Slavery, Injury & Death — Exodus Chapter 21
This blog post will cover the devotionals #110-117 for Exodus Chapter 21.
**Pictures will be added at a later date.
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[#110] Exodus 21:1
We understand that the principles of the ten commandments determine the destiny of each man based on whether he keeps them or not. They should be carefully studied. However, God also gave the people other precepts to be strictly kept in conjunction with the ten commandments. Exodus 21:1 says, “Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them.” This devotional will serve to outline and set the stage for what we’ll see in devotionals #111-142, since Exodus 21-23 is just a bunch of subcategories spread out over a few chapters (which technically started in devotional #109 with Exodus 20:22). These precepts were intended for the regulation of how they’d deal with each other. Thus, they were called ‘judgments’ for two reasons: they were constructed with wisdom and equity, and the magistrates were to make their judgments based on them. Paralleling what we’ll see in devotionals #128 and 132, when we discuss respecting magistrates and rulers, the judges were urged not to pervert judgment, take bribes, or help in wrong causes. The regulations laid out in these precepts were clearly shown to have a purpose to benefit Israel, rather than an arbitrary exercise of dominion or control. In chapter 21 (devotionals #111-117), He spoke concerning slavery and servanthood. He spoke about situations in which there was premeditated murder, accidental killing, and severe injury (including the loss of a pregnancy). He discussed dealing with damage, injury, and death caused by an animal (whether by accident or with evidence of prior aggressive behavior) or by negligence (leaving an open pit that someone / something could fall into). All of these topics seem very fitting, concerning the fact that Israel had just come from years of slavery (which often included murder or severe injury without a second thought), as well as the exaltation of animals (regardless of their behavior)—and they needed to be educated about the appropriate dealings in these types of situations. In chapter 22 (devotionals #118-130), we’ll see how they were to deal with thieves (caught in the act, caught later, or killed in self-defense), premarital sex, negligently destructive people, abominable acts (including witchcraft, bestiality and amalgamation, false sacrifice, etc.), treatment of the poor, lack of financial integrity (withholding from God, extorting the poor, etc.), disrespect for authority, and maintaining peculiar holiness. Chapter 23 (devotionals #131-142) will continue with oath-taking and testimony, impartial judgment, following the majority in sin, treatment towards strangers and enemies, the Sabbatical years (rest for the land, release of debt and servants, feeding the poor and the animals, etc.), the three required yearly feasts, and God’s conditional promises for their obedience (protection, victory over enemies, conquest, health, and happiness)—and the natural results of disobedience (including worshipping or sparing false gods / idols, etc.). All of the laws discussed in these chapters were given privately to Moses to record and share with the people—and they were to cherish them as the base of the national law and the condition (along with the ten commandments they illustrated) for God to fulfill His promises to Israel.
[#111] Exodus 21:2-6 (Part 1)
Let’s start with laws concerning slavery. If a Hebrew servant is purchased, he must only serve the master for six years before being released at no cost in the seventh year. We’ll see why they could be sold, but God was clear that Hebrews couldn’t be slaves for life. It’s interesting that this lines up with the concept of the sabbath (work six days, rest on the seventh), as well as the day for a year principle (in the Bible prophecies—a day symbolizes a year). In fact, there are laws throughout the Bible which give other evidence to a ‘sabbatical’ year where similar situations are observed concerning other things, such as land purchased, land sewn for harvest, debt owed, etc. Sometimes it’s literally every seventh year, and others, it’s every fiftieth, etc. You can read Deuteronomy 15, which discusses several examples of this, but verses 12-18 specifically discuss the release (or keep) of a servant. We know that God was trying to remind Israel of the bondage they’d experienced themselves (for much longer than six years), and how wrong, painful, and burdensome it was. However, He was also trying to remind them that He had redeemed (freed) them from that—and they were to do the same with each other. Thus, He was again teaching them His character with instructions on how to let that character be reproduced within themselves. He also reminded them that, like the Egyptians struggled with the idea of letting Israel go because got so much extra gain from their slave labor (than they would’ve gotten by hiring them)—they too, would benefit from the service of their servants during the six years more than if they’d hired them—and thus, they shouldn’t struggle (with greed) at the idea of letting them go free (Laban did these things to Jacob—he got double out of him for his two daughters, and then continued