Redemption

[Boaz] said, “Who are you?”
And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9).

The story of Ruth and Naomi is poignant for many reasons: the faith of a foreigner, the devotion of a daughter-in-law, God’s lovingkindness toward those who serve Him despite finding themselves in difficult circumstances, and so on. Yet one of the more mysterious aspects of the story is this matter of redemption: Ruth appeals to Boaz as a redeemer, and Boaz will successfully redeem Naomi’s property and Ruth as well. This is not some interesting yet ultimately irrelevant story, for within it we find a type of which Jesus of Nazareth will be the reality.

One of the most important matters for the ancient Israelites involved maintaining proper tribal and clan control of property in perpetuity through legitimate offspring. This was the concern of the tribe of Manasseh regarding the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers 36:1-12; furthermore, even though looking upon one’s brother’s wife is generally an abomination (Leviticus 18:16, 20:21), Deuteronomy 25:5-6 compels a man to take his brother’s wife to have children to inherit the property of the brother if the brother has died.

Naomi and Ruth find themselves in a most difficult predicament. The men of the family–Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, Mahlon (Ruth’s husband, Ruth 4:10) and Chilion her sons–have died in Moab (Ruth 1:3-5). While it is true that women could inherit their father’s property in the absence of male offspring (cf. Numbers 27:7-11), neither applies to Naomi or Ruth, since they are wives and not blood relatives, and, for that matter, Ruth remains a foreigner (Ruth 1:4). Elimelech’s land near Bethlehem cannot be properly claimed by them.

But Boaz is a “near kinsman,” and thus a “redeemer” according to Ruth 2:20. This means he is a male relative of Elimelech and therefore can redeem both Elimelech’s land and Ruth to provide offspring to perpetuate Elimelech’s and Mahlon’s lineage. There is a nearer relative who has the first right of redemption (Ruth 3:12-13). The legal proceedings before the elders in the gate in Ruth 4:1-10 involve this nearer relative (left unnamed) and Boaz. The nearer relative was interested in redeeming the land but not Ruth, lest he impair his own inheritance (Ruth 4:4-6). Therefore, Boaz was legally granted the opportunity to redeem Elimelech’s land as well as Ruth, solemnly declaring before the elders in the gate that he had “bought” the land of Elimelech’s family and had “bought” Ruth as his wife to raise up children to keep the lineage going (Ruth 4:9-10). Through Boaz and Ruth a son is born to Naomi, Obed (Ruth 4:17); we know Obed’s grandson quite well, for he is David who will be king of Israel (Ruth 4:22). Such is why Boaz and Ruth are mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1:5.

This story helps us understand the idea of redemption and the redeemer in Scripture. Redemption involves some sort of purchase; through some process of transaction, one generally gives up something in order to obtain something else. We might redeem a certificate for its monetary value, or redeem a product with money. So it is that even though no money is transacted, Boaz must nevertheless “buy” the land of Elimelech and to “buy” Ruth in marriage, that is, to redeem them according to proper Israelite protocol, in order to protect the family’s property rights and preserve the name of the family through offspring.

As a redeemer, Boaz is a type of Christ: he comes upon two people in distress who have no legal recourse or standing, and through his compassion and lovingkindness accomplishes their deliverance in ways they would not be able to do for themselves on account of his position of privilege. So it is with Jesus: He has found us in difficult circumstances, alienated from God, unable to be reconciled back to Him by our own power on account of our sin (cf. Romans 3:20, Ephesians 2:1-3). Jesus, through His privileged position of being both God and man, the Son of God and God the Son, and on account of His lovingkindness and compassion, paid for us to be reconciled back to God through His death on the cross (Romans 5:6-11, 1 Corinthians 6:20, Galatians 3:13, 2 Peter 2:1). Through Jesus we can be reckoned as children of God; through Jesus we can receive a portion of the most important “property” or inheritance of all, eternal life (Romans 8:15-17).

It is easy for us today to automatically associate “buying” people with slavery, considering people as “property” to be used. While it remains true that we are to see ourselves as slaves of God in Christ (cf. Romans 6:16-23, 1 Corinthians 7:22), such does not mean that “purchase” should be always and automatically associated with “slavery.” We do well to remember the ever-present theme of redemption in the Bible, in terms of God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt, Ruth’s redemption by Boaz, and other similar examples, understanding how redemption is an act of grace and mercy, a gift from those in more fortunate circumstances to those in less fortunate ones. As Boaz redeemed Ruth out of his graciousness, compassion, and desire to do what was right, so God has shown us extravagant grace and mercy by allowing for our redemption through the death of His Son Jesus. Let us praise God for redemption in Jesus, and let us seek to honor and glorify His name!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Slavery

Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called. Wast thou called being a bondservant? Care not for it: nay, even if thou canst become free, use it rather. For he that was called in the Lord being a bondservant, is the Lord’s freedman: likewise he that was called being free, is Christ’s bondservant. Ye were bought with a price; become not bondservants of men (1 Corinthians 7:20-23).

