The Hebrew and Greek words of scripture are like inexhaustible mines and one finds new treasures each time the words are examined.
I have selected just a few words from the Old and New Testaments and have sought to open them up to reveal just some of the amazing truths they contain. Firstly – salvation…
A great Salvation – ‘yasha’
The Hebrew word moshia, which is usually translated as ‘saviour’ in the Old Testament, comes from the Hebrew root yasha, which has been translated as avenge, defend, deliver, help, preserve, rescue, and save, has the meanings of opening wide, being large in capacity, living in abundance, being free, safe, helped, rescued, victorious and being made whole. It is a word that contains amazing riches.
Yasha is found around 180 times in the Old Testament. When we consider that in the New Testament the noun Saviour, sōtēr, is found 24 times and the verb sōzō meaning to save, deliver, heal or make whole is found 110 times, it becomes evident that not only does the Bible say a lot about salvation – it is scripture’s dominant theme.
My Hebrew and Old Testament professor, Edgar Jones, wrote in one of his books, in reference to ‘yasha’: ‘Salvation is having room enough to live – living room. The Saviour God is the God who makes room.’
When we begin to investigate this word as it is used in the Bible, we discover that it refers to ‘salvation’ as something that has got both spiritual and physical dimensions and that while the idea of personal salvation is most certainly an aspect of it, there is also an emphasis on its community nature.
1. Salvation is about being rescued from danger
The first occurrence of moshia is in Deuteronomy 22:27 which, as an example relating to the law, refers to a rape situation in which ‘the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her.’ More literally this reads, ‘… and there was no saviour.’ The word therefore refers to someone who can step into a situation to rescue another who is in great need.
A saviour is one who delivers another from danger. In this reference ‘salvation’ is seen in the context of human relationships. As this is worked out at a human level, we can begin to understand also its spiritual significance.
In Isaiah 43:2-3 God reminds the people of his ongoing saving love for them: ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.’
And in Colossians 1:13 Paul writes: ‘For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness …’ A saviour makes himself available to deal with an imminent threat.
2. Salvation is about using one’s power to compensate for another’s weakness
A saviour is one who puts his greater strength at the disposal of others to rescue them from a real and present peril. We see this association of the ideas of available power and salvation in Job 26:2, where Job, albeit disdainfully, said to his friend Bildad, ‘How you have helped the powerless! How you have saved the arm that is feeble!’ (NIV). Bildad had previously advised Job to acknowledge his weakness, but he was not prepared to use his ‘strength’ to help Job in his weakness, and this provoked Job’s scornful comment.
Nevertheless, the comment helps us to see that salvation is the result of the strength of one person working effectively to compensate for the weakness of another. God said to Paul, ‘… my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). God’s power is not for those who think they are strong, but for those who know that they are weak – and that they need his help.
3. Salvation is about release
In Psalm 106:21 we read, ‘They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt.’ The people of Israel had consistently shown they had short memories regarding God’s gracious dealings with them. And here the psalmist is saying that the release of the people from their captivity in Egypt was all of God’s doing, but the people had now turned their backs on him.
There are many reminders in the Old Testament regarding God’s activity in releasing the people of Israel from their brutal bondage.
It is interesting to note that when Jesus began his ministry, his manifesto was taken from Isaiah 61:1-2 from which he declared, ‘He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners … to release the oppressed.’ When God moves in salvation, it is to set people free.
4. Salvation requires righteous living
Salvation is not only about a spiritual experience; it must also have practical consequences. In the Old Testament salvation is frequently associated with righteousness, that is, doing what is right, so there is an ethical dimension to it. In Isaiah 45:8 we read, ‘Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it.’
And in Isaiah 46:13 again see the closeness of the relationship between salvation and righteousness, ‘I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed. I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendour to Israel.’
Not only is God a righteous Saviour, but his expectation is that righteousness will be the lifestyle of those whom he saves. So ‘yasha’ is not only about the salvation of my soul, but also about the practical way in which I live my life to honour him.
5. Salvation is primarily ascribed to God
After the wilderness wanderings, as the Israelites settled into life in their new land, there were many times when their enemies threatened to crush them. At those times there arose military commanders to rescue them. Those successful commanders were called ‘saviours’ (moshia) (Judges 3:9). The names of many of them are familiar to us – for example, Othniel, Gideon, Samson.
However, it was recognised that as it was actually God who had chosen to free the people and who had raised up those leaders, therefore it was actually God who was the Saviour. This is evident in Isaiah 45:21-21NIV where God declares, ‘Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.’
And Zechariah 8:7 BBE, ‘I will be the saviour (moshia) of my people from the east country, and from the west country.’
6. Salvation is for the glory of God
We generally misunderstand the purpose of salvation. Salvation really is not about us but about God! It is not primarily about my being saved but about the glory of God. When God saves us, it is not principally for our sake or in reward for the good we have done; it is about bringing glory to him and to his name.
‘Help us, O God our Saviour, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake’ (Psalm 79:9).
Although he has been rejected and reviled among the nations of the earth, when he acts in bringing salvation, ‘I …am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory’ (Isaiah 66:18).
7. Salvation is about triumph
The role of the military commanders in the time of the Judges was to bring about victory. They were acting under God’s calling and direction, and they knew to whom the triumph belonged; as Jephthah said, ‘… the Lord gave me the victory over them (Judges 12:3).
In the same way, when the mighty Egyptian Army was destroyed at the Red Sea, Moses led his people in this song:
‘I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name’ (Exodus 15:1-3).
The culmination of God’s triumphant salvation is seen in the book of Revelation with Jesus, the Lamb, on the throne. The heavenly anthems ring out the triumph of the Saviour.
‘I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God …Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!”’ (Revelation 19:1, 6-7).
8. Salvation is a process
In saying that salvation is a process I mean that it has a beginning and an end. Sometimes we think of personal salvation, for example, only as something which happened at particular time in the past. The evangelical testimony of ‘When I was saved’ does injustice to the dynamic of what the Bible means by ‘salvation.’ Salvation may be considered in three ways:
(i) Something that we experienced in the past
(ii) Something that we are experiencing at the present
(iii) Something that will be completed in the future.
In Moses’ last address to his people, he said, ‘Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord?’ (Deuteronomy 33:29).
- Salvation is here referred to as something that happened in the past.
- In the next passage we see that the need for salvation is still present: ‘…Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance (salvation) the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem’ (2 Chronicles 20:17).
- And then the future dimension is seen, for example, in Isaiah 52:10, ‘The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.’
In the New Testament we see the same emphases:
- ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.’ (Titus 3:5) Here salvation is considered as an accomplished thing.
- In 2 Corinthians 2:15 it is seen as happening now, ‘For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved …’
- And in Romans 5:9, ‘Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!’ it is still in the future.
9. Salvation is centred on Jesus, the Son of God
The prophetic writings of the Old Testament pointed to the coming of a Saviour. When Paul was preaching in Perga, he reminded the Jews about the Scriptural promise: ‘From this man’s (David’s) descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus as he promised’ (Acts 13:23).
Before Jesus was born, Joseph was told by the angel, ‘… you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).
And Zechariah declared, ‘[God] has raised up a horn of salvation for us’ (Luke 1:69). The horn was a symbolic reference to power, so here we see again the relationship between power and salvation.
Salvation is of God. And there is only one Saviour – Jesus Christ. As Peter proclaimed, ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).
Dr Jim McClure welcomes biblical/theological questions from concerned Christians – firstname.lastname@example.org. Author of a series of Bible studies and several books, his well-researched Grace Revisited is offered free in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks.
Good news: Dr Jim’s new book Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage will be available electronically shortly.