Deuteronomy is Moses's farewell address to God's people as they prepare to enter the Promised Land. In chapter 11, Moses shares on some important topics like who can enter the LORD's assembly, cleanliness of the camp, cult prostitution, loans, vows, and neighbor's crops. But in verses 15 and 16, Moses stops to address what to do with runaway slaves. Pastor Jason shares that it is not sin to escape slavery, abuse, or any form of oppression, but that it is a sin to force someone back into it. #ravnaz #thedirtpathpastor #thedirtpathsermonpodcast #podcastChristian Podcaster Association
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**not a word for word transcript, but the sermon manuscript**
LET THEM FLEE
Text: Deuteronomy 23:15-16
When Jesus is asked to name the greatest commandment, He shares two. These two sum up God’s law, outlined in the Ten Commandments. Those two laws are: love God and love others. If you and I love God, we will love people too.
Love takes bravery. It is not based on emotion, although it can be felt. But it takes courage to risk yourself for someone else, no matter if it is a family member, friend, stranger, or enemy. Throughout Christianity’s history there have been individuals who modeled our Savior, and demonstrated the bravery of this love.
As we read and wrestle with our text today, the response required of us will need to be rooted in this kind of transformational love.
READING OF THE TEXT
15 “Do not return a slave to his master when he has escaped from his master to you. 16 Let him live among you wherever he wants within your city gates. Do not mistreat him.” (CSB)
Before we dig into the text, it is important we give these verses some context. The book of Deuteronomy is the farewell address of Moses, God’s servant who led the Israelites out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and now about to enter the Promised land. Moses will not enter with them because of disobedience, but Moses shares wisdom with the people before they enter.
Much of what Moses shares is a call for the people to remember God’s law. If you want study of the law, read the book of Leviticus. It is the Old Testament handbook on how to worship God. A study of Leviticus reveals that the worship of God boils down to “loving God and loving others.” What Moses shares in our verses here is part of that call to love God and love others.
Verse 15 says, “Do not return a slave to his master when he has escaped from his master to you.” A servant has managed to get away from their oppressor, according to the law which calls the Israelites to love God and love others, God’s people are not to force the person back into slavery. They are to love the run away slave by not sending them back to their master.
There is an important side note to the word “slave” here. Most commentators agree that the original language is referring to a foreigner who has escaped slavery and came to God’s people for help. God’s people are not to send such a person back into the oppression from which they have escaped.
This is a unique thing not commonly practiced in this period. The commentator, Robert E. Clements shared, “The Babylonian law… required that fugitive slaves be returned to their former masters.” From reading Exodus, we see how the Egyptians went after an entire nation that was their slaves. Can you imagine the punishment for a single slave that got caught? God established His people to be different.
While God made it clear in verse 15 that those under His law of love would react different to a fugitive slave, it did not stop at “don’t send them back.” There is an additional clause found in verse 16. Verse 16 says, “Let the fugitive slave live among you wherever he wants within your city gates. Do not mistreat him.”
Again, this is a different call to action. If a fugitive slave was captured in a neighboring country, like Babylon or Egypt, what would their captivity have been like? While they waited to be returned, I cannot imagine it was a vacation. God tells His people, “let them live among you, and don’t be a jerk to them.”
Now, in these verses is a hidden implication. Notice the slave has made the effort to escape and is seeking a better life. A slave who risks their life at a chance for a better one is trying to change. That is an important truth to understand when trying to help anyone out of anything. They must want the change and know that change is an option. When did God rescue the Israelites? When they cried out to be freed.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO ME?
God’s people are to be different, marked by love for God and love for people. As we read these verses, knowing the history of the Israelites is key. They were slaves freed by God’s power. And while you and I may have never been in physical chains, we were slaves to sin and death until we were freed by Jesus.
God’s people are called to God’s law of love, both according to the Old Testament and the New Testament. Philippians 4:8 says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things.” Here Paul defines what our lives as God’s people look like if we are living according to God’s law of love. Remember, this is the same Paul who wrote in another letter, “All Scripture is God-breathed,” (2 Timothy 3:16) and that is before the New Testament was formed. The apostle is referring to the Old Testament. And this is also what Jesus meant when He shares the law will not be lost because of Him. (See Matthew 5:17-20) God’s law of love is the same. Love God, love others.
