go'-el (go'el, "redeemer"):
Goel is the participle of the Hebrew word gal'al ("to deliver," "to redeem") which aside from its common usage is frequently employed in connection with Hebrew law, where it is the technical term applied to a person who as the nearest relative of another is placed under certain obligations to him.
(1) If a Jew because of poverty had been obliged to sell himself to a wealthy "stranger or sojourner," it became the duty of his relatives to redeem him. Compare Leviticus 25:47 and the article JUBILEE.
(2) The same duty fell upon the nearest kinsman, if his brother, being poor, had been forced to sell some of his property. Compare Leviticus 25:23; Ruth 4:4, and the article JUBILEE.
(3) It also devolved upon the nearest relative to marry the ? childless widow of his brother (Ruth 3:13; Tobit 3:17).
(4) In Numbers 5:5 a law is stated which demands that restitution be made to the nearest relative, and after him to the priest, if the injured party has died (Leviticus 6:1).
(5) The law of blood-revenge (Blut-Rache) made it the sacred duty of the nearest relative to avenge the blood of his kinsman. He was called the go'el ha-dam, "the avenger of blood." This law was based upon the command given in Genesis 9:5 f:
"Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed," and was carried out even if an animal had killed a man; in this case, however, the payment of a ransom was permitted (Exodus 21:28). A clear distinction was made between an accidental and a deliberate murder. In both cases the murderer could find refuge at the altar of the sanctuary; if, however, the investigation revealed presumptuous manslaughter, he was taken from the altar to be put to death (Exodus 21:12; 1 Kings 1:50; 2:28). In Numbers 35:9 definite regulations as to the duties of the Goel are given. Six cities were to be appointed as "cities of refuge," three on each side of the Jordan. The congregation has judgment over the murderer. There must be more than one witness to convict a man. If he is found guilty, he is delivered to the Goel; if murder was committed by accident he is permitted to live within the border of the city of refuge; in case the manslayer leaves this city before the death of the high priest, the avenger of blood has a right to slay him. After the death of the high priest the murderer may return to his own city. Ransom cannot be given for the life of a murderer; no expiation can be made for a murder but by the blood of the murderer (Deuteronomy 19:4; Joshua 20; 2 Samuel 14:6). According to the law the children of a murderer could not be held responsible for the crime of their father (Deuteronomy 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6), but see 2 Samuel 21:1. The order in which the nearest relative was considered the Goel is given in Leviticus 25:48 f: first a brother, then an uncle or an uncle's son, and after them any other near relative. This order was observed in connection with (1) above, but probably also in the other cases except (4).
For the figurative use of Goel ("redeemer") see Psalms 119:154; Proverbs 23:11; Job 19:25; Isaiah 41:14.
See also AVENGE; MURDER; REFUGE, CITIES OF.
Arthur L. Breslich