Romans (Part 43) – Atonement Part 4 (13:11)
Ruth is the Bible’s extended metaphor for the idea of the Kinsman Redeemer, and the Kinsman Redeemer, of course, in the actual sense for world restoration is Christ. Therefore, in this metaphor we see each of the characters symbolizing the various players in the overall redemptive history of the world. (Of course, the story of Ruth is actual history, but God so coordinates the story’s affairs to serve as a metaphor for the redemption to be won through Christ.)
We did discuss this story previously in our Revelation series. However, let’s review several elements. First, let’s remind ourselves of the characters and whom they represent:
Elimelech’s clan = God
Elimelech = Adam
Naomi = Israel
Orpah = Gentile non-God believers
Ruth = Gentile followers of God
Boaz = Christ (Kinsman Redeemer)
Relative of Elimelech’s clan (of God)
Relative of Naomi/Ruth (of humanity)
The story begins with Elimelech deciding to leave his clan because of drought in the area. He sells his land and takes off for Moab. With symbolic reference we see that Elimelech foregoes trust in God just as Adam did, sells his land just as Adam sold his physical essence to the curse of sin, and sought security in land elsewhere just as Adam sought truth, goodness, and beauty in creation apart from God. The immediate result for Elimelech is that he dies, just as the result of Adam’s sin was death. And not only do we see Elimelech’s death, but we see the pattern that is formed. Elimelech’s sons, Mahlon and Chilion, who also pursue a non-clan (away-from-God) life in order to obtain their own TGB, die as well. Their deaths indicate sin’s curse of death affecting all pursuit away from God.
Now because of all this death in the wrong pursuit, Naomi and Ruth (and Orpah) have trouble, also picturing the troubles on this earth for all humankind as a result of sin and especially as a result of the curse of death. Now, Naomi (Israel) wants to return to God. We see that in Israel’s decision to leave Egypt to pursue God back in the Promised Land. Orpah (non-believing Gentiles) goes off to her people, just as the world mostly did. But Ruth wants to join up with Naomi to follow her God in her land. Remember that at Sinai, Israel was told to be a nation of priests. They were to represent God to the world so that the world could turn to God. And that’s the picture we see because some Gentiles did give up their own lands and nations to join with Israel in the pursuit of God.
As Naomi and Ruth arrive back in the land, they actually have no place of their own, no inheritance, and therefore no way to make a living. Ruth goes to glean from the fields and finds Boaz who offers her care. We can view this as Christ offering care to Gentiles who are seeking help, such as in the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:25–28 who kneels before Jesus and asks for help for her daughter. Jesus says it isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs, but the woman answers that even dogs can eat the crumbs. And Jesus, impressed with her faith, helps her.
And this idea leads to the understanding also of the next scene. Naomi, who, though related to Boaz, has no inheritance of her own, urges Ruth to go to Boaz to make a way for her through the kinsman redeemer process. This story is a metaphor, so all details don’t always align perfectly, but I think we can see something happening here that relates to Paul’s discussion in Romans 11. There Paul argues that Israel’s stumbling made a way for the Gentiles to come to Christ (11:11). Though Naomi’s attitude doesn’t seem the same as Israel’s who took Jesus to the cross, there still is a picture of Israel pointing the Gentiles to the redeemer.
Ruth therefore goes to the sleeping Boaz, uncovers his feet and lies down. Despite the Bible fault pickers’ desire to find sexual tension in this scene, there is none. Ruth uncovers his feet so he’ll get cold and wake up to notice her there. When he does wake up, she explains who she is and asks for him to spread his cloak over her, saying he is a family redeemer. Boaz immediately understands the situation. She is asking for care with the covering of the cloak. Some people try to make the cloak have some significance as a recognized sign with the family’s insignia on the hem, but I really don’t think that is it. Ruth is asking for immediate care (covering from the cold) but links it to the more permanent care of redeeming. Boaz responds by promising her redemption. Just so does Christ promise redemption to Gentiles who express faith in him.
