The Old Testament. The concept of deliverance occurs in the Old Testament with two meanings. The first is in a nontheological sense signifying "deliver over" or "give over into the possession or power of another." The Hebrew word, natan [t"n], appears over 1, 200 times in the Old Testament with this meaning. Sometimes the term refers to the giving of objects to another, such as books ( 2 Chron 34:15 ), money ( 2 Kings 12:15 ), horses ( 2 Kings 18:23 ), and goods ( Es 6:9 ). More often the term refers to people delivered in the power of others, usually their enemies: "The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us in the hands of the Amorites to destroy us" ( Deut 1:27 ).
The second usage of deliverance refers to the Acts of God whereby he rescues his people from danger. The key words nasal [l;v"n] ("draw out, snatch away"), palat [f;l'P] ("make an escape"), malat [f;l'm] ("to cause to escape"), halas [l'j] (to "draw out"), and yasa [[;v"y] ("to save") fall within the field of meaning describing God's redemptive activity on the part of his people. This usage of deliverance focuses on God's removal of those who are in the midst of trouble or danger.
In the Old Testament, God's deliverance is almost always from temporal dangers. He rescues his people from their enemies ( 1 Sam 17:37 ; 2 Kings 20:6 ) and from the hand of the wicked ( Psalm 7:2 ; 17:13 ; 18:16-19 ; 59:2 ; 69:14 ; 71:4 ). He preserves them from famine ( Psalm 33:19 ), death ( Psalm 22:19-21 ), and the grave ( Psalm 56:13 ; 86:13 ; Hosea 13:14 ). The most striking deliverance, the exodus ( Exod 3:8 ; 6:6 ; 18:10 ), comprises the defining act of God as the deliverer of Israel. The promise that God delivers his people from sin and its consequences, although mentioned infrequently, completes the picture of God as the deliverer from all of humankind's fears ( Psalm 39:8 ; 40:11-13 ; 51:14 ; 79:9 ).
The fact that God delivers as he does is a polemic against the pagan rulers who challenge his ability to rescue his people. Nebuchadnezzar ( Daniel 3:15 Daniel 3:28 ), Pharaoh ( Exod 5:2 ), and Sennacherib ( 2 Chron 32:10-15 ) railed against Israel for trusting in God's deliverance. The subsequent rescue serves as a demonstration of God's ability to deliver his people from the most powerful worldly forces.
While God is the great deliverer, there are no manipulative ploys by his people to effect his intervention. All Acts of deliverance are totally his initiative and express his mercy and his love ( Psalm 51:1 ; 71:2 ; 86:13 ). Therefore, there is no one to rescue the ungodly ( Psalm 50:22 ). God's deliverance is for his people, those who trust and fear him: "To the faithful you show yourself faithful You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty" ( Psalms 18:25 Psalms 18:27 ). Often, the people's fear of God and trust in him are seen as a part of the deliverance ( Psalm 22:4 ; 33:18-19 ; 34:7 ; Ezek 14:20 ). Their righteousness preserves them ( Prov 11:6 ; Ezekiel 14:14 Ezekiel 14:20 ) but if they indulge in sin and rebellion, God may deliver them over to their enemies ( 1 Kings 8:46 ; Jer 20:5 ; Ezek 11:8-9 ).
The New Testament. As in the Old Testament, both meanings of deliverance are found in the New Testament. The Greek word paradidomai [paradivdwmi] ("deliver over") is used to describe the deliverance of people ( Matt 5:25 ; 18:34 ; 20:19 ) and goods ( Matt 25:14 ) over to another. Jesus uses this word as a prophecy of his death at the hands of the chief priests and Gentiles ( Matt 20:18 ; Mark 10:33 ; Luke 9:44 ). Traditions and doctrine are also "delivered" to others ( Mark 7:13 ; Acts 6:14 ; Rom 6:17 ; 1 Col 11:2 ) with the idea that those who receive them will take possession of them as valuable commodities.
The second usage of deliverance is seen in the occurrences of the words rhuomai [rJuvomai] ("rescue") and exaireo [ejxairevw] ("take out of"), which are used most often in the New Testament to reflect the idea of deliverance from danger or distress. God is always the subject and his people are always the objects of the deliverance. The temporal deliverance so dominant in the Old Testament falls into the background in the New. However, the historical accounts in the Old Testament serve as proof that God is the great deliverer. For example, after recounting examples of God's deliverance, Peter concludes that "the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment" ( 2 Peter 2:9 ). God still delivers his people from deadly peril ( 2 Col 1:10 ; 2 Tim 4:17 ) and from wicked men ( Acts 12:11 ; 2 Thess 3:2 ).
The dominant idea in the New Testament is God's deliverance from humankind's greatest fears: sin, evil, death, and judgment. These more theological usages closely align with the biblical terms for salvation and redemption. Believers are to pray for deliverance from the threat of evil that dominates the world ( Matt 6:13 ; Luke 11:4 ). By God's power, believers are delivered from "this present evil age" ( Gal 1:4 ) and the power of Satan's reign ( Col 1:13 ).
The evil impulses that grip the human heart cause Paul's cry for deliverance: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" ( Rom 7:24 ). The answer to Paul's cry is "Jesus Christ our Lord" (v. 25). All pleas for deliverance are answered by the person and work of Jesus Christ. He was delivered up for us ( Rom 4:25 ) that he might deliver us from all that threatens us in this life and in the life to come.
The ultimate deliverance for humankind is from the coming wrath of God on the final day of judgment. Here again, the people of God have hope in the "The Deliverer" ( Rom 11:26 ) who will intervene and save them from the terrible fate reserved for the ungodly: "Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath" ( 1 Thess 1:10 ).
William E. Brown
See also Salvation
Bibliography. J. Schneider and C. Brown, NIDNTT, 3:200-205.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Deliver'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".