using him more for another six years out of his greed). God had also shown Israel that He considered the value of their work (we’re told in 1 Timothy 5:18 that “…The laborer is worthy of his wages.”) and made sure they left their Egyptian bondage with items of value to help compensate for at least a fraction of what they’d done (which would provide for the expense of their journey)—and He expected them to do the same. They weren’t to send their six-year servants away empty-handed, but to liberally furnish them from their flock, threshing floor, and winepress (etc.). Why could one Hebrew be sold to another to begin with? Well, as we saw the Egyptians ‘sell themselves’ to Egypt because they owed a debt or couldn’t afford to sustain themselves in the circumstances—there were times when the Hebrews would’ve been sentenced for crimes and sold into slavery by the judges. Debtors were also sold by their creditors, and people sold themselves (or, as we’ll see in devotional #113, their children) because of their poverty. Thus, God made a way for them to deal with this situation and then to be able to choose whether to remain or leave (some would stay simply because they were provided for). Regardless of the outcome, these servants were to be treated with compassion—not as Israel had been treated in Egypt. God made a point of teaching His children to love liberty—for which He had worked on their behalf. Thus, if they refused liberty when they had the opportunity to have it (as many tried to do in Egypt or just afterwards), they were to be marked. This mark wasn’t honorable—but the opposite. It was a mark of disgrace, due to their cultivation of a spirit of bondage in the place of nobility. We’ll look at this more closely in devotional #112. I will mention this, though—as a spoiler alert—unfortunately, as we see in Jeremiah 34:14, Israel didn’t obey God in releasing their ‘slaves’ after seven years as He had instructed, and it became a curse to them later on.
[#112] Exodus 21:2-6 (Part 2)
In devotional #111, we were discussing the release of a servant after six years. Now, if the servant was purchased while already married, his wife would leave with him when his six years of service was finished. However, if he was purchased as a man without a family, then he’d leave as a single man—regardless of any change in the status of his relationships during his period of service. For instance, if his master gave him a wife, and they had children together, then the family would remain under the ownership of the master when the man was released from his service. Now, because the servant had formed a family—he’d be given an option that’d allow him to retain his family in some form. If he declared, “I love my master, wife, and children” (shown in Exodus 21:5, 6—or as Deuteronomy 15:16, 17 says, ‘because he loves his master and his house, and he’s well with him’), and decided he wouldn’t go free, then he’s basically made an oath or commitment to serve the master forever—and it’d be made official with the judges. At that point, the servant was brought to a door or door post, and the master would use an awl to bore (pierce) his ear—to signify his lifelong service to him. In devotional #111, we saw that this was, in God’s sight, primarily a mark of disgrace to the free person who chooses to remain in bondage. God gave Christians liberty in such an incredible way and wants them to respect that. God bought mankind, and the ownership of everyone is secured in Christ. Nobody or their conscience should belong to another man’s body, power, or mind. God doesn’t respect someone more than another because of their wealth and position. All have the liberty to choose to serve and love God and keep His commandments. Thus, while a mark on a man choosing to remain in servanthood is a disgrace, in the right context, it can also symbolize a Christian’s decision who chooses to become a permanent servant of Christ. Paul often described himself as bearing marks and being the bondman of Christ (see Galatians 6:17 and Colossians 4:3). Christ Himself also bore marks throughout His body as a sign of His servanthood to mankind. In that sense, it could totally make sense why Paul would say, ‘I am crucified with Christ.’ Interestingly, ‘bore’ is defined in another way by Strong’s Concordance in this context. It discusses the concept of broadening the ear to listen or perceive through hearing. This makes sense, then, because the permanent change in the body (the piercing) represents a permanent change in the relationship with the one who made the change—a permanent commitment to listen to (obey) the master. Now, in the way that we talk about the threshold of the house when a man brings his new wife home, we could call it a similar situation here. The servant’s no longer residing temporarily under the roof of the master, but is now a permanent part of the home—whose entrance is the door. Christ calls Himself ‘the door’ (see John 10:1-10). Consider the parallel between the blood on the doorposts at Passover—where the slaves were put under ‘ownership’ of (or ‘bought with a price’ by) a new Master—and the blood that’d naturally end up on the doorpost after a servant’s ear’s pierced against it with an awl. There are probably other symbolic things we could discuss here, but I think we get the point.
