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Purification or Redemption

by Tim O'Hearn

Those who grew up before the 1970s probably remember either the S&H Green Stamps or Gold Bond Stamps. (There were local loyalty stamp programs in various locations, but these were the largest.) Certain stores, gas stations, or other businesses would give out these stamps based on the amount spent during a visit. People would collect the stamps in a special booklet, and when the booklet was filled it could be redeemed for merchandise. The merchandise would require a certain number of books, and ranged from inexpensive toys to fur coats. Gold Bond Stamps was at one time the world’s largest supplier of fur coats. People would often choose what businesses to frequent based on what stamp loyalty program they used.

When economic factors, including the internet and cash loyalty programs, made collecting the stamps less popular, Gold Bond Stamps diversified by buying Radisson Hotels and TGI Friday restaurants, and eventually stopped issuing the stamps altogether. S&H held on a little longer, but by the late seventies they could no longer brag that their catalog was the largest publication in the United States. Nevertheless, for eighty years people understood the meaning of redemption because of these loyalty programs.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews understood redemption. He or she wrote of the difference between purification and redemption in what we now know as chapter 9.

The Israelites were familiar with purification. There were many things that could make a person unclean. In some cases, purification just meant washing oneself and waiting for evening. In the case of touching a dead body, however, the ceremony for purification was more complicated. The priests were ordered to slaughter a red heifer and burn it. On the third and seventh day after touching the dead body, the individual was sprinkled with the water of purification mixed with those ashes. (Num 19) The writer of Hebrews mentions this, stating that it was effective for purification. “The ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh.” (Heb 9:13)

They were also familiar with redemption of a sort. There are three Hebrew words translated redemption. The firstborn child was to be dedicated to God, but since children were not to be sacrificed, they were to be redeemed. A second word is also translated division and is used in three verses with the concept of separating Israel from those around them. The third word is related to kinship. This is the word used for the redemption of the land at the Jubilee. Land was not to leave the family, so if it was sold it had to be redeemed or it would revert to the family at Jubilee. In no case did redemption relate to sin.

The Hebrews writer, however, does say that redemption is directly related to sin. In the same context as purification, redemption is mentioned as permanent rather than temporary.

Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9:12-14)

This redemption is properly considered in the context of paying the price of a slave in order to free that person. Jesus paid our purchase price, and then freed us from sin.

Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves slaves to obey, his slaves ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the slaves of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. (Rom 6:16-17)