Philemon 1:18 "If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account." |
All the commandments teach us about God's character, about His sense of justice mixed with compassion. As we read about the law of the escaped slave we remember traditions about Eliezer, Abraham's servant (Deuteronomy 23:15-16; Genesis 15:2). It is said that Abraham found this escapee slave from Damascus nearly dying in the desert. Abraham took care of him and gave sanctuary but his owners came to ask for him. Abraham claimed that as long as Eliezer was in his camp he was bound to protect him. The customs concerning hospitality and protection of guests were very strong in those days. Abraham then bought Eliezer's freedom at a very high price, then freed him to do as he pleased. Eliezer then decided to remain as a servant to Abraham, a beautiful example of what the Master does for us. He frees us from our slave owner, but let's us serve him from our own free will.
Contrary to what people think, Paul continued Torah observance, also honoring this command on the sanctuary of slaves in Israel. As he was in house arrest in Rome, an escapee slave from Colossi named Onesimus came to him. Paul tutored Onesimus and brought him to the knowledge of Yeshua. According to Paul's understanding of Torah, even though not technically in Israel, he represented Israel therefore Paul felt he should not return the slave to Philemon his owner. But Paul was also under Roman law, which demanded the return of escapee slaves to their owner. The situation was very delicate; what to do?
Whereas the Torah forbade the returning of slave who found refuge in Israel, nothing forbade slaves from voluntarily returning to their owner. Paul knew Philemon, that he was a notable member of the community of believers in Colossi, and also a slave owner. In the letter to Philemon which we find in our apostolic Scrptures, Paul sends Onesimus who voluntarily returns to Philemon, with a letter from Paul asking for Onesimus' freedom. Ignatius later refers to an 'Onesimus' as a man of 'inexpressible love' and bishop of Ephesus.
He who is not the servant of God is a slave of the enemy. This law of sanctuary for slaves shows us how as Onesimus did with Paul, when we run to the Jew Yeshua for refuge, He frees from the shackles of the enemy. He pays the high price for our redemption and all powers are subject to Him. Even if we have to return to the slave owner, he can own our body, but can never again own our soul!
Patrick Gabriel Lumbroso
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