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 andlooked 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 bypatriarchal leadership. Members of the group were called servants or serfs because theyall worked together to further the purposes of the extended family. That’s right kids, say it out loud, workedtogether.
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,” Germanand 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