Pastors Report - 19 Jun 2020
Age Of Slavery

The Age of Slavery

"I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Exodus 20:2)

Across the western world in recent weeks we have seen quite violent riots and demonstrations against racial prejudice and historic slavery – with monuments to slave traders of previous centuries being pulled down and destroyed. The protesters are wanting to bring to our attention the cruelty of the past and how the black nations have suffered. But has slavery been only confined to one race? Is it just a shameful period of our past, or could it be that it still continues - in full swing - at this present time?

Slaves in Egypt:

When we read the account of ancient Israel leaving Egypt you can't help but wonder at the determination of Pharaoh and the Egyptians to prevent the Israelites going even a few days into the wilderness to sacrifice to their God. But, when you think about it, it would be like all our modern conveniences sprouting legs and leaving the house, and the electricity going off, the freezer breaking down, the electric cooker not working any more. All those things we take for granted and can't imagine life without.

It is only very recently that civilisation has not used slaves with full acceptance. The reason we can decry the practice today is due to mechanisation that gives us washing machines and dishwashers, vacuum cleaners – electrical power – as our household servants. But in days gone by this simply was not the case, and so successive civilisations had to rely on slaves obtained from conquered nations to do so many of the tasks around the home and farm. This ancient need of 'civilised' society explains many of the scriptures on slavery that today we find quite bizarre – in the Old Testament particularly. But most of the great men of the Bible would have purchased slaves and/or servants as a matter of course. Just as we would go out and buy a washing machine, they would buy a washerwoman. Sometimes there were slaves who occupied positions of great power and importance – entrusted to a huge degree by their masters. Noticed what Abram pointed out to God, prior to Isaac's conception:

  • And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
  • And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. (Genesis 15:2,3)

And some years later, Abraham entrusted the senior servant of his household with the heavy responsibility of finding a wife for Isaac, as we read in Genesis 24.

  • And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:
  • And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell:
  • But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac. (Genesis 24:2-4)

The story of Joseph being sold into slavery is well known, and he also was given great responsibility by Potiphar, his master:

  • And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither...
  • ... And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand. (Genesis 39:1.4)
Ancient Cities:

But naturally, this kind of respect was not the usual way slaves were treated. Some years after the death of Joseph the Egyptians used the Israelites as slaves for a multitude of purposes, but one key area was the muscle power in the building trade, even to the point of having to gather straw to make their own bricks. But it wasn't just ancient Egypt that used slaves to build their cities... the very first city mentioned – even before the Flood – (Genesis 4:17) would almost certainly have been built by slaves as there were none of the mechanical diggers, earth-movers, pneumatic drills and cranes that we take for granted today.

We also find this need for cheap manual labour in successive civilisations, and certainly the gentile ones down through the millennia. From Egypt to Assyria, to Babylon – where Daniel and his companions were slaves – on through the Medes and Persians, Greece and Rome. Wherever civilisation flourished, so too did the use of slaves. Even in the Middle Ages following the destruction of Imperial Rome the lords of the manor owned the land and made serfs of the people, [definition: "a member of a servile feudal class bound to the land and subject to the will of its owner – Merriam-Webster] who thereby were forced to provide all the necessary comforts and produce for the ruling classes.

This is again what we find in the slave trade of the 1700's. It was very much an accepted commercial necessity which formed the 'trade triangle' whereby tobacco, sugar, cotton and other produce was carried from the new world and the plantations of the Caribbean across to Europe on the trade winds. On selling the goods, they would then load up with valuables – particularly copper ingots as money – and head south to west Africa to purchase slaves for the New World. These ships then became the slave transport, catching the trade winds once more back to the Caribbean, where the cycle would begin again.

I particularly remember visiting a slave museum in Nigeria some years ago where these copper ingots and other valuable European manufactured items – like mirrors, jewellery and kettles were on display – as the 'currency' used to purchase the slaves. I distinctly remember asking the Nigerian guide who this money had been paid to, to which he replied, "to the chiefs, of course". And immediately the conversation was brought to a halt, as he realised what he had admitted.

The phrase "sold down the river" very possibly has its roots in this aspect of the slave trade as slavery was a fully accepted part of African life as well. It wasn't the white traders who actually enslaved the black tribes in the main, as they feared the tropical diseases of the interior, but the chiefs enslaved their enemies, both among other tribes and also their own people. This was either purely as a trading position or an effective means of getting rid of troublemakers and making a profit on the side.

Modern Slavery:

How little the ancient attitude has changed – after all, it's the same satanic spirit. Today we take for granted the 'supply chain' that brings our goods to our doorstep at the click of a mouse, but rarely stop to think that many if not most of these goods could well be manufactured in modern-day 'sweat shops', paying a pittance to their often under-age workers. It's modern-day slavery – whether it's the backstreets of Indian slums, migrant workers in the Gulf states or illegal immigrants in the fields and greenhouses of Europe supplying salads to our local supermarkets and unable to complain of their often abysmal working conditions as they risk deportation. But slavery not being on our doorstep, it's thereby removed from our immediate attention. So there is a degree of hypocrisy when people tear down a monument re. slave trading in the past, but unwittingly support the present day slave trade that brings a plethora of cheap goods to their local shopping centre and dinner tables.

