According to International Justice Mission, “Bonded slavery is the continual labor of individuals forced to work by mental or physical threat.” Bonded slaves are forced to work long hours for scant or no wages, often in poor conditions, and they are frequently beaten and abused. In 2009, an estimated 27 million women, children, and men all over the world today are held as bonded slaves, child soldiers, and in sexual servitude.
Does the Bible have anything relevant to say about this? Absolutely yes. Yesterday we considered Joseph, one man who faced injustice, and God’s work in his life. Today’s passage introduces the story of a whole group of God’s people who experienced both slavery and God’s salvation.
The Israelites of today’s passage were held in slavery by their Egyptian oppressors, much like modern–day bonded slaves. The beginning of the book of Exodus notes that the Egyptians began to feel threatened by the number of Joseph’s descendants. A new Egyptian king, who did not know about Joseph, enslaved them under brutal working conditions. He even ordered that all Hebrew males be killed at birth (Exodus 1). Moses was one Israelite baby who escaped death and enslavement and was even reared in the royal palace. As an adult, however, Moses witnessed the bondage of his people and killed an Egyptian oppressor, which forced him to flee to Midian (Exodus 2). Despite these events, God heard the cries of the Israelites and remembered His covenant of love with them (Ex. 2:23–25).
God appeared to Moses “in flames of fire from within a bush” (v. 2). He declared that He was not blind nor deaf to the suffering of the Israelites (v. 7). He did not ignore their misery, enslavement, and suffering at the hands of the oppressive Egyptians. He said twice that “now” is the time He will act (vv. 9–10). What will God do in the face of this injustice? It is not enough simply to free them from this situation. He also promised to reestablish them (v. 8). Amazingly, God recruits Moses to join His rescue mission (v. 10).