The preacher at the evening service I just went to, a young layman, made in passing an interesting point relevant to the Atonement. His main theme was about the wooden idols in Hosea 4:12. But he also mentioned how in Hosea 3:2 the prophet bought his estranged wife Gomer out of prostitution by paying money to her pimp – at least that was the preacher’s interpretation, which makes a lot of sense. The NIV Study Bible suggests that what Hosea paid for her was equivalent to the regular price of a slave, 30 shekels. Of course still today prostitutes are often in effect the slaves of their pimps. So Hosea had to pay the price to redeem Gomer from slavery before he could take her back again as his wife.
The interesting point here is that, as is made explicit in Hosea 1:2, the prophet’s wife is a picture of unfaithful Israel, and the prophet himself is taking God’s part in accepting her back despite her unfaithfulness. As Christians, and this was tonight’s preacher’s point in passing, we can understand Hosea as a type of Jesus Christ and his wife as prefiguring the church, the unfaithful bride of Christ.
So we have here a model of the Atonement, and one which is somewhat different from the more standard models like penal substitutionary atonement and Christus Victor. Hosea, the type of Christ, pays a great price to redeem his bride. But this price is not any kind of punishment or fine; nor is it the price paid to be victorious in a battle. Rather it is a purchase price, which is actually paid to someone, not to God. The recipient is the one who has held the bride captive, the pimp.
Now we don’t know how Gomer became a prostitute, apparently reverting to her former life before first marrying Hosea (1:2), but we can suppose that she started with adultery (3:1) and gradually became enslaved through her sin. And it is a general rule that people who sin gradually become enslaved through their sin, not necessarily to a human slave owner but to a greater or lesser extent to the powers of evil, to the devil.
So, typologically, the pimp who received the redemption price corresponds to Satan. This sounds like the classical ransom view of the Atonement. This was apparently the dominant view in the early church, but was rejected by, among others, Anselm and Gustaf Aulén, on the basis that “Satan, being himself a rebel and outlaw, could never have a just claim against humans”. But, one might respond, although the almighty God could have simply overridden Satan’s claims, whether just or unjust, the way he chose was to submit to these claims, without conceding their justice, and pay the price demanded – which was the death of his Son.
So maybe there is more to the ransom view of the Atonement than is generally recognised. It can certainly be understood as one of a number of different models which have good biblical support. But like all the other models it must be understood as a human description which is not fully adequate, rather than a complete explanation of something whose details must remain a mystery beyond human understanding.
It is worth noting also Hosea 3:3: after Gomer was redeemed from her prostitution she was expected to become a faithful wife again, not to return to prostitution or adultery. In the same way our redemption in Christ is not to be taken as an excuse for continued sin or unfaithfulness to God. This theme of the redeemed remaining sexually and otherwise pure is taken up again in Revelation 14:3-5.