To live successfully under the law of Moses meant to obey every single aspect of it. If even a small part of the law was breached, then a person fell short of the whole law. It was all or nothing and lawbreakers were ‘cursed’ by God. This may sound really harsh, but it is important to remember that the law was introduced not to penalise the Jews, but to give them a holy standard by which to live, to highlight sin and thus show them that they needed a saviour, pointing towards Jesus. The law was never designed to justify sinners, to bring them back into a right relationship with God. Only Jesus could do that, through faith.
In times of ancient warfare, wealthy and important captives would be held to ransom by their captors. When sufficient monies had been paid by their own people to the conquering army, the captives could be ‘redeemed’. The same principle applied to slaves whose freedom was purchased, a record of which would be written on the temple walls, declaring that the slaves were ‘redeemed’. The idea of redemption carries a cost in exchange for freedom. Christ redeemed us, or paid the price for us, by becoming ‘cursed’ on our behalf (v.13). Christ was the ‘ransom’ price for our freedom from sin.
Paul recalls Deuteronomy 21:23, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’. Although the Jews did not crucify criminals, the corpses of the worst offenders were hung on a tree, naked and exposed, bringing a humiliation and shame, which was worse than death alone. The wooden cross on which Jesus died mirrors the tree of shame. Jesus took upon himself the curse that was rightfully ours and hung upon the tree for us. He died so that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles (v.14).
What is the blessing of Abraham? In Genesis 12:1-3 God promised, ‘depart and follow me and I will:
1. Make you a great nation;
2. Bless you;
3. Make your name great;
4. Make you a blessing;
5. Bless those who bless you;
6. Curse those who curse you;
7. Bless all families of the earth through you (refers to Jesus).
Abraham’s blessing was given by God 430 years before He gave Moses the law. The law was intended for the whole nation of Israel as a marker, to be clear about what sin was. It disclosed sin to men and exposed men to sin, to act as a set of stewardship rules to keep them on the right path until Jesus came, bringing with him faith. The people were guarded under the law, kept in custody in preparation for the faith that was destined to be revealed. But the law didn’t invalidate God’s promise to Abraham. Both the law and the promise were completed in Christ. The law culminated in Christ’s redeeming sacrifice and the promise was fulfilled in Jesus so that all families on earth who believe in Him, that is have faith, are blessed. We are no longer living under any aspect of the law. When we take that step of faith and believe in Jesus, we are blessed beyond measure.
Lord God, thank you that I don’t have to adhere to a set of rules and regulations in order to meet your standard and gain your love. You first loved me before I loved you and Jesus paid the price for me on the cross, his life for my life, so that I may be free. I have no need to strive for your love or your approval because you have already freely given them to me. I am so grateful that your love is constant and unchanging; the same today as when you gave your promise to Abraham. Even right back then, your intention was always to reconcile my sinful heart to yourself and to restore me to right relationship with you. I thank you that Jesus became cursed so that I could be forgiven. My response to your love is to want to love you and know you more. Of course, I want to do things that will please you, but even when I fail, I know that your love for me will always be as strong as it is at this very moment, as it was back in Abraham’s day. In Jesus’ name. Amen