(February 15, 2017) Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, continues his series on selected scripture words…
One of the great words of faith and theology is ‘Redeemer.’ There are three Hebrew words that may be translated as ‘redeemer’ –
First there is paraq which develops from the concept of ‘breaking off’ to ‘deliver’ or to ‘set free.’ This word is used 10 times in the Old Testament. It is translated once with the idea of redeeming in Psalm 136:24 KJV, ‘And hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth forever.’
Second is padah whose root means ‘to cut off’ and acquired the meanings of ‘deliver,’ ‘rescue’ and ‘redeem.’ It is a common word in the Old Testament where it is found 56 times, the KJV translates this word with some form of ‘redeem’ 48 times.
We find it first being used in Exodus 13:13, ‘Redeem padah with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem padah it, break its neck. Redeem padah every firstborn among your sons’ (NIV). The idea behind this verse, regarding the donkey, is that the first born donkey, which was of greater value to a family, could be rescued by the substation of a lamb. As far as the first born son was concerned, we are informed in Numbers 18:16, ‘When they are a month old, you must redeem padah them at the redemption padah price set at five shekels of silver’ (NIV).
The third Hebrew word for redeemer, and by far the most significant one, at least as far as this study is concerned, is the one which, in its various forms and which includes the word go’el is mentioned 116 times in the Old Testament.
The go’el is a kinsman/redeemer who bears a significant responsibility for his nearest relative, such as, making provision, giving protection, seeking vengeance, and redeeming.
1. Provides protection
The first time we read this word in the Old Testament is Genesis 48:16 where Jacob, just before he died, blessed Joseph’s two sons, saying, ‘the Angel who has delivered (go’el) me from all harm – may he bless these boys.’
Jacob was acknowledging that through all the hardships he had experienced in life – and also from the spiritual pitfalls he had encountered along the way – the ‘angel-redeemer’ had kept him safe. It appears to be a rather unusual expression in view of the Hebrew concept of the redeemer being a kinsman. Yet in using the word ‘go’el’ Jacob is acknowledging a special kinship-relationship with the One who was with him throughout his life.
In the fuller light of the New Testament we can better identify the One as Jesus whose blessings he had known and was seeking for his grandchildren.
2. Avenges the wrongs done to a close relative
There is a phrase we find five times in Numbers – ‘the avenger (go’el) of blood.’ This refers to the role of the kinsman-redeemer who would avenge the murder of a close relative by shedding the blood of the murderer. The KJV refers to this as the ‘revenger of blood’; however the action is not one of taking revenge, which is retaliation, but of avenging, which is to have the satisfaction of ensuring a wrongdoer is punished.
As such it is related to the securing of justice and, in the absence of a sophisticated legal system, was a means by which fairness and justice could be preserved. Various safeguards were built into this system of ‘legal administration’ to prevent it from degenerating into ‘free-for-all.’ For example, only the go’el had the legal right to execute the punishment on the one who had murdered with intent. ‘If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies … The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him’ (Numbers 35:20-21).
However, cities of refuge were also provided to protect those who have accidentally killed another.
3. Purchases a loved one out of slavery
In days before social security was available desperate economic situation called for desperate responses. One of those responses was to sell oneself; you could sell yourself as servant with a binding contract. However, the go’el could pay the price for his redemption. Leviticus 25:47-48 says that if ‘one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself to the alien living among you or to a member of the alien’s clan, he retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him.’
This concept of being set free from slavery was one that the Jewish readers of ‘Letter to the Hebrews’ would have clearly understood: ‘[Jesus, through his death,] set free those who were slaves all their lives because of their fear of death’ (Hebrews 2:15).
Jesus was clearly identified as the go’el. While the price that was paid was an essential part of the transaction, the focus primarily was on the result – freedom! So Paul wrote, ‘Freedom is what we have – Christ has set us free! Stand, then, as free people, and do not allow yourselves to become slaves again’ (Galatians 5:1).
4. Rescues from poverty and provides for the future
The book of Ruth beautifully demonstrates the role of the go’el. If a Hebrew man died without having children, the duty of the kinsman-redeemer was to marry his widow. While that may appear to us to be a strange to do – especially if neither the widow nor her brother-in-law were romantically inclined towards each other – the biblical injunction was not based on romance but on responsibility.
