Devotion – Exodus 21

You might find it difficult to understand why God would allow slavery among His people.  We live in a culture that abhors slavery, justifiably so.  What took place in this country with African-American people is a travesty, and we should despise the horrible things that took place in our country’s past.  Our reference to slavery was the hideous enslavement of African Americans before the Civil War,  but in Biblical times, slavery was somewhat different.  To begin with, most slavery was a result of debt.  A person would get himself into financial trouble and could not afford to pay his debt, he would sell himself or a family member into slavery. The alternative in ancient culture was to be homeless, and even starve.  There were no banks to give out loans, no government assistance, and no welfare program.  The alternative was to sell oneself into slavery as a way to keep themselves and their family cared for.  It allowed people to give their land and their trade to another person in return for the right to remain living on the land and keep the family together.

The laws that God gave the Hebrews about slavery reminded them to treat slaves with dignity and grace.  They were never to be treated as inferiors, nor were they to abuse those who served in their households.  Slave owners were to represent God to the slaves.  Every seven years,  the nation was to forgive all debts and every slave was to be released.  Can you imagine the celebration that would take place on that day, when slaves were set free.

But, some slaves might have felt so cared for by their master, that they would choose to remain in his household.  Maybe the master was loving, and made the slave feel significant.  Maybe he treated his slaves as equals, and the slave would realize that he could not do as well on his own as he was doing in the house of his master.

In this situation, the slave, who had been set free, could choose to remain a slave for the rest of his or her life.  When a slave made this choice, he was taken to the doorpost, and the master would drive an awl through his or her ear.  This ear piercing became a sign that the slave was now in servitude of the master by choice and not because they were forced into slavery.

The New Testament Greek word for this sort of slavery is doulos, which is usually translated slave or bond-slave.  When a Jew would read this word, he would think of this part of God’s Law, and read it as “one who has pierced the ear.”

When some of the giants of the Christian faith wrote the books of the New Testament, their favorite way to refer to themself was “the bondslave of Jesus”.  Take a moment to read some of these passages.
∙    Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:10, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1, II Peter 1:1, James 1:1
Jude 1:1

The ones that get me are James and Jude.  These men were the half brothers of Jesus.  Yet, instead of referring to themselves as the brothers of Jesus, they choose to say they had submitted themselves to slavery to their Lord Jesus.  They had received the life of the pierced ear.  They realized how wonderful their master was, and had voluntarily submitted to spend the rest of their lives as slaves to Jesus Christ.

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