4.2.7 Slavery: Service or Servitude
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 2.7
Slavery: Service or Servitude
If there is one subject that is universally understood to be wrong, evil, immoral, and ill-advised, but that is nevertheless taken more or less for granted in the Bible, it is slavery. Nobody thinks slavery is a good thing (at least, if he himself is the slave in question), but the institution has been a symptom of the human condition practically since the very beginning—and God’s Word just seems to roll with it. Well-meaning atheists look at God’s refusal to ban it outright and declare Him to be sadistic and immoral—or at least behind the times.
According to Dictionary.com, “Slavery” is: “the state or condition of being a slave [i.e., a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another; a bond servant; a person entirely under the domination of some influence or person]; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty, and fortune; the subjection of a person to another person, especially in being forced into work; the condition of being subject to some influence or habit; or work done in harsh conditions for low pay.”
The Online Etymology Dictionary, informs us that in English, the essential meaning of “slavery” has shifted over time from “toil” to “bondage.” “1550s: severe toil, hard work, drudgery…. Meaning ‘state of servitude’ is from 1570s; meaning ‘keeping or holding of slaves’ is from 1728.”
In America, of course, we automatically jump to visions of the race-based cultural institution that held sway in the Southern colonies/states for a couple of centuries—finally eliminated here (on paper, anyway) by the outcome of the Civil War. “The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution (known collectively as the Civil War Amendments) were designed to ensure equality for recently emancipated slaves. The 13th Amendment banned slavery and all involuntary servitude, except in the case of punishment for a crime. The 14th Amendment defined a citizen as any person born in or naturalized in the United States, overturning the Dred Scott V. Sandford (1857) Supreme Court ruling stating that Black people were not eligible for citizenship. The 15th Amendment prohibited governments from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote based on race, color, or past servitude.”—Boundless.com.
The actual history of slavery in America blunts the edge of the whole “racism” issue, however. The very first legal slave owner in America was a man named Anthony Johnson—a black tobacco farmer. In 1830, 3,775 free black people owned 12,740 black slaves. In 1860—one year before the Civil War began—North Carolina’s biggest slave holder was a black plantation owner named William Ellison. That same year, 3,000 blacks owned 20,000 slaves. Only about a quarter of the Southern (Confederate) population came from families who owned slaves. Most slaves brought to America from Africa were purchased from black slave owners—usually through Muslim middlemen. And only about five percent of the slaves brought from Africa came to America—most were shipped to Brazil. Today, the era of slavery in America is rightly regarded as a shameful episode in our nation’s history. But slavery was finally brought to an end in America (and elsewhere) by white Christians heeding their consciences—not black slaves revolting.
The fact that it was then—and still is—being practiced widely throughout the world does not mitigate our guilt, though, for we were founded as a Christian nation. We should have known better than to hold our fellow man in bondage. That being said, it is not my purpose here to self-flagellate over my nation’s past sins. Rather, it is my intention to point out that this “institutional” form of slavery is merely the tip of the iceberg. It is far more pervasive than many of us realize. Slavery is, in fact, a universal human phenomenon.
Our race didn’t begin in bondage, however. When Yahweh created Adam, though it was evident and obvious who was in charge, Adam was not God’s slave. He was given instructions to follow, but he was also given free will, the privilege of choice. He was given “work” to do, but it wasn’t drudgery by any stretch of the imagination. His “job,” for all intents and purposes, was to run the place as he saw fit. God told Adam and his helper-wife to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) Adam was expected to manage and learn about the wonderful creation God had left in his charge: “Out of the ground Yahweh, God, formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them.” (Genesis 2:18) As it’s put in Genesis 2:15, they were to “tend and keep the Garden.” Food was free: they just had to reach up and pluck it off the trees. There were no rules (except for That One Thing). Life was good.
So how did we become slaves? Remember the original meaning of the word “slavery”? It had more to do with toil and drudgery than it did to bondage to another person. Slavery, at its root, is an artifact of our sin. Do you recall what Adam was told when Yahweh confronted him about listening to his wife and eating the fruit of the forbidden tree? “Cursed is the ground for your sake. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19) Because of his sin, Adam had become a slave—not owned by another person, but a slave to his own mortality (i.e., that which his sin had earned him: death). He had always had to eat to stay alive, but the earth would, from this point forward, resist man’s attempts to feed himself and his family: he’d henceforth have to work for it.
Eve too became a slave, but not in precisely the same way. God told her, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception. In pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16) She became a slave to her emotions, her desires, and her husband. We might complain that “It’s not fair,” but remember, the way Yahweh had arranged it, she had enjoyed side-by-side equality with her husband Adam. Her sin alone had placed her in this subservient position. She could logically blame neither Adam nor God.
Unfortunately, all of Adam’s offspring—including you and me—inherited the “slave gene” that was created in the fall. From the womb, we all “serve” something or someone other than our Creator. (It’s called being “condemned already” in John 3:18.) If you’ll recall, the 13th Amendment banned slavery and all involuntary servitude, except in the case of punishment for a crime. The problem is, in God’s eyes, we’re all criminals—it is, in fact, the state into which we’re born. We’ve all broken Yahweh’s Law, falling short of His assessment of the way things ought to be (called “the glory of God” in Romans 3:23).
The good news: it is possible to obtain a pardon, absolving us from all guilt. But to achieve this, we have to (1) acknowledge God’s sovereignty, (2) admit our fault, (3) receive God’s remedy for our sins, and (4) believe in—have faith in—the complete efficacy of what He has done on our behalf. I know: it sounds “too easy.” But trust me, there is nothing easy about it, for it requires swallowing our pride and surrendering our prerogatives to Someone we can’t even see, except through the eyes of faith.
Stating the case another way, we must not use the tactics that tend to keep criminals in constant trouble: (1) they don’t recognize the authority of the state, community, or law over them, but act as if they are a law unto themselves. (2) They refuse to admit their guilt according to a standard of law or custom beyond their own perceived desires. (3) They are therefore unwilling to accept or receive any sort of pardon. So (4) they don’t believe they can ever be truly free—a premise that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Criminals (a.k.a. “sinners”) are, by definition and choice, slaves to sin.
So rather than forbid, ignore, or punish slavery in His Instructions, Yahweh chose to teach us how to deal with it, overcome it, and transform it into something positive. In the end, what should concern us is not the fact of slavery—it is choosing who our master will be.
Slavery in the Torah
The first mention of servants or slaves in the Bible is in the post-flood account of Noah getting drunk and naked in his tent, and is seen by his son Ham (and, we suspect, by Ham’s son Canaan, who bears the subsequent curse). Whereas Ham and Canaan treated Noah with scorn and ridicule, his other sons, Shem and Japheth, showed honor and respect, covering his indiscretion as best they could. We’re left to speculate a great deal about this episode: it is possible that Canaan’s “disrespect” for his grandfather went beyond verbal contempt and took on physical—homosexual—ramifications. Or perhaps Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan simply because his own son, Ham, had “cursed” him. We aren’t specifically told.
Something, however, triggered Noah’s rather extreme reaction: “So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. Then he said: ‘Cursed be Canaan. A servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.’ And he said: ‘Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant.” (Genesis 9:24-27) The word translated servant (or slave) here is the Hebrew noun ebed: bondman, bond-servant, man-servant, or bondage (from the verb abad, meaning to work, serve, compel, or keep in bondage). The concept is quite general, ranging from servitude in slavery to service in worship. At the very least, the word establishes a hierarchy, a pecking order. Canaan was to be the lowest of the low.
Among the descendants of Canaan were the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, and the Hivites. These were all nations of whom Israel (a Shemite nation) was later told, “You shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of Yahweh will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly….” For what it’s worth, Strong’s also identifies the Perizzites, the seventh nation on the Israelites’ hit list, as “one of the Canaanitish tribes.”
“But thus you shall deal with them: you shall destroy their altars, and break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images, and burn their carved images with fire.” (Deuteronomy 7:1-5) The specific means of “conquering” the descendants of Canaan were all about destroying their places of false worship. I can’t help but reflect that when our governments, in their obsession to appear liberal and “politically correct,” give preferential treatment to Islam within nominally Christian nations, they are inviting the “Canaanites” to “turn their sons and daughters away” from serving the true and living God, Yahweh. If we gentiles aren’t willing to see the valuable lessons waiting for us within the pages of the Torah, then perhaps we deserve our unenviable fate.
Back in Genesis, whatever actually happened, three things are clear. (1) Noah and his sons were quite familiar with the concept of slavery, undoubtedly from their experiences prior to the flood, where “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) It is no stretch at all to envision the enslavement of one’s fellow man as a permutation of that evil. (2) Further, it may be safely presumed that the “giants in the earth,” the “mighty men who were of old” (a.k.a. the nephilim who were a primary target of the flood) were the masters in the antediluvian world, not the slaves. And (3) being a servant (ebed) was generally considered a bad thing—a destiny no one would select for himself if he had a choice.
There were a number of ways one could end up a slave/bondservant. He could be sold into slavery to pay a debt or raise necessary funds—either by himself or his parents. This is something discussed often in the Torah, for it presents a poignant metaphor of how we fall into sin—spiritual poverty. A slave could be a captive in war, the idea being two-fold—to keep the conquered person in a subservient position so he couldn’t rebel, and to do work so the conqueror wouldn’t have to. And then, there was good old-fashioned greed—the profit motive, in which someone was captured to be sold for gain, to serve as a laborer or sex slave. This, of course, was the basis of the slave trade that cursed America for so long: defenseless black Africans were caught and enslaved by rival tribes or Muslim slavers and sold to middlemen, who in turn sold them to plantation owners in the New World. (John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, arguably the world’s most beloved hymn, was at one time the captain of a slave ship bringing human contraband to America. He repented and spent the remainder of his life in God’s service. Newton knew the depravity from which he had been saved.)
This motive (along with some hatred borne of jealousy) was how Joseph ended up in Egypt—beginning the story that ended over four centuries later with the exodus. “So Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother [Joseph] and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.’ And his brothers listened. Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.” (Genesis 37:26-28) The Arab traders no doubt turned a tidy profit when they sold young Joseph in Egypt: “Now the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard.” (Genesis 37:36)
Was life “over” for the captive Joseph then? No. Although a slave, he honored God in everything he did. This made him about as “free” as any of us ever is in this world. And as a result of his spiritual outlook, he began to gain respect, honor, and increased responsibility. But success also put a target on his back: a false accusation from Potiphar’s wife landed him in prison, where the whole process began anew. Honoring God in dire circumstances eventually led to enhanced reputation and responsibility for Joseph even in the dungeon. You know the story: his seemingly endless string of challenges and disappointments ultimately bore the most unexpected of fruit—the salvation of the whole region from a widespread seven-year famine. And Joseph, the slave and prisoner, found himself second only to Pharaoh in power and respect in Egypt. The prophetic parallels to Yahshua the Messiah are too numerous and too obvious to miss.
It was God’s counterintuitive purpose to subject the whole nation of Israel to four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. This was the only way they—and through them, the rest of us—could viscerally comprehend what it was like to be set free. It’s the first thing they teach you in art school: contrast makes things easier to see. “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.’” As I said, one common motivation for enslaving people is to render them incapable of defending themselves against you. “Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel….”
At the time of the exodus, there were about 600,000 able-bodied Israelite men, besides their wives and children—probably about two million souls, total. This represented a potential fighting force several times the strength of the Egyptian army. So the Egyptians had a problem. They wanted to have their “slave class” to do their work for them, but they feared the day when these slaves might rise up in rebellion against them. “So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their service in which they made them serve was with rigor.” (Exodus 1:8-14) The record reports that the strategy worked. When Moses showed up, they were so beaten down, rebellion was the furthest thing from their minds. There was no spark left. They could think of nothing beyond mere survival, getting from one day to the next, putting one foot in front of the other—and trying not to lose what little they had left, the ability to survive. If you think about it, it’s the perfect picture of living in bondage to sin: there’s apparently no way out. We’re slaves—get used to it.
By the time they left Egypt, Israel’s national memory of what it meant to be a slave should have been ingrained so deeply, they would do anything to avoid being afflicted with that curse again. But the institution of slavery was considered so normal and natural, even the former slaves didn’t see anything fundamentally wrong with it. So Yahweh, because He had essential lessons to teach all of us, didn’t abolish slavery within Israel, but rather regulated it, mitigating its potential abuses. Still, we will miss much of what He meant for us to learn if we ignore the Torah Code, the lexicon of symbols that permeate His word. That is, we must remain cognizant of what it means to be an Israelite, a stranger, a son, or a daughter, if we want to sort out what being a servant or slave really implies.
Let us, then, review what the Torah has to say about servanthood. In Leviticus 25 (the passage that defines the Sabbath year and Jubilee), the issue is put forth in these terms: “If one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you….” A distinction is made here between two different “classes” of servants. A “hired servant” is not really a slave (an ebed—enduring the sort of rigorous bondage the Israelites suffered in Egypt), but is more like a contract laborer or indentured servant, a wage-earner. The Hebrew word is sakir, derived from the verb sakar, meaning “to hire.” The idea is that if a man ran into financial difficulty, he could “hire himself out” to another Israelite for a specified period of time, for a pre-arranged sum of money. He wasn’t really “selling himself,” but was rather selling his services.
Professional athletes, for example, do this all the time today. One of my daughters is a professional “project manager” who is typically hired on a contractual basis (for what seems to me to be an obscene amount of money) by some large company to achieve a particular corporate goal. She’s not really an “employee,” but functions as a sakir. Lawyers are often placed “on retainer” by their clients, making them, for all intents and purposes, “hired servants.” If someone holds your contract, he has a right to expect a certain level of performance, and even loyalty—but he doesn’t own you.
The term of a sakir’s contract is our first hint of the theological and prophetic ramifications of servanthood in Israel: “And [he] shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee.” “Jubilee” (Hebrew: yobel, named for the ram’s horn trumpet used to announce its coming) was a year-long celebration that took place once every fifty years—once in a lifetime, for all intents and purposes. “And then he shall depart from you—he and his children with him—and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers. For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God.” (Leviticus 25:39-43) The Jubilee was, among other things, the advent of complete freedom for one who had sold himself into bondage.
As a point of clarification, ordinary debts—whether secured with collateral or merely a handshake—were to be released every seven years, on the Sabbatical year. But a sakir—a hired servant—was not necessarily freed from his obligations until Jubilee. It all depended on how much money the servant needed to raise. (See the Exodus 21 passage, below.) Bearing in mind that “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7), the distinction between a sakir and an ebed seems to be between debt and bondage—both of which are symbolic representations of sin.
