Friday, July 22, 2022

2022.07.22 Hopewell @Home ▫ Exodus 21:1–11

Read Exodus 21:1–11

Questions from the Scripture text: What are “these” (Exodus 21:1)? What is Moses to do with them? Whom might they end up buying (Exodus 21:2)? How long would he serve? What happens in the seventh year? What if he became a servant by himself (Exodus 21:3)? What if he had been married when he came in? But what if his master gives him a wife (Exodus 21:4)? What other option does the servant have in this case (Exodus 21:5-6)? What affection must there be between him and his master? His wife? His children? How long will he be a “servant” in that case? What may a man do with his daughter (Exodus 21:7)? But what is the implication of what is happening in this case (Exodus 21:8)? And what if the recipient is not taking her as a wife for himself (verse 8)? And what if he took her as a wife for his son (Exodus 21:9)? Even if he does not marry her, what portion and place is she to have in the household (Exodus 21:10)? And if he refuses, then what (Exodus 21:11)?

What will God’s new society be like?  Exodus 21:1–11 looks forward to the evening sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these eleven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the Israelites were to apply God’s moral law by having a civil law that blessed, rewarded, and fostered righteousness even in a fallen world. 

The beginning of Israel’s civil case law. God has already declared His moral law that is to govern their hearts and actions before His face. But He has also now gathered Israel as a church and a nation. As a church, they would need ceremonial law. As a nation, they would need civil laws. Unsurprisingly, even before Sinai we have seen the need for various regulations and for hearing and deciding cases among the people.

Now, with Moses receiving from God the ongoing instructions, this passage begins “these are the judgments which you shall set before them.” In this formula, the word ‘judgments’ (or “ordinances”) refers to case laws based upon previous laws that have established foundational principles. 

Slavery goes first. This surprises us, but it was probably less surprising to them. God had introduced the Ten Commandments reminding them that He brought them out of the house of bondage. Now, He introduces the case law by showing just how different this new society would be. We don’t have the option of thinking judgmentally about God’s civil laws; rather, we can acknowledge as Christ did that laws responding to or managing sin are not necessarily laws that condone or approve that sin (cf. Matthew 19:8).

Our society could learn something from theirs about dealing with debt and economic hardship. For instance, this system required the debtor to labor for the good of his creditor and the creditor to care for the needs of his debtor. But even our post-Christian society is superior in this area to the other societies of their time. In them (as in Egypt), manservants were treated worse than beasts, and maidservants were kept for violating and abusing. Here, then, was a place where they could quickly learn just how distinctive were the principles of their new society, principles like: liberty, love, and dignity.

Liberty. Six years max. Many embark on a college/grad education that takes longer and buries them in crippling debt. When the seventh year comes for a Hebrew servant, he doesn’t go back to his debt but has a fresh start. This was revolutionary!

Love. If a master wanted to keep a servant, he had a path forward for that. Treat him in a way that fostered love. And then, if he’s single, find him a wife that he will love. The servant doesn’t have to take her, of course. And he knows the risks, that if he leaves this master, he would lose this wife. The strangeness of the regulation gets in our way a little. But if we think about it a little, we can see what this case law is encouraging—even for the six years.

Dignity. For a female servant, the implication in Exodus 21:8Exodus 21:9 is that she is taken as a wife (either for himself or for his son). Here too, however, there must be love, and if not love at least dignity. Otherwise, she is either released (if she was to be his, Exodus 21:8) or adopted (if she was to be his son’s, Exodus 21:9). And the implication in her release from marriage is that she continues with just as much status as if she had continued as the wife (Exodus 21:10).

Liberty, love, and dignity as foundational principles for governing slavery? This is obviously not the sort of slavery about which we are accustomed to thinking about or reading about. Rather, it is a way of dealing with economic realities in a fallen world among people who have been redeemed (and therefore, liberty), who acknowledge that marriage is a divine institution (and therefore, love), and who recognize about every human that he is made in the image of God (and therefore dignity).

What three principles underlay these regulations for slavery? Where did they come from? What did they say about this society as compared to others? Where should Christian nations find the principles for their laws?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we are so selfish that we forget about Your glory in thinking about economics and laws. Forgive us, and grant unto us to think about these things from Your Word instead of from our flesh, with priorities and principles that come from Who You are and what You have done for us. For we ask it through Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP184 “Adoration and Submission” or TPH164 “God Himself Is with Us”

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