gō’ēl- The concept of a family redeemer in ancient ISRAEL and today- by Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz (PSPS II)

The Go’el in Ancient Israel: Theological Reflections on an Israelite Institution

ROBERT L. HUBBARD, JR.
DENVER CONSERVATIVE BAPTIST SEMINARY

Jerusalem,

‎Called “Lion’s Gate,” “St. Stephen’s Gate,” or “Sheep Gate.” Located at the eastern wall of Old Jerusalem and acted as the starting point of the traditional Via Dolorosa.

In his delightful book Hunting the Divine Fox, theologian Robert Farrar Capon warned of a special danger—overfamiliarity with the Bible:

Mere familiarity does not necessarily produce understanding. It is perfectly possible to know something (or someone!) all your life and still never really comprehend what you’re dealing with. Like the Irishman in the old joke who received a brand-new toilet from his American cousins: He used the bowl for a foot washer, the lid for a breadboard, and the seat for a frame around the Pope’s picture.

Among Bible scholars, there is nothing more familiar than the concept of gō’ēl or “kinsman-redeemer.” Proper interpretation of the book of Ruth requires its treatment, and Leggett has devoted a major book to it. As Capon warned, however, familiarity does not automatically mean understanding. Indeed, recent scholarly discussion reveals that, though understood in broad outline, some details of the gō’ēl institution still elude precise definition.
Preoccupation with its legal and sociological background, however, has shunted aside reflection on its theology. In my view, discussions in Old Testament theologies and theological dictionaries are distressingly brief and untheological. Thus, in this paper I aim to explore the theology of that Israelite institution. First, I will define and describe Israel’s idea of gō’ēl in general terms. Second, I will explore the theological insights of two key texts—applicable sections of Leviticus 25 and the book of Ruth. Time constraints, however, require that the examination of others be left for another occasion. Finally, I will attempt to summarize the results gained from the exegesis of those texts. Hopefully, a deeper appreciation and theological understanding of the gō’ēl practice will replace that dangerous overfamiliarity of which Capon warned.
I

The term gō’ēl derives from the realm of Israelite family law. It describes a close relative, a “kinsman-redeemer,” who takes upon himself the duties of ge’ulla—“redemption” or “recovery”—on behalf of a needy family member. Actually, at any given time, a pool of gō’alîm stood available for duty because many close relatives could perform the tasks. Of those tasks, I mention only three here since the others will emerge in my remarks below. According to Numbers 35, the gō’ēl was to avenge the death of a relative—the so-called “redeemer of blood” (gō’ēl haddām; cf. vv. 16–21). He did so by tracking down and putting the killer to death, provided, of course, that the gates of a city of refuge did not get in his way. Also, as head of his clan, the gō’ēl would receive any monetary restitution due a deceased relative for a wrong committed against him (Num 5:8). Finally, the gō’ēl also assisted his relatives in obtaining justice in a lawsuit. As for its purpose, the institution served one main goal—to keep tribal solidarity intact by recovering its losses, whether of people or property.10
II

