One of the more unfair statements made about the Judeo-Christian perspective is that it is slave religion. It is common, though, if lamentable, for people who are hostile to the Bible to project the problems of their own existence onto the Bible itself. Far from supporting a slave mentality, the Bible is frequently hostile to this mentality in ways that are not often appreciated by those who would wish to condemn the Bible. And indeed, the Bible points to the supposed freedom that people seek as being itself a form of slavery. All of this suggests that in order to understand the Bible’s view of slavery and freedom we need to recognize the contrast between the slave mentality as it is seen by hostile critics who view godly obedience as servile and the Bible’s view of the slavery to sin in the same sense that we look at the slavery of addiction. All too often our view of freedom is an illusion.
When we think of ancient Israel after their release from slavery in Egypt, it is fair to wonder how it is that they never ceased being slaves in their heart. This was not something that was viewed favorably by God and it is consistently condemned in the Bible. Psalm 95:7b-11 reads: “Today, if you will hear His voice: Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me; they tried Me, though they saw My work. For forty years I was grieved with that generation, and said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”” Similarly, Paul has some harsh things to say about Israel in the wilderness in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11: “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”
It is interesting that the slave mentality that tried and tested God was twofold in nature. For one, Israel never acquired faith in God’s power and goodness, continually whining about not having food, or water, or meat, or something else. A mere forty days of being without Moses was enough to lead them to demand an idol. And Israel lacked faith in God’s power, refusing to enter the promised land because of the bad report of the majority of the spies. Part of the slave mentality of ancient Israel, therefore, included a sort of “learned helplessness” that God refused to accept as a worthwhile approach to life. He expected the attitude of Israel to change when conditions changed, but Israel remained tied to the leeks of Egypt and refused to accept responsibility for the vows that they had made to honor and obey God. God sought to free them from slavery and from sin, but they could not be emancipated from slavery to resentment and fear and lust. In our own age we find this to be a similar problem, as people desire freedom from restraint and find themselves slave of sin, view themselves as the helpless victim of structural evils while themselves remaining slaves to resentment and envy in their dark hearts. Those who complain the most about oppression are often those who have taken least hold of the freedom that God offers.
It is rather telling to ponder the sort of freedom that God offers to believers. Ephesians 6:5-9 gives a perspective of freedom and slavery from the pen of Paul, and he writes: “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” Here we see that God condemns servile and obsequious eye-service that is associated with the slave mentality. God does not want eye-service and does not want believers to serve others that way. He wants sincere and honest service to Himself and others, and promises to reward his believers without partiality to their social class, something we would do well to remember ourselves as we celebrate our own freedom in various spheres of life.