The laws about slavery in scripture can be the easiest to criticize for both believers and non-believers. Everyone wishes there was a command that said, “Thou shalt not ever enslave anyone under any circumstances”. The reality is this: spiritually speaking, we belong to whoever we serve. We either belong to Yah or we belong to the world. It’s those options that are being contrasted in Exodus 21, and why these laws are the first to be introduced to Israel and not left as a footnote in the fine-print.
Yah had just liberated His people after 400 years (a number linked to 40, representing a time of testing) in Egypt as slaves, sojourning in a land that was not their own with no rights of any kind. This is a crucial point to remember: Pesach is commanded to be celebrated every year, specifically to drive our origins into our thick skulls.
Even if we’ve never been to Egypt, slavery to sin is our default position as humans. When we accept the fact that Yah has paid a high price to redeem us, that redemption is a purchase price—we are no longer our own. We are bond servants to Yah through Messiah. Without the laws explaining the expectations of both slave and owner, we’d get the false impression that Yah is no different than Pharaoh—so why go through all the trouble of leaving Egypt? The learning curve of this change in mindset is also the story-arch of our lives as redeemed believers. The mental and spiritual stretching as we discover this reality can cause us to grumble and complain—as the pattern in Exodus has already shown durig the early days of the Way to Shavuot.
First and foremost, the proof that we are no longer slaves to Pharaoh, aka Satan, aka the World, is the Seventh Day Sabbath. Yah says in the Ten Debarim that we are to keep His Sabbath—not just one per week, but also the other 7 Sabbaths arranged throughout the year. He says this is a SIGN for His people forever. When contrasted with working 24/7, our former condition as Pharaoh’s slaves, the Sabbath should be seen as what it is…made for man, as a gift from Yah. When we honor Him through resting on the Sabbath, and guard that sign at all costs, we are not just showing Yah our gratitude for redemption, we are giving the world and it’s system of slavery a big giant raspberry (or choose your personal favorite gesture of contempt.) We are telling the world that we joined Hebrew Union 777, and if they have a problem with that, take it up with the Boss.
Sadly, the reverse is also true. When we choose to work on Shabbat, or pick and choose our own days off based on our personal preferences, we are showing through our actions how little we remember where we came from, how little we trust, how ungrateful we are for His gift, and that we still may have one foot (at least) in Egypt.
Pesach remembers the day of our freedom, the cost of our redemption price, and the fate of those who enslaved us illegally. Shavuot, is a celebration of this freedom, serving at the same time as a training course designed to show us the Way of our new Owner. Counting: 1,2,3,4,5,6, Shabbat—seven times in a row? This is the figurative heart-beat of Yah, imploring Israel to renew our minds to His words, and recognize Him as our new Master—and love it. Day #50, Shavuot itself, creates the concept of a “weekend” for the first time in world history. Two mandatory days off, back to back, each and every year—smack dab in the center of harvest time. We are not in Egypt anymore.
Our new owner also closes shop for one entire year out of every seven years—even the largest private farms, orchards, and vineyards are supposed to be made public domain for that entire year. The gates are unlocked, and anyone, even ger, those sojourning among Israel, are allowed to eat freely from those fruits. Every seventh set of seven years, He gives a bonus year off—two years off of farm work in a row. When obeyed, He makes the fields produce 3 times as much the year before the break as a supernatural blessing to those who are willing to take that risk of obedience.
This promised abundance is literally the fruit of our obedience. Our fruit is the proof that we are not in Egypt anymore.
Here’s a refreshing rule change introduced here in the initial Book of The Law, that Moses is transcribing. “Anyone who kidnaps a man, and sells him, or is found with a kidnapped man, the kidnapper surely shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:16) So here we learn a few things. Firstly, the fate of Pharaoh and his armies was to be shared by anyone acting within that same spirit. A “slave”, biblically, is a contracted worker—serving willingly and with rights and benefits. If there is no prearranged agreement, the “owner” of that “slave” faces death, and any sneaky business of passing off a stolen man to a third-party simply spreads that death penalty around to all who are complicit. We are not in Egypt anymore.
