Skip to main content

January 2014: Proverbs 29 by Doug

Proverbs 29:21 is one of those verses that gets us into trouble in the modern day. Why? Because it talks about slavery without simply saying slavery is bad. And some folks would make it even worse than that! How so?






First, Proverbs 29:21 certainly speaks of slavery. Slavery was a fact of life in the ancient world. It was sometimes as wicked as modern slavery, or 19th century slavery, or 15th century slavery, but sometimes it was not. That’s a whole different discussion. Proverbs deals with life as it is as much as life as we wish it would be.





In truth, many places in the Bible speak of slavery. Nowhere is slavery truly endorsed, though Paul speaks to slaves of accepting life and going on as best possible. Neither is mistreatment of slaves approved, except by mangling this verse. Which comes from our modern tendency to argue from opposite extremes. Notice how the verse disapproves of “pampering” a slave.





We need to set that aside for a moment, though, and examine the word “slave” in Proverbs. Actually, let us widen the net and take apart the Hebrew word עֶ֫בֶד and see what uses this word has. First, it is used of a “villein” (see medieval England) or a serf in feudalism. This is someone who has to work land, has a measure of freedom in place but not of movement. It is also used of military subordination and of non-familial dependents. This is the term used by Joseph’s brothers when they come to Egypt for food (Genesis 42:10) and Jacob of himself to Esau (Genesis 33:14).





This is not the word for someone held in perpetual bondage with absolutely no rights. Let us keep that straight from the get-go: there is no lash inherent in this terminology, and likely the translations from the Septuagint forward that have rendered this as “servant” or “house-servant” rather than “slave” serve the modern reader better. (corrections from better Hebrew speakers are welcome, that’s why there are comments)





Pampering, though, is an excellent word choice. The Septuagint uses the Greek for “live wantonly,” so those concepts pair well. This is someone who is allowed to shirk their responsibilities and have pleasure instead. Pleasure that is unearned.





The issue at stake here is this: if you expect someone to work for their living then you had best not let them slack for the first years of their life. Not that we expect toddlers to work, but the reference here is to ages where work could be reasonably expected.





This wisdom applies to many other relationships, and it’s worth broadening. First of all, it works in parenting: kids who are pampered until 21 are headed for struggles very different from kids given responsibility. Further, within churches, I think there is value here in thinking about how we work together.





Now, to be clear, I think that anyone who views church members as their “slaves” had better have been resurrected three days after crucifixion, have nail scarred hands, and be able to walk on water. There’s no room for superiority among us all. But this applies in churches: when we allow (and sometimes encourage) large groups of people to sit back and do nothing, then in the end we will have people who expect to just that: nothing.





This includes pampering the preacher and not expecting him to occasionally take out the trash, too. Otherwise, he’ll be a bit on the lazy side.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: The Heart Mender by @andyandrews (Andy Andrews)

The Heart Mender: A Story of Second ChancesEver read a book that you just kind of wish is true?  That's my take on The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews.  It's a charming story of love and forgiveness, and it's woven into the historical setting of World War II America.  For the narrative alone, the book is worth the read, but the message it contains is well worth absorbing as well.However, let's drop back a minute.  This book was originally published under the title Island of Saints.  I read Island of Saints and enjoyed it greatly.  Now, Andrews has released it under a new title, with a few minor changes.  All of this is explained in the Author's Note at the beginning, but should be noted for purchaser's sake.  If you read Island of Saints, you're rereading when you read The Heart Mender.  Now, go ahead and reread it.  It will not hurt you one bit.Overall, the story is well-paced.  There are points where I'd like more detail, both in the history and the geog…

Abraham Lincoln Quoted by Jesus! Mark 3

Mark records a curious event in his third chapter (link). If you look at Mark 3:25, you'll see that Jesus quotes the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. After all, one of the highlights of the Lincoln years is his famous speech regarding slavery in the United States where he used the phrase that "a house divided against itself cannot stand." This speech was given in 1858 when he accepted the nomination to run against Stephen A. Douglas for Senate, but is still remembered as the defining speech regarding slaveholding in the United States. I recall being taught in school how brilliant and groundbreaking the speech was, how Lincoln had used such wise words to convey his thought. Yet the idea was not original to Lincoln. Rather, it was embedded in Lincoln from his time reading the Bible. Now, I have read varying reports about Lincoln's personal religious beliefs: some place him as a nearly completely committed Christian while others have him somewh…

Book: Vindicating the Vixens

Well, if Vindicating the Vixens doesn’t catch your attention as a book title, I’m not sure what would. This volume, edited by Sandra L. Glahn (PhD), provides a look at some of the women of the Bible who are “Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized.” As is frequently the case, I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my review.Let’s take this a stage at a time. First stage: book setup. This is primarily an academic Biblical Studies book. Be prepared to see discussions of Greek and Hebrew words, as appropriate. You’ll also need a handle on the general flow of Biblical narrative, a willingness to look around at history, and the other tools of someone who is truly studying the text. This is no one-day read. It’s a serious study of women in the Bible, specifically those who either faced sexual violence or who have been considered sexually ‘wrong’ across years of study.A quick note: this book is timely, not opportunistic. The length of time to plan, assign, develop, and publish a multi…