Skip to main content


The Moral Argument for God’s Existence.

  An atheist might say you can be good without believing in God. However the question isn’t can you be good without believing in God but can you be good without God? Here’s the problem if there’s no God. What basis remains for objective good or bad, right or wrong? If God does not exist objective moral values do not exist. Here’s why. Without some objective reference point we    really have no way of saying something is up or down. Gods nature however provides an objective reference point for moral values. It’s the standard which all action and thoughts are measured. However, if there is no God then there is no objective reference point. All we are left with is one persons view point as opposed to some other persons view point. This makes morality subjective not objective.  It’s like a preference for vanilla ice cream. The preference is in the subject not the object. Therefore it doesn’t apply to other people. In the same way subjective morality applies only to the subject. It’s not va

What Is Redemption?

When we open the Bible, we find that the God of history has chosen to reveal himself through a specific human culture. This culture is the culture of Israel. However, God did not canonize Israel’s culture. He simply used that culture as a vehicle to communicate the eternal truth of His character and His will for humanity.

If we are going to understand the story of redemption as it is revealed to us in the Bible we need to understand the vehicle that transported this story to us.

The very word redemption is defined for us in the context of the culture that it was used in. What does the word redemption mean and where did the church get it? The first answer to that question is obvious; the term comes from the New Testament.

Luke  1:68(NIV)                                                                                                                                      Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people.

1 Peter 1:18-19 (NIV)
[18] For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, [19] but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Galatians 3:13-14 (NIV)[13] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” [14] He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

However, from where did the New Testament writers get the word redemption? The New Testament writers got the word from the Old Testament writers.

Isaiah43:1(NIV)                                                                                                                                        [1] But now, this is what the LORD says he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Then the question becomes, where did the Old Testament writers get the word redemption? They got the word and the concepts associated with it from everyday life in the secular culture around ancient Israel. The Hebrew word for “to redeem” had nothing to do with theology but everything to do with the laws and social customs of the ancient cultural in everyday life that the Hebrews were a part of. Therefore, if we are to understand the term that the OT writers used in describing its relationship to Yahweh we need to understand the society that the word came from.

Ancient Israel culture was extremely different from our contemporary life today. Our modern Western culture is an urban bureaucratic society, where ancient Israel was a traditional tribal society. In this traditional tribal society family was the focus of community. An individual was linked legally and economically in their society through the family. Israel was a patriarchal tribal culture. Individuals were linked to the patriarch of a particular clan. It was the patriarch that was responsible for the well-being economically and legally of his family members and those attached to his family. The patriarch enforced the laws of the culture and took care of the well-being of those who are marginalized because of poverty, war or death. An individual in ancient Israel was identified by their father, their gender and their birth order. In Israel’s tribal culture the family was central. There were three distinct categories in this tribal culture: patriarchal, patrilineal and patrilocal.

The patriarchal category was centered around the oldest living male member of the family within the larger society. An individual would identify themselves within this culture to their household patriarch followed by their clan, then their tribe and finally the nation. When “family” in ancient Israel is mentioned it is referring to the centrality of the patriarch. The basic family union was identified as “the father’s house (hold)” or in Hebrew “bet ab”. This household would include the patriarch, his wife or wives, the unwed children and the married sons with their wives and children. When a man married he remained in the household however when a woman married she joined the household of her new husband. We see an example of this with Rebecca’s marriage to Isaac in Genesis. She left her father’s household in Haran and journey to Canaan to marry Isaac. Rebecca became a member of Abrahams “house or household”. Within the “father’s household” there may have been up to three generations and they lived in a family compound. They would collectively farm together and share in its produce and shepherd together. All that were a part of the “father’s household” would share their resources and their fate. Individuals that found themselves without a “father’s household” (orphans and widows) were also without the society’s normal circle of provision and protection. We see a constant reminder in the Old and New Testament to care for the orphans and widows. God was always concerned with those on the outside. He describes himself as:

Deuteronomy10:17-18(NIV)                                                                                                                    [17] For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. [18] He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.

