Herald Journal Columns
May 16, 2005, Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

Metaphors help us understand the reality of salvation

By Pastor Tom Starkjohn, Harvest Community Church, Winsted

Redeem. We use this word in our English language: “I want to redeem this coupon;” “I’m going to redeem some of my stocks;” “That guy’s one redeeming value is that he is a good mechanic;” “You’ve botched the last job, but you can redeem yourself on this one.”

The word is also used in the Bible: “Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed” (Titus 2:14). What? Does this mean that Christ was some sort of divine coupon? Of course not!

But this shows us that one of the greatest metaphors that the Bible uses of our salvation is easily misunderstood because the word means something different in the English language than in the Bible.

God saved us by grace through faith in Christ. This salvation is so magnificent, so glorious, so wonderful, that no single word or concept can adequately describe it for us.

The Bible uses many metaphors to help us understand this reality of salvation. God, in his wisdom, put these metaphors in place (in history) so that when Christ came, we would better understand what his life, death, and resurrection does for us

The metaphor of redemption took shape in the book of Ruth. This book is a beautiful love story which begins during a dark period of Israel’s history – the time of the Judges. This was a time of anarchy – “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

During this sad time, a man named Elimelech left his hometown of Bethlehem in Israel and traveled to the foreign country of Moab. He left with his wife, Naomi, and two sons because Bethlehem was going through a famine (which, by the way, was a divine judgment against the land because they had forsaken God – see Deuteronomy 28).

While in Moab, Elimelech’s sons married Moabite women, one of whom was named Ruth. Sadly, all three men died, leaving only the widow Naomi and her two foreign daughters-in-law. No husbands, no children – a very bad state for women to be living in during ancient times. So, Naomi and Ruth decided to return to Bethlehem.

When they arrived, Naomi was very discouraged. Her situation had been one of famine, barrenness, death, isolation, hopelessness, and feeling that God was against her. Indeed, she and Ruth were in a pretty dire situation, a situation beyond their control.

But God knew situations like this could easily happen in these harsh ancient times. So, God had made laws in ancient Israel that would protect people who found themselves in such distreee. Two ancient laws of Israel come into sharp focus – the law of land redemption and the law dealing with the remarriage of a childless widow.

The law of land redemption was designed to help people who had become very poor, so poor that they had to sell their land. Israel was an agricultural society and once you sold your land, you had no way to provide for your family. So, the law of land redemption said that your nearest relative (who was called the “redeemer”) should buy the land (with what was called a “ransom price”) from you so that the land would stay in the family. Then, another law in Israel commanded that every 50 years, all land should revert back to the original owners.

But, there was one catch. Your nearest relative didn’t have to buy the land from you. Buying your land wasn’t a good financial deal for a relative – he would lose money in the process. So, not only did you have to have a wealthy relative, you had to have a wealthy relative who loved you enough to buy the land from you!

The second law prominent in the book of Ruth is the law of the remarriage of a childless widow. This remarriage law also dealt with land – a very important commodity in ancient Israel.

You had to have a son to pass your land inheritance on to, and if a husband died, and had no son, his place in Israel’s nation would cease to exist. So, the remarriage law said that the dead man’s brother (the “redeemer”) should marry his brother’s widow. When he married her, his job was to have a son through her, and that son would have his dead brother’s name and land.

This was a very costly thing for a brother to do! He not only had to provide for his brother’s widow and a son, but that son was not even his. This jeopardized his own inheritance, as there was no guarantee that he would have another son to pass his inheritance onto.

Again, there was a catch – the husband’s brother didn’t have to marry the woman. He had to love her enough to put himself at that great of a risk.

So, this is what redemption meant to the Israelite – the redeemer has to be able to pay the price of redemption and love the distressed person who needs redeeming. The redeemed person was in a situation beyond his or her control, and had a debt which he or she could not pay. Thus, the redemption process was very costly for the redeemer and a very good deal for the redeemed person.

Ruth eventually met Boaz, a relative who loved Ruth and was willing to take on the enormous risk to fulfill his obligations toward her. And Ruth had a son – a son who later became the grandfather of the great King David, through whom Christ descended.

Thus, we see the difference redemption makes in a person’s life – because of redemption, Ruth and Naomi came from famine into plenty, from barrenness into fruitfulness, from death into life, from isolation into community, hopelessness into hopefulness, from God being seemingly against them to God clearly being for them.

The New Testament picks up on this concept of redemption in profound ways. We find out that God is our redeemer and that two aspects of our redemption are emphasized.

First, there is severe bondage. Jesus told the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34). Paul claims, “For all have sinned . . . The wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23, 6:23). Paul later notes that natural man is “sold into bondage to sin (Romans 7:14). Finally, Colossians 1:13-14 says, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” These verses show we are in severe bondage that has dire consequences. It is a bondage from which only a divine redeemer could rescue us.

Second, there is immense cost. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life, a ransom for many.” Notice also Ephesians 1:7 – “In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace . . .”

Without question, the cost associated with redeeming sinful mankind is immense – it cost the Son of God his life. So what difference does this mean for us?

Consider how Ruth likely behaved toward her redeemer, Boaz. It is hardly conceivable that she didn’t love him, that she didn’t seek to please him after all that he had done for her. That is the nature of redemption – the redeemed person has great love and respect for the redeemer who loved and cared for him.

The New Testament says that our redemption in Christ should motivate us to please him. Because Christ has redeemed us, we are motivated to live lives pleasing to him – not because he forces us, but because we want to respond to the fact that we were redeemed from the severe bondage of sin through the immense cost of his blood.

Christ is our Redeemer. Are we responding to him with the great love and respect that is his due?


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