Friday, September 19, 2014

The Female Slave -- Exodus 21:7-11


“And if a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.  If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed.  He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her.  And if he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters.  If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing or conjugal rights.  And if he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.”


The behavior suggested in the first phrase in this passage would result in criminal charges today.  Much has changed since the days of the Israelites in the wilderness. We can accept that slavery back then although abhorrent, was legal. What some of us may have more trouble accepting today is that God Himself was suggesting that the treatment of male slaves was to be different than the treatment of female slaves.  Whereas male slaves could go free after serving their masters for six years (see Exodus 21:2), female slaves did not have that benefit.  Why?
I think that rather than question God’s fairness in this situation we would be wise to read the entire passage.  In actual fact, a female slave was getting the better deal.  The whole purpose of God’s instructions for the female whose family was forced to sell her out of poverty, was ultimately that someone would be taking care of her.  The first thing we need to be aware of was that when a ‘maid-servant’ was bought, she was bought not really to be a slave, but rather to be the master’s wife or the wife of one of his sons some day, according to commentator David Guzik.  And if that was not to happen – the master did not marry her, or the sons did not want her -- she was to be redeemed preferably by their own family if they could afford to, but if not, her master could not sell her to a foreigner (or stranger).
Once a master gave the maidservant to his son, then from that point on she was to be treated as a daughter, not a slave. And as I read the next sentence, if the master or his son, once having accepted the maidservant as his wife, were to add more wives to his family (something else practiced in those days, but not condoned by God), then he had to ensure that the maidservant would still get the same allowances for food and clothing, and also have her conjugal rights (that is, the rights, especially to sexual relations, regarded as exercisable in law by each partner in a marriage).  Should these three things not be provided to her, she was free to leave and make her own way in society.  But through all of this, we can hopefully see that God was ensuring that the Hebrew women and daughters, whose own families could not afford to take care of them, would be protected.
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