Monday, February 27, 2012

Slave of God

 עֶבֶד 'slave'
The word 'Eved' or (slave/servant) is one of the first words we learned in the vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew. Is the concept of 'eved' relevant to our faith as believers of the new covenant?

From the Mosaic law, we learn that God made provisions for the humane treatment governing the keeping of Hebrew slaves. Exodus 21 outlines these; for example, slaves were not to be treated as objects but as persons. Moreover, masters were instructed to free a slave after six years of service.

A slave, however, who freely chose to remain a slave, would be brought before God to the doorpost (mezuzah), where his master would pierce his ear with an awl (a kind of needle). After that, the slave would be bound to serve his master 'forever'. (Exodus 21:6)

We also find the concept of a willing slave in the teachings of the New Testament. Consider for instance the following passage from the letter by Paul the Apostle to the 'Romans', pointing out the relevance of what it means to be a slave under the new covenant:

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)

A fellow messianic believer shares his insights on connections drawn between the word 'eved' and it's parallels under the new covenant. The following is his message (quoted in red), followed by results of my search on the topic.  (There is no electronic link to the article by brother Zef, so the following are quoted portions)                                                                                  

"The Hebrew language doesn’t differentiate between slave, servant, worker or worshiper. The word is eved (plural – avadim).

Work in the Scriptures is not a consequence of the Fall. Even in the Garden of Eden, God put Adam to work (l’avdah) to keep (l’shamrah) the Garden. (Genesis 2)

“Behold, bless the Lord, all servants (avadim) of the Lord, who serve by night in all the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 134:1)

When we pledge our allegiance to Yeshua (Jesus), out of love, we also become a lifetime slave of God unto righteousness (see Romans 6:16).

This word has no connotation of shame, and it shares the same root as the verb work or serve (avad).

We see this same root word is used when God commanded Pharaoh to “Let My people go - that they may serve [avad] Me in the wilderness.”(Exodus 7:16)
Then we see that the word was also used to describe 'Eved Mashiach' (Servant Messiah) -
“For the son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

No one really likes to feel like a slave forced into involuntary servitude, like some kind of Cinderella, scrubbing the dirty floors of her wicked stepmother and stepsisters.

Perhaps we all feel like this at times, and yet, Yeshua made the remarkable claim that whoever desires to be great should be a servant, and whoever desires to be first, should be a slave. (Matthew 20:26-27)

Yeshua the Messiah modelled this spirit of service. Before the Feast of Passover, He girded himself with a towel and washed his disciples’ dirty feet.

“I have set for you an example that you should do, as I have done for you.Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”(John 13:15 –16)

That Yeshua came as a servant. How did Yeshua, who had the exalted position of Son of God and El Gibor (Mighty God), so easily humble himself as a servant?

The answer is in John 13: “Yeshua knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” (John 13:3) Yeshua knew who He was, what God had given Him, where He was from and where He was going, and that he would sit at the right hand of His Father in Heaven.

His conviction of His own standing, identity, purpose and authority afforded Him such security that he could walk in humility without being humiliated.

When we also receive deep into our spirit this knowledge of our inheritance, identity, purpose and authority in Messiah, then we can serve the Lord humbly, unnoticed and even do unappreciated tasks with gladness of heart rather than resentment."

The article prompted me to look up the use of the word 'slave' in the Biblical text; moreover, to discern whether the application of the word has ceased or changed under the new covenant.

Believers of the new covenant identify with the spirit of adoption unto sonship of the Father, through the Messiah. Most Biblical scholars will not dispute that through the sacrifice of the Messiah we are accepted as sons of the Father. But, was not Jesus the Son of God, whilst He became the suffering 'eved'/slave (Isaiah 53:11); whilst He gave up His will and obeyed the Father's call. Indeed He was.

The word - 'eved' in Hebrew is mentioned 800 times in the Old Testament. Many of the occurrences are references to God's people; Israel, but also specifically to godly individuals such as prophets and leaders. It is worth noting however that the majority of English translations (including KJV and NIV) render 'eved' as 'servant'; which may not always be the accurate translation; we find that in the Arabic language 'eved' is usually rendered more accurately as 'Abd' specifically meaning 'slave', not servant (both Hebrew and Arabic belong to the same class of Semitic languages).

Moses was described as God's 'eved' (Psa 105:26), David refers to himself as God's 'eved' (Psa 116:16) and is referred in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel as such. Daniel refers to himself as God's 'eved', Israel is referred to as God's 'eved' (Isa 43:10, 44:1), and off course the Messiah is God's righteous 'eved' in Isaiah 53:11. Others include: the king of Babylon (Jer 25:9), God's prophets, for examples, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Zechariah and Ezekiel. There is also the reference in Zechariah 3:81 to "My eved the branch", and in Joel 2:29.

