Before we begin this section, I want to remind us all that this Law—from the Ten Commandments through the end of Deuteronomy—this Law serves many purposes. One of those purposes is to paint a picture of Christ. John 5:39—“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” Luke 24:44—Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." Galatians 3:24—Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. The reason I mention all this is because when we get to this section on how the Israelites were to treat their slaves, we may be tempted to think, “Well, that was for back then, what does this have to do with anything now?” But it does. Whenever God speaks, it’s important. When He commands that the words He speaks be written down, it is VERY important. And since this section contains words that God spoke to Moses and commanded Moses to commit to writing, I would say this falls under the category of VERY important. Because even in a passage like this we have words which point to Christ.
And these commands read like this, Exodus 21:1-6—“1 Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them: 2 If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. 3 If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. 5 But if the servant plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,' 6 then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.” As we read these commands and the ones to follow, we see not only the righteousness and justice of God, but also His compassion. If He were not a compassionate God, and if He didn’t care about individual human beings, He would not have given many of the commands He did, because many of these commands are concerned with how we treat one another. And when we mistreat a fellow human being, we are mistreating one who was made in the image of God. James 3:8-9 (NASB)—8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. Adam Clarke said this about these commands of God—“There is so much good sense, feeling, humanity, equity, and justice in the following laws, that they [must] be admired by every intelligent reader.” And in fact, Jesus said this about all the commands of God, Matthew 22:37-40—"37 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." We love God above anything or anyone else—but we also must love our neighbor as we would love ourselves. Because our neighbor was made in the image of God, and if we hate our neighbor, then we hate the image of God and, therefore, we wind up hating God.
And even slaves deserve to be treated with respect. Now, when I use the word ‘slave’, there is a very clear distinction between servitude under the OT Law, and the atrocities that took place during the days of slavery in America. And it won’t take us long to see the differences. Slavery in America was a very cruel and very wicked system. The owner could beat slaves, they could sell them to whomever they wanted; they could deprive them of any and all rights that should be enjoyed by every human being. But slavery during the time of Exodus—and even during the time when the NT was being written, as we find many references to slaves in the NT—was quite different, and God laid down some very clear guidelines about how slaves were to be treated. Matthew Henry said this about these statutes—
“[God] begins with the laws concerning servants, commanding mercy and moderation towards them. The Israelites had lately been servants themselves; and now that they had become, not only their own masters, but masters of servants too, lest they should abuse their servants, as they themselves had been abused and ruled with rigour by the Egyptian task-masters, provision was made by these laws for the mild and gentle usage of servants.”God had redeemed them from their slavery to Pharaoh—400 years of harsh, cruel, unspeakably inhumane treatment by their masters. Now they were being commanded to show the kind of compassion to their servants that Pharaoh never showed to them. Jesus would give a similar illustration in Matthew 18:24-33—“24 When [a master] had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents…26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' 27 Then the master…released him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt…32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?'” Likewise, these Israelites who had been shown compassion by God were to show compassion to their own servants.
We find the first commands in Exodus 21:2-3—"2 If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. 3 If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him." Simple. Slaves were people that were either (a) sold into slavery by their family, or (b) sold themselves into slavery—and it was usually because they owed a debt that they could not afford to pay. So the person to whom the debt was owed would become that person’s master. But it was not a lifelong commitment. The longest a slave could work, involuntarily—and that’s a distinction we’ll see in a moment—for their master was six years. In the seventh year of servitude, that slave went free. To illustrate, suppose I owed somebody $5,000,000. I commit myself to work for that person starting on February 6, 2010. I work for that person until February 6, 2016. That would be the completion of six years of service, thus beginning my seventh year, and in this seventh year, I was to go out free. I owe you nothing. Slate is wiped clean, I've paid my debt by my labor.
Now, again, unlike what happened here in America, when the period of servitude was complete, the slave was not simply put out the door to fend for himself. The master was to provide for that slave. Deuteronomy 15:12-15—“12 If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; 14 you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.” How many times do we hear about someone becoming rich and famous, somebody that came from nothing, from poverty and now they're making millions and what is the accusation that sometimes gets brought against them? “They forgot where they came from.” And just so the people did not forget where they came from, we have this command to provide form those who have labored so hard for you for the last six years. And in fact, in Deuteronomy 15:18—“It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years.” In other words, you’ve gotten work out of this fellow, and you haven’t had to pay him. So, yeah, from that one man you got the worth of two laborers.
If I came in by myself, I go out by myself. If I brought my wife and kids with me, they go out with me. This latter concept was in complete opposition to part of what was so wicked and cruel about American slavery. Many times, plantation owners would buy a family, then they would sell the mother to one slave owner, they would sell one of the kids to another fellow, and so forth, and families were ripped apart. But under the OT Law, the family that came in together went out together. Now, this brings us to a point where we see a foreshadowing of Christ. Exodus 21:4—"If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself." Seems kinda cruel, doesn’t it? Let’s think about this a moment. I'm a single guy. I owe a huge debt. I can't pay it. So I put myself under your yolk, for six years, so that when those six years are over I can have that debt wiped out, go out a free man, and receive enough supplies so I can start over again. You, being the kind master that you are, took one of your female servants and gave her to me to be my wife. This wife bore me children. Do I then have the right to take that female servant and say “This woman belongs to me now”? That female servant still belongs to you, and she still owes you labor. It would be wrong of me to take that labor away from you.
