The Meaning of Redemption

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by Terry Murphy


“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

When believers think of the meaning of redemption, we point to what Jesus did for us at the cross. He paid the price for our sins so we wouldn’t have to. That’s true, but biblical redemption is far more sweeping.

Family structure

The word comes to us in the context of Old Testament culture — one we’ve long been removed from. Though we have some concept of family and what it means today, back then family was the ultimate structure for protection, wealth, and well-being. It was the basic unit of civilization. Related families united as clans. Related clans coalesced into tribes. Related tribes associated as distinctive kingdoms or nations.

Heading each family was a father who was responsible to care for, protect, and financially support anyone who was part of his household. That included his wife, his children, and his children’s children (down to whatever generations might be born while he lived).

In addition, when his sons married, their wives and children continued under his protection, along with anyone adopted into the family or any household servants who wanted to continue with him as long as they lived.


A woman’s place in this society was defined by her relationship to a man. An unmarried woman’s welfare was the responsibility of her father. Though she had her duties and responsibilities within the family and in society in general, her father was her provider and protector.

Once she married, a woman would become part of their husband’s household, and he would take over the responsibility for her welfare. If her husband died, their eldest son (or whichever son he chose to be heir) cared for her and managed the family property.

Our twenty-first-century sensibilities may rankle at this male-dominated society, but let’s be honest. We may think of our current setup as being better, but every cultural structure has its societal over- and under-dogs. It was into this specific cultural context that God began to explain Himself and His relationship to His people in a way they could understand.

Redemption and widowhood

We can see how losing a husband would put a woman in a grave situation. Without him, she would be protection-less, provision-less — even homeless. Unless she’d managed to produce a son and heir who could take over when the husband died.

Without either a husband or son, a widow had few means of support open to her. It’s no wonder many of them turned to prostitution. At least it provided a source of income.

That’s when God stepped into the breach by laying down His Levirate laws (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). He commanded that a brother of her dead husband should bring the widow into his household. He was to care not only for her but for his dead brother’s lands and properties.

God also asked him to become something of a surrogate husband for the widow, helping her produce a son who would carry on the dead brother’s name and eventually take over the management of his properties.

With all these additional expenses and responsibilities inherent in caring for these widows, we can see why some men refused to step up to the plate. Those who did, however, were called kinsman redeemers. They redeemed widows from their desperate plight, paying the price to bring them back into a family, hide them under the wings of another husband, and provide for all their needs.

Ruth and her kinsman redeemer

Remember Ruth? When she and Naomi returned to the land of Israel, they arrived without husbands. The two women had to find a way to survive without any family to support them. To their credit, neither of them went into prostitution. Instead, they counted on God’s help.

Ruth went to the newly ripened barley fields to glean leftovers for their meals. It just so happened that the field she chose to work in belonged to a relative of her mother-in-law’s dead husband. When Boaz discovered their predicament, he initiated the Levirate laws on their behalf.

He called on Naomi’s husband’s nearest male relative. Because Naomi was too old to bear children and her sons had died without heirs, her daughter-in-law, Ruth, became the beneficiary of the Levirate laws. While the nearest male was willing to take in the young and lovely Ruth, he balked when discovering it meant buying Naomi’s land and caring for her as well.

Boaz had no such compunctions. He jumped at the chance to pay whatever it cost to be Ruth’s kinsman redeemer. He bought Naomi’s land, willingly tending to it along with his own, drew both women into his household, and married Ruth. Together, they produced a son by the name of Obed, who eventually begot Jesse, who begot David the king. Ruth was redeemed through marriage.

Redemption from Jesus

Redemption, then, includes being drawn into a family, being transformed from a widow into a bride, and going from barrenness to fruitfulness. These are all certainly benefits of Jesus’ work on the cross for us. He found us lost and destitute, unprotected and unprovided for. He became our Kinsman Redeemer, spread the robes of His protection over us (much as Boaz had for Ruth), brought us into His household, made us fruitful, and gave us an inheritance when we thought we’d lost it.


But there’s more.

A bigger redemption

Consider Hosea, a prophet in Israel. Maybe not a popular guy with kings of the area, but he held an honorable position in God’s eyes. Honorable, that is, until the Lord told him to throw his reputation out the window and marry a prostitute. God wanted to express what He thought about His relationship with Israel, and Hosea was going to play the lead in His little stage play.

The prostitute’s name was Gomer. She had likely committed adultery with much of the male population in Hosea’s neighborhood (which was kind of the point — this was the unfaithfulness God was accusing Israel of committing). Regardless of the neighbors’ opinions about his judgment, Hosea redeemed her by buying her out of prostitution and making her his wife.

Things went well enough between them to produce at least three children. (Though we know things were getting ready to turn south when God had Hosea give his children names like “Not Pitied” and “Not My People.”)

Sure enough, Gomer disgraced her husband by going back into prostitution. Her harlotry cost her dearly. Out from under Hosea’s wings, she was exposed and vulnerable. But God hedged her in “So that she cannot find her paths. She will chase her lovers, but not overtake them; yes, she will seek them, but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now’” (Hosea 2:6, 7).

Hosea had already bought Gomer out of trouble once. He’d married her and given her three legitimate children. He had more than enough reason to divorce her. But what does God tell him to do?

“Go buy her back,” he says. “Redeem her again!” (see 3:1, 2).

A redemption like no other

And isn’t that the true picture of the Kinsman Redeemer, who is our faithful Bridegroom? Gomer’s story tells us just how determined Jesus is to keep us safely with Him. He doesn’t just redeem us once. He keeps running after us, tossing hedges around us to prevent us from going too far. He allures us and woos us back until we’re ready to belong to him once more (2:14-16).

Then He redeems us again.

And though He should, by all rights, at least reduce our status in His household when we return, our Kinsman Redeemer says, no. “I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord” (vv. 19, 20).

Who can beat such redemption as this?

Terry Murphy
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Terry Murphy is a Christian writer living in Gresham, OR.