The Slavery and the Freedom

Exodus 21:1-11

‘These are the laws you are to set before them:

‘If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

‘But if the servant declares, “I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,” then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the door-post and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

‘If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

This is the very beginning part of the Law written in Exodus 21-23.

And it is about the slave and the master. What the Law says here are the Word of God and they sound wonderful to me. When I think deeper based on what are written here, I can learn what being ‘a slave’  truly mean and they shock me. Previously, I didn’t think seriously about the slavery.

I would express this part as “God given rules to follow in the dark reality”.

A Hebrew is supposed to be free after the Exodus, but he or she could sell himself/herself due to the debt.

God commands in v2 that if buying a male Hebrew servant, in the seventh year, he shall go free. If he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him (3). If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free (4).

The freedom in the 7th year (2) may be aligned with the debt free in the end of 7th year commanded in Deuteronomy 15:1.

At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. (Deuteronomy 15:1)

This freedom from the slavery was given to Hebrews. If the slave is a foreigner, there is no provision for freedom. We can see that the freedom is a privilege even though it may mean responsibility for his own survival.

According to v4, the servant even can’t take his wife and children (if the wife was given by the master) when he leaves his master as a free man. He simply was used for breeding more servants! Probably his marriage might not have been according to his preference but according to his master’s purpose in the first place.

In the end of Exodus 21:21, it says “since the slave is their property.” If we know the Law saying like this about the slave, no one would want to be a slave of the ancient time.

In the modern society, everyone has human right. The employee even can choose the employer and can move from one employer to another.

Then, the situation is different now and what should we learn from this part of the Holy Bible? We can at least recognize the poverty could bring lower social status like slavery. Because we now know the principle written in the Bible about the master and the slave and how low a slave can be considered to be and how badly he/she can be treated, we just do not want to be too poor indeed.

Solomon, the King of Wisdom, said in Proverbs 22:7.

The rich rule over the poor,

and the borrower is slave to the lender.

This tells the reality caused by the financial situation.

The New Testament teaches to let no debt remain outstanding in Romans 13:8.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

Many creditors like banks and lending companies offer credit cards and loans. When we consider that the huge amount of money notes can be just printed out on the paper, the profit from the interest is too easy compared to the struggle of people who are ensnared in the financial traps. Many financial or legal advisors know high interest lending like Payday loan can be unethical because it would be like a trap. Jesus was furious at money changers (they offered changes of less amount of money) in the temple, calling them robbers.

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘ “My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it “a den of robbers.”’ (Matthew 21:12-13)

In the New Testament, especially 2000 years after Jesus Christ was born, the world has been changed. Biblical Christians led the fight to abolish harsh slavery in modern times [2]. People recognize human rights. We defined various ‘rights’ to protect more entities who are vulnerable. For example, Women’s rights, employees’ rights and etc.

However, somewhere in the world, there still exists human slavery in various forms. [3] points out domestic servitude, sex trafficking, forced labour, bonded labour, child labour, and forced marriage.

To understand how Jesus have been transformed this world, let us move on to learn what Jesus taught about the master and the slave.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:3.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Here, ‘the poor in spirit’ are those humble and hungry for God. They may be even oppressed, afflicted and miserable [4]. The poor are usually the poor in spirit while the rich exploit them.

The poor used to go slavery, and have been hopeless & miserable, but Jesus declared the poor in spirit ‘blessed’ because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Jesus came to change this sin cursed dark and sad world where there are slavery, oppression, and injustice.

He declared in Luke 4:18-19.

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Matthew 5:3 truly proclaims good news to the poor.

Isaiah 58:8-14 says,

‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you,

and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.

‘If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The Lord will guide you always;

he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins

and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,

Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 ‘If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath

and from doing as you please on my holy day,

if you call the Sabbath a delight

and the Lord’s holy day honourable,

and if you honour it by not going your own way

and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,

and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land

and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Jesus teaches that there is only one master, the Messiah.

10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. (Matthew 23:10)

Jesus teaches we can’t have two masters: God and Money. We have to choose one, that is, God. See Matthew 6:24.

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

What does the Bible teach about the earthly master? The Bible teaches to obey the earthly master just as you would obey Christ.

See Ephesians 6:5-8.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

See Colosians 3:22-25.

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favouritism.

Ephesians 6:9 says to the masters,

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.