Leviticus 25 falls near the end of the so-called “Holiness Code” (Lev 17–26). Literarily, it consists of Yahweh’s commission of Moses at Mt. Sinai to instruct Israel (vv 1–2). Instructions concerning the gō’ēl duties fall within the treatment of the Jubilee Year (vv 8–55). Though the date of the chapter’s final form is a matter of dispute, the issue need not detain us here.13 Whatever its date, most scholars concede that the chapter represents concepts and practices which Israel observed during the monarchy if not earlier.
Vv 23–28, the instruction concerning the redemption of property, concern us first. Structurally, the section divides into two parts: the twofold orders (vv 23–24) and the instruction itself (vv 25–28). Formally, the instruction begins with a casuistic—that is, conditional—clause, kî yāmûk ’āẖîkā ûmākā mē’aẖuzzātô (“if your fellow clansman becomes poor and sells some of his property”). This statement raises two questions. First, what circumstances underlie it? As the case of Naboth’s vineyard shows (1 Kgs 21), Israelites clung to their ancestral property even in the face of royal pressure. Thus, one suspects the direst of circumstances here. The formula kî yāmûk ’āẖîkā (“if your kinsman becomes poor,” cf. vv 35, 39, 47; 27:8) provides a clue. Unfortunately, the root mûk occurs only five times in the Old Testament, four times in Leviticus 25 (vv 25, 35, 39, 47), once in Leviticus 27:8. Ugaritic, however, offers a suggestive cognate (mkk or mk) meaning “to become weak” or “to deteriorate.” A parallel line in v 35 here confirms the validity of that cognate and further illumines the meaning of mûk. Taken literally, māṯâ yādô means “his hand shakes” (root mûṯ “to waver, shake”), a metaphor which probably refers to economic weakness. Hence, in this context, the root mûk means—in modern terms—to become “shaky” financially, to be unable to support oneself.
Thus, a case of severe indebtedness probably lies behind the surrender of land here. Apparently, to repay a debt which has come due, the landholder has mortgaged his inheritance. A measure of his desperation, he preferred to suffer the loss of land rather than the cruel consequences of an unpaid debt. This leads to a second question: what is actually sold here, the land itself or something else? Vv 14–15 suggest that the landholder sold only the land’s revenue—its produce or yield—not the property itself (cf. also v 27). In effect, the person only rented out the land—at most, for forty-nine years until the next Jubilee—but did not surrender its title. He received the rent in advance, a single lump sum payment, just as if there had been a sale. The difficulty, of course, is how to get his mortgaged land out of hock later.
The instruction (vv 25–28) provides the answer. (To borrow a Latin expression, we might call them ad hoc provisions!) First, a gō’ēl of the “mortgage buyer” may “redeem” (gā’āl) the property (v 25). Presumably, he is one of the relatives listed later in vv 48–49—a brother, an uncle, a cousin, or any blood relative. Second, if he lacks a gō’ēl, yet somehow gathers the necessary means, he may redeem himself (v 26). Most likely, he would acquire the funds through some sort of inheritance rather than by frugally saving some of his wages. The cost of living would probably leave little, if any, of his earnings to be saved—a predicament typical of modern life as well. In this case—and presumably in the first case as well—he must repay the buyer part of the rent originally advanced him (v 27). Based on the number of years left until Jubilee, the amount would be the sum first borrowed less the amount which the mortgage holder had earned from the land during his tenancy. The third case concerns the “worst case” scenario. If the mortgage buyer lacks a gō’ēl and fails to amass sufficient funds to redeem himself, the property remains with the buyer until the year of Jubilee (v 28). Only then does the original landholder regain full possession of it.
This brings us to consider the twofold theological basis for the legislation (vv 23–24). The first is a prohibition against the permanent sale of land: “The land shall not be sold permanently for the land is mine, for you are resident aliens and settlers with me.”27 Obviously, the statement outlaws the permanent transfer of ownership of real estate in Israel. Strikingly, however, to support it, Yahweh appeals to an ancient social analogy, the contrast in status between a landowner and a resident alien. Yahweh is the landowner, he says. Yahweh alone holds title to the property; Israel only works it on his behalf. Yahweh alone enjoys the full rights and privileges of ownership; Israel only lives there by his grace. By contrast, Israel is just a resident alien (gēr) and settler (tôšāb). Now, in Israel, a resident alien enjoyed a status somewhere between the full rights of a citizen and the few rights of a foreigner. Significantly, however, the alien could not possess land; only full Israelite citizens could. Hence, for work, he had to hire himself out, and for food, to glean in the fields (Lev 19:10; 23:22; Deut 24:14, 19–21). The point, then, is that Israel lives, not on her own land, but on land that belongs to someone else. Since she holds no title, she has no right to sell it. Only Yahweh, the true owner, does.30 Thus, to sell it permanently is to infringe on Yahweh’s rights.
