Saturday, August 4, 2012

Exodus 21:18-27 Consequences of Fighting

"If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist
 and he does not die but is confined to bed,
the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible
if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff;
however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time
and see that he is completely healed.

If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod
and the slave dies as a direct result,
he must be punished,
but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two,
since the slave is his property.

If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman
and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury,
the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands
and the court allows.
But if there is serious injury,
you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,
hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it,
he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye.
And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, 
he must let the servant go to compensate for the tooth."

Exodus 21:18-27

In the previous post we dealt with personal injuries resulting in death.  In the present post we are dealing with reparations for injuries caused by fighting.

The first paragraph (v. 18-19) is fairly straightforward:  If injuries result from fighting, the one who struck the blow is responsible for the injured person's medical treatment and loss of time from work.

The next section gets tricky for me.  If someone beats his slave with a rod, and the slave dies, the person is to be punished (for manslaughter, I presume).  If the slave is able to recover, the master is not punished.  However, the part I stumble over is what follows, for the text says (v.21): "but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property."  Yikes.  The only thing I can think of is that these rules are dealing with the realities of the day, in which slavery was a common aspect of everyday life, and slaves were considered the property of their owners.  I believe that these regulations were to ensure fair treatment and also (as we will see in the following verses) to limit the extent of retaliation for injuries.

Here is where things get even more complicated.  A note on that verse (v.21) in the NIV Study Bible referred me to this passage in Leviticus:

"If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you
and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave.
He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you;
he is to work for you until the year of Jubilee.
Then he and his children are to be released,
and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers.
Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt,
they  must not be sold as slaves.
Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you;
from them you may buy slaves.
You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you
and members of their clans born in your country,
 and they will become your property.
You can will them to your children as inherited property
and can make them slaves for life,
but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly."

Leviticus 25:39-46 (NIV)

So, it seems that the Israelites may sell themselves as servants to a fellow Israelite, but are not to be treated as slaves.  Also, they must be released in the year of Jubilee, for God did not want his people, whom He had redeemed from Egypt, to be slaves.  However, Israelites could buy slaves from other nations, who could be considered property and enslaved for life, and even willed to their children as inherited property.

This made me wonder what could be the purpose behind such distinction between the Israelites and the other nations.  I knew that the Israelites were God's covenant people, yet it troubled me that in this passage in Leviticus, people from other nations could be treated like property.  Then I began to imagine what a slave in an Israelite household might be thinking.  Hopefully such slaves would be treated humanely, for the Israelites knew what it felt like to be worked ruthlessly.  God even referred to this fact at several points:  Deuteronomy 5:12-15; 15:12-15; 16:10-12; 24:17-22.

Also, I began to think that such a slave might wish that he was an Israelite, exempt from such slavery.  Then I thought about how this might lead such a slave to consider becoming a follower of Israel's God.  I do not know the details about the process of how such a conversion might come about, but I imagine it was possible and that such a slave would eventually have more of a servant status than a slave status.  So could the distinction between the treatment of people from other nations and the treatment of an Israelite who had sold himself into service become a factor which could lead these people from other nations to come to know the true God?  This is the only redeeming aspect which I can imagine in such circumstances.  For Israel was given laws which set them apart from other peoples, with the intent of showing that they were the people of God -- not for any display of pride or nationalism, but for the end purpose of revealing God to the nations.

Another fascinating aspect of this passage is the part which is found in Exodus 21:22-23.  Here we see that if a pregnant woman is injured accidentally because men are fighting, and she gives birth prematurely, the offender can be fined whatever the woman's husband demands (within the limits of the law).  However, the text goes on to say that if there is serious injury, retaliation can be taken to same extent as the injury:  life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.  This is important for two reasons:

  • 1)  It limits the retaliation so that the punishment fits the crime.  It is not that a person has to retaliate in kind, as much as it limits the extent of possible retaliation. 
  • 2)  It gives both the mother and the unborn child protection.  Thus the child, though unborn, is considered a person worthy of protection.

Verses 26 and 27 of this passage speak of some practical outworking of these ideas.  A manservant or maidservant whose eye is destroyed must be set free to compensate for such a loss.  Interestingly, the same goes for the loss of a tooth.  At first I found it strange that the servant could be set free for the loss of 'just a tooth'.  Then I began to think about how these days there is the recognition that dental health can have all kinds of repercussions for our health in general.  So I think that this is just another example of the Bible being correct about something years before society is willing or able to recognize it.  This makes me want to read God's Word all the more carefully.         

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