In the world, there are good & considerate masters and harsh masters. The Bible teaches to serve both of them well. See 1 Peter 2:18-21.

18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

The Bible teaches to stay as you are when you were called. See 1 Corinthians 7:20-21a.

20 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you

You may liberate yourself if you can. See 1 Corinthians 7:21b.

—although if you can gain your freedom, do so (21b).

Read more and learn more in 1 Corinthians 7:22-24.

22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. 24 Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

Particularly v23b says “do not become slaves of human beings”. When God – man relationship has been restored through Christ, we cloth with God’s blessings and wisdom to live beyond the earthly slavery. We have God behind. He is our ultimate protector and provider. You are no longer a slave to human beings but led by God’s Spirit to live wisely in God! Amen, hallelujah!!

Jesus teaches true greatness by becoming the servant of all.

 ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ (Mark 10:44)

25 Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Matthew 20:25-28)

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:24-27)

Let’s continue in Exodus 21. See v5-6.

The servant can choose to stay as the master’s servant for life by declaring, “I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free.” (5). In this case the master must take him before the judges, take him to the door or the door-post, and pierce his ear with an awl (6). Probably these procedures are required to confirm his determination is without any doubt, to make this decision officially recorded, and to leave physical evidences (ear, door/door-post).

Many principles could be derived from the study on Exodus 21:1-11.

For example, if a master wants to keep a male servant for his life, he could think of giving him a wife out of female servants he has. Then that male servant could stay with the master for his life if he loves his master, his wife and children.

In the modern world, the master does not own the wife and children of the male servant even if the master has given the wife to the servant. In the modern world, the master could find a wife for the servant but the master does not own his wife and children. But I personally think this (arranging a wife for the slave or the employee) could work if I want to keep a good slave or employee for life.

V7-11 are about the case of female servants. The master could select her for himself (8), for his son (9) or even for male servant (4).

See v8.

If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her.

V8 is the case that the master has selected her for himself.

Based on v8, we can see that she can stay as his servant and wife if she pleases the master. If she does not please the master, he must let her be redeemed. That is, he should let her bought back by her father. He should not sell her to foreigners.

V9-11 are the case that the master has selected her for his son.

In this case, he must grant her the rights of a daughter (9). If his son marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights (10). If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money (11).

 

The above is according to Mosaic Law of BC (Before Christ) but now it is in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ (Anno Domini =  in the year of the Lord).

Basically no one should be treated as a slave. But only sin could cause such misery.

We can read in the Old Testament that when God let Israel conquer a foreign nation, it was entirely destroyed including humans and cattle if God commanded so based on their sins. God sometimes commanded Israel to capture foreigners as slaves after conquering their nation because their sins were not as bad. From these facts, we can know that sins may cause destruction or slavery.

Jesus says that true slaves are those who sin and they are slaves to sin. See John 8:34.

  34 Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

In modern days, there shouldn’t be any slave. Sometimes people are still treated badly because they are slaves to sin. We need to share the Gospel to help them free. See John 8:31-32.

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’

Basically, Jesus came to make us free from our slavery to sins. And according to the above verses, the truth will set you free. Let us hold to His teaching.

There are various differences between the Old Testament and New Testament.

Nevertheless, Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law.

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. (Matthew 5:17)

It may be good to read the rest (Matthew 5:18-20) of the paragraph to understand the importance of the Law.

18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:18-20)

Jesus explains the reason for the differences in Matthew 9:14-17.

14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’

15 Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

16 ‘No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.’

 

Paul explains prophesies, knowledge and others will pass away but faith, hope and love remain.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

 

The entire law is fulfilled in keeping one command.

13 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. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Galatians 5:13-14)

Jesus teaches the greatest commandment in the Law in Matthew 22:34-40.

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

37 Jesus replied: ‘ “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

I hope that we take lessons from both the Old and New Testaments and apply them wisely.

References

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Anglicised Edition, 2011). (2011). (Revised and updated edition). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

[2] https://answersingenesis.org/bible-questions/doesnt-the-bible-support-slavery/

[3] http://www.endslaverynow.org/learn/slavery-today?gclid=CjwKCAjwlovtBRBrEiwAG3XJ-47msHI7k-gH9Vy1mqWgFGTH9dp2y2rU78B_6p8TxTwNMsFBafipNhoCAfsQAvD_BwE

[4] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 17). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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