“Kinsman-redeemer”

In our last post, we mentioned that the Hebrew word “go’el-haddam” had two meanings.  We looked at one meaning, “the avenger of blood,” an idea that no doubt seems strange, even offensive, to our current thinking.

The other meaning is, “kinsman-redeemer,” that is, a near relative who could pay one’s debt or perhaps buy him out of servitude, if he had been forced to sell himself or his property because of some need.  This aspect is mentioned in Leviticus 25:25, 47-54.  The first reference deals with redemption of property, the second with the redemption of persons who, for one reason or another, had been sold or had sold themselves into servitude.

The Book of Ruth illustrates the role and responsibility of such a “kinsman-redeemer.”  Ruth was the Moabitess widow of an Israelite, who came under the protection of Boaz, a wealthy landowner and relative of Naomi, her mother-in-law.  Ultimately, she became an ancestor of our Lord Jesus, Who Himself came to seek and to save that which was lost, Luke 19:10.  Do we not also call salvation, “redemption”?

I think we need to understand the OT roots of the idea of “redemption.”  The person who needed to be “redeemed” was, in view of that fact and generally speaking, helpless to redeem himself.  Granted, there were some few who might have been able to save up and pay their debts, but the whole idea was to help those who could not help themselves, those who were beyond help.  They were like those of whom the Lord Jesus later spoke who owed ten thousand talents, an enormous sum – millions of dollars to us, Matthew 18:24.

We have so diluted the idea of “salvation” in our day that it seems to be looked upon as little more than a band-aid, used to cover up a minor scratch, if even that.  (“God helps those who help themselves.”)  Or that we’re already “the children of God.”  While I would in no way deny or diminish human responsibility, the Scripture paints a far different picture.  So far from merely our being a little beat up by sin and needing an aspirin for our headache, Scripture teaches that we are dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1.  We are dead, buried, and utterly corrupt and decayed, with no more ability to recover ourselves spiritually than a corpse has to bring itself back to life.  (If you’ve recently lost a loved one, I truly am sorry.  I don’t wish to add to your sorrow and grief.)

It’s true that spiritual death cannot be compared directly to physical death.  One who is spiritually dead may be alive physically.  A corpse sees nothing, knows nothing, feels nothing, wants nothing.  A sinner sees, knows, feels and wants a lot of things.

Perhaps the only similarity is that death brings separation.  Physical death brings separation from physical life and our loved ones.  Spiritual death has brought separation from spiritual life and God.  As Paul explained to the Ephesians about their (and our) lost condition before God:  that at that time [we] were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the worldEphesians 2:12, emphasis added.  Contrary to a lot of current thought, all roads do not lead to heaven.  Only one road leads there, and it’s narrow and difficult, Matthew 7:13, 14.

If salvation – or being saved – were the minor thing that it’s treated like, with a couple of “Hail Marys” or a few little “good works” or a little “profession of faith,” wherein the person “accepts Jesus,” but then goes his own way and never shows any signs of conversion – if that’s all “salvation” means, then why did it take the Son of God, God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, taking to Himself a true and real human nature and body and dying on the Cross?

And why does Scripture compare salvation to a creation or a resurrection if it’s just a matter of form or ritual or the rote parroting of a prayer?

“Well,” someone might say, “Jesus loved us and died for us so that we have the opportunity to be saved.”

Is that all His death provided?

An “opportunity”?

While it’s true that without His death, there would be no such “opportunity,” yet His death was so much more than that.

Contrary to modern thought, the Gospel has nothing to do with the love of God, John 3:16 notwithstanding.  In the book of Acts, the early church never one time mentioned the love of God.  Paul explained what the Gospel is in the book of Romans.  The whole book is an explanation, but he summarizes it in a few verses in chapter 1:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…, Romans 1:16-20, emphasis added.

“Righteousness.”

“Wrath.”

Not a word about “love.”

If Paul had written according to today’s thought, he might have written something along the lines of a popular tract in my youth, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

Again, the early church never once mentioned the love of God in its preaching.  Even in 1 John, “the message” isn’t that “God is love.” It’s true that 1 John 4:8 says that, but 1 John 1:5 says, This is the message which we have heard from him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, emphasis added.

True, there is some discussion about what “God is light” means.  Some think it refers merely to “knowledge,” and the Gnostic idea that there is a special level of knowledge that only a privileged few ever attain, and that John writes to refute that idea.  While that idea may have some validity, I think John writes of something much more important, namely, who is this God of whom he writes?  What kind of a God is He?

