My Freedom For A Tooth

Slavery sure comes with an interesting dental plan! Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In our look at the Old Testament Law today, I’m going to be discussing Exodus 21:26-27 which reads as follows:

“26 “An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.”

We earlier looked at a passage where it talked about the disciplinary features of the rod for a slave. This was the usual form of punishment in that time. In the Israelite society, you would not build a prison out in the wilderness. You had to have other systems of justice set up that were easily portable.

We saw how the Law talks about beating a slave and that if that slave dies, one is punished, which would be the death penalty. If the slave lives for a few days, the owner of the slave is to be given the benefit of the doubt since one could not as easily prove malicious intent, one would assume no slave owner would want to lose the extra help that he bought and pays for.

Let us return to that discipline. Even then, the well-being of the slave is still being looked out for. Note that there is nothing in the text inherently unkind about using the rod. The rod was also to be used on one’s own children and certainly one was to love their children, so let us avoid at the get-go the very idea that a physical form of punishment to bring about pain was meant to be ipso facto unloving.

So now we have a slave who is misbehaving. What is the standard? Any serious injury will result in freedom for the slave. This is a high-context society so not every case will be spelled out, but we are not to think that knocking out someone’s tooth will result in their going free but if you break their leg, then that is okay.

Not only that, but when a slave was to be set free, as we saw above, he was to be supplied with from his master so that he will have enough to start out on his new life and hopefully not have to go into slavery. There would even have to be more abundant supplying of goods in this case since one has given a heavy incapacity to the slave’s ability to work in the future.

Notice that nothing is said about the well-being of the master in any of this. Instead, it is all about the well-being of the servant. This is the one God is looking out for. Before God would say anything about slaves who misbehave, he chooses to focus on the lives of the masters beforehand and makes sure that they’re on the right track.

Once again, none of this is the ideal situation, but it is an institution in the midst of reforming. Passages like this should show us that God did not support an abusive system but was taking a system that is less than ideal and planting within it the seeds of its own defeat.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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