and the court allows.
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.