Friday, May 11, 2012

Christ as Redeemer

As we count down the fifty days to the Feast of Pentecost, we have been considering the book of Ruth's Boaz as a type of Christ, first as a provider and then as a righteous judge. Ruth herself typifies the Christian, called out of this world to begin a new life in preparation for eternal life as part of the Bride of Christ in God's Kingdom. The spring harvest setting of the book securely plants the imagery and the lessons within the period of sanctification—the time of our converted, physical lives—that the weeks between the Wavesheaf offering and Pentecost represent.

Of course, one of the primary titles of Jesus Christ is Savior; He saved us from our sins by taking their penalty—death—upon Himself, paying the price for our rebellion against God in His flesh. So, as the Bible's language so often puts it, we have been redeemed by His blood shed in our behalf (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:12; Revelation 5:9). The idea of redemption is that of "buying back," of paying the cost—normally a steep one—to restore someone or something to a former condition or ownership. Just as a person would redeem a treasured item from a pawnshop or a benefactor would redeem a kidnap victim from his captors, so Christ redeems sinners from the death penalty they have brought upon themselves through their transgressions. He achieved this through the sacrifice of His own priceless life.

In the final chapter of Ruth, the author shows Boaz cheerfully taking up the responsibility to be Ruth's kinsman-redeemer. In ancient Israel, the law allowed for the nearest male relative to buy the land of a deceased property owner to keep the holding within the family (see Leviticus 25:23-24; Deuteronomy 25:5-10). However, there was an important caveat: The kinsman-redeemer also had the responsibility to take his relative's childless widow as his wife, and their firstborn son would inherit the redeemed land as if he were the actual son of the dead man. If the redeemer already had children, the redeemed land would not pass to them.

This caveat comes into play in Ruth's case. The redeemer had to be willing to take responsibility for everything that his dead kinsman had left behind; he had to pay for it all. In the narrative of Ruth, the nearer kinsman was not willing. For the virtuous Ruth (Ruth 3:11), however, Boaz was more than willing to buy back the land (it had likely been mortgaged during the famine mentioned in Ruth 1:1), to pay off any of Naomi's other debts, if any, and to take the young Moabitess as his wife and raise their son as Elimelech's heir. To him, she was the pearl of great price that he would have spent all his wealth to possess (see Matthew 13:45-46). Likewise, for His Bride, Christ gave all that He had, His perfect, sinless life, paying for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2).

Because of her knowledge of Boaz' character, Naomi sets the tone that underlies the entire process of Ruth's redemption: "Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day" (Ruth 3:18). Naomi had had experience with Boaz before she had left for Moab with her husband and sons. She knew that he was a decisive, energetic, determined individual who would not deviate from his purpose once he fixed upon it. As the saying goes, he would move heaven and earth to redeem Ruth.

Naomi's declaration about Boaz is similar to what the Bible says about God: Once He gives the word, it is as good as done. As Isaiah 46:11 declares, "Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it." Like Boaz, Christ has relentless, dogged determination to save us and prepare us for His Kingdom. It is His foremost desire, and He is on the job night and day "to present [us] holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight" (Colossians 1:22). Just as Boaz had said, "I will perform the duty for you, as the LORD lives!" so Christ will finish His work in us. Paul writes in Hebrews 10:23, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." God prophesies in Isaiah 62:1, 4-5:

For Zion's sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. . . . You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called Hephzibah [My Delight Is in Her], and your land Beulah [Married]; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. . . . And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
Ruth 4:1-12 presents a step-by-step record describing how Boaz went about securing Ruth's redemption. For our purposes, it is not necessary to consider each element of the ancient redemption process, as shown in Ruth (although it makes an edifying study). We should note, however, that Boaz is not only eager and determined, but he is carefully, even stringently, lawful. Everything is done by the book. He makes sure all the required procedures are followed and leaves nothing out.

For instance, the transaction is conducted in the city gate of Bethlehem where judgments were to be made. He gathers ten witnesses to observe and, if necessary, to testify later about what he did. He allows the near kinsman every opportunity to do his legal duty in redeeming the property. He hides none of the pertinent facts from anyone, presenting all of the relevant details so that everyone clearly understands what is happening. Even his short speech to the townspeople as the process ends sounds like a contract:

You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, from the hand of Naomi. Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren and from his position at the gate. You are witnesses this day. (Ruth 4:9-10)
In the same way, Christ works within the boundaries He and the Father have established, so that no one will be able to accuse God of being unjust or unfair or playing fast and loose in any way with what is right. Every price will be fully paid, every legal requirement will be fulfilled, and every involved party will be satisfied with the outcome. Because He loves us, He redeems us lawfully so that there will never be any question as to our status before Him. Everyone will know that we belong to Him. God Himself declares in Isaiah 1:27, "Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her penitents with righteousness."

