1The Lord gave Moses the following laws for his people:
2 If you buy a Hebrew slave, he must remain your slave for six years. But in the seventh year you must set him free, without cost to him. 3If he was single at the time you bought him, he alone must be set free. But if he was married at the time, both he and his wife must be given their freedom. 4If you give him a wife, and they have children, only the man himself must be set free; his wife and children remain the property of his owner.
5But suppose the slave loves his wife and children and his owner so much that he won't leave them. 6Then he must stand beside either the door or the doorpost at the place of worship, while his owner punches a small hole through one of his ears with a sharp metal rod. This makes him a slave for life.
7A young woman who was sold by her father doesn't gain her freedom in the same way that a man does. 8If she doesn't please the man who bought her to be his wife, he must let her be bought back. He cannot sell her to foreigners; this would break the contract he made with her. 9If he selects her as a wife for his son, he must treat her as his own daughter.
10If the man later marries another woman, he must continue to provide food and clothing for the one he bought and to treat her as a wife. 11If he fails to do any of these things, she must be given her freedom without paying for it.
If you are a typical reader of the English Bible this is where your resolve is tested. When we decide to read through the Bible the books of Genesis and Exodus to this point make for interesting reading because they contain all kinds of stories about God’s dealings with his people. But when we arrive at Exodus 21 things change and the material can become tedious, and we can get bogged down pretty quickly.
The problem is twofold: first the style of the writing with its lists of do’s and don’ts, and then the matter of relevance and the obvious question regarding how these rules and regulations apply to us today. Concerning the first obstacle we must remember that God promises to bless those who diligently pursue wisdom even when such a pursuit is difficult. And regarding the second, although these precepts do not apply to us as they did to Israel long ago, because they are part of God’s written word they still have things to teach us if we read them in light of the rest of scripture.
With these observations in mind it is interesting to note that God begins “The Book of the Covenant” (cf. 24:4,7) with rules governing Hebrew male and female slaves. Israel was a nation of slaves that God had redeemed from Egypt and they must never forget that. Their treatment of one another must be different because God cares about them and all people.
What follows are rules that limit slavery (21:1-4), rules that transcend slavery by allowing for the intrusion of love (21:5-6), and rules that specifically address the treatment of female slaves (21:7-11). These rules are noteworthy because it means that there is a rhyme and a reason to the ways of the Lord. People matter to God.
God of redemption, Thank you for setting us free from the tyranny of sin and its consequences. Help us to understand that you expect us to honour you by the way we treat others remembering all you have done for us. We pray in Christ, our Redeemer’s name. Amen.