With the opening of chapter 4, Boaz makes his way to the city gate—the place of judgment—to work out a deal for the redemption. He talks to the other who is a closer family relation, but that person doesn’t want to put his inheritance at risk and therefore passes on becoming the redeemer. One purpose of the scene, I believe, is to show that there is no one else besides Boaz who can redeem, just as there is no one besides Christ who can truly redeem.
Boaz redeems, Ruth becomes his bride, and then Naomi comes back into the picture with the seal of her inheritance through the child that is born to Boaz and Ruth. And that securing of inheritance for Naomi reflects what Paul says in Romans 11:25–26 regarding all Israel will be saved as the full number of Gentiles is realized.
So, we all understand that the book of Ruth provides details about redemption. In the story, we see the initiating event that takes place, establishing the loss or the giving up of something. We see the need for redemption—for gaining back. The desire and longing for redemption are presented. And then the way of redemption is presented with the Kinsman Redeemer. We find out the requirements or qualifications of the Kinsman Redeemer and also his own passion and desire. We learn that redemption is not of the person but of the land, although it involves the person, which is actually the point for the redemption. (In other words, Boaz would not have been so interested in redeeming had it not been for the sake of Ruth herself.) So, while redemption is about the land, redemption’s focus is on the person. Finally, we see the glory of redemption accomplished with its restored relationship and benefits. So, the Ruth story gives a complete picture of redemption . . . or does it?
Where in Ruth do we actually see redemption take place? The need is there; the desire for it is there; the way is made clear, but . . . where in Ruth do we see the actual transaction take place? The fact is we don’t. The actual transaction for redemption—the actual action accomplishing redemption—is not recorded. It occurs sometime in chapter 4 between verses 12 and 13, but not a word about that transaction is mentioned. Why do you suppose that is? Why would God leave the redemption itself out of the only book that provides the extended metaphor of Christ as the Kinsman Redeemer?
I think the reason it is missing is that it would tend to overshadow the main focus of what the book is teaching. Notice that the initial transaction—the original sale by Elimelech of the land—is also not recorded in Ruth, just as the purchase back is not recorded. With the transactions assumed—but not described—we should understand that the story’s construct is telling us those elements are not the main focus of the story. Both cause(the original sale) and final result(the transaction to buy back) are tucked away so that the story can highlight what gets us from cause to final result: the solutionof qualifying a kinsman redeemer. And in the overall redemption story of humankind, it is that qualifying solution that is also the focus: the qualification for Jesus to become kinsman redeemer by means of his sinless life, offer of death, and perfect resurrection.
One other important aspect from Ruth exists that we should discuss before leaving the book. That aspect is the motivation that carries the story along. We see the desire for redemption that motivates Naomi and Ruth (Israel and Gentile believers), and we see the desire to redeem that motivates Boaz to become qualified and then redeem. In the greater story of humanity that the book of Ruth depicts, humankind’s motivation is manifest in repentance and faith (an inseparable duo in the reconciliation process). And God and Christ’s desire is shown in forgiveness. Thus, redemption and forgiveness play entwining roles in the reconciliation activity of God.
So let’s examine these two, redemption and forgiveness, a bit more. First, and actually as we saw in Ruth, redemption itself concentrates on the land or possessions. There are a couple of Hebrew words in the OT translated as redemption, but they both mean pretty much the same thing. One stresses rescue and avenging a little more while the other speaks of delivering and even paying the price for the deliverance. Half the uses of the words refer to land, animals, and other possessions that are being redeemed, but the other half refer to people, whether speaking of the release of slaves or providing revenge for the people or ensuring their safety. So even with regard to the people, the focus rests on the physical—safety of physical life and for the physical life’s rescue. That element is important because it is a consistent biblical element even as we shift to the New Testament.
