Hoshea stood in the doorway, looking towards the faint glow of light in the eastern sky. He had been waiting for this day for six long years and his excitement had woken him up early. After all, he was going to be a free man once again!
As he breathed in the cool morning air, Hoshea thanked YHWH for the mercy and goodness He had shown him – just as he had done on countless occasions in recent times. He knew that these last six years, although forced upon him, had transformed him into a new man, and without the influence of Shemeber, his master, there was no knowing where his life would have taken him by now. In fact, even life itself would not have been a certainty if he’d continued in his rebellious ways.
Before his transformation, Hoshea had been anything but a model Israelite citizen. His parents had always struggled to make ends meet, and the difficult times had only caused him to question things in his life. In particular, he seriously doubted that YHWH was the mighty God of Israel, as many of their tribe professed. The new, and hugely popular, King David had risen to power and there had been great victories against their enemies, but life still hadn’t improved for his family. His parents always seemed content with their lives – but he most certainly was not!
Hoshea began to mix with some other young men of his age who had much in common. They often worked together in the fields to make a little extra money for their families, but they began to loathe the neighbours that employed them, viewing them as being more blessed than themselves. Although these neighbours regularly shared some of their excess with those in need, the young men began to help themselves to even more. They began by taking home small amounts of stolen food, along with the gifts and wages they were given. But, over time, more risks were taken as their greed increased.
On one particular wet and windy evening, when most people were inside their homes, Hoshea managed to split off three ewes with their lambs from one of Shemeber’s flocks. He moved the sheep along a gully that led directly to his parent’s small holding, and added the stolen sheep to their small flock of twelve. It was almost dark when he entered the house. He was dripping wet, and quickly changed into dry clothes before joining his family at the table. He discussed the day’s events while adding in the lies needed to cover his tracks. All this had become second nature to him, and he barely felt any semblance of guilt anymore. He was certain that no-one knew about his secret life.
Before anyone woke the next morning, Hoshea collected the three ewes and their lambs and took them to town on their small cart. He had been planning this whole thing for some time, so had already arranged to sell them to a man from the other side of town who was looking to increase his flock. It was still early in the morning when the transaction was completed and both men parted, pleased with the deal.
Hoshea arrived back home well before noon and proceeded to unhitch their donkey from the cart. “Where have you been?”. Hoshea whirled around at the voice. It was his father, and the tone of the question unsettled him a little. He responded with a deceptive calm.
“I’ve just been to town. I had to do a little business before I start on my other work.” He barely looked at his father as he continued to unhitch the donkey.
“One of Shemeber’s servants has been to see us this morning.” Hoshea was not liking the sound of this! “It seems that someone was seen stealing some sheep just before dark last night. He was almost certain that they know the man who was involved!”
Hoshea’s calmness was quickly leaving him. His heart was pounding as he quickly responded. “That’s ridiculous! It was raining all evening. No one would have been able to see anything going on in the fields.”
“In fact, it seems someone could!” There was a short hesitation. “Were you the man?”
“Great! So you’ll believe someone else’s servant before your own son!?!” Hoshea’s anger quickly stirred within him.
“I’m not sure – you haven’t even answered my question.” His father’s eyes stared straight at him, showing a mixture of his own anger and deep sadness. “Unless your very words betray the truth of the matter.” With that, Hoshea’s father turned and walked back toward the house. As he reached the doorway, he briefly looked back at his son. It was only a glimpse, but all anger had faded from his face. Only tears and sorrow remained.
Hoshea could see through the window that both Shemeber and his chief servant were inside the house, deep in discussion with his father. His mind raced with different thoughts and plans to get himself out of this mess, but he knew that the truth was destined to prevail this time. He considered fleeing, but there were eyes on his every move. Eventually, he concluded that he was left with only one realistic option. He hesitated, before slowly walking to the door of the house to plead for mercy.
In tears, Hoshea made his pleas, begging for forgiveness and promising to change his ways. But the mood remained sombre and even with his parents deeply upset by the events that had transpired on this morning, they were resolved to deal with the situation according to the words of YHWH’s Torah. Hoshea hadn’t ever paid much attention to his parent’s teaching from the Torah, so he wasn’t certain what to expect. He soon found out!
For the second time that day, Hoshea travelled in to town – this time, with his family and two accusers. The accusations were officially presented to the judges, who then looked to Hoshea for his reply. He openly admitted his guilt in the matter and begged again for mercy. The men appeared to be sincerely affected by his repentance and sorrow, and Hoshea felt a small spark of hope as he watched the men discuss his case. After a considerable time, one of the eldest men, an Asherite man who was greatly respected by the local people, stood to present the judgement they had unanimously reached. His demeanor was of a humble servant obediently doing his duty, but his voice was confident and clear.
“In the presence of all standing here, we find this man, Hoshea Ben Elihu, guilty of theft. According to the Torah of our mighty God, YHWH, a restitution must be made. In this case, four sheep for every one stolen and subsequently sold must be repaid to the rightful owner, which equals 12 ewes and 20 lambs.” The man looked Hoshea in the eyes. “Hoshea, are you able to provide this?” There was absolutely no way Hoshea or his family could provide those sheep! Even if they actually owned that many, it would leave them with nothing to live on.
