BIBLE STUDY SERIES #128, 129 and 130

1 May, 1994

THE RIGHTS OF SLAVES

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

For some time, now, through an examination of the Biblical accounts found in the Books of Genesis and Exodus, our current series of Bible Studies has been seeking to trace the Great Plan of Almighty God for the restoration of His Universe to that condition of perfection from Sin which will bring liberty to His people. We saw how, from among the families of mankind God had selected Abraham, and from his aged loins, had developed a family, and later, from this family, a tribal society which was to pass through Egyptian bondage and the Exodus experience to a new relationship with Himself at Mount Sinai. Further, we will yet see how He plans to bring to pass His mighty purposes through the nation which was formed of those descendants.

On our more recent Bible Studies, our programmes have been examining each of The Ten Commandments in turn, and now, we are taking up each of the judgments which follow on, and are given to amplify those principles which are contained therein.

We had come to Exodus 21:1-11, a passage which I read on our last programme, which directs attention to the regulation of the practice of slavery among God's people. I explained then that I wanted to discuss the general topic of slavery in the context of the Old Testament times, and I stated that I wanted to leave a more detailed examination until today. I shall read that passage, and add some comments of my own along with those provided by some references.

1. Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.
2. If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
3. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.
4. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself.
5. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:
6. Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.
7. And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.
8. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.
9. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.
10. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.
11. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

That the Law Code given to Israel at Mount Sinai contains such a passage may, at first sight, give the impression to modern listeners that the purposes of the Almighty God Who gave this Law must be deemed out of character with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the realisation that slavery is apparently permitted and regulated may come as something of a shock to the sensibilities of those who have not studied the societies of ancient times.

However I explained on our last programme that this was necessary; given that the practice of slavery held almost universal approval throughout Bible times up to the date of the giving of that Law from Mount Sinai. One must instruct pupils starting where the pupils are, and not at a point to which one would wish them to have already attained! The judgments which amplified the Commandments must, therefore, take account of the past and the then-present experience of those who were to be led through an age-long course of instruction in the plan of God.

Regarding this passage, which initiates a section to which The New Bible Commentary applies the title "The Judgments", that reference says "... Those which follow embody ancient customary law, now divinely sanctioned for the recently appointed judges (xviii.20)." It proceeds to add comments upon several specific verses in particular.

Of verse 2, it says "Servants... In the ancient world slavery was universally the basis of the labour system. The Mosaic law permitted to the Israelites also a form of bondservice, but it was unique in that the bondservant was not regarded as a mere chattel, but he preserved his rights as an individual personality and regained his freedom after six years ... or at the year of jubilee, should that occur before the end of his six years (Lv. xxv.10)." At verse 3, it continues: "If he entered upon his period of service as a married man, his wife and children were to be freed with him..., but if he married one of the others of his master's servants, his wife and children remained the property of the master presumably until the end of their six years." Of verse 6, it adds "He had also the right to choose whether he would remain in the service of his master, in which case his declaration was to be witnessed by the judicial officials and sealed by the mark of the aul in his ear... The ear was the symbol of willing obedience, and the door to which it was fastened represented the household to which he bound himself."

I might interject an interesting prophetic sense to this regulation. The servant in that last illustration would probably have allowed himself to be so bonded in order to remain with his beloved wife. We have stated that the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ was the same manifestation of God Who, as the Great "I AM" of Sinai, took the whole nation of Israel as His wife. However, If we look upon Jesus as servant to His heavenly Father, (as He expressed to us in John 5:37, a verse which says " And the Father Himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of Me..."), then, we may observe an interesting possibility.

God, the Father is represented in the master of the house. In the servant pinned to the door post by the awl in order to preserve his marriage relationship to his wife, we may detect a figure of Christ as the suffering servant, Who was nailed to the Cross as Isaiah 53 prophesied, acting to preserve to Himself, His Wife, the Nation of Israel peoples, descendants of His Bride of Sinai. In doing this, He served the purpose of The Father, the "master of the house."

