Exodus 21: Laws About Slaves

-I feel the need to begin with a commentary as a preface for this chapter. Most of this chapter is about slavery and it is often used by skeptics to prove the bible as being immoral and promoting evil. I will not claim that it is simple and easy to understand, but it can be understood if one truly wishes to. Many soften the wording here to explain that these aren’t slaves but are merely “servants” yet I have no desire and will gain nothing by hiding the truth. The bible is talking about slavery and it is being talked about as something, while not necessarily “good”, but something permissible in the world. Remember, God allows all kinds of evil to exist and even orders Israel to completely kill all the Canaanite peoples, including women and children, of the land that they will be occupying. We live in a broken, sinful world, so much so that certain horrible things have become necessary. In certain circumstances, even slavery can be necessary. Let’s look at what the real world looks like.

-In the real world, in order to survive we must eat and drink and have some kind of shelter. Nearly all of us are born into a home where our parents provide for us until we are old enough to provide for ourselves and begin working somewhere. Imagine that we either don’t have a home or are thrown out and don’t have any particular skill or trade. How does one take care of themselves? In today’s word, worst case scenario we can go work at a place like McDonald’s which doesn’t require any skill or work history. There are many jobs for teenagers and those without experience that are possible but even then, try surviving on your own on a part-time minimum wage job. It’s basically impossible and you certainly couldn’t have a family. The only way to get ahead in such a circumstance if you don’t have family to live with is to have multiple roommates that work together to pay the rent of a property you live on that is owned by someone else. Now imagine if this was not an option and there were no “jobs” that hired you or places where you can live with others and collectively pay a rent on a property. Imagine if this option did not exist. Now what do you do? Well, you have two options: either you beg on the street which many do today, or you can find someone to go be a servant to so that you can at least have your basic needs of food, water, and shelter met. This is the reality of the world. In the United States, we have minimum wage laws and an economy strong and large enough that one can always find some job even if its under the table. Even if you have no legal right to work, there are always some jobs that can be done for some pay in order to survive.

-So now let’s apply this to the time of the Exodus. If you had no family to shelter you and you did not own any land, how do you survive? The answer is, unless someone just happens to take mercy on you and welcome you into their home through adoption which God encourages people to do and what God does for us, you must become a slave. You have no choice. Slave or beggar, take your pick. So now that we have established that there must be slaves in this society, we need a set of rules as to what rights slaves have and how they should be treated. A master has no obligation to take care of another person but does so because he gets value out of the work this person does. If this master takes care of this human being who has nowhere else to go and keeps them happy, they will work well for them. Ideally, there would be no slaves but who takes care of all these people? Who pays for them? In today’s society, we have welfare and other social programs to help from people having to live on the street but many still do. Realize the truth that if we still had slavery and everyone followed a reasonable set of laws as to the treatment of slaves, we would not have homeless people other than those who choose to be homeless rather than work as a slave. There are positives and negatives to everything and thankfully, our society today is strong enough to not have a need of slavery and there is enough work available and those willing to rent out their property to live on that there isn’t as big of a problem of people having nowhere to go.

-Sadly, many may read what I just wrote as if I just said, “Let’s make homeless people slaves!” We have so much programmed into the way we think there are certain subjects that are impossible for the majority of people to consider in an open-minded way. It’s hard to imagine that slavery was a desired option for those without a home but it was in this time. Make no mistake, slavery became evil in the United States because we would steal people from their homes in Africa where they were doing just fine and send them to a country where they know nothing and can’t speak the language to where they would have to stay as slaves because they wouldn’t know how to function in this strange foreign land, and when they actually learn the language and enough of a trade to survive on their own, they are forced to stay on penalty of death. This is sick sick sick sick!!!! That was control and it was motivated by racism. But this is not the same thing as being described in the bible here. Slaves had a status because they had no other option and had to work for others. We can make a very convincing argument and many do, that everyone who has a regular job is a slave. Can you leave your job without any major consequences and be just fine? Unless you can retire or start your own business, you are a slave. Deal with it! The truth behind the illusion is that slavery never ended and anyone who has a job that they cannot survive without and have to be there everyday is a slave to their employer. You can choose to leave, but where would you go? Good luck finding another job that pays just as well. Unless you are already at the bottom making minimum wage, odds are you will not.

-So why these people slaves and why can’t they leave their master’s in some cases? Because they have a contract and they must honor their word. This is how a slave is “sold” because they made a contract with their master and this contract is sold. This contract is the word of both the master and slave and so if that contract is broken, whoever does is also breaking the commandment against false testimony. And since contracts are made before God, they are taking the Lord’s name in vain as well. This is why in many cases, it was immoral to leave your master but not always. As we will read, there are obviously those who are voluntary slaves and those that are not. This is the difference.

1 “Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. 2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave 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 God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

-Hebrew slaves serve six years and then must be set free the seventh. This means that a contract cannot be drawn up or kept longer than six years which is putting a limit on the time one can be a slave which I would say is a very good thing. A Hebrew cannot be forced to be a slave forever, praise the Lord! The seventh year of course represents God’s number 7 and also follows the same pattern of a week with the seventh day being the Sabbath. We see how important God emphasizes marriage when even in a master-slave relationship, the master has no right to a slave’s wife. The wife belongs to that man, no matter what. This is yet another right given to slaves. Do you see how these are good things and God is giving people rights where before they had none? At the same time, a slave-owner is given a right in that if he gives a slave his daughter in marriage with the understanding he would stay forever, he must agree to stay forever and cannot break his word and run off with the daughter. God is adding justice and order to this process.