Looking at these verses, we see God has been and is concerned about the weak and oppressed. And if the people of God, the Israelites, and now us, want to love God they will share in His concern for the weak and oppressed. The Israelites were called to allow the fugitive salve to flee and live among them as an illustration of their love for God. In the same way, you and I as the people of God are called to display the righteousness of God in us by how we treat the weak and oppressed in our midst.
Slavery looks different in our day, but God’s call to righteousness for us remains the same today. While slavery is not the same today, in 2022 there are currently about 50 million people trapped in modern slavery. What is modern slavery? According to the internet, modern slavery is “the recruitment, harboring, or recruiting of children, women, or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception, or other means for the purpose of exploitation.
Let me give you a couple examples taking place here in our lives. I am sharing these as examples, but they are no my focal point. First, human trafficking. Parents and ladies, at the park, in the parking lots and grocery stores, you must remain vigilant. There are people with evil hearts and depraved minds who have intent to take advantage. They seek to snatch kids and women to make money by selling them to others for pleasure, or keep them for their own use. As God’s people, the way we love is by paying attention and when something does not look right we stick around until the scene is safe.
Second, again just as an example. Please keep in mind I am not entering into a political discussion on this topic. This is not the place or the time for that. Our country has laws on immigration, and I am in no way speaking to them. As God’s people our call to righteousness remains the same regardless. There is a sin that takes place involving illegal immigrants in our country. Individuals will hire them because of their status, promise them wages, and then not pay those wages. The employer robs the illegal immigrant knowing they cannot contact the authorities to make it right. Friends, this is sin. No excuse or explanations will change that fact. As God’s people we love by challenging and changing those situations.
But as I pondered and prayed over this passage, those things just mentioned were important, not my focal point though. The idea here is on those who are oppressed. Again, I went to Google to look up the definition of the word “oppression.” It means, “prolonged or unjust treatment or control.” Listed as a word that is like the word “oppression” is abuse.
Church, if you have followed social media or have watched the news, these are areas where we do not look good. All kinds of stories about pastors and lay members committing sin against the weak and vulnerable. Too often the blame gets transferred to the victims because of how they dressed or not submitting. Even if the sin is discovered, the sin is ignored or hushed, thinking that will protect the work of God, the people of God, and God Himself.
Sin cannot survive in the presence of God. If sin is hidden and unchallenged, the presence of God is absent. Exploitation is sin. Physical, emotional, and verbal abuse is sin. The sins discovered against children in the Church are things Jesus suggested a person was better off drowning for instead of facing judgment.
Love God, love people. This is the mark of Christ. We need to illustrate the righteousness of God in us by caring for the weak and oppressed. Speaking out against exploitation, not tolerating abuse in any form, and allowing people to find freedom is who we are as God’s people. The Church is called to be, needs to be, and should be a place where the oppressed are not forced to return to their oppressors. Those who come to us should be encouraged, empowered, and championed by us to live in freedom with us.
Before the Church can be known as a place to find freedom again, something must happen. We will get to that, but first, if you are a victim, Jesus loves you and hears you. I am not going to ask you to come to the altar. I want you to know there is way out, a place of people who will help, and you will not walk alone.
Still not to what we as God’s people need to do. But second, if you are an oppressor, abuser, or are guilty of exploiting, you need to repent. You have sinned against God. If you are keeping a secret for such people, you need to repent for allowing sin to abound. I am not calling you forward to the altar, however, confess your sin and find forgiveness in the blood of Jesus. Find power in the name of Jesus to be transformed. Demonstrate that transformation by letting go and setting your victim free. Share the secret with the proper people so the victim can be set free.
Church, this is what needs to happen. Scripture says, “the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household.” This is where we are. There may be no one here today who has committed these sins, and it is possible no one here is a victim of such sins. However, you and I can lament what has taken place. We can intercede for those who have been impacted. So, people of God, I am inviting you forward with me. Can we be brave enough to love and seek God for those who are oppressed?