CLAIM: Naomi tells Ruth, “[Boaz] is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers” (Ruth 2:20 ESV). What does she mean by Boaz being a “redeemer”?
RESPONSE: Naomi is being a reference to the law of Deuteronomy. In 25:5, we read, “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” Naomi was hoping that Boaz would step forward to take care of Ruth (and Naomi), because Ruth’s husband had died. Since Ruth was destitute, it would be very opportune for Boaz to marry her. Sometimes this is called a “levirate marriage,” because the firstborn son was called levir in Hebrew. This kept the family name going for a family without a father (Deut. 25:6).
Of course, the brother could refuse this pledge. In this case, he would be publicly humiliated (Deut. 25:9), and the widow could go to the next closest relative. In chapter 4, we see this law being played out in Ruth and Boaz’s situation.