The second basis for the instruction is the command (v 24): “Throughout the land of your possession, you shall permit (titnû) redemption (ge’ullâ) for the land.” If the prohibition outlaws the Permanent sale of property, the command permits its return when temporarily separated from its holder. The three cases discussed above implement its permission. In one sense, the command logically follows up the prohibition: the latter implicitly establishes Yahweh’s authority as landowner, the former articulates his policy concerning it. On the other hand, one wonders why such an order need be issued. What would the situation be like without it? Apparently, without it, Israel was not likely to permit such redemption. Indeed, quite the opposite scenario seems probable. Unforeseen, unavoidable bankruptcy would compel the poor to mortgage some of their land just to survive.
In turn, the rich would bankroll such mortgages and increase their land holdings. Over time, they would reap a handsome profit, a profit to be turned into other purchases, perhaps of more land. Eventually, a great social division would result—on one side, a few wealthy land barons, on the other, the landless poor who work for them. In short, it is that accumulation of property and economic power which the redemption requirement here seeks to prevent. Whether accomplished by the gō’ēl, by self-redemption, or by Jubilee, Yahweh intends redemption to maintain a social and economic equilibrium in Israel.
In addition, the chapter also legislates the redemption of persons (vv 47–55). This additional “ad hoc provision” resembles that concerning the land. Here, too, repayment of a debt probably stands behind the crisis (ûmāk ’āẖîkā, “and your brother becomes poor,” v 47). In this case, however, the source of capital is not an Israelite but a settler, a resident alien, or a member of his family. To obtain funds, the threatened Israelite “sells himself” (nimkar) into servitude to his foreign financier. In other words, he agrees to “work off” the monetary advance by laboring in the alien’s employ. Now the fact that he sells himself rather than land may be significant. It may imply that he has already mortgaged his property since his only remaining asset appears to be his labor. If so, his case represents an even more extreme example of insolvency than the one in vv 25–28.
As before, the problem is how to regain his economic independence. In response, v 48 dictates that the Israelite still has the right to redemption (ge’ullâ; cf. v 24). The same three avenues that vv 25–28 offer make it possible (vv 48b–54). First, his relatives—one of his brothers, an uncle, a cousin, or any blood relative—may redeem him from servitude (vv 48–49). Second, if he comes into money, he may redeem himself (v 49b). In this case—and probably in the first case as well—the number of years between the start of his servitude and the next Jubilee form the basis for calculating his redemption price (v 50a). Though vv 50b–52 lack some needed details, essentially the price amounts to what, at the going rate, a hired man would earn in the years left before Jubilee. The text views it as a refund of that part of the original cash advance which the borrower had not yet worked off. Once the financier is paid off, the person goes free. Finally, as in the case of mortgaged land, if the above two means fail, the next Jubilee effects his release (v 54).
Now two other comments enable us to gain some theological insight. First, v 53 specifies the special treatment due an enslaved Israelite. It forbids the boss to treat him harshly. He is to handle him, not like an ordinary slave, but like a śekîr, a “day laborer,” an employee hired for a fixed period of time (cf. Deut 24:14–15). In other words, Yahweh places the Israelite under protection, limiting his master’s control and defining the rules of the workplace (cf. vv 39–40). Put differently, Yahweh decrees that, despite his misfortune, the Israelite is still a full citizen under hire, not a lowly, foreign slave. More important, in v 55 Yahweh gives the twofold reason for the Israelite’s release. Says Yahweh, “The children of Israel are mine; they are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt …” (v 42). Obviously, Yahweh recalls the famous liberation of Israel at the Exodus (Exod 14). Simply put, an enslaved Israelite should go free at Jubilee because Yahweh owns him as a servant.
