12 February 2009

Our Ransom

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. --Isa 43:1-5 ESV

As a brief follow up to the previous reflection - today I am meditating on Isaiah 43. It is deep roots for storm-tossed trees and a wide foundation for tottering towers.

I mention it because it makes the same connection between the gospel and fear. All through Isaiah 40-53 the Lord forbids fear (Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth? Isa 51:12-13). Yet here in the opening verses of ch 43 God establishes this exhortation in the firmest of all foundations.

In between two commands not to fear (vv 1, 5), he roots this courage in the fact that he has redeemed us (v. 1). We are precious to him (v. 4). He loves us (v. 4). He is with us (v. 5). He will bring us home to him (v. 5).

But how do we know? How can we be sure of all these things? Because of verse 4. "I give Egypt as your ransom." The word used here for ransom is kopher, one of the most theologically loaded words in the OT. It means atonement, ransom, the price paid to buy back a life (BDB 497-99). It is used all through the Pentateuch to describe how sin is atoned for in the Israelite sacrificial system--all epitomized, finalized, consummated once and for all in the great Sacrifice, the great Atonement, the Ransom of all ransoms. How can we be sure of Isaiah 43:1-7? Christ died. God said he gives Egypt as a ransom. He did far more than that. He gave himself as a ransom.

Well did the hymnist, drawing on verse 2 of this text, write in 1787:

When through the deep waters I call thee to go
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow
For I shall be with thee thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress

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