God’s Word for Thursday, August 3

Good afternoon from Liverpool First! Our reading for this Thursday, August 3, 2017 is Exodus 21 – 23.

We no longer justify slavery in this country or by the theology of the church, however slavery continues to exist. We can easily identify sex slavery and human trafficking we hear of frequently in the news but slavery also includes indentured servitude and can we viewed as employment or economic bondage and even financial indebtedness. Slavery is a given and shall always exist wherever other human beings exercise power over others. I broaden our definition of slavery so we can understand more fully the circumstance of scripture.

While there was slavery as we often think of that imposed upon African Americans and other less prominent examples in Biblical history there were more prominent other forms of servitude. People might indenture themselves in relief of indebtedness or what we might refer as bankruptcy, others as a means of survival and making a living. Much servitude was voluntary and not forced. The teachings following the delivery of the Ten Commandments addressed this and other social and moral concerns.

If one were to purchase a servant who was a member of the Hebrew family, they could only be indentured for six years; on the seventh year they would go free. The situation implies by this servitude comes as a result of purchasing another financial indebtedness. The servant was to work out their debt to their employer. Limiting the term of the indebtedness helped guide the person securing a servant gauge how much debt they themselves wanted to incur. If the services and skill of the servant were valuable one might be willing to incur the debt for the six years.

A servant may make his service a lifelong career. Note this was voluntary. There are other conditions guiding the moral treatment of servants and though we might find some to be archaic they served a good purpose of creating order and protecting the rights of both those who secured servants and those who served.

The command against murder needed qualification as well. When is murder really murder? Is there any difference between personal negligence that results in the death of another compared to the intentional and planned killing of another? Obviously there was and still remains so to this day.  Again as we read some of these statutes of Exodus 21 – 23 some will offend our sensitivities and conscience, but also acknowledge the difference of our cultures from that of the day these were defined. We are not in the same place and we should acknowledge the concern for justice represented in each of these culturally dictated laws.

The civil laws covered concerns of protecting property rights and establishing consistent formulas for sentencing and assessing penalties.  This is and remains today a concern regarding social justice. The codes also pertained to sexual ethics, even when sex was consensual. The alien in the midst of Jewish culture was not to be mistreated. Does this not have implication for our situation and concern regarding immigration policy? The vulnerable of the society were protected under law from abuse and neglect, and a policy was established concerning personal lending of money. Jesus referred to this policy in Luke 6. 34-35 when teaching about love for one’s enemies.

We discuss much about providing a safety net for the impoverished, how far it extends and what policies we should adopt to prevent entitlement or enslavement of people to a system. The civil code provided for generosity and assistance to those in need when mandating a Sabbath rest for the land when the poor could harvest freely. Note also the poor had to gather or work for the benefit they received. How do provide for the needs of those who are impoverished while protecting human dignity and providing opportunity for self-sufficiency? Some things to think about!

At the center of these civil regulations was the honoring of God. The worship of God should be for the Christian the foundation of our decisions for living. Exodus 23 establishes three annual festivals – the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast of the first harvest, and the feast of the last harvest. God was to be acknowledged as the Provider and Sustainer of our lives. It is from gratitude to God that our social concern for justice is to be born.

Finally, God mentions providing a special angel that will prepare the way for their future which includes the fulfillment of God’s promise to make them into a nation and providing them with a home. Who is this angel? Was this Moses? Angels often appear as human instruments. Could the angel be simply a messenger of God to watch over God’s people? If this is so, does the church have a guardian angel? Or is the angel a reference to Jesus who would provide the way to our true home and Promised Land with God?

Many scholars have proposed the “angel of the Lord” referred to many times in the Old Testament is none other than the pre-existent Second Person of the Trinity who became human in Jesus. Remember how John opens his gospel declaring that is was Jesus who was the Word that was present at the dawn of creation. Whatever the angel is we should be comforted that God is present with his people throughout history and will fulfill his purposes for us.