[#113] Exodus 21:7-11
We’d mentioned (in devotional #111) that one of the reasons Hebrews were sold into bondage was because their parents were in poverty. Let’s discuss that here—specifically in the case of a daughter sold as a maidservant. Verse 7 states that, unlike men, she was not to ‘go out’. This might look like something simple like leaving the house on errands, etc. but I don’t believe that’s what it means. We saw that a manservant could go free after six years, but if he was given a wife during that period, she (and any children they may have had) had to remain with the master. I think ‘go out’ in this context refers to ‘go free’—especially because of the following verses. Verse 8 says that, if she doesn’t please her master, who has betrothed her to himself—then he must let her be redeemed, because he’s dealt with her deceitfully. In other words, if the man has taken her to be his wife but isn’t satisfied with her, he must set her free because he hasn’t been a husband to her. It goes on to say that he can’t sell her to another nation because of the wrong he’s done to her. From there, it discusses a similar situation (in verse 9) in which she’s taken to be the wife of the master’s son—in which case, he must treat her as one of his daughters. And lastly, verse 10 shows that if another wife’s taken, he’s still obligated to perform his duties as husband to her (feeding, clothing, and sleeping with her). If these three duties weren’t performed by the master, then she’d ‘go out’ (go free) without money. It's interesting to see the circumstances of a man ‘selling’ his daughter as a ‘maidservant’ to another man (for him or his son) because we see other passages in Scriptures showing that when a man requests a woman for a wife, he’s to pay her father (or work for him to show his ability to do what it takes to provide for her). We discussed this in Genesis devotional #132, when we saw Jacob prepare to work seven years in order to prove his worth to marry Rachel.
[#114] Exodus 21:16
Let’s skip ahead to verse 16 (before we move on to precepts concerning injury, killing, and murder), because it still relates to the subject of slavery. It says that he who steals a man and sells him, or is caught holding him, must be put to death. In other words, a person that has kidnapped another—and has held or sold them (basically selling someone into slavery, like what happened to Joseph by his brothers)—is to be put to death. Deuteronomy 24:7 goes farther into why. “If a man is found stealing any of his brothers of the children of Israel, and makes merchandise of him, or sells him; then that thief shall die; and you will put evil away from among you.” It’s not perfectly clear what ‘make merchandise of him’ means, but Strong’s Concordance alludes to the idea that the kidnapper uses him for labor—in other words, he makes the man his own slave. This is what Egypt did to Israel. They were free men—without debt and without need—who, unlike the Egyptians, didn’t sell themselves to Egypt in exchange for survival. Egypt ‘kidnapped’ the Hebrews and made them their slaves. Thus, as Exodus 21:16 says that (even if the kidnapped man wasn’t sold) if he’s found in the thief’s hand—the kidnapper must be put to death. Why does God bring this point out here—and why such a severe consequence? As we discussed in devotional #111, God worked hard to instill within His people the value of freedom—not bondage / slavery. That didn’t just mean their own freedom, but that of others as well. If He made it clear that it was disgraceful to choose slavery over freedom when they had the choice, then it’d be just as disgraceful to take away someone’s right to choose freedom when it was rightfully theirs. We’re told in Deuteronomy 24:7 that by putting the thief (kidnapper) to death, that evil would be done away with in their society.
