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Leviticus 25:39-55; Jubilee – Redemption of Slaves

04/09 Leviticus 25:39-55; Jubilee; Redemption of Slaves; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170409_leviticus-25_39-55.mp3

The chapter, as we have seen, divides into three sections, each concluding with the phrase “I am YHWH your God.”

1-22 rest for land; Sabbath year and Jubilee

23-38 redemption or release of land

39-55 redemption or release of people

The first section of Leviticus 25 deals with the Sabbath year and the year of jubilee. Every seventh year, the land was to keep a Sabbath rest to the LORD. After seven weeks of years the fiftieth year was a year of Jubilee. Liberty was proclaimed and a return to property and to families. Rest was required. God’s provision was promised.

The second section, verses 23-38, begins with God’s claim that the land belongs to him, and concludes with “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.” The focus of that section is land, its sale and redemption or release in the year of Jubilee.

Verses 39-55 address the situation where a person would sell himself to pay off a debt. In verse 42, God asserts his ownership over the people whom he brought out of the land of Egypt be his servants. This section concludes with “For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” The focus of this final section is God’s people, their sale, and their redemption or release in the year of Jubilee. This last section is our focus today; redemption and release of slaves.

Jubilee: Redemption of Slaves

Leviticus 25:39 “If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: 40 he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.

The slavery introduced here was never meant to be. God promises in Deuteronomy 15 that:

Deuteronomy 15:4 But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— 5 if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. 6 For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you. 7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.

The situation of poverty and slavery here is a result of disobedience and sin. God’s people did not keep God’s rules as they lived in God’s land. They hardened their hearts and closed their hands to their brothers in need. And so they missed out on God’s ideal for them. The verses immediately preceding these in Leviticus 25 require:

Leviticus 25:35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

God promised to provide for the needs of his people. He intended that his people would be generous toward one another and toward the foreigners dwelling with them. But God understands our selfish, sinful inclination, and made provision to protect and care for those in desperate circumstances, and through this he also gave us a picture that points ultimately to the liberty proclaimed in Christ Jesus.

Limited Type of Service

In this worst case scenario, where one of God’s people becomes so poor that he must sell himself to simply survive, God limits the type of service he could be required to perform. They are to be treated as if they were hired workers, not as slaves. They are not to be treated ruthlessly.

God had rescued his people out of hard slavery in Egypt.

Exodus 1:13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

Exodus 2:23 …the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.

Exodus 6:9 …they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

They were to remember their slavery in Egypt, and they were not to treat others the way they had been mistreated. They would also be reminded of the plagues on Egypt, that God comes to the rescue of those who cry out to him for help. If they now became the oppressors, they could expect a similar judgment from God. Verse 43 says “You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.”

Limited Time of Service

God limits the type of their service; God also limits the time of their service. Their hope was not to be removed. In Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 15, we see that the time of service of a Hebrew slave was limited to 6 years. On the seventh year he was to go free.

Deuteronomy 15:12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.

This service was to end with generosity. This was a way to care for those who became poor without simply being a handout. They retained their dignity, were to work in exchange for room and board, and were to be treated with respect. This was a temporary arrangement with a time limit. When they were released, they were to be sent off with all that they needed to keep them from immediately spiraling back into poverty.

We see this arrangement could be so desirable, that a servant on the seventh year could choose to stay. Both Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 15 make provision for this.

Deuteronomy 15:16 But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, 17 then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. And to your female slave you shall do the same.

Here in Leviticus, the time of service is limited to 49 years. It seems Hebrew slaves were to be offered their freedom each Sabbath year. But if they chose to stay, even this was not a completely permanent arrangement. On the Jubilee, even these slaves were to go free. They were to be released with their whole families.

Ultimate Ownership

Leviticus 25:40 …He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.

God asserts his ownership over his people. Like the land, God is their owner, and what can be sold is not the person, but his productivity. Like the land, their sale is the sale of years of service until the Jubilee. God is the ultimate owner and he is to be feared. The Israelites belong to him. They are his servants. As we see in Jesus’ parable, it is not wise to mistreat a fellow-servant.

Allowance for Non-Israelite Slaves

God makes a distinction between his people and the nations around them.

Leviticus 25:44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. 45 You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. 46 You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

At first read, we tend to recoil at the implication that God condones slavery. But we need to understand what this does and does not mean, and we need to understand it in its context.

God had given clear instructions to his people to drive out and completely destroy the inhabitants of the land he was giving them, because of their sin, their abominable practices, and to prevent Israel from being led astray by them to worship other gods. In Joshua 9, the Gibeonites understood this and deceived Israel into making a covenant with them, claiming to be from far away. When asked why they did this,

Joshua 9:24 They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.” 26 So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. 27 But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD, to this day, in the place that he should choose.

The Gibeonites chose service rather than death They did this to ally themselves with Israel. Notice, they chose this. All the slavery in this chapter is voluntary slavery. The poor Israelite sells himself. The foreigner sells himself. In Exodus 21 and in Deuteronomy 24 the penalty for capturing a person to sell as a slave is death.

Exodus 21:16 “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.

Exodus 21:16 is sandwiched between two verses requiring the death penalty for dishonoring parents. Jesus teaches us that some the commands were given to regulate sinful practices ‘because of your hardness of heart’ (Mt.19:8). God is clear that he is against the slave trade as we understand it. 1 Timothy 1:10 lists enslavers together with other sins that are contrary to sound doctrine and to the gospel.

