The prodigal son of Luke 15, when he came to himself, made his way home to the father’s house. The prodigal spouse of Hosea 3 was neither free nor able to do this. She was a slave in the market-place, awaiting the visit of her purchaser. Slavery was a repugnant feature of the past. Degraded and often maltreated humanity was for sale. The slave, once purchased, was little more than a live chattel. He knew no freedom, the will of his master being the law in every department of his ‘existence’. What a state of helplessness and hopelessness is suggested by this.
Much is said in both Old and New Testaments in connection with slavery. The family of words associated with it are often introduced. Reference is made to ransom, redeem, deliverance and freedom, etc. In not a few cases the subject is treated literally. The more important doctrinal use of these words, however, is where a figurative sense is found. God takes up the sad outward condition of the slave to depict the awful inward condition of mankind through the fall. The Old Testament has so often revealed the vital connection between sins and oppressions in the history of Israel (cf. Judges). In the New Testament we read ‘of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage’, 2. Pet. 2. 19.
Sin is slavery. Sinners are slaves, John 8.34. By nature, men are the slaves of sin, Rom. 6. 17, 20; Titus 3. 3; and Satan, Heb. 2. 14-15; subject to his power, Acts 26. 18; and not free to do the things they would though they idly boast of ‘free will’, etc., Rom 7. 14-15. Even the Jew with his lofty privilege is a slave under law and needs deliverance from its curse, Gal. 4. 1-7. Hence men are debtors and in the shackles of a bondage they are powerless to break. This is so universally true that the Psalmist says ‘none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him’, 49. 7. If a ransom is to be found, it must come from above, Job 33. 24. God must send redemption to His people, Ps. in. 9; God must be their redeemer, Isa. 63. 16, if men are to be liberated. The Beloved must come ‘in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace’, Eph. 1. 7, R.v. The infinite cost involved in procuring this redemption was the precious blood of Christ, 1 Pet. 1. 19 (cf. Acts 20. 28). Christians are thus ‘bought with a price’, 1 Cor. 6. 20; 7. 23, and are free, Gal. 5. 1. ‘If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’, John 8. 36.
In the Old Testament
the word ‘redeem’, in all but two cases, is the translation of two words and their derivatives. Both of these are sometimes used in a literal sense. The first is used for the payment required of the firstborn, Num. 3. 46-49; 18. 15, or release of persons from slavery, Exod. 21.8. The second is used of the recovery of property which has passed into other hands, Lev. 25. 26; Ruth 4. 4.
However, both of these words are frequently used when referring to the God-wrought deliverances in the history of the nation of Israel, Isa. 29. 22, 48. 20, and in the experience of individuals, Ps. 34. 22. When this figurative use of the words is considered it becomes apparent that the idea of money payment recedes and the emphasis is placed rather on the salvation or deliverance effected. Nonetheless, the contexts always suggest the mighty effort and personal cost that brought about the deliverance as, with an outstretched arm, God wrought their redemption. God was no disinterested observer but took up the cause of His own people and demonstrated the greatness of His love. He delivered Israel in the past from Egypt, Deut. 7. 8, and Babylon, Isa. 48. 20, and will yet redeem them in the future, Zech. 10. 8, etc.
One of the derivatives is of particular interest. It is goel, a participle meaning one who asserts a claim, or has a right of redemption, one who vindicates the right of a murdered man, avenging his bloodshed, Num. 5. 8; Ruth 2. 20. The right, in each case, belonged to the nearest kinsman or a near relative, Ruth 4.1-4. Hence the word came to be used to denote a near kinsman. This particular word is often used in Isaiah of God Himself. He is emphatically ‘the Redeemer’. Breath-taking grace is revealed in this tide. The nation’s political and spiritual deliverance is His prerogative and He who has them graven on the palms of His hands would intervene and save them. Through this title the heart of God is revealed as also His might, 43. 14; 44. 24; 54. 5; 60. 16, and the very helplessness of the people, 41. 14; 59. 20, was the occasion for a rich unveiling of His character.
In the New Testament
two words and their derivatives are used in connection with the subject of redemption. The first is akin to the contemporary literature in deeds of sale. It means ‘to buy’, emphasizing the fact that the payment has been made, Matt. 13. 44. The word is used in connection with the death of Christ, highlighting the cost of liberation. Freed from all liabilities, those purchased are now His, 1 Cor. 6. 20; 7. 23; Rev. 5. 9; 14. 3-4. Whilst believers are purchased unto God, we are not told that the price was paid to anyone. Old Testament usage prepared us more particularly to appreciate the grace, self-sacrifice and might displayed that He might make us His own.
A passage where this word occurs has caused difficulty to some. In 2 Peter 2. 1, R.v., we read of those who are guilty of ‘denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction’. Of course such purchase does not mean that the false teachers were among the redeemed. Purchase is not redemption. The infinite price of the cross work of Christ has made all His, though many deny His absolute right over them. He is the only Master, the absolute Despot and ultimately every knee will bow and every tongue confess His Lordship. As the parable teaches, He has purchased the whole field on account of the treasure in it.
A strengthened form of this word brings in the thought of redemption alongside that of purchase, Gal. 3. 13; 4. 5. The Jew, under the law and its curse, through faith in Christ, is liberated from it. It is also used in the exhortation to the Christian to redeem the time, Eph. 5. 16; Col. 4. 5. We are thus encouraged to buy up every opportunity and use it for the furtherance of Christ’s interests.
The other word and its derivatives used frequently in the New Testament come from a verb meaning ‘to loose’ and stresses the setting at liberty which results on payment of a ransom. There are occasions when a physical or political deliverance is in mind (see Luke 1. 68; 2. 38; 24.21). However, when used in connection with the death of Christ, spiritual liberation in connoted. The Christian has been redeemed from a vain manner of life, 1 Pet. 1. 18, and from all iniquity, Titus 2. 14. The shedding of Christ’s precious blood, Heb. 9. 12; Eph. 1. 7, has loosed us out of bondage to the traditions of the life of selfwill. The Son of Man has come ‘to minister and to give his life a ransom for many’, Matt. 20 28. We note here the restricted circle of those who would come into the good of His redemptive work and know forgiveness, Col. 1. 14, and justification, Rom. 3. 24. The laying down of His life was the ransom paid in the stead of the many who would appropriate it. This needs to be discriminated from the teaching of 1 Timothy 2. 6 where a kindred word is found. There the context teaches that God desires the salvation of all, and the finished work of Christ is shown to be available for all and for the advantage of all. We do not read, however, that He died in the stead of all. ‘He gave himself a ransom (an adequate ransom) for (i.e., on behalf of) all.’ Such is the perversity of the human heart that whilst God has made adequate provision for the blessing of all, multitudes reject His offer of mercy.
Redemption by blood is the portion of every believer now. Redemption by power is to be the experience and blessed portion of such in the future. Every true child of God is longing for that bright day when we shall see the Lord and be like Him. Sin abounds around us and we feel the downward tug as it appeals to the old nature within us. We await that moment when we shall be delivered from the presence and power of sin for ever and our redemption is completed, 1 Cor. 1. 30; Eph. 1. 14; 4. 30. These bodies of our present low estate are subject to corruption and are yet to come into the good of redemption. Hence the redemptive work of Christ not only deals with our past (e.g., Col. 1. 14: Gal. 3.13), and affects our present lives, Titus 2. 14, but also will be brought to full fruition in the future. We must unite in praise to God for Him who is a high priest of the good things to come, who, ‘through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption’, Heb. 9. 12, R.v.