"In your lovingkindness you have led the people whom you have redeemed. In your strength you have guided [them] to the dwelling of your holiness."
In the book of Exodus, God rescued Israel as a people and gathered them as a nation. God's deliverance of the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians started with ten plagues, followed by the crossing of the Sea of Reeds on dry ground. The oppressors of God's people, however, were drowned during the pursuit of their prey (Exo 14:27-28). The purpose of giving them freedom was more than relief from temporary physical suffering. God chose Israel to be his priests and his holy nation, through whom his plan of salvation would be realized (19:6). Israel understood that God's deliverance included physical and spiritual realms, that is, from suffering from oppression, injustice, and religious intolerance, to liberation, a better life, well-being, and ultimate full restoration.
Exodus 15:13 describes the reason, the act, and the goal of redemption. God is portrayed as the source of redemption, by his actions his people come to his holy presence. The purpose of this paper is to help the Sunday School class understand God's acts of deliverance, how they were carried out throughout both Testaments, and whether the theology then still applies to us today. We will examine some specific words that carry the meaning of deliverance and the concept of deliverance in the life of Israel in Old Testament and the church in New Testament. Major sections but not individual books of both Testaments will be addressed. We will start with Exodus 15:13, which contains the word "redeemed" and the idea of deliverance. The theme of deliverance, a subset of salvation, is found in both Testaments.
II. Deliverance in the Old Testament
Deliverance language is prevalent and essential in the life of a Jewish person even today. It is frequently recalled in the Scriptures (Ps 75; 108; Heb). The daily Jewish morning prayer has a reminder of the join confession by Israel and all nations that the LORD will reign forever. The word in our text "you have redeemed" (gaalta) comes from one of the Hebrew roots gaal (or goel). This verb has two broad uses: first, in connection with legal and social life; second, with regard to God's redeeming acts. It is almost synonymous to "to ransom (padhah)." God entered into the historical situation of his people and delivered them from bondage. He did this through human deliverers, such as Moses in Exodus and the judges at a later time (Jdg 3:9, 15). Israel believed that only God had the power to deliver. Faith in God is expressed in our text as well as throughout the psalms.
God uses different means to rescue his people. Signs and wonders, often involving nature, invoke in the redeemed a heightened response in faith toward God. Signs and wonders constitute an example where we do not find the word "redeem" but a means is used to achieve the same purpose. The term "great things (gedolot)" in general indicates something beyond one's power or simply unattainable, it also refers to actions done within the overall sphere of God's power and sovereignty. The great things done in Egypt and by the Sea of Reeds are always remembered by the Israelites. Such miraculous incidents are also known as signs and wonders, and the people are obliged to remember (Deut 7:19; 11:3; see Addendum 2).
Another Hebrew word connected to deliverance is pada, which connotes "buy, pay, redeem." We find it in Exodus 21:8, 30 and 34:20, where the legal or secular life is concerned. There are other occasions where the words gaal and pada are used with no payment of ransom or a payee, as we will touch upon later in this paper; the focus here is on the divine action needed to obtain freedom for God's people.
A. Beyond the Forming of a Nation
After Israel has come out of Egypt, the rest of the history in the Bible concerns the preservation of God's people. Does this mean acts of deliverance are no longer needed? The tendency to sin in human beings, and Israel is no exception at all, makes Israel's spiritual and physical journey a bumpy road. The Old Testament after the exodus shows us how God works amongst people by various means to bring in the coming of his Son Jesus Christ.
Leviticus is closely related to Exodus. At this point in their history Israel is delivered from Egypt, has received God's law, and has built the tabernacle; the nation is ready to live a life according to God's way. The themes of atonement and holiness are spelled out in Leviticus. The word gaal takes on two major meanings, both apart from God's divine action: redemption of property that a relative has sold (Lev 25:25), and of a person by relatives or by himself due to the person's hardship in prior and present life (25:; 27:13). God gives instructions in the context of setting people free and regaining ownership, and this has to be lived out amongst the Israelites. Though human beings bring about redemption, the principle and source come from God and his standard of holy living.
Numbers illustrates God's requirement of faith for his people. His chastisements for rebellion are part of the lessons that Israel has to learn. Relatives are to help each other out from life's afflictions and distress. The kinsman relationship must be demonstrated by action (Num 5:8). The concept of buy back and even return to original state, that is, revenge generates some other spin offs. God sets up cities of refuge for the person who accidentally kills someone. The person can flee to one of these cities and receive protection until a fair trial can be offered (35:12). The goel is the avenger of the victim. This rule is set up to prevent excessive and impulsive acts of vengeance before the offender is judged. The word padah is used as a synonym in these contexts.