The New Bible Commentary proceeds to comment upon verse 7 with the heading "Maidservant" in the words "The rights of a girl sold by her father to be a bondservant were not... as the menservants, but even more carefully guarded. If unmarried, she could go free after six years, but if sold to become a wife of her master or her master's son, her rights were equal to those of a free wife, and were strictly safeguarded."

Of verse 8, under the heading "Dealt deceitfully", it continues "i.e. not carried out his original intention", and of verse 11, relating to the words "These three", it says "This may refer to the three duties detailed in verse 10 or the three courses named above, i.e. marry her himself, marry her to his son, or transfer her to another Hebrew."

Under the general heading "Civil judgments", The New Bible Commentary (Revised) puts the matter in these words: "These were given as verdicts in cases that arose, and they became established precedents for the future..."

Having regard to the specific passage of Exodus 21:2-11, it notes that this "gives the law of slavery relating to Hebrew slaves (the case of foreign slaves is dealt with in Lv. 25:44-46). A person could be sold into slavery by his parents, or he could be sold for theft (22:1) or insolvency ..., or he might be obliged to sell himself (cf. Lv. 25:39). Also, he might be born a slave." Dealing with specific verses, it continues "2,3 In Israelite law the slave was not a mere chattel: he had rights, and could leave free in the seventh, or sabbatical, year in the state in which he entered bond-service, as single or married. This was the basis of the labour system. 4. If the slave married and reared a family while a slave, they remained the property of his master, presumably for a period of 6 years. 5. Provision was made for life service also, and the pierced ear was the mark of a devoted life-long servant. 6. To bring ...to God; to perform this ceremony as in the presence of God before the judges, at the door post of the home in which the slave served."

While, concerning verse 7, that reference makes the statement "The rights of the female slave were jealously guarded, though liberty was not given to her after a 6-year period of service", Keil and Delitzsch point out that "According to Deut. xv. 12, this rule applied to the Hebrew maid-servant as well."

Of verses 8-11, The New Bible Commentary (Revised) says "She could not be sold to a non-Israelite, and if her master was displeased with her before taking her as his concubine her liberty could be bought... If she was for his son then she became a daughter... If another concubine was taken by the master, she was to be provided for... If this was not forthcoming, liberty was to be given her."

Thus we find that, while restrictions applied, there were also rights accorded to the bond servant in ancient Israel. In the New Testament, we find the matter of such service forming the subject of a most instructive letter by St. Paul to a Christian gentleman called Philemon, regarding Onesimus, his run-away slave, who had since become a Christian and was returning, bearing this epistle, to serve henceforth, not as a servant, by Paul's request, but as a brother in Christ.

We, today, are not free of the system of servitude. The bondage and servitude which we experience today is of an economic equivalent to that of old time. We must, however, look forward to the changed conditions which will prevail in the Kingdom of God when it is established in power here, upon the earth as it is in heaven. It is for that Kingdom that we are instructed to pray to Our Heavenly Father in The Lord's Prayer. What The Kingdom of God will entail at Christ's Appearing, we cannot know until the time comes. But we know that at that time, God will wipe away all tears, and the conditions will be of such magnificence that all who look for Christ's Appearing will be satisfied.

8 May, 1994

CAPITAL JUDGMENTS

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our Bible Studies are currently tracing the unfolding Plan of The Almighty God for the renewal of His Creation. We have traced this plan, which was made necessary by the Fall of Adam and Eve, through the Call of Abram and onward, down through the developing lives of the Patriarchs Isaac, Jacob (Israel), and Israel's sons. The family has become a clan forced by famine down into Egypt, and therein the descendants, forming the thirteen tribes, have lately experienced Egyptian bondage from which God drew them forth in the Exodus. These Tribes, He has now brought to Himself at Mount Sinai where we now find them as Moses receives God's Laws for the formation and guidance of the Nation of Israel.

Thus is God's prophetic promise of Exodus 3:12, spoken out of the Burning Bush, being fulfilled for, when God told Moses that he was to return to Egypt in order to bring forth the Children of Israel, the passage relates that God's words, at that time, were "When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain."

We have now followed this story through the accounts found in Genesis and Exodus, and we have taken up each of the Ten Commandments in turn as these were imparted to Moses, and following these we had begun to read the Judgments whereby application of the Commandments to particular cases would be explained.

