I’m reading the bible from beginning to end to get a better revelation on the nature of God’s love. Today, I read Exodus 12 and I thought about what it means when God plans for slavery. Today’s reflection is simply the realization and acceptance that God’s plan for Israel included slavery.
It may be useful to have a definition of slavery. Slavery is defined as: a condition of exhausting labor or restricted freedom. And, a slave is defined as “someone who is legally owned by another person and is forced to work for that person without pay.” Also, “a person who is strongly influenced and controlled by something.” While slavery has many different meanings in various contexts this is a good way to thing about slavery and how it operates in the sense that it can be generalized.
A PATH TO FREEDOM THROUGH BONDAGE
A journey to freedom through bondage.
God reveals his plan to Abraham in Genesis 15. God plans for Abraham to have children by Sarah and he plans to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan. However, God adds a promise in his plan which Moses records in this account between God and Abraham. It reads:
13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
And, today as I read Exodus 12, I noted:
40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt.
God is able to accomplish what he plans to do but what if what he plans to do is slavery? This is my short meditation for today. I don’t have an answer but I find this thought humbling.
Slavery began with Eve.
We might ask ourselves: why was slavery necessary for Israel and Egypt? One way to approach thinking about this is to consider what God wants from his people. To find the answer to that question, I think we can look back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God did not want his people roaming the earth, he wanted them to be content in the garden but they weren’t. God wanted them to trust him and believe that he was enough but they didn’t. How does slavery impact our sense of contentment and trust?
If you’re thinking what I’m thinking you might be thinking: surely there was another way. Why this way? But then again, perhaps we should ask ourselves: what can slavery teach us about freedom? Or, put differently, how can slavery prepare the Israelites to be suitable for life in the Garden of Eden?
While contemplating this question, I paused to re-read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and I came across this passage, Covey writes:
…let me share with you the catalytic story of Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a determinist raised in the tradition of Freudian psychology, which postulates that whatever happens to you as a child shapes your character and personality and basically governs your whole life. The limits and parameters of your life are set, and, basically, you can’t do much about it.
Frankl was also a psychiatrist and a Jew. He was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where he experienced things that were so repugnant to our sense of decency that we shudder to even repeat them.
His parents, his brother, and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. Except for his sister, his entire family perished. Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens or if he would be among the “saved” who would remove the bodies or shovel out the ashes of those so fated.
One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms” — the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Viktor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact. He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.
In the midst of his experiences, Frankl would project himself into different circumstances, such as lecturing to his students after his release from the death camps. He would describe himself in the classroom, in his mind’s eye, and give his students the lessons he was learning during his very torture. Through a series of such disciplines — mental, emotional, and moral, principally using memory and imagination — he exercised his small, embryonic freedom until it grew larger and larger, until he had more freedom than his Nazi captors. They had more liberty, more options to choose from in their environment; but he had more freedom, more internal power to exercise his options. He became an inspiration to those around him, even to some of the guards. He helped others find meaning in their suffering and dignity in their prison existence.
In the midst of the most degrading circumstances imaginable, Frankl used the human endowment of self-awareness to discover a fundamental principle about the nature of man: Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.”
What does it mean to be free?
Is it possible that from the moment humanity ate the apple we were already enslaved? Is it the case that as soon as Eve’s mind changed about God that she entered all of humanity into slavery and mental depravity? Could it be true that God used this extreme condition to show us what we really already were: slaves to worshipping people and man-made things instead of him?
This was not the beginning of slavery for the people of Israel. Remember: the Israelites sold their own brother into slavery. Abraham and Isaac gave their wives as concubines because they were afraid of people instead of trusting in God.
What is a slave? Anyone who depends on the earth, people and the things of the world is a slave. What does it do to a person to enslave someone else? Anyone who participates in a system of slavery is not free. Both are slaves because neither are free to live without the constant preoccupation with the other.
When I consider God’s plan and the story Covey wrote about Frankl, I see that God’s desire was to set the people of Israel free by placing them in a position where, to survive, they would have to discover the power within their own humanity to bring forth life, to create the world around them just as he did when he created a Eden. Slavery was God’s path to freedom.