Word of the Week
July 8, 2023
Rhuomai: The Great Rescue
For He delivered us from the domain of darkness . . .
“God’s children are not for sale.” That is the motivation for a man who dedicates his life to rescuing children who have been snared in the worldwide sexual trafficking industry. The current film Sound of Freedom tells the true story of a federal agent who travels to Latin America to arrest offenders and restore children to their families.
He learns of one particular girl who has been sold to the leader of a band of Colombian rebels who dominate a region of lawlessness so far back in the jungle that the police dare not enter. But the agent, posing as a United Nations doctor, penetrates the lair, finds the girl, and speeds her back to safety. It is an intense film that shows what it is like to risk one’s life to rescue someone who cannot rescue themselves.
However, it pales in comparison to the greatest of all rescues, the mission that Jesus Christ carried out to rescue us from “the domain of darkness.” Colossians 1:12-13 sums up what a gracious God has done for us. First, he qualified us to share in the inheritance which He offers. And second, he deliverer us from the kingdom of darkness. (We will look at the third step next week).
Let’s take a closer look at the Greek word used to describe this grand deliverance.
The word is rhuomai, used about 15 times and translated, “deliver, rescue, save.” It differs from sōzō, the usual word for “save.” It locks in on the plight of someone who is mired in a hopeless situation and means, as one source puts it, “to remove from peril by personal intervention.” You can’t escape by yourself, so someone has to come and set you free.
Secular Greek writers would talk about rescue by their gods, who would intervene to save warriors in battle from defeat. A king or general might liberate a besieged city, or provide protection for women and children. Even an inanimate object like a wall or helmet could protect you from attack.
Those kinds of deliverance were limited at best. Your wall might protect you today, but a bigger army might show up next year to flatten it. Even the gods couldn’t guarantee your safety if the Fates had determined otherwise!
Rhuomai means something better in the Old Testament. Now God is the one who delivers His people. Scan the book of Psalms and you’ll find references to the way He rescues His people from persecutors, wicked neighbors, false and evil men, murder, blood, the sword, the snares of the fowler, death and famine, the consequences of sin, and more. Nothing can block God’s hand when He decides to deliver!
What about the New Testament?
We see the same theme: God is the Great Deliverer.
Some uses of rhuomai even look back to Old Testament statements:
- When Jesus was hanging on the cross, his enemies hurled taunts based on the language of Psalm 22:8, “He trusted in God; let Him deliver him now if He takes pleasure in him.” The next three days would show that the Father would indeed rescue the Son – not by stripping Him off the cross, but by raising Him from the dead.
- Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, pronounced a poetic prophecy exalting God for keeping His promise to Abraham in Genesis, “granting us to be delivered from our enemies” so we can serve Him without fear.
The apostle Paul testified about God’s faithfulness in rescuing him from dire physical dangers:
- He faced a terrible struggle in the province of Asia during his ministry in Ephesus, one so severe that he despaired of life. Yet he testifies that God delivered him (2 Corinthians 1:10).
- He asked the church in Thessalonica to pray that he would be delivered from perverse enemies (2 Thessalonians 3:2).
- He asked the Roman congregation to pray that he would be rescued from the hands of opponents in Jerusalem (Romans 15:31).
- At the end of his life, he recounted the many persecutions that he suffered, but he could bear witness that God had rescued him from all of it, delivering him from “the mouth of the lion” (2 Timothy 3:11; 4:17-18).
However, the most daring of divine rescues involve spiritual danger:
We struggle to overcome temptations but can’t seem to break free. No wonder Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Deliver us from evil [or, the evil one] (Matthew 6:13). Peter used the Old Testament story of Lot to demonstrate that God knows how to rescue His people from temptation (2 Peter 2:7, 9). Even an apostle like Paul cried out, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
Fortunately, he could go on in the next verse to identify our Deliverer: “Thanks be to God, who always gives us the victory!” (Romans 7:25)
In Romans 11, Paul praised the Great Deliverer who could take a hopelessly rebellious nation of Israel and bring them into a covenant that would turn their hearts to know the Lord (Romans 11:26, based on Isaiah 59:20).
That brings us full circle to the passage where we started: Colossians 1:13. Not only did God make us eligible for a share of out inheritance, He also “delivered us from the domain of darkness.” We were hopelessly ensnared in Satan’s well-protected territory. We needed rescue! And the only One who could do it came, coming in person to break us loose, bringing us to freedom. What a tribute to the Savior’s love for us, and His insistence that His children are not for sale.
You will find it interesting to look up all the references where rhuomai is used and write a list of (1) who does the rescuing, (2) who needs to be rescued, and (3) what they are rescued from. When you do this, think about the time factor: Is the rescue in the past – something that has already happening, in the present – something that is in process, or in the future – something that will happen later. We sometimes say that salvation comes in three tenses:
Past salvation from the penalty of sin
Present salvation from the power of sin
Future salvation from the presence of sin
Perhaps a similar pattern will show up when you study this word.
Q – In the great resurrection passage of 1 Corinthians 15, we read, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” I read that this comes from an Old Testament passage which has a different meaning. Can you comment?
A – You can find the Old Testament source of these phrases in Hosea 13:14, in the middle of a passage that predicts God’s savage judgment on His sinful people Israel. In this context, the words seem to have a completely different flavor, as if Hosea is saying, “Come on, Death, where is your sting? Bring it on so that the guilt of Israel will be properly punished.”
Paul picks up this familiar phrasing and uses it in a context that gives it a whole new meaning. He still calls on death and Sheol to do their worst, knowing that since the Resurrection of Jesus, they have no power to harm us.
NOTE: God has carried out three climactic transactions for His people, according to Colossians 1:12-13. We have examined the first two, and next week will be our chance to revel in the third act that closes the deal.
©Ezra Project 2023