It’s not that bondage is “more serious” than mere debt. We are being asked to separate in our minds the function of the Sabbath concept from that of Jubilee. The Sabbath and Sabbatical Year teach us of God’s plan for mankind’s redemption in chronological terms—the oft repeated six-plus-one pattern. Beginning with the fall of Adam, there are to be six one-thousand-year “days” in which we are to do the work of God—which, you’ll recall, is to “believe in Him whom He sent,” i.e., Yahshua (see John 6:29). These six are to be followed by one thousand-year “day” of rest, prophetic of the Millennial reign of Christ on Earth. The Jubilee, on the other hand, is a once-in-a-lifetime event that speaks conceptually of salvation, of redemption, of the state of having been reconciled eternally to God—in a word: liberty. The two symbols are obviously compatible and symbiotic, but they aren’t the same thing.
So speaking again of the disposition of servants or slaves in the context of Leviticus 25, the point was that you couldn’t own a fellow Israelite as a slave, because they were in fact owned by God: a slave can’t serve two masters. On Passover, Yahweh had redeemed the nation of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. He had thereby become their Master: they were no longer the world’s slaves, but were now His servants (ebed). Paul points out that this is not some artifact of Jewish legal minutiae, either, but something that has ramifications for every believer: “You are not your own…for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20) The Passover was a picture of the crucifixion. We have all been bought and paid for—with the most precious substance in existence, the blood of Christ. So if we have received His salvation, God owns us.
That being said, not every bondservant was released at the Jubilee, but only indentured Israelites. Foreign slaves actually did become permanent possessions. “And as for your male and female slaves [ebed] whom you may have—from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves. Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property. And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your permanent slaves. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor.” (Leviticus 25:44-46)
Wait a minute! What ever happened to “For Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19) What’s going on here? Again, we must pay attention to the symbols, for they explain everything. Israelites represent God’s family, so under the Torah, even if they’ve fallen into bondage (a euphemism for sin) they are still Yahweh’s possession, bought with blood. They will therefore be returned to their inheritance (perfect liberty) at the Jubilee (representing salvation).
Strangers or foreigners, on the other hand, are symbolic of “invited guests” (as we saw in our previous chapter). They are therefore not (or not yet) family members. So if (actually, when) they fall into sin, they remain slaves to it forever—unless they are redeemed as the Israelites were. Whether debt was being released at the Sabbath Year, or bondage was ended at the Jubilee, Israelites (symbolizing those with a relationship with Yahweh) were set free, but strangers (representing those who have not yet received God’s grace) were not. The bottom line is that we are all slaves to something or someone—either to sin, or to Yahweh. But you can’t be slaves to both at the same time.
Another passage adds a new wrinkle. We begin with a reiteration of the Sabbath Law, in which debts are forgiven after six years. “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.” (Exodus 21:2-4) Although this seems at first glance to contradict Leviticus 25:40 (in which the hired servant was to serve until the Jubilee) it actually describes a slightly different set of circumstances. If the Jubilee were still forty years away (for example) it didn’t make sense to indenture yourself for all that time if all you needed was a couple of years’ salary. So the sakir could arrange to work for the master until the Sabbatical year instead—a maximum of six years, after which his obligation was considered paid in full and he was free to go. Bear in mind that the Sabbath year is ultimately prophetic of the Millennial reign of Christ.
The family ramifications too are slightly different between the Sabbath permutation of debt forgiveness and that of the Jubilee (in which ones wife and children are released regardless of how they came to be the debtor’s family). Here at the Sabbath release, one’s family would stay with the master if he had “provided” them, but would be released with the debtor if he had been married already when he entered his contract. God is telling us something quite profound here, but it’s counterintuitive in the extreme unless we pay attention to His symbols.
Let us review them: (1) A family symbolizes how (or if) one relates to God. Is there a relationship there, or not? (2) A wife represents the promise of purity. So it’s a significant question: how was the relationship formed—when the husband was still in debt, or after his debts had been paid through his becoming a servant? And the children? (3) A son is the father’s representative, and (4) a daughter is his treasure. So once again, the question becomes, whose representative—whose treasure? Do they rightly relate to the debtor, or to the master who has paid off his debts?
The temporal implications are easy enough to grasp—God was being as fair as possible to both master and servant. But the spiritual ramifications of the whole thing are far more important (and difficult) for us to comprehend. The Master (obviously) is Yahweh. We are the debtors (to our sin). If He has “paid off” the liability of our sin (and He has), we become debtors instead to Him: we henceforth owe Him our service, loyalty, trust, and devotion for as long as mortal life lasts (represented as “six years” in the Sabbath idiom, i.e., the number of the life of man)—even though such things do nothing in and of themselves to atone for our sin. Atonement is achieved through Yahweh’s “payoff” of our debt, paid in the currency of life, the immeasurably precious blood of His own Son.
So what about these spiritually symbolic family connections? Is our defining relationship with Yahweh, or is it with the world? Did we receive the promise of purity (symbolized as the “wife”) from God, or through our own efforts? If “she” is an artifact of our old sinful life, she is of no use to God, and of very little value to us. And in the same way, if what represents us before the world (our “sons”), and if what we treasure (our “daughters”), are based on our old sinful life, then they have no permanent place in the household of God. We may as well take them with us when we leave this life. Only if all these things were provided to us by Yahweh Himself are they useful and edifying within His household, within His kingdom.
You can see where this is headed, can’t you? Since nothing good happens outside of the kingdom of God, then we would be crazy to leave—even though our debt of sin has been paid off. We need to understand that Christ’s blood paid for the sins of everyone on Earth, whether we receive it or not. So at the end of our lives, we (those of us who aren’t in open rebellion against God, that is) are free to leave His service: no harm, no foul—no heaven, no hell. (See The End of the Beginning, chapter 29, “The Three Doors,” elsewhere on this website, if you don’t believe me. It’s one of the most surprising—and wonderful—truths in all of scripture. It explains how Yahweh can be both just and merciful at the same time.)
But if we do opt to go, we’ll leave alone—debt free, but without the “wife” (the purity) and “children” (the testimony and treasure) that Yahweh provided for us. If we know the Master at all, however, we’ll recognize this “path to freedom” as being far from ideal, for everything we’ve ever experienced that is right or true or beneficial has happened in His house, and in His service. Being “set free” from Yahweh is tantamount to being released from life itself.
All of this makes for a nice, tidy theological picture, in which the servant is released (albeit alone) after his six years of service—a picture of our dire spiritual condition if we are not partakers of the familial relationship provided by God. And indeed, Moses continues without taking a breath, explaining how he (i.e., we) may choose to stay where we’re safe and happy and fulfilled, enjoying the family relationships God has provided for us forever. We’ll get there in a moment. But I must interrupt this train of thought with a glitch in the picture, one designed out of pure mercy by God—even though it adds an element of confusion. The Sabbath release of a servant who was given a wife during his term of service does not imply that he will leave empty handed in other, more mundane matters. In Deuteronomy, we read, “If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what Yahweh your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Yahweh your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.” (Deuteronomy 15:12-15)
Bearing in mind the spiritual lessons we’ve discussed, note that Yahweh is also concerned about our temporal well-being. He knows that our poverty is what got us into trouble in the first place, so it doesn’t make sense to send a servant back out into the world as broke as he was when he had to sell his services in the first place. As I put it in The Owner’s Manual (elsewhere on this website), “Mercy says: Your poverty forced you to sell your services for six long years, and you have faithfully fulfilled your contract. But now you’re no better off than you were when you started, so as a bonus, your former master will ‘stake you’ so you can begin anew—food, supplies, opportunities: whatever it takes to get an honest, hardworking man like you on your feet for good.”
But back in Exodus, we still need to explore the matter of how a servant can remain with the wife and children his master has given to him—with all of the spiritual baggage that brings with it. “But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.” (Exodus 21:4-6) The Deuteronomy passage covers this as well, putting it like this: “And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise. It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then Yahweh your God will bless you in all that you do.” (Deuteronomy 15:16-18) That’s right: we may elect to remain a servant in the house of Yahweh—forever. We can choose to remain with our wives, fulfilling the promise of our purity (in God’s symbolic parlance); we can enjoy our spiritual children as they represent us in God’s Creation, treasuring them as the wonderful gifts they are. This, in a nutshell, is what it means to be “saved.” The counterintuitive truth is that salvation equals service.
There are several surprising facets to all of this. (1) The choice to remain in service is the servant’s alone. The Master (God) can’t and won’t force him to stay. (2) For that matter, the Master can’t refuse to keep the servant, either—even if he hasn’t been quite as productive or obedient as he might have been during his “six years of work.” His debt, after all, has already been paid: he is free to do what he wants with his life. (3) God promises to bless the master who honors his servant’s decision (whether to stay or go) with grace and thanksgiving.
(4) The servant has to “plainly say” that he wants to remain in the Master’s service. That, for lack of a better term, is one’s testimony. As Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10) The “judges” are there to ensure that the servant isn’t being coerced or swindled—he must know and understand what he’s doing, going into this deeper relationship with the Master with his eyes wide open. In a temporal sense, the word translated “judges” here means just that: rulers, judges, magistrates—in their role as witnesses, authority figures, and decision makers. But the word (Elohim—the plural or intensive form of eloah) is also used of divine beings, mighty ones, or (most often) as a generic account of Yahweh’s “job description”: God. So in the spiritual sense, the “judge” before whom the servant offers his testimony is Yahweh Himself. He alone decides if the servant’s petition is sincere.
(5) It’s not all sunshine and lollipops for the servant. He has to be prepared for some pain—a bit of sacrifice or inconvenience. When the servant is brought “to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl,” the idea is that he is to be invested with a mark of ownership—a golden earring, signifying publicly that he belongs forever to the Master. That is, salvation is permanent and irrevocable: even if someone were to remove the earring, the hole in his earlobe (reminiscent of the nail holes in Yahshua’s wrists and feet) will remain. Why is the ear pierced? It seems logical that God is reminding us to listen to and heed His instructions, since we are, after all, His servants by our own choice.
(6) Being God’s servant forever is not a bad thing. Quite the contrary. One poignant example that comes to mind is in John’s apocalyptic vision, in which he saw, “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’…” Upon inquiring as to who these souls were, John was told, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:9-10, 14-17)
It would appear (though it isn’t actually stated) that these are the Tribulation martyrs—those in the “church of repentant Laodicea” who were slain for their new-found faith. The palm branches, you’ll recall, indicate righteousness; and the white robes fine-tune that thought: the righteousness is imputed to them—it is actually Christ’s righteousness. It seems likely that they have received their immortal resurrection bodies at this point (though again, it isn’t stated). The point germane to our present study is simply that “serving God day and night in His temple” is not seen as servitude or slavery, but as blessing, shelter, and peace. As I said, salvation is service.
Moving on to Exodus 21. I just cringe when I run across passages like this. After two millennia of Christian culture, we really don’t have any point of reference to help us understand what Yahweh was trying to teach us, so atheists have a field day with this, and we can’t answer them convincingly in a sound-bite. We must remember that the institution of slavery was perfectly commonplace in exodus-era civilization. It was not at all unusual for one person to “own” another. So because there were spiritually significant symbols latent in the practice, Yahweh chose to regulate and limit slavery, not abolish it. It’s up to us to try to keep up as best we can.
So we read, “And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.” (Exodus 21:7-11) We in the West are used to marrying for love (or, in the more cynical view, for convenience, companionship, security, or just plain old sex). The point is, arranged marriages are out of style in our world—we want to pick our own mates.
This wasn’t necessarily the case way back when. Men would, as often as not, form alliances by arranging marriages between themselves (or their sons) and other men’s daughters. And as weird as this arrangement seems to us, the daughters were treated as a valuable commodity—for all intents and purposes, they were “female slaves,” bought and sold by their parents. There were many variations on the theme, of course. Jacob served Laban seven years for Rachael’s hand (and was tricked into serving another seven for her sister, Leah). The former prisoner Joseph was given a wife—the daughter of a powerful Egyptian priest—for correctly interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. King Saul gave David his daughter Michal as a reward for his valor (and—let’s be honest—to avert war between them).
Because a female servant/slave didn’t have much of a say in her destiny, she often became the object of her master’s sexual attentions. As I explained in The Owner’s Manual, “This is a subset of the law of redemption designed to protect women from abuse. The word translated ‘go out’ (Hebrew: yoset) is ‘used of going forth from one’s homeland into exile.’ (B&C) Thus it doesn’t mean, Keep your female bondservants indoors, but rather, There are different rules in effect for female bondservants. The obvious problem was the potential for sexual abuse. Harlotry, especially selling one’s daughter into this life, was strictly forbidden: ‘Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry, and the land become full of wickedness.’ (Leviticus 19:29) There were, of course, many legitimate non-sex-related roles for female bondservants to fulfill in a master’s household, so the practice of ‘leasing’ one’s daughter into indentured servitude was not forbidden.
“It was inevitable, however, that occasionally a man who had brought a female bondservant into his household would notice her qualities and decide she would make a good marriage partner—either for himself or for his son. In that case, if she failed to please her master after the betrothal, he could no longer treat her as an ordinary slave girl, but would be required to let her family redeem her. He was specifically prohibited from selling her to a foreign master.
“Of course, slavery and indentured servitude aren’t terribly common any more. So is this precept obsolete? No. Once again, think prophetically. Israel has fallen into spiritual poverty, and has sold her daughters into the service of the world. Yahweh is announcing here that they cannot be sold to Satan; He reserves the right to redeem them—to restore them to His family. The ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ have not pleased their masters in exile, but they are under Yahweh’s protection. He has already paid the price of their redemption. We now await their realization that they are free to go back home….
“If the female bondservant is ‘wife material,’ then she is no longer bondservant material. You can’t have it both ways. In the same way, Israel, who has become the bondservant of the world through her spiritual bankruptcy, had (and has) the opportunity to be betrothed to the Master (Yahweh), or to His Son (Yahshua), in which case she would cease to be a bondslave, but would become a wife with all the rights and privileges of any wife—no matter what she was formerly.
“And what was that provision about “another wife?” It’s pretty obvious, this side of Calvary. Yahweh is referring to the Church, the Ekklesia—the other woman, His second wife, the bride of Christ. The Law here is flatly stating that if (actually, when) Israel accepts Yahweh’s marriage proposal, she will not be a second-class wife—a concubine, as it were—but will be a real wife, loved equally with her sister, the Church. As always with metaphors, if you put too much stress on them they’ll start to fray around the edges, but the central truth remains: God loves both Israel and the Ekklesia, even though Israel has sold herself into bondage temporarily.”
Here’s another tough one: “And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property.” (Exodus 21:20-21) Contrary to what it sounds like at first blush, this does not give masters the right to murder their slaves, as long as they do it slowly. Murder is murder and it is (in scripture) punishable by death. Period. But masters (like Yahweh, for example) do have the right to discipline their own servants for direct disobedience or bad behavior. (See, for example, the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35.)
