It's still very early in this year's journey through the Scriptures, and when I came to chapter 21 of Exodus, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. Much of it lays out the laws governing slaves (or servants, depending on the translation you're reading). But, upon closer examination, I don't believe that it encourages the subjugation or oppression of an entire race of people.
In no way does it describe the African slave trade that brought my ancestors to the Americas against their will. Neither does it describe or give permission for the ongoing brutality and generational enslavement that occurred for centuries.
My previous post, Did God sanction slavery? (part 1), takes a closer look at the first half of those verses that appear to be more about indentured servitude than about slavery. In this post, I'll continue my slow walk through this chapter. Here are my thoughts verse by verse:
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. If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed...If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money."
Here, a man is selling his own daughter, which is horrible! But, she hasn’t been kidnapped by slave traders, like our ancestors were. And, God has instituted a mechanism by which she can be purchased back by her family. But, if the man keeps her, he must marry her. God has also added protections for her in case the husband gets tired of her for whatever reason. He must still provide for her. And, if he doesn’t, then she is free to go.
These laws appear to be in place to care for the lower economic population. This does not sound like an unjust caste system, and it certainly does not give permission for humans to treat other humans like animals. God did not sanction that.
Exodus 21:12,16,20 - “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death...He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death...And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished."
These verses prove to me that the brutal beatings and killings of enslaved Africans would have violated God’s laws. The way in which they were captured and taken away from their homeland calls for the death of anyone committing such a crime. Our ancestors were stolen. Period. There’s nothing in God’s law that permits such a thing.
Exodus 21:21 - "Notwithstanding, if (the servant) remains alive a day or two, (the man) shall not be punished; for he is (the man's) property."
The servant is considered the master’s “money” in some versions, or “property” in others. Either way, I’m having a hard time with this one. I just can’t see another human being as someone’s property. It’s wrong! In my eyes, it’s just awful.
Our ancestors were listed in the United States census as though they were cattle, and I tear up every time I think of it. So, how can this be written in God’s law?
The only way I can make sense of it is to refer back to verse 16 which forbids the stealing of a man and making him a slave for life. A stolen man cannot be another man's property, according to that verse. But, I suppose a man who has become someone's servant in order to satisfy an unpaid debt could be considered as collateral to the lender.
Exodus 21:26 - “If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye."
Again, God is telling us that it’s unacceptable to brutalize a servant/slave. And in His law, He makes sure that a brutalized servant must be set free. This did not occur with our ancestors who had to remain under the control of their abusers for their entire lives.
So, if I’m taking all these verses together, those listed in part 1 and part 2 of this post, Biblical servitude seems to be a business transaction entered into willingly by the parties involved. Perhaps it can be compared to the way we are employed nowadays. We’re not slaves, but we do serve at the pleasure of our bosses. Those bosses own about 40 hours of our time every single week, in exchange for money that we use to support our own households.
The difference here is that it sounds like the Hebrew servants lived in the households where they worked. They didn’t have homes to go back to, like we do. But what this does not sound like is the version of slavery that our ancestors endured. That was a crime, not a business transaction.
I’m well aware of the fact that there will be those who disagree with what I’ve discovered on this journey, and that’s okay. As I’ve mentioned, I love the Lord. And, my loving heart is open for His guidance to reign supreme. I don’t expect to understand everything I read in His Word, and there may be things in it that I can’t accept as fair. But, I defer to Him because I believe that the One who created me knows much more than I do.
For instance, as I type I notice a scratch on my hand that was fresh and red a few days ago. But, now I notice that the skin has repaired itself as though someone glued it back together. The red scratch has somehow become a dark brown scab that harmful germs can’t penetrate.
In a few days, that scab will fall off and new smooth skin will be revealed underneath. The way our bodies heal themselves is miraculous to me. It's one of the many miraculous things we take for granted every day that defy explanation or duplication by man. We could tear a piece of paper or fabric and it will never self-mend. But our skin does because an all-knowing God created it that way.
So, again, I choose to believe that He’s right even when I don’t understand or agree with something I read. I choose to love Him unconditionally, just like He loves me.
As I mentioned in part 1 of this post, I appreciate your open mind and heart, so I look forward to your comments which you can either leave below, or by visiting my Facebook page.
By the way, this is...
Day 24 - Exodus 22-24 and Psalms 24
*Welcome to my one-year trip around the world of Scripture. You’re invited to take this journey with me, as I meditate on God’s Word day and night. Each morning, you’ll find a post on my Facebook page encouraging my new #Biblebuddies along the way. And each night, I’ll be writing my impressions right here at listen2leslie.com. I’d love it if you’d share your comments, to spark some fruitful discussion. The only passport you’ll need for this journey is the Read Scripture app which provides us with our daily itinerary. You’ll love this app because it contains videos by The Bible Project that serve as our tour guide. Traveling is so much better when you have someone to share the experience with, so please join me, will you?
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