Most of the time my kids love our family, and mostly I love them. But sometimes we can drive each other crazy.
Tensions build up in our home when we interfere too much in our kid’s lives. “Go to school. Get a job. Do something with your life!” So we try to leave them alone and let them do what they want. Makes sense, I thought, but then I hear, “You don’t care about me. You’re always too busy. You don’t even know me!”
Family in the Bible
We sat down and looked at the Bible to try and figure this family thing out. Of course the world of the Bible is 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 first!
Some of you might be familiar with the Hebrew word for family “mishpacha.” Did you know that the word for family 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 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 “join together.” During my years in the IDF I would periodically receive a “tzav sepuah,” a directive commanding me to attach myself 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 a maiden was called a “shepcha” because she was joined together 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.
We’re all slaves to our family
This same bound together connection between family members like servants and handmaidens is even found in ancient Rome and in Latin. “Familia” in ancient Roman and “famul” in Latin both mean slave (kids, 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 in English 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. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery that returns you to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).
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 and are free to leave. Back in the day children preferred to stay in the family that provided protection and income, and children could learn the family trade insuring a successful future. Kids needed a family to survive. Today there are so many opportunities for young people to climb out of the family up the corporate ladders of success that many are choosing to step out on their own. Remaining a vital part of the family is a choice (apparently not for the father or mother 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 inheritance and blessings of the first born are a provision given to him so that he can care for 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!)
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.
That’s it. I gotta go. My “slaves” are screaming because dinner is not ready.
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