Husband and Redeemer Print
Theology
Written by Toby Sumpter   
Monday, 31 May 2010 20:23

It’s so easy to miss the gospel in the Old Testament. We are like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Only we’ve seen Jesus, we know He’s alive, and so frequently we still read the Law and the Prophets like unbelieving Jews.

For example, in Exodus, Moses gives Israel instructions for masters and slaves immediately after giving the Ten Commandments, after bringing Israel up out of Egypt. We should be suspicious of this, but we’re modernists and post modernists and we are chronological snobs. Those non-narrative portions of the law are obscure, random, and they frequently feel to us like the ancient Hebrew scribes just cut and pasted verses together like a choose-your-own-adventure novel.

But Moses gives the Ten Commandments and immediately proceeds to set out guidelines, specifically laying out protections for slaves and their families. In particular, a female slave was to have special legal safeguards. If a female slave was betrothed to marry her Hebrew master but he found some "evil" in her, he was not permitted to sell her to a "foreign people," but must "redeem her" (Ex. 21:8). Likewise, if he betroths a female slave to his son, he must honor and protect her as his own daughter (Ex. 21:9).

A couple of chapters later, God says that He will meet with Israel from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim on the ark of the testimony, and He will speak with them there (Ex. 25:22). Literally, God says, “I will betroth you to me, from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim...” It’s the same word used in the regulations concerning the betrothal of female slaves.

Later, when Israel offers the daily sacrifice at the tent of meeting before the Lord, He says, "I will betroth myself to you and speak with you there..." (Ex. 29:42, cf. 29:43) Again, when Yahweh gives instructions for setting up the altar of incense in the tabernacle, He says to put if before the "veil that is above the ark of the testimony in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will betroth myself to you." (Ex. 30:6, cf. 20:36)

Exodus is the first book in the Hebrew Scriptures to use this word, and it means to agree together, gather together, perhaps even covenant together. Clearly it is the language of love and promises, intimacy and trust. Later, in Numbers, God will call His people to gather together before Him at the tent of meeting, He will call them to betroth themselves to Him in the assembly (Num. 10:3-4), but Israel will respond to Yahweh’s overtures of love and betrothal with infidelity and rebellion. When He calls them to go into the Promised Land, they refuse, and God says that they have gathered together against Him, they have betrothed themselves to another (Num. 14:35). Korah, Dathan, and Abiram do the same, plotting infidelity to their Lord and Husband (Num. 16:11).

What this means is that the law in Exodus 21 for female slaves was not just for Hebrew men. It was simultaneously for the entire nation of Israel. It was for us. This law is the gospel.

When Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt, out of bondage, Israel was a female slave betrothed to Him. But we know that He found "evil" in her over time. She was unfaithful in the wilderness, and she betrothed herself to other gods. She rebelled against His love. And the history of Israel replays this narrative over and over. But Yahweh is a faithful husband, and He will not sell her to a “foreign people.” She will go into exile in a foreign land, and she will be mistreated by her lovers. But He will come for her; He will “redeem her.”

How will He redeem the female slave that He was betrothed to? How will He redeem her for the “evil” that He has found in her? He will redeem her with His own Son and betroth her to Him, and then God the Father will honor and protect her as His own daughter.

Here in what looks like a few obscure details of the Israelite law we see the goodness and mercy of God. This is the entire gospel in miniature: God our Husband and Redeemer.



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Last Updated on Monday, 31 May 2010 20:34