God makes it clear that he values all life he created, but he also makes a distinction between those who choose to remain his enemies and those who turn and seek to align with him and his people.

Rights of Redemption

Verse 47 introduces the upside down possibility that a native Israelite would sell himself to a foreigner living among Israel. This should not be. God promised to bless his people. But he also promised that if his people turned from him and were disobedient to him, turned to other gods and rejected him, he would send them into captivity. He even says:

Deuteronomy 28:68 And the LORD will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”

This is not what God intended for his people. But this is the consequences for refusing God’s good authority.

Leviticus 25:47 “If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, 48 then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself.

This section demands that in the regrettable circumstance that this should happen, the right of redemption is retained. The sale is not final. Redemption is possible. In the section we covered last week, we looked at the role of a kinsman redeemer, a close relative who had the responsibility and right to come to the rescue of one who was in trouble. Here it is clarified who can act as a kinsman-redeemer; a brother, an uncle, a cousin, or another close relative may redeem.

Price of Redemption

Verses 50-54 stipulate the terms of the sale and the fair price of redemption. Again, the sale is technically the number of years of service until the Jubilee release.

Leviticus 25:50 He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker. 51 If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price. 52 If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service. 53 He shall treat him as a worker hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. 54 And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee.

The price of sale and the price of redemption is to be fair. God’s people are to be just in their business dealings. They are not to take advantage of others.

God’s Possession

In the closing verse of this chapter, God again reminds us of his rights over his people.

Leviticus 25:55 For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

God’s people belong to him. He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. He purchased them to belong to him. He is the I AM. As their Creator, all people belong to him. As their Kinsman-Redeemer, the people he purchased out of slavery doubly belong to him.

Application

What does all this mean for us? We are not Israel entering the promised land to dispossess the Canaanites. We do not have these social structures of debt and slavery and redemption or release at the Sabbath Year or the Year of Jubilee. Is this nothing more than a bit of interesting ancient trivia? Far from it! This is the language and the context of our treasured redemption. This is our hope and our joy. This is Jesus!

Jesus in his parable in Matthew 18 describes us as having a debt we could never hope to pay.

Matthew 18:23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

One talent was about 20 years wages for a laborer. Jesus describes us as owing our King 200,000 years worth of wages. Our offense is against an infinite God. Our debt is incalculable, yet justice demands that the debt be paid back equitably.

Jesus describes us as slaves to sin,

John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.

Galatians 4 tells us that we were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world; enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. Titus 3 tells us that we were slaves to various passions and pleasures. Romans 6 tells us that we were slaves of sin, which leads to death, because the wages of sin is death. Our slavery was not 6 years or 49 years; it was eternal. We were created to enjoy God and glorify God. But we sold ourselves as slaves to sin.

Our taskmaster Satan is cruel. He has no concern for our dignity or our well-being. He comes to steal and kill and destroy (Jn.10:10).

But in Luke 4, Jesus stood up to read in the synagogue in Nazareth, and he was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he read:

Luke 4:18

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [cf. Isaiah 61:1-2]

Jesus proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor. He claimed to bring the long awaited Jubilee. He proclaimed good news, liberty to the captives. By announcing the Jubilee, he was declaring that his day was the Day of Atonement.

In Colossians 1 we read that God,

Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

In Colossians 2,

Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

From the cross, before he gave up his spirit Jesus declared ‘It is finished’; [τετελεσται] ‘the debt has been paid in full’ (Jn.19:30).

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation. Now we wait…

Titus 2:13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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April 10, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 9:19-23; By All Means Save Some

03/23 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 By All Means Save Some;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140323_1cor9_19-23.mp3

1 Corinthians 9 [SBLGNT]

19 Ἐλεύθερος γὰρ ὢν ἐκ πάντων πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα, ἵνα τοὺς πλείονας κερδήσω· 20 καὶ ἐγενόμην τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ὡς Ἰουδαῖος, ἵνα Ἰουδαίους κερδήσω· τοῖς ὑπὸ νόμον ὡς ὑπὸ νόμον, μὴ ὢν αὐτὸς ὑπὸ νόμον, ἵνα τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον κερδήσω· 21 τοῖς ἀνόμοις ὡς ἄνομος, μὴ ὢν ἄνομος θεοῦ ἀλλ’ ἔννομος Χριστοῦ, ἵνα κερδάνω τοὺς ἀνόμους· 22 ἐγενόμην τοῖς ἀσθενέσιν ἀσθενής, ἵνα τοὺς ἀσθενεῖς κερδήσω· τοῖς πᾶσιν γέγονα πάντα, ἵνα πάντως τινὰς σώσω. 23 πάντα δὲ ποιῶ διὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, ἵνα συγκοινωνὸς αὐτοῦ γένωμαι.

1 Corinthians 9 [ESV2011]

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

In 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul is tactfully tackling the issue of how far a believer can go in identifying with the culture around him without involving himself in the sin of the culture. Some in Corinth were fighting for their rights to participate in pagan temple festivities, claiming that their knowledge set them free. They know that there is only one true God, and that idols are nothing, so any food dedicated to an idol is untainted by all the pagan hocus-pocus, so they are free to eat. Maybe they felt it would be an opportunity to evangelize family and friends if they attended temple functions. Paul challenges them to think more carefully through the issues. What if a brother whose conscience is not as liberated as yours follows your example and violates his own conscience, participating in the actual worship of idols? By destroying the weak brother for whom Christ died, you sin against Christ.

In chapter 9, Paul carefully builds the case for those who preach the gospel to be supported by those to whom they preach. He builds this case all for the purpose of demonstrating by his own example what it looks like to have legitimate God given rights and to release those rights for the sake of the gospel and for the good of others. Paul has no choice but to preach the gospel. He is required to preach. In verses 15-18, he claims it as his reward to waive his rights to compensation and present the gospel free of charge.

Free from All

In verses 19-23 he returns to the issue of freedom. In verse 1, he began with the rhetorical question “am I not free?” and here he returns to this issue of freedom. In this passage, he asserts his freedom, voluntarily limits his freedom, and gives us his driving principle for self-limiting his freedom.

Paul asserts his freedom in no uncertain terms. He asked the question “am I not free?”, and here he says “I am free from all”. Paul is a free man. He is free from all people. He is free from all things.

Jesus said

John 8:32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” …36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Paul says to the believers in Galatia

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Paul will not submit again to slavery. He speaks earlier in Galatians

Galatians 2:4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Paul is willing to stand on his rights, insist on his freedom, and demand his rights when the truth of the gospel is at stake. When Peter caved to the pressure of the Judaizers and backed away from eating with Gentile believers, Paul called it hypocrisy and confronted him openly and publicly. He says:

Galatians 2:14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Peter, a Jew, who had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised, was living like a Gentile while among the Gentiles. That was right. He was free in Jesus to eat what Gentiles eat. What was wrong and out of line with the good news was when he backed away and separated himself from them out of fear. This conduct flew in the face of the gospel message that the death of Christ had broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile (Eph.2:14). Paul, as a follower of our Lord Jesus Christ, was free from all. And when it came to the truth of the gospel, he would fanatically fight for that freedom.

Slave of All

But this is what Paul does with his freedom when the good news of freedom in Jesus is not under attack. He says

1 Corinthians 9:19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all,

Being free, he freely chose to enslave himself to all. He will describe what this looks like for him in the next verses. But first he lays out the driving principle behind his voluntary enslavement.

1 Corinthians 9:19 …that I might win more of them.

His voluntary slavery was with a gospel purpose. This is the driving force of Paul’s life. This was his prime passion. ‘That I might win more of them’. This is why he suffered imprisonment, countless beatings, five times the 39 lashes at the hands of the Jews, three times beaten with rods. Once they stoned him, dragged him outside the city, and left him for dead. And he got back up and went back in to the city and went right on preaching the gospel (Acts 14:19-20). He endured shipwreck three times. He faced constant danger, toil, hardship, hunger, thirst, sleepless nights, exposure to the elements (2Cor11:23-28). He had counted the cost, and he did it all willingly, that he might win more. The value of one soul for whom Christ died was of far greater worth than his own personal health, safety, comfort or well-being.

It is interesting to note that Paul sometimes opted out of a beating. Sometimes he called on his rights as a Roman citizen. In Acts 22, when the soldiers were stretching him out for a flogging, he appealed to his Roman citizenship. In Acts 25, aware that the Jews were intending to ambush and murder him, Paul appealed to Caesar. With the Romans, Paul stood up for his rights as a citizen, creating legal precedent that would benefit and protect followers of Jesus for future generations.

But with the Jews, five times he accepted the 40 lashes minus one. A Jew, guilty of blaspheming, must be cut off from his people. But in order to avert this punishment, according to the Mishnah, one could submit to flogging. Paul, preaching Jesus as the promised Messiah and God in the flesh was probably accused of blasphemy. He could have shook the dust off his feet and walked away, but in order to maintain his connection to the Jews and access to preach the gospel in the synagogues, he voluntarily submitted to their discipline. During the scourging, someone would read repeatedly the curse from Deuteronomy 28, so in a very literal way, Paul came under the law (BECNT p.430). So passionate was Paul to win his fellow Jews to Jesus, that he said:

Romans 9:2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

Although Paul was free from all, he voluntarily became servant of all, so that he might win more of them. Paul was passionate about captivating as many people as possible with Jesus.

Proverbs 11:30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.

This word ‘to win’ is usually used in a financial sense of profit or gain. Paul’s reward was to win people for Christ. As he was commissioned by Jesus

Acts 26:17 …from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

Paul’s driving passion and ruling principle in life was to win as many as possible, to open eyes, to rescue from Satan’s kingdom, to offer forgiveness of sins and a place among God’s people.

The Third Category

In the following verses, he describes how he went about this with different groups of people.

20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

This is a fascinating passage. Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, an offspring of Abraham, an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eighth day, Paul a Jew by birth, says ‘to the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. Since becoming a follower of Jesus, Paul no longer considered himself a Jew. Ethnically, he was Jewish. That did not change. He clarifies what he means by his next phrase. Jews were those who are under the law. Paul once was a Jew under the law. He is that no longer.

