Feast upon the Word Blog

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Sold by God or Selling Yourself?

Posted by kirkcaudle on May 7, 2010

I was not going to post a completely new thread with this question; I was just going to post it under the Sunday School thread for this week. However, because of the length and amount of discussion it could bring I decided to just go ahead and make a new thread.

 With that said…

 Judges 4:2 reads, “And the Lord sold [the children of Israel] into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan.” 

 My question is, what does it mean to be sold by god? I mean, in order to sell something you must get something in return or it is called giving, not selling. So then, if god did sell the people, what did he get in return?  In a way, these questions remind me a bit of Brian’s, “What God Learned from the Flood” thread.

 I thought about these questions for a while and then I looked down at the footnote for Judges 4:2. The footnote references 2 Nephi 7:1, which is from the Isaiah section quoted by Jacob. This verse reads, “Yea, for thus saith the Lord: Have I put thee away, or have I cast thee off forever? For thus saith the Lord: Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement? To whom have I put thee away, or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Yea, to whom have I sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away” (also Isa. 50:1).

 Once I read 2 Ne. 7:1 and compared it with Judg. 4:2 I was only left with more questions. Was Judges a mistranslation and in both passages the people really just sold themselves? If not, what is the difference between god selling you and you selling yourself?

 I think Ezek. 16 shows some good examples of how the people spoken of by Isaiah and Jacob sold themselves. Perhaps the book of Judges gives us some clues of how we are sold by god?

One more thing worth noting here, the major Bible translations of KJV, NIV, NRSV, and the NAS all say “sold” in Judges 4:2. However, the New Living Translation translates that word as “hand[ing]” the people over to the king. Perhaps someone who knows Hebrew can shed some light here. In my mind, selling a people, and handing over a people are two totally different connotations. You can hand something over for free, but selling always involves a trade of some sort.  

The NIV version of Isa. 50:1 is also of interest, “to which of my creditors did I sell you? Because of your sins you were sold; because of your transgressions your mother was sent away.” The NIV says nothing about the people selling themselves.

ummmmm…So which is it?

Do we sell ourselves?

Are we sold by God?

Both?

8 Responses to “Sold by God or Selling Yourself?”

  1. kirkcaudle said

    I brought this question up in SS today and we had quite a nice discussion about it. One comment I esp. thought was interesting was

    Sold by God=To be totally cut off from God. God will not “waste” his covenant with someone who is abusing it. Therefore, it takes it back. When this is done it is a “point of no return” for the ind.

    Selling yourself=To sin and turn your back on God by your actions. However, like in the case of the Jews during the exile, there is always repentance. When one sells themselves God will accept them back on the basis or repentance.

    So, the class came to almost a complete agreement that to be sold by God was much worse than to sell yourself and yield to temptation. It is one thing to give up on ourselves, it is quite another for God to give up on us!

  2. BrianJ said

    Kirk: I would think that God giving up on us is quite impossible because of the Atonement. I think we’re inseparably connected to Christ in a way that even if the Father were to want to rid himself of us, the Son could not allow it to happen. To try to work this idea into the framework of your original post: Christ “paid” for us with his sacrifice, and he forever carries the “receipt” for that purchase in his palms and feet. Perhaps those scars serve not only identify Christ to us, but also to remind the Father that we cannot be sold.

  3. kirkcaudle said

    Brian, so do you read Judges 4:2, and NIV Isa 50:1 (God selling) the same as 2 Ne. 7:1 and KJV 50:1 (Selling self)? If so, why do you suppose they are written differently? Do you think there is a theological reasoning for the difference of translation (esp. in the difference in the NIV and KJV translation of the same verse)?

    I do not think God can totally rid himself of us. However, I think he can take blessings back to himself for his glory. Therefore, I think there is a difference between God taking away a covenant from a people and a people giving up the covenant to someone else.

    For example, Esau selling his birthright seems different than Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed. In the first Esau sold himself, in the second, God just destroyed the cities. Esau cut himself off, the cities were cut off.

  4. BrianJ said

    I don’t think Isaiah 50:1 is a solid case of “selling ourselves.” I don’t know Hebrew, but the translations I looked at make it appear that the KJV translators liked the “sell yourself” connotation better than the more straightforward “you were sold.” In other words, I suspect that the KJV may be unnecessarily adding a word or two. (And the BoM, as it often does, follows the KJV wording.)

    (I’ll also mention that I think that because God is speaking in metaphor in Isaiah that we can’t pull too much theology out of it. In fact, I think part of the point of the metaphor is to illustrate that the metaphor itself is messed up. So why does God purposefully use a faulty metaphor? Because this idea of an economic-contractual, business deal relationship was something Israel invented, not God’s idea—the purpose of the actual covenant was more personal, etc. Israel wanted a God that was like a business partner: “We buy from you most days, when it works best for us, but we have other suppliers as well.” God mocks that concept when asking about creditors—because, of course, God could never have creditors: “You were sold, but it wasn’t my idea….”)