Slavery– the very word evokes powerful feelings. Some of the darkest chapters of human history involve the enslavement of some people at the hands of others. The concept of slavery is entirely abhorrent to modern eyes, a tragic reminder of human sinfulness and rapacity. We have a great desire to move on and to get away from such a practice.

Our Bible translations seem to reflect this same impulse. Many times we will find the word “bondservant” in our translations. Somehow “bondservant” does not sound as bad– but it should. The Greek word doulos means “slave”– and that is not only what Paul calls himself (Romans 1:1), but in fact all Christians (1 Corinthians 7:22-23)!

When we think of slavery today our minds tend to drift toward the practice of slavery in America from the 1600s through 1865. While the Bible was used in fast and free ways, both to justify and to condemn that practice, slavery in Paul’s world was a bit different from slavery in America. In the ancient Roman world, slavery was sometimes the result of birth, but just as easily could have befallen a prisoner of war or someone who fell into too much debt. While some slaves were sent to mines or to do otherwise unpleasant and difficult work, most were domestic slaves, performing different functions for their masters and mistresses. The life of slaves could run the gamut– some had very cushy and comfortable lives, while others were as miserable as we could imagine and then some.

Yet the one constant with all slaves throughout time has been the desire to be free– or, if nothing else, such would likely be our desire had we ever been enslaved. We find freedom to be so important, and we cannot imagine what it would be like to be a slave.

The Bible’s attitude toward slavery has posed a conundrum for years. God does not wholeheartedly embrace the practice, but He also does not wholeheartedly condemn it, either. This has frustrated many believers for generations. How could God countenance such a terrible institution? Why was it not condemned outright?

As we can see in 1 Corinthians 7:21, 23, it is not God’s will for believers to be slaves of men. If a person is a slave when called, and he can obtain his freedom, he should. Believers should do everything in their power to avoid being enslaved to men, for it often leads to compulsion to do things one ought not do. It is easier to serve the Lord and His purposes unhindered by the expectations of an earthly master.

But the principles of Christianity transcend social structures. The emphasis of Christianity is on God’s Kingdom, not one’s position amongst men. Those who are appointed to eternal life and great things in God’s Kingdom are often those who are debased and despised among men (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27). As Paul says– the earthly slave is the Lord’s freedman, while the earthly free man is a slave of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:22).

The Kingdom of God certainly upsets the social structures of the world, but not by direct assault. Government is to be respected and obeyed (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18); each is to remain in the position he had when called (1 Corinthians 7:24). In fact, one is to be better at whatever one does or is, seeking to reflect Christ as husband or wife, parent or child, slave or master (Ephesians 5:22-6:9). No ruler or authority could come and declare Christianity to be subverting existing social systems through direct, explicit condemnation of the ruler himself or of the prevailing ideas of the time.

Instead, the subversive nature of the Kingdom derives from its egalitarianism. In Christ man and woman, Jew and Greek, slave and free, rich and pauper, are equal (Galatians 3:28). In Christ there is no “other” to dehumanize or degrade, for every person is precious in God’s sight (1 Timothy 2:4). When you assemble with fellow Christians, including your own slaves, and jointly participate in Christ, it will be a lot harder to keep them as your slaves the rest of the time. This is why the dignity of man increased as Christianity was promoted.

Such things, however, cannot be forced. Instead, as Paul explains, it is always best to serve God in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Paul wrote passionately to Philemon to save Onesimus, so we know that he has some level of sympathy for slaves. Ultimately, however, freedom is not the goal– salvation is the goal. Better to be a saved slave than a condemned freedman; therefore, it was best to serve God as a slave, understanding that in the Kingdom even a slave can be adopted as a son of God (Romans 8:15-17)!

In the end, the question is moot, for, as Paul indicates in Romans 6:16-22, we are all slaves to something. We do not particularly appreciate this perspective, yet it is needful for our sake, for, as Paul says, we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23). We glorify the idea of “redemption” and being “redeemed” from sin, but do we remember that redemption really means purchase, and that if we have been bought, we are no longer our own?

Slavery, in and of itself, is only a problem if we have made an idol out of “freedom,” and if we are deluded about the way things really work. In reality, far too many people have used their “freedom” to enslave themselves to taskmasters far worse than the slave drivers of the past. People all around us are enslaved to various passions and lust, being led astray by their own impulses, and in terrible straits. They are slaves of sin. But thanks be to God that we have been given the opportunity to turn away from such taskmasters and to become slaves of Christ, to live for Him and His purposes according to His dictates. Slavery is not optional; the master we choose to serve is. Let us be slaves of Christ, seeking His will, no matter what circumstance in which we find ourselves!

Ethan R. Longhenry