SERVANT/SLAVE: eved. Masculine Noun. (Strong’s 5650).
Sounds like: ev’ed
My youngest daughter, Bridget, and I went to see “Captain Marvel” this week. I asked her what she thought of it, knowing that her keen, analytical mind, would have something significant to say. After an analysis of the main and supporting characters, she announced, “despite its flaws the plot twist made it epic!”
It makes one wonder… Does the Bible have a plot twist? I believe it does, and it all hinders around one word: Servant.
God made many covenants with humanity but the most hopeful one was the promise of a Messianic King who would save everyone. And so the people waited… always looking for a Jewish King who would make everything right. What they didn’t expect was a king with no earthly authority, no political sway, no military might, and no significant social standing. The Messiah would come, not as a King to Rule but, as a Servant to Suffer.
What kind of twisted plan was that?! By the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were already suffering under a Greek society ruled by Roman law. They needed a King to conquer, not a King who would be arrested and executed by Rome! This carpenter named Yeshua, from the undesirable town of Nazareth, was the last thing they expected, and the last thing they wanted.
Two Examples: Serve or Be Served
We seem to think that this idea of a servant King came with the advent of Jesus, but it was foreshadowed long before in the Tanakh (Old Testament). King Solomon’s rebellious son was given a choice: Be a king who served his people, or be a king who demanded servitude.
1 Kings 12:1-15a
Then Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone there to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard about this, he was still in Egypt where he had fled from King Solomon and had been living ever since. So they sent for Jeroboam, and he and the whole assembly of Israel came to Rehoboam and said, “Your father put a heavy yoke on us. But now you should lighten the burden of your father’s service [meh-avodat] and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you [w-naav’deka].”
Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then return to me.” So the people departed. Then King Rehoboam consulted with the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How do you advise me to respond to these people?” he asked.
They replied, “If you will be a servant [eved] to these people and serve them [wa-avad’tam] this day, and if you will respond by speaking kind words to them, they will be your servants [avadim] forever.”
But Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders; instead, he consulted the young men who had grown up with him and served him. He asked them, “What message do you advise that we send back to these people who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?”
The young men who had grown up with him replied, “This is how you should answer these people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you should make it lighter.’ This is what you should tell them: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! Although my father burdened you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. Although my father scourged you with whips, I will scourge you with scorpions.’”
After three days, Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, since the king had said, “Come back to me on the third day.” And the king answered the people harshly. He rejected the advice of the elders and spoke to them as the young men had advised, saying, “Although my father made your yoke heavy, I will add to your yoke. Although my father scourged you with whips, I will scourge you with scorpions!”
So the king did not listen to the people…
King Rehoboam had the chance to be a kind and benevolent king who would serve his people with humility and strength… but instead he chose to be a domineering, violent, ruler. Rehoboam’s wise, elder, advisers had said to him, essentially, “you serve the people and they will, forever, serve you.” But Rehoboam saw no advantage to that type of leadership. Fear was, and is, a great and powerful motivator. Kindness and humility didn’t win wars.
The choice Rehoboam made on the third day ultimately destroyed his kingdom. War split the land into two kingdoms: the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. Rehoboam’s 17 year reign as king was constantly plagued with war, either with the Northern kingdom of Israel or with Egypt. Eventually, he lost control of everything and Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem, became a vassal state of Egypt.
Rehoboam should have taken the advice of the elders, and showed servitude to his subjects. Had he done this, he may have had a united kingdom.
The Messiah, on the other hand, chose to accept his burden and became a Servant King to all nations. On His third day He conquered death, and freed humanity. Whereas Rehoboam made a choice that shattered the people, Yeshua made a choice to save the people at the expense of Himself.
The Tanakh does, however, provide a shining example of good, servitude, leadership. Many years before Rehoboam, Joseph (of technicolour coat fame) addressed his penitent brothers. Years before, in their jealousy, they had sold Joseph into slavery… but Joseph did not remain a slave. By the grace of God his story took a dramatic turn and he rose to significant social status in Egypt. Eventually Joseph found himself in authority over the very brothers who sold him to Ishmaelite slave traders:
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants [avdeh] of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.
Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants [la-avadim].” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
First the brothers asked to be forgiven as “servants of the God of your father”. Then they said to Joseph, “Behold, we are YOUR servants.” Joseph’s response was thought-provoking, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?”
