Life of Moses
More Laws: Mercy in the Midst of Struggle…Treatment of Servants…
Orig. 8/24/03; ed. 8/2/15
Introduction: Do you know what scaffolding is? What is its purpose? You just can’t construct something out of nothing. You have to have a way to get to what you want to build or renovate, thus the need for scaffolding.
The Law, the Covenant between God and Israel, our Constitution, classroom or house rules all serve as a type of moral scaffolding. These are the things we use as we seek to build a moral conscience that please, imitates and honors God, while at the same time learning how to love or respectfully treat my fellow man. Why? Because our natural tendency is to mainly think of ourselves and what we want? That tendency is so strong without some form of temporary moral constraints, we would probably destroy one another. Thus the need for law, rules and even customs.
Renovation: The statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio is covered in scaffolding. The iconic statue, inaugurated in 1931, is getting a $4million facelift (March 13, 2010).
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Below is a 80-second time lapse video of the Washington Monument’s three-year renovation following structural damages the monument sustained in an earthquake.
So what goes into making a lasting, sustainable law or rule that serves its purpose in helping people to think for themselves so that they become morally self or Spiritually regulated?
General Introduction: Moses, led by God, is leading the children of Israel, perhaps as many as 2-3 million strong, away from Egypt and closer to the land promised to their forefathers seven centuries before. Their journey has not been without its problems. Having overcome food, water and leadership issues and a threatening military foe, God’s people have reached his mountain–the same place where Moses was called by God to lead Israel out of Egypt.
There Israel, having physically and spiritually purified itself, took its vows before God. Yahweh now, through Moses, begins to spell out the contract or covenant’s provisions in more detail, implying that if you are to be my people and represent me within this world, these are the rules you must live by.
These are the rules that will set you apart and above the world’s godless din.
These rules are commonly called the LAW or the Mosaic Law or the Mosaic Covenant, since quite obviously, Moses mediated the covenant between Yahweh God and his bride, the children of Israel.
The first ten rules, vows or commands were referred to as the TEN COMMANDMENTS. They involve exclusive faithfulness to God as opposed to all other gods or idols, as well as, relational commands with respect to getting along with one another within the covenant community. They begin with the honoring of one’s aged parents, as well as commands not to kill, steal, bear false witness, covet or commit adultery against one another.
With these rules, and God as their king, Israel has a government—a theocracy—and has become a nation.
Note: the first set of these laws governs the treatment of men and women who were considered slaves. While the idea of slavery may seem repulsive today, and is, slavery was considered legal and normal in the ancient world. Still, legal or not, slavery, as with many other practices in life, was certainly and quite frequently open to abuse and exploitation, thus the need for its moral regulation within the ancient world.
Read Passage several times…
Exodus 21:1 “These are the laws you are to set before them:
Command Set #1
2 “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.
Notice: “IF you buy…” Thus owning a slave was NOT commanded, but permitted or accommodated
And while one could buy a Hebrew slave, it was not to be a forever. There was an end to the legal transaction.
Why six years?
Was there a Sabbath rest year after six years?
Was this six straight years or was the man always released on the Sabbath Year (every seven years; see later command)?
3 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.
So when the slave is freed, his wife is freed too or was she ever a slave? Notice once again, the emphasis on temporal-ness of the slavery.
4 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.
How would this work? Did the two remain married?
5 “But if the servant declares, `I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’
So instead of leaving them, which was his right, he was allowed to stay with them?
6 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.
So the man can remain a servant for life in order to remain with the family the man was given upon his master providing him one?
Who were the judges in this case and why judges? To prove that this man has chosen this way of life—it has not been forced upon him? We have witnesses.
Are these the men Moses appointed at the advice of his father-in-law just previous to this? How were they selected later?
Why the doorpost? What is an awl? A sharp-pointed rock or drill?
Why pierce the ear? Did this hurt? Was this a bad thing to be his master’s servant for life or did it matter?
Command Set #2
7 “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do.
Why would anyone sell his daughter? Why would anyone buy a female servant—as a wife?
And she does not go free after six years as a manservant would?
Why are women treated differently than men?
8 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.
What does redeemed mean? To buy her back?
So she could be sold back to or redeemed by her father because she did not please the one who had bought her?
