Slavery in the Old Testament and Today

Many years ago I began praying a simple prayer: “God, break my heart for the things that break yours”. And another short prayer soon followed as I found myself closer to graduation “Lord, what is your will for my life? What do you want me doing?”

The journey those two prayers took me on has been full of brokenness, pain, frustration, anger, and amidst it all: hope. Hope in Christ when everything else seemed impossible. Hope that the God I serve has bigger plans than the brokenness that this world holds. I cling to hope because without it I wouldn’t have a reason to continue.

God answered my first prayer when he broke my heart for the enslaved: for the men, women and children caught in bondage. And He answered the second prayer when I was serendipidously introduced to The SOLD Project and found myself running a (very) grassroots organization seeking to prevent child prostitution. Along this journey I continue to question God: Are you sure I’m capable of this? When will justice prevail? Where is the hope?

John Goldingay writes about Exodus 6 (when the Israelites are still in slavery) in a very profound way:

“On the one hand, they express their distress in the groan, the lament, the cry, the plea for help, to which people gave utterance from the depth of their bondage (2:23‑24). To interpret this expression of distress as a prayer is probably to read too much into it. Israel is too depressed and afflicted to be able to look up to God. Thus, although they cry out for help, the other aspect of the paradox is that when a response to their cry comes, they are unable to hear it ‘because their spirit had been broken by their cruel slavery’ (6:9 TEV).”

This rings profoundly true for me. I have met too many enslaved: most in sexual exploitation. They cry out, longing to be free, and yet seem to be enslaved not only physically but also emotionally. They are enslaved to their own depression, brokenness, and feeling of helplessness. My friends Roy and Bonita Thompson founded a home in Bangkok that offers women a way out of the red light: they provide a place for them to live, finances for their education, and a stipend to support their living expenses with enough to send money home (a reason many are in the red light in the first place: to support their families). In their first year of operation they reached out to thousands of women: only 25 accepted their offer to come live in ‘The Home of New Beginnings’.

Back to Exodus. We are first introduced to Moses, who was a defender of the weak. We see this when he kills an Egyptian attacking one of his own people, and again when he came to the rescue of the seven daughters drawing water. Soon after Moses has shown himself to be instinctively partial to those that are suffering, we read about the Israelites crying out for help because of their slavery. And guess who God goes to after he hears this? Moses. Up until this point Yahweh and Moses had never had any interaction that we know of. Moses cared for the underdog because it was in his blood (or we could liken to say because he was ‘created in the image of God’). The first time Yahweh came to Moses, in a burning bush nonetheless, was to involve him in the promise of freedom for the Israelites

As we know, the journey to free the Israelites was anything but a short journey. It took forever. At least to me, the reader, it did. (I’ve been known for my activist ‘get it done now’ tendencies, and impatience for anything that takes longer than my energy is willing to embrace). In reading Moses’ interactions with the Pharaoh to ask for freedom, I got impatient, annoyed; why couldn’t God just speed things up already and set his people free? Yet Moses persevered. And he did it boldly. He wasn’t the perfect leader: we know he had speaking problems. So he created a team: he and Aaron were to set the people free (even though later on Aaron’s leadership becomes questionable). But Moses had unwavering faith for a long, long time: even though he made little-to-no tangible progress.

Moses was an activist: a revolutionary.

In light of activism in the context of justice today, I come to two conclusions. First is that we need to be bold. God likes (and uses!) bold people willing to defend the weak. We must take risks in our own lives to defend the exploited, the vulnerable, the weak: and these risks often involve sacrifice. And we must create a team with other bold people: because two is better than one. Second is that we must align ourselves with Christ and persevere. We will encounter many ‘no’s’ and many hardened hearts but when aligned with Christ we will have the strength, and the hope, to continue. And isn’t it peaceful to continue, knowing that you are part of a team of bold people all fighting for the same cause? The justice we are fighting for could take years, or even lifetimes, but as we learn from Moses, it’s not only about the people: but also about God showing his glory in the process.

So, a question(s). In your fight for justice, when have you seen God’s glory show through in times when you felt like there was no hope, or your endurance was running on low? How have you seen God work through you when you take bold risks, and what did you sacrifice in taking those risks? Was it worth it? 🙂