Most of us who have been around the “Hebrew Roots movement” for very long , or who may refer to ourselves as some variant of “Torah-observant believers”, have heard a sordid collection of arguments all too often trotted out to demonstrate our folly. Those who long to show us that all such “Old” stuff in the Bible has been “done away with” – or “nailed to the cross” — have several favorite examples of Scriptures to “wrest” out of context in order to claim that such a “God” was not only wrong, but Politically Incorrect. Among the clear favorites of the scoffers is what they call His approval of “slavery”.
After all, in our enlightened, egalitarian, “modern” world, society has now clearly “evolved” FAR beyond whatever some ancient Writings claim that an allegedly “angry”, “jealous”, and — horror of horrors — “patriarchal” YHVH may have once said. And, of course, if He was wrong about such important things as supporting slavery, and the presumed “inferiority” of women by daring to create us “male and female”, with bodies suited to fulfill the roles He designed us for as well…why would ANYONE believe Him? The logical conclusion is to wonder just how much of His “Law” is left which DOES still apply?
So, it is important that we be able to debunk — roundly, unequivocally, and directly from Scripture — any and all such claims.
And since marriage and sexuality is easily one of the most important, and most-discussed, relationships in all of Scripture (and I won’t claim to be able to distill all of His teachings on the topics into a single short article!) we’ll start with the “easy” one – slavery. And I’ll start with an observation, as well…that those who most vehemently seem to REJECT His “teaching and instruction” somehow seem to be the most hopelessly ‘enslaved’ – and to be equally ignorant of their own condition! Perhaps that is why the advice to “let those who falsely believe they are free rattle their chains” so resonates in post-Biblical Amerika. After all, if we understand that those whom He makes free are “free indeed” (Yahuchanon 8:36), then what, conversely, about those who deny Him entirely?
Take a look at Exodus 21. Isn’t it just a bit remarkable that immediately after delivering His people from brutal bondage in Mitzraim (“Egypt”, under Pharoah) and then giving them the Ten Words or Commandments (which outline just how these folks are to live and relate to Him and one another in that new freedom) that virtually the next topic He selects concerns what it means to be a “slave”?
Observe a couple of very interesting things about the section. When a “master” gives his servant a wife, and the servant eventually leaves, the wife and any subsequent children belong to the master! (v. 21:3-4) Don’t think for a minute that Caesar (and his servants in “Child Protective Services”) fail to understand that meaning, even if those who take that master’s “marriage license” fail to understand it!
Scripture also contains many other verses which outline treatment of “servants”, and specify various “do’s” and “dont’s”. Those ordinances show clearly how YHVH’s instruction concerning servants (who were often indentured because of trespass, negligence, or debt) very much differs from the cruel slavery of the pagan cultures which surrounded them.
But the next verses in Exodus 21 are perhaps even more telling, given that so many people now often unwittingly serve “another master” — which Yahushua cautioned against. A servant may say, “I love my master, my wife, my children“, and thus “I will NOT go out free,” so a process is detailed by which that master “shall bore his ear through with an awl” into the doorpost of the house, “and he shall serve him forever.” (I suspect that many men who today want to wear an earring probably don’t understand the symbolism of that particular age-old “tradition”!)
Before I gave much thought or study to the instruction of the Torah, I assumed that verses five and six simply referred to a “master” was not unkind, and thus treated his ‘slaves’ well. But a good friend, who happens to be a well-known Orthodox rabbi, once told me of an ancient midrash on the subject, which I found fascinating: No, such a man is NOT a “good master” at all, but a FAILURE! Why?
Because he had FAILED to teach that individual how to live as a free man!
The whole point of teaching a man how to be a servant was to prepare him not for slavery, but to know how to live according to Torah; how to be a head of his own house, a leader, and a contributor to his community.
I see it now in a broader sense still. Why does our Savior say that we must learn to serve before we can learn to be “kings and priests” for Him? There is in fact a TREMENDOUS difference between “slavery” and what it means to be a “bondservant to the Most High” — as most of the apostles understood clearly! (Check out not only Shaul’s claims from the first line of the letters to Titus and the Romans, but the introductions from II Kefa [Peter], Yakov [James], Yahudah [Jude], and Yahuchanan in Revelation!) Whether the metaphor is to learn how to be a good Bride to Him, or a subject of the One True King, or a bondservant of the Most High, the message is still that we must LEARN what it means to walk in obedience…or else live as slaves. Whether modern slaves understand Shaul/Paul’s teachings or not, that is ultimately what it means to be in “bondage to sin”, or rebellion to Him.
The real irony, and the only most “difficult” part of the teaching, if you will, is that to be “free indeed” we must first become servants. Because the only way we can really learn how to walk in true freedom is by surrendering, voluntarily, in obedience to Him.
The key issue is choice, but a deception exists even on that score. The real choice is not merely between “freedom” and “slavery”, but between “bondservice” to Him, and “slavery” to the world. That choice is determined by WHICH master we will choose to serve: either YHVH, or the ‘prince of this world’. And while being only “self-serving” may seem like an alternative, it ultimately defaults to the latter.
America’s Founders, and those who came before them, understood the concept well. William Penn said that those “who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants”. Yahushua [Joshua] defines the issue in verse 24:15 of the Book bearing his name, when he says, “Choose this day Whom you will serve“, and informs us of the choice for “me and my house“. The Savior emphasized that very point when He responded to Satan’s offer of power over all this world by quoting that, ” ‘You shall worship YHVH your Elohim, and Him only you shall serve.'” (Luke 4, Matthew 4)
There really is ONLY one true Master Whom we should serve – and the choice is ours to make. We should be able to explain to those who do not understand why our choice of obedience to Him and His “teaching and instruction” (torah, of course, in the Hebrew) is not “legalism”, or much less bondage, but simply demonstrates that we understand what He (and the apostoles as well!) were teaching us to proclaim: that “I love my Master,” and desire to “serve Him forever”.
That is what John 14:15 is all about as well: