SBC Banner


Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

October 25, 2017

Exodus  21:1-11

  1. As we continue our discussion in Exodus, we want to pause and teach a few things before we continue into this chapter. One of the first things we need to know before we read this chapter is that this form of temporary bond service/indentured service mentioned is nothing like what we know of as chattel slavery practiced in the United States. The second thing we need to know is that when this command was given there weren’t any Hebrews in bond service. This is a command for a later time. These commands are rules to deal with those who found themselves orphaned, widowed, or in heavy debt or bankruptcy. These are rules for the least. We must remember that the economy that God was setting up would be an economy where basically every family was an enterprise unto themselves. This is hard for us to envision since we are accustomed to a specialized type of economy where most aren’t totally self-sufficient. In this time, a family would have to grow their own food and take care of their own needs. Let us revisit a story from several hundred years before these commands were given to see an example of this kind of temporary bond service (see Genesis 29:14-30). Jacob worked two set of seven years, as a bondservant. A bondservant sells himself for a period of time (7years). Jacob was given wives from Laban. Today I want to share you notes from the “Theology of Work Project” with my commentary.

  2. Verse 2. God knows the human heart, and God knows that powerful people tend to oppress those who have little power and resources. God gives commands to Israel to apply later to limit the tendency to oppress one another in tough times. Although God liberated the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, bond service/indentured service was not prohibited in the Bible. Bond service was permissible in certain situations, so long as slaves/bondservants were regarded as full members of the community (Gen. 17:12), received the same rest periods and holidays as non-slaves (Exod. 23:12; Deut. 5:14-15, 12:12), and were treated humanely (Exod. 21:7, 26-27). Most importantly, slavery/bond service among Hebrews was not intended as a permanent condition, but a voluntary, temporary refuge for people suffering what would otherwise be desperate poverty. “When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt” (Exod. 21:2). Cruelty on the part of the owner resulted in immediate freedom for the slave (Exod. 21:26-27). This made male Hebrew slavery more like a kind of long-term labor contract among individuals, and less like the kind of permanent exploitation that has characterized slavery in modern times. What we see is that one of the first things God instructs the people is concerning how to handle people who fell on bad times. One could not hold one for service forever. (Read Leviticus 25) God’s idea was that every 50 years wealth would be redistributed and everyone put back on equal footing. Because of man’s greed and selfishness, long-term servitude would create a permanent caste system of elites and servants. All debts and indentured service had to be canceled at the end of seven years. Read Deuteronomy 15.

  3. Verses 3-6. The regulations in Exodus aim to preserve families intact. “If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him” (Exod. 21:3). An obvious loophole is that a girl or woman could be bonded as a wife for a male slave, rather than for the slave owner or a son, and this resulted in permanent enslavement to the owner (Exod. 21:4) if he wanted to remain married and stay with his family, even when the husband's term of enslavement ended. The woman became a permanent slave to an owner who did not become her husband and who owed her none of the protections due a wife. Now the owner had no obligation to keep the family in bond service for life. If the husband chose to stay, there was a formal ceremony to indenture the man for life that had to be done in front of the leaders of the people.

  4. Verses 7-11. Female Hebrew bond service was in one sense even more protective. The chief purpose contemplated for bonding a female servant was so that she could become the wife of either the buyer or the buyer’s son (Exod. 21:8-9). As wife, she became the social equal of the slaveholder, and the purchase functioned much like the giving of a dowry. Indeed, she is even described as being married by the regulation (Exod. 21:10). Moreover, if the buyer failed to treat the female slave with all the rights due an ordinary wife, he was required to set her free. “She shall go out without debt, without payment of money” (Exod. 21:11). Yet in another sense, women had far less protection than men. Potentially, every unmarried daughter faced the possibility of being sold into a marriage against her will.

click here to select another lesson