And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance: redeem thou my right to thyself; for I cannot redeem it.
In the Old Testament law, God made several provisions for the poor and for widows. One of those provisions included what is commonly known as Levirate marriage.
If a married man died, leaving a widow and children, it was assumed that the children would provide for their mother as she grew older. (Thus, until Jesus came to her aid, the widow of Nain in Luke 7 faced not only loneliness and great sorrow, but probably also poverty.) This principle is still in view in I Timothy 5, where the first responsibility for the care of widows is with any sons or nephews, not the church.
If a man left his wife childless, however, Levirate marriage applied (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). The nearest kinsman would marry the widow, and their firstborn would be the legal heir of the deceased, whose inheritance would continue in his name. The widow would be cared for, first by her new husband, and then if he should pass away, by their children.
In the third and fourth chapters of Ruth, we see this in action. Ruth, as a childless widow guided by Naomi (her mother-in-law), approached Boaz, a near relative. She asked him to acquire the land of Naomi and her family, and enter into a Levirate marriage with her.
The Closer Kinsman
Boaz acknowledged Ruth’s right, and thanked her for asking him, but said a closer kinsman had priority. In chapter four, he is speaking to this closer relative, and in verse six, the man declines because of a risk that he would “mar mine own inheritance.”
We don’t know what he was thinking. People have had different ideas, including:
- Perhaps he already had children (perhaps now being a widower), and it would have meant dividing his wealth, intended for his children, with any further children that he and Ruth might have.
- Buying the land would cost him money, but the land would not be permanently part of the inheritance he would pass on to his own children — it would go to his firstborn with Ruth. So either pre-existing children, or future children with Ruth, would have a smaller inheritance due to the cost incurred.
- Perhaps he didn’t want to marry a foreigner, a Moabitess. Perhaps he thought his children would be looked down on and be worse off if he did.
The Scriptures don’t tell us what he meant. If a man refused to “raise up unto his brother a name in Israel,” he was to be publicly shamed (Deuteronomy 25:7-10). That doesn’t seem the case here — there is no mention of Ruth spitting in his face, and the account seems to imply she wasn’t even present.
Perhaps Boaz knew the man would decline. Perhaps he protected Ruth from public embarrassment by handling this himself. Perhaps since another kinsman was prepared to take the responsibility, there was no dishonour in this kinsman’s actions — the book of Ruth doesn’t condemn him. Deuteronomy does not say it was wrong to pass the responsibility to another, if another who wanted to assume it.
There really are some details about this passage that we don’t know, and which we would perhaps find interesting if we did know. God could have told us those things, of course, and He chose not to — perhaps they would have distracted from what He made very clear.
An Unmarred Heritage
Even if Scripture doesn’t condemn the unnamed kinsman, it does tell us something else — about a heritage of which he was unaware.
13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son.
14 And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the LORD, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel.
15 And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him.
16 And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it.
17 And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.
The great king of Israel, David, and even more, the great King of kings, Jesus the Messiah, were in the heritage of Boaz. The name “Boaz” is found in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, in the genealogies of Christ. Marrying Ruth, carrying out the “husband’s brother’s duty”, does not seem to have “marred” the inheritance of Boaz in the least.
One of the two kinsmen remains nameless. Perhaps his heritage was indeed protected — we will never know. The other has his name and his heritage memorialised everywhere for all time, and beyond time into eternity. Boaz is known, and always will be, as one who was faithful to a godly woman and to God’s provision for the poor, even if she was a foreigner. Even more, he will always be known as the great-grandfather of David and as one of the shining lights among the ancestors of our Lord.