In ancient Israel, continuing one’s family line was extremely important. As we saw when we studied the book of Joshua, property in the promised land was allocated to the various tribes of Israel, and this property was further divided among individual clans and families and generally passed down from father to son. If a man died without having any sons, his family name could pass away from Israel and the family’s property could be transferred to another clan. Thus, the Mosaic law includes many regulations regarding how to treat inheritances within families and various remedies for keeping property within a particular clan if the property is lost or if the male heir dies (e.g., Lev. 25:23–34; Num. 36).
Among the most important of these laws is the law concerning levirate marriage in Deuteronomy 25:5–10. According to this regulation, if a man died without any sons, his brother was to take the widow as his wife, and the first son born to that union would be counted as the heir of the dead man. Thus, the dead man’s name would continue on, and the property would stay in his family. The living brother “redeemed” the dead brother’s name and property from loss.
But what would happen if the dead man had no living brother, as was the case when Naomi’s husband and her son, Ruth’s first husband, died? As we will see, the book of Ruth seems to show what was to happen. For now, we will note that when Naomi rejoiced at hearing that Ruth had been gleaning behind Boaz and his servants, her reference to Boaz as “a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers” (Ruth 2:20) signaled that Boaz was one relative who could fulfill the role of continuing the line of Naomi’s dead husband.
Naomi was curious about exactly where Ruth had gleaned, for Ruth had brought back an “ephah of barley,” which represented at least thirty pounds or so of food (vv. 17–19). Such generosity and the identity of Boaz provoked Naomi to praise the “kindness” of God (v. 20). “Kindness” translates the Hebrew term hesed, an important concept in Scripture that refers to far more than simply being nice or pleasant to someone. We will consider the meaning of hesed more in the studies to come, but for now we will note that it has to do with enduring covenant loyalty. But having seen the Lord’s hesed in bringing Ruth to Boaz, Naomi and Ruth began planning how to show Boaz that he could redeem their family’s name and property (2:21–3:5).