This statement is striking in several respects. First, it implies that for the foreigner not to release the Israelite infringes on Yahweh’s rights as master. Whatever business binds the two men, ultimately the Israelite is Yahweh’s property, subject to his wishes. No less than any Christian, no Israelite could serve two masters (Matt 6:24). Second, the statement implies that the Jubilee release is the social mechanism whereby Yahweh protects his interests. It is a social statement that he owns Israel and defends his rights. Third, there appears to be an important wordplay between two forms of the verb ys̱’ in the context. According to v 54, the redeemed Israelite is to (lit.) “go out” (weyāsā, qal)—that is, to go free. According to v 55, at the Exodus, Yahweh “brought out” Israel (hôsē’tî, hiph.)—that is, set her free. Implicitly, the wordplay links the Exodus with the institution of ge’ullâ. It portrays the redemption of this chapter as a follow-up to what Yahweh did in Egypt. Now, if this is so, two additional insights into the nature of redemption follow. Put simply, redemption amounts to an institutional Exodus in Israel. On the one hand, it perpetuates the first liberation—that from Egyptian slavery—within later, settled Israel. It frees her from unending servitude to later Pharaohs within her own ranks. On the other, each instance, of redemption amounts to a fresh moment of divine liberation—as it were, a miniature Exodus.
That insight, in turn, casts the role of the Israelite gō’ēl in a different theological light. In essence, the human kinsman carries out the redemption policy of the “Great Kinsman,” Yahweh himself. One might even say that the human kinsman personally represents Yahweh in such transactions. On the other hand, when human redemption, whether by gō’ēl or by oneself, fails to free an enslaved Israelite, the Jubilee provision intervenes. In effect, at that moment, the Great Kinsman himself steps in to perform redemption, just as he did at the Exodus.
Let us sum up the theological insights gained from Leviticus 25. First, the gō’ēl institution implements Yahweh’s rights and policies toward his land and his people. Specifically, he decrees limits on the human inclination toward greed and power. Since he owns Canaan, his policy is that families retain, not lose, their inherited land. Since he owns Israel, his policy is that his people never see perpetual slavery again. He is their only master, a God of liberation. For Israel, the implications are twofold. On the one hand, she must accept economic dependence on Yahweh. She must content herself with the portion of Yahweh’s land allotted her by him. While citizens of neighboring nations expand their holdings, Yahweh calls her to trust him to make those assigned plots productive. On the other hand, Yahweh calls her to live out the “Exodus ethos.” Once she was an impoverished victim of Pharaoh. Should she attain wealth, however, her mandate is to not play Pharaoh against her fellow, former slaves. Rather, she is to allow and to effect their redemption.
Second, the purpose of the institution is restoration. As North put it, “In the jubilee the dominant note is home-coming.” In this regard, the key Hebrew expression is šûb ’el/le ’aẖuzzâ, “to return to (one’s) possession” (vv 27, 28; cf. vv 10, 13, 41). In this context, ’aẖuzzâ (“possession”) refers specifically to the property inherited by an Israelite from his ancestors. Whether “to return to (one’s) possession” connotes an actual reoccupation of ancestral land or simply its repossession is uncertain.43 In any case, the point is that, either through redemption or Jubilee, the Israelite recovers the family property previously mortgaged. He returns to the state of affairs before circumstances forced its surrender. However achieved, redemption gives Israelites with financial woes a chance to start over. In that regard, Wenham has observed that the average Israelite would probably live to see one Jubilee observance in a lifetime. By implication, if not freed earlier, an Israelite would enjoy a fresh financial start once in a lifetime. From a human standpoint, one should not underestimate what a giant relief that offers. It would lift an otherwise impossible burden of debt from poor, sagging shoulders. In that moment, he would experience his own Exodus—the sweet taste of economic freedom at last!
In short, through this institution, Yahweh provides—to borrow a modern phrase—a “safety net” for vulnerable Israelites. In so doing, he shows himself to be the Great Kinsman, the powerful protector of the weak. Through redemption, he saves hopelessly poor citizens from an endless cycle of poverty. He prevents a reversal of the Exodus—a relapse into the cruel hands of Israelite Pharaohs.46 In effect, he provides Israel with what Moore called a “cultural gyroscope,” a guidance system to maintain her social equilibrium—her sense of wholeness, well-being, or šālôm. The institution enables Israel to live out her two great national charters—the promise of blessing to Abraham (Gen 12) and the Sinai covenant of freedom (Exod 19–24).
III

