The Judeo-Christian theme of redemption has been one of the most powerful and influential throughout the history of human civilization, especially over the last millennium. It has impacted everything from society’s art, music, literature and cinema to its executive and judicial processes. When we look at the Pietà sculpture of Michelangelo, we are looking at redemption. When we read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, we are reading about redemption. When we listen to Handel’s “Messiah“, we are listening to redemption. And when we experience a judicial bankruptcy proceeding, we are experiencing the process of redemption in action.
This latter aspect of redemptive themes is especially relevant to our world today, in which individuals, families, businesses, cities and entire nations are buried under mountains of debt. Our global society has come to typify the idea of humans in need of forgiveness and redemption, as billions of people find themselves with mortgages, student loans, business loans, credit card bills, public taxes, etc. that they cannot possibly satisfy without any external aid. The entire Euro area is a stunning example of nations that can no longer service their debts without massive support from other nations and their taxpayers.
When we look at this monetary predicament in isolation, it’s difficult to imagine any satisfactory resolution for humanity. The whole thing will require great material sacrifices on the part of many people who have grown emotionally attached to their current standards of living. We must remember, though, that our ultimate solace lies in our spiritual redemption through the nearly unimaginable sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on our behalf. That is the power of the Gospel message which became operational throughout all of human history by virtue of Jesus’ work on the Cross and remains extremely relevant to this day.
Indeed, it is the Old Testament which originally provides us with stories about the critical intersection between monetary debts and redemption, as a means of picturing the infinitely more valuable intersection of our spiritual debts and Christ’s redemption. The word “redeem” or “redemption” is used 17 times in Leviticus 25 alone, which describes God’s command to Moses and the Israelites for a year of Jubilee. Of particular interest is Leviticus 25:23-28, which tells us that the Israelites must provide a mechanism through which poor and indebted people can reacquire their land. We are told this redemption can occur through the future prosperity of the person who sold, a near relative of that person a default expulsion of property sales in the fiftieth year of Jubilee.
A great historical picture of how this redemptive process worked is found in the short Book of Ruth. The story of Ruth’s redemption is set around 1100 B.C. and involves an Israelite family who chose to forego their property inheritance during a famine and move to Moab, the land of the enemy. The family consisted of Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. In the land of Moab, the two sons met their two wives, Orpah and Ruth. Elimelech died shortly after the move and the two sons also died about 10 years later. After this tragedy, Naomi heard that the Lord had provided food to the people of Judah and decided to return home to Bethlehem. Ruth also decided that she would leave her family in Moab, stay with Naomi and worship the God of Israel.
It is in Bethlehem where Ruth met a man named Boaz, who was a near relative of Elimelech. Ruth found great favor in the eyes of Boaz and, when he heard that Naomi was forced to sell the land of her husband and sons because of their debts, he decided to find a nearer relative of Elimelech who would redeem the property for them or, if that relative should be unable to do so for any reason, to redeem it himself. It turns out that he ended up redeeming the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon himself and marrying Mahlohn’s widow, Ruth, “in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records” (Ruth 4:9-10).
Here we find a faithful man from Bethlehem, Boaz, who takes it upon himself to redeem the lost inheritance of his relative’s family, out of devotion to the Lord and the remnant of that family, which includes his new bride, Ruth. After performing this redemptive act, Boaz was under obligation, if necessary, to avenge the death of Elimelech and his two sons in the land of the enemy, Moab. In this historical picture, Elimelech and his family represent all of humanity, the descendants of Adam and Eve, who chose to rebel against God in Eden and move out into the fallen world of the enemy. In this fallen world, humanity suffered great pain and loss before the time of our redeemer, just as Elimelech’s family.
However, all of humanity was blessed with the arrival of a faithful person of its own “race” or kind, a near relative so to speak, who was born in Bethlehem and took it entirely upon himself to redeem our spiritual debts owed to God. In the process of this redemption, that man has also become our spiritual husband and, we, his faithful bride (2 Corinthians 11:2). He has recovered our lost inheritance for us (Hebrews 9:15), which will prove to be much more valuable than anything we could conceive in Eden. He has also taken on the obligation of being our avenger against the forces of evil that have spilled the blood of his brethren (Romans 12:19).
This man is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the direct descendant of Boaz, Ruth and David (Matthew 1), our Lord and Redeemer.
*In the time of the Old Testament, the title deeds for property transactions were recorded on two separate scrolls, one that was written and left open and an exact copy that was rolled up, sealed and left with the buyer or redeemer. The one kept open would be given to witnesses who would look at what was written and bear witness by signing the back of the scroll that was sealed. (Jeremiah 32:8-13).
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:1-5)