Exodus 21:1-32 Physical Violence & Slavery

God DID NOT allow the Hebrews to treat their slaves as the Egyptians treated them!

God is continuing to fill out His original outline of the Ten Commandments. Today we look at physical violence between different individuals.

I am going to start off by saying that I do NOT like this subject matter! A big portion of what we read today has to do with slaves. I tried simply writing about what God shared with Moses regarding slaves, but I got a bit confused so I made a table instead.

Hebrew treatment of Hebrew Slaves
Male SlaveFemale Slave
Method acquired
sold by familyxx
Term of servicesix yearslifetime*
Cost of freedomfreefree**
Requirementsexit as entereddoes not please the master who tok her for himself; master can't sell her to a foreign people
Conditions/TreatmentMay not put out his eye or tooth. May not beat him to death with impunityNo decrease in food, clothing or marital rights; treated as a daughter if being kept for the master's son
Choicesexit as entered
become a bond servant for life
all choices made for her
* if her master fails to meet the conditions she is to be freed at no cost
** her family may redeem her if she does not please the master

One of the conditions for freeing the male Hebrew slave was that he goes out as he came in. If he was single when he became a slave, he goes out as a single man. If he was married when he became a slave he goes out with his wife too. This would make the wife’s service the same as her husband’s.

But if the man is single when he comes in and his master gives him a wife, the wife and all their children still belong to the master when the man is freed. As far as I can tell, his only recourse to keep his family is to become a bond servant; agree to lifetime service. He has to choose between his own freedom and his family.

When I was contemplating the fate of the female servant I wondered about the fact that she doesn’t have an end to her service. At first I thought this very unfair until I thought about the life of a woman in society at that time. In bible times a woman’s ultimate worth was in her ability to bear children. Her immediate worth was in her virginity. A man was not judged on this aspect of their lives. A man could obtain a job regardless of his sexual experience. Whereas a woman’s job was that of a wife and her sexual experience impacted that dramatically. If a woman were to be released in the seventh year of her service she would be considered worthless to another man. She would not be marriage material. She would also be guilty of adultery. Marriage was not binding until it was consummated and once consummated, the woman was bound to the one man for life, even if he divorced her. So a freed woman would have nowhere to go.

I was looking into this a little further on Google and came across an article that stated that the “girl” being sold by her father couldn’t be older than 12 years and 1 day. She was sold as a future bride either for the master or for his son, when she came of marrying age. If, at marrying age, she doesn’t please him she can be redeemed by her family because HE broke faith with her. In other words, the master broke his promise of marriage for her.

The rest of our reading today deals with punishment for violence against another. Many of the offenses listed today have the same penalty; death. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life. I made another chart to show the breakdown.

Consequences of Physical Violence
PenaltyDeathPayment for LossAvengedFine
Hitting parentsx
Cursing parentsx
Hitting with stone or fistx
Beating a slave to deathx
Pregnancy interruptedxxx
Ox injury/ no historyox
Ox injury/ with historyox /ownerowner
Ox injurs slaveoxowner
Manslaughter is killing someone unintentionally in the heat of the moment
Murder is premeditated and though out
Hitting with stone or fist cannot result in death or would be manslaughter
If a pregnant woman is hit during an altercation and it results in the termenation of pregnancy through abortion or delivery, if no injury to baby, fine only. If child is injured or killed, perpetrator suffers the same effects as the baby. Eye for an eye...

I don’t know what punishment the “avenged” for killing a slave would be but I would classify it as manslaughter or murder myself.

God know His children are not perfect. He knows we are going to mess up and make mistakes. Instead of being reactive after we make a mess, He is proactive and tells us how to deal with the issues that ARE going to arise.

Father God, I’m glad that You set out standards for us. Even before You gave Moses these exact standards, men knew these actions were wrong and deserved consequences. I still have trouble with the idea and practice of slavery. It certainly wasn’t the same thing then that it became later. The slave traders of the 19th century on forward would have ALL been deserving of death for stealing men and selling them into slavery. You STRICTLY forbade this! Yet men tried to use Your word to justify their actions.

Your commandments stand the test of time. They were relevant then and are just as relevant now. Even though Jesus fulfilled the Law, these are still principals we NEED in our lives. The Ten Commandments are embodies in the Two Greatest Commandments. Man’s inhumanity to man requires Your intervention. There would be a LOT less people if the “hitting your parents” and “cursing your parents” penalties were enforced today! Thank You for spelling it out for me.

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