Exodus 30:12: “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted” (NIV).

Observation: God was in the midst of establishing patterns for the Hebrews’ spiritual lives. After much detail, the text shifts to the matter of a national census, and God mandated that every person pay a ransom for his own life at the time of being counted.

Application: What’s going on here? The uncreated God of the universe, the One who already owns everything, expects to extract a ransom from each of His subjects? That isn’t the way I thought this was supposed to work. I thought He was the sacrifice, that it was He who had come to be a ransom for many.  Today’s verse seems to contradict that, to turn on its head everything I understood about the Gospel. 

This doesn’t seem fair. After all, a census was God’s idea; the people didn’t volunteer for it. Then, He demanded a half-shekel penalty as ransom. This sounds like a fund-raising bazaar in the school gym, where, to raise money for a worthy cause, I can send a friend to jail from which he can gain release only if enough money is given. While the one jailed may not have actually volunteered, he at least knew the rules when he entered the room. Besides, it’s all done in good humor, and the prisoner is glad to provide ransom for his freedom.  

But isn’t the point of Christ’s story that He came to pay for me a ransom I could never pay for myself? Didn’t He come to be my redemption? The only way this command in Exodus makes any sense is to see it through the lens of a lovesick God whose passion is to fill heaven with voluntary lovers of His dear Son. He embraced the Cross from the beginning and declared within Himself a willingness to give everything he had for my purchase. 

Yet I too often behave like an egocentric actor at the close of a stage production, taking accolades from the throne room, happily receiving flowers tossed my way as somehow well deserved. “Yes,” I think, “I hear the angels’ applause, thank you very much.” The thought occurs that mine was indeed a boffo performance; see what a wonderful price God Himself was willing to pay? But when the last curtain call has ended, when I am no longer the focus of the stage lights, my final review will not consider just His awful sacrifice, but mine, as well. The old man must have yielded completely to the new; death of all that flesh holds dear is the only ransom acceptable to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in Your commitment to me is a call for me to wholly die to self. The ransom You require for my life is far more than a half-shekel; it is everything I have, everything I am. Stir within me the zeal to respond to Your matchless love.