“No sir, I cannot.” His hope had evaporated. “I have no way of paying this amount.” His voice became more frantic, “Please forgive my transgression!” He swung around toward his family standing behind him. Couldn’t they do something to stop all of this? They offered no hope as they shook their heads in sadness and shame.
“Restitution must certainly be made to the rightful owner”, the judge continued, “and so the only course of action that remains, is for you to sell yourself to Shemeber as his servant. I repeat, that unless you can pay, this is your only remaining option.” Hoshea realised there was no way out of this. After a lengthy period of silence he gave a brief nod of his head, but inside he felt sick to the pit of his stomach. He felt numb as he turned around to face his family again, and he embraced each one of them as he openly wept. He knew how much he had shamed his parents this day and, as a result, his own shame was almost unbearable.
The early weeks spent as a servant in Shemeber’s household were endured with a strange mix of disdain for his new life and those he lived amongst, and yet a sense of relief that he had a way of somehow getting his life back on track. He was certainly not a nice man to be around, yet most of those he worked with were gentle and patient with him. Shemeber worked with him most days, and it was obvious that he was determined to do all he could to bring lasting change into Hoshea’s life.
Gradually, Hoshea’s hatred for his master waned. He began to see in the man a heart that had such great love for his family, and this flowed on to all those in his life. It was made clear that the source of this was his undying loyalty for the one he called his own master – YHWH Elohim.
Hoshea learnt much from his master about the God of Israel. His parents had never failed to do so, but his own rebellious heart had closed his ears to any of their teaching. He now regretted that more than ever, but all he could do now was try to make up for lost time and grow closer to his Elohim and learn how best to serve Him.
Along with his newfound faith, came another dramatic change in Hoshea’s life. When he had begun to do some casual work for Shemeber, he had often noticed a servant girl amongst the women. He discovered that she had been captured during a battle in Syrian territory during one of King David’s early wars. Shemeber had only been to war a couple of times, but the Syrian girl was a reminder of some of his exploits outside of Israel. Since becoming a servant himself, Hoshea had noticed that the young servant girl had now become a woman.
Zibiah was an attractive young woman with long, dark hair and exotic facial features. Her beauty alone made Hoshea take notice of her, but as his life began to be transformed within Shemeber’s household, he began to take even more notice of her virtuous character and her love for YHWH. Zibiah had been forcibly removed from her homeland to live amongst her captors, but she showed nothing but gratitude and a genuine love for the God she now chose to serve. Her life was a true witness of what YHWH could do within someone with a humble heart. Her example played a large role in Hoshea’s willingness to make changes in his own life.
It was a year to the very day of Hoshea’s crime and servitude, that he was married to Zibiah. It was, without doubt, the most joyful day of his life, and Zibiah’s radiance showed all who were present that the joy and love was mutual. That both the bride and groom were servants seemed irrelevant on that day. Hoshea’s whole family was there and were thrilled to experience the wonderful change in their son, and brother. There seemed to be no cause for any emotion other than joy and thankfulness to their ever-present Elohim.
Hoshea felt a hand on his shoulder and whirled around, his thoughts dissolving from his mind. Zibiah had awoken also. She lovingly smiled at Hoshea as she held her pregnant belly. This was going to be a big day for all of them.
After a little food and last minute preparations to leave the home that Shemeber had given them, Hoshea, Zibiah and their two year old son made their way out into the courtyard where a small gathering had built up. The sun was on the verge of rising, and the air was still crisp. Shemeber had waited for the people to gather and once he saw the arrival of Hoshea and his small family, along with his parent’s household, he decided it was time for him to also make his way out.
Hoshea’s heart beat even harder when he saw his master walking towards them. He truly loved this man, and it was not going to be easy to leave him – even if freedom thrilled him so much. He knew his wife felt the same way, and he pulled her closer to his side with his arm. Shember came straight up to Hoshea and Zibiah and embraced them as his own children, he tussled the hair of their only son, and then took a step back to address the people that stood before him.
“What a day! You have all been witnesses to the exemplary life this man, Hoshea, has lived before us. He came in difficult circumstances, but his life has been turned upside down by the Elohim we serve. He has become as a son to me and I will respect him as such until my dying day.” It took a few moments for Shemeber to compose himself once again, and then he turned towards a wagon nearby. “As a sign of my gratitude, I send Hoshea away today with this cart. It holds 12 ewes and 20 lambs, along with provisions of wine and flour. Today I declare that you, Hoshea my son, are a free man to walk wherever you will and to serve your Elohim as He desires.” Hoshea couldn’t speak. He clung to his master in such deep gratitude for all he had done for him over these few short years. He owed this man his life, and he would never forget that!
The formalities were over, and Hoshea walked over to his new wagon and prepared to set off. As Zibiah followed her husband, Shemeber stepped towards her and put his hand on her shoulder. “This day of freedom is for Hoshea alone.” Everyone heard the words, and they seemed to hang in the air. Hoshea felt a pain in his chest and his mind went numb. What was happening!?
