God took our heads out

Eugene Nida was a famous Bible translator. He tells a story about a missionary and a man from West Africa.

The Bible was being translated into the local Bambara language. The translator wanted to know how to translate the word “redeemed” so that the locals would understand what God has done for us in Jesus.

“You should say, ‘God took our heads out,” the man replied. How in the world is that in any way connected to the idea of redemption?

The local explained. Years ago their people would be attacked by Arab slave traders. They would put iron collars around the necks of their captives and chain them to one another. They would then drive them to the coast.

As they did so they often went through other villages. If one of the chiefs in those villages recognized one of the slaves as a friend or family member, they would pay off the slave trader with gold or silver. Their heads would literally be taken out of the iron collars—hence, “they took their heads out.”

So that became the translation. “God redeems us” equals “God takes our heads out.”

When we think about how God has redeemed us, we can think about how he has redeemed us from the consequence of our sin and from death. And those are no small things! 

But we could spend an entire lifetime contemplating how God has redeemed us from so many other things as well—things like despair, meaninglessness, apathy, hate, deception, and even the pressure to fit in to false or misguided expectations about who we are or what we should be doing.

Think of those captives who had their heads freed from those iron collars. Just think about how that moment changed the literal trajectory of their lives. Just think about the relief, the smiles, the tears, the hugs, the newfound hope…

This is what God has done for us in Christ. 

Let’s heed the instruction of Paul: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).


Latest Podcast (May 18, 2022). “Can we really trust that Jesus said and did all that, or have the Gospels been distorted?” You can click here to listen (or read), or tune in to ‘The Pulse Podcast with Matthew Ruttan’ wherever you enjoy podcasts—Spotify, Apple, Google, Stitcher or TuneIn.

–*Stephen Seamands, Give them Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012), 87.

–The Up Devotional is published 5 days a week and returns on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 (after the long weekend).

–Bible quotes are from the NIV.

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