The Kinsman Redeemer
The kinsman redeemer is an important, but little-understood concept in scripture. It is actually connected to a very important question in Revelation 5 that should be of great interest to us. This is page one of a series of three pages on this topic.
I have heard it said that the two most important questions in the book of Revelation are:
"... Who is worthy to open the book ...? (Rev 5:2)
That the first of these questions is important in the setting of Revelation 5 is testified to by the great interest and emotion with which John regarded the matter.
"And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon." (Rev 5:3-4)
But, you ask, how is the book in Revelation 5 connected to the concept of the kinsman redeemer? Well, let's first get some background from scripture on what the kinsman redeemer is all about.
During a time of national crisis, a message came to Jeremiah:
"The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. For then the king of Babylon's army besieged Jerusalem: and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah's house." (Jer 32:1-2)
This "the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah" was 588/587 BC and it was in the midst of the final siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. Jeremiah had earlier predicted that the Babylonians would invade Israel. However, Jeremiah and his words of prophecy were rejected; this is partly why he is called the weeping prophet. Jeremiah was in prison for making his predictions while they were actually coming true - talk about rejection! While this was going on, he received this message from God:
"... Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it. So Hanameel mine uncle's son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the LORD, and said unto me, Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin: for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself. Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD." (Jer 32:6-8)
Remember the circumstances - the whole land just been invaded. Great calamity has fallen upon the people. Their rights and freedom are being restricted. Many were being carried away as captives to a foreign country. Jeremiah himself had predicted that the Babylonian captivity would last for 70 years. Why would anyone in a situation like that think about buying land? We would think it more appropriate to liquidate assets and be ready to move if there was opportunity. So why this directive from God for Jeremiah to buy land - occupied land?
Here is more detail of what Jeremiah was to do:
"Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Take these evidences, this evidence of the purchase, both which is sealed, and this evidence which is open; and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days. For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land." (Jer 32:14-15)
Why in an earthen vessel? "That they may continue many days" - perhaps that they might last till after the 70 years. This seemingly inappropriate action of buying the land was, in fact, to back up God's promise that the captivity would end and things would return to normal.
"For thus saith the LORD; Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them. And fields shall be bought in this land, whereof ye say, It is desolate without man or beast; it is given into the hand of the Chaldeans. Men shall buy fields for money, and subscribe evidences, and seal them, and take witnesses in the land of Benjamin, and in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, and in the cities of the mountains, and in the cities of the valley, and in the cities of the south: for I will cause their captivity to return, saith the LORD." (Jer 32:42-44)
Jeremiah's purchase of land would be evidence of his own faith in God's message given through him. Even though Jeremiah was in Jerusalem at the time, the Lord also mentioned the territory of Benjamin because that is where the particular land in question was located. But what is this about Jeremiah having the right of redemption to buy the land? We need to understand something about ownership of land in Israel.
How Israel Dealt With Land
"And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD. Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard." (Lev 25:1-4)
"And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed. For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field. In the year of this jubile ye shall return every man unto his possession. (Lev 25:8-13)
This was God's appointed means of keeping land within a family to help avoid poverty or excess riches. Here are more details:
"If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold. And if the man have none to redeem it, and himself be able to redeem it; Then let him count the years of the sale thereof, and restore the overplus unto the man to whom he sold it; that he may return unto his possession. But if he be not able to restore it to him, then that which is sold shall remain in the hand of him that hath bought it until the year of jubile: and in the jubile it shall go out, and he shall return unto his possession. And if a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year may he redeem it. And if it be not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be established for ever to him that bought it throughout his generations: it shall not go out in the jubile." (Lev 25:25-30)
So if a family had to sell land, the price would be dependent upon how many years the purchaser could expect to gain a return from the use of the land until it returned to the owner in the year of Jubilee. Essentially, it was a lease arrangement.
"And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle's son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver. And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances. So I took the evidence of the purchase, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open: And I gave the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah, in the sight of Hanameel mine uncle's son, and in the presence of the witnesses that subscribed the book of the purchase, before all the Jews that sat in the court of the prison." (Jer 32:9-12)
In Jeremiah's case, he bought the land, the documentation was signed, witnessed, sealed and securely stored. After the 70 years captivity the scroll (the purchase deed) would provide evidence of who was the rightful owner of the land and it could be restored to Jeremiah or his estate. Note that Jeremiah's ministry started when he was a young man (Jer 1:6-7) and lasted about 40 years to about the time of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (about 626 BC to 586 BC). Then he was taken to Egypt (Jer 43:6) and probably died there.
Is it possible that the situation John was looking at also had to do with ownership/possession of land? John would have been familiar with land transactions in Jewish culture and the concept of the kinsman redeemer. I think the book John is speaking of in Revelation may be just such a scroll - it involves seals and witnesses and, if that is true, would contain evidence of who has land rights to the whole earth - that would make it important not just to John but to us as well. If no one can open the scroll, no one would know who is the rightful owner of the land, this earth. That would be of concern to John.
The next page, the story of Ruth and Boaz will add another dimension to this comparison between the kinsman redeemer and the book of Revelation 5.
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