All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Based on Exodus 21

In ancient times slavery was a common practice. One would usually be enslaved because of war or economic misfortune, and slaves were generally treated as possessions, rather than human beings. They were required to perform hard labor, and often received unmerciful beatings. Slaves had very few social privileges—and even fewer rights. So it is very significant that the first of God’s judgments or ordinances deals with the issue of slavery (see Exodus 21:1–6). Without a doubt, this indicates that slavery greatly violates the principles of the Ten Commandments in respect to human relationships, because it diminishes the dignity of man, who was made in the image and likeness of God.

Slave Rights

While God does not totally abolish slavery at this time, in His great mercy, He takes them as they are and gently leads them to a loftier ideal.

Through His ordinances, God sets limits on slavery by heavily regulating it. Under His Law, Hebrew slaves receive much more dignity and protection; and after six years of service, they even gain their freedom!

A Hebrew slave is to be called “brother” by his master (Deuteronomy 15:12), and when a slave is freed, he must be given provisions from his master’s flock, threshing floor, and winepress. This is to remind the Israelites that they were all slaves in the land of Egypt when the Lord redeemed them and supplied their needs (Deuteronomy 15:12–15).

The Bondservant

Since Hebrew slaves are to be treated well by their masters, it is not unusual for a significant bond to develop between them. Often, they choose continued servitude over freedom.

This decision is not built on fear or intellectual ascent, but upon the condition and attitude of the heart. If they love their master sufficiently, and want to stay with him permanently, God makes provision for them to become permanent bondservants (Exodus 21:5).

Attached to a Household

If a freed slave choses to stay on, the master must take him before the judges (in Hebrew, literally, “unto God”). The matter is so serious that the judges stand in the place of God as legal witnesses of his change of status from a temporary slave to a permanent one.

Next, there is a public ceremony at the master’s house. Taking an awl (a small pointed instrument used for making a hole in leather or wood), the master pierces through the slave’s earlobe into the doorpost of the house. In their literal thinking, this attaches the slave to the house and makes him a permanent inmate of the household.

His pierced ear testifies of a changed heart, and this peculiar sign of slavery becomes a badge of deep love for his master and his family.

Permanent Loving Service

Paul, Timothy, James, Peter, and Jude are all called bondservants of Jesus Christ in the New King James Version of the New Testament (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1). These prominent individuals are all drawing on the ancient symbolism of the bondservant.

New Testament writers make this bondservant concept into a beautiful symbol of a permanent, loving servant of Jesus Christ. He has redeemed them from sin, and now they choose to be forever bound to Him in grateful service.

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