2 Corinthians 5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Paul was no longer a Jew under the law. Neither was he a Gentile. He had become a new creation in Christ. Jesus had created a third category.

1 Corinthians 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

To the Galatians, he says

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Jesus has abolished the old categories of humanity.

Galatians 6:15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

He addresses the Ephesians, formerly Gentiles, separated, alienated, strangers, and he says:

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

Jesus abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances in order to create one new man in place of the two. Romans chapter 7 tells us how the law was abolished for followers of Jesus.

Romans 7:1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?

And he uses the law of marriage to illustrate the principle that we are only bound by the law as long as we are alive.

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

We are freed from the law because we have died with Christ. We have been released from bondage to the law. We are free from the written code. We now serve God out of a Spirit transformed heart. This is what Paul says in Galatians 2:

Galatians 2:19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The Law, the Law of God, and the Law of Christ

Let’s look for a minute at how Paul sees himself in relation to the law. He is very careful to clarify so that he is not misunderstood. He became as a Jew, as one under the law, though he himself is no longer a Jew and is not under the law. Paul is not obligated to keep the Jewish law. If we look back at the Jerusalem decree in Acts 15, we see that Gentiles keeping the law of Moses was what was at issue.

Acts 15:5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

Peter argued that God

Acts 15:9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Even to those raised Jewish, the law of Moses was ‘a yoke on the neck that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.’ Paul makes it clear that he is not himself under the law. In relations to the Gentiles to whom the law had not been given, Paul became as one outside the law, but he is careful to clarify ‘not being outside the law of God but inside the law of Christ’. Paul wants to make clear that no longer being under the law does not mean that he is free to sin. He makes a distinction between the law that he is not under and the law that he is not outside of. In verse 20 he says that he is not under the law, and in verse 21 he says that he is not without the law of God but inside the law of Christ. He draws a contrast between the law of Moses and the law of God. One he is no longer under any obligation to fulfill, the law of Moses having been perfectly fulfilled in Christ. The other, the law of God or the law of Christ, is what he is walking in.

Jesus said:

John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

God gave the law to his people through Moses. The law showed us our sin. In Acts 13, Paul says about Jesus

Acts 13:38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

The law of Moses did not free. It was a yoke that no one could bear. Galatians (5:23) tells us that we were held captive, imprisoned under the law. The law was our guardian until Christ came.

The 613 commandments of the Old Testament have been completely fulfilled in Jesus. Those who are justified through faith in Jesus are not under that law. We are now in the law of Christ.

So what is the law of Christ? Jesus was asked

Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus said

Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Jesus said

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

John wrote

1 John 3:23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

1 John 4:21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Paul tells the Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 4:9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,

It is clear that the law of Christ is the law of love. Romans 8 says

Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

We fulfill the law when we walk according to the Spirit.

Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Galatians says

Galatians 5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

James says

James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

All Things to All People

Paul became all things to all people for the advance of the gospel. To the Jews he became as a Jew. In Acts 16 Paul circumcised Timothy in order to remove hindrances to the gospel among the Jews. In Acts 18, Paul cut his hair because of a vow. In Acts 21, Paul was counseled to purify himself along with four men and present the appropriate offering in the temple. Paul demonstrated that, although he was free from the law, this did not mean that he could not observe Jewish laws when it would serve to advance the gospel.

Paul became as one outside in order to win those outside the law. When Paul went up to Jerusalem, he brought Titus the Greek as a test case to demonstrate that Gentiles were not required to keep the law (Gal.2:3). At Antioch, Paul insisted that Peter continue to demonstrate the truth of the gospel by eating with the Gentiles.

There was another category of people that Paul reached out to with the gospel. These were the weak. The text does not say that he became as the weak. It says he became weak. He doesn’t become a Jew or a Gentile, but he does become weak. He does not qualify this with a statement like ‘though not myself being weak’. In the context, we see that Paul took a manual labor job to pay the bills. The sophisticated Corinthians may consider this weak, but Paul says that he gladly became weak in order to win the weak to Christ. He voluntarily placed himself in the lowest social strata to bring the gospel to people who may not otherwise listen. Paul did not merely preach the gospel. Paul lived the gospel. As he says in Ephesians 5

Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

As Christ gave himself up for us, Paul follows the example of his Master and gives up his own rights. He stoops down to identify with the weak so that they know that the gospel is for them. Paul being weak, unable to save himself by his own righteousness, stands with the weak in the gospel blessings that come to the weak. Paul’s life has been transformed by the gospel. Paul now lives a life conformed to the gospel. Paul was transformed by the cross. Paul now lives life shaped by the cross. He lives a life characterized by sacrifice. He is willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to bring the saving good news to people for whom Christ died. His prime passion is the good news of Christ crucified, and he is willing to live out that good news and come alongside anyone to stand with them at the foot of the cross. There is no other Christian life than a life shaped by the cross.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

March 23, 2014 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 7:20-24; Slavery and Contentment

12/01 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 Remain As You Were Called; Slavery and Contentment; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20131201_1cor7_20-24.mp3

1Cor 7 [SBLGNT]

