Ga’al: “Act as Kinsman”
Yesterday I was flicking through my Hebrew lexicon and the entry for the verb ga’al caught my attention. My lexicon (Brown-Driver-Briggs) gives short definitions first, and then longer definitions and explanations. The short definitions for ga’al are “redeem” and “act as kinsman”.
When it comes to the longer definitions, “act as kinsman, do the part of a kinsman” is given first. The lexicon then gives several Old Testament texts where close relatives redeemed people from slavery, or redeemed their land, or avenged the blood of a murdered relative.
I guess it just makes sense that close relatives should be the ones obligated to rescue people when they are in difficult situations, such as when they have sold themselves or their land because of hard times; and that they should be the ones to seek justice when a relative has been murdered.
Boaz: a Go’el
Perhaps the most well-known story of redemption in the Old Testament is the narrative recorded in the book of Ruth. In this story Naomi and Ruth’s close relative Boaz willingly redeems them and their land in a legal transaction. Boaz rescues them from poverty and hardship, and, through his and Ruth’s child, the ancestral line of Naomi’s husband is preserved.
Boaz is a go’el. (The word go’el is a participle form of the verb ga’al.) Boaz is a close relative and he acts as a redeemer. Go’el conveys both meanings, as does the English translation “kinsman redeemer”. Go’el is frequently used as a technical term in Hebrew Law.
Jesus: our Go’el
Reading about the legal responsibility of kinship in redemption made me think about God’s redemption of us. Redemption was not just a lofty act done by the Creator to redeem and reconcile his creation to himself. It was also a loving act done by our close relative Jesus Christ, who became like us, identified with us, and chose to become responsible for us so that he could rescue us.
Jesus regards us as his family (Matt. 12:49-50); and for the sake of his family – his kin – he went to great lengths to redeem and rescue us from the bondage of sin and death.
In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. . . Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2:10-11, 14-15 (NIV 2011)
I am extremely grateful to Jesus – our go’el: our older brother and redeemer – for taking on the tremendous responsibility of rescuing me and all those who are part of his family. And I thank him for giving us life, making us holy, and bringing us to glory.
 Some Bible commentators suggest that Boaz is a picture of Jesus Christ and that his bride Ruth the Moabitess is a picture of the Gentile Church. (King David and Jesus Christ are descendants of Boaz and Ruth.)
 The Hebrew consonants גאל are identical in both words (in their lexical forms), only the vowel pointings are different.
 More about the legal responsibilities of a go’el here.
Another Hebrew word, padah, also means “redeem”. More about redeem and redemption here.
Image: Extract from Ruth in Boaz’s Field, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1828 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
This video presented by Dr Tim Bulkeley has more information about the Hebrew word go’el: