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

We Bring Nothing to the Table

If there’s a character quality that binds us all together, I think it’s this: We want to bring something to the table. Something of importance or necessity. Something we can be known for. Whether it falls in the category of showmanship or salesmanship we want to be good at something. To be a team member the team can’t live without. Or the missing piece to a puzzle.


Devotional Scripture: Exodus 20:22-26
Key Verse: “An altar of earth you shall make for me…If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.” Exodus 20:24-25


We may squawk about the necessity of alone time (at least I do) but deep down it feels good to be needed. In the work place or the home place or the places we favor in between, it’s nice to think we provide (at least in some small manner) a benefit helpful to someone else. A skill, a strength, a shoulder, some smarts, a home cooked meal for a new mama, or at the very least some level headed common sense we’d be happy to share if the world would just listen.

And if none of that is needed, then excuse me while I go eat a tub of ice cream and head back to bed. Because disappointment will abound.

Perhaps that’s why it’s hard for some to accept Christianity. Because truth be told when it comes to salvation, we bring nothing to the table. No works in and of themselves are good enough to get me into heaven. There’s no quota I can fill. No talents or abilities that can help. No amount of good I can accomplish to get me on the right side of eternity.

Because plain and simple, I’m a sinner. We all are. Imperfections and short comings thrive in each one of us. (Sorry for the bad news.) So apart from the righteousness of Christ placed in the account of a believer, we’ve got nothing. “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:22b-24).

To try and justify ourselves apart from Christ is like offering God a pile of menstrual rags and asking, “Here is this good enough?” Disgusting right? But that’s what scripture says our best efforts amount to (Isaiah 64:6).

Now to be clear, I’m not talking about the works we do in Christ. God finds those beautiful. Spirit rendered fruit is not rags. It’s a tapestry God himself is weaving. One that will line the walls of heaven for all eternity.

No, what I’m talking about is the stuff we do beforehand. The things we try and do to prove our worth to God prior to coming to Christ. And every time we come up short.

Look what God says to the Israelites just before entering the Promised Land. “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people” (Deut. 9:6). It wasn’t because of them, it was because of Him. God did it all. They brought nothing to the table.

Which brings us to our text today. Directly after the Ten Commandments God gives instructions concerning altars. The main point being this: Any altar they built was to either be of dirt or unhewn stone. Meaning no tools were to be used on the altar. No work of man was to be added to the altar of sacrifice.

But why? That’s the question we want to search out. Why was it so important for no chisel to be used? Because the altar pictured the cross, upon which the Lamb of God, would give His life. And to chisel on the altar was to bring works to the cross. And man can add nothing to the cross. It was all Jesus. It was all God.

It’s God who chooses us.

“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4).

It’s God who draws us.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

It’s God who nails our sin to the cross.

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2: 13-14).

It’s He who grants us repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25). It’s He who gives us life (Eph. 2:4-5). “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself” (2 Cor. 5:18).

To think we’re responsible for any of it is to bring tools to the altar. But every bit of salvation is the powerful working of God (Col. 2:12). From the drawing to the choosing to the saving to the sealing.

Then on the last day it’s Christ who will raise us up (John 6:40). It’s Christ who will and already has declared the victory (Col. 2:15). We’ve got no reason to boast, but every reason to bow. We have done nothing; He has done everything.

In addition, there could be no steps up to the altar as the pagan shrines often had. Because there could be no going up to God, it is God that would come to us. Redeeming every sinner willing to recognize His ability to do so.

Truly, to realize I bring nothing to the table, yet understand I now belong there, is to sit in the depths of God’s amazing grace.

Think of it this way, the instructions for the dirt or unhewn altar of stone are given on the heels of the Ten Commandments because God knew they would break every one of his rules. So out of mercy God wasted no time in telling them how to construct an altar for when they did. An altar with rough, jagged, perhaps awkward, sometimes difficult to handle, unhewn stone. Because neither they, nor we, can bring anything to the table of salvation. It’s God who does the work at the altar and God who works in our life.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Do you see salvation as something you’ve earned or something you’ve been given? How should the depths of God’s grace effect our day to day living?

How the Bitter Things Become Sweet

One of the biggest misunderstandings of the Christian walk is that life will be easy. Saved by the blood of Christ, it feels like we should also be saved from the trials of this life. After all, we’re God’s children. Doesn’t that mean something?


