Only A Suitable Redeemer Will Do
One of the most startling pieces of information that we are given in relation to Jesus is the fact that he was made like us. Jesus’ redemptive work on behalf of humanity was deeply connected to his own humanity. Although he was born “the Son of God“, and radiant with His Father’s glory, he participated in every way in all the experiences of what it means to be human. His ability to sympathise with us and to reconcile on our behalf springs from a complete understanding of what it is like to be human; with all our doubts, fears, temptations and failures. He understood humans because he was human.
“For this reason he (Jesus) had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” – Hebrews 2:17, NIV
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.” – Hebrews 4:15, NIV
These remarkable concepts of atonement, redeeming and redemption were subtly foreshadowed many times throughout Old Testament stories; one such example is the well known tale of Joseph of the multi-coloured coat and his descent into slavery at the hands of his brothers.
However, the law of the kinsman or the kinsmen redeemer had been written into the weave of Israeli life from very early times, clearly foretelling what Jesus’ work was to be and how it was to be accomplished. We find the narrative of the redeemer and the redeemed poignantly depicted in the story of Ruth
A Story Of Redemptive Love
The story of Ruth, the inconsequential outsider, is one of joy and heartbreak, desolation and hope. Ruth, of all people, was an unlikely heroine. Not only was she a woman, in a time when women were of minor importance, she was also a widow, poor and foreign and would have been considered an outsider to any true-born Israelite. Yet the conclusion of this seemingly insignificant tale brings us to the interesting discovery that Ruth eventually became an incredibly significant and vital part of God’s plan of salvation for the world – she was an ancestor of Jesus Christ.
Ruth’s story powerfully underscores the importance of love’s redeeming power to transform lives. (You can read more about it here.)
Yet hidden within the narrative lies a deeper significance; a story within a story, that has remarkable bearing on the work and purpose of Jesus himself. Hidden, in plain sight, is the way in which God intended to save the world, through His Son.
‘The Nearest Kinsman Redeemer’
The book of Ruth is set during the time of Israel’s history known as ‘the Judges’ (circa 1220 – 1050 B.C.). It was a period of religious and moral decline, frequent foreign oppression and national disunity. The people of Israel were often at the mercy of enemies from without and discord from within. Yet although it was a time of great instability, certain laws and customs helped to form an integral part of Israelite society. Many of these laws can still be found throughout the Old Testament, in the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
One law, in particular, was known as the law of the nearest kinsman or the kinsmen redeemer. The kinsman-redeemer was a male relative who, according to various laws of the Pentateuch, was responsible to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need. The Hebrew term for kinsman-redeemer (go el) designates one who delivers or rescues, either property or person. The redeemer had to be related to the person being redeemed and could not be a stranger.
The kinsman-redeemer or guardian-redeemer was the proper legal term for the nearest male kinsman who was able to redeem or vindicate a relative (Leviticus 25:25-55).
“If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.” – Leviticus 25:25, ESV
“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. – Deuteronomy 25:5, ESV
“If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him.” – Leviticus 25:47-49, ESV
While these laws may seem strange and somewhat archaic to us in the 21st century, they were instituted to protect the impoverished or marginalised members of society who might otherwise suffer permanent loss of life, freedom or property.
The Law Cannot Redeem
Ruth appealed to a wealthy landowner and relative of her mother-in-law, named Boaz, who was eligible to undertake the rights and responsibilities of the nearest kinsman. Boaz immediately tells Ruth he is willing to redeem her, however there was a kinsman nearer than himself. If this kinsman could not, or would not, then Boaz promises Ruth he will certainly redeem her.
“And now do not be afraid, my daughter. I will do for you whatever you request, since all my fellow townspeople know that you are a woman of noble character. Yes, it is true that I am a kinsman-redeemer, but there is a redeemer nearer than I. Stay here tonight, and in the morning, if he wants to redeem you, good. Let him redeem you. But if he does not want to redeem you, as surely as the LORD lives, I will. Now lie here until morning.” – Ruth 3:11-13, BSB
Boaz’s conversation with the nearer kinsman soon makes it clear that this kinsman cannot redeem Ruth. He offers Boaz this right of redemption, which Boaz accepts.
“Take my right of redemption, because I cannot redeem it…At this, Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I am buying from Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech, Chilion, and Mahlon. Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, to raise up the name of the deceased through his inheritance, so that his name will not disappear from among his brothers or from the gate of his home. You are witnesses today..” – Ruth 4:6, 9, BSB
The nearer kinsman in this narrative represents the Law of Moses, under which Israel was governed. Instituted soon after the Israelites had migrated from Egypt, an event also known as ‘The Exodus’, this law remained in place until Jesus’ time and still forms a central part of Judaism today. Yet, while the Law came first, prior to Jesus, and imposed many values of morality and justice, ultimately it could never put a man or a woman right with God. It was unable to redeem.
“The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent His own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving His Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” – Romans 8:3, NLT
No amount of doing good or attempts at obedience can remove the stain of sin from a person’s life. All believers must come to understand that obeying God’s laws cannot produce the righteousness needed for salvation. It is only dependence on God, in faith, to put things right, that makes it possible to be ‘right with God‘.
The law was only a shadow of better things to come; acting as a guardian until all humanity could come to understand their need of a Saviour.
Jesus’ Humanity Was Crucial To Redemption
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil.” – Hebrews 2:14, NIV
Only a human could break the power of sin and death which had gripped humanity in a stranglehold for over 4000 years. Only the kinsman-redeemer could redeem.
Yet no ordinary human could possibly have achieved this remarkable feat. God, in His infinite love, did not leave anything to chance, causing His Son to be born, with the mind and character of Himself, the exact representation of His being and radiant with His glory (Hebrew 1:3), yet flesh and blood like us. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, Jesus became Emmanuel, “God-With-Us“, strengthened in will and purpose and redeemer of the world.
Only A Suitable Redeemer Will Do
Jesus was human and ‘our brother’ in every way, made like this so He could be a suitable redeemer.
He fulfilled the essential requirements of being made ‘like his brethren”, human in every respect necessary, so that he could conquer sin and death for all those who shared in his same humanity.
Only in this way, being completely mortal and subject to pain and death, could it be said of Jesus that “he must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to [the Jews] and to the Gentiles“, thereby giving the rest of humanity hope of also escaping the finality of mortality and death.