The New Bible Dictionary, item "Crime And Punishment" occupies about three pages and it forms a useful presentation of this subject. It states that "The clear-cut distinction between criminal and civil offences of modern times is not present in Old Testament and Near Eastern Jurisprudence. Every offence was committed, in the first place, against a certain person or community, and the only way to put the wrong right was to compensate the injured or wronged person. Jurisprudence was also connected all over the Near East with the divine. The god sanctioned the laws of a community." After presenting examples from the laws of Ur-Nammu and the law code of Hammurabi, the Dictionary entry continues: "In a very special sense this is also true of the Old Testament. The promulgation of laws is closely connected with the forming of the covenant."

As we read today's passage, I shall be inserting comments where these appear to be appropriate. Our reading for today starts at Exodus 21:12

12. He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.
13. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.
14. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.

Where this passage reads "man", this, of course, might be applied in a wider sense to a man, a woman, a boy or a girl. This passage forms the Judgment which amplifies the Sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." These Judgments form a necessary amplification in that they distinguish those occasions wherein a planned, pre-meditated murder takes place, from those in which one person is responsible for the death of another person, but did not intend that this should happen.

The Companion Bible note to Verse 14 comments that this verse contains an ellipsis between "guile" and "thou", which is to be understood as "and then seek refuge at mine altar." The New Bible Commentary explains of the words "He that smiteth": "Murder as a result of premeditation... is distinguished from unintentional manslaughter... For the latter, places of refuge were provided, where the slayer could be safe from the avenging relatives until the case was tried. For the former, even the altar of God could not save him from the just punishment of his crime."

The New Bible Commentary (Revised) further points out that "For unpremeditated homicide the penalty was modified and cities of refuge were appointed later... The horns of the altar were falsely regarded as offering protection... This was a pagan practice and there is no divinely-given authorization for it in the OT. Cities of refuge were provided for those guilty of unpremeditated homicide, but for the murderer there was no shelter from the execution of the divine law."

In that particular, the New Bible Dictionary item from which we just quoted a moment ago explains that "Every crime or transgression must be punished, according to the common legal principles of the Near East. Primarily, this punishment was inflicted in the more primitive nomadic or semi-nomadic society by the victim or his relations, e.g. a common Semitic legal procedure is that a murderer must be punished by death by the dead person's nearest relations..."

Thus, in the case of pre-meditated murder, even the sacred altar, which was thought to be a place so sacred that it formed a point of sanctuary, was not to be used as the means of shielding a murderer from justice.

The words "God deliver him into his hand", in Verse 13, is a Hebrew idiom according to The Companion Bible note, and indicates that God permitted the occurrence to happen.

Examining these verses, Keil and Delitzsch state "Still higher than personal liberty, however, is life itself, the right of existence and personality; and the infliction of injury upon this was not only prohibited, but to be followed by punishment corresponding to the crime... A death-blow was to be punished with death." It did not matter if death came on the spot or directly afterwards.

Regarding occasions of accidental death, that Commentary amplifies in the words "i.e. not only if he did not intend to kill him, but did not even cherish the intention of smiting him, or of doing him harm from hatred or enmity... and therefore did so quite unawares, according to a dispensation of God, which is generally called an accident because it is above our comprehension. For such a man God would appoint places of refuge, where he should be protected against the avenger of blood."

Further commenting upon the case of intentional murder, and the taking of a murderer from God's altar, Keil and Delitzsch continue: "By this regulation, the idea, which was common to the Hebrews and many other nations, that the altar as God's abode afforded protection to any life that was in danger from men, was brought back to the true measure of its validity, and the place of expiation for sins of weakness... was prevented from being abused by being made a place of refuge for criminals who were deserving of death."