Hoshea found himself standing next to his wife before he could say anything. “Shemeber – you gave this woman to me. She is my wife, and this is my only son. I cannot leave without them!” He wasn’t angry, but was distraught at the prospect of leaving his family behind. He had never anticipated anything even resembling deceit in Shemeber.
“Zibiah was mine from the time I saved her, and she remains mine to protect and guard until the day I die, or until …”, Shemeber stopped speaking and looked directly into Hoshea’s eyes. There was another way – there had to be another way!
“Or until what? Why are you even saying this?”. Hoshea looked straight back at his master. He searched for some signs of hatred or revenge. There was nothing of the sort – only that same look of tender love for a prodigal son who had returned to the family.
“Hoshea, YHWH has instructed His people that a wife given to a man during his servitude remains with the master of the property, and any children born to that couple remain under the master’s care with their mother.” Hoshea could vaguely remember these instructions from the books of Moses. Shemeber had taught him much over the few years he’d been with him, and he had listened to the local Levites speak as often as he could, but he never actually thought it would come down to this. He thought that, perhaps, these things were done away with after the coming of the Israelite kingdom – at least for this part of Torah.
Hoshea dropped to his knees, hugging his son with one arm and clinging to the legs of his wife with the other. He honestly didn’t know if he could live without them and, unable to speak, he looked up again at Shemeber with eyes full of tears. He had only experienced love and kindness from this man, and he had found YHWH to be an Elohim of love. Why had it come to this!? Shemeber reached down and gently placed his hand on the side of Hoshea’s face.
“There is a way you can choose to forever remain with your wife and children.” Hope returned! He would do anything to keep his wife! Shemeber continued with great seriousness. “It is a big decision and one that, even until your last breath, cannot be undone.”
“What is it? I will do it! I will pay anything you want. I’ll work for it and it will all go to you until everything is paid.” Hoshea stood up again and eagerly looked into the face of his master. “Tell me.”
“Hoshea, I have declared already that you are now a free man. However, if you so desire, you may choose to relinquish your freedom and remain as my servant forever. Your wife will be yours and your children will be yours.” All eyes turned to Hoshea. The older people in attendance had known of this part of Torah, but none had ever seen it actually play out before their very eyes. Hoshea was still a young man and they all knew this was a massive decision to make.
Hoshea looked into his wife’s eyes and then back to Shemeber. “Of course I will choose this woman and this master!”, he declared loudly. “My love for you both, and for my children are far greater than my love for my own freedom. I commit my life to serving YHWH under the roof of this man!” Zibiah had remained very stoic throughout the whole ordeal, but she now let her emotions spill out unashamedly. Her arms were around her husband and she clung to him as though he might change his mind. He meant everything to her.
In order to make Hoshea’s choice legally binding, two of the more elderly men stepped forward. They were two of the local judges and had been present to verify the proceedings of the morning. They quietly discussed the matter with Hoshea, ensuring that he knew the seriousness of the agreement he was entering into. Hoshea’s own father, Elihu, was also part of the group of men. He had his arm around his son’s shoulders and listened intently to all that was said. This young man had brought much shame to the family, but there was a definite glow of approval this day. Hoshea had transformed into a man of humility and was now proving that his thoughts were for much more than his own selfish desires.
After a lengthy discussion, the group of men walked over to Shemeber’s house. The onlookers followed, some knowing what was about to happen, and some still unsure. Shemeber briefly went inside his house and returned with an awl. After a bit of positioning, Hoshea stood a little awkwardly in the doorway of Shemeber’s house with his ear placed hard against the wooden door post. Shemeber raised the awl, looked into Hoshea’s eyes, then proceeded to firmly push the sharp point of the awl through the ear lobe and into the wood of the door post. Blood trickled down the timber as Hoshea loudly proclaimed, “I am forever connected to this household because I love my master and I love my wife and children. I will not go out free!”
As Shemeber removed the awl and placed a ring into the ear of his servant, one of Hoshea’s nephews could be heard loudly talking to his father about what he was witnessing. “Father, this is like the Passover in Egypt, isn’t it? They put blood on their doorposts too.” The young lad paused, deep in thought, before he continued. “Except in Egypt they were slaves, and the blood brought them freedom – but, Uncle Hoshea is going to always be a slave!?” He looked up at his father in confusion.
“Son, Hoshea became a free man this morning, and he has chosen to use his freedom to willingly become a servant to his master, and a servant to his wife and family too. He’s used his freedom for the good of others.”
The boy was content with this answer and he looked back at his uncle with a comforting smile.
Many centuries later, another servant – one who had committed no sin – also shed His blood upon a wooden post. As a free and totally sinless man, He chose to use that freedom to willingly give His life in servitude to the Father He loved and the bride that His Father had given Him!
In similar fashion, we are called to live servant lives for our Master – a Master who is all-loving and all-powerful. The amazing paradox of our commitment to live in perpetual slavery is that only then will we be truly free!