When Yahweh disciplines His servants, He (being both omniscient and loving) always does it perfectly: we get the message loud and clear, along with strong incentive to improve. In other words, His discipline is always good for us in the long run, even though it may sting a little. (Godly discipline should not be confused with suffering the consequences we bring upon ourselves by sinning—which can be fatal. If you get shot robbing a bank, don’t blame God.) But human masters are not as skilled as God is—they may unintentionally “go too far” or fail to recognize a dangerous underlying condition, and thereby do unintended permanent damage. If a human master injures his slave so badly that he eventually dies, not only has the slave been abused (something God sees and notes), but the master has harmed himself in the process as well. Remember, he already paid for the slave. If the slave is unable to work off his purchase price, the master is left with a big financial hole in his bottom line—something no competent manager would do intentionally.
Speaking of things going terribly wrong, here is another precept involving slavery: “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep. If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.” (Exodus 22:1-3) This explains what can happen if you violate the Eighth Commandment—“You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15) First, crime doesn’t pay, not even remotely. If the thief is caught with the bleating booty in hand, he must pay back double what he stole (verse 4). But here, he has disposed of his ill-gotten gains, so the penalty doubles to four times its value. Or worse: if what he stole was used for utilitarian purposes (an ox used for plowing as well as meat, for instance) he must pay back five times what he stole.
Second, if you’re caught in the act of stealing something, its owner has every right to shoot you where you stand. He can’t hunt you down later and exact cold-blooded revenge, you understand, but according to Torah rules, it is not a crime to kill someone who’s in the act of committing a crime, in order to prevent him from getting away with said crime. (That sounds like a breath of fresh legal air to me. Nothing “politically correct” about it. It’s also why I don’t own a gun. I don’t own anything more valuable than another man’s life—even if he’s a rotten thief.)
And third, if the thief can’t pay back the required multiples of what he stole, he is to be sold into slavery. The funds so raised are to be returned to the owner of the stolen property for restitution (i.e., not to the government, the courts, or the police). Because the thief is in bondage for his crimes, he would presumably be set free at the Jubilee. So it could be a sentence of a few years, or almost fifty, depending on when the thief crossed the line. But because of Yahweh’s “welfare” system, no one was so poor that he starved in Israel: there was never a good reason to steal.
Poverty wasn’t the only way a person could become a slave in theocratic Israel. As with other nations, slaves could be taken in war. But here too, Yahweh imposed His own rules of engagement. “When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it. And it shall be that if they accept your offer of peace, and open to you, then all the people who are found in it shall be placed under tribute to you, and serve you….” It will become clear in a moment that these “cities” are outside of the Promised Land (for which there are other rules). Israel (unlike Islam) wasn’t told to go out and conquer the whole world, grabbing all the booty they could along the way. Their inheritance came with tightly defined borders, enumerated in Numbers 34. But there were times when people outside the Land threatened them, and Israel was allowed to defend herself against them—vigorously, and on their own turf. The Amorites, Heshbon, Bashan, Amalek, and Aram all fell into this category at one time or another.
So what happened when God gave them victory outside the Land of Promise? “Now if the city will not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when Yahweh your God delivers it into your hands, you shall strike every male in it with the edge of the sword. But the women, the little ones, the livestock, and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall plunder for yourself; and you shall eat the enemies’ plunder which Yahweh your God gives you….” Again, this was to be done only in cases of foreign provocation. It was response “in kind” to raids (or out-and-out invasion) from their belligerent neighbors. The idea wasn’t to permanently seize territory for Israel, but they were allowed—nay, commanded—to weaken the adversary’s forces to the point that they could never again mount another invasion.
Next, God separated the goats from the other goats, so to speak. “Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations [i.e., the nations occupying the Promised Land]. But of the cities of these peoples which Yahweh your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as Yahweh your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against Yahweh your God.” (Deuteronomy 20:10-18) There were seven Canaanite nations within the Promised Land that were to be completely eliminated—either exiled, or, if they refused to leave, exterminated. (The Girgashites, the seventh nation, is listed elsewhere.) With these adversaries, the Israelites were not to take slaves—even women and children. The Canaanites were so corrupt, they had to be completely eradicated from the Land. God warned Israel time and again what would happen if they failed to do this—and when they did fail (through lack of faith or obedience), Israel fell into the same sort of corruption that had defined the seven evil nations, and the Land eventually “vomited them out,” just as it had their corrupt predecessors.
Going back to the case of dealing with foreign enemies, Yahweh (in the next chapter) deals with the practically inevitable case of a soldier who takes a beautiful woman as a slave—and thinks he’s fallen in love. “When you go out to war against your enemies, and Yahweh your God delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free, but you certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her.” (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
If I may quote from The Owner’s Manual again, “Never mind the fact that physical beauty shouldn’t rank above tenth or twelfth on the list of things a guy should logically consider when choosing a bride—if a man expects to live a long, happy life with her. Yahweh was dealing with reality here: having designed man’s endocrine system, he knows how hormones work…. God’s instructions are a perfect balance between the realities of bronze-age warfare and the gruesome task He had set for His holy people. He says to the love-struck soldier, ‘You think she’s a beauty, and you want to marry her? Okay, but first, you have to see her at her worst for an entire month—shorn of all the trappings of fashion—forget hair style: she’s got to shave her head so you can see her as ugly as she ever gets. She’ll be in mourning for her lost life and loved ones—expect tears and depression—and she’ll be living right in your face under these conditions. You’ll have her under your roof for a whole month, so you’ll even get to see what she’s like with PMS. If you’re still smitten with her after all that, go ahead and marry her. At least you’ll be going into this with your eyes wide open.’ Okay, that’s a paraphrase.”
Note that Yahweh is seen showing as much compassion for the foreign (presumably pagan) slave woman as He is for the soldier in His own army, who was doing his duty for his nation and his God by addressing a real threat. God is not willing that any should perish, but that’s sometimes necessary. Note a few random ramifications here. (1) The woman would not have become a slave in the first place if her people had not attacked Israel, whether out of greed or paranoia. (2) Her beauty—a gift from God—is both a blessing and a curse. It got her noticed, but for all the wrong reasons. (3) Being humbled is not a bad thing: we all need some of that from time to time. But God never authorizes brutality or hatred. (4) If the once-smitten warrior no longer “delights in her” after she has been uglified, he may not sell her—he is to set her free. The point is, we are not to profit from our own mistakes, weakness, or foolishness.
All in all then, the Torah uses the institution of slavery as a teaching tool. Like so many things in our fallen world, it is neither essential nor intrinsically evil—it’s just something we all have to learn to deal with.
We are all slaves to something
We quite logically tend to think of life’s primary objective to move from slavery to freedom, from bondage to liberty—whether in terms of cultural status, finances, or spiritual condition. But perhaps we would be better off honestly recognizing that in this life, we all serve something or someone. From the lowliest beggar on the streets of Calcutta to the president of the United States, we all answer to some external master—whether it’s filling your aching belly with a crust of bread, or seeing some grand historic agenda through to fruition. This condition of servitude is part and parcel of the human condition.
Since our real life happens on the spiritual plane, our goal (if we’re thinking clearly) should be making the jump from falsehood to truth, from darkness to light, from chaos to order, from death to life—in other words, transitioning from being slaves to sin to being slaves of God. (That whole concept should sound familiar: it is the theme of Volume II of this work: Studies in Contrast.)
Being a “master” in God’s economy includes being responsible for one’s servants. Yes, their job is to work for him, but his job is to take care of them—it’s a symbiotic relationship. Yahweh, unlike Satan, doesn’t just “use up” His servants and throw them away. The psalmist writes, “Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to Yahweh our God, until He has mercy on us. Have mercy on us, O Yahweh, have mercy on us! For we are exceedingly filled with contempt [i.e., ‘we have endured no end of contempt’—NIV]. Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorn of those who are at ease, with the contempt of the proud.” (Psalm 123) The idea here is that in this world, people “rule over us” one way or another, and they’re sometimes abusive or contemptuous of our lowly lot in life. But our real Master is Yahweh: it is He to whom we ultimately rely upon for mercy and sustenance.
Make no mistake: Yahweh is in charge. “Middle managers” who think too highly of themselves (we all know the type) are in for a rude shock. In their pride, they’re envisioning a classic “palace coup,” or they’re plotting like a bunch of power-hungry executives to bring down the founder-CEO and take over the company. (I’ve seen this happen first hand, up close and personal. It’s not pretty.) Sometimes they even get away with it. But it won’t work in the kingdom of God: “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us….’”
The proud “under-lords” of the earth have made a critical error. They revel in being masters over the nations, while failing to appreciate that they too are subject to a Master—to The Master. They have, of course, considered God as a theoretical concept, but they have concluded (with their dizzying intellect) that He either doesn’t exist, or if He does, is no threat to them or their petty plans. Meanwhile, the God before whom they refuse to bow knows everything: “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh. Yahweh shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: ‘Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.’” (Psalm 2:1-6)
The people who dream of “breaking the bonds” of God have seriously underestimated the strength of the Master—not to mention the scope of His plan. They see Yahweh as the believers’ “imaginary friend” because He is so patient with them, giving them all the time they need to repent. And God’s Anointed, the King that Yahweh has placed (prophetically) on Zion? They think He’s dead, crucified, defeated—no longer a legitimate “Master.” Perhaps they should take to heart what He said after He rose from the dead: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) Or maybe they should heed what Paul wrote: “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) Yahshua the Messiah is our ultimate Master—whether we know it or not—and whether we like it or not.
The question, then, becomes: “Who will we serve—Yahshua, or something (or someone) else? In military terms, does a private serve his sergeant, or the commander in chief to whom the sergeant ultimately answers? The sergeant may be louder and closer, but a direct order from the commander in chief carries infinitely more weight. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24; cf. Luke 16:13) “Mammon” (i.e., money) is but one of thousands of potential “masters” that might conspire to enslave us. The only way we can successfully “serve two masters” is when the two are in perfect agreement. If (in some weird parallel universe) you found me in the position of “your master,” I would be commanding you to do what my Master says to do. Skip the middle-man.
The ultimate “second master” is Satan. The writer to the Hebrews points out that Yahweh manifested Himself as a mortal Man (Yahshua) for the sole purpose of dying, so that Satan would be defeated through His resurrection. “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) Satan has “the power of death?” Don’t let the word “power” throw you here. It isn’t the Greek dunamis, which would have implied the devil’s authority to kill us, including the execution of such power; nor is it exousia, having the ability or permission to accomplish something insofar as there’s nothing standing in your way; nor is it ischus—physical strength or moral power as an endowment. The word here is kratos, which simply states that he has strength, that he is mighty. Zodhiates notes that kratos “denotes the presence and significance of force or strength rather than its exercise.” So no, the devil can’t kill you, exactly, but he can persuasively suggest that you commit spiritual suicide. Yahshua’s resurrection destroys that power.
Satan may be strong, but he still can’t do much by himself—he needs surrogates, minions (no, not the cute little yellow cartoon characters), or willing accomplices. Peter condemns these “false teachers” in no uncertain terms: “For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption….” This is equal parts alarming and self-evident. The false teachers (a title that identifies them as being within the sphere of religion) are seen tempting those who have already attained their freedom—in other words, enticing believers.
They appeal to earthly lusts: the permutation of this evil that immediately pops into my mind is the “prosperity gospel” preaching that dots the cable television landscape these days. In Peter’s day, it might have been the Gnostics, who taught that the body and spirit are separate, so you can sin all you want with your body without damaging your spiritual well-being. The “corruption” to which these false teachers are slaves is the Greek word phthora. “Corruption” is actually a splendid translation of the word, but because corruption is so rampant today, we have largely lost the impact of the word—imagining someone who is “merely” dishonest, lacking in integrity, or morally perverse. Phthora means deterioration, decay, or rottenness. It’s the word you would use to describe something that has died—it is decomposing, ruined, and stinking: corrupt. This is that to which the false teachers are in bondage—and their goal is to drag us down with them. No thanks.
Peter concludes, “For by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.” (II Peter 2:18-19) Not “by what,” but “by whom.” Power, sex, and money (to name the “big three” areas of temptation) are spiritually neutral things. They’re not evil in themselves, but become so (along with a thousand other things) when people—especially the false teachers acting on behalf of Satan—entice us to place them ahead of Yahweh/Yahshua in our affections. We would be foolish to appoint them masters over us.
Remember the hand-in-glove relationship between bondage and debt. Paul writes, “We are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live….” Everybody’s body dies, of course. But Paul is talking about the spiritual equivalent—that of which physical life and death was meant to teach us, the idea that for us whose souls have been made alive by the indwelling Spirit of Yahweh, a life awaits us beyond the grave—eternal and blessed (see John 11:26, I Corinthians 15:35-55). We are debtors, then, not to the flesh, but to our Savior.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:12-15) The contrast here is between fear and adoption. Both things involve “bondage,” of one sort or another. Fear enslaves you, and if you are living in and for the flesh, you have every reason to fear. After all, you’re mortal—you could die. (Remember the Hebrews 2 passage, above, where he spoke of releasing “those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”) You have physical needs that may go unmet. You might (gasp!) miss out on something pleasurable. You might bravely boast (like the poet Henley) of being “the master of your fate and the captain of your soul,” but you know, deep down inside, that it’s all a lie: you’re vulnerable, mortal, and light years away from actually being in charge of your life.
Adoption, on the other hand, gives one a reason to cease being afraid. The “bondage” here is the family ties that were created in the adoption process. I know a bit about this, having adopted nine of my children. (I would doubtless know more if I had been adopted myself.) Of the ones that could comprehend their situation (some were infants or mentally challenged), they had a unique perspective. These were intercountry adoptions—from Korea and India—and the kids came from orphanage situations. They had suffered uncertainty, abuse (in several cases), and constant fear. They were finally told they were going to live with new families in America, but they had no point of reference, and no way to discern if they were even being told the truth. It was only after settling in and getting to know their new parents and siblings that they discovered what “forever families” were all about.
Their transitions from “fear” to “the spirit of adoption” were fascinating. They knew instinctively that there was no going back. They dropped their native languages like a hot rock, and picked up English with astonishing speed. We found a few squirreling away morsels of food at first—unsure if the “feasts” they were enjoying at mealtimes would continue. So Mom let them go to bed with slices of bread or other snacks (while insisting that they keep them in plastic bags so they wouldn’t attract bugs). We were not rich, but we never let the kids know that: they never lacked the necessities of life on our watch. When the time came to go to court to finalize the adoption process, there was never any question as to whether or not the child wanted to grow up with this family—though the judge had to ask. And later, when the kids were older, none of them had any desire whatsoever to go back and “discover their roots.” As far as they were concerned, life began when they stepped off the airplane.
I have a sneaking suspicion that what my adopted kids felt is a lot like joining the family of God. We trade the “spirit of bondage and fear” for the Spirit (this time, the Holy Spirit) of adoption. There’s no going back. Who in his right mind would want to?
