Slaves for Life
Updated: Nov 26, 2020
When we think of slavery, most of us automatically think of Africans kidnapped, brought to this country, sold and worked six days a week, treated more like farm animals than humans. It’s still stunning to me that “Christian” slave merchants and slaver owners were able to ignore this clear command of God.
“Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.” Exodus 21:16
God required the death penalty for kidnapping people for slavery, or holding people they knew were kidnapped!
But in the Old Testament, God imagined some masters so kind and compassionate that slaves would voluntarily choose slavery for life. “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 doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.” Exodus 21:2-6
Note first, that God is not talking about a kidnapped, captured slave, but one the master buys, generally to pay off the slave’s indebtedness. The master does not own the slave for life, but has the use of that servant or slave for six years. This person was in practice, an indentured servant.
However at the end of the six years, he or she had the option to either be set free, or become a servant for life. Why in the world would a person ever want do that?
If the slave got married and had children, his wife and children would have to remain slaves. So it could be a male slave, who could be set free, would not want to be separated from his family, therefore would voluntarily remain a slave for life out of love for his family, not the master.
However, it’s also possible that the master was so kind, fair and fed and clothed his slaves so well, that a slave would prefer to be that master’s slave, than risk trying to find employment in a harsh world beyond his master’s borders. In either case, a pieced ear was the symbol of a slave, or servant for life.
Slaves to God
“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Romans 6:16
Paul, in this passage is telling us that all people are slaves to something, either to sin, or to righteousness. But more to the point, he says that we all “offer” ourselves to one or the other, just like Old Testament Hebrew slaves. We have that choice!
All true believers are slaves to God.
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” Romans 6:22
I can almost see you shaking your head in agreement. Yup, I believe that! The question is, would the people who know you best characterize you as a slave to God? Would they say your greatest pleasure is serving God and others? At your funeral, will the phrase, “He or she was a true servant of God,” be said out loud by your friends and family?”
More importantly, would Jesus, as he examines your life, consider you his servant for life?
How following Jesus works in real life.
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