James 1:27 (NIV)                                                                                                                                      [27] Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

It was the patriarch who was responsible for the legal and economic well-being of the household. In extreme circumstances, he decided who lived in who died, who was sold into slavery and who is retained within the family unit. We see example of this in the story of Judah and Tamar. (Genesis 38:6-26) Tamar had become a member of Judah’s “household” by marriage. She had become a widow. Since Judah did not fulfill his responsibilities as the patriarch of his household we find her living back with her biological father. However, she was still under Judah’s authority. When Tamar was found pregnant the townspeople reported her crime to Judah. Why did they report her to Judah? Because it was his responsibility to administer justice within his household and since she was still a part of that household she was subject to his authority. Judah sentence was for her to be burned. Judah’s words carried the power of life and death for this young woman.

If the patriarch died or the household became too large to sustain itself, the household would split into a new household. The new household would be headed by the next oldest living male family member. An example of this is seen in Abraham’s family. (Genesis 11:26-32) Terah had three sons of which one of those was Abraham. When Terah’s oldest son Haran died he moved to the city of Haran, taking his family which included Lot. When Terah died Abraham became the new head of household because he was the eldest son. When Abraham left Haran he took Lot with him into Canaan. While they were in Canaan their family units became so big they had to split. Therefore, Lot became a patriarchal head of household apart from Abraham.

The patrilineal category has to do with tracing ancestral descended through the male line. This is where you identify tribal affiliation and inheritance. In Israel, possessions were carefully passed down through the generations from one family to the next according to gender and birth order for the purpose of providing for family members to come and to preserve the family name.

Genealogies in the Old Testament make this legal structure obvious. Women were typically not name, however when women are named in genealogies, which is a rarity, it is usually because the biblical writer has something to say. In the genealogy we see in Matthew, in the New Testament, was significant to the first century Jewish audience because of the claims of the Messiah and his credentials as a son of promise. The Jews understood that the Messiah must be the offspring of Abraham and must be a son of David. This is the bloodline of the Messiah. However, if we notice there were four women listed in this genealogy, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. Why are they listed here, which ought to be an exclusively male list? If we consider these women, one was a prostitute, another was a Gentile, one was an adulterous and we also understand the obvious choice of Mary. So why did the writer include these women, I believe it’s obvious. It has something to say about the nature of the plan of redemption that the Messiah was going to bring. That the gift of redemption is for all people, not just Jews. It included both sinners and foreigners.

We see in genealogies the privilege of position of the firstborn in the Jewish society. The firstborn male would replace his father in the role of patriarch upon the father’s death. Therefore, the firstborn took precedence over his brothers during his father’s lifetime and upon his father’s death he received a double portion of the family inheritance. The reason for this double portion in Israel’s tribal society was because the firstborn would become the next patriarch. The firstborn was expected to shadow the father in order to be an apprentice in all of his duties. More responsibility was given to the firstborn in the rest of the siblings. The firstborn would need adequate resources to ensure the survival of the family therefore the double portion.

What about the stories of Esau and Jacob, Ruben and Judah, and David and his seven brothers? The culture demanded that the firstborn male be the one who would receive the privilege of leading the family into the next generation. However, in these cases, God chose the younger to lead. These stories give us an example of how God’s ways of doing things often stand in opposition to the cultural norms of the time and how the redemption story is a critique on every human culture. In David’s case, as the eighth in line to Jesse, David’s inheritance would have fit into a backpack. However, God’s spokesman said no to David’s society and yes to the one least likely in the eyes of his own community.

In the patrilineal society the children belonged to their father’s tribe. When a female child came of age she was married into another “household”. She became a permanent member of that new “household” therefore, her tribal allegiance shifted with her marriage. This resulted in this woman’s identity being tracked through the men in her new family. That’s why in this society it was critical for a woman to marry and her children. A woman who was widowed before she gave birth to a son was in a crisis. A woman without a father, husband or son was basically destitute. If it wasn’t for the charity of strangers she would starve. In order to deal with these circumstances, the Israelite society had laws to protect women who found themselves in these situations. Let us consider the gleaning laws. These laws required landowners to reserve a portion of their produce for those among them that found themselves “on the margins”. (Deuteronomy 24:19-21)

There are also laws for the widow to preserve proper lines of inheritance within the tribes of the culture. These were called the levirate laws. These laws directed the behavior of the brother of a brother who died leaving a widow behind. For example, if a married man dies before he has produced a male heir his younger wife is not to be married off to someone outside of the household. It was the responsibility of a living brother to take the woman as his wife and to father a child with her. This first child would belong to the deceased brother. The child would be legally recognized as the deceased brother’s offspring and received his dead fathers’ inheritance. The law was intended to protect the widow from destitution and to protect her deceased husband’s inheritance. It would be a serious offense for a man to fail to fulfill his responsibility to his dead brother. (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

What would seem strange to us in our Western thinking was essential for survival in the ancient Middle East cultures. When the inheritance was given to the first offspring the widow was secure within the household. Her needs of food and shelter would be met and her future needs would be met as she got older because her child would meet those needs.

