God’s Take On Slavery, It Just Might Change Your Take On God

Slavery is wrong. Let’s just start with that. To force someone routinely against their own will – not OK. Personally, when I think of slavery, I think of the sex trafficking epidemic and I want to spit in someone’s face. (Monsters.) (I will never understand.) But maybe you think of the enslavement of blacks in the pre-Civil War days. Or an experience in your own home that’s left scars – lasting bruises too painful to talk about right now. (I know it doesn’t cut it, but I’m sorry. I wish I could give you a hug.)


Devotional Scripture: Exodus 21:1-11
Key Verse: “But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.” Exodus 21:5-6


That being said, to turn the page after resigning ourselves to obey the Ten Commandments and see the title “Laws About Slaves” at the beginning of Exodus 21, well, it feels a little traitorous. Um, excuse me but, how could He? Is the LORD advocating slavery?

I know, I agree, it doesn’t feel right. But it’s not what the average passerby thinks. It’s actually quite beautiful, so let’s not be the average passerby.

The rules or judgments listed in these first eleven verses are for regulating what was already there. Slavery, or in this case maybe we should say indentured servitude, was a part of life. They knew it well. And actually, many depended on it. To disallow it would have been devastating to the poor community and/or those who found themselves in financially dire times.

Note in verse two it says, “When you buy a Hebrew slave.” (Emphasis mine.) In other words, when a fellow brother comes to you and asks if he can work for you in exchange for room, board, and wages, take him in if you are able. Let him serve you for six years, but in the seventh set him free (v. 3). (Keeping in mind their own redemption from Egypt.) But don’t just send him away empty handed. Provide him with any and every provision he needs for a fresh start (Deut. 15:12-18).

“If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him” (v. 3). However, if his master gave him a wife and she bore him sons and daughters then the wife and children belong to the master.

I know, you’re struggling with that one. I did too. A husband and wife should not have to separate. But they didn’t have to… “If the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever” (v. 5-6). (The ear is symbolic of the servant hearing and obeying every word of the master.)

The goal was for the master to treat his hired servants so well, they never wanted to leave. Can you imagine a society wherein servants decided to stay with their masters because life just couldn’t get any better? That’s the kind of slavery God was advocating. The kind that treated people as people. The kind that gave them second chances and warm beds at night and food on the table. The kind that provided comradery instead of condemnation.

It’s what God does for us. Plucking us from the grip of death unto life and provisions and peace and relationship. Offering us mercy and grace in exchange for a life of service unto He who is the most kind and loving master there is.

But this whole set up isn’t primarily to be a picture of us as the servant, but actually a picture of Christ. (Are you sitting down? This might blow your socks off.) Do you know what Isaiah 42 describes Christ as? A servant. (Of all the things, who would have guessed a servant?)

Philippians 2:5b-6 says, “Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.”

Christ lived every minute of his time on earth in perfect obedience to the Father. He served his time and could have gone free. But out of love for his people, his church, his bride, all the precious souls the Father had given him (John 6:39), Christ went to the doorpost (the cross) and didn’t just have his ear pierced, but his entire body, that he might stay with his bride forever.

David said in Psalm 40:6 “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear.” Which can also be translated “ears you have dug for me.” When the master bore the servants ear through with an awl he was making a hole or opening in the ear.

This same verse is then applied to Christ in Hebrews 10 but instead of saying “open ear” it says, “but a body have you prepared for me.” In full surrender and obedience Christ’s body was opened for us. Holes in his wrists and side, holes that Thomas touched (John 21:27).

All so he could stay with his bride.

Now as we read further in the passage there are a still a few question marks to work through. Like the more stringent laws for women, who were not to be set free every seventh year as the men were (Ex. 21:7). I know it sounds wrong, but we have to keep in mind women had little to no rights in society at that time. So to set a girl free, was not to offer her freedom but more likely cold, hungry nights on the street. With no one to care for her or shelter her or keep her safe

God was not being commandeering towards women, but compassionate. He wanted his girls cared for! Furthermore, the hope of a father who sold his daughter to a man was that eventually the wealthy man might marry or give her as a wife to his son, thus improving her status and giving her the rights of a wealthy land owners daughter.

Much as God, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, gave us to His son, improving our status and granting us the rights of an heir. (Did you know you are the daughter of a wealthy land owner now?)

My friend, verse 16 is clear, it’s not slavery God is advocating here, but service and respect and providing for one’s neighbors. But most of all God is advocating love, knowing one day, His own Son would graciously and willingly bore his body through.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
What does the servant boring his ear through with an awl picture in this passage?
Have you “bore your ear” by promising to faithfully serve the LORD? Does your life reflect such a commitment?
How is God and good and loving master?

awl to bore a slave