As Judah prepares to go into exile in Babylon, God has a final command for them: free your Hebrew slaves (Jeremiah 34). Whatever brothers and sisters have come into your household as servants due to debt or trespass or whatever, set them free before Babylon takes you. And you might think maybe it doesn't matter all that much - if we're all about to become slaves to another kingdom, what does it matter if Bill is already my slave or if he's a free man?
Oh, it matters.
It matters for a lot of reasons, actually. First, it matters because the rules in Babylon are different than the rules in Judah. In Judah, a Hebrew slave goes free every 50 years; that's part of the Jubilee. But if you take your slave into Babylon with you, the Babylonian rules make that slave part of your property; he's considered yours, and he loses every right that he has. If you free your Hebrew slave before the captivity, then he goes in as his own man...and comes out that way. If you don't free him, he goes in as property...and likely dies that way.
Second, you free him to be a good servant to Babylon and to be part of the Judean culture there. Jesus would later say that nobody can serve two masters, and the same principle is at play here. Bill cannot be your servant and faithfully serve you and also be a captive of Babylon and faithfully serve them. And as we've seen, God is all about being faithful even in exile, being nice to Babylon, living a righteous life in captivity. "Pray for Babylon," He tells His people, "for their peace is your peace." (Not an exact quote; the gist of the thing.) Anyway, if Bill has to be first concerned about you, then about your people, then about Babylon...that's too much for Bill to worry about. Free him from being your slave, and you free him to live the kind of righteous life in a foreign land that God is calling you all to.
Third, if you free your Hebrew slave now, he might not even have to go to Babylon. He may become part of the remnant. Because we know that Babylon left behind some of the poor to work the land, to stay and to dwell and even to govern this new territory that they have taken over. And who is poorer than a man who has spent the last many years as a slave in someone else's house? You could say that in this case, maybe you're doing your Hebrew slave a favor and saving him from the exile altogether by making him a free man, but it's much more than that.
You've just gifted your slave to your people.
Think about it. He's learned to serve others by serving you. He's probably pretty good at it. Most slaves were. He was probably dutiful, respectful, hard-working, honest. He was probably thankful for the opportunity to provide for his family in the way that servitude allowed him, giving them all the things he couldn't have given them if he wasn't working for you (and you, then, providing them for him). Yes, indeed, your Hebrew slave has been a great slave and now...and now, he's about to become exactly the kind of guy who preserves Judah. Who keeps Judah. Who works Judah.
He's the guy who's going to take care of your homeland while you're out of it. Ironically, he can't take care of your house if he's still in it; only by freeing him do you allow him the opportunity to continue to care for your house. And not just your physical property, but the promised land of your people. He's the guy going to take care of the country until you get back. And isn't he exactly the kind of guy you want doing that? A good, faithful, brother who has happened to be a servant...and still will be? If you keep all of your poor brothers in bondage going into captivity, then I'm telling you - aliens are going to become the keepers of Judah, not Hebrews. So not only do you lose your home, but you lose your homeland.
So on the edge of your own exile, set your brother free. For you may just find that he is your keeper after all, living the righteous life wherever he ends up and holding onto the dignity that is his as a being created in the image of God.
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