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“Redeemed” is a strange word – so what does it mean?

January 9, 2013

If you were asked, could you explain to someone what it means when we say we are “redeemed” or we have a “saviour”? These sort of words slip easily off the tongue, but sometimes it’s good to reflect on where they come from.

When I first read the Book of Ruth it was a revelation to me, because suddenly things made a whole lot more sense….. 

INTRODUCTION I wrote these notes in preparation for a talk I gave to South Aston United Reformed Church in Birmingham at the beginning of this week. I chair a charity for asylum seekers and refugees called Restore (, and we certainly need to raise more funds to continue our charitable work, so one of the things I’m doing is publicising the work of Restore in churches across the City.


The Book of Ruth tells how a Jewish couple and their two young sons from Bethlehem were forced by famine to leave their own country and seek refuge in a foreign country, finally settling in the highlands of the neighbouring pagan country called Moab. The father of the family then died, leaving his widow Naomi to bring up their two boys in that foreign country. Eventually sons married local, Moabite women. Marrying outside their faith like this was not allowed under the Jewish laws – so this means that Naomi’s sons were showing signs of abandoning the true God. But then, tragedy struck again, because both sons then died, leaving Naomi living with her two widowed daughters-in-law. As you can see, after leaving Bethlehem to live in the land of Moab, Naomi’s life had become pretty dreadful. So she decided to return to her roots – although she wanted her daughters-in-law to stay behind in their own country of Moab so that they could be looked after by their own Moabite families and return to their traditional worship of pagan gods. But the one daughter-in-law, Ruth, refused. She insisted on staying with her mother-in-law, because she was loyal to her, and did not want to return to pagan worship. So Naomi returned to Bethlehem with Ruth.


When she arrived back in her home town, Naomi, asked people not to call her Naomi any more. The name Naomi means something like ‘my joy in the Lord’; she said, call me  ‘Mara’ –  which means ‘bitter’.


Why was she bitter? Well, not least, because of her difficult life away in a foreign country, but also because she was now an ageing widow herself, with the burden of a foreign daughter-in-law Ruth living with her; Naomi was past child-bearing and unlikely to re-marry, and Ruth’s prospects of being saved from a life of loneliness and poverty through finding a new husband were also pretty slim, because, although her name suggests she was quite attractive, there was no getting away from the fact that she was a foreigner.


What you need to understand is that in those days the Jewish tradition, when a woman was widowed, her dead husband’s brother would be expected to marry her, to save her from shame and poverty. The widow’s brother-in-law would be said to have ‘redeemed her’, paying off her debts and looking after her, saving her from the misery of a long widowhood. It is from these traditions that we have been passed the idea of ‘being redeemed’ by someone who is ‘our saviour’. But, as I say, with Ruth being a foreigner, all this this seemed very unlikely.


Yet actually, things improved considerably for Naomi and Ruth, because a man called Boaz fell in love with Ruth. And joy of joys, this man was a family relative! Although he wasn’t the closest man in line expected to marry Ruth, he negotiated with the family, and they agreed that he could marry Boaz – in the process becoming Ruth’s saving redeemer.


This story foreshadows Judaism being changed, through an act of love, in a way that allowed it to be opened up to the whole world, not just the Jews. And through Christianity, the Jewish people embraced gentiles, just like Ruth, so that everyone is spiritually eligible for God’s loving redemption and salvation.


And here is also a direct link between Ruth’s redemption and our own redemption, which we receive through our savior, Jesus Christ. Ruth and Boaz got married and went on to have a son called Obed. And Obed had a son called Jesse. Can you see where I’m going?

Jesse was the father of a shepherd boy, called David, who went on to become a great King of Israel. And our saviour Jesus Christ, from Bethlehem, is descended from King David of Bethlehem, who was the great-grandson of the foreign asylum seeker in Bethlehem called Ruth. Wow – one of Jesus Christ’s ancestors was a foreign pagan. Hope of redemption came to us all by a pagan, foreign woman being made welcome, being saved, being restored, by God-fearing Jews in Bethlehem.

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