Deuteronomy is Moses' instruction and exhortation to the Israelites before they go into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. Moses renews God's covenant with Israel. He reviews Israel's history and failure since Mount Sinai, and calls the new generation to fear God and obey him. He also applies laws to deal with life in the community, and uses blessings and curses onto the people according to their faithfulness to the covenant. This book reflects on both God's divine intervention onto human suffering and the people's relationship involving redemption. We must not forget that behind these actions is the motive of God's response of covenant faithfulness to his people, followed by deliverance from suffering, restoration of well-being, and the establishing of a renewed covenant (see Addendum 1: The Covenant). Now Israel prepares to go into the Promised Land to live the life that their God sets before them.
C. Historical Books
The Historical Books cover a lengthy time span from the time of the conquest of Canaan to 2 Kings. In these books we do not find God rescuing his people as we saw in Exodus, but the concept and act of deliverance are witnessed in all the events connected to God's elect. Joshua, defending Gibeon against the five kings of the Amorites, prays to God for the sun to stand still over Gibeon, and God gives him what he asks for (Jos 10:1-15). Rahab, a pagan and a prostitute, believes in the God of Israel and is spared from death (Jos 2:13-14). Deliverance is granted to those who put their faith in the one true God.
The book of Judges links Joshua and Israel's kings. As a confederacy of tribes, Israel suffers from foreign neighbors' oppression. Apostasy causes the Israelites to fall, and God delivers them through human agencies, the judges. These people of both genders are from different tribes and are military leaders as well as civil magistrates. God uses them (thirteen all together) to set his chosen free from their strong enemies (Jdg 2:18; 6:14). Deliverance and rescue are frequent words or concepts. For example, the Hebrew word yasha and related words are the most common OT terms (353 occurrences) connoting deliverance. They mean "saved," "take vengeance," or "preserve." Israel turns to God in the battles to fight for their freedom. But Israel has to repent and ask for forgiveness first. Sin blocks mankind from the holy God. Forgiveness of sin is the undertone for salvation. This is reflected in later books, such as Psalms and Ezekiel. Deliverance, whether through human hands or not, reveals the character of God. His righteousness and goodness bring his people to final salvation, the rest that he has planned for them long ago.
Samuel links the earlier promises given to the patriarchs and to Israel, which are partially fulfilled in the reign of David. David's life and his dynasty are preserved for the coming of the King. The development of history during this period of time is important to later OT and NT writers.
The book of Ruth is a short story of a Judahite family's escape from famine. In this story, God's mighty act of deliverance, such witnessed at the Sea of Reeds, is absent. Instead, Boaz's identity of a kinsman redeemer (goel) and his living it out lay down the principle of delivering a relative in need (Lev 25:25). Faithfulness in helping a relative and following the law of Moses reap present and future benefits. Ruth, a proselyte of Moabite origin (2:11-12), challenges Boaz to fulfill his role (3:9). Ruth's subsequent marriage to him links to the lineage of Jesus Christ. Along with the practice of a kinsman redeemer comes the well-being of the person being redeemed. The motive of redemption is to give the person freedom as well as achieving goodness in life. The movement from emptiness to fulfillment is a reversal of Naomi's life as a widow left childless. Ruth's faithfulness is rewarded with Boaz's faithfulness. At the end, God's provision flows to each person's life as well as to the family. God shows his kindness to humans; in return, humans show it in relationships with one another.
The book of Psalms is a little different than the other books of the Bible. It is written over some centuries by different authors, and the units are generally devotional in tone. In this collection, theological aspects such as kingship (Ps 22:1; Pss110; 132), faith (Ps 16), and obedience (Ps 26) are present. Out of these aspects flows the experience of God's people. They recall their relationship with God, and God's past deliverance give them hope (Pss 89; 105; 132). The Hebrew word palat ("deliverance") is used mainly in the Psalms. It often occurs with a prepositional phrase indicating the one from whom deliverance is needed (Ps 17:13). Another word is azar which is translated as "help." It is used in Psalm 37:39-40 together with palat and yasha for parallelism purposes. Deliverance in the Psalms is physical in the now. It is also spiritual in the sense that the psalmist comes very close to God, his deliverer, and trusting him for his rest to come.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah talk about the return of diaspora Jews from exile and the events of that period. The time span is from 538--444 B.C. when Persian kings Cyrus and Artaxerxes Longimanus are in power. There is no explicit theme of deliverance in these two books but restoration. During this time, the construction of the Temple finishes in 516 B.C., the return to Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the Temple and of the wall of Jerusalem, the reading of Torah, and repentance of intermarriage constitute categories of deliverance, with the well-being and blessing of the people in mind.
