Monday, July 16, 2012

Exodus 21:1-11 Laws Regarding Servants

"These are the laws you are to set before them:
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.
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.
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.

But if the servant declares, 'I love my master and my wife and children
and do not want to go free,' 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.

If a man sells his daughter as a servant,
she is not to go free as menservants do.
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.
If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter.
If he marries another woman,
he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.
If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free,
without any payment of money."

Exodus 21:1-11 (NIV)

Some observations:
  • The verses from Exodus 21:1 through Exodus 23:19 is a section dealing with the laws regarding certain specific areas of life.
  • Hebrew servants were to be set free after six years of service.  God had just brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt.  He did not intend them to be held under servitude indefinitely.
  • There is a certain fairness about the fact that the servant is allowed to depart after his six years of service with a wife which he had when he began his service.  If a master had given him his wife, however, she and any offspring would belong to the master.  I find this hard to understand, unless somehow it is fair for the master, who otherwise would not have been compensated for the loss of  these servants.  Since this is a family unit, I doubt that God would have wanted to tear it apart in this way if the manservant left.  I am glad that there is a provision for the family to remain intact, although it does come at great cost to the husband, who will now be a servant for life.  There are doubtless many cultural aspects of this that I do not understand.
  • For example, why would a man sell his own daughter as a servant?  Possibly if he could not support her or was in some type of severe debt, he may have been forced to do so.  I know that in II Kings 4:1-7, a widow was nearly forced to sell her sons to satisfy her creditors, until the prophet Elisha miraculously supplied her with oil to sell to repay her debts.  Servitude was permitted under the Mosaic law in order to repay debts (Leviticus 25:39-41, Deuteronomy 15:1-11), but only for a limited time and the servant was to be kindly and fairly treated.  Needless to say, masters did not always live up to these standards.  Prophets often spoke against such abuses, particularly if they involved fellow Israelites.
  • The rules regarding a woman servant are different.  Although it may seem unfair that a woman servant could not just go free after her service as the men did, we have to remember that in that society, a woman could not just wander about unprotected, for she would be in great danger of abuse.  Also, I imagine that there were few ways that a lone woman in that culture could support herself.  These rules regarding women servants actually protect her from just being sold off to whoever might be willing to pay her previous master.  Also, if the master had selected her as a wife for himself or his son, she was to be fairly treated, and if additional wives came into the picture, the master could not just cast her aside.  If he was not willing to provide her with food, clothing and marital rights, she would be set free without needing to pay anything to her master, for he had broken faith with her.  I imagine that this means that since he had taken her as a wife, he was obligated to provide for her.  If he wouldn't or couldn't, then she was to be set free to compensate for this breach of faith.
  • Again, there may be cultural issues here of which I am not aware.  If I find anything more illuminating on these verses, I'll add it here.

No comments:

Post a Comment