Lane, Jennifer C., “The Lord Will Redeem His People: Adoptive Covenant and Redemption in the Old Testament” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 298–310.
Jennifer C. Lane is assistant professor of Religious Education at Brigham Young University—Hawaii.
In singing the hymn “Redeemer of Israel,” I have always enjoyed the message of the Lord’s sustaining and protecting power, but until recently I had never asked myself, What does it mean that the Lord is the Redeemer of Israel? What does it mean to be a redeemer? Why is He the Redeemer of Israel? When and how did He become Israel’s redeemer?
Likewise, biblical scholarship has not often addressed these questions. Some scholars have briefly noted a correlation between redemption and covenant, but questions such as why, when, and how the Lord became the Redeemer of Israel are not frequently asked. The Lord’s characterization as redeemer is usually seen by scholars as a vague reference to His desire to help His people. More specific study of His role as redeemer is rarely made.
An examination of the text of the Old Testament, however, suggests that the Lord’s acts of redemption involve far more than simply an exercise of strength for a people He loves. The role of a redeemer in ancient Israelite society carried with it specific responsibilities and a very specific relation to the person redeemed. To the Israelites, a redeemer was a close family member responsible for helping other family members who had lost their property, liberty, or lives by buying them out of their bondage or avenging them. The family relationship was the reason the redeemer acted on behalf of his enslaved kinsman.
The Old Testament further indicates that those people for whom the Lord acts as redeemer likewise have established a familial relationship with Him. Covenants in the Old Testament are repeatedly associated with the giving of a new name, which indicates a new character and a new relationship. Those covenants are the means by which individuals, or Israel as a people, are “adopted” into a new relationship and receive a new name. They become part of the family of the Lord and, as their kinsman, He becomes their redeemer. I refer to this idea of familial ties being created by covenant and expressed in the giving of a new name as adoptive redemption.
As Latter-day Saints, we recognize that we are the spirit children of our Father in Heaven. Through our own sins, we separate ourselves from our Father and enslave ourselves spiritually. Christ, also known as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, can act as our intermediary to redeem us from spiritual bondage if we make and keep covenants with Him. When we covenant with Christ and take His name upon us, we become His “adopted” children and He becomes our spiritual Father. King Benjamin explained, “Because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7). Thus, the Book of Mormon supports the Old Testament connection between the making of a covenant and the receiving of a new name, whereby the Lord allows people to enter into an adoptive relationship with Him so that He can act as their redeemer. An overview of the use of redemption, name, and covenant, combined with an examination of critical biblical passages, demonstrates how the covenantal relationship between the Lord and His people binds the two parties together and permits the Lord to act as the Redeemer of Israel.
In the Old Testament, two words, ga’al and padah, are usually translated as redeem in English. Both express the idea of “buy[ing] back” or “releas[ing] by the payment of a price” and are often used interchangeably, illustrating the concept of salvation through a commercial or legal transaction. Both verbs also imply a mortal danger or a fatal situation from which one needs to be redeemed.
Although these two terms are often used interchangeably, there are several clear differences in connotation between the two. Padah is essentially a commercial term that shares a common root with words in other Semitic languages, such as the Arabic fidan (“ransom money”) or the Akkadian padû (“to set free”). Padah refers only to the change of ownership from “evil” ownership (slavery) to “good” ownership (being repurchased by a family member) and freedom. The motive for the redemption is not essential to the meaning of the word; this idea of redemption does not suggest prerogative, right, or duty. The classic distinction between ga’al and padah is that ga’al is used in connection with family law, whereas padah is linked mainly with commercial law.
Unlike padah, ga’al has no Semitic cognates; therefore, the base meaning cannot be traced etymologically. Some have suggested root meanings such as “to cover,” “to protect,” “to lay claim to someone or to something,” “to redeem,” and “to repurchase.” Ga’al carries a sense of duty (for the redeemer) or right (for the person redeemed). This duty is based on familial ties to the person or object (usually land) to be redeemed and can be understood as a recuperation or a restoration. The person who carries this responsibility is known as the go’el, which is the participle form of ga’al.
The go’el was a person’s closest relative who was “responsible for standing up for him and maintaining his rights,” a responsibility based on feelings of tribal unity. In a sense, the go’el represents the clan, exemplifying the ancient Hebrew concept of vicarious solidarity. Basic duties of the go’el were to buy back sold property; to buy back a man who had sold himself to a foreigner as a slave; to avenge blood and kill a relative’s murderer; to receive atonement money; and, figuratively, to be a helper in a lawsuit. Michael S. Moore makes several perceptive observations about the spiritual implications of the role of redeemer. He suggests that the go’el’s temporal responsibilities can be understood only in light of spiritual relationships. He argues that “all the legal material which deals with the duties of the go’el is predicated by Israel’s relationship to Yahweh.”
Moore describes the go’el as the “cultural gyroscope” of Israel, whose purpose is to restore equilibrium, and claims that the social and economic situations of Israel must be seen in light of their relationship with the Lord. Israel’s responsibility is to obey the Lord’s statutes and ordinances; in return for their obedience, they will be blessed with economic and social equilibrium. Events that disrupt the social equilibrium, such as manslaughter, the death of one’s husband or male children, or the obligation in time of poverty to sell one’s ancestral estate, affect the whole of the kinship group. Thus “the go’el functions as a restorative agent whenever there is a breach in the clan’s corporate life.”
The need to restore the social equilibrium can help us understand the role of the go’el as the avenger of blood (go’el ha-dam). It has been argued etymologically that the root meaning of ga’al is “to revenge” or “to protect” and that the basic duty of the family was to avenge the death of a kinsman. Moore insists that what western minds may see as excessive vengeance must be understood in an Israelite context. He writes that whereas “western societies restore justice by means of external laws imputed by the State, ancient Israelite society restored justice by means of the divinely appointed agent of restoration (Leviticus 25:25ff).” Another scholar claims that the “vengeance of blood . . . acts less as a vengeance than as a recuperation,” suggesting that the blood of the murderer acts as compensation for the life of his victim.
All of the various duties of the redeemer are at different times assumed by the Lord, who acts as the go’el of Israel in the Old Testament. The idea of intimate kinship, essential to the role of the go’el, is connected with the Lord in Isaiah 63:16, where Isaiah cries out, “Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.” The Lord’s protection of orphans and widows is described in Proverbs 23:10–11 and Isaiah 54:4–5. He is also portrayed as the redeemer of individuals, as the worshipper in Lamentations 3:52–58 states: “Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause. They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me. Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off. I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon. Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not. O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life” (emphasis added).
In addition to questions about meaning and usage of ga’al and padah, there is a confusion about the use of the English words save and redeem. Although they seem to be used interchangeably and are sometimes assumed to be synonyms because they both do convey the meaning of “deliver,” nonetheless redeem is a subclass of save. In both English and Hebrew, there is a clear difference in meaning: save means any kind of deliverance, and redeem means, specifically, deliverance based upon a payment. The English word save is from the Latin salvare (“to save”) and salvus (“safe”), and its basic meaning is “to deliver or rescue from peril or hurt; to make safe, put in safety.” There is no intrinsic indication of how this rescue is performed. With redeem, on the other hand, the Latin root specifically means “to buy back,” re(d) + emere. Accordingly, the basic meaning in English is “to buy back (a thing formerly possessed); to make payment for (a thing held or claimed by another).”
Although the meaning of Hebrew words may not be as clear as English words because of our limited information on etymology and usage, the words used to express the general concept of salvation are different from those used to refer to salvation through a specific means. The most common Hebrew root meaning “save” is yasa.
W. L. Liefeld notes that “whereas other terms describe specific aspects of salvation (e.g., redemption), yasa is a general term. . . . The root idea seems to be that of enlargement . . . removing that which restricts.” Other Hebrew words that express a general concept of delivering include nasal, palat, and malat. Those terms clearly differ from ga’al and padah, which refer to deliverance through the payment of a ransom.
To understand the significance in the Old Testament of giving a name, it is essential to appreciate the importance of names to the Israelites. The Hebrew word sem, usually translated name, can also be rendered remembrance or memorial, indicating that the name acts as a reminder to its bearers and others. The name shows both the true nature of its bearer and the relationship that exists between people. The Old Testament records several instances when names were changed to indicate a corresponding change in character and conduct, thus illustrating the Hebrew belief that names represent something of the essence of a person. A new name, therefore, shows a new status or a new relationship. That new relationship may express the dependent state of the person who receives a new name; at the same time, renaming may also indicate a type of adoption.