Let’s look again to the story of Judah and Tamar. (Genesis 38) since Tamar was a member of Judah’s household through marriage it was Judah’s responsibility to administer justice as a result of her out of wedlock pregnancy. Because of societal norms Judah ordered her execution. Why? Tamar had married Judas firstborn, Er. He died without producing an heir therefore Judah told his second son Onan to fulfill the duties of a brother by marrying Tamar and fathering a child for his deceased brother. However, Onan did not want to fulfill his duties therefore God took his life. Now the law required Judah to give Tamar his third son. But he didn’t because he was afraid the same thing would happen to his third son. He lied to Tamar and told her to stay with her biological dad until his third son grew up. As time went on Tamar realized Judah was not going to fulfill his duty as the head of household. She decided to take matters into her own hands. She disguised herself as a prostitute and tricked Judah into sleeping with her, which got her pregnant. Judah couldn’t pay her at the time so he left her with his seal, cord and staff as a pledge that he would return with payment. Judah never returned however her pregnancy could not be hidden so word was sent out to Judah in order to administer justice. So, when Judah ordered her to be burned she responded:

Genesis 38:25-26
[25] As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” [26] Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah. ” And he did not sleep with her again.

Why would Judah make a statement, “she is more righteous than I”? After all she tricked her father-in-law into illicit sex. We must understand his statement in the context of the culture that he lived in at the time. It was Judah who had failed to honor the Jewish laws by not supporting an individual that was part of his household. Judah was the villain according to the Israelite culture. Tamar was the courageous one. Judah really had nothing to lose it was Tamar that had everything to lose.

In ancient Israel the populace lived on small family farms. The economy back then was a mixture of agriculture and livestock. The main goal of the economy was to ensure family survival. There were biblical laws that addressed the inheritance of land. These laws were to protect the “father’s house” because the land was an essential element of the family’s lifeline. In Israel the land actually belonged to Yahweh and had been distributed among the 12 tribes. The only legal transfer of this land was permitted to inheritance only. These lands were passed down from father to son in perpetuity. However, because of the circumstances of life some people were forced to sell portions of the land however the sale was not to be permanent. There were provisions for that land to go back to the original family line. This could be done to the nearest kinsman who could buy back the land or after a certain period of time there was a provision called the year of Jubilee for all lands were returned back to the original family line. (Leviticus 25)

The patrilocal idea had to do with the living space of the family unit that was built around the oldest living male. This living space would also include the extended family. Now this living space was typically a compound. The smaller family units of this “father’s house” would have individual units they would live in and they would be clustered together within a larger walled enclosure. Now when one of the sons was going to get married he would first build a house before he got his wife. He would marry his wife from another tribe than he would bring her home to the family compound and live in the house he built,  a separate unit within that compound for him and his wife and children.
This patrilocal arrangement was part of Israel’s culture during the time of Jesus. We see this in the gospel of John 14:1-3. Jesus is alone with his closest friends for one last meal together. Jesus tells his disciples that he is leaving and there will be trouble. The disciples voice their concerns and Jesus responds.

John 14:1-3 (NIV)                                                                                                                                    [1] “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. [2] In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Remember it was the husband that went and retrieved his bride and brought her back to the “fathers house” however before he brought her home he would build a place for him and his bride at his “fathers house”. In the West we have imposed our cultural lens upon this passage when we sing songs about “that mansion up over the hilltop” that is waiting for us in heaven. When the truth is Jesus was telling his disciples that all those who become his followers are now collectively his bride and that he is going to bring his bride to his father’s family compound. We are not redeemed to live in a marble mansion but to be reincorporated into the father’s family.