[#115] Exodus 21:15,17
Verses 15, 17 are focused directly towards wrong against your parents—specifically he that strikes or curses his parent must be put to death. Why was this such a huge deal? God was making it very clear how He feels about rebellious children. He declared the act of striking or cursing one’s parents a capital crime (‘a crime punishable by death’). Proverbs 20:20 says that “Whoever curses his father or mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.” When we discussed commandment #5 (in devotional #97), about honoring our parents, we saw that the natural consequence of doing that would be long life—thus the opposite is implied (and not just about this physical life, but our spiritual / eternal life too). That’s why it’s so important to teach our children God’s commandments. God is equally displeased with parents who don’t manage their children—because they allow them to grow up without virtue, subject to vice and sin—which will eventually lead them to mistreat their own parents and rebel against their Heavenly Father. Just as earthly marriage represents our spiritual marriage with God, the earthly parent-child relationship represents our spiritual Father-child relationship with Him. God used the concept of a law with capital punishment to represent the natural consequence of the sin of rebellion against God. Why? Just as a young child who doesn’t yet understand natural cause and effect may need a parent to ‘execute’ a punishment to teach how their errors cause bad things to happen (naturally)—a person was to receive a punishment to learn (or teach others) the concept of spiritual cause and effect. In 1 Samuel 15:23, God declares that rebellion is equivalent to the sin of witchcraft, which Galatians 5:19-21 says is a work of the flesh. Proverbs 17:11 says that “An evil man seeks only rebellion: therefore, a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.” Jeremiah 28:16 and 29:32 show the consequences of teaching others to rebel against God (they’ll be cast off the face of the earth). How does that happen? Satan works hard to get men to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). He curses God and aims to get us to repeat his blasphemy. Rebellion is like witchcraft because it lures you into Satan’s territory, and once you’re in his path—you won’t be able to resist the power of his argument. Once you’ve surrendered yourself to his captivity, you’ll curse God (judge Him) because of your unhappiness under your new ruler’s jurisdiction. Leviticus 24:15, 16 says that whoever curses his God shall bear his sin, and he that blasphemes God’s name shall be put to death. Interestingly, Strong’s Concordance defines ‘curse’ as ‘make light of’, and ‘blaspheme’ as ‘libel’. In devotional #105, when we talked about bearing false witness against someone, we learned that telling a lie (false / damaging statement) that defames someone’s name / character (aka ruining their reputation)—is called slander. Libel is the same as slander—just written down. Strong’s Concordance goes on to describe this blaspheme / libel (against someone’s name) as poking holes in it. We have this phrase, ‘they’re poking holes in his argument / theory’, which means that they’re identifying or highlighting some flaw in someone’s plan, idea, argument, etc. Thus, if we’re cursing / blaspheming God’s name—we’re falsely poking holes in God’s truth, etc. While it may seem against God’s character to allow someone to be punished for their malicious words (slander) in the heat of the moment, the example made of the first offender would be a powerful warning to others to respect God’s name. If this doesn’t happen, and the sin’s unpunished, then others’ morals would be corrupted to the point of eventual death / spiritual loss.
[#116] Exodus 21:12-14,18-27,33,34
Let’s move forward to consequences of injuring another person. Verses 18, 19 tell us that if two men are fighting and one hits the other with his fist or a stone (likely encompassing any other object), and the struck one isn’t killed but is bed-ridden, then the hitter will be ‘quit’ (acquitted) / set free, but required to pay for the loss of the other’s time (the work he lost while bed-ridden) and healing expenses. Verses 20, 21 talk about a man striking his servant or maid with a rod. Shortly, we’ll discuss the consequences if the servant dies, but if they don’t die while recovering for a couple of days, then the man won’t be punished because the servant is ‘his money’. In other words, like the man who paid the other man for his lost work, this man already ‘paid himself’ the cost of the servant’s lost work simply by losing his work. Continuing with injury against one’s servant or maid, verses 26, 27 tell us that if he strikes and kills the eye (blinds or removes it) or knocks the tooth out of his servant or maid, he must set them free from their service for the sake of their eye or tooth. Thus, we can see that, while it was permissible for them to own non-Hebrew slaves, they were