Tuesday, 15 February 2011 01:19

My kids are slaves!

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With grandparents in our backyard
Most of the time my kids love our family, and mostly I love them. But sometimes we drive each other crazy. “Why do you have to keep telling me what to do? I’m 25 years old!” I’m hearing that a lot lately.

In our home tension builds up when we try to interfere too much in our kid’s lives. “Go to school. Get a job. Do something with your life!” Sound familiar? So we try to leave them alone and let them do what they want. Makes sense, right? I thought so, but then I hear, “You don’t care about me. You’re always too busy. You don’t even know me!”

What to do? We sat down and  looked at the idea of family in the Bible. Of course the ancient world of the Bible is digital light years away from our credit card holding, university educated, mobile urbanite kids, but what a surprise to discover that the biblical word for family comes from the word for a slave. That’s right, you heard it here and whoever said you can choose your friends but you cannot choose your family had it right!

Most of you are familiar with the Hebrew word for family “meshpacha.”  Did you know that the word is based on the root word “sh-p-cha,” a servant handmaiden?  Curiously the concept of family in the Bible comes from the idea that all members of a family are to be servants (I love the Bible!). “Shepcha” is even used many times in parallel with  “slave” like the well known passage in Psalm 123:2. “Shepcha” is someone hired to serve the family. Hagar was a “shepcha” to Sarah.

In the biblical world family has to do with those who belong to the “house of” a father. This same root “sh-p-cha” is found in other Middle Eastern Mediterranean languages like Phoenician and Ugaritic. They used the same word for a group of people held together by  patriarchal leadership. Members of the group were called servants or serfs because they  all worked together to further the purposes of the extended family. That’s right kids, say it out loud, worked together.

A parallel meaning of the word “shepcha” in Hebrew is “sapach” which means “to join together.”  During my years in the IDF I would periodically receive a “Zav sepuah,” a letter directing me to attach myself as a medic to a tank battalion during a military campaign. An amendment to a contract is also called a “sepach” and becomes a legally binding part of the agreement. In the Bible the maiden was called a “Shepcha” because she was joined together (sapach) to the family for her entire life. Like a slave in ancient times the maidservant was completely devoted and bound to the household of the patriarchal father.

This same connection between family members, servants and handmaidens is even found in ancient Rome and in Latin. “Familia” in ancient Roman and “famul” in Latin both mean slave (are you listening?). The Latin “familia” is the root of all Latin based languages;  in Spanish it’s “familia,” German  and Yiddish “familie,” French is “famille” and English in of course it's family :)

Before you go out and buy a ball and chain to get your “servant kids” to do chores at home consider this. In Latin children are called “liberi” or free ones. This is the exact opposite of  “famul” or slave. In Greek and Roman societies children were differentiated from slaves in a family in that they were free (never liked the Greeks). This is why the New Testament often contrasts the relationship of the children to the father to those of the slave (eg. Romans 8:15).

How can kids be free and servants? Children are free because they can choose to stay in the family circle. Servants had no choice.  A servant or slave remained with the family by law until released or sold to another family. Children stay by choice. They are free to leave. In those days children preferred to stay in the family that provided protection and income, and children could learn the family trade insuring a successful future. Back then kids needed the family to survive. Today there are so many opportunities for young people to climb up the corporate ladders of success without help from the family many are choosing to step out on their own. Remaining a vital part of the family is a choice (apparently not for the father though?!).

As free ones the children are to inherit the family wealth. In fact a first born son that chooses to stay with the family received a double portion. He was entrusted with the bulk of the family wealth because he was willing to take responsibility. The father would share his plans with the oldest son and entrust him to teach younger ones. The oldest was left responsible for the brothers and sisters when the father is away. The inheritance and blessings of the first born are a provision given to him so that he can serve the rest of the family. Privileges come with responsibility and kids contribute to the family out of their own goodwill. (ugh, I liked the slave part better!)

Btw did you know that the Spanish “abbas” meaning a monk, the French “abbe” for a priest or monastery Father, and “abbot” in English the head or father of a monastery all derive from the Hebrew/Aramaic “Abba?” The father is given much authority because it is under his wise counsel and leadership that the family works together and prospers.

"Fatherhood is pretending the present you love the most is soap-on-a-rope."
Bill Cosby
Read 806 times Last modified on Saturday, 26 February 2011 01:27


  • Comment Link David Lazarus Wednesday, 09 March 2011 02:19 posted by David Lazarus

    Yes Jennifer, wise advise for all of us. The older I get the more i understand the importance of my family.

  • Comment Link Anonymous Tuesday, 08 March 2011 02:59 posted by Anonymous

    Thanks, David it makes me realize that the time we invest in our kids & home is so important & so precious we need to make the most of the time we have with them before they grow up and leave homw.
    Jennifer Nevil, United Kingdom

  • Comment Link David Lazarus Wednesday, 02 March 2011 10:15 posted by David Lazarus

    Wonderful Kate! They say parenting is the hardest job in the world, and whoever they are is right! My kids are grown now and only after all these years are we beginning to appreciate just how much it was worth it to invest time, energy and yes, even money! into them. Later in life we are enjoying rich relationships with all our kids. You will be rewarded for all you hard work and sacrifice!

  • Comment Link Anonymous Wednesday, 02 March 2011 04:54 posted by Anonymous

    Hi David, I read this having just complained about the fact that I had spent ALL morning doing housework, dog-walking, and still had things to finish -decorating the bathroom before I could get round to doing something 'constructive' for MYSELF - you took the wind out of my sails, how could you?! But I have to say that at least I'm happier knowing my job description than fretting about all the exciting options that might be available were I not a wife and mother! Thanx for sharing Kate in London

  • Comment Link Anonymous Tuesday, 01 March 2011 11:57 posted by Anonymous

    Can relate well David. Thanks for the words of wisdom! Gwen Slade

  • Comment Link Anonymous Tuesday, 01 March 2011 10:49 posted by Anonymous

    Hey, I liked this. Good stuff, David.

    Ron in Canada

  • Comment Link Anonymous Tuesday, 01 March 2011 10:42 posted by Anonymous

    Shalom David
    So Malachi 4:6:... will turn the hearts of those in authority to the free ones and the hearts of the free ones to their family authority. What a picture!Blessings.
    David / New Orleans

  • Comment Link Anonymous Tuesday, 01 March 2011 09:53 posted by Anonymous

    Thanks for this meaty exhortation...so true, so true.
    What a fine line (a tight-rope) between interfering too much and not interfering enough with your children. We want to be cared for and yet trusted to make our own decisions. To this day, my Abba still says, "Be good and don't get in trouble, you hear!" These words are now like music to my ears.
    God bless you Abba Lazarus, you are a father to many!
    Your friends on the Mt. of Olives...

  • Comment Link Anonymous Saturday, 26 February 2011 06:52 posted by Anonymous

    I love the way the Bible gives us so much instruction for life. Thanks!

  • Comment Link devotedworshipper Tuesday, 15 February 2011 12:07 posted by devotedworshipper

    thanks so much David! That was fabulous!
    Carol cantrell

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