The Shuvah Project #20 — Healing the Divide

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary. 

And he took the book of the covenant and read in the audience of the people; and they responded, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do and hear.”

-Exodus 24:7  

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s parsha (Exodus 21:1-24:18) contained: laws on servitude, injuries, theft, agriculture, lending, sex, sorceresses, exploitation of vulnerable people, collateral, first-fruits, justice, festivals, a section on promises and warnings of idolatry, and a final section on the covenant reading and response.

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we invited readers to think about this whole section of laws differently. We suggested, based on Rabbinic commentary, that the laws in our Torah portion might actually be commentary on the commandments.

The Rabbis at Aleph Beta uncover several connecting laws. Here, let’s test that idea with the very first law we run into… the acquisition of a Hebrew into slavery (Exodus 21:2). 

Right away we might notice that none of the Ten Commandments specifically deals with slavery. Yet, the language in the servitude verse seems familiar. The Text details how the enslaved Hebrew is to work for six years, then in the seventh year go free from that work.

Do any of the Ten Commandments talk about working for a set of six and then being freed on the seventh?

Yes! That’s the fourth commandment we emphasized last week — keep holy the Sabbath!

Here it is again:

You (i.e. us) are to work for six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work — you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates.

-Exodus 20:8-10

The language is strikingly similar. And, the Commandment itself even mentions that Sabbath applies to enslaved people. However, it seems odd that a law about servitude would connect to a Commandment about Sabbath. Maybe there’s more to Sabbath. But slavery?

Yes. Think about it… why would a law be designed to impose a time limit to servitude?

Who is the law really for? It’s about the person in servitude, but it’s for the person being served (i.e. the master). In fact, if you re-read the laws about servitude in this section, you’ll notice none of them discuss the need for the the enslaved person to be obedient. They’re all about how to treat someone in servitude.

Being forced to free an enslaved person forces the master to recognize… they’re not really masters. They don’t really own the person in servitude. They don’t really own anything. God is the master of the universe.

Now, nothing is going to make a discussion on slavery easy to swallow. We know the inhumanity of it. We’ve got history on our side as witness to the horrors of abusive power. Still, it is interesting to see that a law was designed to guard against ownership. Moreover, there’s a lot to this effect if we were to unpack just two more verses (Exodus 21:5-6). Like, a whole lot regrading the relationship between the person being served and the person in service.

Back to the Commentary conversation. If the law on servitude is actually about confronting ownership, like we just discussed, and the language of the law connects to the fourth Commandment — what does that tell us about the underlying values of the Sabbath?

Maybe Sabbath is also a forced confrontation with ownership.

The universe isn’t ours. Creation isn’t ours. People aren’t ours. Things aren’t ours.

When we keep the Sabbath, we reveal something to the world – that we recognize and trust the Creator God. For six days God created, but on the seventh rested from all that He had made (Genesis 2:2). If the Creator God knew when to stop, shouldn’t we?

If we really trust the story of our God, we can stop trying to be in control of everything, everyday. Sabbath is designed as a weekly liberation from servitude to our production.

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

M.D. Goulder, in The Evangelists’ Calendar, suggested Luke 5:17-26 is purposefully connected to our Torah portion. Unlike some connections we’ve discussed, this connection was not easy to uncover.

Then the language and imagery came alive. The Luke Text, unlike the Matthew Text (Matthew 9:1-8), details the friends’ ascent up the roof in order to lay the paralyzed man before Jesus.

At the end of our Torah portion, after the laws, Moses is instructed to ascend Mount Sinai and approach the Lord. In fact, Exodus 24 — the last chapter in our Torah portion — seems pretty focused on ascending the mountain of God and seeing God (Exodus 24:1,9,12,13,15, and 18).

Maybe the best part of this whole thing is that the Textual connection immediately follows Israel’s verbal covenant with God — “we will do and we will hear” (Exodus 24:7).

The author of Luke brings us back to the Sinai covenant.

I’m not entirely sure why, but what follows helps lead that discovery.

After reading the Luke Text carefully I’m left with a huge question…

…if the persons well-studied in Torah weren’t reasoning about Jesus’ ability to forgive sins, would Jesus have bothered healing the paralyzed man? 

