In the “Justice for All” series, there may be not be a more sobering text than this one, Exodus 21:2-11. Heads up: it’s about slavery and servitude.
Without going into a lot of detail, suffice it to say for now that the Old Testament seems to assume slavery as a part of the human condition, while the New Testament seems to accept it as a cultural institution. Because of that, slavery and servitude are in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean they are condoned by the Bible.
CAUTION: We should not compare the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries to what is being talked about here. The horrors of slavery in England and America then should not color the way we interpret the text now. The principle meaning for us is how the law is fulfilled in and through Christ, who gives it its fullest meaning, and through whom we receive its message for us. We are RE: Created Equal through Christ.
There was a way Israel was supposed to treat its servants, because they knew what it was like to be slaves.
Exodus 21:1-4, 2 If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. 3 If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.
The word “Buy” (or, acquire) hints at the ways one might obtain a servant, either through poverty or bankruptcy. A desperately poor person could be made secure by selling themselves into slavery. A debtor or thief could pay off what they owed by being someone’s servant. In other texts, these slaves are called “brother” (Deut 15:12; Jer 34:9, 14); there time of service was limited to 6 years (or less if the year of Jubilee occurred before the 6 year mark, Leviticus 25:40); and their freedom cost nothing, it was his right. Deuteronomy 15:12-15 even required the master to make generous provision for the slave leaving service.
Vs. 3 describes how the master would have been responsible for caring for the slave’s wife & children throughout his service.
Vs. 4 is really hard to take, and there is no good way to explain it except that it was a common Near Eastern practice. We want to take from it how it feeds into the next couple verses, the man-servant may choose to stay and not leave.
Exodus 21:5-6, 5 But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.
What strikes me about this is how the servant may choose to give up his liberty for the sake of love. In that case he would surrender his life to the Master, who would bring him before the judges and bore his ear to the door of his house with an awl. It was a sign of his pledge.
We should see a reflection of Christ mirrored here. He was perfectly free, yet he made himself a servant. Philippians 2:5–7, Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
For the sake of love, Christ gave up some rights of his Godhood and died on the cross to pay for the sins of those who would believe. Christ took the image of servant upon himself, and in doing so, he freed us all (Psalm 40:6-8; Hebrews 10:5-10).
For Liberty, Christ took the image of servant upon himself and freed us from our sins. Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Being one of those that Christ has set free, we then should serve others the way the Master has been an example for us. John 13:13–15, You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you.” Since Christ came to make people free, and since we are to render service to Christ, there is a right way to treat others.
Exodus 21:7-11, “And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. 9 And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. 10 If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. 11 And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.
The most likely situation being described here is that a man facing debt or poverty could sell his daughter to someone who would marry her. I have two daughters and it is horrific to think about selling them, but in that culture it might have served a gracious purpose. Provided it was done lawfully and lovingly, the transaction could take her from poverty to prosperity, and the legal descriptions provided here would prevent her from exploitation and make provision for her freedom.
- She could be redeemed and could not be resold.
- She was to be treated and protected just like a blood daughter.
- She had rights to food, clothing, & marital attention (no better way to put that).
- If she didn’t get these things, she must be freely released.
Now, even if the law made provision for them to be redeemed; it’s kind of obvious that female slaves were in a different category from a man-servant (vss. 2-6). I’ll admit it, that lack of equality, especially in the treatment of women as property, is hard for me to take. But again, I want to point out that what the Bible takes as something culturally acceptable actually had its place as being socially responsible- legal servitude was a way for a poor person to have their needs met.
Three things we need to do with that:
- Admit that it is a TRAVESTY that anybody in Europe or America ever used the Bible as a basis for slavery.
- Confess it is TRAGIC that it took so long for women and African Americans to gain their civil rights in the U.S. (a supposed Christian nation, but that’s for a different post).
- CHANGE: even now, many people are viewed as unworthy, or as less than human, merely because of their class, color, sex, or quality of life.
Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. This text teaches us that in Christ, we’re all RE:CREATED EQUAL. Any ideology or action that lowers the status of any human being on the basis of color, class, sex, or quality of life is satanic.There are no 2nd class citizens in Christ. As Christians, we are to view all people as equal and treat them all equally (whether too old, or as of yet, even unborn).
We need to stand up for the rights of those who cannot stand up for themselves. In the next few posts, we’ll talk about who some of those people are, and how.
QUESTION: If you are in Christ, who have you been treating differently that you need to now begin viewing equally?
Adapted from the Sermon, RE:Created Equal- http://www.oasisarlington.com/media/podcasts/re-created-equal