Theology 101

Freedom in the Old Testament

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There is a universal thirst for freedom. Throughout history, people of all cultures have sought it.

Some people define freedom as being free from external values and restraints.

Others, like the Greeks of antiquity, view freedom in a purely political sense.

Freedom in the Old Testament is presented differently.

Freedom in the Old Testament: Freedom from Slavery

In the Old Testament, freedom was primarily a freedom from slavery. There was provision in the Law for the freedom of Israelite slaves (probably like indentured servants) every seven years in the sabbatical year (Exodus 21:2ff). The previous “owner” was to be generous in giving gifts that would enable these freed ones to set up a new life (Deuteronomy 15:12ff).

In a larger sense, freedom was precarious for Israelites. God by his grace delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 7:8). They repeatedly needed to be delivered from foreign oppression by the Judges.

Time and again, a generation came along that didn’t know and follow the Lord and a foreign conqueror would make their lives difficult until the Lord raised up a deliverer. When God’s people were disobedient, they often lost their freedom.

The Assyrian conquest of the kingdom (II Kings 17:7-23) and the Babylonian captivity of the southern kingdom (II Kings 21:10-15; 22:19f; 23:25ff) are illustrations of this pattern. In later Judaism, freedom movements arose to gain political freedom in order to allow religious freedom (among other things). The Maccabeans and the Zealots are only a couple illustrations of such movements.

This freedom was often referenced in the prophets. Jesus’s inaugural sermon echoed this theme (Luke 4: 18-19). Isaiah 61:1 said:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

Because the Lord has anointed me

To bring good news to the afflicted;

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives,

and freedom to the prisoners.

This proclamation of “liberty” and “freedom” was a mark of the Messiah’s message.

The Need for Inner and Spiritual Renewal

There is a consistent thread through the Old Testament pointing to the need for inner and spiritual renewal. Many passages could be cited but perhaps a couple could be illustrative of this theme. In Ezekiel 36:26-30 it says,

Moreover, I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances and you will live in the land that I gave your forefathers…and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring famine on you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field.

Notice here that the inner rebirth leads to outer flourishing and safety.

Similarly, the classic passage in II Chronicles 7:14 says,

If…my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Again, the inner change leads to outer or external consequences that extend not only to forgiveness but to healing in the land.

This post has been adapted from Dr. Lindsley’s new paper entitled “The Biblical View of Freedom.” Download the paper here

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