What do slavery and marriage have in common? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
I know some of you think you already see the connection. You might even be thinking “There’s a difference between the two of them?”
No. That’s not what I’m getting at.
I have been looking at the Old Testament Law lately and seeing how it relates to us today. Does it stand for all time, or are there things in there that are actually less than perfect? The answer to the question is the latter. The law is good, but it was not meant to be something for all time. Keep in mind in Galatians 3 that the Law was meant to be a guide to us until the time of the fulfillment of the law, Jesus Christ, came.
Something we often see in the Bible in the Old Testament is polygamy. By the time we get to the NT, we don’t see this as much. Jesus affirms in the gospels that marriage is one man and woman. Polygamy was a differentiation from the ideal but it still had the foundation that Jesus affirmed of one man and one woman. Interestingly, Jesus starts off with asking the Pharisees what Moses said. Moses was of course the authority.
Jesus instead points them back to the higher authority of God who created marriage as one man and one woman. How did he override Moses? He stated that Moses granted a concession. He said that the hearts of people were hardened and so Moses granted the people that they would be able to divorce. Quite likely this was done to avoid an abuse to the system of marriage. There is a case where a law can tolerate a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater evil.
For instance, we do not prosecute people for adultery even though by and large, we consider it to be wrong. Why? Because we don’t want to spend every effort micromanaging everyone’s marriage. We do have a place for freedom to allow people to do evil so that there can be even more freedom to do good. Our laws should often seek to have the bare minimum for a functioning society to do good and to have laws that encourage goodness. We do have penalties for if a marriage is made void because we want to encourage marriage. The law is meant to make a statement about actions and encourage good behavior.
In other words, God took a system that was less than ideal and said “For the time being, I am going to work with this system and use it for good until we reach the point where it is not needed.” The goal would be to change the hearts of the people through the Law over time so that they would not want to divorce or to practice polygamy. It would seem there was some success with polygamy at least as there is not much mention of it after the exile when the Law started to be taken seriously.
What does that have to do with slavery?
Because slavery in the OT also showed less than the perfect will of God.
Now let’s be clear, we are not talking about slavery like it was in the Civil War time. The slavery done then was not a system set in place to exploit the poor. In fact, it was set in place so the poor could have a job. Keep in mind that there weren’t supermarkets and gas stations and Wal-Marts you could go and apply at. You did have to work for someone else and usually in a home setting.
This was also an age where a lot of people might not have their own home. Today, it seems natural, but homes cost money and time and resources, and not everyone has those. When you get a home, how will you put food on the table, or even get a table for that matter? How will you provide clothes for the family? One way to deal with this is to live with someone else and to the work for them. They provide room and board for you and your family and you work for them.
There were numerous problems with this system as it could easily lead to exploitation, but it was a way the world had to work in the infancy of humanity. The large market of jobs was not available in a society not as developed. The more economies were built by people, the more they had job opportunities. In our society, we can find that hard to think of with so many businesses that can offer places to work. We need to look outside of our own system and see the biblical system and how it was.
We can realize the law was good for the time, but it was not perfect, and we should not treat it as the way a perfect society was to be for all time. We have the fullness in Christ now. Some might be tempted to think things will be easier, but let’s remember when Jesus commented on the moral aspects of the Law, he always went even stronger than the Law did. Fortunately, he enables us to do that which we would not be able to do on our own as well.