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©John Yerkes

Chapter 15:12-18 (ESV)

Posted on March 01, 2024  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 15:12-18 (ESV) - “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. And to your female slave you shall do the same. It shall not seem hard to you when you let him go free from you, for at half the cost of a hired worker he has served you six years. So the LORD your God will bless you in all that you do.

Question to consider: Why would someone decide to be a bondservant when they could be set free?

The subject of slavery in scripture is a difficult one to navigate because the word slave is associated with the evils of forced labor and devalued humanity which should have been anathema to a country whose founding documents proposed that all men are created equal. Instead we fought a bloody civil war over a state’s right to determine whether one man could own another.

However, the slavery that was defined by God in the Law among fellow Israelites was describing the situation where a man sold himself and his own family into slavery because they had fallen into financial ruin. Even then, they earned a servant’s wage and were to be set free during the end of the Shemitah cycle which we’ve been studying the last couple of days.

Not only were these servants to be set free, but they were to be provided with a portion of their master’s herd, grain, and wine so that they could get back on their feet. While they served, the master was to still treat them as fellow Israelites. Unlike their time of slavery in Egypt where they received no sabbath rest and were driven to exhaustion by their masters, the Israelites were to treat one another as redeemed people who belonged to the LORD.

Therefore, it should have been their joy to release them at the appointed time and help them get back on their feet, especially since they would have had the services of a worker and his family at half the rate of a hired hand. Obviously, financial hardship can happen to just about anyone given the right circumstances. What if someone’s field was trampled by a stray herd of cattle, or a hailstorm wiped out one man’s field but not another? What if someone’s cattle got sick, and the herd died? This was an opportunity for them to survive until the Shemitah and get a fresh start.

Those who became a part of the family of the master had the choice of making the position permanent as a bond servant. Perhaps life in his master’s household was much better than it had been on his own so he considered it better to serve there than live elsewhere. 

Being able to contrast servitude in Israel with that of the surrounding nations actually makes me think of a statement by king David about the household of God in Psalm 84:10, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” We are either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness. The Hebrew master, while imperfect, was expected to be an image of God to his servants much like a father is supposed to be the image of God to his children. Like the Gentile masters, sin is a cruel adversary which leads to death and despair.


Dear heavenly Father, help us to see ourselves as bondservants of Christ, for without Him all of our works lead to slavery to sin and death. Amen.