“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:23-25).
The people of Israel cried out to be rescued from slavery, and God knew. He was not happy. In the coming chapters, notice God intends to rescue His people peacefully, but when Pharaoh indefatigably refuses, God takes them by force. God knew it would require force (3:19), but He still strove for peace. It is no wonder that African American slaves closely identified with the Hebrew slaves and why they called Harriet Tubman “Moses.” Indeed, force was required to ensure the freedom of my ancestors as well.
Believe it or not, there are certain Christians, such as Christian Nationalists, who believe it’s perfectly okay for people—even Christians—to own slaves as property. Their reasoning is simply because God’s Law allowed the Jews to own slaves (especially Leviticus 25) and because the New Testament also doesn’t seem to condemn slavery either (e.g., Ephesians 6:5-9). These so-called Christians fail to realise a couple things:
- The Law was written to Jews, not Christians, and therefore does not apply to us.
- Even if these laws applied to Christians, they do not permit slavery as a basic human right. Rather, much like Moses permitted divorce to deal with their weakness and sin, so the laws of slavery were given to deal with their weakness and sin.
- In the New Testament period, it was not that easy to set your slaves free. If a slaveowner freed their slave, they would still legally be a slave under Roman law. In other words, it was not legal for just anyone to set their slaves free. Rome had also already undergone three slave rebellions in their history. The First Servile War was in 134-132 B.C., the Second Servile War in 104-100 B.C., and the Third Servile War in 73-71 B.C. Therefore, rather than start another slave rebellion that was certain to fail like its predecessors, St. Paul commanded the masters to treat their slaves not like slaves but as Christians (Ephesians 6:5-9) and, in rare cases if they were able, to free their Christian slaves (Philemon). Paul essentially commanded Christian slaveowners to treat their slaves as free people since it was increasingly difficult to navigate legal emancipation, which was in and of itself completely antithetical to Roman law and culture.
But I digress. God’s aversion for slavery is seen most clearly, I believe, in these verses of Exodus. His people cried out “for rescue from slavery.” God hears their cries, and He immediately acts to save them. It is not God’s will that His people be slaves. After He delivers His people and He starts teaching them how to live as His holy people, multiple times throughout the rest of the Old Testament God will remind them not to worship other gods because He delivered them from slavery out of Egypt. It is also not God’s original design that His people own slaves, despite the laws of the Old Testament, just as divorce is not His original design for marriage but He permits it to deal with their weakness and sin.
Also, unlike divorce and the Ten Commandments, Jesus does not teach these slave laws. We keep the Ten Commandments because Jesus teaches each one of them, and we condemn divorce because Jesus condemns divorce but also permit it in extreme cases because Jesus does the same. But we do not and should not have slaves because Jesus does not affirm such laws. Neither do the apostles, for that matter. Rather, they commanded Christians to treat their slaves as free people as a testimony to the freedom of Christ in the Gospel.
Therefore, let us not utilise the Scriptures where they do not apply to justify our self-serving desires to place an unnecessary yoke upon human beings created in God’s image. Let us, rather, as free men and women, love all people as free, first those who are free in Christ; but especially those whom the devil has enslaved, let us treat them as free people so that the love and freedom of Christ in the Gospel may be made known.
Theology Terms Used
- Christian Nationalism: the belief that America should be governed by laws that reflect the views of Christianity in both the political and civil realms. Some of these can be good, such as making divorce (hopefully in some case rather than all), same-sex “marriage,” pedophilia, pornography, and other things illegal. Others can be bad, such as making slavery illegal and severe immigration services due to misconstrued interpretations of the Scriptures.