17 Εἰ μὴ ἑκάστῳ ὡς ἐμέρισεν ὁ κύριος, ἕκαστον ὡς κέκληκεν ὁ θεός, οὕτως περιπατείτω· καὶ οὕτως ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις πάσαις διατάσσομαι. 18 περιτετμημένος τις ἐκλήθη ; μὴ ἐπισπάσθω· ἐν ἀκροβυστίᾳ κέκληταί τις; μὴ περιτεμνέσθω. 19 ἡ περιτομὴ οὐδέν ἐστιν, καὶ ἡ ἀκροβυστία οὐδέν ἐστιν, ἀλλὰ τήρησις ἐντολῶν θεοῦ. 20 ἕκαστος ἐν τῇ κλήσει ᾗ ἐκλήθη ἐν ταύτῃ μενέτω. 21 Δοῦλος ἐκλήθης ; μή σοι μελέτω· ἀλλ’ εἰ καὶ δύνασαι ἐλεύθερος γενέσθαι, μᾶλλον χρῆσαι. 22 ὁ γὰρ ἐν κυρίῳ κληθεὶς δοῦλος ἀπελεύθερος κυρίου ἐστίν· ὁμοίως ὁ ἐλεύθερος κληθεὶς δοῦλός ἐστιν Χριστοῦ. 23 τιμῆς ἠγοράσθητε· μὴ γίνεσθε δοῦλοι ἀνθρώπων. 24 ἕκαστος ἐν ᾧ ἐκλήθη, ἀδελφοί, ἐν τούτῳ μενέτω παρὰ θεῷ.

1Cor 7 [ESV2011]

7:17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

We find in this passage strong encouragement from the apostle to enjoy the status God has given to each one of us in Christ Jesus. These verses give the core principle that Paul applies to the different circumstances he addresses in this chapter: married, widowed, divorced, and single. In verse 17 he states the principle:

1 Corinthians 7:17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.

Then in verses 18 – 19 he illustrates this principle with the racial issue of circumcision. Jews prided themselves in being God’s chosen people. Gentiles were excluded from a relationship with God unless they became Jews. But in Graeco-Roman society being a Jew could be detrimental to social advancement. Paul says that it doesn’t matter what your racial background is. God’s call cuts across all ethnic barriers. Jesus sent his disciples not only to Jerusalem and Judea, but into Samaria and to the ends of the earth to make disciples. God will bring people from every tribe and language and people and nation to worship around his throne. Racial background has no effect on one’s relationship with Jesus. In verse 20, Paul restates his guiding principle.

1 Corinthians 7:20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

And in verses 21-23 he applies this principle to the difficult social issue of slavery. Then in verse 24, he repeats the principle again.

1 Corinthians 7:24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

Bondservants and Freedmen

In order to better understand this passage, we need to gain a proper understanding about the background of slavery in the Graeco-Roman world that Paul was writing to. Set aside for a moment the American and European ideas of ethnic based slavery. Slavery in the ancient world was an issue of social status. One became a slave by being on the losing side of a battle, by being born to slave parents, or by entering into a contract of slavery, often to pay off a debt. The kidnapping and sale of adults and children as slaves was illegal, but did happen. Slavery was typically not lifelong; slaves were often manumitted (or granted freedom) when they were in their early 30’s or after around seven years of service (NIGTC, p.564-5). A former slave who had been released gained the status of ‘freedman’. The status of a slave or a freedman depended greatly on whom he served as slave. Slaves were sometimes cruelly abused and mistreated, and sometimes released when they had passed their prime as a way for the owner to escape the obligations of providing for them. But it was a matter of public honor to provide well for the needs of the slave, and to reward loyal service with manumission. Some slaves were menial laborers, but a wealthy patron would often delegate great responsibility to a trusted slave to carry out business and manage affairs in his name, and that slave would be given the respect that was due their patron. When a slave was released, they continued to be indebted to their patron, owing them honor, respect, gifts, and often a set number of days’ work per week or month or year (BECNT, p.314-5). Some estimate that about one third of the population of ancient Corinth were slaves, and another third were freedmen. Freedmen took great pride in their patrons. Common tombstone inscriptions have been discovered that read (so-and-so) the freedman of (patron’s name).

Circumstances and Attitudes

Paul restates his governing principle of living the life the Lord has assigned and to which God has called in verse 20, and he now applies this principle to slavery and freedom.

1 Corinthians 7:20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

Literally verse 20 reads ‘remain in the calling in which you were called’. It is not social standing that counts for anything, it is God’s call.

This is intentionally an extreme application of the principle, and it helps to clarify what he does and doesn’t mean by it. It is one thing to apply ‘each one should remain in the calling in which he was called’ to circumcision; don’t reverse the irreversible. But to say ‘if God called you as a slave, remain as a slave’ is more difficult to swallow. But he doesn’t exactly say that. He doesn’t say ‘you must remain a slave’ Instead he says ‘don’t worry about it.’ He turns our focus from the circumstance to our attitude toward the circumstance. If you are a slave, don’t let it concern you. You can be so focused on your circumstance, so controlled by an all-consuming desire to escape your situation, that you become a slave to your desire. You don’t have to become a Jew to follow Jesus, and you don’t have to become free to follow Jesus. A slave can be just as faithful a follower of Jesus as a free man can. This is radical contentment irrespective of circumstances.