7 “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. 9 If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

-A man selling his daughter? Now surely if we can accept a need for slavery in this society, this must be too far, right? Again, imagine there are no “jobs” or places to pay rent even if you had money. How does a young woman survive? Unless she is somehow able to start her own business which she would have to have been helped by her father’s household in the first place, where else would she go? Besides, any business she ran, assuming she had the education and encouragement to start one, would not be accepted in a male-dominated society. So what is a woman left to do but either stay with her father until he dies, or get married off. So father’s would have to find a suitable husband for their daughter if one did not come along. If no one voluntarily chose her as a wife and brought her into his household then the only option left would be to contract with someone to take her. Again, let go of preconceptions and just think about the reality of this for just a moment. What other option is there? Since this is the reality, God is establishing rights for slaves in saying that if the daughter was not what the master thought he was getting, he must return her back and cannot sell her contract to someone else as can be done with men. Women actually have EXTRA rights that men do not in this instance. Three things are listed: she must either be accepted or returned back home, if she is married to the son of a master she must be treated as if she is a daughter, and if she is taken as a wife but the master takes other wives she must be treated as an equal wife and not a lessor desired one. Again, these are all freedoms God is giving to people. God is creating a society where slaves are treated much better than any other place in the world at this time.

12 “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. 13 But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. 14 But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.

-This is now moving on from slavery and speaking of general society. If a murder is premeditated, the death penalty is required. If it is accidental manslaughter, then the person is taken to a place where they can flee from society. Of course, this probably means becoming a slave for someone else since this man would be fleeing with nothing.

15 “Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.

-This is how much this society had for family and God holds or the parent-child relationship. Attacking one’s parents required the death penalty! But now that we understand the reality of slavery in society and how anyone who does not have a home most likely becomes a slave, do we see now why else family is so important? God does not wish people to become slaves and by respecting our parents and having a loving relationship, we would never have to be. Obeying this commandment by never getting so angry that one would strike their parents helps to prevent slavery.

16 “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.

-This is where we can distinguish between slavery being spoken of here as a necessary evil and what was done in the United States, which was just plain evil. People were stolen from their home countries and from their families, they were not purchased. There was no agreement to become a slave or choice being made. People were rounded up like animals and treated as such. This is morally wrong before God and anyone who does this in Israel deserved to be put to death. Those who participated in the slave trade in the South all deserved to be put to death.

17 “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.

-This seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? But to curse one’s father or mother is to curse the God who created you and decided that you would be born to these parents. You are saying God is wrong and that you are right. It is a serious thing and God choosing to assign the death penalty to this is Him trying to make sure His nation is a people that always has the utmost respect for parents and in turn, Him.

18 “When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, 19 then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.

-This means you must pay for lost time for injuring someone. This is not to different from when someone sues from an injury.

20 “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.

-This also sounds unbelievably harsh. If a slave is beaten to death, it is murder and rightly so. But if a slave is beaten to near death it is OK? This is the important of contracts and a man’s word. If someone agreed to work for this master then they accept all treatment this master can provide. But obviously if a master kills his servant, the master has broken the contract. But what if a slave makes a contract with a man who would never beat them but then his contract gets sold to another man who beats them all the time? Is that fair? No its not. But then no one is claiming slavery is a good thing. Slavery is an unfortunate consequence of a world in sin, just like death, disease, pain, suffering, and everything else bad in this world.

22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life,

-This is a very important passage for the pro-life movement. As explained in versus 24 and 25, all the law has to do with an equal punishment to fit the crime. What is done to one person will be done to you back. This means scripture is saying causing the death of an unborn child in the womb is equal to a full adult life and that an adult should be killed for causing the death of the unborn. Israel was given the death penalty by God as a punishment for abortion.

24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

-Verses 24 and 25 are summarizing the law and its punishments. God believes fairness is doing back to someone what was done to you. Not that you get to be the one to decide what is fair and to execute the punishment, but rather this is for civil authority. The proper punishment for murder is to be killed. The proper punishment for theft is to make up the value of the stolen property as well as lost time and other factors. This is what is fair to God.

26 “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. 27 If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.

-To anyone who had issues without being able to beat a slave and go unpunished, this verse again is God giving rights to slaves when they had none before. If a slave is beaten but there is some kind of permanent damage like a lost eye or even a lost tooth, that is payment in full of the contract and they can go free.

28 “When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29 But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him. 31 If it gores a man’s son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32 If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

-Its interesting even animals are held to the same concept of eye for an eye. But Man also has responsibility for animals and for his property and can even be put to death for his property causing the death of another if nothing is done. Even on a first offense, the man is still liable. This is encouraging responsible ownership of animals and property. We see here an a slave is given a value of thirty shekels of silver. Obviously a human being’s value is limitless but some kind of compensation must be made and a life cannot be demanded from an accident.

Laws About Restitution

33 “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his. 35 “When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. 36 Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his.

-God is creating order and fairness in a chaotic society that either made their own rules or likely adopted rules from Egypt. This is an extremely fair way of going about the hassles of day-to-day life and would certainly make Moses and the other elders jobs easier having a written law for all kinds of disputes.


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