Now, to the New Testament writings; again we don't find the term in question rendered to 'slave' in most English Bible translations (including the King James and the New International Version), rather, the use of the term 'servant'. (The Greek term I am referring to is (δοῦλος - doulos) G1401 (from strong's G1210); a slave (literally or figuratively, involuntarily or voluntarily; frequently therefore in a qualified sense of subjection or subserviency): - bond (-man), servant.) The Greek New Testament contains other terms (apart from 'doulos' that coincide appropriately to 'servant' - refer to Strong's concordance). We find the term 'doulos' - 125 times in the New Testament, most of which are refernces to God's people!

'Doulos' is used on many occasions in the four gospels in the accounts of parables taught by Jesus - particularly in the kingdom parables. In the gospel of Mathew, Jesus teaches His disciples: "Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master." (Mat 10:24 - New Living Translation). Jesus also taught: "and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--" (Mat 20:27 - NLT) - (see also equivalent Mark 10:24 and John 13:16).

On three occasions, the Greek term 'doulos' is used in Acts to refer to God's people. (2:18, 4:29, 16:17). We find Jesus Himself referred to as the Servant of the Lord in Philipians 2:7 "But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men". The New Living Translation uses the term 'slave' correctly in this verse; and the New American Standard Bible uses the term 'bond-servant'.

The letters of the New Testament contain many references to God's people as 'doulos'. The writers of the New Testament thought of themselves as 'slaves' 'doulos' of God. The Apostle Paul opens his letters introducing himself as 'servant of the Lord', 'servant of Christ' (eg Rom 1:1, Gal 1:10), 'servant of God' (James uses the same introduction for himself), Simon Peter in 2 Peter 1:1 and in Rev 1:1, similarly Jude in Jud 1:1). Both Moses and John the Apostle are referred to as 'doulos' in Revelation. One can go on and on; just think, the next time you see the word 'servant' in the New Testament - chances are, it should read 'slave' instead.

So we have so far established that a believer in Messiah is an 'eved' / 'doulos' / 'slave' of God - certainly after our perfect model in the Messiah. How then do we understand this in light of our adoption as sons of God in the new covenant? I believe the answer lies in that the terms 'slave' and 'son' are not to be viewed as contradictory in some relevant, meaningful, and applicable ways. Let's look back at Exodus 21, God instituted that the Hebrew slave was to be given his freedom in the seventh year - however: "And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free"......and he shall serve him for ever." (Exo 21:5-6b) - we see that whilst he was given his freedom, he layed it down willingly. Why? because he loved his master, and he recognised the blessings lie with his master - and that, in his eyes, was more precious than the so called liberty offered elsewhere.

Before we end, let's look at a couple of Biblical passages which seem at face value to run contrary to the presented argument. The first is found in the Gospel of John, Jesus asserts here: “I no longer call you servants 'doulos', because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My father I have made known to you.”(John 15:15) Jesus here is making known to his disciples that they are now given the privilege of knowing God's will - as God's loved ones.

Let's remember that Jesus layed down His life as the suffering 'eved' after making this statement. In fact, a couple of verses later He reminds His disciples: "Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant 'doulos' is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also." (John 15:20). Contradictory statements? I don't believe so. It is evident here that our sonship does not mean we forfeit our role as willing slaves to our loved master; sons? Yes! willing slaves...absolutely! The terms are not mutually exclusive.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians: "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant 'doulos', but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." (Gal 4:6-7) - (See Gal 3 and 4:1-7 for context). The Apostle here is entreating the Galatians who were falling in the trap of attempting to attain their own righteousness; shall we say right standing in the eyes of God - by legal observances (apart from, or perhaps in addition to, putting their faith in the Messiah). He is essentially warning them of falling back into bondage to a system of perceived justification by one's own efforts. The statement is not contradictory, indeed consistent with the concept of being a 'doulos' of God.

Similarly, the Apostle reinforces the concept of sonship of the believer in Romans: "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Rom 8:15-17). Again, sonship of the Father and willingly laying down our lives as 'slaves' of our master, a 'living sacrifice' - are not contradictory in nature, neither mutually exclusive.

It is perhaps our cultural glasses which prevent us from fully grasping and embracing our calling as believers. The term 'slave' may not be so palatable to our liberal understanding of our identity before God. Our identity as sons of the Father co-exists with a willingness to be obedient slaves to our God and loving Master. What makes us sons indeed is our obedience to the Father, and Master, "If you love me, you will obey...". May we never seek 'autonomy', or a freedom which means captivity to another. The freedom to choose is given - the choice we make is in being committed followers of one master.

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