Of course, there’s a glitch in my analogy. With our adoptions, my wife and I made all the decisions, choosing which children to take (while agonizing over the thousands we couldn’t). But in the “real” world, the spiritual world, the choices are all up to “the kids”—the people currently living in bondage and fear. Ideally, they’d be presented with a big book full of options, and they’d get to choose who they wanted to go and live with. Unfortunately, there’s somebody (Satan) who has a vested interest in preventing them from making good decisions. He says, “Stay here at the orphanage—it’s what you know.” Or, “Relationships can be stifling or awkward. But this religion (or that one) will make you feel good about yourself.” Or, in a pinch, “Don’t go to live in Yahweh’s house: there are rules, standards, goals and expectations. Horrors! You don’t want to become God’s slave, do you?” Satan will do everything he can to keep the lost from discovering and joining the family of God—where fear and uncertainty are banished, life and provision are assured, and love reigns above all else.
We all start out lost and alone, in bondage to our own flesh—“condemned already,” as Christ put it in John 3:18. As Paul wrote to Titus, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3) We were slaves to sin, even if we didn’t realize it. Or if we did, we were like the Israelites in Egypt—so oppressed, we couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be free. The problem, it would seem, is one of communication. That is why Yahshua’s final instruction to His followers was to “Go…and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) We believers are supposed to be teaching the world how it all works.
But doesn’t “becoming a disciple” simply entail switching masters from one to another? Yes, it does, and it’s important that we understand this. The question is not “How can I rid myself of my master in order to attain complete freedom?” At best, that would yield anarchy and chaos. Rather, our focus should be on, “How can I switch masters from what I’ve got—one who is cruel, insatiable, and merciless—to One who is kind, fair, and worthy of my labors?”
The first step would be to identify this “perfect Master.” For Israel, He is revealed to be Yahweh: “Remember these, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant. I have formed you; you are My servant. O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me! I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 44:21-22) Israel’s service, you’ll note (for the umpteenth time), is bought and paid for: Yahweh is their redeemer. Granted, they haven’t been a particularly good servant, but God is ready and willing to forgive them and welcome them back to His house.
Yahshua and Yahweh are One. So Christ fine-tuned the revelation: He is the visible manifestation of the “perfect Master,” the One we should all desire to serve. He says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Thus if you think of Yahshua as something less than God in flesh, you have a serious problem, for even the best prophets or teachers are woefully inadequate as “master material.” And if you think that your arduous service will earn you a place in God’s house, think again: you aren’t allowed to serve Him at all unless you’re already “in His house.” If you haven’t first “come to Yahshua” of your own free will, you can’t impress Him with your good works, no matter how good they are.
But notice something else: He says “his burden is light.” There’s an old saying, one I’ve found true in my own experience (actually, I think Confucius said it first): “If you do something you love, you’ll never ‘work’ a day in your life.” I always enjoyed my professional calling of being a graphic designer, and my wife loved being a Mom to a houseful (and I do mean full) of kids ranging from profoundly challenged to budding geniuses. And in my new “career” (since I retired) of full-time Bible Research, I seldom find the work difficult or laborious. Mostly, I sit here at my computer and wait expectantly for God to show me stuff I never saw before. It’s like working a jigsaw puzzle—fun, mentally challenging, and rewarding. The only problem is, the time flies by so quickly you wouldn’t believe it. I have no idea how I got so old so fast, or compiled such a voluminous body of writings. What can I say? His yoke is so light, even I can lift it.
Our old master (the one we left when we came to Christ) was uncleanness, lawlessness—in a word, sin. Paul explains: “For just as you [once] presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” Yahshua is righteousness personified. “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” That is, one cannot serve two masters: as long as you were a slave of sin, righteousness couldn’t rule in your life. The problem is, sin leads inexorably to death: “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death….” Being “set free” from life is highly overrated.
Conversely, being set free from death is the result of “switching masters”—quitting your old job as a slave to sin, and becoming instead a slave of Yahweh through Yahshua: “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:19-23) Note the subtle distinction here. When you’re a slave to sin, you earn your wages—death. Think of it as being an athlete in the ancient Grecian Olympics who has vowed to attain victory or die trying. (This actually happened, though very rarely.) In this case, “victory” would be defined as leading a perfect, sinless life. It is a goal that no one (other than Yahshua Himself) has ever achieved. So by failing, you have earned your wages: death.
But when you become God’s slave, He doesn’t pay you, exactly, for the work you’re doing, for “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) Rather, we are given, as “signing bonus” as it were, the most coveted thing in the universe—eternal life. And any subsequent “good works” are merely our polite way of saying “Thank You.” Don’t get me wrong: consequences or discipline may ensue when a servant of God disobeys Him, or even makes mistakes. But perfection is not the price of admission to the family of Yahweh. If anything, perfection is the result (in God’s eyes, anyway) of having “received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’”
What, then, are we to do with the Torah? The “Law” of Moses was delivered to post-bondage Israel with the clear (and oft-repeated) caveat: “You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am Yahweh your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 18:4-5) Meanwhile, non-compliance was to be met (on a national level, anyway) with a series of curses, increasing in intensity and severity with their corresponding level of rebellion, delineated in grim passages like Leviticus 26:14-39 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68.
Having left Egypt, the Israelites were no longer slaves in the world. Having been redeemed through the Passover principle, they were now servants of Yahweh instead. So they were acting out the transition to which I referred above. They were already (symbolically) God’s Family. What we need to sort out at this point is what happens to someone who is already redeemed who violates the Law (or, better translated, the Instructions) of God. If he shall “live” by keeping them, will he “die” by violating them? Spoiler alert: none of us has kept the precepts, statutes, ordinances, and judgments of God.
Not perfectly, anyway. And that’s what it would take. Paul points out, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:1-4) In context, it’s clear that Paul is talking about a man being circumcised (chosen as the test case again, as in Acts 15) as a soteriological strategy.
The idea floating around (being pushed by some converted Pharisees from Jerusalem) was that in order to take advantage of the grace offered by Yahshua the Messiah, a gentile first had to convert to Judaism: he had to observe the Torah, beginning with that oh-so-significant sign, circumcision. But Paul points out that if grace through faith in Christ is not enough, then circumcision is not enough either—you’d have to keep the whole Torah, every jot and tittle of it, which is something no one has ever done, especially if the heart’s attitude (and not merely outward performance) is considered.
Paul has been accused (in some circles) of being “anti-Torah” because he told gentiles that keeping the Law wouldn’t save them—that trying to observe it in order to earn the love of God would “entangle them with a yoke of bondage.” But Paul was a Torah scholar—perhaps the most gifted of his day. Could it be that (unlike the naysayers) he actually understood what the Torah was designed to do? It would not save people (even Israelites) through their compliance with its myriad of rules and regulations, but those rules would explain in symbolic terms how Yahweh would save us—and why that was necessary. The only reason God commanded Israel to keep the Torah was so the rest of the world could observe them, and by so doing come to know the God whose plan of redemption the Law revealed.
Let’s consider a few of these “laws” at random, to demonstrate the point. Circumcision (since we’ve already gone there) makes no sense at all if it’s not symbolic of something. First, it requires the alteration of a body that is, as far as we can tell, perfect already in its design. Circumcision may not compromise Yahweh’s design for the male human sexual apparatus, but it doesn’t solve any fundamental problem, either. And because it applies only to the male of the species, the rite leaves the females unaffected. So if circumcision were required for salvation, it would in effect declare the impossibility of a woman to be redeemed—clearly not God’s intention or plan.
For that matter, in Jewish (i.e., Torah-based) culture, a man didn’t “get himself circumcised” at all: his mother had it done, when he was only an eight-day-old infant. Technically, if he were circumcised on the seventh or ninth day of life, he would have been in violation of the Law—though he had absolutely no control over what happened to him at that age. And yet, Yahweh allowed (and indeed, instructed) foreigners or strangers who wanted to share in the life of theocratic Israel to be circumcised. So clearly, God is either silly and inconsistent (which He is not), or there is some deeper meaning latent in this ritual.
If we look at circumcision from a symbolic point of view, however, a stunning image emerges. It is a picture of something being removed from a person’s body, permanently and irrevocably separated in a process involving blood and pain. What was surgically removed (the foreskin of the penis) is ultimately symbolic of something with which we were all born—the sin nature. The blood and pain are prophetic of Yahshua’s role in removing our sins from us—completely and forever. The reason that only males are circumcised (besides the obvious) is that Yahshua functioned as the “Son” of God—not His daughter. The symbols are as different as night is from day. The mother’s part? If we recognize her as a symbolic stand-in for the Holy Spirit, we realize that separating us from our sin is basically the Spirit’s responsibility, for we cannot do it on our own. And the eight-day rule? Fallen man’s tenure upon the earth will span seven millennia—six from Adam’s fall to the return of Christ in glory to the earth, and a final Millennium of rest under His blessed rule. The “eighth day,” then, represents the eternal state—when being eternally separated from our sin becomes a blessed reality for the participants of what circumcision means. Basically, it is God keeping His promise to us.
The point is that Israel was instructed to perform all of this as if actors on the world’s stage. The world—the audience—was to observe, ponder, and comprehend. And having “got the message,” we were to glorify God. It’s a shame that so few of us do.
Okay, let’s go back to the Torah and try this again. Much of the book of Exodus is comprised of detailed instructions concerning the building of the wilderness tabernacle and the equipping of the priests who were to work there. Every specification listed—and there are hundreds of things to consider—was prophetic in some way of Yahweh’s plan of redemption. The materials used, the dimensions, the orientation of its axis, the furnishings and their placement, the priestly rituals that were to take place there—everything pointed to something that would be fulfilled later, either in the passion of the Christ, or during His second advent (coming soon to a planet near you).
So how are we supposed to “keep” these laws listed in Exodus today? We can’t. The structure (which was designed to be broken down and transported from place to place by the Levites) served Israel from the wilderness wanderings until the time of Solomon—about five hundred years. Solomon fulfilled the dream of his father David and replaced the tabernacle with a magnificent “permanent” temple based on the same design. (The date of the beginning of the temple’s construction, 969 BC, is significant, by the way. It is exactly one thousand years before the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah whose mission its design prophesied.) Solomon’s temple was destroyed by the invading Babylonians in 586 BC (ironically, making the “permanent temple” less permanent than the tent of God by over a century). The temple was rebuilt in about 530 BC, but was destroyed again in 70 AD.
Today, though Israel’s very existence is a miracle, there is neither a temple nor a priesthood. If the Torah is taken literally at all, thoughtful Jews must realize that this disconcerting reality makes atonement for their sins under the Torah impossible—a fact that has led many Jews to the cross of Christ. So what are we supposed to do with all that “Law” in Exodus instructing us to build the tabernacle? Nobody keeps this Law today, because it can’t be kept, at least not in any physical, literal way. But (as with circumcision) while the literal precepts mock our present inability to keep them, what the “Law” symbolizes is eternally significant. It’s turning out that the Instructions themselves—our observation and contemplation of what they mean—are what’s important. Actually building (or rebuilding) the tabernacle is not what God wants us to do. Rather, He wants us to understand what the specifications signify.
Not to beat a dead horse, but roughly the same thing is true of the majority of the statutes in the Book of Leviticus. These (for the most part) are concerned with either the sacrifices and offerings the priests were to administer, or the God-ordained festival calendar. As before, what these things symbolize is of everlasting importance, but the statutes themselves cannot be literally kept today, for lack of a priesthood and temple. As for the remainder of the Torah—that which governs civil, criminal, and cultural matters in theocratic Israel—most of it can be summarized quite nicely with this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) I have, in fact, come to the conclusion that even the dietary and sexual laws have symbolic components, though keeping them on a physical level is beneficial to us as well.
Perhaps the most important thing the Torah teaches us is that we can’t keep it—not perfectly, anyway. The cynic in me suggests that the reason everybody homes in on circumcision as the test case for Torah compliance is that it (unlike so many other precepts) can actually be kept in the physical sense. But let’s face it: most of the sacrifices and offerings were designed to fix our lives when we screwed up, because God knew we were going to, whether by accident, oversight, or weakness. In the same way, the laws of ritual purity do very little to purify anybody physically: outside their symbolic significance, they’re not particularly practical.
Indeed, atoning for sin—which though prohibited is treated as being virtually inevitable—is one of the Torah’s central themes. We just heard the Apostle Paul explain that “the wages of sin is death.” Clearly, the goal is not to sin in the first place, but if we do sin (actually, make that “when”), the objective then is to avail ourselves of God’s remedy for it, so that we might be reconciled to Him—readmitted into fellowship with Him. So Paul writes, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God….” Good advice, to be sure, though it’s easier said than done.
“Sin” is technically just falling short of a standard of perfection. It’s an archery term: sin is when you miss the target. It doesn’t matter whether you missed by half an inch or by a mile. It doesn’t even matter whether you tried to hit the target and failed, or were aiming at something else entirely—it’s all “sin,” a missing of the mark. The first question we need to ask, then, is who established the target, anyway? What behavioral goal are we shooting for? This is an important issue regarding our present topic, because it establishes who we are “slaves” to—who our master is.
If we are trying to live according to the world’s standards, then we are (by our own admission) slaves to the world. If we’re pursuing what our flesh wants, then we’re slaves to the flesh. But Paul was speaking to believers, who had agreed that God’s standards of perfection were right and true—not those of the world or our own fleshly desires. So we had trusted in the blood of Christ, with the idea of leaving the world, the flesh, and the devil behind. “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!...” The Law—God’s Law—said not to lie, cheat, and steal (for example). To do these things would be sin, missing the mark of Godly perfection. So what happens when a believer does these things?
Here’s where it gets tricky. If we’re trying to live according to the letter of the Law (even if we’re failing) then we have declared the Law to be our master, and we its servants. “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:12-18) But is it not God’s Law? Are these not His Instructions? Are we not servants of Yahweh when we do what He says to do? In other words, is there a distinction to be drawn between being a slave to the Law and a slave of Yahweh’s righteousness?
I believe there is, but to understand why, you have to consider the whole Torah, not just the parts that define “good behavior” like refraining from lying, cheating, and stealing. As I said, most of the Torah concerns itself with the atonement for sin. In other words, the Torah defines grace. The individual Israelite, having failed in the performance of one of God’s precepts, did not (and indeed, could not) atone for his own sin. Rather, that lamb or bull or goat he sacrificed (or more correctly, asked the priest to sacrifice on his behalf) paid the ultimate price for him. The point is that the price of atonement is innocence—something we, being sinners, do not have. All of the Torah’s imagery of sacrifice, then, points directly toward Christ, who, being innocent, fulfilled the Torah in its entirety: Yahshua is truly “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
So this side of Calvary, if we are still relying as our salvation strategy on keeping the Law—which includes sacrificing literal lambs, bulls, or goats as specified in the Torah—then we have declared ourselves slaves to the Law, as opposed to being slaves of Yahweh. This course of action is riddled with problems. For one thing, we are following the shadow rather than the reality that casts it—something that is now plainly visible. For another, we have a serious logistical problem, because the temple and priesthood are no more. (When Paul wrote, the temple still stood, but it wouldn’t for much longer.) Now it’s like observing the posted speed limit on a bridge that got washed away in last month’s storm: it doesn’t get you to your destination, no matter how “good” your behavior is. Ninety percent of the Torah is impossible to keep today. All of it, however, is to be observed. I trust you can comprehend the distinction.