Essential Joseph was saying, “I don’t want you to be my servants. I want you to be YHWH’s servants.” Joseph recognized that he was never meant to be the master over his brothers. He lived as a slave and refused to make them slaves in return. Taking advantage of the servitude of others was not being a servant to God.
Shaking up Society
Servants were everywhere in the Bible. Families with even just the slightest bit of wealth had servants/slaves. Abraham had servants. Jacob had servants. David had servants. There was a social hierarchy then, just as there is today. So the idea of a servant becoming a king would be incredibly shocking:
Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: a servant [eved] who becomes king, a fool who is filled with food, an unloved woman who marries, and a maidservant who supplants her mistress.
These were social oddities- things that shook up the world order and caused social chaos. A maidservant who supplanted her mistress, whether in financial status or in spousal affection, was appalling to early Jewish culture. The first thing mentioned, in Proverbs 30, that caused the earth to tremble was a servant who becomes a king. That was beyond comprehension. Jewish society just couldn’t grasp the idea. It was an earth trembling concept.
It’s not surprising that YHWH chose something shocking to turn society on its head: take a lowly, poor, carpenter and make him the King that the Jewish people were waiting for. They were expecting a King to rescue them from Roman occupation. But they never expected their King to be first, and foremost, a Servant.
Unlike the leaders of Jesus’ day, humility and sacrifice would be the emblems of this Messianic King:
Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honour at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Messiah. But the greatest among you shall be your servant [Greek: diakonos]. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Jesus understood that He was the plot twist in this epic story of humanity. The great Messiah was the One Leader to follow, but following Him meant laying down in servitude.
Yeshua, the sacrificial King
The book of Isaiah is filled with the imagery of the Suffering Servant Messiah. Uniquely, part of Isaiah 49 becomes a discussion between the Messiah-Saviour and YHWH:
[Messiah:] “And now says YHWH, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant [l-eved], to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honoured in the sight of YHWH, and My God is My strength). He, YHWH, says,
“It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant [li-eved] to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Thus says YHWH, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, to the despised One, to the One abhorred by the nation, to the Servant [l’eved]] of rulers, “Kings will see and arise, princes will also bow down, because of YHWH who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”
Thus says YHWH, “In a favourable time I have answered You, and in a day of salvation I have helped You; And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, to restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages…”
YHWH’s mission is outlined in this passage. The Messiah would be a covenant to the people, given by God, and He would be a light to ALL nations, bringing Salvation to everyone. This Messiah would be a servant of rulers and abhorred within His own nation. He would be despised, but he would also prosper:
Behold, My servant [av’di] will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men.
Thus He will sprinkle many nations; Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand.
The Messiah’s appearance would be disfigured and he would be lifted up onto the cross and greatly exalted. And through this action people would finally see and understand. This act would spur on a movement unlike any other that the history of civilization had ever seen. As the great redeemer for humanity, Yeshua became the sacrificial lamb bearing the sins of humanity. Like a cup, He poured himself out, to death. And YHWH would let it happen:
But YHWH was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of YHWH will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant [av’di], will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.
The Gospel writer, Matthew, directly linked Isaiah’s suffering Servant to Yeshua (Jesus):
Matt 12:14-21 (Quoting Isaiah 42:1-3)
But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him [Jesus], as to how they might destroy Him. But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:
“Behold, My Servant [av’di] whom I have chosen; My beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel, nor cry out; nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A battered reed he will not break off, and a smoldering wick he will not put out until he leads justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
Came, not to be served, but to serve
In Greek, the word for servant is diakonos (sometimes translated as “minister”). For Yeshua (Jesus) this idea of servitude was a core teaching in His ministry:
James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave [Greek: doulos] of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served [Greek: diakonethenai], but to serve [Greek: diakonesai], and to give [Greek: dounai] His life a ransom for many.”
The disciples, like children, were arguing about who was the greatest but Jesus set them straight. Life is not about you, and how great, or not great, you are. Life is about relationships and it’s about coming to the aid of those most vulnerable.
Do you recall the famous poem, “Footprints”? The final line captured what it meant to be a servant, “My precious child, I never left you during your time of trial. Where you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
We should be servants to humanity, living our lives to better the lives of those around us… not in a preachy way, but in a practical way. In this way we become images of God, reflecting His glory. We serve Yeshua, who in turn, served all of humanity.
