About Jesus      Steve Sweetman

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ch. 21:1-11     ch. 21:12-26

Hebrew Servants (ch. 21:1 - 11)


Verse 1 simply says that God told Moses to pass the following laws on to Israel.  These laws are civil laws.  Remember, there are three aspects to the Law of Moses.  There is the Moral Law, the Ten Commandments.  There is the civil law, what we are looking at now.  And, there is the ceremonial, or religious law.    


Verse 2 tells us that if a Jew buys a Hebrew to be his slave, he must set the slave free after six years.  In our culture slavery is greatly looked down on.  In this culture, it was clearly not looked down upon.  You might wonder why a Jew would buy a Jew.  One big reason is that if a Jewish man found himself in debt to the degree that he could not pay the debt, he himself could be collateral.  He would actually pay off his debt with himself.  That was understood in Israeli culture, and other cultures as well.


All that being said, after six years he must be set free.  His debt is recognized as being paid.  Note the seventh year was the year of freedom.  We have many allusions to the number seven, especially as it applies to the  Sabbaths.  


In verses 3 and 4 the command concerns wives of slaves.  If a man becomes a slave and has a wife, when he is free she must go with him into freedom.  But, if a man is given a wife by his master, and even if they have children, when the man is freed, the wife and children must stay with the master.  They belong to him.  This implies ownership of the wife on the behalf of the slave master.


This is hard for us to understand in our culture.  The Law of Moses is more than a list of rules to follow.  It is prophetic, and I believe many of these laws that seem strange to us, has a deeper prophetic meaning to them. 


Another thing to consider is that Israel, along with many other cultures, were already well entrenched in certain practices.  Some of these laws might well be a consolation on God's part.  That is, like divorce as Jesus said in Matthew 19, God permitted certain things with certain boundaries because of the hardness of man's heart, but it wasn't really what he wanted.   God might well be working with the Jews in the framework they were used to.  That being said, I think the prophetic aspect to these laws, and this particular one is more important than God working within the framework of Jewish culture, assuming that is actually correct thinking in itself.  What the prophetic significance is to this law,  I'm not sure.  Some people actually see the slave a type of Jesus.


Another point to consider is that since Israel was already involved in such practices as slavery, the laws that God was setting forth was to protect the slave.   Some might think that God could have just made a law to ban slavery, but He didn't. Why he didn't, I can't say for sure, but at least in these laws, protection was provided for slaves.  


Many of these men who sold themselves into slavery would know the rules before entering slavery.  Those who chose to have a wife in slavery might not want to be separated from them, so there is provision made in the law for this as seen in verses 6 and 7.  The man could stay, but he would have to appear before a judge and become a slave for life.  In Biblical terms, this is known as a "bond servant".   The man would have a whole put into the lobe of his ear to show that he was a slave for life.  The whole would be put into the ear by nailing the ear lobe to the door post of the house of the slave master.  This signified the man becoming a slave for life to the home owner. The apostle Paul calls himself a "bond servant'.  Paul viewed himself as a slave for life to Jesus.


Verses 7 through 11 concerns the rights of a girl who is sold into slavery by her father.  This too is very foreign to our culture.  Yet again, people in those days viewed themselves as collateral.  We view our houses, cars, and many other things as collateral, but we donít view ourselves as collateral.


The first law was that a girl slave was not to go free after six years.  That sounds like discrimination to our western culture.  The main reason why girls were sold, that is, on the behalf of the slave owner, was to be a concubine for himself, or a wife for one of his sons.  This is probably why she couldn't go free, but within this restriction, she had some protection.


We see in verse 8 that if for some reason the slave girl doesn't please her master, or for some reason, he doesn't want her, he just can't sell her to a foreigner who is passing by.  If he did, the text states that "he has broken" faith with her.  This is the same type of language that is used in Malachi 2 concerning divorce.  This means that if a master buys a slave girl, he has a good measure of responsibility for her.  If he does not want her any longer, "she must be redeemed".  Redeemed means, purchased.  The question arises, "who can redeem, or buy, her?"  We know that a non-Jew can't buy her according to the text.  Therefore, the girl can only be sold to a Jew, and quite possibly to her father that sold her in the first place.


We see in verse 9 that if the slave girl is given to the masters son for his wife, then she is no longer a slave, but a daughter.  Once again, we see protection for the girl.