Israelite's earliest culture was tribal and the family was the most important and influential elements of that society. Within this system the oldest son or closest living male relative was the greatest authority in one’s life and the greatest responsibility for one’s well-being. This is the context of the redemption story.

Now with all of that said how does this help us understand the term redemption? Remember the New Testament writers adopted the word redemption from the Old Testament writers who in turn adopted the word from the secular world around them. What we have seen is the word redemption and the concepts behind that word entered the Bible through the laws and mores of Israel’s patriarchal, tribal culture. This idea of redemption was intrinsically linked to the family responsibilities of a patriarch and to his clan. We see some amazing examples of this in the Old Testament.

The story of Ruth and Boaz is one of the stories. A Jewish couple by the name of Naomi and Elimelech had two sons. In the culture of that day Naomi was set for life. However, a famine came and they had to leave their land and move to another country, Moab. While there the sons married however, Naomi’s husband died and then her two sons died leaving her destitute. Since her sons died without having children of their own she had to do something. In a foreign land with no laws to protect her there she decided to move back to Israel. Since the wives of her sons where from Moab she told them to go back to their original families so that they could be taken care of and she’d go back to the land of her ancestry. Here’s what Naomi said:

Ruth 1:11-13 (NIV)                                                                                                                                  [11] But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? [12] Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— [13] would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me! ”

When we look at what she said through the culture of patrilinealism we have a better understanding of what’s going on here. Naomi had no means to care for these women’s needs either then or in the future.

One of the daughter-in-law’s left while the other refused to go but insisted of staying by Naomi’s side.

Ruth 1:16-17 (NIV)                                                  
[16] But Ruth replied, “Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. [17] Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

This was a powerful statement from Ruth. Ruth was telling Naomi that her tribal affiliation will now be with her alone. Ruth chose Naomi as her kin and she was not leaving.

The women returned to Israel, specifically Bethlehem where Elimelech’s “Father household” or where his land and estate holdings located. Naomi knew what the laws of her culture were and had Ruth take advantage of the local cleaning laws in order to feed themselves. Ruth worked hard and took care of her widowed mother-in-law. This did not go unnoticed by a certain local landowner. Boaz was his name and he just so happen to be in the family lineage of Elimelech.

Ruth 2:8-12
[8] So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. [9] Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
[10] At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground.  She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me —a foreigner? ”
[11] Boaz replied, “I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law  since the death of your husband —how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know  before.  [12] May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD,  the God of Israel,  under whose wings  you have come to take refuge. ”

When Ruth came home that evening she told Naomi everything. Naomi understood that Boaz was one of her relatives and a very close relative. Naomi understanding the redemption laws, instructed Ruth what to do next. Ruth goes back to gleaning in the fields. After the sunset and the workers were relaxing for the evening Ruth goes to where Boaz was sleeping, somewhere out by the harvest fields and takes a place at the feet of Boaz while he slept. When Boaz noticed her he was pleased however, he didn’t take advantage of the situation because he knew Ruth was making herself available to Boaz for marriage. Asking for him to redeem her and Naomi. Boaz agrees and sends her home before sunrise in order to protect her safety and reputation and tells her he’ll take care of everything in the meantime.

In order for Boaz “to redeem” he needed to marry Ruth and buy back the patrimony of her deceased husband, the son of a Elimelech. Boaz would bring both Ruth and Naomi into his household, father a child in the name of Ruth’s dead husband thereby keeping Elimelech’s family inheritance in the family line. However, there was one relative closer in relation then Boaz. This closer relative did not want to fulfill his duties as the law required because if he married Ruth his own inheritance might be jeopardized. He didn’t want to put his resources on the line in order to redeem. Boaz understood that what he was about to do with Ruth could be very costly to him also. His actions would put his own resources on the line. However, Boaz was a man of integrity and chose to embrace the responsibility of the patriarch and become Ruth’s “Kinsman-redeemer”.

This story teaches us about the tribal law of redemption and the patriarchs responsibility to rescue a family member because of devastating life circumstances. The law demanded the patriarch to protect the individual’s legal rights and financial obligations. This story shows us the reconciliation of family ties would cost the redeemer. And this was done by the closest male relative that was looked to for help and hope.

