Jesus and Hebrew Servant Laws (Exodus 21:2-11)

In most of the narrative passages it is quite easy to correlate the story to some aspect of Christ and his ministry, however legal rules are another story.  It would be one thing if this chapter began with legal rules related to worship, but these are civic rules about slave ownership, rights of redemption and marriage to slaves. 

What are we to do with passages like this? Let’s look at some general parallels first.  The begin with these laws speak about not enslaving people forever but to provide them freedom in the Sabbath year.  Certainly this could be applied to Christ as the one who makes the year of the Sabbath a perpetual reality for all who are enslaved to sin.  Or we could look at the high view of marriage that the Lord ascribes to wedlock by seeking to keep families together and refusing to allow women to be treated poorly and thrown out into the trash when they are no longer pleasing to a man.  Again, Paul correlates this same high view of marriage to the union that exists between Christ and his church.

But I am not sure that these are the same points the New Testament authors would have drawn from the passages.  If however we read these laws as relating to God the Father, Christ the Son and the Church, then we have a wonderful story encapsulating a mini-gospel.  Obviously the specifics of the laws cannot be pressed too far, but the general theme of the servant laws is paralleled in Christ.  Jesus willingly entered into service to his Father and he incarnated on the earth.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2:5-7)

As he lived and carried on his ministry, the Father provided him a bride, the church whom he loved and cherished. And when the time came for his release from service, he declared:

I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free (Exodus 21:5).

Thus the Father took him before the judges of the nation and instead of piercing his ear with an awl, he was pierced with a Roman rod upon the cross for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5, John 19:34).  With that act, he was forever wed to the church, washing her with his blood and living with her in his Father’s house.

As the flip side of the legislation plays out concerning a woman being sold into slavery, we again know that Christ is the Son to whom the bride is given and he will never neglect her or deprive her.  In fact, out of slavery we are called and granted the rights of a child within the house of God.

I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD. (Hosea 2:19-20)

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:4-6)

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:2-3)

While the Mosaic law makes provision for some of the darker sides of humanity, i.e. the casting away of a slave, the wonder of the gospel is that our God will never reject us and throw us away.  We are secure in his house, united to his Son by the Spirit and he loves us and will never leave us. Jesus is given the church and he chooses her.  He dies for her and he lives with her and within her.  What wonderful parallels that give us a greater understanding of the Gospel.


About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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