In verses 10 and 11 we see that if the son marries someone else after he marries the slave girl, he still must treat her as a wife.  He must provide food, clothing, and normal sexual relations.  If he is not willing to do this, then she must be set free. 


So it is clear to me, that even though we do not view slavery in the same light as the Jews did back then, slaves still had some right of protection, and they were granted to them by God in the Law of Moses.


Personal Injury (ch. 21:12 - 26)          


Verses 12 through 14 is all about premeditated and not premeditated murder.  If a man killed someone, and he had previously thought to do so, he would be killed himself.  If it was an accident, or could be proved it was a killing of rage, he was not to be killed.  He could actually go to a predetermined place to be protected.  This place would come to be known as a "city of refuge", that you see mentioned later on in the Old Testament.


We see the term "if God lets it happen", that is, if God lets the murder happen.  This is unintentional murder.  We see the sovereignty of God here.  He is capable of not letting such killing happen, but obviously He does allow such bad things to take place.  


The important thing to understand here is that in the Law of Moses, there is a distinction between intentional and unintentional killing. 


In verses 15 through 17 we see a number of crimes that are punishable by death, that seem pretty severe in our western culture, but not severe in some cultures of the world today, especially in Muslim culture.   Verse 15 says a man who attacks his mother and father must die.  In verse 16 a kidnapper must die. In verse 17 one who curses his father or mother must die.  What we see here is how God detests such things.  What God hates, He really hates.  It is not simply a dislike.  It's a good thing Jesus died for our sins.     


Verses 18 and 19 concern two people in physical combat.  It appears both are equally guilty of fighting, but that's not the point here.  If one man gets hurt and doesn't get killed, the one who hurt him must pay restitution.  Restitution is something that has not been seen much in our law, although it has at times.  I personally believe paying restitution whenever is possible is important.  I see it as an act of true repentance. 


Verses 18 and 19 concerns the treatment of slaves.  If a slave is beaten and dies, that master who beat the slave must be punished, but the text does not say what the punishment is.   If the slave recovers from the beating, the master does not have to be punished.  There's some obvious questions here.  Why was the slave beaten, and was the beating warranted?


Verses 22 to 26 concerns hitting a pregnant woman causing premature birth.  Restitution must be paid to the husband, and the amount is determined by the husband and the court.  Here again, we see the importance of restitution.  This is the first time we see the word "court" used concerning Israel.  That only makes sense, with laws,  there must be a court.


If the injury to the baby is serious, then the same type of injury must be inflicted on the one who caused the injury.  This is the first time we see the idea of a life for a life, and eye for an eye, and so on.  The idea here is all about fairness in the midst of justice.  In our society we swing from one extreme to another.  Sometimes the punishment in our courts do not fit the crime.


Verses 26 and 27 concern master injuring their slaves.  If they hurt them bad enough, they must let the slave go free. Here we have a measure of protection for the slave.  So once again, even though God allowed for slavery in those days, the slaves were to be treated with respect. 


From verses 28 to 32 we see the law concerning a bull hurting or killing a person.  If that happens, the bull must die.  If it had happened before a number of times and the bull wasn't killed, then both bull and must be killed, that is, unless the family member of the dead person requires money instead of the death penalty.  In light of this law, I remind you of Genesis 9:5 where God said that He would demand an accounting from every animal that took the life of a person.


In verses 33 and 34 we see restitution again.  If a bull gets injured by falling into your pit, you must pay the owner of the bull sufficient funds to cover his losses.


In verses 35 and 35 if a man's bull kills another man's bull, the live bull must be sold and the money split between the two men.  If the bull has a history of such violence, then the full funds from the sale of the bull must be given to the man whose bull was killed. 


In this chapter, and throughout the Law of Moses you will see that the intent is all about fairness in the culture in which the Jews lived, even if the culture differs a lot from ours.


One thing I believe is right is that even though some of these laws seem so archaic to us, God set forth the Law of Moses into the cultures of the world at that time.  It would be too unreasonable for God to attempt to re-order civilizations back then.  So He made laws and placed them into the Jewish culture in order to be an example to the rest of the world.  He could have banned slavery, but He didn't.  He most likely knew that would not be possible in that age, so He provided protection for the slave, which would be the next best thing to banning slavery altogether.


We see the death penalty in this chapter.  This has been a topic of debate for years.  This chapter would certainly be used by those in favour of the death penalty. 


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