Y = Blue (Exodus 21:1–11)

Ideate one of those paint-by-number jobs. 1=B, 2=R, 3=Y, etc. Got it? You follow the directions and its hideous. You blame the publisher; it was published in some backwater country after all. But then you learn that it was published in that country, for citizens of that country, and that “Y” stands for a word in their tongue that corresponds to your blue.

Folks can get all twitchy when you get to passages in the Bible that talk about slavery and they start doing all kinds of weird things to the text. Some have proposed that we replace the word “slave” with “servant.” This is taking a play out of the postmodern politician’s playbook. When you want to legitimize evil, give it a slick name. But we don’t need to fool people into liking the Bible. The way forward isn’t to impose some new word on the Scriptures, but to immerse people in the world of the Bible. In other words, the way to paint the picture correctly is to inform them what “Y” looks like in that other world.

The reason even Christian’s get slavery jitters when dealing with the Scriptures is because their trying to paint ancient slavery with modern colors. But this isn’t that. Let us all agree that the African American slave trade was an abomination and that modern human sex trafficking is horrendous. But this ain’t that. Those aren’t the colors that the Biblical canvass is calling for. For example, in Romans slavery, not ancient Old Testament, Moses-given Scripture slavery, but in Roman slavery, consider that a slave could be better educated than his master, hold esteemed positions and vocations such as being a doctor, and have a higher social standing than a free man. Picture a slave in Caesar’s household, living in luxury, carrying out important duties for the state, looking down on the free man who is a day worker living in poverty. This isn’t to defend the institution of Roman slavery, nor to say that all Roman slaves were treated well—many were not. The point is simply that when you read “1=B,” B may not mean what you think it does.

Slavery is our history and we want to revise. Slavery was their story and they preserved. God redeemed His people out of slavery and into a slavery to Him. The only way to really begin to paint this picture rightly is to see the glorious gospel colors with which the law paints slavery. The Hebrew slave sold himself into slavery (Leviticus 25:39–40). Seven years later, all debts are cancelled (Deuteronomy 15:1–2). He is set free and sent out liberally (Deuteronomy 15:12–15). All these laws are in place to provide and care for the poor and to bless the slave. Now imagine you’ve struggled to eek by. You’re in continual fear of what you might loose due to debt. You’ve sold yourself for the second time to a generous master who cares for you and your family better than you’ve ever been able to do yourself. As his slave, your total well-being is his responsibility. Under him, you feel most free and loved. You bind yourself to him forever (Deuteronomy 15:16–17).

The boring through of the ear likely represented an open ear towards your master. This is likely the imagery at play in Psalm 40:6, “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” Hebrews 10 quotes this verse with a slight change and puts the words in the mouth of Christ. “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’ ” Jesus’ body was an open ear of obedience unto the Lord for us. In Isaiah both the Messiah and Israel are referred to as the Servant of YHWH. They have the same title because the Messiah stands in place of the people being the servant they should’ve been. Jesus obeys for us and purchases our redemption with His own blood. To call Him Lord is our joy and to live unto the Father following His example is our heart’s desire.

Once you’re painting painting Biblical slavery with these vivid gospel colors, colors of deep and glorious red, richest royal purple, mingled with the humblest of earth tones against the darkest backdrop contrasted with bright resurrection light, well, then you don’t hesitate to introduce yourself as Paul did, as “a slave of Christ Jesus (Romans 1:1).” We sing with the psalmist, “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us (Psalm 123:1–2).”

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