“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing.” Exodus 21:2
When you look at scripture you find that there appear to be some things permitted, according to the laws given by God to Moses for the nation of Israel, that our modern sensibilities and codes of morality have determined to be wrong. The concept, and institution, of slavery is one of them.
In our focus text we see stipulations given for the management of Hebrew servants. In this instance there are some differences between the institution of slavery God is talking about and the institution of slavery we’re familiar with.
The system of slavery practiced by the Jewish people was to be one where the relationship between master and servant was to be more like that of a family member. The master was responsible for providing for the practical needs of clothing, food and shelter for the servant and in turn the servant was responsible to work for the master in whatever way was require of him. This was, in reality, not much different from what was expected of any wife, son, or daughter that was a member of the household. The difference being that since the servant was only there temporarily, male servants were released every seventh year, he had no right to inherit.
Some will say, “Ok, I can see that the situation’s all right for the men, it’s not much different that being an indentured servant, which while being distasteful, is still not necessarily immoral. However, it’s different for the women. They don’t get released every seventh year. And they don’t seem to have any choice as to whether they marry or not.”
Well friends, women never had much choice in their lives, even the choice whom, or whether or not, they would marry. The patriarch of the family had that right and responsibility and when a woman was sold to be a servant she, or her family, sold her to become a member of another household. She became that household’s dependent and the patriarch of that household had the responsibility of her care. The only difference was that because she was not a daughter her master, or one of his sons, could marry her.
It appears to me that God’s instructions were put in place to ensure that servants were treated by their masters as if they were members of the family. How well that turned out was entirely dependent on the leadership dynamics present within the family.
Many of us come to God as servants. We need him and we obligate ourselves to serve him according to his laws and rules. We may even after a time decide that we love God and the life he provides for us and voluntarily choose to forever be a part of his household, like the bond slave did with his master. Romans chapter eight, verses twelve through seventeen, tells us that God’s desire isn’t that we should live in his house as slaves laboring under his laws. He wants us to be his adopted sons and daughters serving him not because of obligation but for the same reason he serves us every single day. Because we’re family and he loves us.