When God Leads Into Captivity

Part IV of our series on Ransoming the Captive

In Monday’s post, we talked about how Christ did not come to pay the ransom for us but to be the ransom for us and why that difference matters.

Today, we’re going to see how the concept of ransoming the captive didn’t actually begin with Jesus.  The Old Testament is saturated with the idea which should clue us in to how close to God’s heart this work of mercy really is.

Wilhelm Bacher (a professor at Jewish Theological Seminary in Hungary) and Julius H. Greenstone (an American Rabbi) give us a sample of just a few of the Old Testament verses that relate to ransoming the captive. You’ll notice as you hear them that we don’t normally think of these Scriptures as related to ransoming captives, but according to the Hebrew tradition we have inherited, we should. They write:

He who refrains from ransoming a captive is guilty of transgressing the commandments expressed or implied in Biblical passages such as the following:

  • “Thou shalt not harden thy heart”
  • “Thou shalt not shut thine hand from thy poor brother”
  • “Neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor”
  • “He shall not rule with rigor over him in thy sight”
  • “Thou shalt open thy hand wide unto him”
  • “. . . that thy brother may live with thee”
  • “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”
  • “Deliver them that are drawn unto death”

One who delayed in the work of ransoming a Jewish captive was placed in the category of the murderer.

So you see, a lot more of the Bible is about ransoming the captive than we might think. And there’s a lot more to God’s role in ransoming the captive than we might think, too. That’s because God is portrayed in Scripture not only as the one who ransoms his people from captivity, but also as the one who sends his people into captivity in the first place!

That may not sound very loving. But really, it is—supremely.

Even when God leads us into captivity, it really is for our good—for our redemption.

And he protects us even when we’re in captivity. You can see that in the way that those who mistreat us when we are in captivity always get punished by him.

Always—always—there is a glorious redemption for those owned by God.

The prophet Jeremiah portrays the whole picture, from freedom to captivity and back to freedom. The following is a long passage, but it’s worth hanging on every word. Read it carefully and resist the temptation to scan.  I know this is a blog and all, but it’s important that we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us.

This Scripture teaches us how God thinks about captivity, and, when we understand that, it will profoundly reshape how we think about captivity, too—ours and those whom he sends us to free in his name. What you’ll hear from Jeremiah here is about Israel. But it’s also true of the entire human race, which entered into comprehensive captivity to sin and death:

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.
“Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the Lord,
nor be dismayed, O Israel;
for behold, I will save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
and none shall make him afraid.
For I am with you to save you,
declares the Lord; I will make a full end of all the nations
among whom I scattered you,
but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
and I will by no means leave you unpunished.

“For thus says the Lord: Your hurt is incurable,
and your wound is grievous.
There is none to uphold your cause,
no medicine for your wound,
no healing for you.
All your lovers have forgotten you;
they care nothing for you;
for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy,
the punishment of a merciless foe,
because your guilt is great,
because your sins are flagrant.
Why do you cry out over your hurt?
Your pain is incurable.
Because your guilt is great,
because your sins are flagrant,
I have done these things to you.

Therefore all who devour you shall be devoured,
and all your foes, every one of them, shall go into captivity;
those who plunder you shall be plundered,
and all who prey on you I will make a prey.
For I will restore health to you,
and your wounds I will heal,
declares the Lord, because they have called you an outcast:
‘It is Zion, for whom no one cares!’

“Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob
and have compassion on his dwellings;
the city shall be rebuilt on its mound,
and the palace shall stand where it used to be.
Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving,
and the voices of those who celebrate.
I will multiply them, and they shall not be few;
I will make them honored, and they shall not be small.
Their children shall be as they were of old,
and their congregation shall be established before me,
and I will punish all who oppress them.
Their prince shall be one of themselves;
their ruler shall come out from their midst;
I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me,
for who would dare of himself to approach me?
declares the Lord. And you shall be my people,
and I will be your God.”

Behold the storm of the Lord!
Wrath has gone forth,
a whirling tempest;
it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back
until he has executed and accomplished
the intentions of his mind.
In the latter days you will understand this.

(Jeremiah 30:8–24, ESV)

And Jeremiah was right: In the latter days we really did come to understand this, specifically through the revealing of Christ Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God. The visible God offered himself as our ransom!

Have you ever been led into captivity by God?  What did you come to understand about the work of Ransoming Captives through that experience?

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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