And why would the one who had bought her not be pleased? Are their sexual implications involved here?
Or was it because she was not respectful?
9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter.
So it would seem that marriage is being implied here? Is this an arranged marriage?
Did she have inheritance rights? In other words, you could not just cast her off, if she was not pleasing to either the father or the son? Either she was redeemed by her father or she was treated as someone else’s daughter now?
10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.
This only strengthens the case for marriage being in view here.
And it does seem that some form of polygamy or multiple marriage was accepted here?
But the first wife still had rights, including marital rights so that she could have children, and in doing so, have a certain value. She was bearing life, another Israelite son or daughter, another arrow within Jacob or Israel’s quiver? Another blessing? Another soldier, farmer, shepherd, judge, priest, Levite or merchant? Or another mother of an Israelite?
11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.
But she is free, without having to pay anything, if he fails to fulfill his legal obligations? Is this tantamount to a divorce, or does slavery change the equation?
Note: Because there are 11 verses of legal language here, be brief, don’t spend a lot of time on these three questions…if any.
Who? You (Moses), them (Israel), Hebrew servant, wife, sons or daughters, master, servant, judges, man, his daughter, menservants, master, foreigners, his son, daughter, another woman
Where? before the judges, door
When? Six years, in the seventh, when he comes,
• A Hebrew servant is to go free in the seventh year.
• If he came alone, he leaves alone. If he brought a wife, he takes his wife.
• If he is given a wife, then he leaves without her, unless he wants to become his master’s servant for life because he does not want to leave his family behind.
• On the other hand, if a man sells his daughter, she will not go free after six years, presumably because she is married and may have children.
• Although, she can be sold back only to her father and not to foreigners, if for some reason she does not please her master/husband.
• If the master bought her for his son, he must then give her the rights as if she was his own daughter, regardless of how her relationship or marriage with his son turns out.
• If he marries another woman, he must still provide the basic necessities of his first wife, or else she is free to go. His failure to provide for her has purchased her freedom. She is no longer his servant or wife, and he can not sell her, if she does not please him.
Summary… While slavery or the buying and selling of servants might not have been condoned by God, it was certainly both accommodated, as well as, morally highly regulated by God within the Law.
While one Hebrew could legally own another one, the one that was owned still had certain rights and protections. Servant-hood was not forever, but temporary, unless one wanted to remain a life-long servant for marital or family reasons.
Daughters, given or sold in marriage, also had certain rights. She could not just be sold to someone else as property if she did not please her husband or master. She was afforded either the dignity of being bought back buy her father or given her freedom entirely, if for example, another wife entered the picture and the first was denied her basic marital rights.
Bottom line…Even within the law, God seems to be trying to raise the moral bar where people are treated with a certain dignity, even if they are someone else’s servant.
With this new nation, the moral bar is being raised. The moral, ethical standards are being raised.
Why? (What truths do I learn about God, man, people, myself, life?)
• While slavery or servant-hood was tolerated within the Yahweh-Israel relationship, it was legally and morally regulated to also protect the servant or slave and his wife.
• At its core, servant-hood or slavery was not intended to be forever, unless voluntary. It was intended to be a momentary arrangement. Thus even within this law, God’s kindness shines through. People, even servants, had value and dignity as man or woman created in the image of God. Someone might be a legal servant or slave, but they still had certain moral rights and protections. This seems to have been quite a significant change in the way slavery was viewed within the ancient world. God was using his relationship with Israel to raise the bar with respect to human rights.
• Marriage and the family are still valued within the laws relating to men and women servants. In other words, slavery did not abrogate the basic bonds of marriage and family that were so strategic to Israel’s growth as a growing national power.
• For the most part, it would seem that women and daughters were under their husband and/or father’s legal authority and protection.
Thanksgiving…My Spiritual daughter’s journey of Spiritual and addictive recovery continues to astound. Soon she returns back home, where she has secured a safe place to live and in which to raise her baby daughter, as well as, a part-time job that she can also work from home in managing the social media of a reputable Christian ministry that ministers to gals in her same predicament…single moms. Is God amazing? Amen. The baby’s dad did arrange to see his daughter this week. That was good. And, as she was able to sit in on the small-group home church that she grew up in as a child, as a participating peer, as she was also nursing sick kids, I am stunned at redemption.
