(This continues in our “Theology of Travel” series, which you can see using the top toolbar)
In recent weeks I’ve spent time with some of those more fortunate to come to Ireland as Syrian migrants through the government systems. They didn’t risk life and limb to cross oceans in tiny inflatables, but they have just watched their cities being destroyed bit by bit in a mass genocide that has probably scarred several generations mentally, emotionally, physically. And so they travelled…
Sitting there trying not to let their migrant status mean I treat them as sub-human in a one way relationship, my mind wandered to a story of economic migrants of old.
A famine happens in ancient Israel and Judah, and some of them leave for Moab to find food. It’s a time where everyone was doing right in their own eyes, and few cared for God and His ways and purposes. Whether the famine was because of the people’s disobedience to God (causal connections in that time in Israel were more usual in their covenant with God), or whether they were showing a lack of faith by moving, is not mine to know or say.
But somehow a vulnerable female (oppressed as they were in their society, and perhaps still, ours) finds her way along the road, alongside her mother-in-law (speak of unlucky company!) and a friend. Their husbands had died, their father-in-law had died, and they were without inheritance, in a famine, just having walked around 100 miles by foot (a week perhaps?). And so two women headed back for Israel (one a foreign Moabite) as things were easing up with the famine.
Thankfully, unlike other ancient near eastern cultures, Israel’s laws allowed for a “kinsman-redeemer” who was responsible for providing in such situations and taking such vulnerable people under their wing, should they desire. Today that role should be ideally, and often is carried out by the church community.
In this case, instead of this figure taking responsibility, another man steps in who goes out of his way to lavish far more on these women than is required by law, refuses to abuse his power and sleep with the women, and asks for permission from the closer relative to take care of these folk.
“As an example of storytelling alone it has outstanding merit, with its symmetry of form and vivid characterization, but above all it is a book with a message.”
Baldwin, J. G. (1994). Ruth. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 287). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
It’s a powerful story of immigration, death of loved ones, famine, honour and romance, all in a short 4 chapters that can be read here.
And it’s a story of migrants that is meant to point forward to a greater reality of what is to come. Of a redeemer (someone who’ll “buy” back), come to rescue humanity from the circumstances it has got itself into, and the conscious and unconscious things, seemingly moral and not-so-moral, that we prostrate ourselves before. This redeemer will come when there’s no other way out, and will lavish on us far more than just contractual obedience.
As we face the migrant crisis, the things that create it, and our selfish hearts that exacerbate it, may it make us long for a redeemer like this!