To the Israelites, covenant making symbolized the formation of a new relationship. In a discussion of the establishment of the covenant at Sinai—and the associated ritual meal of Moses and the elders of Israel with the Lord—in Exodus 24:9–11, Dennis J. McCarthy comments: “To see a great chief and eat in his place is to join his family in the root sense of that Latin word [gens]: the whole group related by blood or not which stood under the authority and protection of the father. One is united to him as a client to his patron who protects him and whom he serves. . . . Covenant is something one makes by a rite, not something one is born to or forced into, and it can be described in family terms. God is patron and father, Israel servant and son.”
By making a covenant with the Lord, the people of Israel enter into His family and protection. That concept is explicitly expressed in terms of adoption when the Lord tells Moses: “I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God” (Exodus 6:7).
An examination of biblical passages that include redemption, covenant making, and name giving illuminates the adoptive aspect of covenantal redemption and demonstrates that it is this creation of an adoptive relationship by covenant that is the basis for the Lord’s acts of redemption. The story of the covenant of Abraham, for example, is central both to the Old Testament and to subsequent religious traditions. It gives a sense of identity to many religious groups that look to Abraham as their father. Even the Lord repeatedly refers to that covenant, calling Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The central text for this covenant and the name change from Abram to Abraham is found in Genesis 17:1–8. This passage does not touch on redemption specifically, but it contains two elements that are central to the covenant-redemption relationship: renaming and adoption.
In this passage, as part of the covenant, Abram is called by a new name, Abraham, “father of a multitude,” denoting a change in nature and character. In addition, there is a specific promise of adoption. The Lord says, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed . . . to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Genesis 17:7). This adoptive covenant makes Abraham and his descendants the people of the Lord. It establishes a sense of possession, a familial relation that allows the Lord to act as a go’el and redeem, or buy back, His people from slavery. Though the concept of redemption is not specifically related to Abraham in this passage, it may have been understood, as we infer from a statement made hundreds of years later by Isaiah, who referred to God as the redeemer of Abraham: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob” (Isaiah 29:22; emphasis added).
These same elements—renaming and establishing a covenant—are combined with the idea of redemption in the story of Jacob and the angel. The texts that relate this story are found in both Genesis 32:24–30 and Genesis 48:14–16. The first passage tells of Jacob’s wrestling with the angel and receiving a new name. The second passage is the blessing that Jacob (Israel) gave to his grandchildren Ephraim and Manasseh, in which he referred to his experience with the angel when he received his new name. In the second passage, which represents Jacob’s commentary on the original incident, Jacob clearly identifies his experience as an act of redemption. When Jacob refers to “the Angel which redeemed me from all evil” (Genesis 48:16), it could be argued that he is referring to the Lord Himself. He “called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:30) and declared that his life had been preserved. In the Hebrew text, the angel is called ha-go’el, “the redeemer” or “the one redeeming.” In both passages, the concept of renaming or passing on a name is central. In the original description, Jacob is blessed in response to his request by being given the new name Israel. Then, in Genesis 48, Jacob blesses his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh, recalling his redemption, and asks for the angel’s blessing to be upon the boys, giving them his name and the names of Abraham and Isaac.
In the account of the deliverance out of Egypt, we find another clear connection between redemption and covenant. In Exodus 5, Moses speaks to the Lord, reporting on his unsuccessful efforts to convince Pharaoh to release the children of Israel. The Lord responds that He has “heard the groaning of the children of Israel” (Exodus 6:5) and remembered the covenant that He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because of this covenant, He promises to act as a redeemer: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments” (Exodus 6:6). This connection between covenant and redemption is clearly explained in Deuteronomy 7:8: “Because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
After the promise of redemption from bondage in Egypt because of previous covenants, the Lord promises to establish that adoptive relationship with the house of Israel as a people. The phrase “I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God” (Exodus 6:7) is reminiscent of a sense of adoption in the individual covenants the Lord made with Abraham and Jacob. The adoption to become the people of the Lord suggests a sense of family obligation that is the basis of the redemption provided by the go’el in Hebrew legal practice. Interestingly, because the go’el has the responsibility to both redeem family members out of slavery and also to restore land to those who have lost it, this passage contains the promise that the land will be given as “a heritage” by the Lord.