E. The Prophets
Isaiah presents unity in themes such as judgment and hope, blindness and deafness, rebellion and trust, the Holy One of Israel, creation, and salvation. We shall look into the theme of salvation. The problems with Israel are rebellion, both individual and national, self-exaltation, injustice, alienation, and consequently devastation. Salvation results from repentance and forgiveness of sin. Judgment is inevitable for people who turn their back against God. But painful judgment is never God's final word. Those who have been scattered will be gathered again (Isa 11:10-16) and blessed by their God (28:5-6). The LORD will reclaim (qanat "purchase") with his hand the remnant (shaar) of his people (11:11). He wants to save his people, and the Messiah-Servant will deliver them. The word yasha means "help, deliver and save." The LORD is the savior (43:11). Though there is consistency with rebellion in heart and action, the unchangeable nature of God's love and faithfulness always wins. Long suffering prompts people's hope of a brighter tomorrow. The creator who redeemed Israel from the Egyptians will lead his people into a new exodus. The LORD is the only catalyst for a bright future. For Israel, the LORD is savior at the present as well in the days to come.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 refers to a "new covenant." The prophet envisions a new covenant in the future as well as redemption in the present. The LORD speaks through Jeremiah urging his people to repent. The indictment is that they have forsaken God's law, and they have followed the Baals as their ancestors have taught them (9:13-14). The covenant is broken, and judgment is on the way (16:1-13). God's mercy will come only after the people have repented. Language containing such terms as "heal," "restore," "ransom," "redeem," and bountiful provisions point to God's deliverance of his people. Most important of all, however, along with this deliverance are the installation of justice and the continuity of covenants. Deliverance always leads to proper relationships.
God's presence among his people is particularly important. This may seem to be a problem during the times of exile, with sin being the cause of exile. Would God be with his people in a foreign territory? The fear of not being in God's presence is persistent in the livelihood of the Israelites who reside away from home. Ezekiel, a priest and an exile, warns that the day of the LORD will arrive when God turns away from them because of their iniquity (Eze 7:22-26). God preserves a remnant so they can inherit the land (11:16-17; see Jer 31:31-34). Ezekiel's career and prophecy enter a new stage in Ezekiel 33. Many of the same themes from chapters 1-32 continue, with Jerusalem now fallen (33:21-22), the prophet has a ministry of comfort among those who lament. God's Spirit empowers Ezekiel to preach and will empower Israel to live and return to the land (37:1, 11-14). The same Spirit will create a people cleansed of idolatry (vv.15-32). The Spirit inspires prophecy, empowers the remnant, creates a future community of faith, sanctifies human hearts, and raises Israel from the dead.
From the prophetic utterances, we understand that the idea of restoration and remnant conveys deliverance from present sufferings, injustice, and even God's wrath. The prophet Micah makes references to Yahweh's anger giving way to forgiveness, compassion, and love (Mic 7:18-20). A restored remnant of Israel will be gathered like sheep, and the lame and afflicted will receive special care (2:12-13; 4:6-7).
The books of Joel and Amos mention oppression. In Joel, people suffer because of unfaithfulness to their God (Joel 2:12-13). In Amos, the poor and the oppressed will be delivered, and the chosen people and the nations will be judged unless they repent. Deliverance deals with social injustice.
Malachai, the last prophet of the Old Testament, ministers in Jerusalem. The time is about 450 B.C. His prophecy addresses the existing problems of Israel. Unacceptable worship practices and sacrifices, not lifting God's name (Mal 1:6-14) among others, all are underlying causes of the breakdown of the community's value system. They need to recommit themselves to loving and serving God. Spiritual matters affect daily life. The emergence of the remnant highlights the ultimate renewal of Israel. Malachi finishes the time spanned by the Latter Prophets from the invasion of Assyria of Samaria, through Babylon's destruction of Jerusalem, to Persia's reign over God's people.
From Genesis through Malachi the LORD desires to fellowship with his people for eternity, and he steps in as the Deliverer-King to save those who put their faith in him. We turn next to the period which marks the end of Persian rule and the coming of the Greeks. Some believe that God remains silent until Jesus comes. But is it really so?
A covenant is a contract (berit) which governs relations between human beings in daily life setting. Both parties of a contract reciprocate loyalty (hesed). Though the idea of covenant was common between men, one between a deity and a people is unknown from other religions and cultures. Israel's relationship with God is covenantal, with the uniqueness of God being the one who initiates the covenant, consequently binding to the contract. At the center of the covenant is relationship, and the essence that makes up the covenant is hesed. God demonstrates kindness and readiness to step up to his relationship with Israel throughout history. This lovingkindness (hesed) is entirely voluntary. But Israel time and again forgot about that. God often reveals himself as "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Exo 20:2). When Israel is unfaithful, God continues to show his beautiful divine disposition of love and hesed. There have been times when God's children are punished, but they are meant to educate and are carried out for restoration purposes. German theologian Walther Eichrodt mentions the imagery that portrays God as the Father-Shepherd of his people to illustrate this behavior implied by hesed. The Semitic idea of fatherhood connects with the element of rule, of ownership and of authority, also emphasizes the element of love.
Copyright 2004, S. H. Hung