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Exodus and Slavery

Exodus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Big Idea

Tension: How does Exodus set the tone for slavery in the Bible?
Resolution: By mitigating it, and providing the means for slavery to be worked out of our system.
Exegetical Idea: Exodus mitigates slavery and provides the means for slavery to be worked out of society.
Theological Idea: God reserves absolute sovereignty over every human being for himself, yet Christ became a servant to purchase us from our slavery. Therefore, Christ’s followers will on the one hand submit to their masters, and on the other free their slaves.
Homiletical Idea: Because Christ has become a slave so we might be free, Christians seek to seek the freedom of others.


Introduction: Doesn’t the Bible support slavery?
Understanding that God is at once, the only master we have, and on the other, frees his people in salvation. (Lev 25:55)
Exodus 21 on Slavery
Debt Slavery (Ex 21:2-6)
Slaves are to be released every seven years.
The reason this is only for Hebrews is because Hebrews celebrated the Sabbath. This was a profoundly religious celebration. For non-believers, this would have been imposing a religious observance on them. But doesn’t it seem mean to give some people freedom just for believing? We can’t have the benefits of belief without the responsibilities.
Nothing stopped these slaves from converting. In which case, they would be able to be freed on the seventh year. We know this actually happened with Jewish slave owners in the Roman era, and often these slaves were adopted into the Jewish families.
If the slave-owner procures a wife for the slave, the obligations of the wife to the owner (i.e., her debt, other relationships) do not cease. That being said, she would be released on the seventh year of her service just like everyone else is released on their seventh year of service.
A slave can choose to remain a servant in his masters’ house if he so desires. However, there is evidence that servants who took on this, could be freed if they so desired. So even this was not necessarily permanent.
Slavery was voluntary. It meant a voluntary servitude for a limited amount of time.
Slavery and Marriage - slavery for the purpose of marriage. (Ex 21:7-11)
All marriages in the ancient Jewish culture were solidified with a so-called Bride-price where the groom or his family paid an agreed upon sum to the family of the bride. For many reasons, the groom or his family might be said to give an outsized sum, in which case the family of the bride is effectively selling her to them.
If the man or his son changes their mind, then essentially he loses his rights to the woman and the bride-price is to be paid back.
If this bride is to be a second or third wife (another cultural practice that God does not condone), then she is to retain the same rights as the other wife.
Slavery and Slaves’ Agency
Stealing slaves and forcing them into submission is worthy of the death penalty. (Ex 21:16) It is worth nothing that this practice is exactly what North American slave practice was basically built on.
Slaves could not be murdered without penalty (Ex 21:20-21).
Slave beating was also out of the bounds of Biblical law (Ex 21:26-27). If this happens, the slave was to go immediately free.
What we see then is two things:
God is Lord of all, but his lordship is his freedom.
Israelites were to be agents of freedom, not of slavery.
Slaves could not be forced into slavery against their will. This in itself is an abolition of slavery.
The New Testament
The Gospel of Christ is what all of this was pointing towards the whole time.
Christ became a slave so we might become free. (1 Peter 2:18-25; Philippians 2:5-11). God was at once both the master and the slave.
How did this effect actual slaves and slave holders? Paul encouraged slaves to seek their freedom so they could be subject only to the Lord. (1 Cor 7:21-24)
Slave owners, however, were required to recognize that they were themselves slaves, slaves to God. The logic of this then, is that they would belong wholly, really and truly, to God and to God alone, and that they would give to their Lord their own servants and slaves.
God’s means for abolishing slavery then, was to give people an identity which no man could ever take away, no man could ever degrade, no man could ever abolish, and no man could ever give. To be in Christ means that no matter what man may do to me, he can kidnap me selll me to slaveyr, he can kill me, he can force me to clean teh scum out between the tiles, I am Christ’s and he is mine. And nobody can take that from me.
But it is also to change me from the inside out. Because, if Christ freed me, then shouldn’t I want to free others? If Christ is my lord, and he freed me, shouldn’t I free my slaves?
Slavery from the Roman Empire to the Present
At the end of the Roman Empire, slavery more or less died out. That is incredible, given that the Greek and Roman Empires were basically run on slaves. But as more and more people became Christians, and the West became Christianized, slavery died out.
Slavery was reintroduced to Europe by Muslim slave traders, who would go up and down the coasts of Europe and raid and take slaves away into captivity. They would take people from Eastern Europe and sell them in Africa. In the 1400’s as many as a million Europeans were kidnapped by Muslim slave traders and sold into slavery.
When the Europeans began to make colonies around the world, they first utilized a system much like the Hebrew Old Testament of Indentured servitude.
But quickly, they evolved to employ a form of forced slavery in the Americas, the kind of which would have gotten them killed in ancient Israel.
Even as slaves became Christians, European slave owners actually cut out parts of the Bible to force slavery.
In both Europe and America, the most influential and most important Abolitionists were Evangelical, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching, Jesus-loving Christians. In the UK, parliamentarians like William Wilberforce, in the US, politicians like Salmon Chase (the Secretary of the Treasury for Abraham Lincoln).
If there were no Christianity, then slavery would be the norm across the face of the planet, much as it was prior to Christianity.
Today slavery is growing in many parts of the world. Sex slavery and traffic is the most prominent in Europe and the US. In other parts of the world, particularly India, wage slavery of past ancestors is used to enforce slavery. In America, a growing and potential form of slavery is going to be essentially wage slavery. People are going to be forced to take out loans or charge amounts on Credit Cards that they have no hope of repaying, and will basically be enslaved to keeping those slaves.
How then should Christians live?
We should seek to have Jesus be our only Lord.
We should seek to be agents of freedom.
Why didn’t Christian slaveowners recognize this? Because they actively suppressed the Biblical witness. We should all be wary to see that we are reading the Bible for what it says, not for what we want it to say. And we should be open to being transformed by it.
We should know that the only hope for people to have true freedom is through the preaching of the gospel of Christ. No political program, no rhetoric, no protest march, nothing else can change a calloused, hardened slave owner into an affectionate, compassionate, Jesus lover. And nothing else can give a desperate slave a glimmer of hope than the gospel of Christ.
Conclusion: Philemon (End with Philemon 15-16)
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