In the book of Ruth, we enter quite different literary terrain. We leave the craggy slopes of Sinai for the fertile fields, fragrant threshing floor, and buzzing city gate of Bethlehem. Suddenly, the stern, divine voice which lectured at Sinai gives way to a narrative about Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. Immediately, two things are striking. First, in Ruth one sees, not abstract legislation, but actual legal principles—the application of legal background to a live situation. One may wonder whether Israel ever observed Jubilee, but Ruth leaves no doubt that Israel observed ge’ullâ. Second, one observes that God hardly seems present at all in the story.49 He directly intervenes in only two places—he gives Judah food (1:6) and Ruth conception (4:13). Were Yahweh not occasionally invoked by characters, one might presume him to be totally absent from the story. Closer inspection, however, reveals that God is very much present. Though hidden behind the scenes, his is the firm hand quietly guiding events.51
To begin, we consider the emergence and role of the gō’ēl in Ruth. Chapter 1 confronts us with the book’s main problem, the lack of an heir. Pointedly, v 5 stresses that only Naomi survived her family’s sojourn in Moab. Her bitter outcry (vv 11–13) drops a painful hint: what this story needs is a husband to produce a child (cf. also vv 20–21). The word gō’ēl first appears, however, in 2:20 where Naomi applies it to Boaz. Though ambiguous, the reference at least introduces the prospect of his future action on behalf of the two widows. Further, it occurs in a significant context, Naomi’s praise of Boaz for his ẖesed. In 3:9, it is Ruth herself who petitions the action implicit in 2:20 when she proposes marriage to Boaz as gō’ēl. This is not the place to review the discussion concerning that verse. The point is that Ruth sought to marry Boaz in order to give Naomi the heir she needed. In response, Boaz introduced a surprise—the existence of another gō’ēl with a prior right to the duty (3:12)—then promised to arrange her redemption one way or the other (3:13). The important scene at the city gate reports how Boaz legally obtained the redemption right for himself (4:1–12). Finally, 4:14 provides the last mention of gō’ēl, specifically, praise of Yahweh for giving Naomi the newborn son of Boaz and Ruth as her gō’ēl.
Now several important things emerge in this survey. First, like Leviticus 25, it is a tragic human crisis which eventually summons the gō’ēl to action. The family line of Elimelech lacks an heir to continue itself. Hence, it teeters perilously on the brink of annihilation. As is well known, Israel regarded such an event as a great tragedy, one to be avoided at all costs. When a family died out physically, it ceased to exist metaphysically. That robbed Israel of one of her most prized possessions, her tribal solidarity. A secondary crisis, however, is the possibility that Naomi faces old age without anyone to care for her. That potential tragedy is implicit in her angry outcries (1:11–13, 20–21), and explicit in the joyous exclamation of her neighbors (4:14–15). They rejoice that the newborn will “revive [her] spirits and sustain [her] in old age.” In short, as in Leviticus 25, here the gō’ēl delivers an unfortunate Israelite, not from loss of land or lengthy servitude, but from annihilation.
Second, the book sets this redemption in a theological framework different from that of Leviticus 25. In the latter, ge’ullâ formed a part of the practice of the Jubilee year. In Ruth, it forms part of what I call “the life of ẖesed,” the ideal lifestyle which the book reveres. This is evident in 2:20 where Naomi first identifies Boaz as a gō’ēl. In the preline, she praises Yahweh for the fact that Boaz had “not abandoned his kindness (ẖesed) toward the living and the dead.” The juxtaposition of ẖesed and gō’ēl here implies that, should Boaz later carry out gō’ēl duties, such actions would constitute acts of ẖesed. Though ẖesed nowhere else occurs with reference to Boaz, two other evidences imply that the book views his performance as fulfilling that ideal. In 3:18, Naomi again lauds Boaz, this time for his conscientious follow-through. He promised Ruth redemption (3:13), and he will not relax until she has it. In addition, the closing genealogy lists Boaz seventh in the list, a position of honor second only to that of the tenth place. In sum, according to the book, by serving as gō’ēl, Boaz performs an act of ẖesed worthy of honor.
Now this is what is particularly striking about the ẖesed-framework in Ruth: contrary to expectations, it seems to rest theologically, not on a covenant basis, but on a cosmic one. That is, its roots lie more in Yahweh’s role as king of the universe than as Israel’s covenant God. Two evidences point in this direction. First, a cosmic basis for ẖesed seems to underlie Naomi’s petition in 1:8 that Yahweh repay Orpah and Ruth for their ẖesed toward her. At that point, neither woman is a member of Israel’s covenant community. Indeed, Naomi herself expects them to worship Moabite gods if they obey her urging to “go back” (1:15). Her plea assumes that Yahweh rewards all peoples, not just Israelites, for ẖesed. Thus, the book understands ẖesed as a constituent element of the world’s underlying moral order, the order which Yahweh oversees and of which Israel’s own ẖesed-ideal (cf. Mic 6:8) is a specific expression. Further, it assumes (as does the entire Old Testament) that Yahweh himself is a God of ẖesed. Naomi appeals to him to dispense hesed because he is that kind of God.
The second evidence is the divine title Shaddai which Naomi twice invokes (1:20–21). A brief review of the Old Testament usage of Shaddai confirms that it reflects the idea of Yahweh’s cosmic, not just covenant, rulership. By nature, Shaddai is great and mysterious (Job 11:7). He not only promised the patriarchs great destinies (Gen 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14), but decrees appropriate fates for the righteous and the wicked (Job 27:14; 31:2). As cosmic ruler, he maintains justice in the world (Job 8:3; 24:1; 27:2), hears appeals for legal intervention (Job 8:5; 13:3; 31:35), and metes out terrible punishments (Job 6:4; 23:16; 27:14–23). In sum, the Old Testament associates Shaddai with Yahweh in his role as cosmic ruler. Now if this is so, I would argue that the above two cosmic references, concentrated as they are in chapter 1, create a subtle literary effect. Should Yahweh later act in the story, whether to reward or to punish, the reader assumes that he does so in the same role as king of the cosmos.
Two final observations conclude our analysis of the theology of the gō’ēl in Ruth. First, the book assumes that Yahweh acts in the acts of the story’s human characters. Though supportive evidence is plentiful, one example must suffice. I refer to the clever repetition of the word kānāp (“wing, garment-corner”) in chapters two and three. In 2:12, addressing Ruth, Boaz wishes that Yahweh would repay Ruth for her actions. He specifies that Yahweh is the God “under whose wings” (kenāpayim) Ruth has sought refuge. The word “wings” probably conjures up the image of a bird tenderly protecting its young. Like a defenseless starling, Ruth sits securely under Yahweh’s mighty wings. In Ruth’s marriage proposal (3:9), she asks Boaz to spread his kānāp—here, meaning “garment-corner”—over her. Like “wings” of 2:12, this gesture probably also symbolizes protection of the woman (and perhaps sexual readiness as well). By repeating the key word from his own lips, Ruth essentially asks Boaz to answer his own prayer!69 Now theologically, the word repetition implies a relationship between the two petitions. Thus, by covering Ruth with his kānāp—that is, to marry her—Boaz implements Yahweh’s kānāp—that is, his protection of Ruth. Or, to weave in a thread dropped earlier, the ẖesed of Boaz toward Ruth is the form in which Yahweh conveys his ẖesed to her.
The second and final observation is that, in the end, Yahweh receives the credit for the story’s happy ending. In the closing scene, Naomi’s neighbors exult, “Praise the Lord! He has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer today!” (4:14). For our purposes, the significant point is that the women credit Yahweh with directly giving the gō’ēl to needy Naomi. Now in the preceding verse (4:13), the narrator had said that “Yahweh gave her [Ruth] conception.” Thus, at first glance, the women’s praise seems simply to reinforce the point that Yahweh had provided the newborn. In my view, however, it offers a terse theological commentary on the book’s entire prior chain of events. Granted, Yahweh’s help enabled Ruth to conceive. But there would be no birth at all without human actions—sexual consummation by the newlyweds (4:13), Boaz’s day in court (4:1–12), the meetings of Ruth and Boaz (chaps. 2 and 3), and her migration to Judah (chap. 1). In short, the book implies that divine guidance lay behind everything, even the actions of human characters.
Finally, let us summarize the theological insights concerning the gō’ēl gleaned from Ruth. As with Leviticus 25, ge’ullâ responds to desperate human need—a bitter widow facing old age alone and, worse, a permanent breach in tribal solidarity. Significantly, however, the book understands the basis of that redemption to be a cosmic one, the universal idea of ẖesed. The implication is that, in the book of Ruth, the Israelite institution implements that larger ideal. Specifically, the human gō’ēl is the means whereby Yahweh, the Great Kinsman, achieves his purposes. On stage, Ruth and Boaz faithfully live the lifestyle of ẖesed. Backstage, however, behind them, moves the Great gō’ēl, pained by famine, death, and old age, gently acting to alleviate them. His broad, powerful wings protect those, like Boaz and Ruth, who please him.
Before leaving Ruth, however, I must add a speculative footnote. Since the story’s ultimate climax is the birth of David, I wonder if the neighbors’ joyful cry in 4:14 literarily anticipates that event. In other words, did the author view David, grandson of Naomi’s gō’ēl Obed, as the greatest gō’ēl of all? Did he anticipate his redemption of Israel from the slavery evident in Judges—tribal jealousies, idolatry, and foreign oppression?
IV

