Exodus 21:2-11

Why this slavery stuff in the Bible? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I developed the idea last night that so many skeptics raise up points about the Law in the OT so why not just go straight through the Torah and look at the laws that we do not understand and explain them on a point by point basis? That does not mean that we will not have diversions from time to time based on current events and such, but hopefully this will be the kind of thing that can set some matters to rest.

The text I will be looking at is Exodus 21: 2-11.

“2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

5 “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

7 “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. 8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. 9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.”

To begin with, slavery is not to be confused with slavery in the Civil War. In that time period, a people was exploited and taken advantage of based on their race and it was done at their expense. In the ancient world, slavery was still a necessity. You did not have a Wal-Mart around the corner that everyone could go and work at and get jobs. Out wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites had to work for someone and like today, if you have a job, it is because of a richer person. (The exception being rich people who run the companies themselves)

So what we have going on is Joe Israelite. He is poor and needs some money. What does he do? He goes and offers himself on a contractual basis to one of his fellow Hebrews to be provided for. The statement is that if the Hebrew will provide room and board for him, then he will be sure to work in exchange. What if this man is married? Then when he comes, his wife is to be provided. The wife doesn’t even have to work.

What if the master gives a wife? The master is doing that for the benefit that can come from the wife true, but also it would be a way of creating an alliance between the two families. When the two families joined together, it created a system to ensure the survival of the family unit. The only way that can happen is if the two are connected for life and if the man wishes to leave, that will break the connection resulting in the woman not being able to be provided for in the future.

Hence, if the man wants to ensure the welfare of his wife, he needs to stay with the master. Besides, the wife belonged to the master prior to the servant and that has not changed. The master would lose out if that happened and that would mean his own future family would be in danger. In the ancient world, you didn’t give something for nothing. There was always some sort of exchange going on.

Of course, a man could become a servant for life. If that was the case, then they had a ritual to bring that about. Now someone could ask “Yeah. But what kind of treatment would he get?” We will deal with that later in the text.

Now what about the last part of selling a daughter as a servant. Why would a guy do this? Because he doesn’t have the means to provide for her and wants to make sure that there will be a family that will. This was looking out for the family unit. Tying together two families would ensure the survival of both families. Notice some aspects about what would happen when the exchange took place.

To begin with, the master was expected to honor his covenant. He was not to treat her like an object but rather as a person. He is the one who has broken faith. Note that. The woman does not break faith. The man is to be held responsible for breaking his covenant with a woman. If he gives her to the son, he must treat her as if she is a daughter that is born to her. If he marries another woman, he is not to neglect her. The law at this point is entirely looking out for the woman, which is exactly the opposite of what we’re always told about this sexist society. The man will have an easier time taking care of himself than the woman would.

Now to be sure, this is not ideal for us, but that is fine. The goal was not to create the ideal society at that moment. The purpose was to begin the creation of a really good society. That was an incremental process that would happen step by step.

Hopefully this has shed light on the passage and further passages will explain the Jewish system even more.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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2 Responses to “Exodus 21:2-11”

  1. Daniel Eaton Says:

    Great post. My grandfather’s grandfather was an indentured servant from the time he was 3 until he was 16 or 18. This was in the early 1800s. Folks forget how common and recent that was.

  2. Scott Says:

    Good observations. It’s another example how important it is to avoid the error of presentism when reading the Bible.

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