“If anyone serves [Greek: diakone] Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant [Greek: diakonos] will be also; if anyone serves [Greek: diakone] Me, the Father will honour him.”
Being Servants of God
Doing the will of God means being His servant. And YHWH recognized those who were living out this calling. Here are just a few He announced publicly:
- My servant, Job [Job 1:8]
- My servant, Abraham [Genesis 26:24]
- My servant, Jacob [Ezekiel 37:25]
- Moses, My servant [Joshua 1:1-3]
- My servant, David [1 Chronicles 17:7]
- My servant, Zerubbabel [Haggai 2:23].
But sometimes servants were unwilling participants. YHWH called Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, “My servant” three times in the Book of Jeremiah:
[YHWH:] “I have made the earth, the men and the beasts which are on the face of the earth by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and I will give it to the one who is pleasing in My sight. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant [avdi], and I have given him also the wild animals of the field to serve him [l’av’doh]. And all the nations shall serve him [w’avedu], and his son, and his son’s son, until the time of his own land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him [w’avedu].”
Nebuchadnezzar was an enemy of Israel, but to YHWH he was, “pleasing in My sight”, because YHWH knew Nebuchadnezzar’s story. He knew that eventually this Babylonian king, after a time of adversity, would become a true servant and follower of YHWH.
“But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honoured Him who lives forever:
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’
…“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honour the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”
Nebuchadnezzar was a servant of God all along, first as an unwilling, prideful, participant and then as a willing, humble, servant. And although his kingdom would eventually fall, Nebuchadnezzar would forever be a servant of YHWH’s. God has great plans for humanity, even for those we see as enemies, or moral degenerates, or undeserving. God, alone, is judge.
Thus says YHWH, “As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one says, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is benefit in it,’ so I will act on behalf of My servants [a’vadai] in order not to destroy all of them.
I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, and an heir of My mountains from Judah; Even My chosen ones shall inherit it, and My servants [wa-a’vadai] will dwell there.
Sharon will be a pasture land for flocks, and the valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for My people who seek Me.”
For those who sought out God, He would save them, but for those who turned their back on God and rejected Him, their life would be cut off:
[YHWH:] I will destine you for the sword, and all of you will bow down to the slaughter. Because I called, but you did not answer; I spoke, but you did not hear. And you did evil in My sight and chose that in which I did not delight.”
Therefore, thus says the Lord YHWH,
“Behold, My servants [a’vadai] will eat, but you will be hungry.
Behold, My servants [a’vadai] will drink, but you will be thirsty.
Behold, My servants [a’vadai] will rejoice, but you will be put to shame.
Behold, My servants [a’vadai] will shout joyfully with a glad heart.
But you will cry out with a heavy heart, and you will wail with a broken spirit. You will leave your name for a curse to My chosen ones, and the Lord YHWH will slay you. And His servants [w-la-avada] will be called by another name.”
There is joy in being a servant. When you minister to someone’s needs, you reap the benefits, perhaps more so than the person you were helping in the first place. Helping others makes us feel good. With a willing heart, servitude is a joyful experience. Perhaps no one understood this better than Mary. When the angel announced to her that she would conceive and give birth to the Son of the Most High she replied:
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it happen to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.
Afterward, in her awe, she sang a song:
Then Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!
For He has looked with favour on the humble state of His servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is His name!”
We needed rescuing. We needed a Saviour and God provided. By way of a covenant, YHWH promised a King from the line of David, to rescue the people. But Mary’s little son would become no ordinary king. He did not come to conquer armies, He came to overthrow hearts! He is our Saviour, and He is our example to follow:
John 13:5-8, 12-17
Then He [Jesus] poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”…
…So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I Am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
Yeshua was a King who would bow in front of humanity and wash their feet; He was a King who would serve the lowliest of society and stand in solidarity amongst them; He was a King who would lay His life down, in an agonizing death, to save the “unworthy”.
Jesus was lifted up onto the cross and died to absorb all the sin of humanity. But He took that death and conquered it… and left a message far too bold to ignore.
Living means being a servant to others. That’s how you rise up above just being human. That is how you become the image of God you were meant to be. Jesus is the example of the perfect image of God, and therefore the perfect example of how to live in truth and righteousness.
“Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant [av’di]; I have formed you, you are a servant of Mine [eved li], O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me.
I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”
Next week: Guilt