Now, suppose I love that wife. Suppose I love those children. And I think so highly of you as a master who has been good enough to give me this wife that I don’t want to leave. There’s a provision for that. Exodus 21:4-6—“4 If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. 5 But if the servant plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,' 6 then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.” And this is where we come to the picture of Christ. Listen to Psalm 40:6—Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Many times in the Psalms, the writer is speaking as the Messiah would speak when He came. That is, the Psalmist would write the words that would be spoken by the Messiah—and those words would be written as if the Messiah was speaking them then and there. The Psalmist is speaking as Christ, who is referring to this practice of piercing the ear as a way to show that He is the eternal servant of God. In fact, we see this twice in Acts 4:27-30—“27 For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed…the people of Israel were gathered together 28 to do whatever…Your purpose determined…29 Now, Lord…grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word…and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” Twice Jesus is referred to as God’s ‘holy servant’.
For now, let’s look another aspect of this boring the ear to the door. It was done for what reason? The slave—the servant, if you will—had been given a wife and children by his master. Jesus, the holy servant of God, has been given a bride by His master—God the Father. Now, follow me here. Ephesians 5:30-32—30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. God has given His Son a bride—the church. We are flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone, just like it says in Genesis 2:22-24—22 Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. 23 And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. So now let’s put all this together. Under the OT Law, the servant who was pleased with the wife that his master gave him would have his ear pierced, or opened. The Psalmist, speaking as the Messiah, says that his master has opened—or, pierced—his ear. Why? Because he was pleased with the bride his master—God the Father—gave him. And we see from Ephesians that the church is the bride of Christ—the church is flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone, the church is the wife that has been given to Christ by His Master, God the Father. And He is pleased with this bride that has been given to Him, and He will dwell with her and she will dwell with Him forever. The Son has said “I will be Your servant, Father, and I will love this bride You have given Me, for all eternity.”
So, moving forward in Exodus, we now come to the commands concerning female slaves. Exodus 21:7-11—“7 And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. 9 And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. 10 If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. 11 And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.” We’re only gonna have time to start on the first couple of verses in this passage, Exodus 21:7-8. The circumstances of female slaves were different than for male slaves. Like the male slave, the female slave entered into servitude because of poverty. But it was usually her parents who sold her because of their poverty. And when they sold her it was expected that when she became of age the master would take her and make her his wife. This wasn’t always the case, but most of the time it was. And because of the parent’s poverty, the master was not to send her out at the end of six years. He usually made a promise to marry her and take care of her. Now, suppose after a while she got on his nerves and kept nagging about him smelling like sheep and oxen, or spending all day threshing, or tracking his muddy sandals across the dirt floor that she just swept. He had three options. First, he could offer her to his son, if the son was so inclined toward her. Second, he could sell her back to the parents—although this was rather unlikely because, as we said, the parents were usually in poverty and couldn’t afford the price. Third, he could sell her to a fellow Israelite. But under no circumstances could he sell her to anyone of any other nation.
He could not sell her to the Jebusites or the Canaanites or the Hivites or the Parasites or the Termites. Because if he did, number one, he would be sending her out from under the protection of being part of God’s covenant people. He would be depriving her of the ability to worship God and take part in the feasts and offerings that God would ordain for His people. Not only that, but listen to the main reason God gives here, Exodus 21:8--He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. He has promised her father that he would take her and marry her and provide for her. And now he’s saying, “Hey, sorry dad, she’s gotta go.” And it may be that he only wanted her for, um, less-than-noble reasons, if you know what I mean. And then, he gets bored with her and trades her in for a new model. And God says he has dealt deceitfully—“treacherously” (Young's Literal Translation)—with her.
The word ‘betrothed’, or ‘betrothal’—I would define it as “Engagement on steroids.” These days we get engaged, go through a period of engagement. But then, if something happens and we get cold feet, we simply break it off and go our separate ways. During this time period, however, betrothal was a promise—a contract, if you will—that you would marry that person. I like how the ESV translates Exodus 21:8—“If she does not please her master, who has 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 broken faith with her.” He has betrothed her to himself—has designated her for himself—and when he breaks that betrothal he has “broken faith” with her. But check this out. When God betroths us to Himself, He does not break that betrothal. He will not “break faith” with us. Remember, we are flesh of Christ’s flesh and bone of His bone, and to separate us from Himself He would have to go back on His word, and we would be separated from the love of Christ. BUT...Hebrews 13:5—I will never leave you nor forsake you. And Romans 8:38-39—38 I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus is Lord Amen.