Reclaiming Our Slaves

What could provoke God to hand his people to a horde of ruthless soldiers, allowing them to kill many and forcibly remove the rest to distant lands? The prophets of the Old Testament give many reasons for the Lord’s actions toward Israel and Judah. One vivid example is found in Jeremiah 34.
In God’s covenant with Israel, enslavement of fellow-Hebrews was allowed, but with restrictions. Most important was that these slaves be released every seventh year, thus preventing perpetual servitude for God’s people. In the lawless days before the Babylonian invasion this command was ignored. There was no year of release, no year of Jubilee. The gap between the rich and the poor continued to grow.
Finally, a proclamation was issued by King Zedekiah that all Hebrew slaves should be set free in keeping with God’s law. The people heeded the royal edict and their brethren were released. But after a few days of having to do their own work, the wealthy masters had a change of heart. Like Pharaoh of old, they reached out to reclaim their former servants and restored their comfortable lifestyles.
God’s reaction to this sinful change of heart is recorded in Jeremiah 34:16,17: “Then you turned around and profaned my name, and every one of you brought back his male and female slaves, whom he had set at liberty, at their pleasure, and brought them back into subjection, to be your male and female slaves. … ‘Behold I proclaim liberty to you,’ says the Lord — ‘to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine!'” (NKJV) In choosing to heed their selfish desires above the command of God, the people profaned God’s holy name. God’s punishment grew more determined than ever.
Does this historic event have any relevance to our lives? According to the apostle Paul it does. All of us who are connected with slavery need to consider.
Connected with slavery? Slavery is illegal in our country and in most of the civilized world. But in Romans 6 Paul wrote about slavery that continues to be practiced among upstanding Christians. “Do you now know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16) Sin is slavery. And the great deception of this slavery is that those who are servants think they are in control! “If it feels good, do it,” we proclaim, assuming we are the masters of our destinies. It is a lie which makes emancipation so much more unlikely.
Emancipation is possible, Paul went on to affirm: “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17,18). When we submit our lives to Christ, we are liberated from our former slavery to sin. We are freed from the passions that subtly ruin us.
How many of us, though, have had a change of heart and have reclaimed “our” slaves? The memories of pleasure and power are compelling, and we reject God’s orders to let go of sins. In turning back to those deeds and thoughts God tells us to release, we profane the name of God.
Our appetites are powerful. Our desire to be in control causes us to be fooled about things that really control us. Our only hope for true freedom and happiness is to hear the words of God and to follow His instructions in everything.

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Tim Hall

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