The story of the redemption from Egypt remained a powerful image to later Old Testament prophets. In Psalm 74:1–2, the Psalmist cries out to the Lord for help and recalls the memory of His redemption and adoption of Israel: “O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture? Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt.” Here again, the purchase of Israel is cited as a source of connection with the Lord that allows present-day Israel to call for divine help.
The Lord is repeatedly identified as the go’el of Israel in the writings of Isaiah, where the redemption of Israel is portrayed as both a past and a future event. In Isaiah 43:1–3, the redemption and adoption of Israel are cited as sources of comfort for present fears: “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.” Here again the redemption of Israel is connected with both the giving of a name and the creating of a tie between the Lord and Israel: “Thou art mine” (Isaiah 43:1). The mention of the Lord’s position as redeemer assures that He will be with Israel in future troubles and trials.
The comfort of past redemption and the promise of future deliverance are combined in Isaiah 63. To demonstrate the goodness and mercy of the Lord for the house of Israel, Isaiah refers to the redemption out of Egypt: “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. . . . As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name” (vv. 9, 14). Isaiah specifically refers to this act of the Lord as a redemption rather than simply a deliverance. He explains the motive for this action twice, once in speaking about the Lord and the other time in direct address, saying that the Lord did it “to make himself an everlasting name” (v. 12). Even though this particular phrase does not specifically connect to the common theme of giving Israel a name, that concept is part of the fundamental role of the go’el, who was to redeem his kinsmen in order to protect the family name. Isaiah’s mention of “the angel of his presence” that saved them is reminiscent of Jacob’s reference to the “Angel which redeemed me from all evil” (Genesis 48:16). More likely, however, Isaiah refers to the angel in the promise the Lord made to Israel as they left Egypt: “I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice . . . for my name is in him” (Exodus 23:20–21). Interestingly, in both situations—Jacob’s struggle and the deliverance of the house of Israel—there is an association with angels, a name, and redemption.
In all of these Old Testament passages, whether descriptions of original events or commentaries by later prophets, the Lord’s acts of redemption are connected to covenant making and name giving. Like an ancient Israelite go’el, by whose title He is called, the Redeemer of Israel acts to save His adoptive kinsmen from bondage. Those adoptive family ties with both individuals and the house of Israel are created by the “rebirth” provided by covenant and indicated in the giving of a new name.
The distinctive Israelite concept of a redeemer as a close family member is seen in the Book of Mormon as well as in the Old Testament. As in the Old Testament, redemption is a central theme of the Book of Mormon. The concept of redemption in the Book of Mormon fits the ancient Near Eastern practice of buying someone out of slavery and bondage. That redemption is often expressed in spiritual terms, as seen in references to the “chains of hell” (Alma 5:7), “the captivity of the devil” (1 Nephi 14:4), and others. Just as the writers of the Book of Mormon saw captivity in spiritual terms, so they also saw redemption as a spiritual matter and sought to persuade people that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer (see Alma 37:5–10).
The concept of a redeemer in the Book of Mormon clearly matches the Israelite concept of the go’el, a family member who had the responsibility to redeem his kinsmen from bondage. The Lord’s acts of redemption are connected to covenants that establish an adoptive relationship with a person or a people; when they enter into an adoptive covenantal relationship and receive a new name, Christ becomes their go’el and is able to redeem them from spiritual captivity.
One clear and concise textual example of the connection between covenant and redemption is found in Mosiah 18, in which Alma talks to the subjects of King Noah who have come into the wilderness to hear him teach the words of Abinadi. We are told that, in the city, Alma taught the people “concerning the resurrection of the dead, and the redemption of the people, which was to be brought to pass through the power, and sufferings, and death of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension into heaven” (Mosiah 18:2). Those who believed his teachings went to the waters of Mormon, where he “did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord” (Mosiah 18:7). When they were ready to enter into a covenant with the Lord, Alma addressed them in a famous discussion of the duties of the Saints associated with the baptismal covenant.
Alma’s speech is even more interesting when we notice the explicit connections between covenant, adoption, and redemption. In Mosiah 18:8–9, Alma mentions the people’s desire “to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people” and “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; . . . that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life.” This passage explicitly states that coming “into the fold of God” and being “called his people” (v. 8) are necessary in order to be redeemed of God. In Mosiah 18:10, Alma explains how this adoption is possible, saying that “if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him.” The baptismal covenant acts here as an adoption, which allows the Lord to become the redeemer, or go’el, of the individual who has taken His name upon him and covenanted with Him.