Let’s look at Lot and Abraham. In Genesis 14 we have another great story about the expectations of tribal laws. Lot and Abraham are now two separate “father’s household” or “bet ab”. Lot was settled in the Jordan Valley near Sodom and Gomorrah. There was a league of Kings that invaded the area. They captured Lot and his household, must likely to make them slaves. Someone escaped and reported what happened to Abraham, that his relative Lot had been captured. Abraham gathered together some of the local “bet abs” plus his own to go after the invaders. They headed north towards Syria, found the invaders and defeated them, rescued his family members and the possessions. Why did Abraham do this? Because of the characteristic customs and conventions of the community, their mores. The patriarch had responsibilities in this culture. If a family member of his lineage was in need of ransom or rescue the patriarch was expected to do something. Here we have Abraham putting his own household on the line, his life on the line, in order to rescue his nephew from an enemy Lot couldn’t defeat. This is a story of redemption in ancient Israel. Abraham was a “Kinsman-Redeemer”.
Finally, there’s the story of Hosea and Gomer. Hosea was a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel. God called him to live his life as an example of what Israel’s relationship with God looked like. Hosea was to take a wife who was an adulteress.

When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.” - Hosea 1:2 (NIV)

So he married Gomer. Here we have a holy man going to the bad side of town to find a wife. These towns were not that big so everyone knew everyone. People saw who went where and like today people talked. Here was a holy man who married a woman who made herself available to other men. You can imagine the emotional twisting of his soul.

If we considered Gomer, I don’t think any 10-year-old girl from any culture at any time says to herself one day “I want to grow up to be a harlot.” However, Gomer’s history was probably replete with agony from family environment to neighborhood conditions. Gomer had no “bet ab” or a responsible patriarch. Because of her sexual past she would never have a husband in her culture. If she did have a child, that child would have been shunned by the community. Gomer’s fate was to be a marginalized woman in a patriarchal culture without a patriarch. Then a miracle came her way. Hosea, a man of means and status asked her to be his wife. This woman who had a past which dictated her future was now given a different future. Not only did she get a “patriarch” she also soon had a child that was a son. This followed with her giving birth to two more children. Her life was transformed and filled with good things.

However, as the story goes on we see that although outwardly all seem great yet, inwardly her soul was not fixed. She goes back to her old ways. We can just imagine the anger and humiliation of Hosea. The good things she received were not enough. Her promiscuity was more important to her then a secure and stable future. She hits rock bottom by becoming a slave to be sold.
God then tells Hosea, “go and buy her back.” Remember Hosea is a holy man, a prophet of God in a small town. Gomer was given a home, children, a better future. We have Hosea in the public square, in front of his neighbors, bidding for his own wife, the mother of his children. For fifteen shekels and a homer and ½ of barley he buys back his wife. This is “redemption”.

So, what is redemption? In the OT we can understand why the OT writers used this word to describe God’s relationship with His chosen people. In the tribal cultures of the times redemption was an act of a patriarch who would put his resources on the line to rescue his family members who had succumb to the circumstances of life that marginalized them, who were captured by enemies that they could not defend themselves against, who suffered from the consequences of an unfaithful life. Redemption was the means by which a lost family member was restored to a place of security within the family circle. This was a patriarch’s responsibility. This was the safety net of Israel’s culture. This is the backdrop of what the New Testament believers find themselves back then and today.

What was lost in Eden, we now see God presenting himself as the patriarch of all of humanity announcing His intent to redeem His lost family members. Not only has he agreed to pay the ransom required. He sent the most cherished member of His household to accomplish this task. His one and only Son. Not only did he come to seek and save the lost, he also came to share his inheritance, even though humanity squandered everything He gave them. He still desired to restore the lost family to the “bet ab”, to the “Fathers house” in order for us to be where He is. That’s why we call each other brother and sister. That’s why we know God as “Father”, “Abba”. Therefore, we are of the “household of faith”. God is beyond human gender and our relationship with Him is beyond bloodline. Redemptive history comes to us in a language of OT patriarchal society. Our Father who is in heaven is buying back his lost children by sending his firstborn to “give his life as a ransom for many”, so that we the alienated might be “adopted” and share forever in the inheritance of the Son.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. – Col 1:13-15

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. – 1 Peter 1:18-19

Thanks to Sandra Richter


Popular Posts