There were all kinds of “religion” in John’s day, and the gods of those religions were just bigger versions of the people who followed them.  The Greek and Roman gods were guilty of the same sins as their followers.

Contrary to what some seem to think today, the God of Scripture isn’t just a bigger version of ourselves.  I once heard a radio preacher say that if we magnified man a billion times, then we would approach some idea of God.  That’s not true.  If we could magnify man a trillion times, we’d be no closer to the idea of God than an ant has of quantum physics.  God is infinite, inhabiting eternity, Isaiah 57:15, and is holy beyond our comprehension, Isaiah 6:3.  We are creatures of a few seconds and then die.  The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk describes God as being of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness, Habakkuk 1:13.  Even though our souls are immortal and will never cease to exist, either in heaven or hell, we are just creatures, and, apart from His regenerating grace, are sinful beyond our comprehension.

We are sinners, not complimentary sinners, as in “Well, yes, I’m not perfect,” but deep down, dyed-in-the-wool sinners, in whom there is nothing good, Romans 7:18.

We have broken God’s law, all of it, every one of us, and are guilty in His sight.  As such, we owe a debt, not to “society,” but to Him.  If we ever stand before Him without the Lord Jesus Christ, we’ll discover the reality of that debt – that not a thousand lifetimes of perfect and sinless living, if we were even capable of it, could erase even one debt, let alone the incalculable number of which we are guilty.  How much less, then, that little dab of “devotion” and “good works” we think we have in this life?

Back to John 3:16.  John 3:16 is a great and wonderful truth.  Nicodemus was a Jew and, as some believe, likely thought that when Messiah came, He would destroy all Gentiles, no matter how “good” they were, and save all Jews.  God loved only Israel.  No Gentile could be saved, but had to come to God through the door of Israel.  That’s what the early church had trouble with – that one came to God through Christ, not Israel.  Our Lord was telling Nicodemus, “You’ve got it all wrong.  God loves the human race, not just one nation of it.  Messiah won’t come to condemn the world, but to save it, v. 17.

The trouble is, Jesus continued His comment, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God, v. 18.  This truth is totally ignored today, as is John 3:36, He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

There’s that word again….

“Wrath.”

Lost people have neither claim on nor right to the love of God.  They have broken His law, as have all of us.  He has a claim on us.

That claim concerns His justice.  We have broken His law.  We have come under its penalty.  We have incurred a debt.  That penalty involves eternal separation from Him.  We’ll have more to say about this in a later post, Lord willing.

For now, it’s enough to say that the Lord Jesus satisfied that claim, paid that debt for those who believe on Him for salvation.  God’s justice has been satisfied.

It no longer has a claim on believers.

For unbelievers, it’s still true that the wrath of God abides on them.  Their debt has not been paid.

Only in the Lord Jesus is there escape from our sins and the judgment due them.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

Advertisements

“The Avenger of Blood”

In our first post, we mentioned that there were things in the Mosaic Law which seems strange to modern minds.  Though there are several such things, the subject for this post is probably right near the top of the list.

What, or who, was the “avenger of blood”?

The Hebrew phrase is “go’el haddam,” literally, “redeemer of blood”.  The word actually has two meanings. There is the one set forth in our text, that is, that a near relative was to “avenge” the violent death of a family member.  The other one, perhaps more familiar, is that a near relative could “redeem” or pay back the debts of a family member.  We’ll look at this idea in our next post.

The idea of avenging murder or the death of a family member was set forth long before the time of Moses in Genesis 9:5, 6, where God told Noah, “Surely for your life blood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man.  From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.  Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”

“From the hand of every man’s brother….”

This idea was expanded and explained in the Mosaic Law.

There was no separation of the criminal from the victim’s family, as there is today.  Our whole justice system, under the guise of “fairness” and “impartiality,” has erected a number of barriers between the perpetrator and his victims.  Indeed, the [alleged] criminal is viewed as having acted against “the people,” not the victim.  A trial is couched in the terms of “the State vs.” whomever.  (It’s interesting, at least to me, that while I was working on this post, I was called to serve on a jury in an attempted murder case.  I couldn’t help thinking of this post and the others in the series as I was listening to the proceedings.)  If the victim does try to take things into his own hands, then he is in trouble with the law for wanting “revenge,” not justice – as the law sees it.

While I am NOT advocating a return to the Mosaic system, I do think our system leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to what we call “closure” for the victim and/or his or her family, and when it comes to addressing the damage and harm done to them, to say nothing of providing “justice” for a crime.

