A debate over pierced ears?

I already know that this is going to be a massively popular post. Nothing like the topic of slavery to get everybody jumping up and down and shouting hallelujah.

Deuteronomy 15:12-17:

If a fellow Hebrew, a man or woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your wine press. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.

But if your servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your maidservant.

What do I see in this passage?

  1. No Hebrew could hold another Hebrew as a servant or slave AGAINST THEIR WILL. Servanthood was a business agreement the two parties entered into, with specific expectations and responsibilities on both sides.
  2. After six years the servant was released from the contract, and the Master was expected to send him or her off with adequate payment for their services.
  3. A servant might decide he or she was better off in the Master’s house than on their own, and ask to be a servant for the rest of their life.
  4. In that case, the Master would put the servant’s earlobe against the door and pierce it with an awl, thus sealing a binding contract. From that moment on, the servant belonged to the Master for the rest of his or her life. 
  5. The scar in the earlobe was the tangible proof that this vow had been made. The vow could not be broken, just as the ear could not be un-scarred.  If the servant changed his mind later and said, “I don’t want this anymore; I’m leaving,” it wouldn’t matter. The deed had already been done and walking away was no longer an option. He was owned by the Master. He might end up being a worthless, unproductive, resentful slave, but he was a slave nonetheless, and it was a choice he had made of his own free will.

Paul’s writings in the New Testament cover the topic of eternal salvation in detail but this little passage in Deuteronomy (also in Exodus 21:5-6) keeps nagging at me. How is the servant in these passages any different from a person who surrenders his life to Christ? If we give our lives to Christ we are redeemed from the power of sin and death (hallelujah!) but we are also submitting our will to Christ. We are  no longer the master of our own lives, but He is.

Ephesians 1:13:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

In Deuteronomy, we see that the servant became the possession of his Master by his own free will, and the deal was sealed by the awl piercing his earlobe.

In Ephesians, we see that Christians become the possession of God by accepting the salvation of Jesus of our own free will, and the deal is sealed by the Holy Spirit.

If, as Christians, we are the possession of God, then the option is no longer ours to say, “I’m sick of this, I’m out of here.” The deed is done. We belong to him whether we eagerly serve him or run away.

“Heart like an awl” by goldsmith Cheryl Burchell. The symbol of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

The only question that remains, then, is if a person actually gave their life to Christ in the first place. Who are any of us to judge that? The mark of the Holy Spirit isn’t as easily visible as a scar in the earlobe. Ultimately, that is something personal between a person and God. But the Bible says that we can know a person by the fruits they produce.

I remember hearing stories about two celebrities from times past, both dead now. One experimented with all kinds of spiritual avenues, and claimed that he “tried Christianity” for awhile but it was a phase that didn’t stick. The other one was vocally anti-Christian for a long time then apparently had a change of heart. He didn’t want to go to Hell and knew he deserved it. He repented and gave his life to Christ and for awhile had great joy, producing creative offerings for the Lord. But the people around him hated what he’d done and did everything in their power to drag him down. As a celebrity he was pretty isolated from the rest of society. He didn’t have a mentor or a fellow body of believers to help strengthen and grow his newfound faith. His joy in Christ eventually withered and he is reported to have said he had a “lucky escape” from that lifestyle. However, in his last few years of life he wasn’t the same person he was before his conversion; not as angry, bitter, or unforgiving as he had been before.

If those stories are even true (who knows with stories of famous people), then both of those men have had their day to defend their lives before the Lord. I doubt either of them heard, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” But one of them treated Christianity as nothing more than the latest pop psychology fad, while the other actually gave himself to the Lord. One of them was free to walk away, and did. The other one had the figurative scar in his ear to prove he wasn’t free to walk away even when he claimed he was done. Which man do you think is happy now with the choice that he made?

None of us, I think, relish the idea of being a slave to anyone. But that is how we were made—remember, we are creatures, not gods. Like Bob Dylan so eloquently put it, “You gotta serve somebody.” We are either a slave to sin (and, therefore, death), or a slave to Christ (and, therefore, eternal life). There is no other option, no other path, no other way. Slavery to Christ is actually freedom from sin, evil, death, pain, worry, fear, sadness, and despair. Jesus is The Great Paradox.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

…If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. …Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. – Romans 10:9-13

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