In ancient Israelite thought, the kinsman-redeemer was a male relative, who should act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble or need. There are many examples of this in the Jewish Law. See Leviticus 25:25 for instance
If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away of his possession, and if any of his kin come to it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.Perhaps the best description of a kinsman-redeemer in the Old Testament is Boaz in the Book of Ruth. He is a wealthy relative of Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, appeals to him as their goel.
And he said, Who thou? And she answered, I Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou a near . (Ruth 3:9)As Ruth's goel, Boaz offers her protection, redeems her from her difficult situation as a widow with a widowed mother-in-law to take care of, and marries her. They later bear a son named Obed who becomes the grandfather of David and a forefather of Jesus.
This background is useful to better understand how ancient Israelites would view scriptures describing the Lord as their Redeemer. We find several of those, often with allusions to the Messiah.
I will help thee, saith the , and thy , the of Israel. (Isaiah 41:14)This poetic parallelism connects "help" with "redeemer" and "Lord" with "Holy One of Israel".
For thy Maker thine ; the his name; and thy the Holy One of Israel; The of the whole earth shall he be called. (Isaiah 54:5 / 3 Nephi 22:5)Here is another connection between Redeemer and the Holy One of Israel, who Nephi in no uncertain terms says is Christ (see 2 Nephi 25:29). It is also interesting to note that this is the chapter Jesus quotes to the Nephites after having told them about the gathering of Israel and the covenant with them. "thine husband" is a symbol of the covenant relationship between Jehovah and his people. Actually, the underlying Hebrew here is the verb "to marry". "He who espouses/marries you" (is perhaps a better translation) is also "thy Redeemer" and directs our minds to the Boaz and Ruth story.
Another example in Psalms
And they remembered that God their , and the high God their redeemer. (Psalm 78:35)Again a poetic parallelism connects redeemer to another word, this time "rock". When the Psalmist multiple times in other Psalms writes about "the rock of my salvation", it should be clear who that rock is. But again, the Book of Mormon removes all doubt.
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build yourSo the concept of a kinsman-redeemer is something the ancient Israelites attributed to the Messiah who would come, the rock and the Holy One of Israel. He would be their redeemer. They also believed he would be their kinsman. In light of this it is interesting to see how this word is used in the Book of Mormon. The first time it is used, is by Lehi in 1 Nephi 10:4-6
We have just seen that prophets of old testified of a redeemer like Lehi says. But as I have discussed in a previous post, Lehi's view of this redeemer was perhaps quite radical at his time. "Redeemer of the world" is not found anywhere in the Old Testament. They perceived a Messiah who was their kinsman and would redeem them, not the whole world. They did not understand that
as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the people of the Lord; and as many of the as will not repent shall be ; for the Lord with none save it be with them that and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 30:2)or that
God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. (Matthew 3:7)This is getting too long for one post so I will split it up and write more about the use of "Redeemer" in the Book of Mormon in part 2 and how it fits with the Old Testament kinsman idea.