The Mosaic Law was a very concrete thing. The Jews observed ordinances, performed rituals, and obeyed laws in the natural that were physical representations of spiritual concepts. For example, in Deuteronomy 22:11, God forbade His people from mixing linen and wool. It seems ridiculous that the God of the universe would make such a specific rule about fashion, but when you look closer, you see that it’s not about clothing at all. It’s about keeping separated the things that should not be put together (what fellowship has light with darkness?). Similarly, both Exodus 21:1-6 and Deuteronomy 15:12-17 outline a very strange scenario for the making of a Hebrew bondslave. Upon closer inspection, we see a picture of salvation and the decision every Christian must make in service to our Lord.
“When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing… 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 21:1-6
The Law Concerning Hebrew Slaves
Slavery seems like a pretty strange topic for God to be discussing so soon after the Exodus from Egyptian bondage. But this system was far from the brutal, oppressive operations we associate with slavery today. In fact, with the stringent rules that God put in place, it was more of a deterrent to slavery than an endorsement of it. At the time, people were put into slavery by their own financial need. They sold themselves for a period of time to pay off a debt or avoid a prison sentence for a fine. Masters who purchased a slave were obligated to provide food, clothing, and shelter for a set period of time and offer freedom and financial rewards at the end. (See Deuteronomy 15:12-17.)
Interestingly enough, during the entire time of servitude, the slaves were quite free to leave at any time. If a master ever became unbearable and a slave ran away, it was contrary to the law for anyone to force him/her to return. Often, the servitude was so light and the benefits so great that slaves would choose not to leave even at the end of the contracted time. In some cases, slaves were married with children during the years of servitude, so leaving would mean separation from family. Other times, slaves would simply realize a love for their master and gain an understanding that their current living situation was preferable to anything else they could find on their own. In those cases, a slave might choose to become a bondslave.
Becoming a Bondslave
The Law was clear about the procedure. First, a slave would be brought before the judges. He would proclaim in a loud, clear voice that he did not wish to accept his liberty and state his reasons. He would then be brought to the door of the house. The master would then pierce his ear through to the door with an awl (a tool used to punch holes in leather). This very public and painful ceremony was meant to ensure that the decision was not taken lightly nor brought about by coercion. The hole in his ear was a visible reminder to others that he was not his own. He belonged to another. He had become a bondslave of his own free will, never to leave the house of his master again.
As Christians, we have found ourselves in a position of insolvency. We have accumulated debt for our sins and need a Master to pay the price.
Like the slaves who stay for six years and then depart, lukewarm Christians reserve just a part of their lives for the Master. They keep their own interests in mind. They make plans for the future when the Master’s business is no longer their priority. Since we are all free to come and go as we please, some do, in fact, leave to find their own way.
Others have found a love for their Master. They realize that any life found outside of His house would be inferior to His care. They have family there (the body of Christ), and have made a firm decision to give themselves completely and forever to the desires of the One who paid for their sins.
So, having made a firm, public declaration (the word of their testimony) and given reasons (for their hope), they went to the door (of Jesus Christ) and offered their ear (a symbol of obedience to His voice). Pierced through with an awl (their flesh crucified), they were marked as a member of the Master’s house. From that moment, they were no longer their own. (Paul spoke of God, “of Whose I am and Whom I serve.”) They now depend on their Master for His care instead of making provision for themselves. They will not depart from His house forever.
The Time For Decision
For the Hebrew slaves, the time for decision came at the end of the contract. In the life of a believer, it can come at any time. In a recent blog from World Challenge entitled Recovery From Our Failures, David Wilkerson called it “the obedience line.” It’s that moment when we stand at the crossroads of self and God. We make the decision “to go all the way with the Lord,” to obey Him and look to Him to supply our every need.
Have you made the decision to give yourself completely to God? Have you become a bondslave, crucifying your flesh and setting your heart to serve your Master forever? The Bible tells us that in the last days many servants of God will, in fact, leave His house never to return. It’s called the “apostasia” (or the Great Apostasy). It’s translated as “rebellion” or “falling away.” Great numbers of people who formerly named the name of Christ will completely abandon biblical Truth to follow the lies of the world. Only those who have settled it once and for all will stand. Only those who belong to God will remain in His house forever.
Like to look closer at Scripture? Try The Three Levels of Sampson and Submission to God or Twinkly Trash: A Closer Look at Job 28. Please sign up to receive my blog in your email in-box. You can find that at the upper right of your screen (or at the bottom on a phone). Also, check out my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.