Devotional Scripture: Exodus 15:22-27
Key Verse: “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” Isaiah 41:17


Yes, oh yes, it means my God is for me and no longer against me. It means I have a hope and a future. It means I have an advocate in Heaven and every spiritual blessing. It means I am never alone. It means I am indwelt by His spirit. Able to please my Father. Able to store up treasure in heaven. Able to spend forever with my Savior.

But it does not mean I get an address on Easy Street. That my friend is a lie of the devil. Meant to sabotage the trust we’ve placed in Jesus. (I think our brothers and sisters in Florida and Texas and Montana and Idaho and California and Washington and Oregon would agree. Phew, did I miss anyone?)

Three days into the journey (post Red Sea) it wasn’t Easy Street for the Israelites either. With their tongues sticking to the roof of their mouths, and not a drop of water left in the can (at least that’s how I’m imagining it), they at last spot water up ahead. Oh thank goodness! But when they got to it, they couldn’t drink even the smallest amount, for it was bitter.

Now I’ll be honest, I’ve never been three days in a hot, dry desert with no water. I’m guessing thirsty at that point is an understatement. (Especially considering the giant water bottles we lug around these days. Gotta get in our H2O.) So I get it – they had a problem. Our bodies can only go so long without water.

But to their discredit, just 72 hours before they had witnessed God’s authority over water. (The parting of the Red Sea.) So when they got to Marah (which means bitterness by the way), and the water was bad, they should have been like, “No problem! Our God’s got this!” (Can you imagine how that would have pleased the LORD?) Yet instead, they grumbled against Moses. Or rather against God, since He is the one who led them there.

Dumbfounded at their predicament the Israelites asked Moses, “What shall we drink?” (It sounds so casual but I don’t think they were nice about it.) To which Moses, unsure, went to God. Who showed him a log (or tree) that he could throw into the water to make it sweet.

Right, a log. Sure.

But oh the significance of that log! I can think of another log (or tree) that’s sweetened my life. Can you?  1 Peter 2:24 states, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” Why? So we could enjoy the sweetness of eternal life, instead of the bitterness of death.

Do you see the comparison?

In this life, we’re going to face bitter, hard things. There’s just no way around it. Unimaginable things. Things that don’t seem fair. Things we’re going to question and shake our heads at. And it’s only Jesus who can make it sweet. Because of his death, burial, and resurrection, on the tree, we can still celebrate.

Nothing can sweeten the bitterness of life like Jesus can. He alone can work things together for our good and His glory. Taking what’s messy and making it shine with brilliance and purpose. Using the worst of situations to draw us into the sweet surrender of His presence.

The cup He offers is delightful. It’s not wrath, it’s rest. In Christ, the things that are naturally bitter in this world become sweet to us who seek life in him. Who patiently endure. Who share in his sufferings, but also share in his victory. “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

Take Paul and Silas for example. Beaten with rods and placed in prison, they sang songs of praise to God. The cross (or tree for that matter) sweetening what should have been bitter waters.

But what about when it’s not just bitter waters I’m wading through, but the driest of deserts? What about then? When my marriage is shriveled up. When my patience is dried up. When my job is messed up.

Just turn to Jesus my friend, he’s waiting to provide.

Isaiah 41:17-18 says, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”

Pools of water! Overflowing fountains! In the driest of places. It’s God who is able. Then look what comes next in that passage: “I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together” (Is. 41:19).

Not only water, but God will give shade in the desert! A place to sit and cool thyself. A place to rest and enjoy.

Consequently, look what came next for the Israelites: “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water” (Ex. 15:27). Shade! After Marah, came Elim. Water and shade in the desert. Refreshment for the weariest of souls.

Our God is so kind.

In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Not just in eternity, but now, in the sweetness of His presence. In diligent obedience, there is blessing to be had.

In addition, it wasn’t just drinkable water God offered the Israelites. But sweet water. He made that which had been bitter taste good.

So how about it? Are you thirsty? Are you worn out? Are there bitter waters to wade through? Or dry deserts to walk through? Come, taste, and see, that the LORD is good my friend! “Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8).

Or as Israel might have said that day…

Blessed is the soul who holds on to Jesus until even the bitter things become sweet.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Where do you seek for satisfaction? In Jesus or the things of this world?
How have you experienced the sweetness of His presence?
When has Jesus made even the bitter things sweet for you?

Subscribe Today
And never miss another Deeper Devo. Plus, you'll receive a free print-at-home family devotional/coloring book. What could be better? (Don't answer that.)
We respect your privacy.