In his Studies in Biblical Law, David Daube observed that,

the idea of God or Jesus redeeming mankind from sin and damnation, apparently a purely religious idea, derives from those ancient rules on insolvent debtors and victims of murder, on the preservation of the existing clans and the patrimony of clans.

Clearly, Daube spotted the fingerprints of the old Hebrew ge’ullâ on the pages of the New Testament. As we have seen, the Israelite gō’ēl-institution guarded Yahweh’s rights to his land and expressed his policy concerning the liberty of the poor among his covenant people. It also sought to reward those who lived the life of ẖesed among them. It offered the Exodus in institutional form—the Exodus in miniature—to perpetuate the freedom originally won from Pharaoh. Through it and its human gō’alîm, the Great gō’ēl freed Israelites from poverty, old age, and even lost afterlife. At the same time, the institution threw Israel a provocative challenge to give up greed, hubris, and apathy for the Exodus ethos. It presented her a more excellent way and called for a kinder and gentler Israel. Thus, from a New Testament perspective, it anticipated the advent of the Great Redeemer, the one who paid for redemption with his own life. Similarly, the challenge thrown Israel remains relevant today. The world could use more gō’alîm—protectors of the weak, defenders of the poor. Indeed, knowledge of the Israelite ge’ullâ makes even more provocative Paul’s familiar exhortation, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body” (1 Cor 6:19–20).
Hubbard, R. L. (1991). The Go’el in Ancient Israel: Theological Reflections on an Israelite Institution. Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 1, 3–19.

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Published: January 3, 2017, 07:55 | Comments Off on gō’ēl- The concept of a family redeemer in ancient ISRAEL and today- by Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz (PSPS II)
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