The word Redemption is specifically mentioned more than 50 times in the Bible, and is first mentioned in the book of Exodus. It involves bondages, a price, a ransom, deliverance, legal rights and duties.
None of the other religions of the world have a similar concept, and it is indeed a beautiful thing to visualize in many Bible passages. and one that is central to the Christian faith.
We can learn all about the term by uncovering the origin, social, and historical context of it; “Redeemer” comes from the Hebrew term “Goel”, and it appears throughout several time periods and contexts in both the Old and New Testaments.
These two terms later gave the redemption definition that is applied for Christ, so it is important to understand the historical context of these.
Once we have done this, our Christian lives will become more enriched by understanding how the concepts of price, ransom, payment relate and are central to our faith in Jesus.
The Beautiful History of Redemption in the Bible
The history of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East(where ancient Israel was located) illuminates what the word Redemption means in the Bible.
The Code of Hammurabi, which was composed ca. 1792 B.C, provides us with early historical evidence of the existence of debt servitude in the world of Ancient Near East. Contrary to some popular beliefs, Hammurabi did not invent or created the laws himself, but rather he merely compiled the already existing customs and unwritten laws in Babylon and all the adjacent lands in the world of the Near East.
It is in this context that we find the first use of the word “redeem” in the Bible in Exodus 6:6, when God promises to liberate the Israelite slaves from Egyptian oppression. In this way, God first used the term Redemption to describe the act of liberating or rescuing his people from slavery.
Archaeological evidence dates the Exodus to ca. 1200 B.C, before the Israelites appeared in the land of Canaan, so this makes likely that the date of first mention of the word Redemption in the Bible, which is in Exodus, would lie ca. 1200 B.C. as well.
From here on, when the Law is given to Moses by God, we can visualize that the use of term took a few different meanings in the Law.
Redemption Has Four Different Meanings In The Bible: Monetary Redemption, Avenger-Redemption, the “Kinsman” Redemption, and the Spiritual Redemption.
The Torah, or Pentateuch granted two additional definitions (besides the spiritual meaning in Exodus 6:6) and to the act of redeeming in the book of Leviticus.
With this, there are four definitions for redemption: the first one denotes a the monetary or commercial definition, the second denotes the action of an “avenger,” the third one denotes the “kinsman” or “widow”, and the fourth one is the beautiful spiritual definition.
The Monetary Meaning of Redemption:
It was common in the Ancient Near East that people who were unable to repay a debt often gave themselves away as slaves, inevitably shackling themselves in the bondage of servitude. This practice was part of most ancient civilizations such the Egyptian or Mesopotamian civilizations, and also Israel. Leviticus establishes the sociological institution of the guardian-kinsman, which existed in ancient Israel and that we can see in the book of Ruth.
This was a Leviticus-established custom or sociological institution that granted legal and economic rights and obligations to any Israelite individual who had brothers, sisters, nephews or nieces. In the event that one of the close relatives of this person lost property because of debt, or was sold as a slave, it was the duty of the kinsman to recover, or buy back for a price what the person had lost, whether it was property or personal freedom.
We can visualize the context monetary-sense of redemption always involved a ransom, price, or payment in Leviticus 25:47:
47 “‘If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, 48 they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: 49 An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves”.
The “Avenger” Meaning of Redemption:
In the event that these aforementioned close relatives passed away as a result of an altercation with someone else, whether the death was accidental or not, Mosaic law established that the guardian-kinsman should avenge the passing of his close relative.
He is called the “blood avenger”. However, this did not remain a custom for the entirety of the Old Testament.
We can find the Bible verse that contains the “avenger” description of redemption in: Exodus 21.
12 “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate.”
The “Kinsman” or “Widow” Meaning of Redemption:
The kinsman or “widow” definition of redemption derives from the aforementioned custom or sociological institution of the “redeemer-kinsman” in ancient Israel; this time it is depicts another legal obligation for the kinsman.
If an Israelite individual passed away without having children, his brother, uncle or cousin had the legal obligation to marry the widow he left behind.
The story of Ruth, a kind Biblical woman who became a widow and the man Boaz in the book of Ruth best epitomize this definition of redemption, as Boaz says:
“11 “All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. 12 Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I…But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it.”
As we can visualize, the duty fell to the closest relative.
The Spiritual Meaning of Redemption:
Old Testament theology contains the usage of the term redemption in the spiritual sense in many instances before Jesus came to Earth.
From there, the spiritual sense of the term divides itself into two: the Old Testament usage and New Testament usage.
The Spiritual Meaning of Redemption in the Old Testament:
The people of Israel applied the spiritual connotation of redeeming in the Hebrew Bible beautifully and exclusively in two ways: when describing God’s acts of power that liberated them from the Egyptians and when it came to Israel’s sin.
The connotation of release from foreign rule
When the God of Israel reveals himself to Abram, and then Moses when he promises to bring deliverance from the Egyptian bondage or slavery in Genesis 15:13, then Exodus 6:6, and later in Exodus 15:13, we find the first three mentions of the action of redeeming in the Bible in the first way described above.
This connotation of liberation from foreign rule continues in the prophetic books and almost takes a political tone in the Hebrew Bible.
13: “Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.”
Then, in Exodus 6:6 God tells Moses he will take this action of liberating their people from the bondage of Egypt. Then, the Hebrews collectively as a people first attributed the spiritual definition of “Redemption” in Exodus 15:13, we they escaped Egypt miraculously, in the Song of the Sea:
13 “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.”
The connotation of Israel’s release from the punishment for their sin
In the second way regarding Israel’s sin, we find Psalm 130:8, which states:
8 “He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”
In this way it is most beautifully similar to the connotation it acquires in the New Testament with the arrival of our Lord Christ.
The usage of the term in both ways described above then continues beautifully for centuries throughout the whole Psalms and the prophets.
The Spiritual Meaning of Redemption in the New Testament:
The payment, price-related description of redemption in which people engaged in ancient times then became the illustrious Christian definition of it, and is utilized again like this in New Testament.
Jesus epitomized the New Testament definition of redemption and its deliverance in: Mark 10:45 and John 8:36, respectively:
45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Again, the payment, ransom-related historical context of ancient Israel illuminates how beautiful the 1 Peter 1:18 is:
18“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 ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
Lastly, Paul shows us again how Jesus fulfilled the definition of this term in Galatians 3:13-14:
13“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”
This leads us to our conclusion in this study. Praise God because Jesus, the Son of God paid the price of our freedom and unshackles us from the unrelenting slavery of sin.
Now that we can grasp the dazzling beauty of what redemption means, and we are enriched by the rich history, and theology of the term, I encourage you to give thanks and glory to God for his amazing gift of freedom!