Kinsman Redeemer-Avenger

The English rendering “redeemer” generally fails to capture the breadth of connotation present in Hebrew. The Hebrew word ga’al has a concrete meaning in finance, indicating the buying back of something or exacting what is due. When used in the abstract, the word centers around two loci of meaning, ransoming and avenging, often carried out by a relative.

The word ga’al is quite prominent in the Book of Ruth and is central to the story as the widow Naomi from Judah seeks to find a kinsman-redeemer for her daughter-in-law Ruth from Moab. Ultimately, Boaz is the tribal relative who receives Ruth as a wife and redeems her from financial destitution as a childless widow. The story closes with a genealogy of Ruth’s descendants leading to the birth of King David.

Another use of ga’al is that of a kinsman-avenger, a “redeemer of blood” who exacts a payment in blood from someone who has killed the avenger’s relative. In Numbers 35:9-34, the rule is given regarding cities of refuge that were to be established where killers could flee for sanctuary from an avenger of blood until a proper trial could be conducted. Those guilty of murder were given into the hand of the avenger of blood to be executed. Those guilty of manslaughter where confined to the city of refuge until the high priest at the time died.

The rendering of “Redeemer” (the Redeeming One) is frequently used of Yahweh in the Psalms. But suppose it were to be rendered “Avenger” in order to draw out the other shade of meaning in this word. Consider:

May the speech of my mouth and the musings of the heart be delightful before your face, O Yahweh, my rocky cliff and my avenger. (Psalm 19:14)

He shall avenge their souls from oppression and violence, and he shall highly value their blood in his eye. (Psalm 72:14)

Draw near to my soul and avenge it; deliver me from enemies. (Psalm 69:18)

Let the avenged ones of Yahweh speak, those he has avenged from the hand of distressing ones. (Psalm 107:2)

Christ is our great Kinsman Redeemer. He is not ashamed to call us his brothers (Hebrews 2:11). Those who trust in him are his kinsman, his clan, the household of God. By his own bloodshed, he ransoms us from bloodguilt due to our sin and turns back the curse that cries out for our blood. And Christ is our great Kinsman Avenger. He is watching over his people, and vengeance is his (Romans 12:9; 2 Thess. 1:8; Hebrews 10:30).

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