    I’m not sure what the difference is between God taking away a covenant versus someone giving it up—without discussing God in a way we typically do not. Meaning that we typically talk of covenants as agreements that only we can break; i.e., God can not ever do anything to violate the covenant, and therefore he is always bound to it (like it or not!) unless we break it…in which case he is also bound by the covenant to not do whatever he would have done. (For example, if someone breaks their baptismal covenant God cannot still grant them ‘entrance’ into heaven.) What this ultimately means is that God never takes away a covenant unless that covenant has already been rejected.

    I’m not sure how to look at your specific example because I don’t have much to go on with Sodom and Gomorrah. Did they ever have a covenant with God, or were they always covenant-less? If they never had a covenant, then they could not have been “cut off.” If they did have a covenant (that we just don’t know about), then they’re just another case of someone giving up their covenant.

  5. Robert C. said

    Kirk and Brian, great discussion here. I’ve been meaning to look up some things and comment here, but it’s taken me a while. First, here is the NET link to Lev 25:42 which is an important verse, and the NET has an interesting note regarding the Hebrew grammar:

    Since they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt, they must not be sold in a slave sale.* [* Or perhaps reflexive Niphal rather than passive, “they shall not sell themselves [as in] a slave sale.”]

    Leviticus 25 is also a key chapter on the notion of redemption (which I think Brian has discussed a fair bit in the past, 4 years ago on Jim F.’s SS threads, if I remember…).

    Also, I’ll just mention in passing (and hopefully comment on more when I have more time), in addition to the relevance of Isa 50:1, I think Isa 52:3-5 is also very relevant (as well as Isa 55:1, which seems to be cited a few times in the BOM, about being redeemed “without price”). There, God explains that was sold “for nothing” and will therefore be redeemed for nothing. This, as well as Lev 25:42, has strong resonance with Israel’s captivity in and freedom from Egypt.

    So, I think this is all very rich imagery deeply related to theology of atonement/redemption, and economics vs. grace, but I’m still struggling to make sense of it all. I plan to study this topic a fair bit more this summer, and so I hope you both (and others) will help me (esp. since I’ve committed to writing a paper on Isa 55:1, and all of this is highly relevant…).

  6. Robert C. said

    The Hebrew word used in these passages is qanah which means “to buy,” but it can also simply mean to acquire” or “to create.”

    According to the TDNT entry for lutrousthai (Vol. 4, Page 332), meaning “to redeem,” there is a theological shift effected by 2nd Isaiah that separates the notion of redemption from the concept of ransom. This is definitely something I’ll be looking into more….

  7. kirkcaudle said

    Robert, the Isa. 53 verses you brought up really strike me. While looking at verse 3 in particular I find it interesting that out of all the major translations the KJV is the only one that has the people selling themselves. Each other version has God doing the selling. http://net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Isa&chapter=52&verse=3

    Since the KJV is the only version that does this it makes me wonder if Brian might be right when he said, “that the KJV may be unnecessarily adding a word or two,” but I am unsure if I agree with his conclusion “that because God is speaking in metaphor in Isaiah that we can’t pull too much theology out of it” (post #4). Those who translated modern versions of the Bible must have a theological reason for taking “yourselves” out of their readings. I think translations themselves are a theological commentary of sorts.

    As I read back through my original post (and this discussion) I have been rethinking something I said (as I often do). While talking about the difference between giving and selling I said, “In my mind, selling a people, and handing over a people are two totally different connotations. You can hand something over for free, but selling always involves a trade of some sort” (OP). However, the atonement does seem to be the exception to this rule. As Robert pointed out about the Isa scriptures, “God explains that was sold ‘for nothing’ and will therefore be redeemed for nothing” (post #5). For some reason it is hard for me to wrap my mind around something that one “buys” for “free,” or something one “sells” for “nothing.” For this reason I agree with Robert that this “is all very rich imagery deeply related to theology of atonement/redemption, and economics vs. grace” (post #5).

    This makes me read Isa. 55:1 with new eyes, “every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The water, wine, and milk are “free” for me to “buy.” So how are they then free if I am some how buying them, but yet paying nothing? To me that just sounds like getting a gift (Rom. 5:15). Perhaps it is because the price has already been paid. Nothing is ever “free,” somebody always pays; it just might not be us. However, maybe if we get to the point where we are “sold by God” then the words of Christ come into effect when he said, “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:16-17). Therefore, to be sold by God is to ultimately suffer as God suffered.

    I am not sure about all this, just kind of thinking aloud.

    • Robert C. said

      Kirk, good thoughts, keep them coming.

      I think the “buying for free” is, indeed, intended to be hard to wrap our brains around. I take it as an ironic, messianic subversion of typical economics of “empire” (as Walter Brueggemann likes to say, in reference to Isaiah’s portrayal of Babylon, Assyria, etc.).

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