One final detail is worth pointing out as we consider the meaning of Pentecost. Boaz and Ruth marry and produce a son, Obed. Obed means "servant" or "worshipper." In spiritual terms, the product of Christ and a converted Christian is a servant and worshipper of God, the goal of God's harvest of firstfruits—a new creation in the image of God. Is that not a beautiful image?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Christ as Righteous Judge

For the past few weeks, we have been looking at the book of Ruth from the standpoint of the countdown to Pentecost, and in the last essay, from the standpoint of Boaz being a type of Christ. This essay continues our consideration of Boaz' actions toward Ruth, which can give us insight into the character of our Savior, particularly in His office of Judge. As the apostle Peter writes, "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God" (I Peter 4:17), and this aspect of Christ's work appears in type in the story of Ruth.

Ruth 2:10-13 follows Boaz' five instructions to Ruth, covered in last week's essay:
So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, "Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?" And Boaz answered and said to her, "It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge." Then she said, "Let me find favor in your sight, my lord; for you have comforted me, and have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants."
His words had gone straight to Ruth's heart; he had reached her in her innermost being. As a newcomer to Israel, she wanted acceptance, help, and instruction, and he provided everything she needed.

Clearly, Boaz has knowledge of Ruth, her activities, and her character beyond what his servant had told him earlier. In fact, the text gives the impression that Boaz knows practically everything there is to know about Ruth. He has full knowledge of her; all the facts are at his disposal. This is an instance in which the type is obvious: Boaz is so knowledgeable as to be nearly omniscient. The four gospels frequently tell us that Jesus knew things that an ordinary human would not. Luke 6:8 says of Him, "But He knew their thoughts. . . ." The apostle John writes, "He knew all men, . . . for He knew what was in man" (John 2:24-25).

Boaz, it appears, has some of the same attributes. In Ruth 2:12, he makes a judgment based on his perfect knowledge. His judgment, which is framed as his desire, is that God will bless her and reward her for her sacrifices and her works. As Ruth acknowledges in verse 13, his judgment is an articulation of his favor, which is a general synonym for "grace." Her question to Boaz in verse 10 could just as easily have been written, "Why have I found grace in your sight?" In both deeds and words, Boaz shows her favor or grace, just as Christ extends to us.

This surprises Ruth because she is self-conscious about her foreignness. She mentions it twice in four verses, saying "since I am a foreigner" (verse 10) and "though I am not like one of your maidservants" (verse 13). He, however, does not mention it at all. To the contrary, Boaz praises her for having such strong convictions that she was able to forsake the land of her birth to join with people that she had never known before (verse 11). This sounds a great deal like Jesus' instruction in Luke 14:26: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." Ruth was a paragon of this very virtue, willing to forsake her worldly family to join the people of Israel, a type of the church of God (Galatians 6:16).

Ruth 3:2 sets the stage for Boaz' role in the next chapters. Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law, is speaking: "Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor." Boaz is winnowing the threshed grain. Winnowing is essentially cleaning the grain by taking the threshed grain and throwing it up into the wind, which blows away the chaff while allowing the grain to fall back to the ground where it can be gathered and used. Boaz, then, is shown separating the wheat from the chaff. It is a picture of judgment.

The psalmist Asaph writes in Psalm 83:13 of Israel's enemies, "O my God, make them like the whirling dust, like the chaff before the wind!" In the same vein, Isaiah says of sinful Israelites, "Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom will ascend like dust; because they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts" (Isaiah 5:24). John the Baptist speaks of Jesus as a winnower of men: "One mightier than I is coming. . . . His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3:16-17).

In this figure, the author of Ruth (who may have been Samuel) is indicating that Boaz is an able judge, one who makes righteous decisions. In the next two chapters, he will make a truly significant judgment. Taking all the evidence that is before him, he will separate the wheat from the chaff and choose to perform a service of profound consequence, to redeem the property of Elimelech, which obligates him to marry Ruth, the widow of Elimelech's heir. This not only decides Ruth's future, but also the future of his house, of Israel, and ultimately of the world.

Notice his joyful words when Ruth asks him to redeem her:

Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman. (Ruth 3:10-11)
Boaz praises her "kindness," which is the Hebrew word chesed, implying "covenant loyalty." She had shown herself true to her adopted family and to Israel by choosing Boaz over a younger man. The covenant said that as a widow, she had to marry the near kinsman, and she obeyed it to the letter. Spiritually, we could say that she acted contrary to the normal course of this world (see Ephesians 2:1-3), doing what was good and right rather than following her carnal desires.

He reassures her, saying, "Do not fear" (see Luke 12:32), for he would do everything that she requested (see John 14:13-14). Then he makes another judgment: He agrees that she is virtuous. In the spiritual type, he pronounces her righteous, which redemption and justification through the blood of Christ accomplishes. And in the morning, he makes it his chief aim to make her his bride. So does Christ work to bring His church into the Family of God, judging us worthy to live eternally with Him (Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 19:7-9).