Israel in Slavery and Slavery in Israel -- By: D. Jeffrey Mooney

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 12:3 (Fall 2008)
Article: Israel in Slavery and Slavery in Israel
Author: D. Jeffrey Mooney

Israel in Slavery and Slavery in Israel

D. Jeffrey Mooney*

*D. Jeffrey Mooney is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University in Riverside, California. He also serves as Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church Norco in Norco, California. Dr. Mooney received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

C. J. H. Wright notes that most epics of national origin were elaborate ethnic myths meant to inspire worship of the nation’s ancestral past. By contrast, Israel openly recorded that they emerged from state-imposed slavery that became increasingly difficult and inhumane.1 Consequently, their post-liberation legislation seems consistent with the reality of being former slaves. This truth produced a certain tension within Israel. On the one hand, they accepted the status quo reality of slavery. On the other hand, their legislation produced a covenant-subversiveness2 that emphasized the ideal of personal freedom. A canonical reading reveals that the biblical writers considered slavery a historical reality that sets the canonical stage for God’s revelation of Himself through His sustaining, redeeming, and shaping Israel both as a nation and as a community of faith. Further, a deepened awareness of slavery in Exodus yields a better understanding of Israel’s liberation and legislation, which are both central to the history of redemption.

Coming to Terms with Slavery in Exodus

The primary Hebrew root used most often to denote slavery is עבד.3 The verb עבד occurs 317 times in the Old Testament and typically means “to serve.”4 The nominal form of the root appears over twice as often as the verbal form (over 800 times).5 Like the verbal form, more often than not, the term indicates a “servant.”6 However, the substantive may also mean “slave, subject, official, or vassal.” It can also refer to the follower/ servant of a particular god.7 Throughout Exodus, Moses predominately uses the term עבד for slave talk. When עבד means “slave,”8 Moses distinguishes it from שׂכִיר, “servant”9 and at times sets it in correspondence wi...

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