Our Biblical passage continues in the words:

15. And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
16. And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
17. And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

Here, a note in the Companion Bible regards the word "smite" as meaning "smite to death, or seriously." However, of that Judgment, The New Bible Commentary explains: "So sacred is parenthood that for one to strike his father or mother, even without doing serious injury, was a capital crime." Keil and Delitzsch agree with the latter, for they state: "Maltreatment of a father and mother through striking... manstealing... and cursing parents... were all to be placed on a par with murder, and punished in the same way. By the 'smiting' of parents we are not to understand smiting to death, ... but any kind of maltreatment. The murder of parents is not mentioned at all, as not likely to occur and hardly conceivable. The cursing of parents is placed on a par with smiting, because it proceeds from the same disposition; and both were to be punished with death, because the majesty of God was violated in the persons of the parents... ."

"Manstealing was also no less a crime, being a sin against the dignity of man, and a violation of the image of God... For 'a man,' we find in Deut. xxiv. 7,... 'a soul,' by which both man and woman are intended, and the still more definite limitation,'of his brethren of the children of Israel.' The crime remained the same whether he had sold him..., or whether he was still found in his hand."

We, of the British-Israel-World Federation believe that the generally Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred peoples of the world today are literal descendants of the ancient Northern Tribes of Israel, and we are not alone in thus describing ourselves, for some Jewish scholars have recently made known to us that their Rabbinic studies converge with our own view and they thus join us in that belief. We believe that we, Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred Israelites, being descendants of these ancient Tribes of Israel, are under that ancient obligation to do and teach the Law of Almighty God, given at Mount Sinai. Did not Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, state to His disciples in John 14:15 "If ye love me, keep my commandments?" and in Matthew 5:19 and elsewhere He shows that His commandments are, indeed, the Laws of Sinai.

As we see the crimes of modern society displayed in the mass media, and our hearts are touched by the misery of families and communities by reason of transgression of these laws, given to our forefathers by Almighty God at Mount Sinai, surely we must consider that there was, and still is, justice and good reason behind their codification for Israel, not only in old time, but even at this present hour. We shall continue these studies on our next programme.

15 May, 1994

NON-CAPITAL JUDGMENTS

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Throughout this present series of Bible Studies, we are tracing the Great Plan of Almighty God for the revival of His Creation through the chosen line of Abraham's seed in Isaac, Jacob, and the descendants of Israel. A nation is being formed at Mount Sinai, and married to their God by Covenant; a nation into which, over a thousand years later, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, will be born. Through all these and further centuries, prophecies given to the Patriarchs and Prophets will find fulfilment; some obvious to the entire world, others silently, and almost, as it were, un-noticed until the world is surprised by recognition of the accomplished facts.

To this point, working through Genesis and now Exodus, we have arrived at the Giving of The Law to Moses at Mount Sinai. On our most recent series of programmes, we studied each of the Ten Commandments themselves, and now we have begun to examine the various Judgments by which the application of those commandments to practical, every-day experience within the nation is being explained to the Tribes through Moses, as their representative upon the holy mount. The New Bible Commentary, in introducing Exodus 21, which deals with these various Judgments, comments that "Those which follow embody ancient customary law, now divinely sanctioned for the recently appointed judges."

In this study, we have now arrived at Exodus 21:18, and perhaps the subsequent passage to the end of that Chapter can be treated together. I shall read the passage, and add comments as we go. We may not be able to finish our study today, but let us make a beginning. Regarding what follows, Keil and Delitzsch explain that, having dealt with the Judgments relating to fatal blows and the crimes placed on a par with them, (Judgments which we examined on our last programme) there now followed "the laws relating to bodily injuries." Our reading begins at Exodus 21:18:

18. And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed:
19. If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.

The New Bible Commentary notes: "If a blow proved fatal, then the laws of murder or manslaughter applied, but otherwise the equivalent compensation was not that the guilty man should receive an equal blow, but that he should pay for the loss of work time and the cost of the doctor's bill." Keil and Delitzsch concur in this assessment, stating "If in the course of a quarrel one man should hit another with a stone or with his fist, so that, although he did not die, he 'lay upon his bed,' i.e. became bedridden; if the person struck should get up again and walk out with his staff, the other would be innocent, he should 'only give him his sitting and have him cured,' i.e. compensate him for his loss of time and the cost of recovery. This certainly implies, on the one hand, that if the man died upon his bed, the injury was to be punished with death, according to ver. 12; and on the other hand, that if he died after getting up and going out, no further punishment was to be inflicted for the injury done.

