Cover to Cover
Reading: Exodus 18:1-21:36
Focus: Exodus 21:1-11
In a world where Patriarchy is viewed with disdain, where Feminism seeks equality, the argument often draws upon ancient Patriarchal systems where women were viewed with inequality and treated unfairly. However, as one explores the instalment of social systems within Israel, while it is still a Patriarchal system, it is not without its provision for women. Admittedly, while women and slaves were viewed as property, they are not without rights (though that would be argued by many). Women and slaves were still to be provided for with care and dignity (where most people struggle is that human nature often fails in this endeavour).
In regards to the treatment of Hebrew slaves (nor servants as the NIV has subtly changed), most of whom would be the result of financial debt, they were set free after six years. The slave would then be a free to start a new life having paid his dues. However, in the extreme case where the slave decided to remain with his master, he would be marked as a slave for life—though one would imagine that there would be an extremely close relationship between master and slave.
In the case of a female slave, again the result of a family’s financial debt, she was not set free after six years (though this is changed later). Rather, it would seem that there were obligations by a master to care for the female slave; however, if the master was not satisfied, she could be redeemed (which would seem open only to her family). In the case that she was given as a wife to the master’s son, she would have the rights of a daughter/wife and due provisions were to be made for her.
Coming back to the 21st century, I struggle to see how our modern day social order has really changed. It may have ideals for equality, plans of grandeur of a fair social order… but the thing which stands out is that human nature is still at the core of social order, a corrupt human nature, which only serves to make matters worse rather than further the cause of equality, dignity and respect. Even in the guidelines given to the Israelites, one only needs to look shortly into their history to find that the corrupt human nature quickly put aside God’s social order and lived according to their own—one of greed and selfishness.
The writer of the classic hymn, Amazing Grace, John Newton came to realise after many years as a slave trader the sorrow of human denigration and his share in it. As a result, he partnered with the politician, William Wilberforce, and sought to abolish the slave trade within the British Empire. Until we start to realise God’s amazing grace, experience it, share it and live it out in this fallen world, the social order will never change. How these words must come alive: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…”
Next Reading: Exodus 22:1-24:18