The Exegesis of Exodus 21:1-11

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The Exegesis of Exodus 21:1-11

The Law concerning Slaves
1These are the ordinances that you shall set before them:
2When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt.3If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.4If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's and he shall go out alone.5But if the slave declares, "I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,"6then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life. 7When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.8If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her.9If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter.10If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.11And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.

Exodus begins in Egypt where the people of God have been living in slavery to Pharaoh. God called for the people of Israel to get up and leave their position of slavery in Egypt when they had been crying out to God for deliverance. He was concerned about their suffering and he rescued them.As God delivers the Israelites and God also directed the people through the godly leadership of Moses, they move into the desert by way of the Red Sea and eventually come to Mount Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula. God rescues and delivers his people as he guides them into the unfamiliar desert. There God institutes his system of laws, gives instruction in worship and establishes his people as the nation of Israel.

It’s high time for God to set up a series of principles for them to follow, one of which was the law concerning slaves, which was recorded in Exodus Chapter 21:1-11. When reading the law, it is found that it emphasizes kindness and equity, though the law seems primitive and a bit cruel today. As we know, the government of the Israelites being a theocracy, those public authorities were the servants of the Divine Sovereign, and subject to his direction. Most of these laws here noticed were primitive usages, founded on principles of natural equity, and incorporated with modifications and improvements, in the Mosaic code.

The institution of the law in Exodus reveals the emphasis and importance of choice and responsibility in God's kingdom. The laws are part of the Israelite relationship with the Lord. It must be considered why the law concerning slaves must be made to regulate people and this question will be discussed in the forthcoming paragraphs.

Israel's slavery is a picture of man's slavery to sin. Ultimately only through God's divine guidance and leadership can we escape our slavery to sin. In ancient Israel, there were five ways in which one could become a slave: (1) Those who sold themselves into slavery because of debt. (2) Those who were prisoners of war. (3) Those who were born into slavery (Gen. 17:23; Lev. 22:11) (4) Those who were sold into slavery, i.e., Joseph (Gen. 37:28, 36) (5) Those who were caught committing the crime of breaking and entering (Ex. 22:2-3). On the other hand, slaves were acquired through: (1) Trade (2) Purchase (3) Payment of debt (4) Gifts (5) Birth (6) Plunder in war and (7) Self determination. Usually, Slaves carried out: (1) Household duties (2) Farming duties (3) Young women served as concubines (4) Building projects for the state.

An Israelite could sell himself or herself into slavery to a fellow countryman to pay off a debt. The Lord freed...
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