This is not just talk. Paul modeled this radical contentment for us in his own life. He wrote in Philippians:

Philippians 4:11 …I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

He wrote these words from a Roman prison, probably chained to Roman guards. He did not pout and whine and complain. He was not consumed with self-pity. Instead he viewed his circumstances as ordained by God and took advantage of his situation for the glory of God and for the advance of the gospel. He writes in the beginning of the letter:

Philippians 1:12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Throughout the Philippian letter Paul is overflowing with joy. Joy is not contingent on circumstances; joy is fruit of the Holy Spirit, who resides in every believer. Paul views his imprisonment not as a hindrance to the gospel, but as brought about by God to advance the gospel throughout the whole Roman guard. His imprisonment has given confidence to many brothers to speak the word more boldly. Paul is content in his God-given circumstances and finds multiple reasons for joy and thanksgiving to his all-wise God. Paul gives us his recipe for contentment in Philippians 4:6.

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Or as Peter says it:

1 Peter 5:7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Remain as you are. Bring your concerns to God. Be content in whatever circumstance God called you.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

We can easily apply this principle to our situation today. Often when someone becomes a follower of Jesus, they feel a strong inclination to really make their lives count for the Lord. They mistakenly think that the best way to do this is to quit their day job and go into ‘full time Christian ministry’. This is right and wrong. They definitely should seek to make their lives count for God and they should go into full time Christian ministry. But that does not require a change of occupation. Paul’s advice here is ‘remain as you are called’. Don’t quit your day job. You are called to be an ambassador for Jesus where ever you are. Are you presently serving someone? Employed by someone? Be faithful to use those relationships for the advance of the gospel and the glory of God. Are you in a position of authority over someone? A business owner or employer? Recognize that you are a slave of Jesus, you belong to Jesus, and he determines how you conduct yourself and how you relate to other people.

Make Use Of…

We could take Paul’s principle that ‘each one should remain in the condition in which he was called’ as an absolute rule in every circumstance. But Paul is not so simplistic. He adds a ‘but if’ clause; ‘but if you can gain your freedom, rather make use…’ But he leaves the sentence hanging. Make use of what? This has led to a debate among biblical scholars. Does he mean that if you have the opportunity to become free, you should rather make use of your slavery to the glory of God and remain a slave? Does he mean that if you have the opportunity to become free, you should use your new status as a freedman to bring glory to God? More likely he is allowing for the exception and turning our focus from our circumstances to our calling. If you were called by God as a slave, don’t let it concern you, serve your earthly master to the glory of God. If God opens the door to freedom, make use of that freedom for the glory of God.

Upside Down Kingdom

He finds the reason in the gospel, where the calling of God shames the wise and chooses the nothings of this world, where the first will be last and the last first.

1 Corinthians 7:22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.

The cross of our Lord Jesus turns all social status on its head. If God called you when you were a slave, you become a freedman of the Lord. Still a slave of a human master, the Lord Jesus has become your patron and you enjoy true freedom from the power and consequences of sin, a freedom greater than any earthly liberty. You now owe your primary allegiance to Jesus. You can claim the identity of the King of kings and Lord of lords. If on the other hand God called you when you were free, you have become a slave of Christ. You have come under the control of a Master who has the absolute right to make use of you, your time and talents and resources, as he alone sees fit (Thrall, p.56). So the slave moves up in social status, and the free man moves to the bottom.

Jesus taught his disciples:

Matthew 20:25 … “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The greatest one in God’s kingdom is the one who serves others. Jesus, our example, did not come to be served but to sacrifice himself for others.

John 13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. …12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Jesus

Philippians 2:6 …did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The God who created the universe became part of his creation in order to serve us by dying in our place. Because of the cross, we who were slaves are set free from sin to live lives that bring glory to God. We who were free are now owned by Jesus.

Bought

Paul’s instruction to slaves is not to worry about it. If you can become free, use that for the glory of God. More important than your circumstances is your attitude. Your station in life does not define you. Your relation to Christ is what defines you.

He now instructs those who are free.

1 Corinthians 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.

In that culture, becoming a slave of an affluent and important patron could be a way to climb the ladder of social status. Paul warns them against the foolish wisdom of this world’s status seeking hunger. He takes them back to the cross. You were bought with a price. Jesus paid the price for your freedom at the infinite cost of his own precious blood. You are owned by the King of kings. It would be incongruent for a possession of Christ to sell himself into slavery to another master. At the end of chapter 6 in a warning against sexual immorality, he said

1 Corinthians 6:19 …You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Here, in the context of social relationships, he repeats this theological truth. You were bought with a price. You are owned. You belong to Jesus. You must live consistent with your new identity in Christ.

Content in Any Relationship

1 Corinthians 7:24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

Paul is saying all this to illustrate his principle governing marriage, divorce, remarriage, and celibacy. His principle is ‘remain as you were called’. If you are married, you must not seek to change your status. Enjoy your marriage and use it to bring glory to God. If you are single, divorced, or widowed, take advantage of the freedoms of singleness to bring glory to God. But his illustration of slavery introduces possible exceptions to the principle. You are not required to remain in that state. Interestingly, he parallels marriage with slavery and singleness with freedom. But whatever your situation, don’t be concerned about it. More important than your circumstances is your attitude toward those circumstances. Are you bitter, frustrated, depressed, suffering from the greener grass syndrome, wishing to be on the other side of the fence? Or have you learned the secret for contentment in whatever circumstances you find yourself in? In whatever condition each was called, there let him remain, but you are not to remain there alone, in your own strength. You belong to Jesus, you are with God, and in that relationship there is ample strength. The power of the Holy Spirit is at work in you to produce the fruit of joy regardless of outward status or standing, to produce peace and confidence in your identity in Christ as belonging to him. You were bought with a price. You are a bondservant of Christ, a freedman of Christ. You are with God, and that relationship must define you.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

