Here it is less than two weeks from Christmas and I haven’t even made it out of the Pentateuch! Yikes! I just couldn’t go on without covering the idea of ransom in the Old Testament.
In Exodus 13 we are introduced to the law of the firstborn which demanded that the Israelites sacrifice the firstborn male offspring of their animals (clean only), in remembrance of God passing over His people during the plague of the firstborn before rescuing them out of Egypt. As an even more personal reminder, all firstborn men among their sons had to be redeemed by the blood of a lamb. Two times in a matter of verses the reason for these provisions is made clear, “It shall be as a sign… for by strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:16) The law of the firstborn served as a reminder to the Israelites that they should have been robbed of their firstborn that fateful night in Egypt, but for the great mercy of God that spared them by accepting the blood of a perfect lamb in their place. In other words, their firstborn really belonged to God and they had to “buy them back” so to speak. Psalm 49:7 makes it clear that even the most wealthy man “cannot redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him”. But verse 15 affirms that it is God who will redeem our souls from the power of the grave. In other words, we know that the Israelites didn’t really think they were buying back their firstborn, but by “redeeming” them with the blood of a lamb they were acknowledging that they belonged to the Lord and they also remembered His mighty works when He freed them from slavery in Egypt.
Exodus 30 tells of another type of redemption, that of ransom money paid by Israel for Israel. The ransom money is a payment made by the people of Israel to the Levites for the operation of the Tabernacle. The amount of money paid depended on the number of Israelite men over the age of 20, ½ shekel each was due. I find it interesting that the rich and poor paid the same amount, reinforcing to me that God sees both rich and poor alike in terms of value. We are both made in His image and of equal worth to Him, so we must pay the same amount of ransom. And although this later came to be known as the Temple tax, you see that it’s not like any tax we recognize. I’m pretty sure ½ shekel per person is a very reasonable price, especially since it was not thought to be burdensome even for the poor to pay. The ransom money serves three purposes according to Exodus 30: 1.) as atonement money, 2.) for the service of the tabernacle, and 3.) as a memorial.
Many passages in the Old Testament (Leviticus 25 is a thorough one) explain that property, animals, land, and even people were routinely ransomed by in Israel. For example, if you got into debt and lost your land, your brother or uncle or whoever had pity on you could ransom your land for you and return it to you. (Remember Boaz became Ruth's kinsman redeemer, even though he was not her nearest kinsman.) Every 7 years the Year of Jubilee would cancel these losses or debts so the ransom price was fixed according to how far away the Year of Jubilee was from the point of redemption. Anyway, Israel had an intimate understanding of redemption.
The teachings on redemption and ransom in the Old Testament Scriptures point us to the coming Messiah, especially since man cannot ultimately redeem a living soul. Both Mathew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 tell us that, “the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.” And "we were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold,… but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19) What should our response to this blessed realization be? “For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:23) I take these to mean simply that when Christ shed His blood for us on the cross, He bought us back from death, which is what our bondage to sin had earned us. When Christ redeemed us, He gave us new life in Him. We are God’s, we belong to Him and exist to glorify Him. Soli Deo gloria. What more worthy goal could we aspire to this Advent season?
- I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.