In Ephesians 1:7, we read of having redemption in Christ through his blood. But is Paul here speaking of spiritual or bodily redemption? If we have the redemption now, then certainly he is talking about redemption of spirit since our bodies still exist in their corrupt form. But Paul clears his intention a bit as he continues. A few verses later, Paul, speaking of the Holy Spirit, says, “He is the down paymentof our inheritance, forthe redemption of the possession” (14). The implication is much clearer that the redemption is still to come and thus refers to the body. Even more sure is Paul’s later statement in 4:30: “And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by him for the day of redemption.” The down payment and sealing come as assurance of the redemption that is yet to be realized at Christ’s return. And we know that it is then when we will receive our new, uncorrupted bodies—our refined physical essence—our redemption (Romans 8:19–23; 1 Cor 15:50–52). Of course, even though understanding that the redemption will be fully realized only on Christ’s return, we may still sing the hymn: “Since I have beenredeemed!” just as Ruth could take comfort in Boaz’s promise even though the transaction had not yet been finalized.
Importantly, it is God’s forgiveness that drives redemption. Forgiveness means to pardon or to spare. Forgiveness is cancellation of an unpaid debt. We see elements of forgiveness in the Old Testament—in the time prior to Christ’s atonement. We hear sung of God: “You took away Your people’s guilt; You covered all their sin” (Ps 85:2). And almost as a continuation of this thought, David cries out, “How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ps 32:1). That makes us sit up and take notice because David and the sons of Korah are speaking of forgiveness as though it has already occurred, and they were definitely saying this before Christ came to accomplish his atonement, making the way back to God.
Further, we read in Leviticus 19:22, “The priest will make atonement on his [a sinner’s] behalf . . . with the ram . . . and he will be forgiven.” What? Doesn’t Priscilla say in Hebrews 10:4, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”? Even Jesus tells people on a couple of occasions, “Your sins are forgiven” (Mt 9:2; Lk 7:48), even though he had yet to go to the cross. It would seem from these statements then that forgiveness could exist before (and apart from?) Christ’s atonement. But just as we start to rest in that thought, along comes Paul in 1 Cor 15:17 to counter that thought: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” So what’s going on? Is Paul right and those other Scripture writers and speakers (including Jesus) wrong?
The complexity of sin’s hold and the equal complexity of God’s forgiveness force us to work a little harder to understand forgiveness. And yet the task is not daunting. Paul’s statement that Christ’s resurrection is necessary for being rid of sins tells us that some obstacle had to be removed for forgiveness to be completed (and thus, in fact, the removal of the obstacle is part of the forgiveness process). When we look back to those OT forgiveness examples, we should not consider them as fully developed reconciliation principles. The point of God’s progressive revelation throughout history has been to teach us of himself. Those examples—or lesson illustrations—in the OT were meant to teach us about forgiveness, not merely to establish the doctrinally complete theology of forgiveness. We see in each case an example of persons who had relationship with God; who sinned, causing God to withdraw his TGB; and who repented. Because of the repentance we see God’s forgiveness come in pardoning, cancelling the debt, removing obstacles, and restoring relationship. That is what those examples are meant to teach us, and that mirrors perfectly the first relationship, sin, repentance/faith, and forgiveness of the metanarrative for human reconciliation with God. And that part of the forgiveness of God—removing the obstacles—comes through the cross.
Forgiveness, we can see, is then a complex process in its actuation. And one of its most intriguing aspects is in its motivating force. In Ruth, forgiveness was depicted as Boaz’s desire and activity in qualifying to be kinsman redeemer. And that is precisely how it should be thought of in regard to our great reconciliation story through Christ. The desire to forgive is depicted in God and Christ’s motivation in overcoming the obstacle of sin. Thus, in effect, the actual forgiveness isthe payment for redemption. God pays his forgiveness to secure redemption of his creation. Often we hear that the payment for redemption is Christ’s life in death. But that is not the trade-off. Christ’s death is certainly the means by which the obstacle is removed, but it is not the payment. For example, if I were to purchase a plot of land, I would owe the payment to the seller. The payment is money. I would give the seller the money by means ofa check or a bank note or a credit card or a wire transfer or some other means. But the payment is money. In God’s purchased redemption, the payment to redeem is his forgiveness. He forgives by means ofthe cross.
