Exodus 21, personal responsibility

Discussion in '2000-02 Archive' started by Helen, Sep 11, 2002.

  1. Helen

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    Aug 29, 2001
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    Although it is not clear in Exodus, it is very clear in Deuteronomy 5, when Moses is reviewing the events of the Exodus, that the laws after the Ten Commandments are specifically for the Israelites to follow in their new land. Many times I have seen and read challenges by those who would like to denigrate the Bible regarding the fact that we don’t obey all these rules and regulations today, which they often say we should do if we “really” believed the Bible. And what most Christians don’t know – and perhaps because so many don’t really read the Bible through – is that both God and Moses are very specific about the rules after the Ten Commandments being specifically for the nation of Israel when they entered the promised land. This may be found in Deuteronomy 5:28-33.

    The Ten Commandments may be kept by any individual, regardless of societal support. However the laws given the Israelites for their new nation are laws and regulations for a society.

    Let’s take a look at them, starting in Exodus 21.

    First of all, this chapter has to do with people. Before the treatment of animals, or the construction of a Tabernacle or anything else, God set down laws for them regarding their personal relationships and responsibilities toward one another.

    A little background is needed here first, possibly. It was common in a number of societies and cultures of that time that a man could ‘sell’ himself to pay off a debt. In other words, he would go into non-paid servitude in order to free his family from the burden of debts he may have accumulated. This was a type of slavery. It was not the same as the slavery which occurred when conquerors defeated an enemy and took them as forcible slaves, but it was slavery, nevertheless.

    God recognized this system of solving a debt problem but immediately put limits on it. The man who sold himself into slavery could only be kept as a slave for six years. The seventh year he was to go free. The seventh day and the seventh year being Sabbaths were to be extremely important in the Lord’s economy.

    If, however, the servant did not want to go free that seventh year, then the master could bond him for life at the servant’s/slave’s request. This was done by piercing the ear against the door frame of the house of the master. A pierced ear marked a servant for life.

    Verse 7 then talks about a ‘maidservant’, or a daughter sold into servitude. This was radically different from the idea of a manservant and needs to be recognized as such. Looking up the words used here in the Concordance, it becomes immediately evident that the daughter has been sold into concubinage. This also was a way of relieving family debt! But God treats this situation a lot differently. This girl is to be guaranteed marriage rights and support. The man who owns her, or who has bought her for his son (paying the equivalent of a bride price), must then guarantee her welfare in that home. If he does not provide food, clothing, and marital rights for her, then she is a free woman and does not have to buy her freedom. She is simply free.

    Verse 12 differentiates between what we refer to as first degree murder, or premeditated murder, and the accidental killing of another person. First degree murder is to be punished by death. Manslaughter, or unpremeditated and accidental killing of another human is something Moses says “God lets it happen,” and the killer is to flee to “another place.” Later we will see that God set up around the new nation cities of refuge where those accused of murder could go and be safe from retribution outside the law.

    Verse 15 says anyone who attacks his father or mother must be put to death.

    Verse 16 declares capital punishment for kidnapping.

    Verse 17 has caused great confusion, for it states that anyone who “curses” his father or mother must be put to death. Back to the Concordance. The word translated “curse” means to cause others to think evil of the parents. This implies a deliberate and repeated series of slanderous and horrible statements about the parents for the purpose of others thinking poorly of them. It is THIS the Bible commands capital punishment for, not swearing at one’s parents! Is there an age limit here? Considering that few teens think well of their parents and we all make allowances for that, it is much more likely that this command had to do with grown offspring and not youngsters! A teen talking badly about his or her parents is more or less expected in almost every society! People do not take them seriously, so it would be very difficult for a teen to cause others to think evil of his or her parents. Not impossible, but very difficult to say the least. It is far more likely that a respected grown man could cause great harm to his parents’ reputation and name by speaking evil of them, and thus causing others to think evil of them. This is the crime punishable by death in Exodus.

    Punishments for personal injuries continue.

    There must be reparation for time lost from work due to a fight between two men which causes injury to one of them.

