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Debt that Enslaves

Words of Faith Final

Debt that Enslaves
Words of Faith 12-30-2022
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2022
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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Exodus 21
[2] "If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. [3] If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. [4] If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.
[5] "But if the servant declares, 'I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,' [6] then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.
[7] "If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. [8] If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. [9] If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. [10] If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. [11] If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Now, this is an interesting scripture for a daily devotional! The text exposes us to details of the ancient world of slavery. Slavery was assumed to be a part of the ancient world, even among the Israelites who had just been freed from slavery. The slavery that would develop in Israel was not the cruel system of Greece, Rome, and later nations, but it existed. A common way a person might become enslaved was through unpaid debt.
This portion of the law addresses the treatment of "debt slaves." People were sometimes forced to sell themselves or their family members into slavery in order to pay a debt. This may seem harsh, but the law actually created a much more humane practice than other cultures in the ancient Near East. There were no perpetual slaves without the permission of the slave, and escaped slaves did not have to be returned to their masters.
Israelite law sought to provide a reasonable period of labor service to the creditor and a time limit on servitude for the "debt slave." No one could serve more than six years, and when they were freed, they went out debt-free. All slaves were set free in the fiftieth year of Jubilee. Without land, many chose to remain in the service of their creditor or to move to the cities to find jobs or join the military. If a servant chose to remain in the service of a creditor, the ear was pierced to signify this decision. Entranceways were considered sacred and legally significant spots for such an agreement to be sealed.
If a daughter was sold into slavery by her father, this was intended as a payment of debt and a way of obtaining a husband for her without a dowry. She had more rights than a male in the sense that she could be freed from slavery if her master did not provide her with food, clothing, and marital rights.
So what do we do with these verses? The situations seem quite foreign to us. First, we should pause and give thanks that we live in a nation where a person and their family cannot be enslaved due to debt or any other reason. Beyond this, there may be a principle for application.
Debt does enslave. Crushing debt can be one of the most destructive events for a person or family. This text is probably part of the basis for bankruptcy law, which seeks to provide a remedy for crushing debt. Most state bankruptcy laws allow a person an option for legal freedom from crushing debts but only once in seven years. This text is a little different in that it requires servitude of the debtor for six years but no more.
The basic principle here seems to be that a creditor is not to "own" another person's life because of debt or any other reason. There is a fair expectation for a person to pay back debts, but not to lose one's very self for the rest of their life. There should be a second chance.
Sometimes in life, you may be a creditor to another person or in a place of influence. Sometimes debts are overwhelming or even impossible to repay. The principle in this Scripture says that there should be a legitimate effort to pay the legitimate debt but that there is a limit. There should be a second chance.
There are also times in life when you may be in debt. Modern law provides a way to keep that debt from crushing a person or family. However, there is still a responsibility to make an effort to repay. It would be too literal to say that one should make payment of all they earn for six years toward an overwhelming debt. But the principle is powerful. We should not walk away from debt with no effort to repay. The Apostle Paul exhorted believers to leave no debt outstanding (Rom. 13:8).
Perhaps another principle is that we should be cautious with debt, especially unsecured consumer debt. Some debt is simply a secured contract to purchase property or a house. But other debt accumulates, primarily because we lack discipline. Debt enslaves. Certainly, our goal in life should be freedom. We should seek to be a slave to no one. We also need to give second chances as an expression of grace.

Father God, I give thanks to You for freedom. Walk with me today in that freedom. Guide me in every venture, including life's financial and economic decisions. I pray that I may help others find freedom in You. In Jesus' name.

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© Jeffrey D. Hoy 2022
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy - Faith Fellowship Church (EFCA)
2820 Business Center Blvd.
Melbourne, Florida 32940 (321)-259-7200
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