Yet personally we in the Western world don't consider ourselves to be in slavery or servitude to anyone – conveniently forgetting the slavery of having to pay our mortgage every month, our credit card balance and other loans, the tax man, being forced into the servitude of having to produce so many hours of paid work to get our weekly pay packet – just to survive physically for a little while longer. Yes, we too in the West are very much in slavery today – 'wage slaves' – whether we recognise it or not:

  • Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
  • And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14,14)

So far from being just interesting historical facts, the continued reference to slavery and servitude in the New Testament – something that was accepted as a normal part of a civilisation in which the writers lived – has much to tell us. And it's not merely an academic understanding that is needed. God is conveying something much more profound that can only be seen when the subject is viewed from its true spiritual perspective.

Present House of Bondage:

When Adam and Eve took of the forbidden fruit they instantly placed themselves in a master/slave relationship with Satan. This then sold the entire subsequent human race into a slavery far more insidious and far-reaching than anything which followed on a human level. So although ancient Israel were God's people they nevertheless remained a totally carnal society. The redemption – or buying back – at that time was only physical. They were taken out of the bondage of Egyptian slavery but not the slavery of obedience to Satan to teach us the much greater spiritual lesson of what and where TRUE freedom comes from.

  • Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt. (Psalm 74:2)
  • Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: (Exodus 6:6)
  • And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten... (Exodus 13:3)

The whole world lies in bondage to this day – all races, all ethnic groups, all worldly religions – although they don't realise it, and sadly continue to make decisions based on the wrong tree, and reap the results. This present age of slavery, of bondage, of captivity has not yet come to its fruition.

  • And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
  • And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16.17)
Slaves of Sin:

Of all those that have walked this earth, only Christ has never been under bondage to Satan, although he did his utmost to persuade Him:

  • Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
  • And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
  • Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Matthew 4:8-10)

And this recognition of the persistent bondage with Satan as the master was something Jesus Christ pointed out to the Jews of His day. But just as ancient Israel did not have the heart in them to understand such things neither did the Jews that "believed on Him", as recorded in John chapter 8 and preserved for us to learn from. There is only one way to be truly free:

  • Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
  • And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
  • They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
  • Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
  • And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.
  • If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (John 8:31-36)
The Purchase Price:

Under the Roman system of slavery during the time of the apostle Paul individuals within conquered nations would become bondmen of the Roman state. Certain individuals, however – if they could raise the money – could buy their freedom, as mentioned here to Paul: " And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born." (Acts 22:28)

Some pagan religions would have their followers believe that by making pilgrimages, or walking on hot coals or buying 'indulgences' they could be released from the penalty of their sins. But no amount of money could possibly redeem us from being under bondage and servitude to Satan! It's taken the death of the Son of God to make that possible:

  • Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain [conduct] received by tradition from your fathers;
  • But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: (I Peter 1:18,19)
  • What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy [Spirit] which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
  • For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (I Corinthians 6:19,20)
A Different Master:

When a slave was purchased the previous owner no longer had any jurisdiction over him. Ownership – and thereby obedience – passed from the old master to the new master. Effectively "our lord" changes. Paul brings this out in his letter to the church in Rome:

  • 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?
  • But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.
  • You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
  • I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.
  • When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.
  • What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!
  • But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:16-22 NIV)

As brought out in the above section of Romans 6, once we've repented and been forgiven our past sins, we start out on a new life – under the authority of a new Master and most importantly, with a very different spirit. It's interesting how many of the epistles begin with... "XXXX, a servant of Jesus Christ..." [Strongs 1401 – servant, bondman, slave]. The apostle Peter graphically warns against returning to our previous master:

  • For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
  • For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
  • But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. (II Peter 2:20-22)
Slavery in the World Tomorrow:

There are some clear indications that slavery of some form will be present in the Millennium – at least at the very start. It could well be that this is the best way the nations outside Israel will learn the ways of God in certain instances. It will no doubt be a temporary position as once they choose to become part of the Commonwealth of Israel, they will gain all the benefits.

  • And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the LORD for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors.
  • And it shall come to pass in the day that the LORD shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve... (Isaiah 14:2,3)
  • Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.
  • And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me. (Isaiah 49:22,23)

Once they become a part of Israel their position will change and families will be granted their own land, (Micah 4:4) so no one will have to be in servitude to another just to put food on the table. And with the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh, and Satan having been banished, 'masters' will be using a mentoring approach and not the often violent and self-serving ways of the previous 6000 years. The satanic broadcast will have been silenced and the whole thrust of the exercise will be to help and serve and teach the Way of God! (Matthew 20:27, Ephesians 6:5-9) We find something similar in the Mosaic times when a master was instructed to supply an Israelite slave with whatever was needed to set him on his feet at the end of his 7-year tenure. It's godly love and concern ... loving our neighbour as ourself.

  • And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.
  • And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty:
  • Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.
  • And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: (Deuteronomy 15:12-15)

Slavery or servitude of one form or another is far from being just a recent episode in man's history, but has been in operation since the dawn of this present age ... ever since the moment when our first parents figured they knew best. And it has brought untold physical and spiritual misery to this earth, which God thankfully will shortly bring to an end:

  • The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
  • To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
  • To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
  • And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.
  • And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers.
  • But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves. (Isaiah 61:1-6)