    Beating a slave is allowable if there is no serious injury or death, as the slave is considered the property of the owner; however if the slave dies, the owner will be punished. Sounds pretty barbaric, but if we continue reading, we find in verses 26-27, that injuring that slave permanently even to the extent of causing him to lose a tooth, means the slave can go free! This would really limit what a master would be willing to do to a slave!

    Then comes another section which causes much argument. If two men fighting cause a pregnant woman to miscarry because she got hit during the fight, if there is no serious injury – meaning to either woman or child – then the father of the newborn is able to command a fine be paid by the perpetrator. However if there is a death – again referring to either mother or child – then it will be death for the person who caused the death of the other. There is no doubt in the Hebrew wording or grammatical structure regarding the fact that both the mother and child are to be considered in the decision about the punishment.

    However that punishment is to be strictly limited. Capital punishment is only allowable if the death of the mother or child occurs. Other punishments are to be LIMITED to like for like – an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth, etc., even down to a bruise for a bruise. This is very different from two men having it out with one another. Pregnant women may not be hit. Period. The risk of damage is simply too great, and the person inflicting the damage is putting himself in a very risky situation!

    Starting with verse 28, there is the section about a bull which gores a man to death. This bull must be stoned to death and the meat not eaten. Why stoned? Any society has stones. No special tools are required to put this bull to death. Slaughter done for sacrifices was very detailed, but the bull who gored someone could simply be stoned to death.

    And why waste the meat? It is very possible that there is an enzyme present in the meat of an angry animal which is not good for humans! Those who have tasted venison probably will recognize something of this. If a deer has been killed totally unawares, the meat tastes differently than if the deer had been shot while running for its life, afraid. I have read studies indicating this possibility regarding man-killing animals, but have not seen anything definitive.

    It should be noted at the end of the section about the bull goring someone, that if the bull gores a slave, the slave is actually valued more highly than the free man! Reparation must be made for the slave AND the bull is to be stoned to death.

    The reparation for the slave is thirty shekels of silver.

    Judas was paid thirty shekels of silver for betraying Christ.

    Going on with the laws set up in Exodus 21, we find the admonition that if a man digs a pit and does not cover it and an animal falls into it and dies, the digger of the pit now owns that animal and must pay the full sale price to the person who owned the animal while it was still alive.

    The last regulation laid down in this chapter deals with goring bulls again. This time they are going at each other. If one is killed then the two owners divide the sale price of the live bull and the meat of the dead one. However if the bull which gored the dead one was known to be a bull who did this sort of thing, then the dead animal had to be paid for by the owner of the goring bull.

    Thus the laws and regulations in this verse dealt with personal responsibility: towards other people, one’s parents, pregnant women, and for one’s animals as well as regarding harm caused to someone else’s animals. In short, people were to take responsibility for their own actions, and no man was to be above the law. This was something almost unheard of then and there. The customary thing in cultures at that time was for the king to make the laws and that he would be above them and could forgive anyone he wanted to forgive. The law was secondary to the king. With God’s rules and regulations, no one would be above the law, but all would be held responsible and accountable to it equally.

    As a last point, I would like to direct attention to Jeremiah 34:8-22. I am including it so that it can be clearly seen that God took his own law very seriously and expected the Israelites to do the same. It does not need any comment, and so I close with it as a quote:

    The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the salves. Everyone was to free his Hebrew slaves, both male and female; no one was to hold a fellow Jew in bondage. So all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed that they would free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage. They agreed, and set them free. But afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again.

    Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your forefathers when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I said ‘Every seventh year each of you must free any fellow Hebrew who has sold himself to you. After he has served you six years, you must let him go free.’ Your fathers, however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me. Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: Each of you proclaimed freedom to his countrymen. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again.

    “Therefore, this is what the Lord says: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom for your fellow countrymen. So I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the Lord – ‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague, and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. The men who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calk they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, I will hand over to their enemies who seek their lives. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.

    “I will hand Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials over to their enemies who seek their lives, to the army of the king of Babylon, which has withdrawn from you. I am going to give the order, declares the Lord, and I will bring them back to this city. They will fight against it, take it and burn it down. And I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there.”
  2. Clint Kritzer

    Clint Kritzer
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    Oct 10, 2001
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