December 1, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exodus 21:1-11; Rethinking Slavery

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20111009_exodus21_1-11.mp3

10/09 Exodus 21:1-11 Rethinking Slavery; Israel’s Welfare System and the Least of These

We are in Exodus, studying the Book of the Covenant, God’s expectations for the people that he has redeemed out of slavery and brought into a covenant relationship with himself. These are not rules we must keep in order to get right with God. This is God’s expectations for the people that he has already saved.

These laws were not intended to be imposed on the unbelieving world. These were given directly to God’s people, rules for life in a community consisting of those who are in relationship with God. God gave these rules to his people, not to restrict their freedom and stifle their fun, but to bless them, so that they would get the maximum joy out of life and have a sure hope for the life to come.

The Book of the Covenant begins with the most important thing, our relationship with God, pointing us to the sacrifice that restores us to a right relationship with him, so that we can do the thing we were created to do, worship him.

God’s Care for the Least

The very next thing God addresses is slavery. In contrast, this is the last thing addressed in the code of Hammurabi. God puts it up front because his people had just experienced the horrors of slavery.

Exodus 2:23 … the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.

God heard their cry and rescued his people from bondage. He introduces his ten commandments by reminding his people that

Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Now he is demanding that his people not oppress others the way they had been oppressed. God is defending the rights of those who were at the very bottom of the social structure. God cares for the least of these, and he demands that we as his people care for the least of these.

Not Far Enough?

Many feel that God didn’t go far enough and abolish slavery altogether, rather than merely regulate the practice. This is possible, because Jesus tells us that the allowance for divorce in the law was not God’s ideal, but God merely regulating a sinful practice because of the hardness of our hearts, and Jesus calls us to a higher standard.

Matthew 19:8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (cf. Mark 10:5)

But I think that if we take the time to understand what God is saying here, we might say with the Psalmist:

Psalm 119:98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.

Let’s start with verse 1.

A Written Code

21:1 “Now these are the rules that you shall set before them.

One of the first things to note in this law code, is that it is written. This is part of the Book of the Covenant. And in the first verse, Moses is to ‘set these rules before them’ – before the whole people. This was an objective written standard that could not be changed on the whim of a ruler. Even those on the bottom of the social scale were entitled to know these laws and were empowered to appeal for their rights to fair treatment. God is caring for those that society deems worthless.

A Different Kind of Slavery

The next thing to note when talking about biblical slave laws, is the massive difference between the African slave trade that Wilberforce fought to abolish in Britain and President Lincoln ended here on this continent. If we jump down to verse 16, we see that.

Exodus 21:16 “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.

So the slave trade that we are familiar with is outlawed biblically on pain of death. Stealing and selling a human being or having a slave that was kidnapped was a capital offense. When we come to any passage in the bible that seems to tolerate or even approve of the practice of slavery, we need to shift our thinking to realize that what the bible is talking about when it addresses slavery is a very different thing from what comes to our minds when we hear the word ‘slave’. In the bible, there was good slavery and bad slavery.

Let’s start by asking how someone could become a slave in the Old Testament. If a person could not be captured and sold against their will, then how would someone become a slave? If we jump ahead just one chapter in Exodus, later in the Book of the Covenant, we see one scenario:

Exodus 22:2 “If a thief is found breaking in… 3 … He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.

We will see that the penalty for theft was restitution. If you felt guilty and wanted to return the stolen goods, you had to pay double. If you sold or consumed what you stole, you had to pay back 4-5 times the worth of what you stole. If you stole someone’s ox (or in modern farming terms, a tractor), you had to pay him back with five oxen. Your theft probably indicated that you didn’t have enough resources to buy your own ox, so you certainly wouldn’t have enough to pay back 5 times the value. And there were no bankruptcy laws in ancient Israel. If you couldn’t pay, you had to work off the debt. You lost your freedom, not in prison, but as a slave.

Another scenario is found in Leviticus 25:

Leviticus 25:39 “If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave:

Here the reason for your inability to pay your debts is not specified, but the consequence is the same. Possibly you lost your income due to laziness or natural disaster. Regardless, you were obligated to pay what you owe. Notice, in this scenario, it is voluntary. The seller is the slave. You sold yourself. This is why the proverbs very literally can say:

Proverbs 22:7 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

If a husband and father got himself in financial trouble, he would not be hauled off alone to leave his wife a widow and his children orphans, which would have been almost equivalent to the death sentence for them. They would be allowed to go together into slavery. This will start to make sense as we look at some of the details of this passage.

21:1 “Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. 2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone.

Here we see another primary difference between this kind of slavery and what we are familiar with. Biblical slavery was not perpetual ownership of another human being. This was a temporary arrangement with explicit time limits in order to pay off specific, often self-inflicted debts. The term limit for Israelite slavery was six years. It seems, whether the debt had been satisfied or not, when the six years was up, you went free. And we find, in Deuteronomy 15, that the slave owner was required to help his former slave get his feet under him.

