The notion of slavery immediately redlines our emotions. It conjures up pictures of slave traders physically taking people captive, subjecting them to inhuman treatment and selling them as property. The Bible is clear - trafficking in human beings is sin (see 1 Timothy 1:10 and Revelation 18:11-13).
Slavery in the Old Testament is different than what we picture. It is driven by economic reasons. They do not have the sophisticated bankruptcy laws that we have today. If a person was faced with overwhelming debt, he could sell himself into slavery in order to pay his outstanding debts. These slaves were generally paid for their work and able to save enough money to buy their freedom. They were often entrusted with large amounts of money and responsibility (see Matt. 25:15). To ensure that they were not abused, God declares this an open-ended relationship, in which the slave is given his freedom after six years.
While this still sounds odd to our modern ears, it was a helpful act. A destitute person was guaranteed food, shelter and income (see Genesis 47:23-25). A curious result of this arrangement was that some found the security and blessing of their master so beneficial that they will chose to willingly remain a slave in his service (a bondservant). Exodus 21:5-6 prescribes the way this decision was to be made public.
Many of the New Testament authors, including Paul, Peter, James and Jude all refer to themselves as bondservants of Jesus. This idea is drawn from the bondservants described here in Exodus. They all understood that Jesus had forgiven the immense debt of their sin. As a result, they willingly submitted their lives to His service. This is what it means to be a Christian. God has forgiven your debt, provided for you, welcomed you into His family, and secured your future. In return, you voluntarily choose to live your life to serve Him.
As Christians, we no longer seek our pleasure or the praise of men. Instead we seek to please Jesus, knowing how much He has already given for us and trusting that He has only the best planned in the future.
1. Choose one: Widow, orphan, or a poor person. How could the church take responsibility for the special needs of that person? How could the church align its social programs more with these priorities for “holy” living?
2. Why tell Israel that God is sending his angel to prepare their way? How should this have made them feel about entering the land? (Exodus 23:20-30)
3. How else does God ensure that Israel will reach their goal? What do health and fertility have to do with that (vs. 25, 26, 30)?
4. What conditions or roadblocks are put on them? How would such forced delays and detours be received? What do verses 29-30 teach you about God’s work in your life?