Now while the particular setting, as the words demonstrate, is that of the Near East, and the weapon might be a fist or a stone, we must not take from this the idea that the justice demanded was of a different sort than that which is required by our own time, for, as we may soon perceive, the principle is one which might be used by a judge in any age. It is that one who causes another an injury must accept responsibility for that injury, and be prepared to repay the injured person in ways that impart an equal value for the loss suffered.

In the next set of verses, we find Judgments which were necessary in order to adapt to, and to ameliorate, the prevailing social institution of slavery which was commonly accepted, endured by multitudes, and in other nations of that age, could be most brutal; totally ignoring the humanity of the oppressed slave or bond-servant.

20. And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.
21. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

The word "money" is here put, as the Companion Bible note explains, in place of the servant who earns it. The New Bible Commentary explains that "In all other nations masters have had the absolute right of life and death over their slaves. The divine law here preserves the slave's right to live. The degree of punishment for homicide in such cases is left to the discretion of the judges. If the slave survived a day or two after the beating and then died, no punishment was inflicted because this was evidence that the master did not intend to kill. It would not be to his own interest to lose a slave who was of pecuniary value to him. The case here is of foreign bondslaves, not Hebrew servants." Of verses 20 and 21, Keil and Delitzsch make a contrast with the preceding verses by stating "The case was different with regard to a slave. The master had always the right to punish or 'chasten' him with a stick...; this right was involved in the paternal authority of the master over the servants in his possession. The law was thererfore confined to the abuse of this authority in outbursts of passion, in which case, 'if the servant or the maid should die under his hand (i.e. under his blows), he was to be punished.' ... No doubt it was left to the authorities to determine this according to the circumstances."

The concepts of society, unguided by an eternal standard, may shift as generation succeeds generation. We have only to consider for a moment with what shock and condemnation our own great-grandparents might react to many things on the beach, in the bedroom, in the courts and in our schools which we tolerate, and which are considered by most people today to be harmless indulgences of a new sophisticated lifestyle.

It is true that many today might consider the institution of slavery, common in another age, to be most reprehensible, and might wonder that it was allowed for so long a time. However, let us remember that, in the Resurrection, the people of that other time will arise and learn of our accepted norms. Could they not condemn in judgment our own generation as a generation of murderers? Indeed, in the words of St. Paul, have they not already done so?

We accept and allow practices to persist among us which they might be horrified to contemplate. Might not our own words of condemnation against the former generation for permitting slavery be silenced; indeed, may they not draw a much stiffer rebuke, condemning a much worse perversion of justice and denial of rights than slavery in reply?

We permit, and indeed our governing authorities arrange payment for, the killing of the innocent unborn in abortuaries. We kill multitudes of innocent babies who might have been born, grown, and matured to people of beautiful character and useful lives. Will we stand uncondemned before God, the Giver of Life, for allowing this? Let us, then, not be judgmental against an age which allowed the institution of slavery to persist. In Matthew 7:1-5, Christ condemned as hypocrites those who would fault others, seeing a mote in their brother's eye, but not the beam in their own eye. Continuing at Verse 22:

22. If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

In reference to the woman with child, a note in The Companion Bible points to an ellipsis, in which the words "who intervenes" should be understood. Keil and Delitzsch explain: "If men strove and thrust against a woman with child, who had come near or between them for the purpose of making peace, so that her children come out (come into the world), and no injury was done either to the woman or the child that was born, a pecuniary compensation was to be paid, such as the husband of the woman laid upon him, and he was to give it... (by an appeal to) arbitrators. A fine is imposed, because even if no injury had been done to the woman and the fruit of her womb, such a blow might have endangered life..." But if injury occur (to the mother or to the child), then the Judgment is given:

23. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,

We of the British-Israel-World Federation believe our own Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred nations to be descendants of those Israelites of old time to whom The Almighty God imparted those words of Judgment. These words are for every generation of their descendants. How does our own generation measure against these Judgments of The LORD as the Judgment Day approaches? We shall continue our Bible Studies on our next programme.

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