Although there are instructions scattered throughout the Mosaic writings, Deuteronomy 17:2-13 gives us something of an idea of what happened.  Though it starts of with those guilty of idolatry, vs. 2, 3, I think it includes any who were guilty of capital crimes, that is, crimes deserving death, v. 6.  There were several elements involved:

  1. “Diligent inquiry” was to make certain the charges were true.  They had to be true and certain, v. 4.
  2. A matter involving a death penalty, and there are more than forty such “matters” in the Law, required two or three witnesses, v. 6.  One witness was never enough.
  3. If a crime, or, sin, as Scripture views it, was verified, the perpetrator was taken to the city gate, v. 5.  This seems to have been immediately, with no time elapsed.  There were no “appeals,” no dragging out the case for years in various courts.
    In the case where I was a juror, the crime was committed August 31-September 1 of last year.  The defendant was arrested a little later – in September or October.  The trial was June 13-16, this year.  So, months passed.  And though he has been convicted, his sentencing is still 3 or so weeks in the future, subject to the convenience of the lawyers involved, after which he likely will spend time in prison.
    This wouldn’t have happened under the Mosaic Law.
  4. At the city gate, the witnesses were to be the first to stone the condemned person.  No doubt, this gave pause to witnesses to be absolutely certain of what they were saying.  It was a solemn thing.
  5. After step 4, the hands of all the people were to inflict the penalty on the perpetrator.  It wasn’t hidden away; it was public, and “society” was involved in carrying out the sentence.
    To some, especially to those who oppose the death penalty, all this may seem somewhat barbaric.  However, it lent a certain solemn reality to what was going on.  In the trial I mentioned above, among the exhibits the prosecution showed us were some forensic pictures of a man killed during the crime, not by the defendant in our trial, but by another man who was involved.  He had already been tried and sentenced.  One of the other jurors was very upset by the pictures.  I made the comment that it’s a little different when you see the real thing, as opposed to what we see in TV detective shows.
    We know TV pictures aren’t real.  Actors will get up and maybe will have to do the scene several times. The pictures in the trial were real.  The man slumped between two seats in an SUV was not going to get up after the pictures were taken and walk away.
    So it was in OT times.  To the spectators and participants, it was real.  It wasn’t just some segment on the 6 o’clock news.
    I think we’ve lost some, if not all, of this reality.  We’ve become so desensitized by video games and TV shows that we half-way expect crime victims to “get up and walk away.”  (If you’ve been the victim of a serious crime, I’m sorry; I don’ t mean to add to your burden.  You realize better than most that those who haven’t endured such things can’t really understand what you’re going through.)  And the perpetrators of such crimes have “rights” which cannot be violated, regardless of how they may have violated the rights of their victims.
    I did gain some appreciation for this during the trial.  Several times, the judge stressed that the defendant was considered innocent, even though charged with several crimes, until such time as he was actually convicted by a jury – us.  His being charged with a crime was not to be taken as guilt for those crimes.
    It was this way in the OT.  The person was only punished for a crime after he had been found guilty by the testimony of several witnesses, and I expect there was other “evidence,” as well.  But the punishment happened right away; it didn’t take years.
  6. One of the arguments for the death penalty is that it deters crime.  Opponents deny this, citing the horrendous numbers of murders that happen in this country every year.  They cry that we shouldn’t “add to the body count,” as I saw one such protester’s sign say.
    Perhaps one reason it doesn’t “deter” is the number of years it takes for the sentence actually to be carried out.  And it’s carried out privately, with only a very few people who actually view it.  There’s no sense of “this is what happens if you murder some one.”
    We’ve already seen what happens in other crimes – how the “perp” was responsible to his victim.  The OT Law was designed to show that there were serious consequences to breaking it.
    What does God have to say about the deterring effect of capital punishment?
  7. Actually, He says two things.  (1).  “All the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously,” v. 13.  When there are actual, swift, public, consequences for a criminal, people understand that.  But when there are years and years of postponements, with appeal after appeal, a sense of urgency is lost about a crime that happened years before.  And there was a second thing, something we never think about:  (2) “So you shall put away the evil from Israel,” v.7, 12.  How many times have we heard on the news of a person caught for a crime, who “has a rap sheet as long as your arm”?  In the Mosaic economy, that wouldn’t happen.  One reason for the death penalty was to “put away” for good those who murdered or were guilty of other serious offenses.  There was none of this serving a few years in prison and then being set free perhaps to do the same thing over again, and over again, and over again.  How many innocent victims have there been from such repeat offenders?  Remember the offender in an earlier post who was guilty of twelve sexual offenses.  That is not “putting away evil.”
    If anything, our modern system of “justice” enables it.