The reason behind it was the continuation of the name of the man who had died which, in Hebrew thinking also, in some way, contributed to the continuation of his personality. So the children born to the woman would bear the name of the former husband and the title of the deceased’s land would belong to the woman’s children. Furthermore, in those days a widow’s future was very vulnerable; therefore her marriage to her nearest kinsman kept her in the family and saved her from humiliation and destitution. So the role of the go’el was particularly important.
In the story of Ruth we find Boaz acting the part of the kinsman-redeemer, when a closer kinsman declined to accept his duty. Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. … But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it’ (Ruth 3:12-13). Boaz married Ruth, and from that union, came the lineage of Jesus Christ.
It is also worth noticing that he freely offered himself as the redeemer, and that the one he redeemed became his bride. In the same way Jesus, as our Redeemer – the one who rescued us from spiritual poverty and destitution and gave us a glorious hope for the future – is also described as the bridegroom to us, his bride.
‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready’ (Revelation 19:7).
5. Is the one who will vindicate
A vindicator declares someone free from accusation and guilt. Job certainly needed such a person as his ‘friends’ continually tried to make him admit that he was wrong and that he was suffering because of some sin he had committed. Job knew that that was not the case. But his friends could not be convinced. With a striking declaration of faith, Job asserts, ‘I know that my Redeemer (go’el) lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth’ (Job 19:25).
The pronoun ‘I’ in the Hebrew is emphatic – Job is making a strongly personal declaration of faith. Furthermore, in Hebrew the word ‘lives’ is actually ‘living’ and is often used as a description of God, for example, 1 Samuel 17:26, ‘… the armies of the living God,’ Psalm 18:46, ‘The Lord lives’ and so on. This would certainly suggest that Job was looking towards God for his vindication. It is also interesting to note that the Septuagint translates the verse in this way, ‘For I know that he is eternal who is about to deliver me.’ In the end the Redeemer God will declare him blameless.
It has also been suggested that the Hebrew word acharon, which has been translated ‘in the end,’ better describes the Redeemer, who will be the last and decisive witness.
6. Is often depicted as God in the Old Testament
Frequently God is seen as the Redeemer of his people – he redeemed them from Egypt, redeemed them from their enemies and from their captivity in Babylon.
In Isaiah 43:1 God declares, ‘Fear not for I have redeemed you.’ This theme of the redemptive activity of God is a recurrent one in Isaiah. God is seen as the one who takes the initiative. Apart from the Redeemer-God, the people would have been totally lost; but God continually stepped into their hopeless and destitute situation and set them free.
However, he not only sets free – he also abundantly provides, blesses and gives hope for the future: Psalm 103:2-4, ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.’
7. Is identified in the New Testament with Jesus
God made humankind to enjoy an intimate relationship with him, but that was broken in Eden by sin. There was nothing humanity could do to help ourselves; we were in need of someone to rescue us. Then Jesus came and accepted the role of the go’el for us.
In the New Testament there are three words which may be translated ‘redeem’–
- Exagorazō – which refers to acquiring by the paying of a price (Galatians 4:5)
- Lutroō – which refers to release by the paying of a ransom (Titus 2:14)
- Peripoieomai – which means ‘to purchase’ (Acts 20:2).
As well as those words there is also the statement that we ‘have been bought with a price’ (for example, 1 Corinthians 6:20) which implies redemption.
Jesus said, ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Matthew 20:28). Freely and willingly, and at great cost to himself, he went to his death on the cross to set us free. Although the go’el secured the freedom of his family member with the payment of a sum of money, when Jesus redeemed us, it was at the cost of the shedding of his blood. ‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ’ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Jesus came on a rescue mission!
Paul writes in Galatians 1:4 that Christ ‘gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.’
Jesus, our go’el, our Kinsman-Redeemer, not only saved us from the penalty of sin and set us free from Satan’s claim on us, but in amazing love for us he also raised us to a glorious position that we do not deserve.
John rejoices in ‘… him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen’ (Revelation 1:5-6).
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives. Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage will be available in an electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks (as is Dr Jim’s well-researched Grace Revisited) and is offered free. Link for pre-booked orders: firstname.lastname@example.org.