still to strictly protect their life and body (it should’ve been easy for them to empathize in this way considering they themselves had suffered great harm and death at the hands of their foreign slave masters). Now let’s discuss the precepts concerning killing and murder. Verse 12 says that he who strikes a man lethally shall be put to death. Verses 13, 14 talk about the motive. If the killer wasn’t waiting for the man to come so he could kill him (in other words, if it wasn’t premeditated murder), but he died at his hand, then he’d be given exile somewhere else (Joshua 20 discusses this in further detail concerning accidental killing and the cities of refuge where they’d be protected from the avenger of blood). However, if it was premeditated murder, then the man must be seized from God’s altar to die. What does that mean? If he’s proven guilty of murder, then no atonement / sacrifice at the altar could save him from his sentence (1 Kings 2:28-34 tells of an actual situation in which Joab had killed Adonijah and fled to the tabernacle and grabbed onto the horns of the altar. He was sent for and refused to go to King Solomon—choosing rather to die there at the altar.). Moving on to Exodus 21:20, 21, we saw that if a man struck his servant or maid and they didn’t die, the master wouldn’t be punished—however, if they died under his hand or rod, he would be punished. It doesn’t expound, but I imagine the consequence would fall in line with the other rules concerning killing or murder. Now, let’s say there are two men fighting, and a by-standing pregnant woman is hurt to the point that she miscarries, but isn’t hurt beyond that (see verse 22)—then the man would be punished (penalized) according to the dictates of the injured woman’s husband—and would have to pay the penalty determined by the judges. However, as verses 23, 24 say, if any ‘mischief’ followed (if there was further injury or death—presumably to the woman), then the penalty would be equal to the injury: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe”. This is the same in the case of a killed animal. Verses 33, 34 say that if a man digs a pit or opens a covered one, and leaves it open—and an ox or ass falls in it, then the owner of the pit has to make it right with the beast’s owner and give them money in exchange for the dead animal.
[#117] Exodus 21:28-32,35,36
Genesis 9:5, 6 says that the blood (life) of a man or beast would be required in return for the blood (life) of a slain man—because he was made in God’s image. We looked at the consequence concerning man hurting or killing another person (in devotional #116), and now we’ll see the consequence of a beast hurting or killing someone. Verses 35, 36 say that if a man’s ox hurt another man’s ox fatally, then the living ox must be sold and its price divided between the owners. The dead ox must also be divided between them. However, like we’ll see in the case of an ox killing a person, if the ox exhibited vicious butting / pushing and wasn’t contained by his owner, then he must exchange his living ox with the man’s dead ox. Verses 28, 29 say that if an ox gores a person lethally, his owner would be innocent of their blood. The only stipulation would be that the ox be stoned, and his meat couldn’t be eaten. However, if the ox had shown evidence of vicious butting before and it was made known to his owner, but he didn’t keep him contained and he ended up killing someone, then both the ox and the owner would be put to death. Since the owner was aware of the risk but acted negligently—he’d be held responsible for the person’s death. Verse 30 is slightly unclear, but I think we can work out its meaning. “If a sum of money is laid on him, then he shall give whatever is laid upon him for the ransom of his life.” Looking at the context of the following verses (31, 32), it appears to me that the meaning of this is that, if the killed person has a particular monetary value (likely in the case of a servant or maid), or is a home’s financial provider or contributor (etc.), then the ox’s owner must pay the ‘price’ or value of that person to cover the loss to their owner or family—regardless of who they are. For example, a master would be paid thirty shekels of silver for their killed servant or maid, and the ox would be stoned. Interestingly, this is the price that Judas was paid for betraying Jesus—thirty shekels / pieces of silver (equivalent to about seventeen dollars)—the price of a slave. We can parallel Judas (allowing the scribes and Pharisees access to Jesus knowing they had a vicious temperament) to the ox owner (allowing the ox access to his neighbors knowing he had a vicious temperament). Yet, at the same time, we can parallel the scribes and Pharisees (paying Judas a ransom for Jesus) to the ox owner (paying the man a ransom for his servant). What a powerful thought. Neither the ox owner, nor Judas, nor the scribes and Pharisees personally killed Jesus (or another man)—but they were held responsible for it.