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The kinsman-redeemer is a male relative who, according to various laws of the Pentateuch, had the privilege or responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need. The...
Let's start by defining a redeemer. The law of redemption is scattered throughout the books of the law, but two major discussions are found in Ex 21-23 and Lev 25. Basically, if you have a debt you cannot pay when it comes due, whether it was a loan or is the result of a theft, everything you own is sold to pay that debt. If that was not enough to pay the full debt a bond is created by the court and is auctioned off. The person who purchases that bond is the redeemer. The redeemer pays your debt, then you are a contract employee in his business-household for how ever long it takes to pay off that bond. A person could also create his own bond by selling himself to an employer if he did not have adequate skills to provide a living for himself and his family. The person buying the bond will not always be a close relative who will treat you well, and since the whole idea behind the laws of redemption is to treat the offender well, and restore his freedom at the earliest possible time other arrangements for redemption are provided in the law. There was to be no difference in the eyes of the master between his sons and his bond-servants before the sons received the adoption and were made full partners in their father's business, but this is not how most people handled the situation. They preferred to see no difference between the bond-servant and a slave, and to withhold from both the rights God's law demanded to be given to the slaves. Therefore, the man's closest relatives always retained the right of redemption over their kin. A close friend could offer to purchase a servant's bond, but the master held the right of refusal in such a case, but if a closer relative than the master offered to purchase the bond, the master had no right of refusal, and had to sell the servant to the nearer kinsman. Thus, the near kinsman became the kinsman redeemer. It is usually taught that the near kinsman had an option whether to purchase his kinsman's bond or not, but this is not actually the case. To understand this we look at the levirate marriage law in Dt 25. If a man dies childless his brother had an obligation to take his wife and provide her with an heir. The wife and child would legally be considered his dead brother's wife and heir, not his even though they would live with him as his own wife and child. They would receive the dead brother's land and other property, and the living brother would be the custodian of that property until the legal heir came of age. This obligation could not be refused without penalty although that penalty was only a public shaming. The same principle applies with all forms of redemption, not just levirate marriage. If the brother is prosperous and can afford to pay his brother's bond he has a legal obligation to redeem his brother. Of course, if he lacks this ability there is nothing he can do. He is not required to sell his own property and go into debt to relieve his brother. This defeats the purpose. But if he has the means or eventually gains the means to redeem his brother and his brother's property he is required by law to do so. Until the brother works enough to pay off the debt the bondsman and his land belong to the redeemer. However, there is a provision of the law that says if God prospers the bondsman the bondsman has the right of redemption for both himself and his property. Even a kinsman redeemer cannot withhold this right (Lev 25:25-28). As I understand it, the pay of the bondman is not a fixed salary but is a percentage of his labor. The redeemer has a right to 10% but if the bondsman has learned his trade well and become prosperous, he has the right to repay the bond sooner, whether by paying a higher percentage or saving the money and paying the whole bond at once. The presumption of the law is that a man's kinsman will treat him better than some stranger would, and would be less likely to steal his labor. It also teaches us that we are our brother's keeper.
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