Deuteronomy 15:12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty–handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.

I think it might help our thinking to replace the term ‘slavery’ with something like a ‘correctional internship’ or ‘financial rehabilitation.’ This was really a gracious arrangement. You have handled your finances poorly or simply fallen on hard times. An Israelite family agreed to take you in, provide you with room and board and employment so that you could learn a skill, pay your debts, learn how to manage your money wisely, and be given a fresh start on life. I think we could learn some things from arrangement.

Protection for Families

Three possible scenarios are laid out in dealing with the family of the slave. If the slave comes single, they leave single. If they come with a family, the family leaves together. The master has no right to keep part of the family even though he has provided room and board for all of them. That was understood up front. The more complicated scenario is if the master has another slave working for him and he approves of a marriage between them. This protects the interests of the master. He doesn’t get cheated out of the remainder of the service term of the one when the term of the other is up. This does not mean that the new marriage is broken up. Remember, this is the Book of the Covenant, made know to all the people. So the single slave would know up front what would be involved in entering into a relationship while serving his term. He would have to step up and pay the redemption price for his new wife to get her out of her contract early, or he would have to wait. His other option is spelled out in the next verses:

5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

The slave who was due to be released could voluntarily choose to remain a slave for life. Notice his attitude: ‘I hate my master but he has left me no other options.’ No, ‘I love my master.’ Here is deep gratitude for the generous and gracious hospitality of the master. This voluntary service is evidence of a healthy happy relationship. The slave was free. But he could choose the safety and security of continuing to serve a good master for the rest of his life. This could not be a rash decision. It had to be thought through carefully and finalized with a public ceremony. This is an indication that this sort of biblical slavery could be a very attractive arrangement with a good master.

Protection for Female Slaves

Verse 7 picks up another thread, with special protection for female slaves when they are mistreated.

7 “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. 9 If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter.

This addresses the uniquely vulnerable situation of a female slave. Apparently this master/servant relationship was intended to become a husband/wife relationship, and in that case, the marriage was not to be dissolved after the six years of service ended. Marriage is a lifetime commitment. If his intentions were to marry her, but he changes his mind, (and notice, he is in the wrong – he has broken faith with her) then he is to treat her with dignity and allow her family to redeem her. She is not to be sold as mere property. If she is to be the wife of his son, he is to treat her with dignity as he would his own daughter. If he does take her as his wife, he is not to abuse or neglect that relationship.

10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

The issue of multiple wives is addressed and regulated. This is in no way condoning the practice, but protecting the rights of the weakest members of society. This would fall into the category of ‘if a thief is found breaking in, he shall surely pay’. Any man who is foolish enough to take on more than one wife, he shall surely pay. He is going to have to figure out how he is going to meet the needs of each one without diminishing the rights of the other. And this is more than mere subsistence, the word for ‘food’ here is ‘meat,’ probably a luxury item. Ample food, clothing, and conjugal rights are not to be diminished, or he is guilty of neglect and she is immediately and freely released from the situation. The consequences laid out for this action, like the five times restitution for theft, should cause a man to think twice.

Later in this covenant code, we see further protection for the life and health of those who have become slaves. They are persons that cannot be abused or disposed of at the whim of the master without appropriate consequences. A slave who is killed by his master is to be avenged. A master who abuses his slave forfeits the slave. (Ex.21:20-21, 26-27, 32).

God intends to protect and care for the least in society. For those who have gotten themselves into legal or financial trouble, he has provided a way for them to be cared for in a way that enables them to satisfy their obligations with dignity and gets them back on their feet in a relatively short period of time.

A New Master

Exodus is not about freedom from slavery. It is about the transfer out from under a cruel taskmaster and into the service of a kind and generous King who richly rewards his servants. In Leviticus, God says

Leviticus 25:42 For they are my servants [lit. slaves], whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.

Jesus came to effect the ultimate exodus. Jesus said:

John 8:34 … “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

We are all enslaved to a cruel taskmaster. Often we don’t even realize we are in bondage. We are in over our heads with no hope of escape. Jesus,

Philippians 2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, [lit. slave] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus came to be the slave to get us all out of our slavery. God became man so that he could die on a cross to pay what our sins cost.

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus bought us with his life. He paid the ultimate ransom price.

1 Corinthians 6:19 …You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Jesus purchased us for himself. He is a good master. He set us free from bondage to sin and bought us back so we can fulfill the purpose for which he designed us – to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Our glorious redeemer turned everything on its head.

John 13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Luke 22:25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

Do you know how the apostles introduced themselves? Paul in Romans, Philippians and Titus calls himself a slave of Jesus Christ; James and Jude the Lord’s brothers in the flesh call themselves slaves of Jesus Christ, Peter in 2 Peter calls himself a slave of Jesus Christ. John, in Revelation, calls himself a slave of Jesus Christ.

We gladly walk to the doorpost of the sanctuary, to the cross, and we gladly confess Jesus as Lord – he is my Master. I will serve him forever. I will be his slave. I love my Master. I will not go out free. I will be his slave forever. We confess our love for our new King Jesus.

And we sing with the Psalmist:

Psalm 84:10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

October 9, 2011 Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , | Leave a comment