If the idea of “owning” a human or being “owned” just doesn’t float your boat, here’s where the brilliance of the design of Torah kicks in. These “laws”, technically, are “judgments”—not “commandments”. It doesn’t say “thou shall” do any of this—it is all premised with the word “if”. So, “if” you are able to work and earn a living as a free-lancer or find some other means of earning an income—those options are encouraged. But “if” times are tough—these are the judgments that become the Holy code for both “masters” and “slaves”.
“If you buy a Hebrew slave—he shall serve six years; and in the seventh year he is released without having to pay anything.” (Exodus 21:2) There can be no work contracts longer than six years. But why and how could a Hebrew get into this position in the first place? Later, in Leviticus, we see that a Hebrew can willingly volunteer for this sort of work-contract. This provides housing, food, and clothing for that worker—plus guaranteed good treatment (and Sabbaths off). If a thief needs to make restitution for what he stole, these arrangements would be made to pay back the debt. A father can contract out his daughter into a home—with the intention that she would eventually marry either the head of that household or one of his sons. If that contract didn’t work out due to her own failure to live up to the agreement, her father could redeem her back to himself. If it didn’t work out because of a failure of the household where she was contracted—she was allowed to simply walk free, and until then she was to be treated like a natural born daughter, provided with food, clothing, and shelter.
We are not in Egypt anymore.
From Exodus 21:5-6: “When a work contract is over, and the slave plainly says, ‘I LOVE my master’”…”’I will not go out free’, then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever.” This rule provides a way to transcend the temporary six-year-maximum contractual relationship, making the relationship permanent. These are acts of covenant—the blood on the doorpost, specifically the piercing of the flesh on the ear-lobe (the ear is where we shema—listen and obey). Just like a sojourner with Israel has a perpetual offer to permanently join and change their status to “home-born” via circumcision and via the Pesach meal—a mere servant is offered the choice to sign up for life if they LOVE their master. The expression “pierce his ear” is literally “open his ear” and is the language used in Psalm 40:6, “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear.” This is a psalm praising Yah’s deliverance and the psalmists love for the Torah and the freedom it offers those who listen and obey their master’s instructions.
This connection of a pierced ear to a lifetime commitment makes the Golden Calf that much more deplorable, as it was made with the melted earrings of Israelites who had made just such a commitment 40 days before.
Based on the spirit of the offer of permanent servitude and all of the benefits thereof in Exodus 21, we would expect then, on Shavuot, an opportunity for further intimacy with our master. We’ve already been redeemed at Pesach—and there’s never a need to be re-redeemed. Messiah’s blood did that once and that lasts forever. Shavuot on the other hand is giving us another option for a higher level of relationship with our redeemer. A Hebrew slave is required to be released after 6 years, but is then given a purely voluntary choice for a deeper and eternal commitment to his master if he truly loves Him. This seems the be entire spirit of Shavuot, and why this offer to re-commit in a deeper way comes 7 sets of 7 Sabbaths after our liberation from Egypt. If we love Him, we will choose to make this higher level of commitment–and if we choose otherwise, I suppose that choice speaks for itself.
This is the same idea embodied in the upgrade from the ‘baptism of water’ by John (which represents our freedom from death as slaves in Egypt) and the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts Chapter 2. You can’t experience the upgrade without first partaking in the first ritual–things must be done decently and in order. Who would only want to be released from bondage, without committing themselves for life to their redeemer? Better phrased, who would want only a form of Godliness, but deny it’s promised power? (2 Timothy 3) Shavuot seems to be that additional voluntary act of further submission to the master whom we have learned to love and trust on the Way—commemorated with a bloody earlobe as we are invited to say “All of these things you have said we will do”, proving once and for all that we aren’t in Egypt anymore.