Knowing that an Israelite redeemer was a close family member fulfilling family responsibility gives a new perspective on the Lord’s actions as the Redeemer of Israel. It is through covenants and the reception of a new name that individuals are adopted into the family of the Lord and are eligible to be redeemed. Paralleling the Israelite concept of the go’el as a close relative whose responsibility was to redeem his kinsmen, this adoptive covenant can be understood as the basis for the Lord’s redemptive actions as the go’el of Israel.
An understanding of the role of covenants in creating an adoptive relationship with the Lord, allowing Him to act as go’el, is more than a scriptural or historical footnote. The concept of adoptive redemption explains the importance of making covenants to qualify for redemption through the Atonement of Christ. This understanding is crucial for Latter-day Saints as a modern covenant people. To fully appreciate the importance of covenants, we must recognize that we are in bondage and that, like the ancient Israelites, we need a go’el to redeem us. We need Christ to become our spiritual father and ransom us from spiritual bondage, understanding that “were it not for the redemption which he hath made for his people, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, . . . all mankind must have perished” ( Mosiah 15:19). To appreciate the power of our covenants, we must recognize not only that we are in bondage but also that our go’el has already paid the price of redemption, that “he suffer[ed] the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children” (2 Nephi 9:21). With the knowledge that our go’el has paid the ransom price, we can claim the redemptive power of the Lord because we have established an adoptive relationship with Him through our covenants. We must believe in the reality of that relationship and “exercise faith in the redemption of him who created [us]” (Alma 5:15).
 “Ga’al,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 351–52.
 J. Murray, “Redeemer; Redemption,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 4:61.
 Evode Beaucamp, “Aux origines du mot ‘rédemption’ le ‘rachat’ dans l’ancien testament,” Laval Théologique et Philosophique 34 (1978): 50–51.
 Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1967), 330–31, s.v. “Luo.”
 Beaucamp, “Aux origines,” 53.
 Johann Jakob Stamm, Erlösen und Vergeben im Alten Testament (Bern: A. Francke A.-G, 1940), 30.
 Botterweck and Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 351. An interesting discussion of these different root meanings is found in Michael S. Moore, “Haggo’el: The Cultural Gyroscope of Ancient Hebrew Society,” Restoration Quarterly 23, no. 1 (1988): 27–28.
 Beaucamp, “Aux origines,” 53.
 Botterweck and Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 351.
 Cuthbert Lattey, “Vicarious Solidarity in the Old Testament,” Vetus Testamentum 1 (October 1951): 267–74.
 Botterweck and Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 351–52.
 Moore, “Haggo’el,” 29.
 Moore, “Haggo’el,” 31.
 Mario Cimosa, “Translating Go’el Ha-dam,” The Bible Translator 41 (July 1990): 319–26.
 Moore, “Haggo’el,” 33. “Such total vengeance is difficult for western minds to comprehend and may underlie much of the Occidental world’s attempts to see a different God in the Old Testament from the God revealed in the pages of the New Testament.”
 Beaucamp, “Aux origines,” 54. “Il s’agit moins d’une vengeance, que d’une récupération.” Translation mine.
 Beaucamp, “Aux origines,” 54.
 Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. “Save.”
 Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. “Redeem.”
 W. L. Liefeld, “Salvation,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4:288.
 G. F. Hawthorne, “Name,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 3:481–83; D. Stuart, “Names, Proper,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 3:483–88.
 Bruce H. Porter and Stephen D. Ricks, “Names in Antiquity: Old, New, and Hidden,” in By Study and Also by Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 504–5.
 Dennis J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant: A Study in the Ancient Oriental Documents and in the Old Testament (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1978), 266.
 For a further discussion of adoptive covenant and redemption in the Book of Mormon, see my paper, “The Lord Will Redeem His People: ‘Adoptive’ Covenant and Redemption in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2 (Fall 1993): 39–62. For my study of New Testament implications, see “Hebrew Concepts of Adoption and Redemption in the Writings of Paul,” in The Apostle Paul: His Life and Testimony, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 80–95.