Another factor: every soul ever born has been bought and paid for, whether we know it or not. There is no sin that cannot be covered with Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, but the choice of whether or not to avail ourselves of the redemption it affords is ours alone. If we receive it, we are no longer under the Law, but under grace. But if we do not—if we believe that our own good works are (or ought to be) sufficient to reconcile us with Yahweh, then we remain “under the law,” which cannot be kept today, and never was kept even when such a thing was theoretically possible.
So Paul points out that reliance upon the flesh for salvation is the very symbol of bondage under the Law, while reliance on the promise of God demonstrates faith, leading to salvation by grace. “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise.” (Galatians 4:21-23) The question, then, is do we believe God, or don’t we? Do we hope to impress Him with our own innate goodness, or are we willing to admit our failure and fall on His mercy?
The bottom line is that although the Torah is a good and helpful thing, it is not in itself efficacious in attaining the goal of reconciliation with Yahweh. In point of fact, it was never designed to be. But it does three things that are absolutely essential for us: (1) it defines God’s perfect standard of behavior; (2) it makes it clear that none of us live up to that standard; and (3) it prophesies, through types and dress-rehearsals, what Yahweh would do to fix the problem of mankind’s estrangement from Him. That is why Yahshua said, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)
So the thrust of Paul’s message to the gentile believers was not to rely on their own observance of the Torah for their salvation. Rather, they should rely solely on the blood of the One whom the Torah was designed to reveal: Yahshua the Messiah. The Apostle is accused by some as being “anti-Torah,” but it’s just not true. What he was “against” was deluding ourselves into thinking we were keeping the Torah when we weren’t, or that such faux compliance would save us. Should we endeavor to keep the Torah? Insofar as it is possible, by all means. Should we rely for our salvation on our own performance of its precepts? Not on your life.
So Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead….” Rebelliousness is in our nature. If someone in authority says “Don’t do that,” it’s a sure bet that some of us will suddenly develop an aching desire to do what was prohibited—if only because it is forbidden. “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” Sound familiar?
“I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good….” What does it mean to be “alive without the Law”? It is a state which we all experience, but not for very long. We humans are equipped with consciences—we instinctively know right from wrong, whether or not we have been taught the specifics. But sometime in our youth (usually before our second birthday) we violate our own consciences: we know it’s wrong (hurtful, selfish, cruel, etc.) and yet we do it anyway. It is at this point that “sin revives.” Not “comes alive,” but “comes back to life,” for we are all born with a sin nature. It is only a matter of time before we act on it. We usually do it as soon as we’re physically able.
There is nothing wrong with conscience or instruction, even though violation of either “deceives and kills” us. So Paul asks, “Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.” It’s one thing to steal a cookie; it’s something else to do it right after Mom told you not to. “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do….” We don’t want to sin, for we have learned through experience that sin makes us feel bad: guilt makes us feel guilty. (Go figure.) But we do it anyway, not because sin is second nature to us, but because it is our first nature. Dogs bark; birds fly; people sin. It’s what we do.
“If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.” In a twisted sort of way, our propensity to sin (and then regret what we’ve done) confirms the Law of God: whether through conscience or the written Word, we were told not to do what we have done, but we did it anyway. “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” This isn’t a dodge. Paul is simply stating the ugly truth: he has discovered that he can’t shoot straight, no matter how hard he tries. I know how you feel, Paul. Our capacity for “missing the mark” is limitless. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me….” It’s not an excuse; it’s a confession: “I need a redeemer. I can’t not sin, no matter how hard my flesh tries to follow God’s Law.”
“I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. [The NLT renders this: ‘I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.’] For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:7-25) God’s plan is to “deliver us from these bodies of death.” Now we know why Yahweh designed our bodies to be temporary, mortal, and corruptible, while He made us with souls capable of being made alive permanently—eternally—via the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. Our sin-prone bodies will return to the dust from which they’re made, but our souls can live on.
Better still, He has also designed new, immortal, incorruptible bodies for our redeemed souls to live in (described in I Corinthians 15). Like a “concept car” at an auto show, we have only seen one of these—the resurrection body of Yahshua Himself. Everyone who got a look at it gave it rave reviews. Not that they remotely understood it—it’s like trading a Model T Ford in on something that makes a Bugatti Veyron look ugly and primitive. But it won’t be long before we’re all driving them.
As long as we’re this deep into another of my dumb automotive metaphors, note that our new bodies won’t be “self-driving.” That is, we won’t be “robots” under God’s control. We’ll still have personal volition, because that is the key to exercising love. But there will be one “feature” that’s universal in our old bodies which won’t be available on the new model: the capacity to sin. Don’t ask me how it will work, because I don’t really know. But it appears that because we believers have chosen to receive Christ’s gift of atonement, the sin nature our parents installed in the Garden of Eden (an illegal after-market add on at that) will no longer exist. It will be as obsolete as hand-crank starting. Even if we wanted it, which we don’t, there’s no way to install it in the new vehicle. Thank God.
The sin nature is what makes us all slaves—either to sin and death, or to some strategy (like the Law, or religion, or willful ignorance) we hope will circumvent it, or to the righteousness of Yahweh. As I said, in this life there’s nothing particularly wrong with being a slave, as long as you’re serving the right Master. But we’ve been given a glimpse of what it will be like when we finally inhabit our immortal bodies. Our adoption into the family of God (a.k.a. “salvation”) hints at an earth-shaking paradigm shift—from being slaves of God to becoming His beloved children. Yes, as long as we inhabit these mortal bodies, we will be, like Paul, torn between our two natures. But we can also see, however dimly, the glorious destiny that awaits us.
So Paul writes to the believers in Galatia, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29) In this world of course, all these divisions exist, and they tend to put us at enmity with one another. The Liberal Left loves to extol “diversity” as they fan the flames of hatred between races, sexes, political opinions, and religious viewpoints. But in Christ, there is no diversity—only different assignments, distinct functions. We’re all part of the same body: if we stub our toe, our whole body feels the pain. No part of the body is a slave to another part, except insofar as we “take our orders” from the head—that is, Yahshua. The left pinky finger doesn’t obey the right knee, and the spleen doesn’t tell the earlobe what to do. But they all answer to the brain.
“Neither slave nor free” is an idealized concept that defines Christ’s body—His called-out assembly—though we don’t always experience it in practice in this world, for the sin nature is still a factor here. But “idealized” is not the same thing as “theoretical.” Our total liberty as children of God is reality, even though it is not yet evident in our world. But the time is coming when sin will be obsolete, and we, the body of Christ, can function at last as we were designed to do. We will be among those of whom Abraham was promised, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)
Christ’s example of servanthood
The Hebrew Scriptures present the Messiah in two glaringly different ways—as a “reigning king” but also as a “suffering servant.” The prophet Isaiah says that “His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” But he also says He would be “despised and rejected by men.” The Anointed One was prophesied to be the son of David, but He was also supposed to be the Son of God. Prior to Yahshua’s first-century advent, it had to have been terribly confusing trying to figure out what was going on with these seemingly contradictory prophecies. Were they about two different people? Was Israel the suffering servant? Was it all a complex and incomprehensible allegory?
It wasn’t until after the resurrection that any of it made sense—and even then, the promise of the reigning King remained in the province of yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy. For that matter, it remains there today: after almost two thousand years, we still haven’t seen Yahweh’s glorious Messiah reigning from Jerusalem (as promised) except through the eyes of faith. All we know from historical sources—eyewitness testimony—is what Yahshua did during his first advent, the “suffering servant” phase of the Messianic promise. Until the paradigm changes (as it must, if God is not a liar) this is the mode that we followers of Christ are charged to emulate—by both example and commandment.
As Yahshua and His disciples headed for Jerusalem (and toward His crucifixion, though the twelve didn’t know that), “Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28; cf. Mark 10:41-45) This whole discussion was precipitated by a request from the “Sons of Thunder,” James and John, that they be granted positions of honor and responsibility when Christ entered into His glory. The good news was that James and John were utterly convinced by this time that Yahshua was God incarnate, Yahweh’s promised Messiah. The bad news was that they didn’t understand (yet) that a believer’s life was to be characterized by service and sacrifice, not by privilege and power. Some “Christians” still don’t comprehend that.
Two words are used in this passage to describe the attitude of a believer who wants to be “great” in the Kingdom of God. “Great” people in the world might typically be characterized as being strong willed, having strong leadership skills, being hard-working, charismatic, or having an air of confidence or authority. Being intelligent, good-looking, shrewd, or rich doesn’t hurt either, though these things are gifts, not attitudes. But these things are worthless, and perhaps even counterproductive, in God’s kingdom. In order to be great here, Yahshua says, one must be a servant. The Greek word is diakonos—a waiter or server, one who hastens to perform a service; one who runs errands or ministers to others; an administrator. There is no potential for financial gain here, no glory, and no recognition for a job well done (at least by those who the diakonos is serving). The whole idea is to be helpful, dedicated, caring, and virtually invisible. If somebody needs you, you’re there for them; if not, you should not make your presence (or opinion) known.
Okay, so a diakonos is like a waiter or chef in a fancy restaurant—good at what he (or she) does, but not the center of attention, and certainly not the privileged celebrity who’s dining there, being waited on hand and foot. But what if one’s ambition is to be the greatest believer-servant of them all—the maître d’hôtel, as it were, the person in charge of the restaurant or its staff? The descriptive word Christ used here was a “slave,” a doulos—someone who belongs to another, a bond-slave (whether voluntarily or involuntarily, literally or figuratively). He’s the bus boy, dishwasher, or the guy who takes out the trash—even lower on the totem pole than the diakonos. Not exactly what you might have expected.
About a week later, during the “last supper,” Yahshua showed the disciples exactly what He meant. “And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded….” Note a few things here. First, it was the job of the lowliest servant in the house—a doulos, if there was one—to wash the feet of the guests. It required that the servant adopt a posture of obeisance—one had to physically “bow” or “kneel” before someone in order to attend to their feet. And it could be a dirty job. People walked around shod in open sandals on unpaved streets, picking up dust, dirt, and the occasional bit of donkey poo. You could be freshly bathed, but if you walked down the street to your friend’s house, it was a given that your feet were dirty again.
Second, Judas Iscariot—the one who would betray the Master—was still there in the room. Yahshua already knew the treachery lurking in his heart (though nobody else did), and He washed his feet anyway. Yahshua had pointed out the hard-to-hear truth back in the Sermon on the Mount (recorded in Matthew 5): we are to love not only our friends, but also our enemies. Doing so, He said, proves that we are indeed the children of the Living God—whose very character personifies love. Further, love, as demonstrated here, entails that we serve our enemies as if we were their bondservants. Note however that (as it played out in the upper room) this service does not entail assisting our enemies in their performance of evil or enabling their sin, but rather helping them to become clean. It trust you can perceive the difference.
Leave it to Peter to blurt out what the other disciples was thinking (but were too cool to say). “Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean….” Peter had a problem with Yahshua being anything other than Lord and Master. The whole “suffering servant” thing escaped him. He had been the first of the disciples to proclaim (out loud) that Yahshua was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. But then, proving that he didn’t really understand what that meant, Peter tried to convince Yahshua that going to the cross shouldn’t be necessary—prompting Christ to call him Satan (the adversary—see Matthew 16:15-23). Oops.
Basically, Peter had shown that he didn’t (yet) comprehend what the Torah’s sacrifices signified, or even what the tabernacle’s design meant. (Of course, who did, at this point? No one.) The tabernacle courtyard’s layout told the tale. It contained both the altar of sacrifice (where the worshiper would be made “completely clean” through the sacrifice of innocence) and the laver of cleansing (where a priest’s hands and feet—his works and his walk—would have to be washed before he could enter the sanctuary proper to meet with God). That—the laver of cleansing—is what Yahshua was demonstrating there in the upper room. So He told them, “And you are clean [that is, your sins are forgiven by virtue of what is about to happen on the cross], but not all of you.’ For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘Not all of you are clean….’” God knows the heart—and He loves us anyway. Amazing.
Having demonstrated what servanthood was all about, Yahshua made sure they understood what had just happened: “So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’” (John 13:2-17) “Washing one another’s feet” need not be taken literally in an era of shoes and clean sidewalks, nor should it be the sum total of our service to our fellow man. It is symbolic of something far deeper—placing ourselves in the position of servants to our fellow men, laying aside our pride (and even our dignity) to ensure that the people we meet in this world are well taken care of, physically, materially, and spiritually. We are to do what we can to keep each other accountable, to remove the filth of walking through this world from our brothers and sisters—always in a spirit of humility. Servants don’t judge: they just get the job done.
The message was not lost on the writers of the New Testament epistles. They all introduced themselves as servants (doulos) of their Savior: “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ….” (II Peter 1:1) “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John….” (Revelation 1:1) “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ….” (James 1:1) “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James....” (Jude 1) “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God….” (Romans 1:1)
Paul went on to point out that as a servant, it is a believer’s job to shine the light of Christ’s glory into the dark corners of a lost world. “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” The word that comes to mind in this regard is the Hebrew exclamation Hallelujah, meaning “praise Yahweh,” or more literally, “shine forth Yahweh’s light.” We can’t do that if we are shining the light on ourselves. “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” Note the nuance here: Paul (and the others) called themselves “bondservants of Yahshua,” but such a thing can only be demonstrated by serving others—those for whom Christ died. “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Corinthians 4:3-6)
Peter pointed out an unexpected “bonus” of being a doulos in the name of Christ: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good [that is, by being a bondservant to your fellow man] you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” (I Peter 2:15-16) People were used to religious big-shots (like the scribes and Pharisees) using their lofty positions and prestige for financial gain—and by so doing bringing blasphemy on the name of the God they said they served. But if free men placed themselves in the positions of bondservants of God (and thus to the people He loved), without thought of temporal gain, then God would be glorified and the skeptics would be silenced. At the very least, if people are going to say bad things about you (reflecting badly on the God you serve) they should have to make up bald-faced lies.
Paul explained what being a self-proclaimed doulous entails. “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law.” In other words, Paul was willing to sacrifice his very identity in order to empathize with the lost people he met. He didn’t trade on the fact that he had been trained in the finest schools, by the most gifted rabbis, to become a super-star in the well-respected Pharisee sect, the strictest of the strict. “To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” (I Corinthians 9:19-23) As a bondservant of Christ, he determined to meet people where they were—even in the midst of their guilt, pain, and vulnerability.
Like the Levites of old, the Apostles felt privileged to be set apart for the service of the Kingdom of God. And who did the Levites serve? In a sense, they served the entire nation of Israel (read: the family of God), but in particular, their job was to assist the priests. The Priests were a special class of servants, set apart from Israel and even their brother Levites to serve in Yahweh’s presence and intercede between God and man. So John’s description of what Christ has made us is revealing. He refers to “Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings [literally, a kingdom] and priests to His God and Father.” (Revelation 1:5-6) We believers have all become priests. It’s not that we no longer serve; it’s that we now have the privilege of serving in the very temple of Almighty God.
