A servant is a person who owes his allegiance to another.
Other Hebrew words include נַ֫עַר, H5853, young man; מְשָׁרֵ֥ת, a temple servant; שָׂכִיר, H8502, hired laborer (as distinct from a slave).
Other Greek words include διάκονος, G1356, minister or helper; μισθίος, or μισθωτός, G3638, hireling; and ὑπηρέτης, G5677, assistant, adjutant, or officer.
What is conspicuously lacking in the Old Testament is the idea that a “servant of God” who exercises leadership over Israel is in some sense also a “servant of the people.” Neither the modern notion of a “public servant” nor the Roman Catholic ideal of a “servant of the servants of God” has any explicit analogy in the Old Testament. The closest approach to such a concept is perhaps the advice of the old men to Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:7 (“be a servant to this people”), but it was advice that went unheeded.
The range of meaning in the servant idea in the Old Testament is best illustrated in Leviticus 25:42, where עֶ֫בֶד, H6269, is used in two senses: “they are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.” The covenant begins with redemption from slavery in Egypt, and to be servants in the covenant is not to be “slaves” of God but to be His people and His sons (cf. Exod 4:22f.).
Servant also refers to one who is distinguished as obedient and faithful to God or Christ (Jos 1:2; 2Ki 8:19; Da 6:20; Col 4:12; 2Ti 2:24).
Officials of every grade are called the "servants" of kings, princes, etc. (1Sa 29:3; 2Sa 16:1; 1Ki 11:26; Pr 14:35, and often). Likewise, an attendant in the service of someone, as Joshua was the "servant" the Revised Version (British and American) "minister" of Moses (Nu 11:28).
Servant can also be used As a ’term of respectful self-depreciation referring to one’s self, "thy servant." or "your servant" is used in place of the personal pronoun of the first person:
in the presence of superiors (Ge 19:2; 32:18, and often);
in addressing the Supreme Being (1Sa 3:9; Ps 19:11; 27:9; Lu 2:29, and often).
In contrast to the Old Testament, a “servant of Jesus Christ” is also explicitly seen as a servant to the whole community of believers (Mark 10:43f.; 2 Cor 4:5). Again the decisive factor in the shift is Jesus, who reversed the customary patterns of authority (both pagan and Jewish) first by His teaching, and then by His own fulfillment of the servant role (Mark 10:35-45; Matt 23:8-12; John 13:1-17).
Decisive for this development is the identification of Jesus with the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, because of His sacrificial death (cf. Mark 10:45; 1 Pet 2:24f.).
Servant vs. Slave
The most frequent usage is as the equivalent of "slave," with its various shades in position (Ge 9:25; 24:9; Ex 21:5; Mt 10:24; Lu 17:7, and often); but also a hired workman where "hired servant" translates Hebrew and Greek expressions which differ from the above.
In more instances, however, “servant” is a better translation than “slave” because the words have to do with service or obedience in a far more general sense than what is known today as slavery. A servant can be anyone committed to someone more powerful than he: e.g. a trusted steward (Gen 24:2), a soldier in an army (Jer 52:8), a court official (1 Sam 8:14f.), or a vassal king (2 Kings 17:3). He is dependent on his master for protection (16:7), and in turn agrees to fight if need be to protect or further his master’s interests (10:3).
A servant-master relationship can be a kind of covenant (e.g. Josh 9:6ff.), voluntarily undertaken with such words as “we are your servants” (Josh 9:8; 2 Kings 10:5), or “I will be your servant” (2 Sam 15:34). A servant addressing his master can express his humility and dependence by speaking of himself as “your servant.” This may remind the master of their agreement, especially if the servant is seeking help or protection, though in some instances it becomes little more than a formality, a polite substitute for “I.”
"Slave to sin" terminology (especially עֶ֫בֶד, H6269) is used often in the Old Testament to refer to slaves, regarded as property, though possessing also certain rights (for laws pertaining to slaves see Exod 21:1-11, Lev 25:39-55, Deut 15:1-18).
“Covenantal” use of servant terminology is especially conspicuous in passages where the servant is a servant of God. Elijah proclaims his allegiance to God with the words “I am thy servant” (1 Kings 18:36). Judges and kings address the Lord much as any servant would address his earthly master (Judg 15:18; 1 Sam 3:9; 14:41; 23:10f.).
In the widest sense the servants of God are the people of God, all the faithful of Israel regarded either as His “servants” (Isa 65:9) or collectively as “Israel my servant” (Isa 41:8f.; cf. 44:1f.; Ps 136:22).
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