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Shemot/Exodus 21:6 ... and he shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost and he shall bore his ear with an awl ...
Here we have part of the process that is to be followed if a slave, who was about to be freed at the end of his period of service, wishes to remain in slavery to his master on a permanent basis. First the master and the slave appear before before judges, or G-d; this may be either in a sacred setting or in a religious court - presumably for the purpose of determining that this is right or for the administration of oaths in public - and then the master is to take the slave and permanently mark his ear by piercing it through with an awl against the doorpost. The verb and the noun both come from the same root - - to pierce; this is a common grammatical device: a prefix denotes either the place where or an instrument by which a verbal action takes place. The door or doorpost of a house is almost certainly made of wood, so making the piercing work. Tradition has it that the piercing must be done through the lobe of the right ear.
It is clear that the Sages disapproved of the idea of slavery. The proposition of a man selling himself into slavery in order to pay his debts, or being sold by a court for the same reason, was seen only as a short-term period of indenture rather than a permanent state. The action was surrounded with many safeguards and caveats: the right of redemption by the man himself or others, treatment that almost makes the man a family member fallen on hard times rather than a servant/slave, a golden-handshake at the time of release. The idea of a man seeking to perpetuate of state of slavery was therefore seen not only as a regressive personal step, but an affront to G-d, rejecting His freedom and Israel's freedom from slavery in Egypt.
The Talmud records two similar opinions that put indignation into G-d's mouth. Firstly, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai asked, "Why was the ear singled out from all the other limbs of the body? The Holy One, blessed be He, said: This ear, which heard my Voice on Mount Sinai when I proclaimed, 'For it is to Me that the Israelites are servants: they are My servants, whom I freed from the land of Egypt' (25:55, JPS), and not servants of servants, and yet this [man] went and acquired a master for himself - let it be bored!" (b. Kiddushin 22b). Here, the focus is on the abuse of the ear: the ear that heardHaShem's proclamation of freedom is now being pierced as a sign of slavery; G-d set our people free that they might be His slaves, not the slaves of men.
The second opinion comes from Rabbi Simeon ben Rabbi [Judah], quoting the same verse from Vayikra: "Why were the door and doorpost singled out from all other parts of the house? The Holy One, blessed be He, said: The door and the doorpost, which were witnesses in Egypt when I passed over the lintel and the doorposts and proclaimed, 'For it is to Me that the Israelites are servants: they are My servants, whom I freed from the land of Egypt" (Vayikra 25:55, JPS), and not servants of servants, and so I brought them forth from bondage to freedom, yet this [man] went and acquired a master for himself - let him be bored in their presence!" (b. Kiddushin 22b). Here the focus is on the doorpost, called as a witness against the man who has spurned HaShem's offer of freedom. Just as the blood of the Pesach lamb was sprinkled on the doorposts of our people in Egypt as a sign of freedom, now that very sign - in the form of the bleeding from the ear-piercing - will signal the man's slavery.
During one of the extended blocks of sayings recorded in John's gospel, Yeshua speaks to the Jewish people who had believed in Him: "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32, ESV). But they are puzzled and, claiming to be children of Abraham and not physical slaves, they ask Him why He thinks they need to be free. Making a vital connection that they couldn't see, He replies, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin" (v. 34, ESV). Sin makes you a slave; committing sin brings you into slavery. But, Yeshua continues, "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (v. 36, ESV) - when we are set free by Yeshua, the Son, we are really free.
Rav Sha'ul takes the argument one stage further. Emphasising the change that happens when we become believers, he explains: "For freedom Messiah has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1, ESV). It is our duty and obligation not to go back to our position of slavery. "But we are believers," some will say, "we have been set free! How can we possibly becomes slaves again?" Sha'ul again: "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:16-18, ESV). It all comes down to a question of choices, of what we do and say, the way we behave. Even as believers, if we "do" sin, then we become slaves of sin again because we have chosen to put ourselves back in that position. Peter is quite outspoken: "Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of G-d" (1 Peter 2:16, ESV). If we belong to G-d then we have to obey Him, not simply making excuses and pretending while really still in bondage to sin.
It is clear that the transition from slavery to freedom is not always a one-step process for many. Some people discover Yeshua, come to faith and WHAM! - they have arrived; their lives and their habits change instantly - they are that new creation in Messiah now. Others struggle over a sometimes quite protracted period of time to find that freedom and liberty in Messiah. Yes, they renounced and confessed their sin, they turned to Messiah, they believed and confessed Him as L-rd; G-d recognised their judicial status change from "guilty" to "not guilty"; but their lives seem to take forever to turn around. What matters is that they are in process. Chemical addiction takes time to break; lifelong habits of speech and bad vocabulary choices take a long time to change and reverse. But a decision to follow Yeshua means that all other decisions should flow from that point and steady progress - allowing for some ups and downs along the way, not as deliberate decisions, but lapses - can and should be made: "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of G-d, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life" (Romans 6:22, ESV).
What does this mean in practice? How do we apply this to our lives? What sort of choices should be affected? Let's turn this the other way round - let's use one of the Bible's standard texts and see how that works out in one example. Here is Sha'ul writing to the believers in Philippi: "In conclusion, brothers, focus your thoughts on what is true, noble, righteous, pure, lovable or admirable, on some virtue or on something praiseworthy" (Philippians 4:8, CJB). For example, are you a fantasy game player - Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer or the like? These are all based upon the occult and - even in make-believe - use tokens and symbols of magic, spells and so on. These are untrue, unrighteous, impure and unpraiseworthy. They should therefore form no part of a believer's life. Full stop. Playing fantasy games, even in a diluted form, is not a choice that any believer should ever take. Doing so opens the door to Satan, gives him an invitation to step back into their lives and willingly places a believer back into bondage and slavery; from that beginning, sin will gradually take control of more and more of our lives until - even though still formally 'justified' before G-d - we become weak, ineffective and useless within the kingdom with possible effects upon our physical and mental health.
Our freedom is in Messiah Yeshua. We are to be washed clean of sin, sinful habits, sinful practices. We are told not to compromise that freedom, not to embrace those sinful habits and choices from which we have been set free. We're not even to speak about them: "It is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret" (Ephesians 5:12, NASB). We, instead, are to put on the armour of G-d so that "having done all" (6:13) we are still standing firm before G-d and man.
Further Study: 2 John 8-9; 2 Peter 2:17-21
Application: Where do you stand before the L-rd? Have you compromised and gone back to into ways and habits of sin? If so, you need to act immediately before you become enmeshed in the snares of the evil one. "The eyes of the L-RD are on the righteous, His ears attentive to their cry. They cry out, and the L-RD hears, and saves them from all their troubles" (Psalm 34:16,18, JPS).
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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