Friday, November 07, 2008

The house of him that hath his shoe loosed (Ruth 4)

So Boaz goes to the gate of the city and waits. The purpose is twofold: he's expecting the nearer kinsman to come through the gate eventually, and in that location, the elders of the city will be present to act as witnesses to whatever comes to pass. (Important men of the city in those days tended to sit by the city gate and talk about civic matters.) The man comes along and Boaz flags him down.

Boaz informs the man that Naomi has returned, and a goel is needed to buy back her sold land. Boaz tells this man that he is willing to do it, but this man has first right to it. The man agrees to buy the field. Boaz points out that along with the field, the goel has to marry Ruth, a Moabite woman, and give her children. The kinsman doesn't like the sound of this, and refuses, giving his shoe to Boaz in apparent accordance with Deuteronomy 25:10.

This is exactly what Boaz wanted, and he declares to all assembled that he is buying the land back, paying off the debt of Elimelech, Naomi and Ruth, and marrying Ruth in order that he might reestablish the inheritance of Elimelech. The people pronounce blessings on Boaz, both a straightforward one ("The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel.") and a very strange one ("And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah"). This second blessing is odd, because it's a reference to what is probably one of the more shameful chapters in Israel's early history, but most likely, the reason for the blessing was twofold: First, Boaz and perhaps several others there were descendants of Pharez, and so it might be fitting to remember not just the founding of the tribes of Israel, but the founding of their own tribe within the nation. Secondly, there is an interesting similarity between the two stories, both involving a non-Israelite woman whose first husband died and had to be given a son by the second-closest living relative.

The story closes with a genealogy from Pharez to David through Obed, the son of Ruth, reminding us that despite the fact that Jewish men to the present pray daily thanks to God that they are Jews and not gentiles, men and not women, and free and not slaves, it was the work of a gentile woman under the enslavement of a debt that led to the establishment of Israel's greatest dynasty.

Allegorically, who is this nearer kinsman? Well, if we're taking a Christian approach to this, who had the first chance to redeem the nation of Israel, but was not able to do so? This first kinsman may represent the Mosaic Law, which does not have the ability to redeem, but has to be given the first opportunity to at least make an attempt. In the end, though, there was a need for a redeemer who was willing to give up everything to redeem. (Admittedly, this part of the allegory is a bit murky.)

Is there significance to the shoe thing? I think so. It's actually quite surprising how many times in the Bible there is talk of the removing of shoes at significant transitional points in history. Most people remember that Moses was asked to remove his shoes when he approached the burning bush (Exodus 3:5), but the point I like the best is a point from the New Testament that actually appears in all four Gospels:
Matthew 3:11 "he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear:"
Mark 1:7 "There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose."
Luke 3:16 "one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose"
John 1:27 "He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose."
Why would John the Baptist be so concerned with Jesus' shoes? As we have seen, removing another person's shoes is symbolic of that person having failed to perform an important duty to you. I believe John is saying there is no portion of the Law that Jesus will fail to fulfill, and His redemption will be complete.

What is it in the allegory that is really being redeemed, though? Well, in the days of ancient Israel, when the land was sold, the title was written on a trust deed scroll which was sealed until someone should come to redeem it. Since it was sealed, information had to be written on the outside of the scroll so that people could remember what was inside it, and who had the right to open it. Because of the nature of scrolls, this was one of the few times that a scroll would be written on both sides. Suggestive?
And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? (Revelation 5:1,2)
It has been suggested by some scholars of Apocalyptic literature that this "book" (a scroll), which by its format is clearly some sort of trust deed, may in fact be the trust deed to the earth, which in some esoteric manner was sold by Adam to Satan. Whatever the nature of the transaction that led to the earth being sold and needing to be redeemed, it does seem clear that Satan owns the land for the time being, as he offered to give it to Christ during His temptation in the wilderness. If the world were not Satan's to give, why would it be a temptation to offer it? But to get it the wrong way? That simply wouldn't do. Christ paid the full price for the earth with His blood on the cross, and in so doing redeemed us all from the debt that our ancestors left to us. Not out of a sense of power or acquisition, for He had all that He needed already, but out of a deep love that the love between a man and his new bride, however powerful that may be, can only be a mere shadow thereof.

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