Ransomer-Avenger in the Psalms

Many Psalms call upon Yahweh as our Redeemer. And the underlying Hebrew word for redeemer is not the same in every occurrence in the Psalms. For one of these words, the English rendering “redeemer” generally fails to capture the breadth of the connotation present in the Hebrew. The 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. The act is usually carried out by a relative, i.e. someone who can lay claim.

Yahweh promised to ransom-avenge his people from Egypt (Exodus 6:6) and did so:

You in Your mercy have led forth
The people whom You have redeemed;
You have guided them in Your strength
To Your holy habitation.

– Exodus 15:13

One major concentration of the word ga’al is in Leviticus 25 and 27 which discusses the redemption or ransoming of property that has been sold as well as objects and persons who have been dedicated to God. In many cases, if land that was sold is not redeemed by a kinsman, it will eventually revert in its ownership at the Jubilee. Regarding the things dedicated or devoted to God, under some circumstances, persons and things devoted to God may be ransomed. But under other circumstances, they may not be ransomed.

A second major concentration of the word ga’al is found in Numbers 35 discussing the establishment of cities of refuge where a manslayer can flee and find sanctuary from a kinsman of the dead man, i.e. an avenger of blood. He may remain there until the death of the high priest, which functions as a sort of limited Jubilee for releasing the nation’s bloodguilt. Mention of the avenger of blood reoccurs in Deuteronomy 19 and Joshua 20 where the need for cities of refuge is reiterated.

A third major concentration of the word ga’al is the Book of Ruth. It’s central to the story as the widow Naomi seeks to find a kinsman-redeemer for the bloodline and property of Elimelech who will marry Naomi’s widowed daughter-in-law Ruth. Ultimately, Boaz is a tribal relative who marries Ruth and redeems the line of Elimelech. The benevolent Boaz rescues Ruth the Moabitess from financial destitution and childlessness. The story closes with a genealogy of Ruth’s descendants leading to the birth of King David.

And with that background to ga’al in hand, we come now to the Psalms. The rendering of “Redeemer” (the Ransoming One) is frequently used of Yahweh. But suppose it were to be rendered “Avenger” (the Avenging One) in order to draw out the other shade of meaning in this word. Consider a few examples:

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

The Lord Jesus Christ is the great Kinsman Redeemer of his people. He is not ashamed to call us his brethren. Those who trust in him are his kinsman, his clan, and the household of God. By his own bloodshed, he ransoms us from bloodguilt due to our sin, and he 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.

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