Themes of Ruth, Part 3: Redemption
In a recent group Bible study, we have been working through the book of Ruth. As we go, I’ve been using Judges, Ruth: Revised Edition (The NIV Application Commentary) | K. Lawson Younger 📚 for extra personal study. I’d like to share some thoughts and reflections with you as I’ve been traveling through Ruth. If you have not read the book recently, these reflections will make more sense if you spend 10 minutes and read the book first.
Boaz’s Redemption of Ruth
Boaz is a relative of Ruth’s father-in-law, and this means he has the ability to redeem her and the land of Naomi. “Redemption” has become a Christian-ese word, but it used to be much more common. The Hebrew word comes from the law, where an Israelite who sells his land can have it bought back for him by a relative.
There’s another part of the law called “levirite marriage.” This law takes effect if a man dies before his wife has a male heir. One of the man’s brothers should (but is not required to) marry her in order to provide an heir to inherit the land.
Boaz agrees to redeem Ruth, not because of what she can offer him in terms of land, but because he finds her honorable (Ruth 3:11). Another, closer relative has the first right to redeem, but he refuses. He isn’t honorable enough to do what he ought.
Boaz redeems Ruth and the land, and her destitution turns to wealth. Her sorrow turns to joy. Her barrenness turns to fullness.
Obed’s Redemption of Naomi
Boaz and Ruth are not the only redemption in the book of Ruth. There’s a curious verse near the end of chapter 4.
The women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
— Ruth 4:14-15 (CSB)
We expect that Boaz would be Naomi’s redeemer; he’s the one who bought her land. Presumably, he’s the one now taking care of her on behalf of Ruth. Yet Obed is her redeemer. There’s a way to understand Scripture called “typology.” This is how Matthew understands Isaiah 9:6, for example. The son being spoken of is Isaiah’s future son, but Jesus nevertheless is a fulfillment, though indirectly.
I think something similar may be going on here. Obed is a type of Christ (and is in his genealogy) in that he is a child born to redeem a poor, family-less widow, the kind of person that God deeply cares for (James 1:27, Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 68:5).
Jesus’ Redemption of the World
Jesus, of course, is the great redeemer (Galatians 4:4-5). He redeemed those who join his family by faith not by money, but by his blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). Like Boaz, he is the bridegroom of the redeemed. Like Obed, he is the redeemer born as a human child who renews our life (Ruth 4:15).
Read and Reflect 📖
Joe Rigney opens this story with how his previous articles about the dangers of empathy (I have not read those articles, and so I do not have an opinion on their content) have been met with fierce criticism. But Rigney doesn’t believe that much of that criticism is deserved. He thinks his argument has been caricatured and misread.
This is a launching point to a deeply practical discussion about reading and listening to others as we would like to have others read and hear our thoughts. We must seek to love others well by seeking clarity. If we cannot explain others’ arguments in a way that they would agree with, we are not loving them well, and we have not understood them rightly.
Church History Corner ⛪️
In school, one area of particular theological study was “how does Jesus' death make us right with God?” Historically, the Christian church has understood the Bible to be explaining the work of Christ on the cross in many different ways, but a primary way to understand it, especially in the modern church is called “penal substitution.” “Substitution” because Jesus took our place, and “penal” because he bore a penalty or punishment that we deserved.
Some more recent scholars have criticized this way of understanding the cross as unbiblical and even immoral. One of the main criticisms is that the earliest church fathers did not understand the cross this way. Penal substitution, they argue, didn’t arise in Christian thought until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s A.D.
Brian Arnold argues that this criticism, at least, is all wrong. The early church fathers did think of the cross of Christ through the lens of penal substitution, in addition to other ways. But we also must not make the opposite error and read penal substitution into the early church fathers’ writings.
I will quote just one example from Arnold’s article:
One of the best pieces of evidence for penal substitution comes from a surprising source: Eusebius of Caesarea, best known for his Ecclesiastical History. He wrote a lesser-known book, The Proof of the Gospel, to persuade unbelievers and to strengthen the faith of believers.
At one point, he takes great pains to lay out the curses of the Mosaic law and the penalties it required. Sin always demands a penalty. Quoting from Isaiah 53:5 (“he was pierced for our transgressions”), Eusebius argues:
“In this he shows that Christ, being apart from all sin, will receive the sins of men on himself. And therefore he will suffer the penalty of sinners, and will be pained on their behalf; and not on his own” (Proof of the Gospel, 3.2).
Here is the essence of penal substitution—Jesus took our penalty on himself so that we might be spared God’s wrath. Many scholars have failed to see the explicit connection between the atonement and penalty in the early church, and yet here is a clear example. Throughout Eusebius’s work, penalty is mentioned several times as it relates to Christ bearing the punishment we deserved.
His article is not long and I recommend reading it because it gives insight into how Christians from over 1,500 years ago talked about Jesus’ death and what it provided for us.
- Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution | Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach 📚
- Atonement and the Death of Christ: An Exegetical, Historical, and Philosophical Exploration | William Lane Craig 📚
Consider the Culture 🎨
I enjoyed this interview with composer J.A.C. Redford, who has written the musical compositions for many blockbuster movies. He has a clear love for C.S. Lewis, and as a composer, he noticed something interesting in Lewis’ stories. Lewis' books, especially his Chronicles of Narnia series, contain a lot of music.
Redford walks us through different kinds of music in Lewis’ books and what we can learn from them.
This article explores the poetry of Natasha Trethewey, the daughter of an inter-racial marriage at the height of the American civil rights movement. Her poetry was recommended to me through moralapologetics.com. While her poetry isn’t explicitly spiritual, I found much to think about through her poetry, including a lot that is relevant to struggles in the modern American church.
I have quoted one of her poems, Imperatives for Carrying On in the Aftermath, below, and have linked several others as well. The article at the top contains links to even more if you find her poetry thought-provoking.
Do not hang your head or clench your fists
when even your friend, after hearing the story,
says, My mother would never put up with that.
Fight the urge to rattle off statistics: that,
more often, a woman who chooses to leave
is then murdered. The hundredth time
your father says, But she hated violence,
why would she marry a guy like that?—
don't waste your breath explaining, again,
how abusers wait, are patient, that they
don't beat you on the first date, sometimes
not even the first few years of a marriage.
Keep an impassive face whenever you hear
Stand By Your Man, and let go your rage
when you recall those words were advice
given your mother. Try to forget the first
trial, before she was dead, when the charge
was only attempted murder; don't belabor
the thinking or the sentence that allowed
her ex-husband's release a year later, or
the juror who said, It's a domestic issue—
they should work it out themselves. Just
breathe when, after you read your poems
about grief, a woman asks, Do you think
your mother was weak for men? Learn
to ignore subtext. Imagine a thought-
cloud above your head, dark and heavy
with the words you cannot say; let silence
rain down. Remember you were told,
by your famous professor, that you should
write about something else, unburden
yourself of the death of your mother and
just pour your heart out in the poems.
Ask yourself what's in your heart, that
reliquary—blood locket and seedbed—and
contend with what it means, the folk saying
you learned from a Korean poet in Seoul:
that one does not bury the mother's body
in the ground but in the chest, or—like you —
you carry her corpse on your back.
- Housekeeping | Natasha Tretheway 📃
- White Lies | Natasha Tretheway 📃
- Enlightenment | Natasha Tretheway 📃
- Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir 📚
Explore the Scriptures 📖
We ask, “Why doesn’t God answer my question?” To which he replies, “Turn your gaze and your inquiry away from the answer you want and toward the God you must seek.” If you want to live in this world as a wise person, a man or woman of understanding, rather than a fool, don’t seek wisdom for its own sake, for if you were to find it you would become a puffed up know-it-all (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1). So don’t seek wisdom; seek the Lord.
Christopher Ash walks us through wisdom in scripture, and how scripture teaches us not to look for wisdom for the sake of wisdom, but to look for God, and in God, we will find wisdom.
Ultimately, Jesus our Messiah was, and is, wisdom in flesh.
Jesus Christ was and is the wise man par excellence. He, even more than Job, feared God and turned away from evil. And in his life and death and resurrection, the fundamental structure of the universe, wisdom, is revealed. All the treasures of wisdom are found in him.
- Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Preaching the Word Series) | Christopher Ash, ed. R. Kent Hughes 📚
- The Wisdom Series | BibleProject 🖥
- Wisdom Podcast Series | BibleProject with Tim Mackie and Jon Collins 🎧
Listen and Reflect 🎧
I love this album by Caroline Cobb. She walks us through scripture’s great themes from creation, fall, exile, hope, joy, all the way to Jesus. From the need for Jesus to Jesus himself. It’s difficult to pick a single representative song because the whole album begs to be listened to, front to back.
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
When life takes a difficult turn, Christians often remind others, with a shrug, “His ways are not our ways”—communicating the mysteries of divine providence by which he orchestrates events in ways that surprise us. The mysterious depth of divine providence is, of course, a precious biblical truth. But the passage in which we find “his ways are not our ways” comes from Isaiah 55. And in context, it means something quite different. It is a statement not of the surprise of God’s mysterious providence but of the surprise of God’s compassionate heart.
Ortlund goes on to include the passage in question: Isaiah 55:6-9. The context of “His ways are not our ways” is God’s incredible, impossible love. He has compassion and mercy on those who will humble themselves and admit that they cannot save themselves (2 Chronicles 7:14). We don’t deserve it (Romans 3:23), and yet in his incredible compassion, he offers us salvation.
What is God saying? He is telling us that we cannot view his expressions of his mercy with our old eyes. Our very view of God must change. What would we say to a seven-year-old who, upon being given a birthday gift by his loving father, immediately scrambled to reach for his piggy bank to try to pay his dad back? How painful to a father’s heart. That child needs to change his very view of who his father is and what his father delights to do.
- Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers | Dane C. Ortlund 📚
- In the Lord I Take Refuge: 150 Daily Devotions through the Psalms | Dane C. Ortlund 📚
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
—Matthew 5:4 (CSB)