From what we’ve discussed already, we can see the several aspects of forgiveness we need to bear in mind as we relate it to the atonement. We have talked of the definition of forgiveness, that it applies as payment for redemption, that the means to forgiveness is by the cross, and that the result of forgiveness is restored relationship. To help keep those ideas in mind, I’ll list them in chart form:
Definition: To pardon; to cancel an unpaid debt; to remove relationship obstacles
Application: Payment for redemption
Means: By the cross
Result: Restored relationship
Not keeping these four elements in mind is what leads to so many theories, so much misapplication, and therefore so much misunderstanding. For example, let’s briefly look at the most commonly held atonement idea today: penal substitution. The penal substitution (PS) theory sees Jesus as having paid (fulfilled) the penalty (debt) of our sin on the cross, resulting in removal of the debt, thus, restoring our relationship with God. As we look back at our four elements of forgiveness, we find the result matches well—restored relationship. It is also accomplished by means of the cross. But where we see PS breakdown is in its understanding of application. PS does not see forgiveness as the payment for redemption but rather PS understands death to be the payment as the required consequence of sin. Why that is so important—and so wrong—is actually for two reasons.
The first reason it is wrong is that if death is both the penalty for sin and the payment for redemption, we have to redefine forgiveness from “cancellation of an unpaid debt” to “payment of a debt.” Imagine a creditor telling you, “Good news! I’ve decided to forgive you!” You say, “Wonderful! I no longer owe my debt!” And the creditor says, “Well, you still owe your debt. I’m just forgiving you.” You would be confused. You would find his statement incoherent. And you would do so because payment is the cancellationof an unpaid debt. Forgiveness does not entail a requirement to still pay. But you neither feel forgiven nor understand what all that was about.
But the second reason PS is wrong is that it actually degrades the justice of God, not satisfies it as the PS proponents argue. Here’s the question: if death, not forgiveness, is the payment for redemption and Jesus is buying redemption with his death, why does he get his life back? What is justabout God resurrecting Jesus? If I am obligated for my sin, and I die physically, my spirit is forever obligated.
Let’s pause here for just a moment to be sure we understand the purpose for physical death. We know what spiritual death is: it is the everlasting separation from God for refusal to have life—to have relationship with God based on his TGB. If we refuse relationship with God on that basis, God forever withdraws from us, leaving us withoutany TGB and thus withutter destruction. But in the time of this earth, as God works his redemption, revealing and drawing all people to himself, we have physical death occurring. For the non-Christian—the one who refuses to have relationship with God based on God’s TGB—physical death marks the end of God’s revelatory and drawing activity for that person. That person’s spirit (still somehow tied to this corrupt earth) forever has the guilt of sin as part of who he or she is, which ultimately will end in spiritual death. So that is what physical death is—the end of God’s working with an individual through revelation to draw that person to faith, hope, and love.
Okay, then, back to the question. Why is Jesus resurrected? What is justabout God resurrecting Jesus? As I just explained, when I die with the burden of my sin on me, that is the end of God dealing with me—I am separated from God forever. (I am technically waiting for the final judgment, but there is nothing any longer that will move me from that path of destruction.) PS proponents say that Jesus took my sin upon himself, becoming burdened with it in obligation to pay for it with his death. So, to restate my question, if he has the same sin obligation on him that I had on me, why does God raise him from the dead but won’t raise me? Where’s the justice in that?