The ultimate “becoming-a-servant” example, of course, is that of Yahshua Himself. Let’s face it, for some of us, taking on the form of a servant or slave isn’t much of a stretch, since we are admittedly starting at the bottom of the barrel. Not so with Yahshua: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” When you begin as a homeless drug-addicted criminal, practically any positive move you make can be a step in the right direction, a step toward “getting better.” But if You’re Yahweh Himself and you choose to manifest Yourself as a mere human being, You have become the very definition of self-abasement, of humility, and of servanthood. The sheer scope of Yahshua’s sacrifice in this regard is beyond our comprehension. Only unconditional love could suggest such a thing; and only unspeakable power could bring it to pass.
Having completed the task He had set for Himself (for Yahweh and Yahshua are One Person), Christ was able to re-assume the glory that was rightfully His, the glory that He had voluntarily set aside for our benefit. “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11) This is the paradigm shift of which I wrote. We were instructed to ask for it when Yahshua taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
In case you haven’t noticed, this earthly manifestation of Christ’s exaltation hasn’t exactly happened yet. It’s still in the realm of future history—things that are as good as accomplished because of God’s unbreakable promises, but that we must still take on faith (if only for a little while longer). Our earthly service to God and man during the church age still follows the original paradigm—that of Christ the suffering servant.
Because the name of Moses’ protégé Joshua is the same as that of Yahshua (Jesus), I found Moses’ instructions to his successor to be a poignant reflection of what Father Yahweh would have said to His vulnerable human manifestation: “Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you must go with this people to the land which Yahweh has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it. And Yahweh, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.’” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8) Yes, God incarnate—the Servant of servants—was encouraged to (1) be strong, (2) be courageous, (3) lead God’s people into the place of God’s promise, (4) follow Yahweh, and (5) be fearless. Yahshua did all of this, though his path led Him to Calvary. And we too would do well to heed these instructions as we take up our crosses and follow Him.
Someone with the heart of a bondservant doesn’t expect life to be easy. Getting rich or famous, pampered or praised, is not part of the formula. As people redeemed at an unbelievably high price from the deadly curse of sin, we realize that the best we can do in our Master’s service is not remotely enough to merit acclaim. So Yahshua reminds us, “Which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done [only] what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:7-10)
True enough. But remarkably, we who endeavor to be good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us may find ourselves like the faithful servants in Yahshua’s “Parable of the Talents” to whom the master (upon his return from his journey) says, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:21) Note first what the master didn’t do. He didn’t say, “I’m so impressed I’m going to set you free from my service.” Nor did he make the servant an equal partner in his enterprises. He didn’t give him his daughter as a wife and put him in a cushy office where he wasn’t expected to do anything else productive for the rest of his life. No, what the master did in response to the servant’s stellar performance was to give him more responsibility—put an even heavier load on his shoulders. This isn’t characterized as punishment; it’s reward, called “entering into the joy of your lord.” Being made “ruler over many things” implies being given all the help and resources you need to get the job done for your master. But mostly, it says that the master trusts you—the highest compliment a servant can get.
The Parable of the Talents contrasts two types of servants—conscientious and lazy. The master recognized varying degrees of ability among his staff, and divided up their responsibilities accordingly. One got five talents to work with, another got two, and the third got only one. We kind of expect the smart one, Mr. Five, to do well, and likewise, for the lazy sluggard Mr. One to blow it. But the guy who impresses me is Mr. Two, who only had forty percent of the natural talent (no pun intended) as Mr. Five, but through hard work, determination, and perseverance (if we may read between the lines) performed just as well, percentage-wise. You’ll notice that he received exactly the same commendation as his talented colleague. The point, as always, is that we are not to be proud of our gifts, for they were given to us. Rather we are to diligently endeavor to do the best we can with whatever gifts and abilities we’ve been given. In the body of Christ, the right hand may get all the glory, but if the liver doesn’t do its job, the whole body will soon be in big trouble.
So once again, Yahshua encourages us to be conscientious bondservants in His absence. Make no mistake: He is coming back. We have been warned repeatedly of this impending event, and if we’re awake at all, we can see the signs of his impending return becoming more and more obvious. “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.” Our job in this illustration is to see to it that God’s household here on earth is well run—that everyone is provided for as He commanded. “But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24:45-51)
Besides the obvious admonition about heeding Yahshua’s commandments even though He isn’t physically here among us, there is an eschatological element to this. He speaks of the Master’s coming being a surprise. We know (or at least we’ve been told) through the Feasts of Yahweh that His second coming will occur on the Day of Atonement (see Zechariah 12:10), and His Kingdom will commence five days later, on the Feast of Tabernacles. The symbols are impossible to misconstrue. And if we pay attention to the significance of the Sabbath Law, we can easily deduce that the inauguration of the Kingdom Age coincides with the ultimate Sabbath—the commencement of the seventh of seven millennial periods appointed unto fallen man. Not to let a cat out of the bag, but from where I sit, this all points to one day, and it’s not all that far off. The date falls on a Sabbath (as required by scripture): Tishri 15 (October 8 that year), 2033.
So what’s this “day when he is not looking for him and…hour that he is not aware of?” There is one as-yet-unfulfilled Feast of Yahweh before the Day of Atonement: the Feast of Trumpets, whose imagery is identical to the prophesied rapture of the church. The two final prophesied churches in Revelation 3 would seem to fit the profiles of the two servants in Yahshua’s parable. The “faithful and wise servant” aligns with the church of the rapture, Philadelphia, to whom it was said “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10). But the “evil servant” who wasn’t anticipating his Master’s return is likened to the church of Laodicea, to whom Yahshua said, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16) That would seem to be the rough equivalent of “I will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Laodicea will be given an opportunity to repent (they are designated a “church” after all), but multitudes will pay with their lives for their initial reluctance to take the Master seriously. That’s because between the rapture and the Kingdom Age—between the Feast of Trumpets and the Feast of Tabernacles—lies what’s called the Tribulation, the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, the Indignation, or the Wrath of God. If you think times are tough for Yahshua’s servants now, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The good news is, all we have to do to avoid the Great Unpleasantness is to endeavor to be “faithful and wise servants” now, as we were instructed to do by our Master before He left on His journey.
The bottom line: we all serve somebody or something, and the choice of whom to serve is ours alone. Would it not make perfect sense, then, to choose a Master who loves us, appreciates us, who cares about us so deeply that He was willing to die for us, and whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light?
God’s attitude toward slavery
Thomas Jefferson once said, “I prefer dangerous freedom to peaceful slavery.” Notwithstanding that this particular founding father didn’t have the moral gumption to free his own slaves—even after his death—this is a pretty good summation of the American spirit. We know from experience that freedom can be messy, dangerous, and prone to miscalculation. Many don’t perceive the difference between liberty and license, or comprehend that violation of one man’s freedom by another tends to enslave us all. In this country (ideally) being a “servant” is a job description, not a cultural condition. It is universally recognized that you should be able to quit this job if you want to, for nobody owns you. But while freedom means you’re free to come and go, it also means that nobody owes you anything, either. Americans know that freedom, as untidy as is can be, is infinitely superior to the alternative. As Jefferson’s generation knew all too well, liberty is worth fighting for, and when it comes to that, it’s worth dying for.
Although Yahweh didn’t ban slavery outright (as he did murder, homosexuality, and planting crops in a Jubilee year) He did make it clear that liberty was His ultimate intention for us. But He always linked liberty to a relationship with Him—what some would call slavery. For example, “Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’” Funny thing is, they thought they were already free, not realizing that being recipients of God’s promises to Abraham came with responsibilities. “They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone.’” Well that wasn’t quite true, was it? Israel had been in bondage to other nations on and off since their sojourn in Egypt. It’s as if they had been sent to “time-out” for their bad behavior. At this very moment, they were under the yoke of Rome. Nevertheless, they insisted, “How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” But Yahshua had a more universal truth to teach: “Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.’” (John 8:31-36) True liberty, He says, consists of being related to God—of experiencing His life abiding within you.
In the context of Torah observance, slavery went hand in hand with debt. But the poverty that led to indebtedness, leading in turn to slavery, need never have happened: The Law of the Sabbath Year said that after every seven years, “you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother [because he was poor and couldn’t repay his loan]. However, there will be no poor among you.” If they honored God’s Instructions, nobody would fall into poverty. “For Yahweh will greatly bless you in the land which Yahweh your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance—only if you carefully obey the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today. For Yahweh your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you.” (Deuteronomy 15:3-6) It’s sort of a Catch-22. If you obey Yahweh’s Instructions as a “slave of righteousness,” you won’t end up being a slave of sin. Like I said, we all serve something, but at least we get to choose our own master.
Although slavery provided an opportunity to teach some valuable lessons, it’s clear that Yahweh doesn’t like it, for it places one person above another, and we are all equal before Yahweh. A few Biblical examples will reveal how God dealt with slavery. “A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, ‘Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared Yahweh. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.’” Poverty led to debt, which in turn was threatening to lead to bondage. “So Elisha said to her, ‘What shall I do for you?’” She had no idea. “‘Tell me, what do you have in the house?’ And she said, ‘Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil.’ Then he said, ‘Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors—empty vessels; do not gather just a few. And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones.’ So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out….”
It was an exercise in faith, demonstrated through obedience. The lesson would be: God is willing to bless us, but only to the limit of our preparation, our capacity for receiving His bounty, and our faith. “Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, ‘Bring me another vessel.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not another vessel.’ So the oil ceased. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.’” (2 Kings 41-47) Like Yahshua’s two “loaves and fishes” miracles, this involved invoking the power of the Creator to multiply a substance by dividing it. The first thing we need to realize is that God did this to prevent his faithful people from being sold into slavery through no fault of their own. But there are also other lessons to be gleaned, revealed in the details.
(1) The woman’s husband had died, even though he had been a faithful servant of God. We are not given any guarantees of longevity or prosperity in this life. Our successes are not to be measured with the yardstick of this world, but according to the measure of heaven. Life and death, riches and poverty, health and sickness, are all tools in God’s hands to use as He wills. Yahweh reserves the right to use painful experiences to draw us closer to Him.
(2) God doesn’t need our wealth, talent, or gifts to achieve His will, but He does allow us to contribute—like loving parents letting their small children “help out.” In other words, He often lets us participate in the very miracles (or simple provision) that rescue us from temporal disasters.
(3) All the widow had to work with was a little bit of oil. Symbolically, you’ll recall, olive oil signifies the Holy Spirit. We are reminded of the words of John the Baptist: “For He whom God has sent [i.e., Yahshua] speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.” (John 3:34) Any “amount” of the Holy Spirit in one’s life is sufficient, as long as we are willing to pour it out as God directs.
(4) The Holy Spirit (the olive oil in the story) must be held in something. In the human life, this vessel is the neshamah (translated the “breath of life” in Genesis 2:7), that which separates man from animals. It’s the capacity for the indwelling of spiritual life—beyond the soul (the nephesh). This is not something we attained on our own, but something supplied by another (the neighbors, in the story). How we use this Spirit-vessel, however—the extent to which the Spirit is allowed to work in our lives—is strictly up to us.
(5) The containers in the tale are distinct from the widow’s original oil jar. As the amount of “Spirit” available grew—as it was poured out freely into her neighbors’ vessels—it filled other people’s lives, not just her own.
(6) There is faith involved here, quantified by the measure of our obedience. One gets the feeling that if the widow had been able to lay hands on a tanker truck, the oil would have continued flowing until it was full to the top. This reminds me of the Israelite spies being sent into Canaan to check out the nation’s promised inheritance. They ventured nowhere close to their promised borders, but stopped far short of them. Their laziness / disinterest / disobedience turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, minimizing the de facto limits of the Land from the very beginning of their occupation. God had made so much more available to them, but they refused to receive it.
(7) She was told to “shut the door” before she began transferring the oil from her jar to the borrowed vessels. Our “transactions” with the Holy Spirit do not happen in public, but behind closed doors. However, like the disciples in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost, the results of these Spirit-fillings tend to spill out onto the streets with a great deal of alacrity.
(8) The “oil” thus received is sufficient to pay our debts and release us (not to mention our children) from the threat of bondage. Furthermore, we are able to live indefinitely on what’s left over. That is, this isn’t just about “pie in the sky when you die,” but about living an abundant, Spirit-led life down here on the ground.
Two incidents happened during Judah’s decline that shed valuable light on how God really feels about holding our brothers in bondage. The first happened when Nebuchadnezzar’s armies were about to take Jerusalem by force. (This assault was precipitated by King Zedekiah’s revolt against Judah’s Babylonian overlords in 589 BC.) Zedekiah had been assured by the prophet Jeremiah that he would not die by the sword, but would be exiled and die in peace. The prophet had also announced that Judah’s exile in Babylon would not be permanent, but that they would eventually return, when the Land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. So Zedekiah, having seen the writing on the wall, issued a proclamation that all Jewish slaves being held by Jewish masters were to be released. If you’re going down, he figured, you ought to at least be able to go down as free men.
Jeremiah records what happened. “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were at Jerusalem to proclaim liberty to them: that every man should set free his male and female slave—a Hebrew man or woman—that no one should keep a Jewish brother in bondage. Now when all the princes and all the people, who had entered into the covenant, heard that everyone should set free his male and female slaves, that no one should keep them in bondage anymore, they obeyed and let them go.” So far, so good. “But afterward they changed their minds and made the male and female slaves return, whom they had set free, and brought them into subjection as male and female slaves….” Does this ring any bells? It’s so much like the Pharaoh of the exodus, it’s scary. I realize the those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it, but we’re talking about Israel here—how could they forget what had happened to Egypt when they reneged on their promise to “Let my people go”?
The irony wasn’t lost on God, either. “Therefore the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, saying, ‘Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel: I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying, “At the end of seven years let every man set free his Hebrew brother, who has been sold to him; and when he has served you six years, you shall let him go free from you.” But your fathers did not obey Me nor incline their ear….’” There was their first mistake: they had refused to release those indebted to them at the Sabbatical Year, as required. One gets the feeling that Israel and Judah had largely ignored the Torah for centuries, precipitating serial disasters upon themselves.
Repentance is always possible, however: “Then you recently turned and did what was right in My sight—every man proclaiming liberty to his neighbor; and you made a covenant before Me in the house which is called by My name.” But what do you call it when your one-eighty turnaround becomes a full three-sixty, effectively erasing your repentance? “Then you turned around and profaned My name, and every one of you brought back his male and female slaves, whom you had set at liberty, at their pleasure, and brought them back into subjection, to be your male and female slaves….” If freeing your slaves according to Sabbatical-year rules was a picture of one’s debt of sin being forgiven, then re-enslaving them is symbolically tantamount to forcing them to live in sin. And as bad as this is for the slaves, it is infinitely worse for the ones who enslave them. (cf. II Peter 2, I Timothy 4:1-2, II Timothy 3:1-5, Jude 11-16, etc.)
