God as Redeemer

As I have mentioned in my last post, my trip to Israel with Ray Vander Laan was a learning marathon. As I continue to process all the information (two full notebooks worth of notes!), I am washed afresh with awe and praise for our Creator. One of the most incredible things we learned was the cultural idea of a “redeemer.”

Over and over, we hear (and say) that we have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. In Christianity today, this seems to mean that our debts have been paid. Which is obviously true. It isn’t the whole truth, however; it’s only the very first part of what it means to be redeemed, and what it means that God is our redeemer.

As we look at the beginning of the Israelite story, we find Abram, the father of the nation of Israel. In that time when God founded the nation, it was a cultural time of patriarchy. Life revolved around blood ties and relationships, specifically in relationship to the patriarch.

In patriarchy, families lived inside a bet’av: a compound in which each family sub-unit lived in a tent within the wall of the compound, with common areas in the middle. Each cooking, laundry, and “chore” station was communal, as was the farm labor and harvest (animals included). Here is a picture of an Abrahamic-era bet’av:

IMG_0300

As you can see, there are multiple platforms upon which family tents were built, a communal area, with an oven built into the covered area. The covered area is a communal dining or congregating space.

The patriarch would live on the largest platform (the furthest one, toward the top of the compound), and would be in charge of all who lived in it: his younger brothers, nieces, nephews, etc. It would be his job to make sure everyone in the bet’av was provided for and protected. If anyone needed food, it was his responsibility to find it. If anyone needed new robes, it was his responsibility to come up with it. Because of this massive responsibility, the patriarch received a double portion of the inheritance: not just because he was older, but because he would need the extra portion to make sure the rest of the family was provided for adequately. Because of this extra responsibility, it was not a coveted position within the brotherhood of the family; it was a celebrated role that the eldest was there to provide for and protect the family.

Not only were the day-to-day responsibilities taken by the patriarch, but there was also a redeeming responsibility upon the patriarch.

During this time, it was common that caravans would kidnap anyone outside the bet’av (shepherds, shepherdess, travelers, nomads, etc.). Think, for example, of Lot who chose to leave Abraham’s bet’av and go make his own bet’av in Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 13). During Lot’s journey, he and his family and all his possessions were taken by enemy kings as slaves (Genesis 14). Word gets back to Abraham that Lot has been taken, and it is his job to redeem him and his family.

In this patriarchal society, redemption by the patriarch was a two-part process:

  1. It was the patriarch’s responsibility to get back the lost family members at all costs. No matter how much money it took to buy them back, no matter how many lives might be lost in a rescue mission, it was the job of the patriarch to get it done. Which is exactly what Abraham does in Genesis 14: he hires an army of 318 trained soldiers and goes against a military to bring Lot home.
  2. Not only was the patriarch responsible for freeing the lost, but next he had to enfold them back into the bet’av – and not just him, but the entire family had no choice but to welcome the lost home, without reserve. Take, for example, the story of the prodigal father (Luke 15): after the prodigal son returned, the father welcomes him home like a celebrated heir. The older brother (patriarch-in-training), however, did not want to welcome the lost son home. The father then begs him to do so. Not only is the story about a forgiving father, but it reflects the societal responsibilities of the patriarch and family upon redemption of a lost family member.

Another stark example of this is the prostitute in Hosea, who bears Hosea three children and chooses to leave (Hosea 3). Not only is Hosea, the family patriarch, responsible for buying her back – no matter the financial cost, no matter the extreme familial shame – but he also must welcome her home as wife again.

Over and over and over again – 111 times, 83 verses in the Old Testament alone – we hear that God is our redeemer.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight. Psalm 72:14

You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Psalm 77:15

Fear not, you worm Jacob,
you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD;
your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 41:14

But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine. Isaiah 43:1

I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud
and your sins like mist;
return to me, for I have redeemed you. Isaiah 44:22

I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol;
I shall redeem them from Death.
O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your sting?
Compassion is hidden from my eyes. Hosea 13:14

 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14

Not only has he paid the price for our freedom from sin, but he has welcomed us into his bet’av without hesitation or question. We are able to call the family of Christ “brothers and sisters” because we reside in the same bet’av under the one, perfect Patriarch of the whole world. We are welcomed in as family. We can celebrate because our Patriarch is the ultimate provider and protector. And He has given it all so that we can be redeemed. Selah.

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