First, let’s look at some normal, everyday, non-Biblical usages of the word “redeem” 1. I can summarize them as two main concepts:
It can mean to buy something back.
- If an item is used as collateral for a loan at a pawnshop, it can be redeemed by repaying the loan (plus interest!).
- If a property is seized by the government for unpaid taxes or other liens, even if it has been sold to a third party, the original owner can redeem it by repaying the taxes, liens, fees, interest, and the third party’s costs.
- If someone pays a ransom for a hostage, or purchases a slave for the sole purpose of setting them free, the captive is said to be “redeemed”.
It can mean to give value to something that otherwise is bad or worthless.
- If a shopper follows the required process to redeem a coupon, that will turn an otherwise-useless piece of paper (or digital UPC code) into something of monetary value: a discount on the merchandise being purchased.
- If something or someone has “redeeming qualities”, those may offset the bad features and make that thing (or person) be acceptable after all.
- If we can accomplish something good out of an event that has gone wrong, we call that “redeeming the situation”.
- If someone makes a mistake or does something wrong, they may try to “redeem themselves” by making amends in some way.
- Very creative artists have redeemed everyday trash, turning thrown-away junk into sculptures and other art pieces.
Both of these concepts apply to God’s relationship with those who are willing to accept Him. He buys them back out of their separation from Him and resulting captivity to sin (using His own blood, shed by Jesus on the cross, as the form of payment!). He also takes the sin-broken life and turns it into something valuable and worthwhile. Let’s explore a little of both concepts.
In one of His first communications to the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, God told them that He would redeem them from that slavery and turn them into a unique nation with a special purpose:
Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.Exodus 6:6-8
This idea was embedded into the laws that God gave to Israel. Leviticus 25:23-28 refers to the ownership of property. A man’s inherited property was not to be sold outside of the family. If he was so poor that he had no choice but to sell the property, then his nearest kinsman was to redeem it for him 2. Leviticus 25:47-55 describes a similar process for a poor man who voluntarily sells himself as a slave to another man to be redeemed. If he himself was not able to pay the price, then a relative could pay on his behalf 3.
The book of Ruth shows this redemption in action. Naomi’s husband died; there was a famine in the land; Naomi was forced to sell the property and move away with her two sons and their wives. Later, after both sons had died, she returned along with her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth. A kinsman named Boaz redeemed both the property and Ruth. He married Ruth in order to have children that carried on the lineage of her husband (Naomi’s son). That lineage turned out to include Israel’s great King David, Boaz and Ruth’s great-grandson. From there, the line continued all the way to Jesus, the promised Messiah (Matthew 1:1-16, notice verse 5). How’s that for redemption?!
As Messiah, Jesus’ mission was to redeem those who have been captured by Satan and separated from God by their sinful rebellion against His authority (Isaiah 61:1). Jesus fulfilled that mission, paying the price of redemption by His death on the cross, with His resurrection as confirmation of that completed transaction. Afterward, His disciple Peter wrote to the Christian community:
…knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.1 Peter 1:18-19
I have heard this story pretty much all of my life as an illustration of God’s redemption. Below is my paraphrase, not a direct quote of the story 4.
There was a little boy who loved boats. His family couldn’t afford to buy toys for him, so he worked hard for weeks carving his own little sailboat. He measured and cut the wood, glued all the pieces together, sanded and painted the boat, sewed little sails and rigged them onto little masts. At last, after he finished all the measuring, cutting, gluing, sanding, painting, sewing, rigging… It was ready for its maiden voyage.
He took it to the river, and carefully launched it. It looked beautiful as it floated for its first time. But the current was swifter than the boy realized. It caught his little boat and swept it away before he could retrieve it. The little boy was devastated: His treasure, that he had worked so hard to build, was lost!
A long way downstream, the boat finally got caught up in the weeds and underbrush on the riverbank. A man found it, battered and dirty and waterlogged, and sold it to a second-hand shop in town.
Later, the boy and his family went into town. He looked into the window of that second-hand shop, and there was his little boat! But it wasn’t his any longer; it belonged to the shop owner now. The boy hurried home and emptied all of his savings. He spent everything he had to purchase the boat from the shop. Then he took it home, cleaned it up, and mended its sails. Looking at his precious toy, he said to it, “Little boat, first I made you; now I’ve bought you. You’re twice mine!”
First, the Bible insists throughout that each person is infinitely valuable, simply because God says so — regardless of anything they do or don’t do. God created them; Jesus died for them; that gives them value. Matthew 6:26-30 and Matthew 10:29-31 say that God cares for even the smallest of creatures, but that people are even more valuable to Him.
The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, tells us that God can give value to bad circumstances as well. Paul had a persistent problem 5 that he asked God to remove. God answered “No, I’ll show my power through the problem, instead.”
A similar thing had happened during Jesus’ ministry, with a man born blind (John 9:1-7). Others assumed that the man, or his parents, were being punished for something. Jesus said “No, this is to provide a way for God’s power to be displayed.”
Of course, the ultimate in this was Jesus’ death, which seemed at first to be a very bad thing. But His resurrection proved it to be a very good thing, completely worth it because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
A famous poem describes how God’s touch causes even a battered life to be worthwhile. The Touch of the Master’s Hand compares it to a beat-up old violin being auctioned off. No one will bid much on it…until they hear what it can do when played by a master violinist!
For one last example…. I’ve included clips from “The Chosen” before. These two are Mary Magdalene’s before-and-after.
- Before, she is drowning her sorrows at a bar after yet another night on the streets with demon possession. There, she meets Jesus, where He embodies the words of Isaiah 43:1. (Note: The scene is deliberately filmed quite dark; it’s not a problem with your device settings.)
- After, she meets the pharisee Nicodemus in the market as she is preparing to host a Shabbat (Sabbath) meal. He is astonished at the change in her. Be sure to watch until the main line at the end of the scene: “I was one way, and now I am completely different. And the thing that happened in between was Him.” She was redeemed!
Footnotes and Scripture References
- See the dictionary definition here.
- If he had no kinsman, and was unable to redeem it himself, then it would revert to him during the year of “Jubilee” (once every 49 years), so that it was never permanently out of the family.
- Again, everything was cleared and reset during the year of Jubilee.
- As best I can find, this story has been around since the 1940’s. It was part of a collection originally called the “Illustrated Gospel Story” collection, now published as “Living Stories“. Most of the stories were written by Mrs. Floyd McCague, including the one that can still be found under the name “Little Boat Twice Owned“.
- He doesn’t go into detail about what that problem was.