Our first impulse is to say that, well, Jesus is God. He has the power to raise himself from the dead! But there are two problems with considering that answer adequate. First, Jesus with the obligation of my sin on him is acting as my representative. To be my representative is why he became human. So Jesus the human has sin obligation on him, and Jesus the human dies physically. What justification allows Jesus the human to rise from the dead with my sin obligation on him, when I as a human cannot rise from the dead with my sin obligation on me?
Second, if it is simply the matter of him having the power to rise from the dead since he is God, why does he exercise that God power to raise himself but won’t exercise that same God power to raise me? However, we look at it, there is no justification for ignoring the justice of eternal death if someone physically dies with the obligation of sin placed upon that person. PS will just not work on this point.
Of course, when most anti-PS proponents point out the difficulties of PS (especially in regard to forgiveness being the cancellation of a debt), they so argue against the cross being payment that they totally lose meaning for why Jesus went to the cross. It becomes watered down as in the Moral Influence theory or even the Governmental theory. Actually, the Christus Victor idea doesn’t really fare better because although their proponents insist that Christ defeats sin and death on the cross, they don’t (can’t?) explain exactly how.
The point is that God’s forgiveness, by means of the cross, must include the removal of obstacles that impede relationship. If someone with a tumor in his brain attacked me in some way because that tumor distorted his thinking, I would be wronged. If that person, when that tumor was not adversely influencing him, came to me and begged forgiveness, I may be able to say, “Okay, I will,” but that does not restore relationship. That tumor may prompt the person at any moment to pick up a knife and try to slice my heart out. And I’m thinking that would be an impediment to our relationship. For relationship to be restored, the obstacle to the relationship would have to be removed. The tumor would have to come out.
Remember, the curse that infected Adam was set on his essence, physical creation. It seems like a black hole—a tumor devoid of God—intent, as a cancer is, on infecting all else around it. I think this view of the curse (or original sin) better indicates to us what the curse actually is. It is not just that we sin—that we do things wrong (that are not on God’s list of the right things to do), and the consequence then is that we owe a debt and someone has to pay, and Jesus, the hero, steps up to say he’ll pay for us so we don’t have to, making everything right with our creditor God. It is not simply taking punishment for a wrong incurred. The tumor is still there! The cancer will continue to eat. It is also not that Jesus simply paid for the guilt of all sin so that we already are happily forgiven for every evil the cancer adds to its growing blackness. We must be rescued from the tumor! We must have the cancer out! Christ, the redeeming surgeon, must remove the festering mass. It is not just individual sin offense to God’s honor (Anselm’s Satisfaction) or to his justice (Reformers’ Penal Substitution) that keeps us from God. It is not as if we are given some standard list of good to measure up to, and we just can’t on our own, so Jesus came to help us attain good marks by keeping the list. It is our cancer-inflicted and infected essence that will not allow satisfied relationship with God. There is a bile-filled tumor growing in us. Who will free us from this death?!
And that idea is the very struggle that is going on in Paul’s outcry of Romans 7. He is the voice of the everyman—particularly those who recognize the situation, do not want to accept it, and want rescue from God. It is the curse of sin on his essence, he realizes, that distorts everything. Read it (verse 14 to the end), substituting the idea of a cancerous tumor for sin:
"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am made out of flesh, corrupted with this tumor of death. For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is this tumorliving in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil from this tumor’s corrupting influencethat I do not want to do. Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is thistumorthat lives in me. So I discover this principle: When I want to do what is good, this corrupting tumoris with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner by thistumorin my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this cancer-filleddying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my tumor-filledflesh, to the law of sin."
God reveals himself to us (Romans 1:20). And because of our image-bearing qualities, we can recognize God and respond. But our response doesn’t save. We cannot overcome the curse of sin—the death of our essence, entrapping our spirits and dragging us to an eternity apart from God. But God through Christ rescued us. He came to defeat the curse, to remove the tumor, to free us from this death coil spun tightly about us. And through his rescuing, we are pardoned andrestored. We are forgiven! And we are redeemed!