Exodus 7:16. And you shall say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.”
There’s a very important little word here: serve. In Hebrew it’s the word abad. The word abad means to work or to be a slave. But it is also the Hebrew word for to serve or to worship. So in the Old Testament the word for work and worship are the same word. The words slave and worshiper are also the same word. In the Bible abad describes what slaves do and what priests do.
Hopefully you can see that this has huge implications for us as humanity.
The word first appears in Genesis 2. Adam (humanity) was placed in the Garden to work [abad] and keep it (2:15). We were created to be workers, servants, worshipers. Eden was God’s garden temple, the meeting place of God and man. And men and women were created to serve in and protect that temple as its priests.
By the time we get to Exodus we see humanity’s representatives (the Hebrews) far from fulfilling their Genesis purpose. They aren’t serving and worshiping God. Humans aren’t the priests they were created to be, they are slaves. Slaves (the Hebrews) to others slaves (the Egyptians). But this is never what God intended for us.
The book of exodus begins with this grim depiction of humanity, slaves to idols enslaving other people to themselves all because of fear. Love is nowhere to be found:
Exodus 1:12-14. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves [abad] 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service [abad], in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work [abad] in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves [abad].
But then, at the burning bush, God told Moses that he would free the Hebrews to serve him.
Exodus 3:12. He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve [abad] God on this mountain.”
God’s plan wasn’t to free humanity from slavery. His plan was to free humanity from slavery to anything other than himself. Why? Because this is humanity’s purpose. To serve God. To worship him. The command from God to Pharaoh through Moses isn’t just to let the Hebrews go. It is to let them go unto their greater purpose – serving God. This will be repeated to Pharaoh six more times – Let my people go, that they may serve me.
Who or what are you serving?. Who do you live for? This is the most important thing about you. It reveals who or what you are worshiping. We are all slaves. And whatever enslaves you is your god.
I know the idea of being a slave rubs us all the wrong way, but what we learn in Exodus is that we are all slaves to something. Why? Because it’s how we were created. We were created to serve, to work, to worship, to abad. We hate slavery and we hate the idea of being a slave, but serving something or someone bigger than ourselves is what we were made for. And there’s only one thing in the universe bigger than us – God. This is exactly why humanity was never intended to enslave each other. It’s an offense to our worship of God alone.
The Hebrew’s story in Exodus will demonstrate the great battle of the human heart – a desire to be enslaved to something other than God. No sooner had they been rescued by God the Hebrews want to go back and be slaves again to the Egyptians.
Exodus 14:12. Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve [abad] the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve [abad] the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
You see you have to serve something. If not God, something else. Self. Status. Stuff. Him. Her. Them. All are cruel taskmasters. Never satisfying your heart’s true desire.
In Christ we have been set free from the slavery to all things that are lesser masters than God. In Christ we can truly worship and serve God. As sons. Not just slaves. Like Jesus himself, we can serve God and others as God intended. Not from bondage but from freedom. This is what union with Christ offers to us, this whole new way to abad. A whole new way to be a slave. Not against our will but by our will. By our new heart.
Freed into love. Freed into true humanity.
Just like freedom from Egypt didn’t free the Hebrews from being servants, union with Christ doesn’t free us from being servants. It frees us to be servants. We are no longer slaves of the many “Pharaohs” that would steal our humanity. Now we are the servants of God. His redeemed sons. His priests in our little corner of the garden temple that he has entrusted to us each day.
But how do you serve a God that has everything? By serving his creation. Mankind. The earth. The church. And just like the Hebrews were supposed to be, now we are slaves to God from out of our freedom. We do not serve others because we are forced to. Nor do we force others to serve us. We serve each other as brothers and sisters, not as slaves and masters. We serve from love. We become living sacrifices driven by the mercies of God genuinely loving each other because this is our reasonable service of worship (Rom. 12:1-2).
“To live is Christ” has set us free. Free to be slaves. Slaves of God. Worshipers of God and servants of all mankind.