The seriousness of this crime is revealed by Yahweh’s reaction: “Therefore thus says Yahweh: ‘You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and every one to his neighbor. Behold, I proclaim liberty to you,’ says Yahweh—‘to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine! And I will deliver you to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth.” It’s kind of a play on words. The “liberty” God was sending them was the “freedom” to suffer violence, disease, and hunger. If you think bondage is so great, let’s see how you like being the one in chains.
“And I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between the parts of it—the princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf—I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. Their dead bodies shall be for meat for the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the earth.” (Jeremiah 34:8-20) The elites who swore to set their slaves free had entered into the most serious type of covenant there was, the same kind by which Yahweh swore to bless Abraham in Genesis 15. It basically said, “If I violate my oath (to set my slaves free), may I be cut in two like the two halves of this ritual calf.” Yahweh was willing to take them at their word.
Be careful what you promise. It’s one thing to screw up God’s instructions. There’s a remedy for that (contained within those very instructions), for He knows we’re not perfect. But “If a man makes a vow to Yahweh, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:2) There is no wiggle room whatsoever here. God keeps His promises: so must we.
There was an “instant replay” of this incident later in Judah’s history, but with a radically different outcome—because the errant elites genuinely repented of their error this time. After their Babylonian captivity had expired, and after the Babylonians had been replaced by the Persians, King Artaxerxes’ Jewish cupbearer, Nehemiah, was put in charge of rebuilding the ruined city of Jerusalem. We pick up the narrative in chapter 5: “There was a great outcry of the people and their wives against their Jewish brethren. For there were those who said, ‘We, our sons, and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain, that we may eat and live.’ There were also some who said, ‘We have mortgaged our lands and vineyards and houses, that we might buy grain because of the famine.’ There were also those who said, ‘We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our lands and vineyards. Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children; and indeed we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been brought into slavery. It is not in our power to redeem them, for other men have our lands and vineyards.’” (Nehemiah 5:1-5)
For a variety of reasons, many of the returning exiles had run into financial misfortune, and as always, poverty produced debt, which in turn led to bondage. Those who had resources once again ended up holding mortgages and collecting slaves, who had gone into servitude in order to raise the funds that were needed. The vicious cycle was beginning all over again, and Nehemiah was furious. “Then I said, “What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? I also, with my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop this usury! Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them….”
The law of love had required that the necessary money had been lent—without charging interest—and the debt was ultimately to be forgiven if the borrower could not pay it back within six years of diligent effort. This time, the admonition did not fall on deaf ears: the landowners complied: “So they said, ‘We will restore it, and will require nothing from them; we will do as you say.’ Then I [Nehemiah] called the priests, and required an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. Then I shook out the fold of my garment and said, ‘So may God shake out each man from his house, and from his property, who does not perform this promise. Even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.’ And all the assembly said, ‘Amen!’ and praised Yahweh. Then the people did according to this promise.” (Nehemiah 5:9-13) And this time, they did not renege on their repentance. Mercy was shown, and God was honored.
Mercy was always at the forefront of God’s mind. In the Torah, He had addressed the situation of runaway slaves—a passage that no doubt gave great encouragement to the “Underground Railroad” of the Civil War era—dedicated to spiriting escaped slaves away from their former masters to freedom in Canada and free Northern states. We read, “You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him.” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16) We may be getting mixed signals here. A Hebrew slave who has sold himself into bondage to another Hebrew was not to “escape” from his master before the terms of his service had been completed, for doing so would entail theft—breach of contract—on the slave’s part.
But that’s not what’s being described here. The commentaries are in universal agreement: the slave in question in Deuteronomy 23 is understood to be a non-Hebrew, that is, a Canaanite slave who has escaped from his pagan master and is looking for asylum among the Jews. The spiritual-symbolic equivalent today would be someone who has escaped from bondage in the world (and I’m thinking especially from onerous religious situations like Hinduism, Islam, or some cult) and is looking for liberty among the people of the True and Living God. If we are of the opinion that “there are many roads to God,” implying that any and all religious traditions are equally efficacious in attaining salvation, then we have, in effect, given the slave back to his former abusive master.
An interesting and tangentially related incident arose in the life of Paul. Although he had never been to Colosse (in Asia Minor, near Laodicea), he had been instrumental in leading one of its citizens to Christ—a man of means named Philemon. One of Philemon’s slaves, named Onesimus, had apparently stolen something from his master and run away to Rome—almost a thousand miles away as the crow flies, and a much more prodigious journey by land and sea if you’re not a crow. In one of the great coincidences of scripture, Onesimus met Paul when the Apostle was under house arrest in Rome, and he too received Christ. (Or maybe it wasn’t a coincidence at all. Could it be that Onesimus, having heard his master speak of Paul, purposely sought him out?)
So we’ve got a runaway slave, his former owner, and a Torah scholar—all now saved by grace through faith in Christ, and all trying to figure out what God would have them do. The obvious wrinkle here is that the master-slave relationship between Philemon and Onesimus had taken on new proportions: they were now brothers, fellow members of the body of Christ, and, more to the point, both fellow servants of the same Lord—Yahshua Himself.
Meanwhile, Paul was stuck in the middle, friend and mentor to both men. He knew that (according to Deuteronomy 23:15) he was not to put Onesimus back in chains and return him to Philemon. But then there was the Law of Love: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:17-18) Part of “loving your neighbor” (in this case, Onesimus) was to “rebuke” him, that is, encourage him to repent from his sin. Onesimus was not guiltless: he had stolen something from Philemon—at the very least, his own body, legally bought and paid for as a slave.
Paul’s solution was the epitome of wisdom and Christian virtue. He wrote a letter to Philemon, asking him as a brother in Christ to forgive his unprofitable slave—and then he asked Onesimus to deliver the letter to him in person, accompanied by another believer named Tychicus. (Apparently, it was delivered at the same time as the letter to the Colossians. See Colossians 4:7-9.) This letter to Philemon is now part of the canon of Scripture, teaching us a great deal about how to show love toward one another in the age of grace. It reads, in part, “Though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ—I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me….” Paul was reticent to “command” Philemon to do the right thing—in this case, forgive and receive the repentant Onesimus in the spirit of gentleness and Christian brotherhood. But he did appeal to him, reminding him that we are all prisoners—slaves of Christ, whether literally (as was the case with Paul) or figuratively.
“I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel.” We must remember that under Roman law, the master of a runaway slave was legally permitted to be as harsh as he pleased if the slave were recaptured. But Paul begged Philemon to receive Onesimus back as one would welcome the son of a respected friend. He hints that Onesimus had been useful in Paul’s ministry in Rome while the apostle was under house arrest, and both of them may have preferred to continue the arrangement, were it not for the fact that Onesimus was another man’s slave. “But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary….” If I “force” you to respond with lovingkindness, Paul says, I will have robbed you of the privilege and honor of choosing to show love to your brother.
Paul now addresses the remarkable “coincidence” involved in having led both Philemon and Onesimus to Christ—preferring to recognize the hand of God at work in the affair. “For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me.” That is, not as your slave, but as a co-laborer in the cause of Christ. “But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account.” By offering to pay the debt of another, Paul was demonstrating what he had written about love in I Corinthians 13:4-7, and was fulfilling the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount. “I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord.” (Philemon 8-20)
In all of that, Paul did not recommend the abolition of slavery as an institution, nor had Yahweh in the Torah. His appeal, rather, was that we should all realize that slavery is part and parcel of the human condition in our fallen world. Even a “free” man is bound by his sin, whether he knows it or not. Only when one has surrendered his life to Christ, receiving salvation by grace through faith, do we become truly free. How? By voluntarily becoming bondslaves of the God who loves us—by inviting Him to own us, and instruct us, and even discipline us. Nobody ever said it wasn’t counterintuitive.
Onesimus, then, would return to the service of Philemon, but their relationship would now form a picture of what it means for us to be bondservants of Christ. Paul no doubt had Onesimus (and what he had come to symbolize) very much on his mind when he wrote this to the other believing bondservants in the town of Colosse: “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God….” They weren’t to “fake it,” or try to get by with the minimum effort possible (as you might expect of the slave mentality).
Nor did he instruct them to seek “freedom” in this world, for such freedom is an illusion. Rather, he told them to serve Christ in whatever circumstances they found themselves. They were to act as if Yahshua Himself was their master, for in reality, He was. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.” (Colossians 3:22-25) As an employee (read: bondslave to my employer), and later as a small business owner (read: bondslave to my clients), I tried to implement these principles. I can tell you from experience, people take notice and react positively when you treat them as if they were God’s personal representatives. They’re not used to that.
This wasn’t Paul’s first rodeo. He addressed believing bondservants in many of his epistles. To those in Ephesus, he wrote something very similar: “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free….” This rings a very loud bell—the prophecy of the “sheep” and the “goats” at the end of Matthew 25. They thought they were serving (or conversely, neglecting) the needy people they encountered. But the King (the returning Yahshua) informed them that they were in fact serving (or neglecting) Him by their actions or inactions.
This time, however, he added a parallel admonition to their masters: “And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9) The same things? Yes: “doing the will of God from the heart” and so forth. Earthly masters, up to and including the mightiest king, need to be reminded that in God’s eyes, they’re only “middle management.” Their “underlings” are to be led and nurtured, not exploited, abused, threatened, or taken for granted. God is not impressed by people who have a little power here on earth—He is the source of that power. The more authority you wield, the more responsibility rests on your shoulders.
To the Corinthians, Paul stressed that one’s station in this life is immaterial. What’s important is how well we serve our Heavenly Master, wherever we are. “Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it.” That is, don’t spend all of your time and resources trying to improve your temporal circumstances. But if freedom (or even promotion) comes your way, use the change to honor Christ. In the meantime, serve Christ by serving your master well. “For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men [if you can help it—i.e., don’t let debt or sinful habits sneak up on you, for they lead to bondage]. Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.” (I Corinthians 7:20-24) If God wants to change your situation (as He did with me several times in my life) then go and serve where He puts you. But don’t waste your life clawing your way to the top of your profession.
When Onesimus returned to his master Philemon, he was fortunate in having a believer as a boss. Most slaves (or employees) aren’t that lucky. What then? Paul counseled young Pastor Timothy that a believing bondservant’s attitude and behavior under the yoke can either honor the name of God or curse it. This—not his doctrinal position, piety or penance—is what primarily comprises a slave’s testimony. “Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed….”
But what if the master is a believer, like Philemon? “And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved.” The tempting trap might be to take advantage of a master’s Christian beliefs. As a believer, he is expected to be forgiving, patient, and gentle. We bondservants are not to use these presumed qualities as a strategy for shirking our duties without suffering adverse consequences. To do so is to tempt our brother (the master) to sin through contentions and outbursts of wrath—works of the flesh he is so earnestly trying to suppress. “Teach and exhort these things.” (I Timothy 6:1-2)
Paul taught Pastor Titus along the same lines: “Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.” (Titus 2:9-10) All the petty crimes bondservants were known to perpetrate against their masters were to be nonexistent among believers, for they were a bad reflection on their real Master, Christ. They were, in fact, a form of blasphemy. “Adorning the doctrine of God” is an interesting phrase. It’s one thing to piously quote scripture and expound upon doctrinal nuances. It’s something else again to make God’s word attractive, appealing, compelling, and inviting (the Greek word is kosmeo, the root of our English word “cosmetics”) to those outside. That is what happens when a believing bondservant acts in his master’s best interests. He makes his God “look good.”
Peter too addressed bondservants. (Remember, there were far more slaves than free men in the Roman Empire—it was a significant demographic.) “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.” Blessed was the bondservant whose master was a believer, but it didn’t happen very often. Usually, the master was a pagan with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement and a “conscience seared with a hot iron,” who saw his slaves as something less than human. “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer [because of it], if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God….” As Yahshua had said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth,’ who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.” (I Peter 2:18-24, quoting Isaiah 53:9) Follow His steps? It was one thing for a person to be crucified by the Romans. Thousands suffered that fate. But it’s something else entirely for a man to suffer thus in a state of perfect innocence. Christ didn’t die to make us free to sin. He died so that we might be free from sin. If we are going to “take up our crosses daily and follow Him,” we had better be blameless before men. There is no honor in getting crucified for your sins. There is no glory in being enslaved by debts you incurred willingly and needlessly.
In this life, freedom and slavery are both illusions. We all serve something or someone, but the heaviest chain cannot prevent us from standing vindicated in the presence of Almighty God. It will transpire that the “great equalizer” between slaves and people who think they’re free will be the wrath of God, poured out upon all during the Great Tribulation. The “Seal Judgments” of Revelation describe these days of wrath in sweeping, generalized terms (while the “Trumpets” and the “Bowl Judgments” are more specific). The results of the Sixth Seal Judgment (the ultimate earthquake, also mentioned in the Seventh Trumpet and described in detail under the Seventh Bowl) is described as follows: “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Revelation 6:15-17)
If I’m reading this correctly, this earthquake will accompany the return of King Yahshua to Planet Earth on the definitive Day of Atonement. It’s the Second Coming of Christ (not to be confused with the rapture of the church), and the preamble to Armageddon. In the physical presence of the Lamb of God (for the first time in two millennia) no one who is still in rebellion against Him will be able to stand. Everyone, from the most rich and powerful to the lowliest slave, will bow before Him in terror.
And lest you think John the Revelator is just being hysterical, note that the same exact event was described by at least two Old Testament prophets. I’ll let you look up Zechariah 14:1-7 on your own. But listen to how Isaiah describes the very same future event. “Behold, Yahweh makes the earth empty and makes it waste, distorts its surface and scatters abroad its inhabitants. And it shall be: as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor….” It’s a devastating earthquake: the wrath of God being poured out on master and slave alike—everyone still alive who has spat upon the precious gift of grace that God had freely offered for the past two thousand years. They will finally understand that God is no respecter of persons—He’s not impressed with your lofty status; neither is He willing to “let you off the spiritual hook” just because you’re a lowly slave.
“The land shall be entirely emptied and utterly plundered, For Yahweh has spoken this word. The earth mourns and fades away, the world languishes and fades away. The haughty people of the earth languish. The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse has devoured the earth, and those who dwell in it are desolate. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left.” (Isaiah 24:1-6) The freedom to choose one’s eternal destiny is a universal feature of the human condition. The “slaves” won’t be able to plead, “I was only following orders,” or “the devil made me do it.” Before God, there is neither slave nor free—there is only saved and lost.
Our ultimate freedom as believers
We began this chapter by taking a look at the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, in Genesis 3. That is where our slavery began—our mortality, our vulnerability. And we have discovered that any freedom we seem to possess in this subsequent life is an illusion, for as long as we’re subject to the death of the body, we will remain in bondage to our physical needs—at the very least.
