Definitions and Stories, Redemption and Incarnation (Ruth 4)

“What I have found over the years is that the effort to define things, at the beginning, almost always reveals that what we thought we were dealing with is merely the tip of an iceberg.” —John Piper, Living in the Light

“A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story.” —Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners

“You see, that what we are doing today as we look out upon our current religious modes of speech, is assisting at the death bed of a word. It is sad to witness the death of any worthy thing, —even of a worthy word. And worthy words do die, like any other worthy thing—if we do not take good care of them. How many worthy words have already died under our very eyes, because we did not take care of them!” —B.B. Warfield, “Redeemer” and “Redemption”

“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” —C.S. Lewis

I believe there are two central places in the Old Testament where “redemption” isn’t simply defined, but made real. It’s the difference between reading a definition and experiencing the reality. It’s one thing to read what baklava is, another to taste it. Stories can take us higher than definitions up to the very cusp of experience. The law’s definitions of redemption are true and nourishing, but there are two narratives that make redemption walk before us. The definitions themselves are enmeshed in one of the narratives and help make sense of the other. The stories are the exodus and Ruth.

Each story has unique elements. In the exodus, God redeems His people with a mighty arm, with wonders of judgment, and with the blood of the Passover lamb. He redeems them out of slavery to the promised land. In Ruth, Boaz, acting as a kinsman redeemer, restores land, a widow, and a name. These things were precious because of God’s redemption in the exodus. Every slap of the foot on the dirt of your inheritance given you by God was a sign of the covenant. Boaz, at cost to himself, in covenant love, redeems these things that had been lost.

Some are shy to say Boaz is a type of Christ. Even if you are cautious, do you think all those laws about the kinsman redeemer were simply utilitarian? Boaz is a type of Christ for the same reason Josiah is. Josiah was a king. Boaz is a kinsman redeemer. Jesus is the King. Jesus is the kinsman redeemer.

I think this is the unique element Ruth adds to our picture of redemption. The Redeemer must be a kinsman. He must be one of us. If there is to be redemption, there must be incarnation. Jesus became the Second Adam so as to create a new humanity in Him. He is our elder Brother, who paid the redemption price to reconcile us to the Father. Jesus took on flesh so that He might have representative union with His bride. Our debts became His. His wealth became ours. He took our sins. He gave us His righteousness. But to make this payment, He must take on flesh. To make this payment, He must also be God. Exodus tells us God redeems by blood. Ruth tells us that the blood will be that of the Son made flesh.

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