What does it feel like to know that Jesus has taken a personal interest in you?That he has seen you in your need and turned toward you. Not to condemn you, but to save you?
- You may push back, saying, “But why me?” That is what Ruth asked. The answer: the kindness and grace of the goel. Being rescued is not about your merit but God’s mercy
- “But I don’t deserve the kindness and grace of God. My life is a wreck. I am a worse sinner than anyone knows.” Exactly! Remember, the gospel is not a reward for good people it is a rescue for the lowest, the least, and the lost. It is for humble people who know they need rescue.
In Israelite society, Ruth was the lowest of the low, but Boaz overwhelms her with grace. Naomi was a bitter, resentful, angry old woman. She didn’t do anything but sit and sulk. Then Ruth opens the door, drops the grain on the flood, and says, “I have some really good news.” Naomi didn’t deserve the goel’s kindness. Nevertheless, because of Ruth, Naomi would be caught in the cross-hairs of grace.
This leads to our final lesson about the goel in ancient Israel.
3) A Goel Never Lets Go
We see this in verses, 21, 23.
21 Then Ruth the Moabitess said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’”… 23 So Ruth stayed close to the servant girls of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished.
Naomi and Ruth are not only going to have daily bread, they will have bread for a lifetime because Boaz was not merely invested for the short term but the long term. He would not forget Ruth. His interest wasn’t passing. He would make sure that she continued to live under his provision and protection.
As we’ve seen, a goel — a kinsman-redeemer — takes sustained ownership of the need. A goel never lets go.
In John 10:11, 28, Jesus said,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Like the lesser goel, Boaz, the great goel Jesus never lets go!His interest in you is not passing. His grace toward and love for you is for the long-term — the ultimate long term.
I want to point out a summary detail in verse 23 that we shouldn’t overlook. “And [Ruth] lived with her mother-in-law.” Do you see what being the recipient of a goel’s grace has done? Ruth becomes a type of goel herself.
In true goel fashion, Ruth doesn’t let go of Naomi, but holds on, providing, loving, enduring, reflecting not only the love of Boaz, but the love of the ultimate Boaz, Jesus.
I wonder where you and I are being called to reflect the great Goel in our lives?
Due to our human limitations, we can’t be a goel for everyone. But we can be a goel for someone. But be warned; the role of goel involves sacrifice and commitment. Remember, a goel doesn’t let go. No matter what. After all, Boaz teaches us that a goel comes the aid of those who have need.
- You don’t let go of a friend with a disability or a child with a special need.
- You don’t let go when our spouse has a really bad day.
- Or when a friend really blows it.
Yet, before we can truly reflect the grace of our great goel, we must receive the grace of our great goel. We must identify as one of the rescued. Only in seeing ourselves as objects of God’s mercy will we be empowered to extend the same mercy to those who, like us, need it so much.
The Splash Heard ‘Round the World
If you are familiar with the Babe movies, you know that the main character is an adorable, friendly, and uniquely caring and kind pig. In one scene, which takes place at night, Babe is being chased by a savage Bull Terrier who is hungry for bacon. The beast has broken free of his restraint with a thick chain around his neck. In rabid pursuit of Babe, he has caught the chain around what looks like a rusted, antique metal lawnmower that, as you push, the blades spin.
As the pursuit continues, the narrator speaks, saying, “Something broke through the terror, fragments of his short life, the random events that had delivered him to this, his moment of annihilation. As terror gave way to exhaustion, Babe [stopped and] turned to his attacker, his eyes filled with one simple question, ‘Why?’”
At that moment, standing on a bridge over a narrow river, the dog slams into Babe, catapulting the pig over the wall of the bridge and into the water below.
The enraged dog decides to jump in after Babe, but the chain and implement that it is wrapped around gets hung up on a lamppost on the bridge. With the dog dangling by the chain just above the water, the implement slowly breaks free of the post, allowing the dog to be lowered slowly into the river with its head plunged under the water, floundering, gasping for air, unable to breathe.
As the music quiets and the camera pans to show other animals turning away from the scene, allowing the dog to get what he deserved, you hear tiny, wet pig feet begin to scamper, then a pause, and a splash. Babe jumped back into the river to rescue the dog that was trying to kill him.
In an astonishing act of grace, Babe would welcome that Bull Terrier as a friend. But that grace is only a shadow of the greater grace of God in Jesus, who welcomes us as friends for whom Jesus was willing to splash into this world to save us from our own chains.
As the hymn says,
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing grace
If you have never received the amazing, rescuing grace of Jesus, but want to right now, then let me invite you to pray with me.
Prayer. “Dear God, I am in need of a great goel to rescue me from the justice my sin deserves. I freely confess my sin and I unreservedly receive Jesus as my sin-bearing Savior and ask for the grace to honor and to follow him as my Lord. Now and always. Amen.”
Listen to this post here.