Struggle…As usual, balance. I am trying to finish up the second draft of SLove with all the new material, including the exhaustive word studies of the Greek and Hebrew words for love, and I am getting closer every day. At the same time, my counseling load is greatly picking up; I have ignored the grounds this past week and I bombed last Sunday’s teaching when my laptop battery died because I had failed to bring the power cord adapter along with the computer from home, causing me not to be able to use a strategic Keynote presentation that I had spent most of the night finishing in order to make my point that ironically was built upon the truths of the last several Learning Center studies, which was that exclusivity, as represented by the commands to worship God alone, plus rest, as represented by the command to enjoy a Sabbath rest, equals intimacy or worship or value and honor. Then multiply this by Spiritual community, as represented by the relational commandments to honor our parents, as well as, not to lie to or steal from or kill one another etc. and what do you get? The presence and power of God, as represented in the verses following the Ten Commandments. I had experienced the Spiritual phenomena within a challenging counseling session the previous day, as well as, with my Rhonda during our Great Southwest expedition earlier in July, so it seemed only appropriate to teach on this and tie it into creating God Space. The idea was solid. Execution, poor. The Keynote with some of our rich photos, detailing the beauty and grander of God’s creation from the Southwest U.S. would have nailed my desire to express the romantic intimacy that Rhonda and I had not only experienced with each other, but with our Creator. Oh well!, I have another shot to redeem last week’s teaching and connect to a great moving or appearing of God during the mid-1800s. the Layman’s Prayer Revival. It began as simple noontime prayer meeting in New York, but it was not long before it changed the world’s Spiritual landscape. Our nation and world are due. Could it begin via prayer in an attempt to create a moment of God Space? My prayer is that it would.
Truth…Using his Law, the Groom, God, chooses to legally and morally regulate a culturally and legally, ancient and accepted custom that was certainly open to exploitation and abuse—the legal owning of another person, or slavery. While seemingly, it is seen as anathema within our democratic culture, this has not always been the case throughout the world’s history.
Although in another very real sense, slavery or servant-hood still occurs, just not under the guise of legally owning another person. Many people, throughout the world, feel trapped and exploited in their jobs or labor. Others are enslaved in so many other ways and expressions.
Regardless, within the ancient world, Yahweh, through is covenant, sought to change the status quo within this legally –accepted practice. A man and a woman, despite being legal slaves, still had rights, dignity and protections. So despite it being within our nature to take advantage and exploit others for our benefit, and that most all of us do it in some capacity all the time, God, through his Law, or his legal arrangement with Israel, was seeking not only to curb that tendency within his bride, Israel, but to raise the moral, human rights bar for all of culture. And while, legally perhaps, humanity has made progress with respect to ending the practice of slavery, we have a long way to go with respect to our innate tendency to discover new ways to take advantage and exploit others for our own personal gain, until someday, when our Lord does return, and all will live under the influence of his reign in peace, prosperity and freedom.
Application…I think the thing I take away the most here is the idea of the Divine’s gradual accomodating or maturing over time of lesser, immature behaviors and institutions via momentary rules, regulations and laws. These serve as temporary scaffolding while we are constructing the real thing—both a transformed individual and collective conscience that more mirrors our Creator and molded by the Spirit of God himself, using his Spiritual, moral or biblical truth as our daily cirriculum.
In the end, it is not about rules and laws; it is about a transformed heart and mind, especially with the way we respect, treat and hold others accountable, and not just for our own selfish purposes, but for God’s.
The challenge of balancing living, life and ministry are the instruments that God is using to transform my conscience into thinking as he would or might think—what is in the Spiritual best interest of all involved? Now that is a difficult theoritical assignment. I mean, afterall, where does the “all” stop in the moment? Who really knows? But what I can do is to biblically, truthfully, Spiritually, prayerfully, experientially and accountably seek to make informed Spiritual decisions about my life, living and choices. That it is NOT just about me, but others are involved. But prayerfully, with God as my touchstone, I can be lead to make better and better decisions.
Scripture quotations, unless noted otherwise, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version‚ NIV‚ Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.