Indeed, the sins we commit in this life invariably stem from our clumsy pursuit of the things we need. On the more foundational end of the scale, we need food, clothing, shelter, and security—and not just want, but need: these things are necessary for our very short term survival. In the middle level, we find ourselves in need of companionship, affirmation, fulfillment, love, and even sexual contact. These are more psychological than physiological, and yet they too (especially sex) are necessary for the survival of our species. Without them, life tends to become (as philosopher Thomas Hobbes put it) “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And, I might add, pointless. Animals don’t seem to mind, because they’re not wired like humans. We, however, are built with a whole different dimension: the capacity for spiritual indwelling.
So at the top of the pyramid of human needs lies the greatest need of all—the need to commune with our Creator. Psychologist Abraham Maslow, the “expert” most everybody defers to in this area, would define the top level as “self-actualization”—morality, creativity, spontaneity, acceptance, experience, purpose, and the realization of one’s inner potential—finding the “meaning of life,” as it were. I would submit to you that these things merely represent another, more sophisticated, level of slavery. These are what we lost in the Garden of Eden when we sinned against God and broke off fellowship with Him. And they are impossible to regain without restoration of that fellowship—which (not coincidentally) is the entire point of the Bible’s story.
Our needs are genuine, then, but we often go about trying to fulfill them in less-than-ideal ways. James writes, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:1-4) His point, if I may steer his thoughts in the direction of our present subject, is that when we attempt to meet our needs (or mere desires) without reference (and deference) to the God who made us, we will end up sinning against Him, instead of attaining our goals, however legitimate they may be. It is not within our power to meet our own needs—not all of them, anyway. And that’s what it would take to release us from these chains—the bonds of our own mortality. The only one who can free us is Yahweh.
The first question, then, is does He want to free us? After all, it is us who turned our backs on Him in the first place. I can state with absolute assurance that this is God’s ultimate goal—to reconcile us to Himself, restore us, revive us, and undo the damage that got us into this pickle in the first place. It must be weird having perfect foreknowledge, but it’s clear from scripture that God knew we humans would fall into sin even before He created us—and He had His redemption strategy prepared from eternity past.
The second question would have to be, “How does He plan on reconciling us to Himself?” Here in the shadow of Calvary, we all know the first half of the plan: that Yahweh would take upon Himself the form of a man—a servant—and become what the rites of the Torah predicted: the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” as John the Baptist would phrase it. The way the problem is presented, the only thing that can undo guilt is innocence; the only thing that can reverse wrong is right. Christ did that. His death, burial, and resurrection—though He had committed no sin—paid the penalty that we had all brought upon ourselves by committing sin. The moment one of us receives this gracious gift, he has, for all intents and purposes, “switched masters.” Whereas he used to be a slave of sin, he is now a slave of righteousness.
But as I said, that’s only half the picture. Even if we’ve thankfully received God’s grace and forgiveness, we find we’re still walking around in mortal, sin-prone bodies. It’s not just that Christians don’t escape physical death by becoming redeemed, it’s that we don’t even become sinless, perfect people the moment we receive Christ. Trust me, I know. I’ve been a “born-again believer” for well over sixty years now. I can state with shame-faced certainty that 99.9% of my overt sins were perpetrated after I got saved.
Like Paul, I want to be perfect. I even have a rough inkling of what that might look like. But try as I may, I still can’t seem to achieve moral flawlessness. Yes, I’m holy—I’m set apart for God’s purpose and pleasure. But I’m still not without fault, and I won’t be as long as I inhabit this mortal body. I may not be a slave to sin any longer, but I’m still a slave nevertheless—a slave of righteousness. And Righteousness (if I may personify my new Master) is terribly hard to obey, as much as I’d like to. He keeps telling me to do things I can’t really do in my flesh (or at least never have, to any reliable degree), like love my enemies, be pure in heart, go the extra mile, pray without ceasing, and be holy as He is holy.
So the second half of God’s plan of redemption includes an “exit strategy” from our mortal predicament—and I don’t mean death. These bodies we live in—the ones in which we sin, and the ones in which we choose to be redeemed—are neither designed nor intended to last forever. But Yahweh has a whole new paradigm in store for us who choose to partake in His gift of everlasting life: bodies built for eternity. Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us….” Since our mortal bodies are the vehicles in which we sin, they also endure the suffering that sin precipitates.
But we are to be given new bodies—immortal and sinless—in which to spend eternity. “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope, because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God….” Just as our present universe was built to support our mortal bodies (remember: we are made of dust), our new bodies will be given a shiny new cosmos in which to dwell. There is no particular reason the “new heavens and new earth” our new bodies will inhabit must have the same sort of properties the present universe has—atomic structure, natural laws (thermodynamics, gravity, nuclear forces, etc.) or even its vast expanse. All these things reveal the glory of God to us mortals, but once that glory is “revealed in us,” as Paul describes it, once the “creation itself is delivered from the bondage of corruption,” then Yahweh will be free to do whatever He likes with our cosmic environment. It might be very different from what we know.
What we know, after all, is that the universe is dying. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, simply stated, teaches us that entropy (the energy that is not available for work during a thermodynamic process) increases in a closed system (such as our universe). The unavoidable conclusion is that—if everything remains on its present course indefinitely—the cosmos will eventually (okay, billions of years from now) suffer what physicists call “heat death,” when the universe attains a state of maximum homogeneity in which all matter is at a uniform temperature—absolute zero or thereabouts. Every shred of physical, empirical evidence ever gathered tends to support this view.
Because it’s important (and germane) allow me to interrupt Paul’s quote with one from AllAboutScience.org, which states, “The implications of the Second Law of Thermodynamics are considerable. The universe is constantly losing usable energy and never gaining. We logically conclude the universe is not eternal. The universe had a finite beginning—the moment at which it was at ‘zero entropy’ (its most ordered possible state). Like a wind-up clock, the universe is winding down, as if at one point it was fully wound up and has been winding down ever since. The question is, who wound up the clock?
“The theological implications are obvious. NASA Astronomer Robert Jastrow commented on these implications when he said, ‘Theologians generally are delighted with the proof that the universe had a beginning, but astronomers are curiously upset. It turns out that the scientist behaves the way the rest of us do when our beliefs are in conflict with the evidence.’ (Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers.) Jastrow went on to say, ‘For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.’ It seems the Cosmic Egg that was the birth of our universe logically requires a Cosmic Chicken....”
So Paul concludes, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” Yes, and the process began before Adam’s fall into sin—the Second Law of Thermodynamics has been in play since God “wound up the clock” at the Big Bang. Even then, He knew what was coming. “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:18-23) That is, both the Creation and we who inhabit it will need an “upgrade”—a spiritual rebirth—in order to continue forever in God’s love. The “firstfruits” of which he speaks is Christ Himself, whose body after His resurrection gave us our first glimpse of what it will look like to be truly free.
Note (again) that the “redemption of our bodies,” the coming transformation from mortality to immortality—complete with a brand new universe built to support them—is characterized as “adoption.” As with those nine adopted children of ours, there was a time before which they were not part of our family, but they became our sons and daughters, in every sense of the word that matters. That being said, they still don’t share our DNA. They “resemble” their parents only in such intangibles as legality, attitude, mannerisms, work ethic, and compassion. But Mom or I still wouldn’t be able to donate a kidney to one of them. That’s a type of compatibility no amount of love can create.
This is sort of how our “relationship” with God sits at the moment. Yes, we have been “adopted,” and every day that goes by, we become more like Him—like His “only begotten Son,” Yahshua. With every sunrise, we grow closer to our spiritual family through our intimate association with the Holy Spirit—the spiritual equivalent of our “Mom.” But we still can’t dwell in the eternal state with Yahweh. We are mortal; our bodies are built of dust. Remarkably, our “adoption” as children of God will change even that. As we get older, my wife and I joke about needing a “full body transplant.” You know—just keep our minds (our souls) and replace everything else. Amazingly, our God has something very much like that on the drawing board.
Paul explains: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [which happened, not coincidentally, on the Feast of Firstfruits]. For since by man [Adam] came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” That’s why Yahweh had to manifest himself as a mortal human being in order to redeem us: in order to “win,” you have to be playing the same game as your adversary. If you’re playing baseball, touchdowns don’t count. “But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power….”
This is one of the most unexpected statements in all of scripture. We tend to assume that Yahshua’s power and authority will continue indefinitely, since (in Matthew 28:15) all authority in heaven and earth was given to him by virtue of the resurrection. But at the “end,” presumably the conclusion of Christ’s Millennial reign (after which time no longer passes—when we have entered the eternal state), this power will revert to God the Father—Yahweh—and by so doing Christ will effectively render authority obsolete. Whereas we, with our “religious” mindset, would have expected Yahweh to assume total top-down control over His creation—making us, in effect, the happiest of slaves—His counterintuitive plan is to “end all rule and all authority and power.” End it? Yes! His game plan is to bring to an end the arm’s-length Master-slave relationship we’ve been privileged to share with Him, and implement something else, something infinitely better—the intimate relationship of a Parent to His children. And this won’t just happen in theory or principle, not just in faith and hope, but in absolute, concrete fact—palpable, undeniable reality.
Needless to say, this is going to require some unprecedented infrastructure alteration on God’s part. Remember, we fallen, mortal humans have never been able to relate to Yahweh in His undiminished form: the One who spoke the universe into existence. To do so would have killed us. Even before the fall, the God with which Adam walked was an anthropomorphic theophany. And as history progressed, we met Yahweh in other “less lethal” forms as well—the Shekinah, various visionary manifestations, the Suffering Servant Yahshua, the Holy Spirit, and finally, the Reigning King (yet future, of course). (See Volume 1, Unit 2 of this work.) These are all Yahweh, though not all there is of Him.
All “rule and authority and power” cannot logically be ended, however, as long as there are mortal human beings (redeemed or not) walking the earth. Free will in a body with a sin nature requires the rule of law and God’s holy standard of perfection. So Paul informs us, “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” (I Corinthians 15:20-26) The “game” we’re playing is Life and Death. Our Captain, Yahshua, has already put the first tally on the scoreboard by rising from the dead. It is now up to us to follow His lead by rising in newness of life ourselves—not by our own merit or skill, however, but by virtue of His power. When He has destroyed death itself, the “game” will be won. But this will entail transforming death into life, something that has only happened once (with Christ’s resurrection).
Or has it?
The metaphor Paul uses to explain death becoming life is something else God built into creation so we could understand what was going on—the idea of a seed being planted. “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?’ Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body….” What gets planted is never the same as what sprouts out of the ground, though there is always a relationship. Acorns bring forth oak trees. You don’t plant an apple seed and expect to see a coconut palm sprouting. But you don’t get anything to grow unless you plant the living part of the plant—its seed, its genetic component, not its leaves or bark.
So what happens when you “plant” the soul of a redeemed human? God causes something to grow that, like a plant, is related, but transformed. “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body….” And, I might add, it is sown a servant, but raised in perfect freedom.
“There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’” The reference here is to Genesis 2:7, where God “breathed into Adam the breath of life (the neshamah—that which makes spiritual life possible in humans) and he became a living soul.” “The last Adam [Yahshua] became a life-giving spirit.” That is, He and the Holy Spirit who indwells the neshamah of redeemed individuals share the same divine identity—they are both manifestations of Yahweh.
“However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (I Corinthians 15:35-38; 42-49) This coming to “bear the image of the Heavenly Man” is the “adoption” into God’s family of which Paul spoke. But it is also the “full-body transplant” my wife and I joke about. My firstborn son is the spitting image of what I looked like at his age (well, except for the facial hair). But my Asian kids, being adopted, don’t look at all like my wife and I. When we are adopted into God’s family—when we cease being slaves and instead become His children—He arranges for us to be given new “bodies” that share His own “spiritual DNA,” so to speak—we become perfect, sinless, and incorruptible. Yahshua already has His new body; we in the church will receive ours on rapture day; and those saved after that time will be given their new immortal bodies sometime later. In the eternal state, there will be no mortality, no sin, and no death.
Paul then ties this transformation to the whole slavery issue: “Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father….” This describes our present condition as mortal believers. We are redeemed, and thus positionally free, and heirs of God’s glory. But since we still inhabit our mortal bodies, we still need supervision. Someone in authority must act as our master. Our present paradigm, then, is that of the suffering servant—Christ in His humanity. But this situation is no more permanent for us than it was with Yahshua. He is the “firstfruit.” We are the crop awaiting the harvest.
Indeed, we have come a long way already: “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.” This is where we began, as slaves to sin, slaves to our own corrupt flesh, and slaves to the requirements of the Law that we couldn’t keep, no matter how hard we tried. “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:1-7) So having been redeemed, we are no longer slaves to sin, but are now slaves to righteousness—children (and heirs) under the supervision of “guardians and stewards,” as it were.
Only one step remains in our progress toward complete freedom in Christ—our “graduation ceremony,” so to speak, during which we will receive our new, incorruptible bodies (like Yahshua’s resurrection body). Our “diploma” is recorded forever in the Lamb’s Book of Life. And our “cap and gown” consists of garments of clean, white linen—the imputed righteousness of Christ. This is the day God our Father has looked forward to with eager anticipation since the beginning of creation. And if I may stretch this metaphor to the breaking point, our graduation will be all the sweeter because there is no “student-loan debt” to pay off. We are no longer slaves to anything, but will live in complete freedom before God—just as He intended since the beginning of creation.
Leave it to Yahshua to cut straight to the heart of the issue: “Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.’” (John 8:34-36) Yes, we’re sinners now—and slaves to sin—for our bodies are driven by our sin natures. But we won’t inhabit these bodies forever. Our slavery will come to an end when we follow the Son’s journey from mortality to immortality. But be not deceived: following the Son is the only way we may experience true freedom.
That’s the bottom line. At the Last Supper, Yahshua told His disciples (and through them, us), “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” Dour, joyless religiosity is evidence of slavery (even if it’s slavery to something good and beneficial, like the Law). Christ came to bring us liberty even from that. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you….” As I said, as long as we inhabit these mortal bodies, we are bound as slaves to follow the paradigm of the Suffering Servant. So Christ’s commandments (which, not surprisingly, echo the Torah’s precepts) serve as the Master’s instructions to His servants. But He has not commanded us to do anything He wasn’t prepared to do Himself.
I am in good company when I say that I’m perfectly happy being a servant of Christ. I only wish I could do a better job of it. But He made it clear that, even though servanthood to the Master is the right and proper position for a disciple to assume, it is not our final, eternal condition. He sees us, with the eyes of eternity, not as slaves, but as friends of God, beloved adopted children, and co-heirs with Christ. “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:11-17)
I’ll close with a related thought from Paul. Remember how he noted that an heir, as long as he is a child, is a virtual servant, under the control of tutors and guardians? In his famous treatise on “love,” he speaks of growing up, of overcoming the limitations of childhood. In light of Christ’s words, the same might be said of bondservants: “When I was a [servant], I spoke as a [servant], I understood as a [servant], I thought as a [servant]; but when I became a [free] man, I put away [servants’] things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:11-13)
(First published 2019)