Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The God Who Hates Slavery

God hates slavery.

I know, that's a hard statement to defend. Slavery was allowed in the Old Testament and in the New. The Bible condemns sexual immorality, gossip, and greed, but it never gets around to condemning slavery. But I still think the Bible, even the Old Testament, teaches us that God hates slavery.

We have to acknowledge that "slavery" is loaded with meaning now that it didn't have then. Slavery in ancient times was primarily related to financial debt and war. In the former case it was their version of bankruptcy — you could sell yourself for money to pay your bills. In the latter case it was simply part of their approach to war; you would take your enemies lands, treasure, livestock, and labor force. Taking their labor force took their young males (reducing their chance for a reprisal) and gave you workers for your own needs (whether you wanted them to build pyramids or work in fields).

Being a slave in ancient days wasn't fun; you were property with no more rights than a mule. But it wasn't the same thing as the more modern version that looked at a vast swath of humanity as sub-human. It was typical human might-makes-right, not colonial you-are-lucky-to-serve-us. So ancient slavery was not as odious as the Western version eventually became.

And God still hated it. He showed it in four rules he gave Israel:

1) No Israelite slaves
The Israelites weren't allowed to enslave each other. Their version of debt slavery was what we would call indentured servitude — with benefits (Deut 15:12-15).

How the Israelites were expected to treat each other was supposed to be a picture of proper behavior — this is what God wanted from everyone everywhere for everyone everywhere. What God's law teaches is that when people are poor, you should do whatever you can to help them help themselves and if necessary to just help them. You leave the corners of your fields unharvested, you don't charge them interest on loans. You give them food. And if things get so bad that they have to sell themselves for money, you don't treat them like slaves. They don't become your property, they become part of your family. You accept their labor for a few years and then you send them on their way with gifts to help them restart their life. They were supposed to show the world debt slavery didn't need to exist.

2) Shield the runaways
"If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them" (Deut 23:15-16).

Remember the stories of the Underground Railroad? Remember the stories of slave owners pursuing runaways hundreds of miles? Which side does it sound like God was on? Yearning for freedom is part of the human condition. When people can't take it anymore and work up the nerve to risk running away, God says to let them, shelter them.

3) Kill the kidnappers
One of the fundamental aspects of Western race-based slavery was the kidnapping of people to sell as slaves. This was a capital offense is Israel (Deut 24:7, Ex 21:16).

4) Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18)
Yeah, that one is still on the books. Was this applied as broadly as God desired? No. Jesus had to take them to task over that (cf, Luke 10:25-37). But knowing how God intended it to be applied, can we really argue that God was totally fine with people being treated as property?

Well, then, why did he permit some forms of it?

He modified what they were allowed to do, but he permitted pressed labor and debt slavery because, if I may borrow a phrase, their "hearts were hard" (Matt 19:8). This was a part of their world. He discouraged it — like divorce, like polygamy — but he didn't ban it outright. Why give them more rules they simply could not follow?

But the groundwork was there. Israel paid no attention to it. The early Christians waffled over it for the same reasons. It was a worldview shift that was hard for them to make.

It took centuries for our moral imagination to catch up with God. And yet there is still slavery in this world. There is still slavery in the United States. So what are we going to do about it?

See also:
Review: Not for Sale
On Human Trafficking

Monday, May 7, 2018

Review: The Gospel According to God

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3).

It is important to know that Christ died for our sins. It's also important to know that this happened in accordance with prophecy.

In The Gospel According to God, John MacArthur takes us through one of those scriptures, what he calls "the most remarkable chapter in the Old Testament" — Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (usually referred to simply as Isaiah 53).

If you aren't familiar with this passage, simply read it and you will be shocked by its specificity. MacArthur then opens the scripture up to show just how specific it is.

And here even those who are familiar with the passage may be surprised. MacArthur will explain how it is far more specific than it appears at first glance. And he shows how catching all the verb tenses reveals the providence and grace of God that is still to come.

Isaiah 53 has long been one of my favorite parts of the Bible, but this book has given me a new love and admiration for this passage. Be prepared for your heart to sing.

Highly recommended.

I was provided a free review copy from Crossway, but the book's totally worth paying for.