It seems to me there was no initial intent to physically heal the man. 

That’s worth mulling over. Especially, in connection to our Torah portion.

The Luke Text invites us to see a Jesus that thinks it’s more important to forgive sins. Jesus also, based on the Text at hand, seems to suggest that Moses-like people can lead to the sins of another being forgiven. For example, the paralyzed man’s sins were forgiven because of the faithful action his friends took to ascend the roof. In the near future, we’ll come to see Moses’ ascent up the mountain being crucial for God’s forgiveness of Israel’s sin of the gold calf. This connection is deepened as our Torah portion closes with Moses being on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). It is during those 40 days and 40 nights the people get weary — enter the golden calf. 

That notion of weariness even plays out in the Luke Text. 

The author of Luke uses paralyō, different from Matthew, to describe the man’s condition. The word Matthew uses has no reference in the Septuagint. However, paralyō does.

In the Hebrew context the word is associated with two major ideas… uncleanliness and unsteadiness (e.g. trembling, worry, or weakness from fear). Both ideas show up at Sinai.

Here’s the thing… the author of Luke could have used the same word as Matthew. Most, if not all, scholars recognize Matthew to be written prior to Luke. Instead, the author chose a word the links more closely to the Hebrew imagery. For example, in the Septuagint, paralyō shows up in Isaiah 35:3 as tottering knees. Just three verse later Isaiah makes reference to a lame man leaping. Wouldn’t lame and paralytic be better parallels? Yet, the author of Luke specifically chose a word with distinctly different imagery. And it’s not as if the author of Luke doesn’t know the difference; the same lame in Isaiah 35:6 gets used in later chapters (e.g. Luke 7:22).

Something else is going on. And, it seems less about physical healing and more about spiritually restoring someone unclean and unsteady. 

Section Three (missing the mark) & Section Four (real-world applications):

Let’s get real-world this week. It requires you to watch this nine minute video interpreting the law on female slavery. Thanks to the generous team at Aleph Beta you don’t even have to leave this window to do so.


You need to watch the video before reading on.

The Textual evidence is compelling. But, that aside, what stands out most is how in-line the idea is with my theory of change — which I like to think is Jesus’ theory of change — relationships.

We’ve discussed something similar before. In Mission of God, we said when some pastors perpetuate the allure and the lie of the good life at the pulpit, soon everyone looks alike, but no one looks like God.

We also made the case, in Worth Imitating, that incarnating the good life isn’t worth imitating.

Now, think about the social fabric of your church. I think we, millennials especially, like to talk about diversity and acceptance with regard to race, gender, and sexuality. But, race, gender, and sexuality don’t necessarily preclude joining hip and affluent social circles today. Poverty does.

Because people experiencing poverty dress different

How well does your church include the poor?

Next Week’s Readings: Exodus 25:1-27:19; Luke 5:27-39

2 thoughts on “The Shuvah Project #20 — Healing the Divide

  1. One thing I’d like to point out is how slavery is perceived in the Hebraic world versus other ways. If you, a Hebrew, were down on your luck, if you had no financial wealth, or maybe your father squandered your inheritance, you put yourself out to work. They called it what the translators have interpreted as slavery. we call it “being gainfully employed.” This was an limited-time offer, an OPPORTUNITY for someone to get a leg up, to get a nest-egg prepared all while being housed, clothed, and fed. AND getting a big bonus to get their life jump-started at the end. It was so bad (sarcasm!) that people could even sign up for life.

    People just rush to other models because that’s all we know from the 19th century. They just can’t conceive of there being a time, even in America when everyone didn’t just work to increase the wealth of a corporation. Job one of every “householder” was get some land so you could grow things, and also have some trade to produce things when it was too cold to grow things.

    How much better is it in this “Christian country” where kids have to take out hundreds of thousands in loans that will crush every dream they have for the next 20 years? THAT, folks, is slavery of a more vile kind.

    Were others cruelly kept involuntarily–YES, including Hebrews themselves. they had first-hand knowledge of what it was like and we are counseled numerous times in Torah to treat strangers very well simply because we were mistreated way back then.


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