Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 14 March 2022:
Exodus 21:1-11 – “When you buy a Hebrew slave.”
Bible verses related to slavery generate much emotion in our generation for good reason. However, the world view and concept of servitude and slavery were much different in ancient times. In that day and age, God’s word was revolutionary and controversial, not because of its cruelty but rather because of its uncommon concern for the rights of all people. Within ancient Israel, as in the entire ancient world, there were people who worked for others on the principle of servitude (servants), and there were slaves (usually foreign captives from battle). Servants are often viewed as slaves, but this wasn’t the brutal form of slavery we think of today. “Moses did not institute slavery in any shape; the laws concerning it were made on purpose to repress it, to confine it within very narrow bounds, and ultimately to put an end to it.” (Spurgeon) God brought the Israelites out of slavery, and it is fitting that His first laws dealt with respecting the rights and dignity of servants. There were four basic ways a Hebrew might become a slave to another Hebrew. In extreme poverty, they might sell their liberty (Leviticus 25:39); a father might sell a daughter as a servant into a home with the intention that she would eventually marry into that family (Exodus 21:7); in the case of bankruptcy, a man might become servant to his creditors (2 Kings 4:1); and if a thief had nothing with which to pay proper restitution (Exodus 22:3-4). Slavery, on the other hand, was often a choice given to foreign enemies as a substitute for death in a time where “total war” was the norm (when everyone was killed to totally eliminate enemies and the possibility of continued conflict with that enemy). The ideas of man-stealing into life-long servitude – the concepts many have of slavery – generally do not apply to the practice of slavery in the Old Testament, though it did happen, such as when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Normally, servitude was chosen or mutually arranged contractually, of limited duration, and highly regulated. In most cases, servitude was never obligated to be life-long. The Hebrew servant worked for six years and then was set free. A careful consideration of the laws concerning slavery show that they abolished slavery among God’s people, and substituted for it, contractual labor for a period of years. “Henceforward the condition of slaves among the Hebrew people would be in marked distinction to slavery as existing among other peoples. It was the beginning of a great moral movement.” If, after the six years of servitude, a servant wished to make a life-long commitment to his master – in light of the master’s goodness and his blessings for the servant – he could. However, this commitment was not motivated by debt or obligation, only by love for the master, and the good things that the master had provided for the servant. Still, it might be hard for us, being so far removed from society at that time, to imagine why God simply did not eliminate any form of servitude (slavery) altogether. Our complaints might be comparable to the trouble the Pharisees had in understanding how to navigate God’s laws on divorce considering that the Bible states that God opposes divorce (Malachi 2:16). Jesus explained it this way: “He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.’ And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate.’” (Mark 10:3-9) God’s laws account for the hardness of the heart of man.
Exodus 21:16 – Again, the Bible does not allow forced slavery outside of war.
Exodus 21:19 – God values a person’s time.
Exodus 21:22-25 – In the Bible, killing an unborn baby is a crime punishable by death, just like
any other murder. God’s view of abortion should be more than clear.
Exodus 21:16-36 – In Biblical justice, restitution is made to the victim, not to the government. Why is that not the case today?
Acts 23:11 – “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.’”
It hasn’t been an easy road for Paul: He was persecuted and driven out of Antioch (Acts 13); he was almost stoned at Iconium and fled (Acts 14); he was stoned and left for dead at Lystra (Acts 14); he was attacked, beaten, and imprisoned at Philippi (Acts 16); he was evacuated out of Thessalonica and Berea, rescued from angry mobs (Acts 17); he was beaten and arrested in the temple (Acts 21), nearly flogged by the tribune (Acts 22), nearly “torn to pieces” by the council (Acts 23); and soon Paul will discover that forty assassins have committed to kill him, vowing by oath neither to eat nor drink till they have. (Acts 23:12) And Paul knows his journey is not going to get easier, culminating with his death. No one could blame Paul if he started feeling a bit discouraged, even defeated.
But the Lord stood by Paul and said, “Take courage.” The Greek word used here is Tharséō – be bold; be of good cheer; radiate confidence; be firm, resolute, and steady in the face of trials set before you. This word is used seven (7) other times in the New Testament, all by Jesus (Matthew 9:2; Mathew 9:22; Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50; Mark 10:49; Luke 8:48; and John 16:33), either when Jesus was healing a person through His miraculous power or to comfort the disciples who were gripped by fear when He walked on water. In all cases, the message is the same – “Take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
- 1 John 4:4 — Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
- 1 John 5:4 — For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
- 1 John 5:5 — Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
We will all face great life challenges, not just the persecution that comes from being a Christian, but also the pains that come from living in a fallen world, including sickness and death. But through it all, Jesus stands beside us and says, “Take courage, take heart, I have overcome the world, and in me, you have the victory that has overcome the world.” And, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28, 29)
Sometimes, we face life challenges because of the consequences of our own sins, but this too is intended to draw us closer to Jesus in repentance and reconciliation as we learn to trust in the sufficiency of His grace and to walk in grace closer to Him with each new day –
- 1 John 1:9 — If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
- Romans 8:31-39 — What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 14 Mar 23: Today, no matter what happens, take courage, be of good cheer, radiate joyful confidence, and press forward boldly, trusting not in your strength or righteousness but in the strength and righteousness of Christ and in your victory in Him who has overcome the world. Trust God, His sovereignty, His love, and His grace especially as you deal with the consequences of your own mistakes and sins. Remember, nothing can separate you from the love and salvation of God, and when you rely upon Him and seek His purposes, He will work even these things together for and ultimate good as He further reveals His faithfulness to you and conforms you further to the image of His Son, Jesus.